We have launched a series of publications about the projects and initiatives of Teach For Bulgaria alumni. This is the story of how Sci-High came to be. Sci-High is a program which provides professional support and training to teachers who want to organize science fairs at their school.
It all started over a beer
The concept of Sci-High was born while Reneta Bogdanova and Eli Stoykova, friends from their school days at the National High School of Science and Mathematics, were having a beer and talking about life. Of course, not every beer leads to starting a foundation with the mission to inspire more students to pursue science. But for Reni and Eli this wasn’t something that happened by chance. Besides graduating from the National High School of Science and Mathematics in Sofia, they both have impressive professional experience in the field of education and science.
Reneta Bogdanova is a Teach For Bulgaria alumna. She was a chemistry teacher at 15th Secondary School “Adam Mitskevich” in Sofia from 2012 to 2014. Reni completed her participation in our program “A New Way to Teaching” in 2014 and joined Teach For Bulgaria’s teacher training and support team where she supported the new participants in the program for five years. She is currently the Development Manager at Private Secondary School “Tsar Simeon the Great” where she works towards the implementation of the school’s vision and development strategy.
Eli Stoykova returned to Bulgaria in 2017. She had lived in the Netherlands for 6 years prior to that where she worked at the University of Maastricht doing research and analysis of public policies. She also worked as a consultant for the UN and gained experience in topics such as poverty reduction, social protection, children’s rights, child development, and gender equality. She currently works as a business data analyst.
The problem Reni and Eli want to address with their project is Bulgarian students’ exceptionally low level of scientific literacy. The latest PISA results from 2018 indicate that 47% of our students are unable to draw even the simplest scientific conclusions. This means that they are unable to explain basic scientific terms and have a very hard time implementing them in a specific situation.
After a number of meetings and conversations Reni and Eli came to the conclusion to start their own Sci-High Foundation. Reni was able to contribute as a former teacher and someone who professionally coaches and supports teachers and Eli provided a more analytical and scientific perspective.
As Reni says “every problem requires a scientific approach”. If Bulgarian students get motivated to use scientific approaches in order to find solutions to pressing problems and if their teachers are able to support them in these efforts, our future will be in good hands.
There are quite a few examples of science fairs for primary and secondary schools outside of Bulgaria. Reni and Eli were particularly inspired by the Google Science Fair, dedicated to science and technology. They wanted their Bulgarian version of the science fair to be just as interactive and motivating for the students as they build their skills.
Reni and Eli also participated in a series of social entrepreneurship training sessions organized by Teach For Bulgaria in collaboration with Reach for Change. This allowed them to develop the concept of their project and to clear up all details about the specific activities it would involve.
What is Sci-High?
Sci-High is an 8-week program for students from 8th to 12th grade which allows them to work in teams and find solutions to important social problems with the use of scientific approaches. The program culminates with a school science fair where the students present their findings.
The decisions that they make have to be based on credible sources. The ultimate goal is for them to build the ability to differentiate between true and false, fact and opinion and to be able to know where to look for information and how to select it. The teams get support from two mentors during the 8-week program. The science mentor helps them with their scientific approach – proves resources, guides their research, and helps them test their hypotheses. The communication mentor helps students communicate more effectively with each other – makes sure no one is dominating the team or slacking off, develops their confidence, and helps them practice and prepare for the final presentation at the science fair. Reni and Eli recruit the majority of the science mentors through the Center for Applied Studies and Innovation at the Biological Faculty of Sofia University. Some of the first communication mentors are Teach For Bulgaria alumni from the “A New Way to Teaching” program such as Denitsa Kombishkova and Velizar Stefanov.
Reni and Eli’s model is student-centered. Everything is interactive. Children take the lead, it is their responsibility to get in touch with their mentors and organize their team meetings. This makes it entirely up to them to make sure that their research runs smoothly and to build their own success skills and mindsets. The participating teams also have to initiate meetings with the principal to talk about their vision for the final science fair and to organize it themselves.
The support of the old alma mater
One of the reasons why Reni and Eli care so much about science is their alma mater – the National High School of Science and Mathematics. It seemed only natural to them to present their idea to the principal of the school, Ivaylo Ushagelov, and vice principals Neli Dyankova and Neli Georgieva. The school administrators was very impressed by this initial meeting and encouraged Reni and Eli to present their program as an extracurricular activity in front of the students as well.
This was how the first four teams to ever participate in Sci-High were formed. The first science fair took place at the end of June in 2019 at the National High School of Science and Mathematics. The teams focused on topics such as the overconsumption of single-use plastic, possible meat alternatives, reducing instances of trauma caused by traffic accidents, mental health and depression among students.
Each one of these topics was provoked by students’ personal experiences and interests. Eli, Reni, and the mentors’ role was to support them in the implementation of scientific approaches in the search for solutions.
Reni and Eli’s dream is that Sci-High will become popular and spread to other schools. Their long-term plan is to have Sci-High fairs in every region of Bulgaria. They are currently doing some additional research and talking to principals across Bulgaria in order to determine whether teachers would be interested to support this initiative in their schools.
Sci-High has found two new partner schools so far – Private Secondary School “Tsar Simeon the Great” and the Vocational High School of Management and Food Industry in Pleven.
Reni and Eli would be open to work with any school whose principal would support the program and recognize it as an opportunity to improve students’ scientific literacy. Another important factor is to find a teacher from the potential partner school who would be willing to complete a training with Sci-High in order to be able to run the program independently in the following years. For example, Eli and Reni work with the chemistry teacher Nasko Stamenov at the National High School of Science and Mathematics.
Any teacher or principal who is interested in a potential partnership with Sci-High, can fill out an application form on their website or find them on Facebook.
In order for Bulgarian education to have more people like Reni and Eli, consider making a donation to Teach For Bulgaria. This would help us train and support the new participants in our program “A New Way to Teaching”.
25 current participants in this program teach science, math, and IT in order to support their students in the development of their scientific, digital, and mathematical literacy.