Hungarian-Style Math

Hungary knows how to teach math. The country’s reputation draws math majors from across America — and last spring, its first student from Central. Junior Paige Wilkin, a math major from Center Point, participated in Budapest Semester in Mathematics Education, a partner program now available to Central math and secondary education students.

The chance to study math education is rare and valuable, says professor of mathematics Wendy Weber. In Iowa, and especially at small colleges, math and education coursework are separated. Weber says Wilkin, who hopes to teach math in Iowa after graduation, gained a significant advantage through Central’s new partnership. “She’s going to be far ahead of other teachers because of this experience,” Weber says.

It was a difficult time for Wilkin to leave home — just one week after her stepfather died from pancreatic cancer. “If there is one thing that I knew that Mike wanted me still to do, even after receiving the diagnosis, it was to continue my plan to go abroad,” Wilkin wrote in her blog while in Budapest. “I have been doing my best to make the most of this opportunity.”

Wilkin began her semester abroad with two weeks of intensive Hungarian language study. Then a three-week shopping period began, when students can try as many classes as they want before deciding which interest them most.


Junior Paige Wilkin

During the semester, Weber and assistant professor of education Melissa McAninch received a Moore Family Foundation grant to spend a week experiencing the program. “I was so impressed — those classes are really special,” Weber says. “The instructors are top notch, and they’re practicing teachers, too. I can’t even explain how good they were and how masterfully they set up problems and guided students through them.”

In Hungary, math is taught as one subject, and students are prepared to use geometry, algebra, trigonometry, etc. together to solve problems. “I have really enjoyed learning math in a way that I never have before,” says Wilkin. “I am really excited to join American and Hungarian teaching ideas in my future classroom.”

While abroad, Wilkin also surprised herself by finding teaching ideas in new ways. “I was dreaming about class one night, and I thought of a game for my lesson plan in the dream,” she wrote. “I wonder if this is how my life will be as a teacher, that I think of an idea or new way to explain things and wake up in middle of night to write it down.”

Wilkin also immersed herself in Hungarian life. She ran her first half marathon in Budapest, trained by the Danube and learned to give directions through Budapest. “Experiencing a new culture has been the most important part of my time here,” she says. “I have loved getting to call Budapest my new home.”

After Wilkin returned, Weber received an email from her instructors in Budapest, expressing how Wilkin impressed them. ”They want more Central students,” says Weber, “which is way cool.”

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