Aspiring math teachers multiply their learning with trip to China

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By Natasha Fly

BGSU students had the opportunity to put their learning to use halfway around the world as part of the inaugural Culture and Mathematics Learning in China course. Led by associate professor Dr. Gabriel Matney, 12 aspiring teachers traveled over winter break to Hunan Normal University (HNU) where they worked with their Chinese peers to implement math camps in the region like those held in Northwest Ohio.

math camp china 1The journey to this course began three years ago through Matney’s collaboration with a group of pre-service teacher education students to create math camps for local schools in Bowling Green. In order to garner support for the project, a Collegiate Math Camp was hosted for interested students and college dignitaries to learn more about the camps.  

“At that time, two dignitaries from China came out to observe the math camp,” Matney said. “After the camp, they asked if a group of students would be willing to travel to Hunan Normal University (HNU) and share our ideas about mathematics teaching and to train HNU pre-service teachers to run the camps in China just like we run them in the United States.”  

Matney began the process of putting together a course about Chinese mathematics education with one part of that course being the sharing of BGSU’s mathematics camp ideas with partners at HNU.

This past winter was the first course offering in which 12 students – mostly Middle Childhood Education and Adolescent/Young Adult Education majors who hope to teach mathematics – traveled with Matney to exchange ideas and work alongside the students and faculty of HNU.

In order to prepare for the math camps, BGSU students designed two full days of training to prepare HNU students to put on math camps that were conducted for over 120 Chinese middle school students.  

“When running the math camps, we thought it would be beneficial to have each BGSU student pair up with one or two HNU students,” said BGSU senior Julia Porcella. “This way, the HNU students would learn about all the roles that must be done to hold a successful math camp, including stations leaders, team leaders, energizers, emcees and many other roles. We also discussed the activities and itinerary that they thought would be best to do at the math camps while we trained them about how to run a camp.”

math camp china 2In addition to serving as a collaborative learning experience for university students, the math camps provided another level of training by working directly with the middle school students.

“Another goal of Math Camp is to improve the problem-solving and teamwork skills of the children,” Porcella said.  “The activities we do at math camps are not necessarily what many people think of when they think of math activities. Many are games, problem-solving or pattern recognition activities, rather than procedural math skills. Many also require the students to work together to solve problems.”

After successfully implementing the format of the math camps in the middle schools, HNU students will be able to run their own math camps tailored to the needs of their community of students.

“We know we prepared them to be ready to make and run a successful math camp in China and to be able to modify the future camps to meet the needs of their students,” Matney said. “Reflection and modification of the camps is a large part of our own process. We included the HNU professors and students in that process after each camp in China.”  

The course allowed many students to bond through their shared passion for teaching and math.

“As a teacher, I want to spread my love of mathematics to students,” Porcella said.  “Math camps give us a platform to have fun with students in a different way than during school. It incorporates so many different activities that there is some part of Math Camp that each student can really connect to.”  

Not only did the course provide students with an opportunity for students to develop their teaching and teamwork skills, it also allowed them to engage in a culture that they found was not so different from their own.

“This course to China was an unforgettable experience,” said BGSU junior Jessica Huot. “I was given the opportunity to learn about a different culture inside and outside of a classroom. This will benefit me as an education major because I will be able to relate to my students of different cultural backgrounds and foster a more inclusive classroom experience.”

The pre-service teachers also recognize the indispensable value of experience working with students of different backgrounds.

“One of the biggest things I have learned is that the students in China are much more similar to students in America than different,” Porcella said. “In both countries, the students want to learn in fun ways, they want to be challenged, they want to impress teachers and like being engaged in their learning.”

math camp china 3In addition to their time implementing and working on the math camps, BGSU students had the opportunity to travel to many impressive sites, climb the Great wall and experience the ancient Chinese cultures of Hunan province in the National forest of Zhangjiajie.

Matney will continue to provide students with this learning opportunity every other year with the next course being offered during the winter of the 2018-2019 academic year.