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Midwest in the Far East - Math Ed

Midwest in the Far Title Card Math Ed

By Tom Hanaway

The Universal Language of Math

Math Ed in Hangzhou School
Titans in the Far East: The UW Oshkosh Math Education in China at  the No. 13 Middle
School in Hangzhou, where they toured school grounds and sat in on a math class.

A Class Act

UW Oshkosh math graduate student Ami Messner stands in front of 40 silent Chinese ninth-graders at the Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, about to begin her stint as a guest math instructor.

“Good morning,” Messner said in English.

From the Chinese students, no response. A few hazard a giggle.

“Let’s try this again,” Messner said with a smile. “Good morning.”

This time, the students stand as a unit.  “Good morning!” they respond.

Then they bow, and the math lesson begins.

Messner is one of 17 math education students from UW Oshkosh who spent three weeks in China to learn about different methods of teaching math and to experience firsthand another culture. The China trip is part of the four-week upper-division course International Comparative Mathematics Education Seminar: Math Education in China. The first week of class was held in Oshkosh where students studied theories and practices of teaching and learning.

Opening minds

Eric Kuennen at the Great Wall of China
The Wall: UW Oshkosh math professor and
faculty trip leader Eric Kuennen and math
education student Sara Mata peer out of a
tower at the Great Wall of China.

UW Oshkosh math professor and faculty trip leader Eric Kuennen said his students, all future teachers, need to be open-minded to other educational styles.

“By going to China and seeing such a different way of thinking about things and doing things, (the students) realize that their way is not the only way, and not the only valid way, and, maybe, not even the best way.”

Fellow math professor John Beam, a co-leader of the trip, said the UW Oshkosh students gain so much by seeing in person how Chinese instructors teach math.

“Our students have a pretty limited experience to what they're exposed to, and we wanted them to see a broader variety of what teaching was all about,” Beam said. “China scores exceptionally well on international math exams, so we wanted to see what was happening there that wasn’t happening here.”

During their time in Shanghai, Ningbo, Hangzhou and Beijing, the students observed math classes in elementary, middle and high schools and taught a math lesson at the Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, an English-speaking high school. In addition to the educational component, the students were immersed in the Chinese culture by visiting famous landmarks and historical sites, ranging from the futuristic Pearl Tower in Shanghai to the ancient Great Wall of China near Beijing.

At first everything was unfamiliar to the students – from the curious-looking dishes to the “Fast and Furious”-type of driving. Even the aggressive but good-natured bargaining and the unapologetic practice of cutting in line gave pause to the young Americans.

Still, it didn’t take long for the students to assimilate to their new surroundings, and they learned that despite not knowing Chinese, mathematics is a universal language.






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