December 13, 2010

Ten things about China: Education, teachers, and students

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,edtech,education — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:20 am

Disclaimer: The information expressed here is based on professional visits to one public secondary school (grades 7-12) and the Center for Educational Technology (a national center) at Beijing Normal University. It is supplemented by a asking questions of our very knowledgeable guide (about age 30) who grew up in southwest China, the son of a HS math teacher. This information may not represent all realities in China. Information based strictly on one person’s experience is so indicated. 

1.  For about 30 years, China has had a one child policy (couples permitted to have only one baby). That policy has loosened, but most children still have 6 adults (two parents, four grandparents doting on them and watching their every move. This, combined with a powerful respect for teachers and drive for education make classroom behavior remarkably focused.

2. School is free (and compulsory) from age 7 (1st grade)  through 9th grade. Then parents must pay. The cost of senior high school in the one we visited is about $350 per term ($700/year). But average income is FAR below what people make in the U.S. Our guide said a city professional might earn $1200/month. (This statistic should be researched further for accuracy.)

3. There is a HUGE divide between rural (“village” or “less developed areas”) and urban/town schools. Keeping in mind that municipalities called “villages” can be as large as several hundred thousand people or more, I am not sure where the line is drawn between “rural” schools and those in “developed areas.” We will see a village school on Tuesday.

4. School day/year: HS students are in school 8-5 daily. Regular classes end at 4 with after school courses until 5. The school year is comprised of two terms: Sept 1- late January, then one month off. The second term ends in time for a two month summer break.

5. Class sizes in the high school are typically at least 40 students, and manBeijing high school students in computer class- teacher at fronty 50+. The computer class we visited had 54 but room for up to 60. The video we saw of an elementary class in a pilot edtech school had 48 in a 2nd grade class. When asked how teachers handle students who may struggle or those who are advanced, both teachers and the teacher ed professor readily acknowledged that they “cannot do this with 40-50 in their class” and must “handle it after school.” The professor said that “this is an area where we can learn from you” [the U.S.]. There is little problem with classroom behavior, however, because the the great respect afforded to teachers and high value placed on education by the entire society. I will tell you my experience with this in a post about meeting students at the Terra Cotta Warrior museum!

6High school English teacher. When we asked a veteran teacher how teaching has changed in her 30+ years, she explained: Students and their parents are interested in other things, more than just getting a grade. They say, “I am learning to be good, not only to be knowledgeable; to be kind, generous, to help others.”  The teacher also smiled as she explained that teaching for her was first just a job. Then she grew to enjoy it. Now it is “an addiction.” Some things about teachers are universal!

7. Teachers we spoke to looked immediately to their principal for the answer when asked whether they are interested in trying something new, such as collaborating with classes/schools outside their own. They do not seem to have the autonomy to make such decisions and may even be afraid to. This observation is based solely on a few teachers and their responses to questions from our group.

8. High school teachers teach 3 classes per day. They spend the rest of the day “preparing in their office.” Teachers wear very casual clothes, often including outerwear for cool temps, such as a warm up jacket and sneakers. Even the HS principal was in casual pants and a sweater/sweatshirt.  Even the chair of the university edtech center wore jeans for his meeting with our professional delegation, which surprised me.

ed tech sign

9. The Educational Technology Center at Beijing Normal University (an “ivy league” level school) has a strong graduate research program conducting pilots in 260 schools across China to determine which exactly which uses and strategies for technology are the most effective in promoting learning. Most of their work involves the teacher using the technology. They openly acknowledged to us that they are behind the U.S. in student use of technology at school.BNU Chair, our translator, and  our leader

