Math faculty travel the world

Three faculty members made exciting journeys to Africa and Asia, experiencing new perspectives and learning many things about educational opportunities around the globe.

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Char Beckmann's year-long sabbatical in 2009-2010 took her to both China and South Africa as part of a study of international secondary mathematics education. While in China, Char worked at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai and vicinity for four weeks, observing secondary mathematics classes and discussing with teachers their choices in teaching each secondary level class. She also participated in seminars, advised graduate students, and discussed US secondary mathematics teaching and learning with ECNU faculty and graduate students. She presented two invited workshops, one for high school teachers in Shanghai's Cao Yang Er Zhong, and the second for ECNU faculty members and graduate students. 

One of the many highlights from her time in China stems from the time she spent getting to know several mathematics education graduate students. These students were excited to discuss the teaching and learning of mathematics and greatly appreciated Char's feedback on papers they were writing. They spent hours discussing mathematics education, many times over meals. When Char was preparing the workshops about the mathematics teaching in US high schools, she discussed with graduate students topics and ideas that would be most relevant for Chinese educators. These discussions provided an opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences facing math educators in both China and the US and also provided the basis for lifelong friendships. 

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Char also spent a four weeks at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. This work was funded by the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. Here, Char spent most of her time at the university teaching as a guest in both graduate and undergraduate mathematics education classes as well as observing mathematics and pedagogy courses that are part of the course-work for prospective and in-service teachers. Instruction was conducted in English though for most students, English was not their native language. (In China, secondary education is conducted for the most part in Mandarin. This necessitated that an interpreter explain what was happening in the classroom.) A highlight of her time at Wits was participating in a professional learning community with her South African colleagues. Together they worked on curricular issues and built professional relationships that have resulted in mutually beneficial work.

Char is grateful for the opportunities she has had to work and travel abroad. Each environment provided an opportunity to learn more about other cultures. These opportunities also expanded her understanding of the diversity of ways that secondary mathematics education is envisioned and conducted.

Last year Esther Billings had the opportunity to travel to Turkey and take advantage of one the Padnos International Center's (PIC) more recent initiatives, international partnership delegation teams. This small, interdisciplinary group of GVSU faculty and staff traveled to Turkey over spring break to spend time exploring the history and culture of Turkey (spending 2 days in Istanbul) and then visiting and learning more about our partner university, Middle East Technical University (METU), in Ankara, Turkey. The team was led by historian Dr. Jim Goode, the former director of GVSU's Middle East Studies Program.

While visiting METU's campus, a green spot in the city, Esther was greeted as a guest of honor as she attended lectures related to different aspects of Turkish life, shared meals and lively conversation with faculty and staff, and spent time meeting mathematics education colleague Dr. Erdinc Cakiroglu, who made her feel so welcome. He showed Esther around two different elementary schools as well as the immediate area surrounding the university and answered her many questions. They not only shared common research interests and philosophical approaches to the teaching and learning of mathematics, but found they faced similar challenges in modeling and promoting a problem-solving approach to mathematics and providing ongoing and sustainable professional development in mathematics for elementary teachers. Esther left METU feeling energized and excited by their shared vision and experiences.

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The second phase of this international partnership delegation team was to host a colleague from METU at GVSU the following academic year. PIC, in consultation with our team, invited Dr. Erdinc Cakiroglu to visit GVSU fall semester. This reciprocal exchange meant that Esther had additional opportunities to continue conversations, identify potential areas for collaboration, and return the hospitality received while she was at METU. Erdinc arrived in mid September for a 5-day visit. The weather was still warm, the trees just starting to turn colors, and it was the opening week of ArtPrize; Grand Rapids was alive with people and art and our campus looked beautiful. He spent his time meeting colleagues in the mathematics department and in the wider university community, learned more about GVSU, shared his current research, and talked with students and colleagues about the teaching and learning of mathematics in Turkey. Esther hopes she will have an opportunity to return to Ankara to teach a short course and continue to work with Erdinc to plan and engage in a collaborative research project.

More about Esther's experience can be found in the Winter 2010 issue of Global Connections, a publication of the Padnos International Center.

Jon Hodge will return to the Mully Children's Family (MCF) in Ndalani, Kenya in May 2010, making his third trip to Kenya in 14 months. MCF is an organization providing community and education for two thousand abandoned, orphaned, and poverty-stricken children and youth, ranging in age from infants to youth in their twenties. The founder of MCF, Charles Mulli, worked his way out of poverty and became a wealthy businessman who decided he wanted to use his wealth to help children who were suffering. MCF provides education, rehabilitation, and community with its family atmosphere.

During his first trip to Kenya, Jon spent times observing mathematics classrooms, experiencing and learning more firsthand about MCF, and working with recent MCF graduates interested in university-level educational opportunities in the United States. After meeting with and interviewing 80 recent MCF high school graduates, Jon identified 16 graduates with whom to work (featured in the photo). Since that first trip, Jon has continued his efforts to coordinate educational opportunities for these graduates at area universities and colleges. Jon has met with representatives at seven local colleges and universities, including GVSU and, provided that visas and other paperwork can be processed, the first 4 students will have the opportunity to study at GVSU, Hope College, and Calvin College in Fall 2010. Jon expects to continue working to coordinate admission and scholarships for these students as well as working with private donors in the area to help raise monies to support the students' undergraduate learning opportunities. Jon hopes to develop even more partnerships between GVSU and MCF, possible through the Honors College or the Padnos International Center.


Page last modified June 9, 2017