December 28, 2012

Lost fiction: A different kind of flat world?

Filed under: creativity,cross-cultural understanding,deep thoughts,education,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:47 am

New York Times columnist Sara Mosle wrote an insightful column about the Common Core requirements that students read ever-increasing amounts of  “informational text” and far less fiction. I have been mulling this issue for months. Mosle’s arguments that reading expository texts and long form narrative nonfiction will build students’ writing skills are certainly valid. Students also will need basic informational text-writing (and reading) in the workplace. But my gut (and my undergraduate English major) nag at me on this giant swing, even as TeachersFirst published help for teachers (e.g. this article, and this one) on ways to integrate informational texts into all subject areas and improve students’ expertise at understanding and producing such works. I know many adults could stand to improve their writing skills. And I know that writing fiction — or “stories,” as most elementary kids would call them — may not develop skills in supporting a written argument. But I cannot go as far as Common Core does. There is too much that we learn from reading all varieties of texts.

When we read a poem…

  • We learn economy of language and how to listen ever so carefully
  • We learn to read with our senses, not just black and white text
  • We learn to pay attention to subtlety — a skill few adults have anymore (certainly not our politicians)
  • We learn to question and marvel at what lies beneath instead of what the media or a “spin master” tells us to believe

When we read a novel…

  • We learn to follow a life or a thread for a long time, past the end of the class period or the end of the day, noticing patterns and threads that might not even emerge until twenty chapters later. This is reading life. As adults, we eventually start to notice such threads in our own lives. We call it perspective.
  • We learn to read people. Given the frightening statistics on autism spectrum disorders, the more experience we can give kids with reading people, the better off our society will be. Given the need for voters to make choices about candidates whose  informational text “messages” all sound the same, we sometimes rely on reading people to make good choices. Employers read people every time they interview. Interpersonal intelligence makes a common society work. Fiction builds it. No, there is no dollar value on it, but there is serious loss without it.

To further flip my argument around, I wonder what would happen if kids never experienced fiction?

Movies would be our students’ only fiction. With special effects that are near-real, we risk losing the ability to imagine. School takes a large enough toll on creativity as it is. Erasing imagination frightens me. In a generation or so without fiction, we might have no more movies OR fiction. Just YouTube?!

We risk losing a sense of the world. In a global world where few of us will ever see distant people who make our shoes or invest in our government bonds, the importance of cultural detail (or “status detail” as fiction writers call it) is far more than simply a view of life from another place. As we read fiction or narrative nonfiction set in other places, we notice the diverse details that define what we value vs. what those in far off places value. We see how people spend time, fill their pockets,  eat, gather into households, prioritize their money, and interact with each other. Show me. Do not tell me. I need to notice it, to see and learn it. Fiction builds global understanding. Just as travelers notice cultural detail when we arrive in a foreign country, so do we experience it in fictional tales that take place there. When I write and rewrite this blog to craft cultural detail in my depictions of school, of China, of what I do, I am trying to draw you into understanding my ideas. Fiction writers spend months crafting such details– and do it much better than I. If our students never experience immersion in cultural detail, they may never notice, see, and learn global understanding.

I wish that Common Core requirements had dimensions for reading senses, subtlety, submerged messages, perspective, imagination, people, and cultural detail. In twenty years, we may find ourselves in a world that’s a different kind of flat.

October 12, 2012

1000 Lessons: Classroom portraits

Filed under: cross-cultural understanding,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:25 am

A Class Portrait from Germain's collection. Click for full collection.

We all have them: faded, posed pictures of ourselves as elementary students in a class picture. Neat lines, tall kids standing in the back, shorter ones seated in front holding the sign with the grade, teacher’s name, and school year. These class pictures sterilize what school is all about, replacing a portrait of learning with a portrait of students as furniture. The picture strips the culture and details that provide context and priorities for what happens in school. What does the classroom look like? What is on the board and on the floor? What is the visual routine of day to day learning in this place?

Julian Germain has an ongoing photo project taking classroom portraits around the world. Photos taken 2004-2011 are published in book form, but selected photos are also available online. The images are familiar, strange, haunting, and encouraging. I could spend an hour looking at each one and hypothesizing what the children’s lives are like,  how the teacher conducts class, and what they might be thinking as this portrait is being taken. I imagine the moment after the shutter goes off and the pose disintegrates into talk, motion, chaos. I hear the teacher (invisible in most pictures) calling for attention and redirecting kids to the lesson at hand.

