I never thought I would be teaching math in China! Last June, I had the opportunity to go teach in China for a couple weeks, and I took it. In the heat of July, I was there. My colleague (an American History teacher) and I met together, and planned some activities for teaching English, then we each did our own planning in our subject areas. I had to plan enough material for teaching 10-12 two hour classes, without knowing whether I would have internet access, a SMARTBoard, or access to copies! I knew that it could mean being "stripped" of the many luxuries of teaching in my little bubble of the world in Room 221 in Northeast Ohio, USA! What have I gotten myself into?
My math lessons included topics such as equations, inequalities, systems, trigonometry, congruent triangles, sequences, and polynomials. The students seemed to be the equivalent of my sophomores back in the USA. They were excited to hear me teaching in English, and to assimilate what they already knew about each topic. Of course, there were things that were simply translation issues. (including my jokes!) We used translators to help, but discovered that often an English word and a math word don't translate very well! Another thing I knew I couldn't use was "American shortcuts" such as FOIL, that only work if you think/speak in English. I'm not sure the students knew the word "Distribute", but they knew how to do it.
One day, I decided to do triangle congruency with them. No problem, right? The students knew each of SAS, AAS and ASA very well. All of a sudden, we came to a few right triangles and they used HL before we even discussed it....they didn't know what H or L stood for, but they knew that the logic of the proof was correct. When I introduced the words hypotenuse and leg, there was a unanimous "Ohhhhhhhhhh" to express their understanding of the method of proof. Enlightening.
After a day with the Unit Circle and some basic Trig (again, skipping the SOHCAHTOA mnemonic), I moved on to using the reciprocal functions of cotangent, secant, and secant. The students had never heard of these! What? I guess they are truly not necessary, since you can always change the problem into its reciprocal and solve it from there. But what about the graphs? I thought it was worth playing around with, so we did graph them one day. I liked to think that I actually "taught" some math to this group of students! And it didn't really matter, because it wasn't on any test for them, and I wasn't giving them a grade.
Let us not forget, that one of the best parts of teaching is the different groups of students we get to work with every year or every semester. I had a group of 25 kids from China, who had dreams of coming to the U.S. for education in the next few years. I enjoyed asking them about their favorite movies, foods, and more. They were thrilled to ask me things about life in America. Unfortunately, sometimes those conversations turned to talk about drugs and gun violence. They wondered if I was afraid in my home, and if I would buy a gun. Discussions that would not likely take place in my classroom at home.
After two weeks, my colleague and I figured out that we were actually teaching the kids through their last week and even their last day of school! (Who wants to be teaching someone else's classes on the LAST day of school?) The day was July 28th, and it was probably 90+ degrees outside. Our last act as their teachers was to attempt to buy "ice cream" from the local guy just outside the campus gates...rather challenging to communicate how many and how much! We think it cost us about $20 to buy each kid an ice cream bar of some sort. :)
Stay tuned for the next installment...