Eric Halvorson’s Blog

IPS in China — VI

June 19th, 2013 at 3:15 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog, Uncategorized

This is the latest blog entry from the IPS delegation in China.  Chris Collier, Ann Mennonno and Amy Wackerly started the journey with an Elementary Education conference.  This describes their last day in Beijing.  As you read this, they’re on the way to a school in Chengdu.  Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year, prepared the following post.

June 18, 2013

china exerciseI woke up early this morning and walked to a local park. Many local citizens were there exercising. I sat for quite a while to watch them. It was beautiful. There traditional dance like movements were so peaceful. Others were dancing with long ribbons and some with swords. The meditative process and way they used every part of their bodies was amazing. There were people of all ages at the park exercising, even in their 80′s and 90′s. They were doing strengthening, stretching, and breathing exercises along with self-massages and acupressure.  It seemed much more complete, balanced, and relaxing than my normal power walks at home. I will definitely research this more!

Our sighting today took us first to Tiananmen Square. The gardens here were magnificent. We strolled the square then headed to our second site — The Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.  It sits in the middle of Beijing. The Forbidden City was completed in 1420 and consists of 980 buildings that cover 7,800,000 square feet. I have never seen anything like this palace before! Being the history lover that I am I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this palace. The one down side to the visit was how busy it was — it was Disney World busy!

Gardens at Forbidden City

Gardens at Forbidden City

We rounded out our sightseeing visits returning to Houhai again to do a little gift shopping. We have learned that you always ask for a lower price (I’m not good at this!) But there was a nice chess set I was interested in that was marked at 700 Yuan (which is about $119) that I got marked down to 100 Yuan!  We also met two Americans that we briefly chatted with.  We found out they were from Baltimore and huge Raven fans so we sent them on their way :) Just kidding – we showed them our Hoosier hospitality!Tomorrow we leave Beijing and head to Chengdu to begin our adventure all over again. Amy and I can’t wait to meet the students in our Chengdu school that we have been FaceTiming with for the past three months. 

Tomorrow’s blog will be our wrap up thoughts of Beijing – we have listed many things we can’t wait to share.

IPS in China — V

June 18th, 2013 at 3:37 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

The IPS delegation in China enjoyed a little tourist time.  Teacher Amy Wackerly prepared the following post to describe the experience she shared at the Great Wall with teacher Ann Mennonno and Chris Collier, head of the Center for Inquiry Schools.  (And, we’re getting more pictures!)

Monday, June 17, 2013 Blog

Great Wall Day!!

The Juyong Pass at the Great Wall of China

The Juyong Pass at the Great Wall of China

Today was a very exciting day for the three of us.  We were able to walk the awe-inspiring Great Wall of China.  The section of wall we walked was called the Juyong Pass.  It is northwest of Beijing.  It was a beautiful day and the first day we’ve seen blue skies since we’ve been here.  I think we were all amazed at the beauty and steepness of the climb.  As we were climbing the goal was to not let the people with canes or high heels pass us.  Trust me, that was a real challenge at times.  

The Great Wall spans 5,600 kilometers.  We found it very interesting that there were many gold locks (love locks) along the Great Wall path on these chains. We learned that when people get married they lock the lock on the wall and then throw the key over the wall to symbolize their everlasting love.  We felt very accomplished after we climbed down.

After we left the Great Wall and visited a jade factory.  We watched a craftsman work on a piece of jade.  He was working on a piece that is called “happiness ball”.  It will take him 25 days working 4 or 5 hours a day to carve this piece out of a solid piece of jade.  When he is done it will have 4 moveable balls, one inside another, representing 4 generations. 

Jade Craftsman

Jade Craftsman

Following lunch we headed out to see on of the tombs of the Ming Dynasty.  This ruler, Emperor Zhu Di,was the third emperor in the dynasty and was responsible for moving the capital to it’s current location in Beijing.  We saw a massive copper statue of Emperor Zhu Di; people throw money at the foot of the statue for good luck.  The building that housed the statue contained many artifacts like jade belts, crowns, and gold pieces.  The next building housed the marker for the tomb, and then Emperor Zhu Di was buried in the hill behind the tomb marker.  I think we were all impressed with the details within the building and the rich history of this area. 

The next stop was a silk factory.  We learned about the process of making silk.  She showed us how the silkworm cocoons will have one or two silkworms inside.  The one with two worms inside is used more for bedding because the silk crisscrosses.  The one used for clothing only has one worm inside of it.  The part that I really did not need to know was that the silkworm poop is used as the stuffing inside some pillows…like at our hotel! 

