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Charles Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
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Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2007

IU professors in Macedonia to help shape math and science education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 3, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Seven Indiana University School of Education professors are in Macedonia this week to help promote modern teaching methods in math and science. The professors are taking part in a five-day workshop with government officials, teachers and other educational leaders in the country to train instructors to conduct workshops with Macedonian science and math teachers.

"These educators in Macedonia are anxious to think more deeply about investigative approaches to teaching," said Diana Lambdin, Armstrong Chair in Teacher Education at IU Bloomington, and a part of the team led by project director Terry Mason, associate professor in curriculum and instruction, also at IU Bloomington. "Their aim is to be able to deliver better math and science instruction in their middle schools and eventually to score better on international tests," Lambdin said.

The team includes Frank Lester, Chancellor's Professor of Mathematics Education at IU Bloomington; Charles Barman, professor of science and environmental education at IUPUI; Natalie Barman, clinical lecturer in the department of teacher education at IUPUI; Robert Helfenbein, assistant professor of teacher education at IUPUI; and Jeff Nowak, assistant professor of science education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

"This project is a great example of how our faculty is impacting education throughout the world," said Gerardo M. Gonzalez, university dean of the Indiana University School of Education. The IU School of Education participates in several international efforts, including a program to place experienced teachers in overseas teaching practicums. It also supports student teaching abroad in countries such as India, Costa Rica, Kenya and Australia.

The Macedonian project is one that Mason describes as a "culminating" effort for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the governmental agency that has provided U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for 40 years. USAID, whose overall program in Macedonia is aimed at addressing needs for building renovation, academic assessment and technology, has awarded IU and the Indiana Consortium for International Programs two separate three-year grants to focus on math and science teaching needs at the middle school level.

"The aim will be to provide professional development for math and science teaching for all of the teachers in Macedonia who teach in these middle grades," Mason said.

The IU team will work on convincing teachers to adjust educational styles that still rely on a teacher-centered model used in the former communist states. Traditionally, Macedonian middle schools break down the sciences into specific disciplines, teaching them on specific days and times. For instance, teachers may present physics in two 45-minute sessions each week and do the same for chemistry.

"We're trying to introduce the idea of some integrated science," said Natalie Barman. "The world doesn't exist in those discrete pieces."

IU instructors face several challenges beyond classroom organization and philosophy, however. There is, for example, the language barrier. The professors said they are working through translators, which slows the progress they could normally make in a five-day session. Also, Macedonia is a very poor nation, with unemployment over 35 percent and more than a quarter of the population living below the poverty line. So teaching methods must incorporate low-cost solutions.

"Everything we're doing is with very inexpensive materials," said Charlie Barman. He noted plans for a lot of "kitchen chemistry," such as experiments using salt and sugar, and said that this creative approach for teaching science is the same that is used in many poor districts of the United States.

For Macedonia, more than math scores are at stake. The country is planning to join the European Union and, according to Lester, reform of the educational system is of foremost importance in achieveing that goal.

"They have to do some things to convince the European Union that they ought to be allowed in," he said. "And part of that is making sure they have a 21st century education system. "

The IU group isn't planning another trip to Macedonia in the near future. However, they will continue to consult with the teachers through internet teleconferencing. This week, they'll demonstrate technology to allow face-to-face meetings online with their new colleagues.

"We could even visit a workshop that they were giving, and observe it firsthand," Lambdin said.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html .

Lambdin speaks about the goals of the program to train Macedonian teachers:

"These educators are anxious to think more deeply about investigative approaches to teaching. They have revised their curriculum in their country. They have a group looking at assessment. Their aim is to be able to deliver better math and science instruction in their middle schools and eventually to score better on international tests so they can join the European Union. And so our mission is to provide advice for their teacher educators and others who will do workshops with teachers in the country about inquiry-based instruction, or problem-based learning."

Lambdin says the project begins with this visit, but continues afterwards with the use of technology:

"...where we can visit with them and talk to them face to face while staying here in Bloomington. So we haven't at this point planned another actual trip. That may come about. But part of this workshop will be to demonstrate how we can keep in touch, how we could even, for example, visit a workshop that they were giving, and observe it firsthand."

Mason says this is the beginning of a multi-year project:

"We'll also be keeping in touch with them afterwards. It is a five-year project. The idea is that we would do this initial five-day workshop to give them the foundation to do this, and then we're going to find means of keeping in contact and providing support for them as they continue to carry this out through the teachers around the country."

Mason says Macedonia is a very poor nation, and as a result, teaching methods must involve inexpensive methods:

"One of the challenges of this project is for us to offer teaching methods that don't rely on expensive equipment or materials, so that you can do science and math things with basic things you can find in everyday life, even there."

Lester says the teaching project is part of an overall Macedonian effort to join the EU:

"They have to do some things to convince the European Union that they ought to be allowed in. And part of that is making sure they have a 21st century educational system. That's part of the thinking of this project is to re-tool their educational system, revamp their educational system in a way that will make them more in line with trends and developments, interestingly, in the rest of Europe, at least, if not the United States."