Midwest in the Far East - Math Ed 4
Learning from Each Other
Jen Szydlik, a UW Oshkosh math professor on the China trip, said she was most fascinated by how the Chinese valued their teachers’ time and expertise, even those teaching elementary school math. Chinese math instructors will typically teach two classes a day, which frees up more time for them to prepare lessons, grade homework and meet with students who need extra help.
“All the teachers are specialists at what they do, so you don’t have to be a specialist at everything,” Szydlik said. “You don’t have to know social studies and history. You just have to know math if you’re a math teacher.”
|UW Oshkosh math education student Paige Dorn chats with students
at Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, a top-flight boarding school in
China that boasts a 100 percent graduation rate.
Math professor Beam said affording teachers time to do their job well would logically result in students who perform well.
“I think that we were all very impressed by the ability of the students to work on very difficult problems quickly,” he said. “There were just so many differences in our system and their system that have a lot to do with the culture but also have a lot to do with the working environment of the teachers.”
However, Beam said, the Chinese could also learn from the American way of teaching. During the school visits, Chinese school administrators have shared that they’d like to apply some Western teaching practices in their classrooms. They said while their Chinese students may score well on standardized tests, they often stumble when it comes to complex problem-solving and original research.
“We are finding that they are changing their curriculum in China to some extent to try and make it more like American curriculum in hopes of getting more creativity out of the students,” Beam said. “We also saw some more innovative techniques where they are trying to get the students to answer exploratory problems first which is much more of an American idea."
Math Celebrities in China
The study abroad group seemingly traveled to a different country when they visited their next school. They went from a prestigious private primary school to a small middle school in the fields of Ninghai, about 50 miles south of Ningbo. Knowing the conditions at the Huchen Middle School wouldn’t be as nice as previously visited schools, the group came prepared with school supplies to give to the students.
When they finally arrived they received a welcoming usually reserved for Hollywood stars and political ambassadors. The entire school body gathered at an auditorium for a special presentation in which the UW Oshkosh students were among the honored guests. At the school, the group observed a math class, all the while being filmed by a Ninghai TV news crew.
“I guess I never realized how much our presence mattered to people in other countries,” senior Erica Roberts said. “To me I’m just an ordinary person, but … we felt like we were celebrities to them, and I never thought of myself that way before.”