In addition to climbing the Great Wall our next great accomplishment was crossing the street by ourselves without getting hit by a car, bus, bike, or moped.  Pedestrians do not have the right of way! 

We are looking forward to another day of sightseeing tomorrow.  We are seeing the Forbidden City (or sin city as Chris keeps calling it) and Tiananmen Square.

IPS in China — IV

June 17th, 2013 at 2:53 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

This is the latest post from the IPS team at an education conference in China.  The writer, today, is teacher Amy Wackerly.  [She is joined by Chris Collier, the head of Center for Inquiry Schools in Indianapolis and by Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year.]

China conference roomJune 16

We began the final day of the Beijing portion of our Elementary Education International Conference at the Wu Qing Conference Center. There were around 600 participants in the audience. The session started with opening comments from the president of Beijing Normal University and a senior professor from the same university.  Next we listened to the keynote speakers from Stanford University.  Professor Ann Lieberman presented on networks and partnerships and Professor Andrea Whitaker discussed using teacher portfolios to support student learning.  

The conference center had theater-style seat with desks in front of each row of chairs.  We listened to translators on headphones as different groups presented.  When our group got up to present some of the teachers from YuYing School commented on the lessons Ann and I did.  They were very complimentary of our lessons and felt we were very patient with the students.  They said the students were very shy and nervous about speaking English but we were very encouraging and supportive of the students, and they were very much at ease as we got into the lessons.  They also felt like we really take the time to get to know our students.  Chris, Ann and I also provided comments about our experiences in the school. We discussed similarities and differences we noticed while working with the students in China in comparison to US students.

After a buffet lunch we had to bid farewell to our friends from Hong Kong.  We left the conference and were able to do our first sightseeing since our arrival.  Our stop for today was the Summer Palace.  The Summer Palace used to be an imperial palace but is now a beautiful park.  We toured the site with another group of teachers from Kennedy Elementary in Janesville, Wisconsin.  I think we were all impressed with landscape and the architecture.  I especially enjoyed the Long Corridor, the area around the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, and all the rocks within the walkways.  The Long Corridor has over 10,000 paintings on the wood beams and ceiling depicting important parts Chinese history and culture.

IPS Delegation with friends from Hong Kong

IPS Delegation with friends from Hong Kong

After dinner we headed out for some nightlife.  The area we went was called Houhai.  It was an area around a lake with all kinds of shops, bars and people.  We went with our friends from Stanford University, Kennedy Elementary (Janesville, WI), Guoli Liang (the conference organizer) and some new Chinese friends.  We heard great music and the area reminded us of Broad Ripple meets San Antonio Riverwalk meets Bourbon Street.  The whole area was lit up in neon and different types of lighting.  One of the shops we passed had fried scorpions on a stick.  In case you were wondering, there were no takers in our group.

Tomorrow we are off to explore the Great Wall.

IPS in China — III

June 16th, 2013 at 11:25 am by under Eric Halvorson's Blog, Uncategorized

I have a new blog post from the IPS delegation in China.  The following offers some insight about being a tourist in Beijing — in addition to being a teacher.  (Take a look at the toilet reference.)  This was submitted by Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year.

china flagJune 15, 2013

Today we completed our part of the conference in Beijing. We repeat our sessions in Chengdu next week. Our teaching demonstrations and presentations were overall well received.  Amy and I both did lessons with our students again.  Both of our lessons focused on teaching reading. We modeled how teaching reading can be integrated with our science units. All of the students we have worked with have been amazing! Their English is excellent. At the end of our lessons we gave each student a bookmark made by the students at CFI 2 and CFI 27 in Indianapolis.  We also gave them pens that we received from Visit Indy. The students loved their gifts. Several of the students had gifts for us too. We will miss the students from the YuYing primary school. In the short time we had to work with them we have created wonderful memories.

Chris [Chris Collier, the head of CFI schools] presented on the topic of school community and the shared leadership structure in place throughout the Center for Inquiry, which includes parents, community members, university partners, school staff, principals, and the head of CFI schools. Participants were amazed at the extra time teachers put forth and how involved they are in the life of the school.  They wondered about the source of the energy and passion of the teachers.

After our conference wrapped up today we attended a beautiful Chinese banquet.  I have enjoyed our dinners in China. They are very relaxing and extremely social events. People eat slowly – dinner lasts a long time. Between helpings everyone takes turns toasting each other. We have made many new friends and have thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. Two of our new friends are from Hong Kong. These ladies teach at a Christian school in Hong Kong. We have enjoyed many laughs with them and hope that someday we will be able to visit their school.