I also hear what other kids (and teachers) would say when they see the portraits of unfamiliar classrooms. We can learn so much by observing small cultural details and the questions they raise.

“Look! There’s a dog in their room!”

“What’s that written on the board?”

“They have jeans like mine.”

“How many kids are in that class?”

“It’s all girls!”

“Why do they look so serious?”

The seriousness, I believe, is imposed by the photographer  as part of the photo session (how else could “structured play” look so unhappy?). Indeed, the ability of the photographer to influence the message through pose, composition, lighting, and more could spark a sophisticated media literacy discussion.

The other questions are open to observation, discussion, and discovery. These classroom portraits of learning are an invitation for the viewers themselves to learn. What better way to entice our students to dig into cross-cultural understanding than to share unfamiliar images of a very familiar place: the classroom. I’d love to set up a sharing project for classroom portraits. Here are some lesson ideas for using these images and/or extending the idea in creating your own portraits.

World cultures/Social Studies/World Languages: Use as an intro into cultural differences and awareness. Project an image and have students note what they see and what they think it could mean about life as a youth in that culture/location. Take it beyond just school. What else can they tell about society there? How could they research to find out whether their hypotheses are true? If this portrait shows what it is like to be a child/youth in ___, what would be important details to include in an image depicting life in our classroom? Consider actually TAKING that picture and sharing it on your class wiki or web page, possibly with annotations to explain why the class included  the items it did.

With younger students: how would you feel if this were your classroom? How might the children seen here feel if they came to our classroom? List ten things that are the same as our classroom and ten that appear different. How is different NOT “better” or “worse”?

Science (yes, science): Entice kids into scientific observation and the difference between observing , hypothesizing, and concluding by sharing an image as whole class practice. Extend it by having kids (groups?)  “report” observations and hypotheses based on another photo in the series.

A picture is worth a thousand lessons.






January 28, 2011

Culture Quiz: It’s in the details

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,istechina,learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 2:56 pm

home.jpgVisit any place: a town, a school, a neighborhood, a college campus, even a restroom, and you will see telltale signs of the culture that lives there in the details that surround you. The trick is noticing. Here are images of details some may or may not notice when traveling in China. Each gives rise to some possible revelations about China– and raises some questions to ask about the culture in the place you call home.


cleaningrailing.JPGThis lady was carefully dusting every opening of a rooftop railing inside a garden in Shanghai. As tourists and other visitors walked beneath her, she continued cleaning. I immediately thought of the people we had seen sweeping the side of major highways with brooms. What might this possibly say about China’s employment or interest in cleanliness or care of public areas? What would I see on an equivalent place where you live?

bathsign.jpg I know I have possibly said too much about”western” and traditional (squat style) toilets in China. This sign was on the door to one stall where there was a western, seated style toilet. What does it tell you?

lib-books.JPGThe library at the village school we visited had these books on the shelves.  All the bookshelves were arranged in single layer displays of books like this. What can you tell about the school and the library? What would we learn from looking at the details of your school or town library?

libraryshoes.jpg Speaking of libraries, in the brand new private school we visited in Shanghai, I saw students taking off their shoes to enter the school library. They lined them up neatly under the bench outside the library door, then went in. What might this say about libraries, shoes, or…? For what places do you take your shoes off?

doorsill-keepout.jpg In the ancient and older buildings of the Forbidden City, a Buddhist temple in Xi’an, and the beautiful garden home (now museum) of an affluent Shanghai family, we saw elevated door sills that our guide said were designed to keep the evil spirits out. You have to step up over every door sill that goes to the outdoors. What do architectural features —  even in non-religious buildings– reveal about the beliefs of people? What architectural features are common in your town’s buildings, and why are they there?

roof-animals.JPGThis photo from the Forbidden City shows another architectural feature we saw in many, many,  places in China. Can you find out what these rooftop animals mean? Do you have any decorations that have meaning on the buildings in your city or country?

tiananmen pole.JPGRight outside the Forbidden City is Ti’ananmen Square. This light pole has more than lights. What else do you see? Why is it there? What would we see on the utility poles in public areas where you live —-and why?