10. In city schools, computer labs for computer skill classes (not classes using the lab for another subject, such as science or social studies) are typical in high schools. See the picture from the Jr/Sr high school we visited in Beijing. These labs are rarely used by other classes. Students do not typically use computers during the school day except in computer class. They do use computers during afternoon time after official classes end and before they depart at about 5 pm. They might use a computer for a club, for research, or extracurricular projects. In cities, most students have computers with Internet access at home and do use them. Students may use computer skills learned in their computer class to complete multimedia assignments using video or images, etc. compstusm.jpgThe one example of a project type we heard mentioned was PowerPoint. It is typical for there to be one computer per classroom which the teacher alone uses,  possibly with a projector. The English language teacher who spoke with us said she occasionally shares pictures of things from the Internet on the projector as part of her instruction. Apparently web 2.0 tools are not in use at all for school. Microsoft products are by far more prevalent than Mac.

Bonus: I did ask our guide about curriculum and how much Chinese students earn of U.S. history, such as the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. He said they do study world history, including the U.S., but that it is “not very detailed.”

I will be sure to share more after we visit a village school. We have heard over and over and over how different the situation is “in the countryside” or “in the villages” or “for the farmers.” Now we hope to see it. After driving past such villages today, we know the divide is broader than any we can find in the U.S.

December 11, 2010

GREAT days and Great Wall

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:40 am

Yesterday (Friday) we spent visiting the educational technology department at Eastern style toilet in ChinaBeijing Normal University (where they do the pre-eminent research on edtech in China, their equivalent of a Columbia Teachers College or Harvard) and also visiting a high school. I have much to tell teachers about teaching and tech use in China, but I need to organize it in a way that will answer your questions.

In the meantime, as promised, here is a picture of an “eastern” style bathroom. It is NOT what we are used to, that is for sure.

gate to forbidden cityToday we spent at Ti’ananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and hiking on the Great Wall. In between, we drove past the “Cube” and “Bird’s Nest” from the 2008 Olympics. I am sharing just a couple of pictures.

The taupe color of Beijing from our first day gtwall1-sm.jpg has opened up to a beautiful blue sky the last two days, making the city and surrounding mountains remarkably clear for our time on the Wall.  It was breath-taking, both for its visual impact and because of the steep climbs!   The second picture shows  part of the steeper climb (not the worst) and the wall in winding over the mountains in the distance.gtwallcropsm.jpg

Tomorrow we travel to Xi’an, about a two hour flight from Beijing. Xi’an is the city of the Terra Cotta warriors. I hope I will have time on the flight to organize some thoughts about all we have learned about Chinese public schools.

December 10, 2010

Please stand by!

Filed under: china — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:31 am

We have been out visiting a university, a school, a market, the restaurant home of Peking Duck, and a skyline look at Beijing today, so it is very late.  I promise to write a post tomorrow, but I will give you  a “taste” of today in Beijing. Dinner tonight included scorpions! Tomorrow we get up bright and early to see the Great Wall! Stay tuned.

December 9, 2010

Beijing Impressions: Day 1+

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,education,global learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:48 am

After about 24 hours in Beijing, there is so much to tell. We have mostly gotten over the 13 hour flight and have had a full day of food, visits to an international school, and city. Here is a set of impressions for now, along with some questions for YOU:

The international hall where we waited in many lines to be admitted to the country was eerily quiet. Even with hundreds of people lined up for multiple desks for “citizens” and “foreigners” (in Chinese and English signage), there was very little sound. I did not take a photo because it felt as though I perhaps was not supposed to. But each of us in our group of 35 Americans noticed the hush, a muted sensation uncharacteristic of Americans anywhere. The airport itself is beautiful, clean, and very efficient. Our guide pointed out that the expressway we took into the city was built for the 2008 Olympics, as much of the airport appeared to be, also. Does your city have any buildings or special features that were build because of a recent event– or one even a century ago?

Visually, the first impression of Beijing is taupe: that odd, muddy color between gray and brown  not unlike very old coffee from the bottom of the pot when you add a lot of milk to it — or possibly like smoky eyeshadow.  Even the soil has an odd taupe color. My color impression is not a metaphor for the life within Beijing, however. If you had to pick a”color” as the first impression of your town/city, what would it be?

