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Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Korean teachers taking in differences, making notes during month-long visit

For the third year, the IU School of Education is hosting a group of secondary math teachers

July 30, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Twenty-two South Korean secondary math teachers are in the middle of a four-week mathematics education training program at the Indiana University School of Education.

Korean Teachers

During their visit to IU, the South Korean secondary math teachers toured a science lab at Bloomington High School South.

Print-Quality Photo

This is the third year the IU School of Education has won a grant from South Korea's Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to host the teachers. It's part of a program the government in Korea sponsors to send math and science teachers across the United States to learn different teaching methods.

"We want to see what is the difference between Korea and the United States and if there is something to learn from the different system," said Se Ho Hwang, a high school mathematics teacher in the Seoul metropolitan area. "I heard that in the USA they are focused on total individual development, and we are focusing on a very definite goal," he said, adding that the goal is for students to get high scores on exams.

The teachers arrived July 17 and will remain in Bloomington until Aug. 11, spending two days in Chicago before departing for Korea. They are receiving a full complement of information in the program, which includes academic lectures and workshops, visits to area schools, but also exposure to local culture.

Last week the group saw the demolition derby at the Monroe County Fair. They've seen Brown County State Park, taken a pontoon boat onto Lake Monroe, and they will eat at an Amish restaurant after touring an Amish one-room school house in southern Indiana. The teachers say they are impressed with the difference in teaching philosophy they've noticed.

"In Korea, teachers usually give the knowledge to students," middle school math teacher Hyungjoo Lee said through a translator. "But here in America, students and teachers share their knowledge with each other. The teacher's job is more to support the student's learning."

Some of the workshops have focused on "project-based learning," which helps students use math concepts by having them work on a project that uses those concepts. Lee said such methods are less common in the more rigid and centralized curriculum of Korea.

"In America, it seems like (the teachers) have more flexibility since authority for making curriculum is held by a local school or district," Lee said.

One teacher said she has used some interdisciplinary approaches in her classroom before, and looks forward to implementing more. But she said it is a slight departure for Korean teachers.

"In Korea, most teaching is approached with teaching some concept first," said Seoul high school math teacher Eun Joo Kim. "But here, mathematical teaching, from the beginning, is trying to connect math to real life."

International mathematics test results would indicate teachers in Korea don't need much help in getting positive results from students. The Program for International Student Assessment found Korea, Finland, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong-China outperformed all other countries when it surveyed 15-year-old students in 2006. The U.S. was ranked 24th.

"I think it's a very healthy attitude," said Enrique Galindo, associate professor of mathematics education at IU Bloomington and one of the academic project directors. "They feel that they are doing a good job, but they want to continue learning and see if they can do a better job."

Galindo said learning about the U.S. culture of learning is important to the teachers as well, something American instructors could learn from, he said. Galindo said the participation of many faculty members and graduate students from the IU School of Education, including the majority of the mathematics education faculty, provides the strength and wide range of academic activities included in the program.

Galindo added that project managers Jane Henson and Christi Jones, from the Center for Social Studies and International Education, have been instrumental in the planning and implementation of the cultural component and project logistics. The Center is a coordinated effort of the College of Arts and Science and the School of Education.

The visitors say they'll consider making changes in their schools based on what they've observed in the U.S., including a different pace to American education. "In America, the process of learning is longer, and there's more process activity-based teaching," said Hong Weol Jan, a middle school math teacher in Seoul.

Jon Cheol Kim, who teaches in southeastern South Korea, added that teachers may benefit from the pace. "One of the most impressive things to learn here is that a lot of American teachers have a good environment to focus more on mathematical teaching," Kim said.

Media Outlets: Comments from sources in this release are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.