Now for the interesting details…the things we have had to adjust to. I love visiting other cultures and learning their ways. I have traveled to many places but this is my first time in China. I will honestly admit that I miss dearly our toilets. It’s amazing how long you can wait before you must absolutely use one. If you do not know what I’m talking about – Google it :)

Using chopsticks has been another adventure for me. I’ve decided chopsticks are my new diet plan. I can only get small portions of food to my mouth. I think it might be a plan that could be marketed in the US???

Finally, we have had our photos taken so many times here- our smiles are glued to our faces. Smiling hurts after awhile :) None of the above are complaints by any means. I truly am enjoying our visit and can’t wait to still explore more of this country.

Tomorrow…we visit Sin City and shop!

I googled the bathroom concern, click here to see what she’s talking about.


IPS in China — II

June 15th, 2013 at 11:02 am by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

We are still awaiting the arrival of photographs from the IPS team in Beijing, China.  But, we do have the following blog post, from Chris Collier, to update their role in an international conference on Elementary Education.  (You will see a reference to Amy.  That is Amy Wackerly, also an IPS teacher.)


Ann Mennonno

The agenda for day 1 began with an introductory presentation by Chris Collier to orient the conference participants to the Center for Inquiry, International Baccalaureate programs, and the concept of a Magnet School. A translator was assigned to us for clarity of presentation, as many of the 600 conference participants were not English speakers.

Both Amy and Ann taught a model lesson and presented a topical session. Amy introduced Ann’s lesson, a science lesson on magnetic force. The participants watched via video screen as Ann taught her lesson to a group 3rd graders. Ann’s students created paper shapes that they made dance using magnets but without touching the shapes.  The students were challenged with a further question seeing if they could interrupt the magnetic field by placing an object between the magnet and paperclip in their dancing shape.  Amy stayed in the conference room to provide explanation of what the participants were viewing within the lesson and answering questions that ranged from teacher preparation in the U.S. to methodology utilized by our teachers. At the conclusion of Ann’s lesson, she joined the conference participants to address specific questions regarding her lesson including the planning process and collaborative work of teachers.

Amy presented next on the topic of Responsive Classroom, which is a set of community building practices used within CFI schools.  She shared examples of classroom Essential Agreements, a set of expectations that all members of the classroom agree to follow. Amy discussed opportunities for choice within the school, student action, parent and community involvement, and student collaboration. Participants asked questions about how student choice is managed, if our school is always open to parents and how this is managed, and why families choose our school.

After lunch, Ann introduced Amy’s geology lesson to the conference participants. As Amy’s lesson with 5th graders was observed, a translator was ensuring that conference participants knew what Amy was saying to students. Amy’s students used a science notebook to record observations of minerals and then set up a data table to record results of scratch tests to determine the hardness of the minerals. Students then identified the minerals through their observations, scratch test results and Amy’s description of the mineral. She then introduced the students to Moh’s Hardness Scale and additional minerals. Concluding the lesson, Amy had students record in their notebooks what they had learned that day and their “I wonder…” questions. Amy returned to the conference room to field questions regarding her lesson and the teaching and learning strategies utilized within the lesson. Conference participants wanted to know how she plans for her lessons, how she obtains materials, the number of concepts taught in a semester, and what differences she noted between the Chinese students and her American students.

Ann presented the topic of Differentiated Instruction to conference participants giving authentic examples from her classroom. Participants wanted to know more about the integration of subjects, specifically how a teacher would link a science lesson to literature as they are viewed as very different disciplines.

Day 1 of the conference ended with a summary session facilitated by Chris. Participants worked in small groups to record their “take aways” from the day and to record questions they wished us to further address.


IPS in China

June 14th, 2013 at 3:05 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

Today, I will start something new.  It’s inspired by Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year.  When I learned that she would spend time in China, I asked for blog posts to help us learn more about what she and colleagues are doing so far from home.  The following is a blog post from Chris Collier, the head of Center for Inquiry [CFI] Schools.  She is part of the IPS delegation:

IPS logoDay 1 was spent preparing for the first Elementary Education International Conference that begins in Beijing on June 14, 2013.  Teachers Amy Wackerly and Ann Mennonno will model inquiry-based lessons in YuYing Elementary School, Beijing, China. 

A classroom was designed at the school to replicate the inquiry based learning environment found within the Center for Inquiry schools. Students from Ann’s and Amy’s classrooms designed displays for the walls that illustrate the elements found in an International Baccalaureate school. Third and fifth grade students, all dressed in their uniform of red workout pants and matching red and white shirts, came to the newly designed classroom to meet with the CFI teachers and to explore the learning environment. They especially loved the skeleton and the collection of literature provided for them. Nasco partnered with our teachers to provide the science equipment and literature that was requested for the lessons. Our classroom is quite different from their classrooms, where we observed students in rows facing front with the teacher leading all instruction and students reciting in unison. 