The traffic is insane. Pedestrians take their lives into their hands. Cars, motor-scooters, taxis, and buses all have the right of way and do not slow at all for pedestrians in crosswalks. We learned quickly to follow a Chinese person to dodge our way through 8 lanes of traffic. Even at 2 a.m. (when I was awake from the time zone change!), the horns blow outside our hotel. We are glad we have a shuttle bus to almost everywhere we will go.  How often have you helped a stranger find his/her way on your town? Would people where you live offer to help?

Everyone has been very friendly, though we have not met any “ordinary people” yet. The high end shopping mall across the street, with stores like Gucci and Porsche, is not a likely place to see  the “everyday people”! Stay tuned on this.

Fashion(!)A very interesting dress n a shop window
I had to include one picture we took in the high-end mall. I don’t think I will be buying this dress for the holidays. People on the street look the same as those in the U.S. in colder weather: winter coats, etc. The weather has not been that cold, but is supposed to be colder tomorrow. Do you have store windows near you that display outfits few would actually wear?

I have seen many Volkswagens, Audis, BMWs, and VW Jetta cabs. We walked past a BMW dealer down the street with a nice shiny convertible in the window and young couples inside talking to a salesman.  Is your town a Ford pickup town, subway and taxi city, or a SUV suburb?

Ni hao is hello in Chinese. That is all I can say. Everyone who sees you (inside) says it, but not strangers on the sidewalks. Many signs have English in this city because there are so many tourists, but the stores and restaurants that serve the Chinese residents have only Chinese signs in very bright colors. Do you ever meet people who know very few word of your language? What do you say to them?

We have been surprised to see as many Christmas decorations as we have and to hear Christmas music in the lobby and shopping areas, since most Chinese do not celebrate Christmas. We think this is because it makes tourists feel more at home and more willing to spend money (?) What do shops and restaurants where you live do to make people willing to spend?

Foodour traditional round-table lunch
Setting aside the challenges of using chopsticks, the food is amazing. Our hotel definitely caters to “westerners,” so the restaurant has both Chinese and other types of food. The presentation is beautiful, sometimes better than it actually tastes, but we can certainly tell that EVERYONE in China wants to make a positive impression on us as American visitors. We had a traditional style lunch in a Chinese restaurant, served at round tables with large, glass  “lazy susans.” The many dishes just kept coming, and hey were wonderful. There is very little beef, though the Korean restaurant we went to for dinner had plenty of beef. The outside of our lunch restaurantAlthough we had been told that “everyone speaks English,” that is not true of servers in the restaurants. They know few words, but they find someone who can help if we ask a question. Diet Coke costs about $3.50 or more and is far less common than the ubiquitous Coke, Sprite and bottled water. Even the Chinese do not drink the water unless they boil it for tea. I guess Pepsi has not made it to Beijing. What does your townor city do to make a positive impression on visitors? Do you get many visitors? If you had to feed them one or two dishes that are most typical where you live, what would they be? What would be the “special occasion” meal you would offer very special guests?

BISS Beijing International SchoolThe fenced in entrance to BISS
We visited the BISS Beijing International School, a small private school (Preschool- gr 12) with students from many countries. This is not a public school or one that would be typical for the average Chinese student. Families pay tuition to send their children there, and it is expensive. These children are in Beijing because their parents have important jobs, many working at the Beijing embassies for other countries such as Korea, Germany, India, and others. The school is conducted in English, though it is the second language for the majority of the students. The head of the school explained that these families stay in Beijing for 2-3 years, then the parents move to another assignment, making them “global nomads” or “third culture kids.” laptops-sm.jpgThe school was very welcoming and uses technology extensively. Students have their own laptops beginning in grade 5 (purchased by their family). The lower grades use netbooks and both Mac and Windows computers. There is beautiful student artwork throughout the school.

