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Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010

Month-long mathematics education program for Korean teachers concludes

August 12, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A group of 21 secondary teachers from South Korea present their final projects and hold a "graduation ceremony" this afternoon (August 12) following a month of intensive mathematics teaching workshops with area teachers and Indiana University School of Education faculty and staff. The group is part of the fifth annual visit of Korean teachers to Bloomington.

The project is hosted by the Center for Social Studies and International Education (CSSIE) -- a coordinated program of the School of Education and the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences -- which has professional development for international educators as part of its mission. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has awarded a grant each of the last five years to the IU School of Education to host the teachers who arrived on July 17 and leave Bloomington on Friday (August 13).

Korean Teachers

Two of 21 secondary teachers from South Korea at IU this week to participate in professional development look over project-based learning materials designed to enhance creativity in teaching mathematics.

Print-Quality Photo

"We have access to great faculty that are supporting this work, not only in math education, but in other areas," project director and Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Enrique Galindo said. "And we also have access to great local teachers. So I think we are really well-placed here with all the great resources at our disposal."

Over the four weeks, the teachers learned a variety of aspects of mathematics teaching and creative instructional styles. The examples ranged from a demonstration by Bloomington High School South teacher Keith Bobay about using graphing calculators to estimate ages of celebrities and public figures. Other examples included applying Montessori principles to secondary teaching and mathematics projects based on quilt patterns. Additionally, CSSIE administrative manager Christi Jones organized cultural events, including a visit to historic French Lick and Conner Prairie.

But the focus for the teachers was on learning ways to creatively teach math and inspire students to remain interested in the subject. While Korea outperforms almost all countries in international math scores at the elementary grades, the teachers visiting here said students lose interest in secondary grades.

"In Korea, students are very strong to compute quickly, but they don't like mathematics," visiting teacher Nam Hee Kim said. "So as a result, when they go to college, they usually don't want to major in mathematics."

"Conversations that I've had with teachers, indicate they are concerned that there are all these tests that they have to have their students go through in order to go to college," said project co-director Jean Lee, who has worked with Korean teachers for all five years and has just completed her Ph.D. in mathematics education. "But they also want to instill this creativity and apply critical thinking skills."

During today's final full day of activities, teachers will present their own projects using what they've learned here and designed to inspire creativity and critical thinking. Each has developed a teaching unit based on project-based learning techniques applied to mathematics instruction.

"They created a project-based unit that embeds or incorporates workshop content," Lee said. "So they're taking things that they've learned in these workshops and put them into their unit to make it more student-centered and to instill creativity, critical thinking and communication skills."

Galindo was in South Korea earlier this year and said that he came away with the sense that many teachers are using traditional methods to teach math. He said he sensed that they desire new ways to inspire students to learn math. "We've been trying to put together a program that addresses these interests, one that shares what we think are the best methods to teach mathematics for understanding," Galindo said. "We do that using a project-based learning approach. And we're also trying to approach this need of creativity with our focus on supporting mathematical thinking in different content areas."

The teachers said they were impressed with the different ways of presenting mathematics material, although some wondered how they can fit such creativity into their tight mathematics standards. They also said Korean and U.S. teachers share many of the same tools and resources, but think differently.

"The differences are teaching thought about education," participating teacher Hyung Shin Kim said. "These are very important differences between the United States and Korea."

Hear more from the Korean teachers in a video posted on the IU School of Education's YouTube page,