For a Scholarship Student from Shanghai, Math Education is Elementary

The first time teacher Hong Yuan visited Teachers College nine years ago, she knew immediately that she wanted to return one day to earn a doctoral degree.

During her time as a visiting scholar, Yuan toured several colleges—one of which was involved in mathematics education for teachers-in-training—as part of a seminar with Professor Bruce Vogeli. That experience inspired her to compare best practices in elementary math education in Shanghai and New York City.

Yuan embarked on a doctorate in mathematics education in 2012, and with support from the Edith Shih Endowed Scholarship award in 2015-2016, she is on track to complete her degree this fall.

“I’m very grateful to Ms. Shih for this scholarship,” says Yuan, who trained elementary teachers in mathematics education at, Shanghai Normal University, and currently teaches math full-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Because my dissertation topic is about the acquisition of Shanghai mathematics teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, I need to travel to Shanghai to collect my data and the trips are very expensive. This scholarship has been very important in helping me finish my dissertation.”

Teachers College Trustee Edith Shih established the scholarship fund to provide assistance to master’s degree and doctoral students from Asia. TC’s enrollment includes roughly 700 students from Asia. The number of Chinese students has grown from just under 100 to over 400 over the past five years, reflecting the College’s sustained outreach in China in recent years as well as its long history of collaborative engagement with China dating back nearly a century. 

“Teachers College is an iconic name in China,” says Shih, who serves as general counsel and corporate secretary for Hong Kong–based CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. “I have benefitted from an education at TC. I want to, in my small ways, help others benefit from the same positive experience.”

“Of the many students during my tenure, Hong is among the strongest mathematically and educationally,” says her advisor, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education Bruce Vogeli. “Her experience working with teachers in China is an advantage to participating in workshops at TC.”

Vogeli and Yuan

Professor Bruce Vogeli and mathematics doctoral candidate Hong Yuan.

So what has Yuan observed about math education in the U.S., which has ranked well below Shanghai on the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests? Yuan notes that too many American children don’t master foundational math skills in elementary school, which hurts them as they move on to middle school and high school.

In Shanghai elementary schools, math is taught by math specialists. But in the U.S., elementary school teachers typically teach all subjects. American teachers also tend to be isolated in their classrooms, while grade-level teachers in Shanghai share office space, giving them more opportunities to discuss best practices.

“Elementary education is so important for students,” Yuan says. “If they don’t learn mathematics well, if the teacher doesn’t teach mathematics well, the students lose interest and then they think, ‘I can’t do math—it’s too hard.’”

Ironically, the Chinese mathematics curriculum was influenced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in the U.S. While the U.S. is a leader in mathematics education research, the results have not filtered down to every elementary school classroom, Yuan says.

“There is a gap between research and practice in the schools,” she says. “Hopefully my study will have implications for the teachers’ practice and professional development.”

Mariko Thompson Beck

Published Monday, May. 2, 2016

For a Scholarship Student from Shanghai, Math Education is Elementary

The first time teacher Hong Yuan visited Teachers College nine years ago, she knew immediately that she wanted to return one day to earn a doctoral degree.

During her time as a visiting scholar, Yuan toured several colleges—one of which was involved in mathematics education for teachers-in-training—as part of a seminar with Professor Bruce Vogeli. That experience inspired her to compare best practices in elementary math education in Shanghai and New York City.

Yuan embarked on a doctorate in mathematics education in 2012, and with support from the Edith Shih Endowed Scholarship award in 2015-2016, she is on track to complete her degree this fall.

“I’m very grateful to Ms. Shih for this scholarship,” says Yuan, who trained elementary teachers in mathematics education at, Shanghai Normal University, and currently teaches math full-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Because my dissertation topic is about the acquisition of Shanghai mathematics teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, I need to travel to Shanghai to collect my data and the trips are very expensive. This scholarship has been very important in helping me finish my dissertation.”

Teachers College Trustee Edith Shih established the scholarship fund to provide assistance to master’s degree and doctoral students from Asia. TC’s enrollment includes roughly 700 students from Asia. The number of Chinese students has grown from just under 100 to over 400 over the past five years, reflecting the College’s sustained outreach in China in recent years as well as its long history of collaborative engagement with China dating back nearly a century. 

“Teachers College is an iconic name in China,” says Shih, who serves as general counsel and corporate secretary for Hong Kong–based CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. “I have benefitted from an education at TC. I want to, in my small ways, help others benefit from the same positive experience.”

“Of the many students during my tenure, Hong is among the strongest mathematically and educationally,” says her advisor, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education Bruce Vogeli. “Her experience working with teachers in China is an advantage to participating in workshops at TC.”

Vogeli and Yuan

Professor Bruce Vogeli and mathematics doctoral candidate Hong Yuan.

So what has Yuan observed about math education in the U.S., which has ranked well below Shanghai on the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests? Yuan notes that too many American children don’t master foundational math skills in elementary school, which hurts them as they move on to middle school and high school.

In Shanghai elementary schools, math is taught by math specialists. But in the U.S., elementary school teachers typically teach all subjects. American teachers also tend to be isolated in their classrooms, while grade-level teachers in Shanghai share office space, giving them more opportunities to discuss best practices.

“Elementary education is so important for students,” Yuan says. “If they don’t learn mathematics well, if the teacher doesn’t teach mathematics well, the students lose interest and then they think, ‘I can’t do math—it’s too hard.’”

Ironically, the Chinese mathematics curriculum was influenced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in the U.S. While the U.S. is a leader in mathematics education research, the results have not filtered down to every elementary school classroom, Yuan says.

“There is a gap between research and practice in the schools,” she says. “Hopefully my study will have implications for the teachers’ practice and professional development.”

Mariko Thompson Beck

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