BISS outdoor athletic spaceTheir building has grades K-12 in one rather ordinary building (four floors), and they have a tiny paved outdoor athletic space and  careful security (fence, barbed wire, guards). They get to use some of the Olympic venues for their sports, however, including the “Birds Nest”  track and field stadium which is walking distance from the school! Because of the many nations represented in the school, there is a very strong  appreciation for culture. How many nationalities and languages can you find in your school?

InterestingThe energy-saving switch
Our hotel room has a cool power saving feature. Our room key cards turn on the power for the lights. When you enter, you insert the card to make the light switches and lamps work. As you exit and remove the keycard, the lights stay on for about 30 seconds like the ones in a car. No one can waste energy. Can you think of any tricky features you could invent to save money on water or power at your home or school?

I still need to get a picture of this, but Chinese traditional (“Eastern”) bathrooms are very different from U.S. bathrooms.  They do not have toilets/commodes/water closets. They are like a hole in the ground. Stay tuned for a photo!

I need to tell you more about the money and more…perhaps tomorrow. Tomorrow we visit a university where Chinese students study to become teachers and a high school there, as well. What do YOU want to know?

December 7, 2010

News Break: Shanghai education achievement tops all

Filed under: china,creativity,cross-cultural understanding,edtech,education — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:46 am

As I prepare to board my flight to China, I read this New York Times article previewing today’s formal announcement of Shanghai’s powerful statement in student achievement scores. There is definitely something going on in China, and we can’t dismiss their education system as inferior in most ways to the U.S. if this test comparison is as balanced and reputable as the Times says it is. The stereotypes many U.S. educators may have about China:

  • That Chinese schools do not value creativity
  • That Chinese classes and schools operate in lock-step standardization
  • That Chinese teachers and students have little freedom of choice
  • That all Chinese schools are impoverished

But  things change so rapidly in China that our impressions are probably outdated by more than ten years. Ten years in China at its current rocket-propelled pace is a comparable to half a century of U.S. progress. The challenge for our group of U.S. educators departing today: How do we get a snapshot of a moving rocket of Chinese education (and edtech) with our Instamatic* camera powers of observation?

*For those under age 45, Google it.

December 6, 2010

On the road to China day 1: miniculture warm up

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:17 pm

Do you ever think about the many mini-cultures you pass through on any given day or week?  Every culture has its common priorities, common language or dialect, behavior do’s and don’ts and events/celebrations. The mini-cultures you visit in your life are no different, Paying attention to them can be a useful warm-up to visiting or understanding other full-blown cultures in our multidimensional world.

My first day of travel has been just such a warm up as I left home in the eastern U.S. to travel to San Francisco for a morning flight to China. I passed through and noticed:

Mini-Culture 1: my early morning swimming mini-culture. This group meets in the dark around 5:30 a.m. several mornings a week at a local high school pool.

  • Common priorities: a good workout and a little friendly locker room conversation on a tight schedule
  • Language /dialect: polite small talk (English). No swearing. Special vocab: lane, lap, pace, guard
  • Do’s : Complain about the water temp when you get in. Stay in your own lane. Move along quickly in the locker room.
  • Don’ts:. Take someone else’s customary lane. Kick your neighbor. Discuss politics. Bother learning last names.
  • Events/celebrations: Non-school days when we can linger longer in the locker room. Welcoming back swimmers who have been ill/injured. Opening of outdoor pools for summer.

Mini-culture 2: a middle class neighborhood in rural central Pennsylvania

  • Common priorities:  getting the kids on the school bus, getting to work, making a living, enjoying outdoor recreation, conservative “family values” (in varying degrees)
  • Language /dialect:  Middle American. Special vocab: see any study of American slang with a healthy dose of Pennsylvania Dutchisms
  • Do’s : Wave to neighbors in passing cars, Take your kids to the bus. Ask “D’ya get your deer?” during the first two weeks after Thanksgiving. Anything you can do for a neighbor who is sick or elderly.
  • Don’ts: Forget to wave. Talk about your upcoming trip to China unless you are asked (lest you be considered a snob)
  • Events/celebrations: Thanksgiving and Christmas, followed closely by the first day of deer season, opening day of little league, and the first day to launch boats in the lake

Mini-culture 3 : small city airport, large city airports (2) in the U.S.

