Culture and Learning course explores math education

BGSU students gain invaluable teaching experience in Thailand

Ten students from the School of Teaching and Learning, experienced teaching and learning in Thailand during the Culture and Learning in Thailand course this past winter. Led by Dr. Gabriel Matney, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, the group spent three weeks during their winter vacation preparing and teaching math to over 200 fourth- through sixth-graders from Thailand.

“Ask any mathematics teacher in the U.S. if their students naturally love learning about mathematics and you will get the same answer, no.  In my past experiences with Thai professors, many express these same difficulties of engaging Thai students in mathematics learning,” Matney said. “This problem intrigued me because our cultures really aren’t that similar. I wanted my students to see how teachers in other cultures combat this problem and give our students the opportunity to teach and engage in new learning techniques.”

Although this course is designed around mathematics teaching and learning, Matney's course is open to all majors. In fact, he said, a telecommunications student registered for the course a few years ago to film a documentary.

Students enrolled in the course are immersed in the Thai culture from the very beginning. Prior to leaving for Thailand, each student is instructed to prepare learning activities to teach to the Thai preservice teachers and professors. Shortly after arrival, BGSU students are expected to teach mathematics activities in actual Thai public school classrooms.

“As a college, we have been looking for ways to get our students classroom experience earlier in their careers,” Matney said. “Through this course, BGSU preservice teachers are handed a classroom full of students and trusted by those teachers to give their students a quality learning experience. BGSU preservice teachers enrolled in this course were given complete control of an entire classroom and were able to teach mathematics.”

Brianna Lawless, a junior majoring in middle childhood education, was one of the 10 students enrolled in the course. For her, the experience solidified the fact that she wanted to be a teacher. 

“The experience we received in a nontraditional setting really forced us to think hard about how we were communicating the material.”“Because of my training at BGSU, I think I was well prepared for the experience,” stated Lawless. “However, I was nervous to get in front of the class and teach because it is something I hadn’t done on my own prior to this course. After about 10 minutes I started getting comfortable in front of the class, and I could tell the students appreciated and even enjoyed what I was teaching them. This experience confirmed for me that I want to be a teacher, and I’m grateful for the practice.”

Not only did BGSU students have the opportunity to teach a classroom of students, they also taught math camp at multiple locations. BGSU students paired up with fourth-year students from Kamphaeng Phet Rajabhat University (KPRU) to plan math camp. Each BGSU student was assigned a team of ambassadors from KPRU upon arrival to serve as a guide throughout the three-week course. Students from both universities taught and learned from each other. The KPRU students taught the BGSU students games, dances, songs and mathematics learning strategies. 

BGSU students learned from, and relied on, the KPRU students during the experience. Each student had a different role at math camp. From planning the activities to securing the proper materials needed, BGSU students were responsible for putting on a top-notch math camp for the children. The KPRU students were instrumental in the planning process, especially when the BGSU students were trying to overcome the language barrier.

“We had to learn to communicate effectively with our Thai students during math camp,” said Davis Gerber, a junior majoring in adolescent to young adult mathematics. “The experience we received in a nontraditional setting really forced us to think hard about how we were communicating the material.”

This course isn’t just about receiving teaching experience for BGSU students; the students are taught different games and activities to bring back to their classrooms and lesson plans. In addition, the students gain perspective about other educational systems.

“The most interesting part of this course is that our students go and do service,” concluded Matney. “They interact with Thailand preservice teachers (individuals studying to be teachers) and helped them improve their English. I want students to know that this course is not a trip. It is truly a learning course with the singular objective to teach and learn mathematics in a different culture.”

Lawless summed up the experience by stating she would have regretted not taking the course. “Outside of learning and teaching in the classroom, we experienced the culture and the country. I was able to challenge myself and I believe I became a better student by watching the Thai students struggle to learn and understand our way of teaching.”

Find more information on the Culture and Learning in Thailand course and courses similar to it that go to China, Australia, and Fiji by visiting the International Programs and Partnerships website.