Bill Fenton Studies Global Education

From government-run schools in Botswana to a private academy in Beijing and a project-based school in San Francisco, Mr. Bill Fenton, instructor in physics & astronomy, has traversed the world in an effort to explore how students learn best.
Mr. Fenton went on sabbatical leave with his family during the 2017-18 school year, traveling across the United States and South Africa, with side trips to Mexico and China. He visited and volunteered at schools everywhere he traveled.
On Thursday, December 5, Mr. Fenton shared reflections on his trip with other faculty members. Fenton told them that he was exposed to many different educational styles, some of which he wants to implement in his classes and share with the school as a whole.
For the first half of the school year, Fenton and his family traveled around the western United States and followed a portion of the Lewis and Clark trail in an effort to provide his two daughters with different kinds of cultural experiences.
It was also an experiment in what he calls “unschooling” for his own children, who did not attend traditional school for most of the trip. Mr. Fenton said, “What we found is that my daughters read like crazy, which we didn’t anticipate. When we visited places like national parks or the seashore, they were really curious about learning and very engaged.”
After the winter holidays, Fenton and his family flew to Cape Town, South Africa, where his daughters attended St. Cyprian’s School for three months. He taught at the school and took a five-day trip with its tenth-grade students down the Orange River. Mr. Fenton’s family then camped in Botswana and Namibia. Fenton said, “Whether in China, Africa, the western …or eastern United States, kids are kids, no matter what language they speak or how many languages they speak.”
Mr. Fenton experienced many different approaches to education and appreciated the pros and cons of each approach. In San Francisco, he visited a project-based school, in which all the classes were based on a theme. When Mr. Fenton was there, the theme was “coin,” so the students did projects about economics, metallurgy, and the history of currency. He said, “If [project-based learning] is done well, then students get really curious exploring what they want to explore. It’s not easy to do, because managing their time is a vital skill that needs to be learned.”
In contrast, teachers in Botswana used Powerpoints and textbooks approved by the government and employed traditional lecture-based instruction. Fenton learned about the grading system of some schools in South Africa, where 75% of the year-long grade is determined by a national standardized exam given at the end of the year.
Mr. Fenton hopes to bring more project-based learning to Hotchkiss.