street laundry.JPG The necessities of everyday life take up time and effort in every culture. What does this street photo tell you about the people of Shanghai? Actually, we saw this in every city. How do people where you live handle the same tasks? (Please pardon the blurriness. This was taken through a bus window.)

one rollerblade.JPG Play is important for children everywhere. This little boy had one rollerblade while his sister wore the other. They were playing outside the front door of their village home during the two hour break when children went home from school for lunch. What does this tell you about Chinese village children? If we watched children play in your neighborhood, what would we learn?

kidsatplay.JPG In the same small village, we saw this sign. What does it say about what is important there? What would we see in road signs (even on roads like this with few cars) where you live — and why?

dancer- tangdynastyshow.JPG Ceremonies and dances appear n every culture. This reenactment of a dance celebration from the Tang Dynasty was even more breathtaking when “stopped” by the camera. What ceremonies and rituals would strangers to your home find striking or surprising? Why do these ceremonies continue?

foodstall-beijing.JPG People say, “You are what you eat,” and one of the first thing everyone asks about my visit to China is about the food. This street stall in the middle of a Beijing neighborhood was well-stocked on a chilly December afternoon. What kind of food would visitors see for sale where you live, and where would they have to go to find it? What does that say about the economy and transportation systems where you live?

lunch-bnu.JPG If we are what we eat, what would people say about you? These dumplings held mysterious contents, prompting us to ask “what’s inside?” before we tried them. What foods would visitors ask about when they visited your home?

Sometimes looking at the details reveals more questions than answers, but guessing and hypothesizing about culture from the outside details is as delightful as biting into it — and you discover some good stuff.

January 21, 2011

China “snapsnacks”

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,gifted,istechina,learning,Misc.,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 6:15 pm

Snapsnack: (I made this up) n. a quick impression, much like a handful of M&Ms or crackers to give you a small taste but nowhere near a “meal.”  Snapsnacks also make your brain work :)

There are still so many things I have not written about the China trip, so–just for teachers and kids– I am sharing some quick “snapsnacks” from China. My disclaimer: As with any short trip (11 days), my impressions may not be fair representations of China as a whole. Think about a visitor to your town. If he came on a certain snowy day, he would have one set of experiences, perhaps thinking that everyone always wears boots. If he stayed for a year, he would have a much truer sense of what your town/city/country is all about. For fun, try people-watching at your local grocery store and imagine what a one day visitor would say about your community!

Snapsnack 1: Students in China do not work in groups much. They do things all together as a class, often sm-desks.jpgreciting things out loud as a whole group. When one student is called on, he/she stands, hands behind the back, and looks at the front wall as he/she answers. We never saw a student raise his/her hand. I don’t know if this means they do not ever raise hands to ask questions/volunteer or if our visits just did not happen to see it. The students sit two-across or four-across with long aisles from the front to the back of the classroom. The only schools where we saw other seating arrangements were the international schools– where desks and tables were arranged many different ways. Do you think the way the seatssm-jaderocks.jpg are arranged in your classroom affects the way you learn and behave?

Snapsnack 2:  Did you know that high quality jade changes color over many years of being worn against human skin? I guess it is the warmth that changes it. The hardest jade comes from a mountain that is only partially in China. It is called jadeite. People in China give jade, not diamonds, when they get engaged. What natural resources from your area are rare? How rare are they? How do people use them? What affects their value?

Snapsnack 3:  The terracotta warriors were not always brown. When they were first excavated, they had brightly painted colors, but the colors faded very quickly once exposed to air. When the Chinese officials figured out that even the experts could not stop the fading, they stopped excavating the warriors. They are waiting to dig up the many thousands more (that they know are still underground) until they have found a technology to prevent the fading. They have consulted experts from around the world. What ideas do you have that might prevent the warriors’ colors from fading? How would you test your ideas?smrestorations.jpg

Snapsnack 4: Most people in the Chinese villages have never had  “land line” telephones. Your grandparents probably still have one, even if your family does not. The people in the villages do have cell phones.  Knowing what it takes to put “land line” telephones into homes vs. making cell phones work in the countryside, why do you suppose most villagers never had landlines? What do you know about the economic level of people in the Chinese countryside villages? What happened in China during the years since cell phones were invented? Can you think of reasons why the villagers’ phones are mostly cell phones?