Later in the day, our team visited an English teacher’s classroom to observe the methodology used to teach our language to Chinese students. There was much singing, the use of pictures as prompts to storytelling, whole group instruction followed by practice work in groups of 4. The students were very happy to have English speaking visitors to try out their conversational skills. 

After lunch, we were escorted to a private dorm-type room for a 30-minute nap time.  Amy and Ann loved this feature of the school. These rooms are available to teachers but the teachers told us they rarely have time to go for the rest.  The students were engaged in their “Happy Noon” time, which is like our recess period. 

We then fine tuned our presentations for the conference and viewed the conference area located within the stand-alone library. We then toured the campus. The high school, middle school, and primary school consisting of grades 3-5 were located on the same campus in 3 separate buildings.  The primary school has 2000 students and the entire school campus has over 5000 students. There is a head principal that oversees the campus and each building has a building level principal. We then watched 3rd graders engaged in a swimming lesson in the Physical Education complex.  

Our day concluded by meeting with the teachers of English to discuss educational practice and answer questions regarding instruction in state schools and particularly in our school. We taught the teachers some board games and showed them how to use some of the Nasco provided materials. 

Our day ended by dining with the principal of the elementary school and two visiting teachers from Hong Kong. The sampling of Chinese delicacies was an enjoyable learning experience.

Chris Collier says internet service is spotty. 

I will provide posts and pictures from China as often as possible during their visit.


Fighting An Indy-feriority Complex

April 26th, 2013 at 10:40 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

circleBob Schultz says, sometimes, we have an “Indy-feriority complex.”

That condition appears when people wonder why a family — or a company – would move to Indianapolis from places such as Denver or Chicago or New York. Those afflicted with this complex see only the advantages of the other cities and none of our own. When that happens, they ignore “a pretty amazing story,” Schultz said.

Telling that story is part of Schultz’s job. He’s a vice president at Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. This week, from a studio at My1079-FM, we talked about “Velocity,” a new project to put another chapter in that story.

“Velocity is simply the name we’re putting toward a five year strategic action plan for downtown Indianapolis,” Schultz told me.

This study celebrates the work by those who built Indianapolis around amateur sports and, ultimately, attracted a Super Bowl. But, Schultz noted, in past decades, the ideas for Indianapolis often came from a small group of corporate, civic and philanthropic leaders.

Now, to continue the success of downtown, he said we should expand the discussion “because there are so many different directions we could go.”

For the next five weeks, Velocity will conduct an online survey. As it highlights downtown strengths, it may also find flaws.  If the latter is true, Schultz said Velocity aims to refresh Indianapolis.

But, where the city already has momentum, the study aims to keep it going.

Whenever one group calls for change, another will ask “Why?”

Schultz answers that question by saying ”we believe in something more bold and transformative” to make sure downtown is “a great place to live, to work, to play and stay.”

Click here to hear the entire interview.

Bloomington: Sparked by Parking

March 21st, 2013 at 3:48 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

bloomington parkingBloomington’s parking meter debate gave me a lesson about that city’s growth. 

Mayor Mark Kruzan said “we’re a victim of our own success.”  At Wednesday night’s council meeting, he explained why downtown Bloomington needs parking meters.

Costs are part of it.  “We are slowly seeing our ability to provide services eroding,” Kruzan said.  “We are continuing to tighten our belts at the same time we are looking to alternative revenue.”

Growth is the other part of it, the success part.

Kruzan said a big demographic shift is underway in Bloomington. He sees more demand for downtown housing — and not just from I.U. students. With more people, you have more cars and an “incredible increase in parking demand” downtown.

It’s the numbers he offered next that inspired me to write this.

Kruzan recalled, when he was an I.U. student, Bloomington was a smaller city. Now, 80,000 people call it home. He anticipates steady growth in the decade ahead — 1.1% a year. That’s about 1,000 people moving to Bloomington every year — or 10,000 new residents over a decade.

The parking plan has plenty of critics. One after another described fear that new meters will be bad for local business. 

For Kruzan, this is a case study about ”growing pains” as Bloomington strives to provide what he called big city amenities while preserving its small town charm. “It’s completely manageable, if we do it properly.”

The critics will hope he’s right.

Cutting Costs & Chemicals

March 15th, 2013 at 11:41 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp has a refreshing idea about lawn and garden care. “I try not to worry too much about what’s going on — unless it’s really bad.”

