I have a foreign exchange student in my Pre Calculus class this year. She is a wonderful young lady from Sweden, Sandra. I think I am learning more from her than she is learning from me. She attends an IB school in her country. After attending a recent math competition in our state, she informed me that her math club travels to China to compete with other IB schools. I think sometimes in education, we are so focused on what is happening in our backyard that we forget to look at the amazing things other countries are doing to educate their youth.
Sandra’s brother does not attend her IB school. When the students in Sweden complete ‘middle school,’ they choose a higher learning center based upon their interests. He chose to attend a technical high school. All Sweden citizens can also attend college for free. Sandra knows that she must perform at a high level to maintain her enrollment at the IB school. She knew the expectations when she arrived and she will meet them.
I think the most surprising thing I have learned from Sandra is that while mathematics is a universal language, how we teach it is not. We just started our unit on Trigonometry. When I introduced the unit circle based upon special right triangles, Sandra informed me that she had never seen the unit circle. She knows trig and has already completed a Pre Calculus course in Sweden, but they do not use the unit circle. My initial thought was, “How do you know the Sine of pi/6 if you don’t use the circle?” One of our Calculus students thought that it would be easier to make the transition to graphing trig functions without the unit circle. I guess I see his point. I love the Unit Circle so much, so I’m not ready to abandon it.
I know that Sweden sent us their best when they sent Sandra. I’m so excited to see what else this young lady can teach me. Who knows, maybe someday when my own children are grown I will explore the possibility of being a foreign exchange teacher. Sounds like fun!