As most educators in Beijing’s international education circles know, teaching bilingual or non-native English speakers can come with a unique set of challenges. At some schools however, teachers and educators use this challenge as an opportunity for learning. At 3e International School, foreign and Chinese teachers have coordinated to adopt a collaborative approach to teaching math. According to 3e’s Director of Research and Curriculum Hailing Wu, teachers follow a set of common goals to plan instruction and discuss students’ progress on a daily basis to revise and reinforce each others’ teaching accordingly. Wu answers questions about 3e’s dual immersion math program.
When was the program first integrated in the curriculum?
This dual immersion math program has been in place for nursery, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten children since the birth of 3e in 2005. It was first extended to 3e’s elementary program during the 2013-2014 academic year.
What are the benefits for children to learn math in more than one language?
At 3e, language is not viewed as a separate subject but is taught integrated with other curricular domains (such as social studies and science). 3e advocates a theme/project-based approach to language development. Having math as a formal part of both classrooms enriches students’ opportunities to expand math vocabulary and increases their possibilities for using learned languages in daily-life situations. Because of the increased exposure, students are more likely to have a balanced development of math terms, concepts, and skills in both languages. Recently, much worldwide attention has been given to comparisons between the US and Chinese mathematics education from aspects of language features, cultural expectations, teacher preparation, etc. As a school that has a vision of integrating best practices of both educational systems, 3e aims to incorporate strengths of both countries into math curriculum and instruction. It is commonly believed that Chinese schools put a high value on developing students’ in-depth understandings of core math strands (such as computation and algebra) through repetitive but subtly varied pencil-and-paper practices, while a much richer and broader curriculum is usually presented in US schools with emphases on hands-on activities and multiple strategies for problem solving. Thanks to the collaboration between Chinese and expat teachers, 3e students now have significantly more time to practice specific mathematics skills, while they enjoy applying their mathematics understandings to daily life in creative and fun ways. Through math, students can build a sense of how language affects learning. For example, research has reached the consensus that the base-ten number system used in Chinese language better helps students understand the concept of place value. Math expressions become a unique means to studying similarities and differences of Chinese and English cultures. In English, the denominator goes after the numerator to express a fraction; meanwhile, it is the opposite in Chinese. This reflects the subtle differences between two cultures in understanding the partial and whole relationship.
What’s the best age to start dual immersion math education?
Two-year-old children at 3e start learning math in both languages. The younger the child is, the better. But, such exposures need to be mindfully and consistently planned.
What are the advantages to this model?
This dual immersion math program provides students with richer opportunities for both math and language learning. A recent survey also shows that 3e children lovelearning math in both languages. The key to program success is to have a group of experienced teachers who are open-minded and passionate about instructional innovation. They value teamwork and explore ways to learn from each other.
What are the challenges?
Various professional developmentopportunities are also needed to deepen teachers’understanding of subject matter and to expand their repertoire of teaching activities/strategies.
What textbooks will the program follow?
Everyday Mathematics, a research-based curriculum developed by the University of Chicago, is formally adopted in 3e’s elementary English classrooms. It is a popular program in the US, as well as among international schools. Several sets of textbooks from Mainland China, including those published by People’s Education Press and Beijing Normal University Publishing Group, are regularly referred to by elementary Chinese teachersfor unit, lesson, and activity planning. Everyday Mathematicsalso serves as a reference for them.
How can educators balance textbook use in two languages?
3e teachers do not strictly follow textbooks for pacing and sequencing. Instruction is planned and implemented in alignment with the learning objectives outlined in 3e’s curriculum framework. They also draw upon other valuable resources when appropriate.
How will teachers combine the common core of the United States and Chinese national standards of Math?
It is a standards-based curriculum developed and implemented at 3e. The math section of 3e’s curriculum framework was last updated in Spring/Summer 2013 by a math curriculum committee that included university professors and teacher representatives. Common Core State Math Standards and China’s National Standards were fully considered during the revision and are well represented in the current curriculum framework.
What is 3e’s next step?
Considering the diversity of student backgrounds, 3e plans to review math curricula of other countries and have their strengths appropriately incorporated in this dual immersion program.
Photo: Courtesy of 3e