Patrick Witmer of Minoa was intent on becoming a secondary school science teacher by earning a master's degree at SUNY Oswego. En route, he found himself in front of a classroom in Africa teaching 70 French-speaking school inspectors how to use scientific calculators.
Barbara Garii, associate dean of Oswego’s School of Education, recruited Witmer to assist in the school’s vigorous partnership with the Ministry of Education in Benin. When she secured a donation of 1,500 Texas Instrument solar-powered scientific calculators from Mercy Corps, she needed a talented fledgling science teacher to help Beninois educators integrate them into their curriculum.
In January 2010, Witmer and the students and faculty in Oswego’s “Schooling, Pedagogy and Social Justice in Paris and Benin” class each packed about 75 calculators into their luggage and flew them to Benin, via France.
Witmer, a physics graduate of Syracuse University and a master’s student in adolescence physics education at Oswego, worked with the Beninois school inspectors, laying the groundwork for effective use of the calculators in schools across the developing West African nation. He showed the educators how to use the advanced calculators for trigonometry, statistics and other functions. Then they developed training modules and curriculum for their nation's schools.
Today, Witmer is a science teacher near home at Otselic Valley Junior-Senior High School, 5,000 students across Benin are using the calculators in science classrooms, and SUNY Oswego is replicating the successful project in Brazil.
Photo: Witmer helps school inspectors in Benin improve science education.