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Midwest in the Far East - Math Ed 5

 Boat on West Lake in Hangzhou

Hangzhou

The locals of Hangzhou, located more than 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, have a saying: “Above us is paradise, and below us is Hangzhou.” A city of roughly 6 million residents, considered small by Chinese standards, Hangzhou is most famous for its beauty and cleanliness. With plenty of greenery, clean streets and fresh air, Hangzhou is often referred to as Shanghai’s park, since the city is only a train ride away. Its crown jewel is West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by mountains and pagodas. The lake is considered so beautiful that is has been recreated at more than 20 different locations throughout China, including Beijing. Even the city’s food is beautiful, as lotus flowers are considered a delicacy in Hangzhou. It is no wonder that Hangzhou was recently named the happiest place in China by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

 

A Class of Cheerleaders

 
Hangzhou students cheer teacher
The Joy of Learning: The first-graders at Hongzhou Primary School cheered
 their teacher for a job well done.

Hangzhou appeared to have been a part of a completely different country to the study abroad group. After enduring the smog and grit of the big cities, Hangzhou was a welcomed destination with its picturesque parks and friendly residents. It was hard for students to figure out if the city did indeed have less smog and pushing and shoving, or if they were simply adapting to the Chinese way of life.

Their first visit was the Hangzhou XueJun Primary School, just a few steps away from the Zhejiang International Studies University's hotel where the study abroad group stayed. There they observed arguably the most adorable class they had interacted with thus far: A room full of clapping, cheering first-graders. While “Happy Birthday” played in the background, children solved a variety of math problems based on party guests, birthday cakes and zoo animals.

Using an overhead projector, the teacher drew a bar graph and then carefully colored it in with a marker, never drawing outside of the lines. The young students broke out into applause, congratulating their teacher on her mathematical masterpiece.

Later, through a translator, the teacher explained that the students often would show their appreciation for her or a fellow student with spontaneous applause.

“I would then thank them for their kindness and promise to do even better next time,” she said.

After observing such mutual respect between students and teachers, junior Ryan King said he hopes one day to bring that sense of respect and appreciation for education to his classroom.

“Before and after class they thanked the teacher for being there for the day and thanked them for giving them a great lesson,” King said. “The value and the respect they had for their teacher and for their education, I thought was really cool to see. As a future teacher I hope to kind of instill that in my kids and show them how important education really is.”

 

From Students to Teachers

 
At the Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, a boarding school in the outskirts of Hangzhou, the study abroad group spent one day observing different math classes and another day guest-teaching a class. The school, with a 100-percent graduation rate, is an institute that focuses on becoming fluent in foreign languages, specifically English.

Erin Majors Teach at a Chinese school
Making number sense: UW Oshkosh math education student Erin Majors
teaches a math lesson at the Hangzhou Foreign Language School.

To become acquainted with the school, and the students, the study abroad group spent one day giving a presentation about UW Oshkosh to the Chinese students and then answered their various questions about America, including what inspired them to become teachers to how talented they were at pingpong.

After getting a few days to prepare a math lesson, the study abroad group returned to the boarding school with high hopes, but unsure of how their lessons would be received. Math education graduate student Ami Messner, who is currently a math teacher at Oshkosh West High, said she had some difficulties getting the class to speak at first but didn’t let that scare her.

“We challenged them in ways they hadn’t thought about the problems before,” she said. “I don’t think they’re used to being asked why and having to justify and explain.”

Senior Kait Stockheimer said it was obvious that her math lesson made her more confident as a teacher and seemed to have made an impact on the Chinese students as well.

“We wrapped up talking about how math isn’t just about the answer, but the process,” Stockheimer said. “One of the students came up to me after class and said she really enjoyed that look at math and said she never heard it explained like that before.”

 

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