The picture below shows a village home. What can you tell about what jobs people have in villages?


Snapsnack 5: There are web sites that do not work in China because of censorship, but people still “see” them. YouTube does not work on computers, but it does work on smart phones that have web browsers. Some sites do not work, but people pay to “get around” the censorship using a proxy server service. The cost is about $50/year. Teachers even pay it so they can use some sites with their students. Do you know of censorship that people “get around” or rules that people ignore? What is your definition of a rule that is “made to be broken” vs. one that should be respected and followed?

I hope to share more soon. For now, stay warm — those of you in the northern hemisphere.

January 14, 2011

“There is a policy” reactions

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,istechina — Candace Hackett Shively @ 4:54 pm

Today I am sorting through, labeling, and selecting photos from the China trip for an upcoming slide show for this blog. As I relive the trip, I find myself revisiting questions I have about the amount of voice we Americans assume we have as individuals in deciding laws and policies of the federal (or state or local) government. As the aftermath of the Tucson shootings plays out in the media, my first temptation would be to launch into discussion about civility or a comparison of U.S. citizens’ assumptions and Chinese citizens’ assumptions. But I fear I would miss the subtleties of really understanding the way many Chinese citizens feel about “policies.”

As we talked with Shawn*, our country guide in China, (and I asked questions endlessly) we heard over shawn.jpgand over,  “There is a policy…” — ending with an explanation. There were the One Birth policy (not really One Child, since twins are OK), provincial policies about motor vehicles, policies about teacher professional development, apartment ownership, etc. Shawn never flinched or seemed at all uncomfortable answering our questions. He had a marvelous ability to distance himself from any pro or con, simply explaining the policy and sometimes venturing a rationale, such as for policies to limit the number of cars to cut pollution. The infamous One Child policy has eased,  he explained, to provide for the aging population. There is no way there will be enough Chinese workers to support all the older people who retire so young in China. (Sound familiar?) What was striking to me was the dispassionate way Shawn and our other three guides apparently viewed “There is a policy.” They might as well have been saying, “There is a tree.” I marvel at the dispassion.

As teachers, we often face students who balk at rules, especially in middle school, where a “That’s not FAIR!” fundraiser paying $.10 each time this cry is heard could fund iPads for several classrooms. In young children, that voice is far less prevalent, probably because early elementary kids are more developmentally aware of  “rules”  than “fair.”  But I can’t say that Shawn’s response to “policy” was a developmental lag or lack of awareness. He has spoken with and guided people from many, many countries. Rather, his demeanor is a totally aware acceptance without malice. There were no signs of fear that he could get in trouble for questioning or saying the wrong thing to us. He just seemed to care about other things. Think about people you know. You probably know someone who simply accepts things without getting hot and bothered. He/she is not stupid or naive, simply detached. These people care about something else.

So, as a loud-mouthed, questioning American,  I wonder what it is that Shawn and his compatriots care about more. THAT is the cross-cultural understanding we should be working on, instead of asking why the Chinese do not question “There is a policy…” as many Americans would.

 *Shawn is his English name. His real first name is Shunqiang.

December 19, 2010

Ten plus ten plus ten reflections on China

Filed under: about me,china,cross-cultural understanding,education,global learning,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 4:55 pm

Posted once I was off the plane and back online after some sleep…

As I write this, I am flying past Mt. Fuji on our way back to the U.S. The plane is packed with people, including more Americans than I have seen in the past two weeks. It seems strange to encounter strangers who speak to me in English! The long flight (10+ hours with a tail wind) gives me a chance to reflect a bit on the trip. I have many more posts to come with corrections to some of my early observations and a lot more to tell about each place we went.

Old and New juxtaposed in ShanghaiTen + 1 things I will miss about China

1.    Surprising juxtapositions of smells, foods, colors, people, and buildings

2.    Ni hao, xie xie, and “smiling”

3.    Traveling and learning amid forty amazing educators who see education as a dynamic, personal journey for both student and teacher

4.    Profound, broad Chinese pride without hubris, a pride in their historic ingenuity, current progress, and rising status in the world

5.    History unfathomable for those of us from a country a mere 235 years old and the Chinese people’s love for that history as their common anchor during times of trial

6.    Our national guide, Shawn (his English name), and his willingness to respond insightfully and respectfully to every question; his head bobbing slightly to the side as he began each response with a smile. His English was impeccable and quite sensitive to subtlety.