  • Common priorities: packing complete strangers on and off large airborne vehicles, loaded as tightly as possible with the undercarriage filled by possessions in black (and other multicolored) wheeled cases with handles and various tags. Making said people walk endlessly looking for letters A, B, C, D, etc. along seating areas and wide corridors
  • Language /dialect: TSA/English/your language of choice as long as you understand English. Special vocab: gate, check in, premier, advantage, sky cap, club, grab-and-go, board (bored), deplane, ground transportation (is that ground like hamburger?)
  • Do’s : Walk briskly but change directions often. Make unannounced stops mid-concourse to answer a cell phone. Talk loudly on said phone. Carry expensive bottled water. Approach any manned desk to ask questions as if they are giving something away. If an employee, look at computer and tap on the keyboard incessantly at said desks.
  • Don’ts: Leave baggage unattended. Open any door, especially ones that go outside. Be overly nice to anyone. Smile at TSA. Appear to eager to accept overbooking deals.
  • Events/celebrations: On time or early flights. “The captain has turned off the seatbelt sign.” Toddler-less planes. Deplaning. Reuniting with your luggage.

But these mini-cultures are so familiar that I can only poke fun at them. At least I was able to use them to warm up my cross-cultural radar. Tomorrow is another day. Within 24 hours, I will have some real observing to do.

What minicultures do you  observe on a regular basis?

December 2, 2010

China: T minus 4 days. Faucet on.

Filed under: about me,china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:41 pm

I leave for China (via the U.S. west coast) on Monday. Four days from now. One day to go west, another to fly across the Pacific. Some things I learned already, some geeky, some mundane:

Some hotels in China answer email, some do not. I contacted hotels about my Internet access there and what it will cost. The one that responded quoted me $7.50 for 24 hours, slightly cheaper than U.S. business hotels. I suspect that my English email was indecipherable to those on email duty at the other hotels.

It is hard to teach a computer calendar program (iCal) about time zones. It keeps converting China time back into U.S. EST. I guess it will get smarter when it discovers itself on China time?

Activating an iPhone in China is WAYYY too expensive: $2.30 a minute for any phone traffic, including the time while people leave me voicemails. I am leaving it in “airplane” mode :( and using it on wifi when I can. At least the calendar will still work, but none of the cool apps that connect to the web, unless I want to pay BIG bucks for data roaming.

According to the book I have been reading on Chinese culture, I am probably going to appear a boor at least once a day. I simply cannot memorize what to do in every situation. Two taps on the table to say thank you when someone pours your tea? And I am a klutz with chopsticks, but will persevere. I wonder what weird behaviors we have in the U.S. that others have trouble remembering? In my neighborhood, you always wave and step aside for passing cars when out for a walk — facing traffic, of course, on our quiet but narrow streets. My dog even knows where to stand in this neighborhood’s culture.

I will stand out on Chinese sidewalks, though many of my clothes were probably made there. I am a blue-eyed blonde. Oh well.

My random wondering is flowing now:

Will I have a chance to talk with any kids?faucet.jpg

Since mandatory retirement age in China is 55 for women, would I be seen as really old (I am NOT that old!), or “revered”?

Who designs fixtures like lights and faucets? Does every culture have their own designers or do some countries lead while others mimic? When I visited Europe, some showers were fascinatingly confusing. How does one go to school to design faucets internationally? It kind of gives new meaning to company names like American Standard, eh?

I am sure many other odd thoughts will occur to me before I am immersed in China. I can’t wait. Please join me by adding comments, wonders, or your own cross cultural experiences. The faucet is on.

