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November 8, 2016

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Teaching the teachers brings lessons for all

A group of 71 British maths teachers arrived in Shanghai yesterday to learn from local teachers and swap tips on methods and experience.

This is the third batch of British teachers to come to Shanghai under an exchange program launched by China and the UK after Shanghai students topped the 2012 international PISA tests for maths, in which the UK ranked 26th.

PISA — or the Program for International Student Assessment — is a worldwide assessment by the OECD of 15-year-old students to assess skills in mathematics, science and reading.

In the previous two years, a total of 139 British teachers visited Shanghai and 127 Shanghai teachers visited the UK.

About 70 Shanghai teachers will head to the UK at the end of this month for a two-week teaching program at 35 primary schools.

Their methods will be observed by 3,500 UK teachers.

“The first two rounds really laid the foundation for us to learn so much from the mastery of mathematics teaching in China,” Clare Fowler, director of math education policy at the UK Education Department, said at the welcome ceremony at the Shanghai Normal University.

“The impact is not just making difference to the teachers, but it’s also making such a profound difference to the children in the schools in England,” she said.

“So they have the fundamental understanding of mathematics, which is the platform to go on to be absolutely brilliant in math.”

Britain announced in July it would roll out the Shanghai method of math teaching to half the primary schools in the UK — about 8,000 — in a 41 million pound (US$51 million) program.

The UK government commissioned Sheffield Hallam University to evaluate the China-England math teacher exchange, and the report was very positive.

Among the first batch of 48 schools visited by Shanghai teachers between 2014 and 2015, 38 were making medium to high levels of improvement by adopting some Shanghai-informed practices, according to the university’s report released in July.

Most teachers reported that the changes implemented since the Shanghai teachers’ visit had led to positive outcomes for pupils, including increased enthusiasm for mathematics, deeper engagement, increased confidence and higher levels of achievement.

“There are early indications that the exchange has the potential to meet its core aim of fostering a radical shift in mathematics teaching in primary schools and to impact on pupil attainment,” the report concluded.

Natalie Ruddell, who teaches math to 11-year-old students at Eldon Grove Primary School, said changes have taken place in her school as her students are no longer taught in different groups, but as a whole class.

“Children who were engaged in small groups considered themselves as poor achievers and less able,” she said. “The Shanghai methods really engage them in the classroom.

“They really love learning math now and it has such a huge impact on our school.”

Like other teachers in this year’s exchange, it is the first time for Ruddell to come to Shanghai, but she has already been teaching for a year based on the experience of colleagues who have visited China under the program.

Ruddell said she was impressed by how the Chinese teachers teach key concepts before moving on to more difficult material.

“Everything is broken down into something that all children can understand and take very small steps with the learners, so everyone can stay together and build on the fundamental knowledge of mathematics to move to a greater level,” she said.

The exchange program not only benefited the UK, but also Shanghai schools and teachers, said Zhang Minxuan, director of the PISA program in Shanghai and professor at the Shanghai Normal University.

“Our strict concepts are easier to teach, but they might be dull for some students. So when I saw that the British teachers were using all ways to keep students interested, I realized that a combination of our methods might be the best,” said Lin Xumai, a teacher from Jincai Experimental Middle School in Pudong New Area, who visited the UK last year.


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