7.    Symbolism, spirits, dragons, earth, and heaven, feng shue (sp?) surrounding us uDragon on Shanghai garden wallntil we actually began to notice the details on our own

8.    Streets, sidewalks, and highways swept spotless by lone workers with large, curled, natural straw brooms

9.    Learning to resist the urge to compare everything to the U.S. and to simply observe and learn

10.  Laundry opportunism: city apartment buildings tall or low, decorated with laundry drying in hazy sunshine, row after row of gadgets suspending sheets or shirts stories off the ground. Laughing to see more clothing left hanging from street lights by residents who climb to snag available drying space

construction, people, and motor bikes11.  Crowds of petite, pony-tailed women in fitted wool or bright puffy jackets, short skirts, and fur-topped boots and men in black puffy coats and skinny black pants, waiting to dodge deftly across traffic

Things I will not miss: 

1.    Chicken knuckles

2.    Chinese traffic/drivers, especially motorbikes

3.    Crossing multiple lanes of Chinese traffic as a pedestrian

4.    Air pollution!!!View of Shanghai skyline with pollution

5.    “Pretty lady, you buy —!” yelled in my ear and grabbing my arm

6.    Nonwestern toilets/bathrooms bereft of toilet paper, hot water, soap, or paper towels

7.    Coins worth .10 yuan (about 1.5 cents)

8.    Small coffee cups with no refills

Creepy Santa9.    Creepy Santa decorations with haunting, Chucky-esque faces and Christmas music played with odd rhythm or instrumentation, making Christmas into a cheap imitation holiday

10. Paper napkins big enough for no more than a cocktail and serving dishes placed beyond human reach in the center of the giant, glass lazy susan — and without a serving utensil. But at least I finally mastered chopsticks!

Ten things I will DO with what I have learned:

1.    Launch XW1W- a worldwide chance for students to exchange a taste of their daily life, coming soon from TeachersFirst

2.    Never again assume that I know what the Chinese want for themselves or for their schools

3.    Continue working to help make creativity a core classroom value and offer practicable ways to talk about it, value it, help students build it, and help parents (and those less accustomed to living it) find ways to appreciate and foster it in their own and their children’s lives

4.    Continue to ask questions and feel about for answers on the complexities of Chinese culture

5.    Try to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in Chinese education

6.    Never ignore a lost or confused international visitor in a U.S. airport or tourist attraction

7.    Stay in touch with this group of educators and continue to learn from their prism-like way of separating new light into different ideas

8.    Try to make TeachersFirst approachable and helpful for Chinese educators and those in other non-Western countries

9.    Get back together with our delegation at the ISTE conference 2011

10. Continue posting on this blog as I assimilate all that I have collected from the trip

December 16, 2010

Shanghai: A City of Cranes and Change

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,education,global learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:00 am

Today was our first full day in Shanghai after palmsnow.jpgarriving yesterday afternoon amid a steady snowstorm. The climate here is supposed to be roughly the same as Jacksonville, Florida, so snow is quite rare. The drivers, already insane in China, proved to be the same as U.S. drivers when winter weather hits. The streets were completely gridlocked, making what should have been a 15 minute bus ride (on a chartered bus used to get us to our city locations) last about an hour and fifteen minutes. We ended up having to cancel our plans to have dinner before an acrobat show. Instead, we ran into take out places right by the acrobat theater. We actually had Chinese take-out in Shanghai; that is we had take out McDonald’s! We had to order by pointing at menu items on the countertop pictures, since the people at the counter did not speak English. The cost was about the same as in the U.S., but the sodas tasted a little different, and the menu offerings were slightly different. In other words, it was about as bad as it is at home. They do manage to make the french fries taste the same. Incidentally, we have been offered french fries at a couple of our otherwise Chinese restaurants. I guess they think this is what all Americans eat. Do you have expectations of what people from another country will want if they visit you?

