San Marcos teacher Michael McLaughlin (center) observes life in a Japanese classroom.

Why does Japan constantly excel in math and science? San Marcos High School chemistry teacher Michael McLaughlin decided to use his summer vacation time to find out.

As a recipient of a grant from the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, McLaughlin recently returned from three weeks of visiting classrooms and schools of all levels of Japanese education. For the month of June, McLaughlin observed the ins and outs of Japanese education from the classroom to the lunchroom, including a two-day stay with a Japanese family hoping to figure out how Japan consistently ranks at the top of the world in math and science.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Asia,” said McLaughlin, “to learn the secret of their success because, when it comes to math and science, they are the envy of the world.”

After being immersed in the Japanese educational system, McLaughlin found that the effectiveness of Japanese schools comes largely from the tremendous investment from everyone in the community and the incredible homogeneity of the population. Japanese educators have taken a cue from American schools and heavily emphasize the teaching of concepts through simple and practical application.

As McLaughlin gears up to return to San Marcos in the fall, he hopes to share his experience with his students and colleagues who supported him. The main curriculum change that McLaughlin is making will modernize the classic tradition of pen pals by utilizing the universal language of science and math to break the language barrier between Japanese and American students. Via blogging, San Marcos students will be able to dialogue with Japanese students who are conducting similar experiments.

This type of international exchanging of ideas from all levels of academia is the hope and intention of the program. The Japanese government funds the program in honor of Senator J. William Fulbright’s work, which allowed approximately 6,000 Japanese to study in the United States through the Fulbright Fellowship to learn about how our educational system runs.


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