But, if it is really bad, Jo Ellen knows how to react. She has skills most of us don’t.  Jo Ellen is a Master Gardener.  “Mother Nature is not perfect. So, a few holes in the leaves or a little insect damage is not very worrisome to me.”

lawnThe rest of us are conditioned to demand lush, green, weed-free lawns. So, we spread bags of chemicals all over our yards or we hire someone to do the treatments for us. This year, I’ve started to question that approach. Maybe it’s because we’ve been told not to let our dogs walk in the yard when chemicals have just been spread or sprayed.

Maybe my interest comes from the notoriety given to the “Green” movement and organic products.

Maybe I’m just cheap.

Whatever the explanation, this approach is a specialty of Jo Ellen. “Sort of a natural landscaping philosophy for her yard,” she told me.

That means fewer chemicals and more natural products than most of us use. This requires some adjustment “because you don’t get that instant green-up” that you might find with other, more well-known products.

It might start, though, with how you mow your lawn. Jo Ellen will tell you to mow high. Longer blades of grass create an element of shade that can keep weed seeds from germinating.

On your other plants, you might need nothing more than a hose.

If you see bugs on your plants, you can spray them off with water. If that doesn’t work, Jo Ellen admits the next option is not so appealing. You can pick them off by hand. But, if you see problems, it’s important to know whether your plants are infested with insects or are afflicted by fungus. You can’t expect that spraying for bugs will kill the fungus.

It can all be a little confusing for those of us with limited gardening knowledge.  That’s where Jo Ellen comes in.  Her talents allow her to work as a “garden coach.”

We get to see — or rather hear — more of that, this weekend.  I interviewed her about whether those of us who aren’t master gardeners can have success in our yards without the usual chemical approach. She describes some of the alternatives to the traditional chemicals.  You can hear our discussion, this weekend on:

10:30 Saturday morning on 1430 WXNT.  (They’re taking a break from the sports talk.)

6:00am Sunday on My1079


7:30 Sunday morning on WZPL


A Magnificent Obsession — A Family Tradition.

March 2nd, 2013 at 12:23 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

Anne Graham Lotz has a “magnificent obsession.” It’s probably what you’d expect, knowing who her dad is.  But, following in his footsteps came as a surprise to her.

Anne Graham Lotz is the daughter of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham. She’s getting ready to lead one of her revivals in Indianapolis, next month.

“It never crossed my mind I would do this,” she told me, this week. “I was a shy mother of three children. Just a housewife and actually had a longing for God in my heart. I knew him in a personal relationship. But just the busyness of motherhood had put Him on the back burner of my life.”

Gradually, she started studying scripture for herself. That inspired an interest in teaching. Eventually, Anne Graham Lotz became a world-traveling evangelist in her own right. It followed her conclusion that, if she had “needed a fresh touch from Heaven, then I bet there are a lot of other people out there who need that, too.”

That was the genesis of her “Just Give Me Jesus” gatherings.


Anyone is welcome. But, these revivals are targeted at women.

“Women have enormous influence,” Mrs. Lotz said. “Much more influence than, sometimes, they give themselves credit for. They can reach their children and their neighbors, their schools and their places of business, their friends.”

Anne Graham Lotz

In 2009, research done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated women are more devout than men. The study found women to be more likely to believe in God, more likely to spend time in prayer and more likely to say religion is important in their lives.

That doesn’t surprise Anne Lotz. She recalled several examples from the Gospels in which women were disciples or church leaders. “It was the women who seemed to understand Jesus was going to the cross. And, it was the women who were first there the morning of the resurrection.” She said, at the tomb, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene not to John or Peter.


The Pew researchers have also studied the country, state-by-state, to see how we gauge the role of religion in our lives. Sixty percent of Hoosiers said religion is “very important.”  But, Anne Lotz said, to some people, churches “seem irrelevant.” They don’t worship regularly because they don’t see how church helps them in their daily lives.

Mrs. Lotz said she goes to church to help her faith grow. But, she also said, “God is not inviting anybody to a church, a denomination, an organization. He’s inviting us into a personal relationship with Himself.”

That’s what she hopes people take from her revival at the Convention Center in April.   “We just want each person to meet Jesus in a fresh way.”


Billy Graham is “doing well,” Anne said. “He’s 95 years old. So, he has some aches and pains and some issues. He has a hard time hearing and a hard time walking and a hard time seeing. But his mind is clear.” He still loves apple pie and loves the people he met on visits to Indiana.

Her mission in Indianapolis, April 5th and 6th, won’t be much different than what her dad used to do. The Gospel message “doesn’t fade and doesn’t grow old.”

You can hear the entire interview, this weekend.   It will be broadcast, Sunday, at 7 am on My 1079, at 7:30 on WZPL and at 9am on WXNT.