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December 5, 2018

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English secondary schools next in line for Shanghai math treatment

Nadine Ford and Dominic Cullen, two secondary math teachers from England, taught a class at Shanghai Weiyu Middle School yesterday after observing local teachers at work during the past week.

They are part of the latest group of British primary and secondary teachers on a two-week exchange sponsored by the UK Department for Education, here to learn the techniques of Shanghai math.

“It’s really impressive. Students are very able and very fluent in what they do. The methods definitely develop their math skills in a very positive way,” said Ford.

“There is good attention to detail in China and they look at things very clearly and demonstrate things in a coherent fashion,” she said. “I like the fact that they go very deep, ask a lot of questions to test understanding and really drill the details of a topic. I think they do that better here than we do and I will be trying to learn from that and use the technique. I will make sure I ask a lot of questions that develop deep understanding, not to go too quickly and to make students think and understand.”

Ford and Cullen showed their “secret weapons” in class. They use small cards so that all students can show their answers to get quick idea of what everyone knows. Ford believes her Shanghai counterparts can benefit from the trick.

“The cards make the teaching more interactive. It’s like a game, rather than letting one classmate stand up to answer the question,” said 6th-grade student Yu Yue.

This is the fifth group to come to Shanghai since the program began in 2014, and the first time that secondary school teachers have been so deeply involved.

Carol Knights, director for secondary mathematics at England’s National Center for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), said several secondary school teachers had come to Shanghai in 2014 but the program had been focused on primary schools for the past a few years.

This time, 16 secondary teachers have come, following positive results in primary schools. Some students who have been taught with the Shanghai approach are now going to secondary.

About 350 teachers, including Ford and Cullen, have already been involved observing local teachers during their time on exchange in England.

Cullen was very impressed by the skills of students.

“It seems that there is something that comes from very young age,” he said. “What you do in Shanghai is amazing. The kids really learn it the first time, and don’t have to relearn it later. They are very self-assured. If we can do this in England, we can make much more progress.”

Ford also found it interesting to meet teaching research groups where teachers discuss what works and what needs to be changed.

“It’s very useful to see how much teachers work together and collaborate, helping each other to refine their lessons,” she said. “That is something I would like to do more of with my colleagues.”

Knights said it would take five to 10 years for the program to have a real impact in secondary schools. “Our intention is to have 50 percent of all our secondary schools involved by 2022.”

According to Richard Hoy, from the international education division of the Department for Education, more 35 secondary school teachers will come to Shanghai next year, up from 16 this year. The program is set to continue until 2020.

Debbie Morgan, NCETM director of primary mathematics, said that the program was to expand to around 9,600 primary schools in England from the current 5,000.

She said some teachers had used Shanghai methods in other subjects, breaking things down into small steps and giving students confidence.

More than 80 Shanghai teachers will visit schools in England in January.


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