By Rachael Blackman – BSME Summer 2018

Sziasztok (Hello)! After 22 hours of traveling, I landed myself 9 hours into the future in the capital of Hungary to study the Hungarian approach to math education. The 2018 summer program called Budapest Semesters in Mathematics Education (BSME) consisted of 16 university students from the United States and Canada with a passion for math and education. This experience abroad will impact my future students and helped provide meaningful growth to my individual character.

I spent 5 weeks in Budapest taking classes that aimed to share the Hungarian education system. The program introduced us to the Pósa method, alternative ways to integrate technology into the classroom, problem solving techniques, and teaching through games and manipulatives. During the sixth week, we went to a small town, Mátrafüred, where we spent a week at the MaMuT summer camp. About 90 mathematically gifted students were invited to spend a week solving math problems. The BSME program observed lessons in the mornings and helped run and participate in activities during the afternoons.

Obviously, the program had a heavy focus on teaching the Pósa method. Lajos Pósa is a prominent math educator in Hungary and developed a teaching style for mathematically gifted students. We had a first-hand experience with this method during our courses as well as the chance to observe a lesson taught by Pósa at the MaMuT camp. The method focuses on how to bring problem-based learning into the Hungarian education system. Emphasis is placed on giving students the chance to learn in groups and discover for themselves. Teachers create a rigorous sequence of problems where each question belongs to a thread (combinatorics, strategy games, recursive thinking etc.).
While I think problem-based learning would be beneficial to all types of students, it is hard to visualize a direct application of the Pósa method in an American classroom where schools have a set curriculum, common standards, and deadlines for teachers and students. However, an important thing I learned is to have students reason. If they can explain why x = 7 and how they got that answer, then their understanding of a concept will improve. It is important to remember what my professor, Peti, said: the main goal of every teacher is to “make the children happy”.

Not only did I fill my “teaching toolbox” with fun activities and problems, the experience helped to build my self-confidence. I was all alone as I traveled halfway across the planet, praying that I would see my suitcase at the Budapest baggage claim (which I did!). It was my first time living and cooking on my own. My feet felt like they were going to crumble after the three mile climb up to Fisherman’s Bastion. There were Saturdays when I ventured to the edge of the city by myself and stopped at every single metro stop. Not to mention the fear of going into the market or pharmacy for the first time where it was likely people didn’t speak English. I came back to America with a stronger sense of myself and my limits.

I feel more confident and motivated in my teaching abilities as well. Being around students who are truly interested in learning math and extremely engaged in your lesson is a dream for any teacher. Having the chance to talk with these kids about their country, their language, their lives, was a true experience. I also had the realization that a 12 year old boy in America isn’t much different to a 12 year old boy in Hungary (farts jokes are funny across cultures). Working closely with my BSME peers was a reward as well. I have made connections across the world and memories with these people that will last a life time. All of the BSME students were women and as a women studies minor, it was exciting to study together with them. it was rewarding to see that we are working to better represent female math teachers, which is a traditionally male dominated field.
As far as some other Hungarian travel tips, gelato is less than a dollar and langos is a great snack. The views from the bridges across the Danube are a must see and the public baths are warm on cool summer days. Don’t get caught in a thunderstorm but other than the muggy sun, the weather is beautiful every summer day. If you do visit Budapest, I recommend buying a public transit pass so you can ride the metro, which is surprisingly a very fun mode of transportation! Visit Rákóczi tér for me.