The acrobat show was incredible, but no photos were allowed.  There were about 36 acrobats in all, about 2/3 male. They were teenagers who obviously practice very hard and do very scary things. The smallest boy was about the size of an American third grader, and he was always way at the very top of every dangerous stunt. This troupe is reportedly the best in China. I’d love to know more about the history of acrobats in China. Is there any performance that is famous where you live?

shanghairskyline.jpgShanghai is the financial center of China, like Wall Street in New York,  and has grown remarkably in the past 20 years. What was farmland on one side of the river that flows through the city is now a farm of skyscrapers, each more impressive than the last. Architects love to design for Shanghai because it is a real showplace for new buildings.  The people remind me of New York: very fashion conscious, very busy, and accustomed to crowds. There are 20 million people in this city, and it grows more each year! Young people in China like to move here for job opportunities, but the cost of living is very high. I bought the world’s most expensive bag of cookies this afternoon at a coffee bar similar to Starbucks where we stopped to get warm after walking outside on the Bund (waterfront by the river with a view to the skyscrapers). The bag of 24 small cookies cost $15!

As we travel around in public, we see people stare at us, both because we are a group of almost 40 Americans and because certain ones of us look very different from anyone Chinese. The African Americans cause a sensation because most Chinese have never seen anyone with dark skin. The three of us who are blondes are treated as an oddity, too, sometimes making people stop to take our picture . One of the men in our group is about 6 foot 2 or 3, and some Chinese men at the Xi’an airport ran up to him and pantomimed that they wanted to have their picture taken with him because he is so tall. They then “asked” us (by pantomime) to take their picture with an African American in our group and with our group member who has silver gray hair.  We all laughed together even though we could not actually talk to each other. I think the children who swarmed around me in Xi’an did so both because of my blonde hair and because I was American. It is a very funny feeling to be stared at as an oddity, though people are genuinely respectful and cheerful about it.

shanghaicranes.jpgThe rate of change in China is unbelievable. We joke that instead of the 1000 paper cranes of Japanese story fame, China has 1000 construction cranes in each city skyline. Our conversations continually underscore the urgency in China to progress and improve, both for as an expectation for students to learn and improve and for progress and change as a society. They are very proud of the way they can implement new ideas or new building projects. They expect changes to be complete very quickly, almost as a two year old asks, “Are we there yet” two minutes after leaving the driveway. The flip side of this urgency is that when they are not sure how to go about making changes, they seek advice on how to “get it done” very quickly. Our group has been asked for advice on making certain changes in education and use of technology during our visits with universities, schools, and national technology centers working with education.

From our perspective, some of the changes they are asking to make will first require some major shifts in the underlying culture and the culture of Chinese education. For example: schools and teaching in China have always been teacher centered, with a teacher at the front of the class talking while students sit and listen. They sit in rows, never making a sound until called upon. They recite aloud as a whole class. They do not do group projects or sit on the floor, except in very unusual, progressive schools who are trying to replicate models from other countries.

Just as educational technology leaders in the U.S. often struggle to get teachers to integrate technology as a learning tool, so do Chinese educational leaders want to seeshift.jpg technology put to effective use. But until the teachers have SEEN and understand a different model of teaching, they will have no way to see the role technology might play. Most of the technology use we have seen has still been teacher-centered: projecting a video or PowerPoint show and then asking questions about it for students to stand and respond. Although this happens in the U.S., too, we are far ahead on student technology use as a learning tool. We have invited Chinese leaders from several places to come to the ISTE conference and to learn alongside this professional group in the U.S. If they are as determined as I think they are, I suspect we will see some Chinese folks with us at the annual ISTE conference in Philadelphia next summer. mathfacts.jpg

A class left a question on this blog a day or two ago about Chinese number systems, so I asked. The Chinese use both roman numbers (1,2,3,4, etc.) and Chinese characters to represent their numbers, but they use the Roman numbers more. These are easier to print. The characters are more like spelled out numbers or number names. I am including a close up of a bulletin board in a Chinese school (click to see it larger). The math facts should look familiar!

The second bulletin board shot shows science work on the human body in both bulletinbd2.jpgEnglish and Chinese (click to enlarge).

Another topic mentioned to us as something the Chinese want to bring into their schools is creativity. But I could write a ton about that. I also need to tell you about the meeting we had at the distance education center here in Shanghai…and many other tales of adventure.  We have only one more day here, but I hope to spend some time on the long flight home writing up more about our China experiences. Also to come: Shanghai at night, silk museum, laundry, Shawn– our guide and interpreter, pollution, “there is a policy.” Stay tuned.

