The TOMODACHI Academy: Friendship Beyond Borders

How can two countries with vast cultural differences maintain a relationship in which they can share ideas on how to improve their educational system and focus on STEM literacy? That is the goal of a partnership between the United States and Japan—two superpowers willing to borrow each nation’s system and experience to improve one’s own.

In August 2016, U.S. and Japanese teachers and students witnessed the sharing of ideas between the two countries through the TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy (TTA). The TTA is a one-week, cross-cultural science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) exchange and leadership program for 16 high school students and eight teachers from Japan and the United States. High school students and teachers who promote strong achievements in science and mathematics education and international student exchanges were selected as the Japanese counterparts. The program was held from July 31 to August 7, 2016, at Yoyogi National Olympic Center.

Two Teams, Two Challenges

This year’s program presented two challenges to student teams. One was to propose solutions for developing a disaster-resilient, smart community of the future using learning experiences that are central to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the engineering design process. The second was to build a tower with miniature elevators that show the student’s engineering and creative skills. Both challenges were presented to an audience wherein the latter was critiqued by a panel of judges.

tower

(Tower building)

Aside from working on their projects, participants were also given a chance to visit different sites in Tokyo specifically selected so that they could get inspiration in terms of engineering design and smart community to help them with their projects. Several sessions leading to the group’s final presentation were planned throughout the week. Team building, ice-breaking sessions, engineering design lessons, field trips, and group planning kept everyone busy. All the sessions had an impact on the group’s smart community project, because students applied the concepts learned from all the sessions leading up to their final presentation.

As the groups were starting to plan how to make their smart communities resilient to natural disasters, participants went to the Life Safety Center where they experienced a hurricane with wind speeds of 30km/hour, a magnitude 7 earthquake, and a simulated fire from a burning room. This experience gave the groups ideas on how to make their communities disaster resilient.

earth

(Earthquake and fire simulations)

Smart, Sustainable, Resilient

In relation to preparing for natural disasters like earthquakes, the group visited the Tokyo Skytree, where the engineer of the tower discussed the properties and the structural design implemented for the tower to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.

A smart community of the future should be energy efficient and sustainable. The visit to the Toshiba Science Museum showcased an efficient building energy management system. Participants were exposed to smart homes; buildings equipped with a system to dramatically reduce energy consumption and make them environmentally friendly; technological innovations in transportation and alternative sources of energy including thermal energy and superconductors. This information gave the students more knowledge and confidence in building their smart communities.

One of the interesting lessons that we had involved the use of drones and the manner in which they can be used to produce an evacuation map (using drone-taken footage). Students were tasked with using an app to produce a 3D map of the surrounding buildings in Yoyogi Center. This session helped students learn how mapping can be an important tool for disaster preparedness.

drone

(Introduction to using drones in mapping for disaster preparedness by Professor Taichi Furuhashi of Aoyama Gakuin University @mapconcierge)

But the week was not all work as we toured different sites showing Japan’s cultural heritage. We visited Asakusa Sensoji and Meiji Shrine and it opened our eyes as to why the Japanese are proud of their culture and traditions. The places we visited show history connecting the present and the future.

asakusa

(U.S. and Japanese teachers at Asakusa)

To optimize the teacher experience, the teacher session was added to this year’s TTA. The sessions focused on discussions connected to implementing the NGSS and flipped classroom strategies. We were also introduced to Edpuzzle and Mix software as tools that can be used in a flipped classroom. In addition, the U.S. teachers had an open dialogue with the Society of Japan Science Teachers on science and engineering educational trends and best practices focusing on the NGSS.

evans

(Teacher session with SJST and NSTA’s Dr. David Evans)

This program was designed to foster closer ties between American and Japanese teachers and students, nurture a strong sense of STEM literacy, and to inspire the use of science and technology to address some of the world’s most complex issues in the future.  At the end of the program, we not only achieved our goal but transcended beyond borders with a common aspiration–to learn from each other in bettering our future.

To showcase everything that we did for the week, we created this video, which I invite you to watch: https://vimeo.com/177743307.

Arlene Ramos teaches at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in NYC

For more photos from this year’s TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy please click here.


The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at theNGSS@NSTA Hub.

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3 Comments

  1. Tim Roesch
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    It is interesting to see the same failed educational policies being forced on the Japanese. The last paragraph makes it clear:
    “This program was designed to foster closer ties between American and Japanese teachers and students, nurture a strong sense of STEM literacy, and to inspire the use of science and technology to address some of the world’s most complex issues in the future. At the end of the program, we not only achieved our goal but transcended beyond borders with a common aspiration–to learn from each other in bettering our future.”

    Politically correct terminology trumps real world efforts and fake and false pseudo-culturallism ensures that all involved can fervently pretend their hearts are, indeed, in the right place.

    I also find it amusing that, suddenly, STEM can tell the future: like a blue ribbon education committee could have predicted the effect of cell phones on education in 1960.

    STEM is nothing more than a rehash of bits and pieces of quasi-effective strategies that often worked due to talented teachers not ‘curriculum’ and the sort of cute phrase-ology one finds in Senate panels and cheap management seminars.

    Good luck turning Japan into a microcosm of LAUSD’s wet dream.

  2. Tim Roesch
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    How does one say ‘pathetic’ in Japanese?

    “But the week was not all work as we toured different sites showing Japan’s cultural heritage. We visited Asakusa Sensoji and Meiji Shrine and it opened our eyes as to why the Japanese are proud of their culture and traditions. The places we visited show history connecting the present and the future.”

  3. Tim Roesch
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The article skewers itself and hoists itself high upon its own petard:
    “A smart community of the future should be energy efficient and sustainable.”

    Okay, what is smart in Japan and how does that differ in ‘America’? What will ‘efficient and sustainable’ look like twenty years from now? On the moon? In a Mars colony?

    Pretense and pretend make a good English curriculum for creative writing but they should not be used to construct a false narrative about ‘sustainability and efficiency’ and so called ‘smart’ communities.

    Once again, we see what happens when poorly educated ‘education’ professionals are given a well chewed bone of ‘multiculturalism’ and a can of predigested ‘STEM’ to serve to a horde of ‘children’ so that everyone can pretend to be taught how to think.
    Smart, indeed.

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