We’ve had the good fortune of using this space to hear from an IPS team in China. Chris Collier, head of Center for Inquiry Schools, Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year, and colleague Amy Wackerly, also a teacher, are concluding their trip. They visited Beijing and Chengdu. Teaching and learning. Here is the latest post from Amy Wackerly.
We have participated in the Chengdu conference for the past two days. Ann and I both taught our science lessons and we all presented sessions in the lecture hall.
One thing Ann and I both noticed was that the students’ English was not as strong as the students’ English in Beijing. So we kept translators with us.
The students were highly engaged in both lessons. I think the participants felt overall that we move at a slower pace than they do here. Their classes are all departmentalized (one teacher for each subject), thus their lessons being are only 35 or 40 minutes each and very teacher-directed.
Another difference they brought up is class size. In China there are often 38-50 students in a classroom, so having students sit at tables and work in cooperative groups does not occur in the schools we observed. The teachers also felt like we take the time to get to know our students more. Our educational process is more of a collaborative effort between the students and teachers vs. the teacher telling the students what they must learn.
Scene from The Hot Pot Restaurant, Chengdu
Saturday evening after the conference we had dinner at THE hot pot restaurant in Chengdu. We were guests of President (principal) Yu and some of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the other campuses. It was a dining experience to be remembered. It is most like The Melting Pot experience when it came to cooking the meat (unfortunately there was no cheese or chocolate fondue!).
There were two cooking pots. One was very spicy and the other one was mild. All kinds of meat and vegetables were put into the pots. We had the basics like chicken, beef and pork. We also had different organs (I don’t know from which animals) like kidneys, intestines, liver and heart and tongue. We also had squid and sheep. As with many of our meals there was lots of toasting and appreciating our hosts and visa versa.
Sunday was the last day of our work here in China. We started by watching a third grade math class from their master teacher. The teacher told the students to focus on the lesson with all of their eyes, ears and hearts. The students were working to establish the relationship between the sides of a triangle. We were asked to notice similarities and differences between this lesson and the lessons we had modeled.
Some of the similarities we noticed were: establishing classroom expectations, the teacher using a document camera, students working in a group and students demonstrating the answer to a question for the whole class and using real world examples. Some differences we noticed were that most of the dialogue was student to teacher and not student to student.
We also saw that there were very little hands-on activities that the students did. They constructed one paper triangle at the table with a group of 6, but not all students had the opportunity to do the hands-on part. When students responded to the teacher, of the 10+ responses only one of them was from a girl.
Chris and Professor Ling (from Wisconsin) were then asked to speak to the lesson. Ann and Chris both gave a 2nd presentation about our school.
Scene from signing of partnership agreement
Next, Chris and President Yu signed a partnership agreement to continue working together and learning from each other.
The conference closed with comments by Lin Yang, Director of Chengdu’s Basic Education Research Institute. She summarized her noticings of the last two days. Ultimately she felt both countries had strengths in their educational systems and we should learn from each other. Some differences she noted were:
1) There is less time for social work and getting to know students in Chinese classrooms.
2) In China there are some extra curricular activities, but the main focus is to study.
3) In America children have a lot of time to play. In China they study much of the time.
4) In America the students learn for themselves, while in China, the students are learning for their parents and teachers.
5) In America, there is more knowledge of effective teaching methods. China’s teachers are content specialists.
When we head back to the US we have a lot of reflecting to do about our experiences!
After our conference we were able to go to the Jinsha Site Museum. This is an archeological site that was accidentally discovered in 2001. The many, jade, bronze and other artifacts date back over 3,000 years! I really love the symbol that is called Sun Bird. They discovered it in this dig and that they now use as a symbol for Chengdu culture. Tomorrow is our last day in China and we will be seeing the Dujiangyan Irrigation System.