International Teacher Spotlights the Philippines for Science Lesson
When international teachers step into their classrooms in the USA, they bring years of experience acquired through growing up and living abroad. This knowledge can enrich their teaching in surprising and delightful ways.
Consider the case of science teacher Ulpiano De La Bajan Jr. Last year, he began teaching at Denison Middle School in Winter Haven, Florida, as a program member with Educational Partners International (EPI). Originally from the Philippines, Bajan struck upon a clever idea for teaching his curriculum and sharing a bit of his culture. He was inspired by the similarities and differences in the natural habitat in Florida compared to the countryside he knew back home.
Water as a Bridge Between Cultures
The city of Winter Haven counts 50 lakes within its borders, some forming the area’s celebrated Chain of Lakes. (The “Chain of Lakes City” is the community’s nickname.) And the state of Florida is home to thousands of these bodies of water. Polk County – where Winter Haven is located – ranks third in the state in terms of their numbers. In the Philippines, meanwhile, there are much fewer lakes, and Filipinos use them in ways that differ vastly from how Floridians do.
So, Bajan created a lesson teaching about Florida’s lakes, and his teaching would deepen his students’ knowledge of these landforms. But his instruction wouldn’t end there. As the semester drew to a close, he created an activity that would not only share a bit of culture from his home country but also build upon the science lesson he had already taught.
For the activity, he presented students with images and video illustrating how lakes affect Filipinos and Floridians. He pointed out that Filipinos use lakes to fish for food, to irrigate plants and livestock, to bathe and swim, and to do laundry. His students, meanwhile, were familiar with the recreational opportunities Floridians find in their lakes – how locals appreciate both the beauty the features afford and the advantage they offer as a source for freshwater fishing. Students also brought to the discussion their awareness of the dangerous flooding that can result from heavy rains, and they reflected upon how their enjoyment of many lakes was limited due to another threat: the alligator.
Bajan’s presentation revealed to his class that some 100 lakes in his country are volcanic or tectonic in origin, meaning they are mostly craters of dead or inactive volcanoes. Because there are so few of them, people who live near them believe them to be sacred, and origin stories exist about their creation.
On a table he set up in the front of the class, Bajan showcased items created from plants that thrive around and within the bodies of water. These included bamboo products, such as flutes, coin purses, jewelry boxes, back scratchers, and reusable drinking straws. Other items he displayed included crafts created from the dried leaves and fibers of lilies and hyacinths that grow within the lakes’ waters: a fan, wallets, and bags. Another lake-related product Bajan wore himself: his barong tagalog shirt, which was made from fibers from the abaca plant. (A relative of banana plants and trees, the abaca commonly thrives near lakes.)
That’s not the only personal touch Bajan brought to the presentation, though. He also shared a video in which his wife reminisced about her childhood spent near a lake, filmed upon its banks.
“Lake Bito has played a very significant role in my growing up,” she recalled, “because these lakes serve a lot of purposes, not only for my family, but for all the people that lived nearby.”
Those residents would come to the lake to do their laundry and take a bath, she explained. Water from the lake also supplied nearby fields of rice, a staple food in Filipino communities.
“We have a very simple life that we enjoy, and we are contented,” she concluded. “Because this place, as you can see, is abundant in nature, and it offers a lot for the people to survive.”
Speaking of rice, it’s an ingredient in buchi, a Filipino dessert (also known as butsi or sesame balls). The dish was among four platters of food prepared by Bajan and Gilda Salvo, another EPI science teacher from the Philippines at the school, for a lunch for school administrators and office staff that was held on the same day as Bajan’s presentation. Everyone enjoyed the feast, which also included pancit (stir-fried noodles with chopped meat and vegetables), chicken adobo (marinated chicken stew), and lumpia (a Filipino spring roll).