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NewsApr 23, 2018

Saudi Arabian educators tour Learning Lab

Graduate School of Education stresses importance of ‘student-centered engagement’

Saudi educators create a small robot from watch batteries and recycled materials.

By Georgia Sparling

Thirty-two Saudi Arabian college deans visited Lesley last week as part of a 10-day exploratory tour to learn about teacher preparation and development in the United States.

The trip, organized by Harvard University, included a stopover at Lesley STEAM Learning Lab’s makerspace.

“We’re trying to share with them the value of student-centered engagement,” Sue Cusack, assistant professor and director of the lab, said of the Saudi visitors.

The lab gives teachers, teachers in training and students an opportunity to experiment with hands-on learning activities as Cusack and her colleagues seek to “ignite creativity, collaboration and problem-solving” with computer programming, crafting kinetic art sculptures, 3D printing and more.

Before the Saudi Arabians visited the makerspace, they learned about our Graduate School of Education from Cusack, Associate Dean Patricia Crain de Galarce, Lesley STEAM Learning Lab Assistant Director Jacy Edelman and graduate student Kolin Perry.

Graduate student Kolin Perry speaking in front of the room.
Graduate student Kolin Perry speaks about his experiences at Lesley.

Perry, who will complete a master’s of education in our Creative Arts and Learning division this spring and who is a student teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, discussed the program’s emphasis on preparing future teachers by putting them in real-life situations before they take charge of a classroom.

“We’re engaging in the same activities as I am with the students,” Perry explained.

After the presentation, the deans toured the lab, engaging with two hands-on activities: using simple circuits to design and program musical instruments and creating robots made from batteries, cell phone motors and recycled materials.

“We’re trying to give them an experience to demonstrate different ways of knowing and teaching that can really engage students and help them tackle complex problems,” said Crain de Galarce.

A Saudi woman sits at a computer with other women standing behind her taking photos of her with their phones.
Dr. Maha Al Sulaiman of Princess Nora University experiments in the makerspace.

These teaching methods were exactly what the Saudis wanted to experience, said Mahal Al Sulaiman, a dean from Princess Nora University in the capital city Riyadh. Looking toward Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals, aimed at advancing the country’s economic and developmental infrastructure, the deans would like to improve teacher training, she said.

“We are here to see the best practices that universities here in the United States are providing in the education graduate programs,” Al Sulaiman said.

She and her colleagues were pleasantly surprised to see that there are areas where their practices match those of U.S. graduate programs, but she said there is a stronger focus on practicum in the universities the group visited.

There is another way to engage kids in learning besides doing it in desks and rows.
Sue Cusack, Assistant Professor and Director of Lesley STEAM Learning Lab

Al Sulaiman was also impressed with the makerspace.

“The makerspace is a wonderful tool that maybe we can adopt back home and share with our colleagues,” she said.

Cusack, who often consults with educators, said the lab is a frequent stop for those seeking to improve their teacher training, and she always emphasizes the importance of interactive learning.

“There is another way to engage kids in learning besides doing it in desks and rows,” she said.