Part of the group from Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, visited Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, where the school's recently renovated and updated science labs made a big impression. The teachers attended a series of math and science classes, focusing on advanced placement courses, during the morning before meeting with Principal Jeffrey Scherr at lunchtime. The group of 12 visitors included a school inspector from the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education and a translator along with the teachers."I was very impressed with the science lab, the equipment, its cleanliness," said one female teacher during the lunchtime meeting with Scherr.The comment prompted a flurry of follow-up questions about how much the lab update cost and where the funding came from. "In Korea, each science lab has a budget to be updated, about $30,000 per classroom," the teachers explained through the translator."The budget is $26 million for the whole school," Scherr said. "But we didn't pay for the upgrade. That comes from the city; it doesn't come from our budget."Since last week the group has been based at St. John's University, following seminars about high-level achievement and learning as they prepare to visit various public and private New York City area schools to compare teaching methods in math and science classes, said Seokhee Cho, an adjunct professor at St. John's who is coordinating the visits.Once the ice had been broken discussing the school's science lab, the questions focused more on education."In the math classes, each class covered two or three problems. In Korea, teachers must cover many problems [each class]. Is it possible for teachers to cover an entire curriculum?" one teacher asked.Scherr responded that homework is viewed as the time to learn math formulas by rote. "Our philosophy is to cover topics in depth so students understand," he said. "If you do eight problems you only learn by rote."Then came Scherr's turn to ask questions of the Korean teachers. He visited several schools and Daegu University while on a visit to South Korea in 2005, he said."The level of work you saw [at Francis Lewis High School], was it the same, was it easier or more difficult" than gifted students in Korea do, he asked.The teachers nodded as the translator told them the question."It's similar," they said, but the concept of electives and requirements is different. "The difference is students in Korea get the same [courses] for their grade, but here they can choose."Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
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