More China KWL

Filed under: about me,china,cross-cultural understanding,education,global learning,learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:07 pm

W: What we want to know

Here are some questions about China that I have received from U.S. and Australian teachers. Feel free to add your own in comments, whether you are a teacher or a student:

  • What would they [the Chinese] like us to teach about them? What resources can they offer both on line and hard copy?
  • How can we better create strong educational bonds between us?
  • Are there any universities there that accept foreign post grads, like us, and yet do so in English and on line?
  • What sites do Chinese teachers use to 1) provide resources to students? 2) to connect globally and interculturally on projects? and 3) for Web 2.0 learning?
  • Are teachers paid on par with other professionals?
  • I would want to know what resources they are using, what they are teaching, and how. I’d like to see us move beyond knowing the “Big C” of culture into the “little c” in order to change our misconceptions and create a more accurate perception.
  • I teach early childhood….I would like to see what happens in a China Classroom, what they eat, read, and study.
  • I would be interested in knowing more about what the school day is they switch classes, have special area teachers, do they have learning centers or are the more structured? I am really thinking about the primary level.
  • What do kids want to know? What’s it like at school? What are you into? How are you the same as me? How you.jpgare you different? We are human beings. Whether kid, teacher, roles as parent, teacher, student, athlete, artist, administrator, teacher, specialist, counselor, what do you do? what do you like? what do you use? what works? what challenges do you face? what do you in the face of adversity (financial, administrative, etc etc) to meet the challenges? what would you never want to do without in your class?

In short, most of us want to know,

“What is it like to be YOU?”

“How are you the same as me? How are you different?”

I will try to share the experience of finding out. Stay tuned.

November 23, 2010

My China KWL chart

Filed under: about me,china,cross-cultural understanding,edtech,education,global learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 2:35 pm

I have so much I want to know about China. Two weeks from now I will be over the Pacific! So I have started to organize my W list of things I Want to know. If you have any you would like to add, please feel free to comment here. Students welcome, too.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the KWL here interactively because we need to upgrade this version of WordPress. Here is a static version:kwl.png

And here is a link to the interactive visual map of my KWL. And here are my lists so far, simply in verbal form:

K -What I know:

  • Chinese students learn English and like to practice it.
  • Chinese history is rich and very complex, much older than the U.S.- Students must have a LOT to study about history!!
  • Reportedly, teachers are treated very respectfully.
  • High stakes tests determine student opportunities for higher education. The highest scoring students have a chance to study science/math/medicine. The second highest tier study business. Teachers are from the third highest  scoring tier.

W – What I want to know:

  • What is a teacher’s day like? A student’s?
  • What do teachers and kids wear?
  • Do  students ever use computers at school?
  • How do schools view technology and the web?
  • Would a Chinese class ever do project-based learning?
  • Can I explain what TeachersFirst is so they can understand it?
  • Will I talk too much for them?
  • Can we set up a way for schools in China to communicate easily with U.S. and other classes?
  • Do parents help with schoolwork or leave it up to the tutors and late evening school?
  • Do parents have any input into what schools do? Do they want it?
  • Will I have to eat things that I can’t identify or don’t WANT to know about?
  • What web-based tools that I am used to will be unavailable in China?
  • Is sense of humor valued/suppressed at school?
  • What happens to divergent, gifted thinkers?

L – What I have learned: Watch here and see!

November 4, 2010

China here I come

Filed under: about me,china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 12:03 pm

greatwall.jpgFor twelve days in December, 2010, I will be traveling in China with a group of educational technology professionals. We will be meeting educators there and –I hope– seeing schools along with the usual tourist fascinations. I would LOVE to meet some kids, but am not sure if that will happen. I will be blogging the trip here. Please plan to follow the trip and ask questions or make comments at will. As a teacher, I am sure I will not be able to resist asking a few questions myself. Maybe you and your class would like to stop by once a day to learn something new about China through the eyes of an American teacher!