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Enhancing learning in Brazil with Fabio Garcia Reis and the STHEM Consortium

Fabio Garcia Reis worked with Laspau to launch a customized University Innovation program for his institution. Reis went on to implement Peer Instruction and Active Learning in his classes at UNISAL and later helped to found the STHEM Consortium in Brazil which works to incorporate academic innovation into participants’ classrooms.

In a coffee shop near Harvard University back in 2010, Fabio Garcia Reis sat down with Boston College professor, Liz Reisberg, and Laspau Executive Director, Angélica Natera.

Reis had an idea. Fascinated by the participatory classrooms in the United States, so different from the lecture-based classrooms in his home country of Brazil, Reis wanted to bring together academic leaders from around the country to discuss and share different teaching methods.

“Math and Science are not discussed in Brazil in an effective way,” Reis explained. The professor wanted new ideas and resources to bring back home so he could enhance learning in Brazilian universities. Laspau agreed.

“You have to participate,” Reis reminds his students on the first day of classes at UNISAL. “You are the protagonists of your own learning.”

Within a year of their coffee shop discussion, Laspau and Reis launched a customized University Innovation program.

It was during the University Innovation program that Reis met Harvard Physics and Applied Physics professor Eric Mazur. Professor Mazur introduced Reis to Peer Instruction, a teaching methodology he developed to help improve learning by encouraging discussions and interactions between students, even in large, lecture-sized classes. The professor, Mazur explained, should not be the keeper of knowledge but someone who builds and shares knowledge with students.

“This is simply not possible to apply in Brazil,” some of Reis’s colleagues told him when he began exploring how to apply the Peer Instruction and Active Learning methodologies to his classes at UNISAL - Centro Universitário Salesiano de São Paulo. “This isn’t Harvard; students and faculty are too attached to the traditional classroom structure where the professor lectures and students listen,” colleagues warned.

Their doubts were motivation enough for Reis.

After studying innovative teaching methodologies with a small group of professors for six months, Reis began to introduce the new ideas to his classroom. The results were positive. Reis noticed better engagement and improved satisfaction among his students. Others began to notice too.

“Have you ever considered forming a consortium?” Laspau Executive Director, Angélica Natera, asked Reis during a visit to Brazil. This simple question brought about many potential complications. Consortia were not common in Brazil and even less common when trying to mix public and private institutions.

Never the type to shy away from a challenge, Reis, his fellow leaders, and Laspau launched the STHEM Consortium in March 2014. The Consortium works to incorporate academic innovation into participants’ institutions, and has done so with great success. The Consortium has been received by the Minister of Education of Brazil, who has even discussed the idea of using the Consortium’s results to help change Brazil’s educational standards. Today, the STHEM Consortium has 35 institutional participants, impacting a total of 750 professors in 2015 alone.

“You have to participate,” Reis reminds his students on the first day of classes at UNISAL. “You are the protagonists of your own learning.”

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