December 15, 2010

Quick post from China

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:52 am

We are in Shanghai now. I have no time to post this evening but will give you a preview of upcoming topics:

  • Snow in Shanghai (check the usual climate to see how very rare this is!)
  • China and teacher-centered vs student-centered learning
  • Being blonde in China
  • The Chinese approach to change
  • Acrobats
  •  Chinese drivers

I promise more tomorrow!!

December 14, 2010

Xi’an Day 2

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,edtech,education — Candace Hackett Shively @ 7:22 am

I have only a few minutes left on my 24 hours of paid Internet, so I am writing quickly. I will add pictures if I have time.

Today we visited an elementary school ( they call it “primary” school) for grades 1-6, located in a village in the countryside of Hu County.  Most of the village is farmers (more on that later!). The school has 173 students and 16 teachers. They invited us into a grade 3 English class where students were learning numbers in English.The class had about 30 students (I think), aboy-recitessm.jpgnd they were very excited to see us, even though our group of 35 or so filled the aisles of their small classroom. You will see how funny we looked taking so many pictures while they worked when I post a picture. They kept their eyes on their papers and worked diligently in spite of such an interruption! We sang “If You’re Happy and You Know it” for them when their teacher asked if we would like to teach them a song. They surprised us m singing the same some back in Chinese! Apparently it is a universal song for kids.

We saw their school library, built by People to People, the organization that is running our trip. It is very simple with very few books, but it has a nice clean floor and walls. The other classrooms are kept clean, but they have bare concrete floors that are VERY cold. They seem to wash the floors with water which does not dry easily, and they were very damp and cold on the feet. Both teachers and students keep their coats on all the time. The outside was about 38 degrees F, and inside was not a lot warmer! Each classroom opens to the outdoors and has open windows letting in the cold air. They have small coal burning heaters in the rooms to get a little heat, but it is a little heat!

Things we learned:

Elementary teachers teach no more than three 45 minute classes a day. Those who worked at those school did not live in the village of 750 people, but lived in the neighboring town and ride bikes to work – a distance I would guess is about 5 miles. They must get quite cold on the ride! The school day goes from 8:30 to 11:30, breaks for lunch until 2, then runs 2 to 5 pm. The students walk back home in their village for lunch. The school has two computers: one in the teacher office and one in a classroom they share for watching videos and computer programs on two large TV screens. Both are connected to the Internet. The teacher very proudly showed us a PowerPoint they had made to teach area, perimeter, and volume in grade 6. I think the numbering they used for math was the same as U.S.,  but I will have to look at my pictures in more detail to answer the question left on my earlier blog post.

Chinese teachers teach one, two, or occasionally 3 subjects in the rural schools. In the city schools they teach only one, even in elementary.  They are certified to teach a specific subject, but there is a shortage of teachers in the villages, so some teacher teach something they may not be certified to teach.

The teachers told us they are allowed to try new ways of teaching, and they like to find new ideas. They were thrilled with the gift of some books that our delegation brought, including alphabet letters and easy English picture books. I told them about TeachersFirst, especially the English teacher, since she can read it. The curriculum is set at the county level. Students go to elementary for grades 1-6 (there is no Kdg). They go to a neighboring town for grades 7-9, then only some go on to high school– about 60% of those who go to this elementary. Education beyond grade 9 is not mandatory.

recess.jpgThe children were very happy and played outside at recess like any American children. We also saw some of them in the village later while they were home at lunch break. Our village visit is another story I will tell later.

Yesterday at the Terra Cotta Warriors museum I experienced the awe that most Chinese students have for Americans and the profound respect they show to teachers. I met a 6th grade Chinese boy who was there with his large group of schoolmates on a field trip from a school in a small city or town (not a farming village) somewhere an hour or two away. As we spoke, I was suddenly surrounded by at least 60 kids, all pressing close to say hi and to speak some English with me. When I said I was American, they were excited. When I said I was a teacher, they gasped and stepped back about a foot, being very cautious. I kept on talking and smiling with them, and they slowly closed in again. Their teacher videotaped our conversation (I guess to use in English class?). I gave them my email address and tried to act out the idea of sending me an email. I think they understood, but I am not sure. They gave the address to their teacher, anyway!

girlrecitessm.jpgBecause of that experience, I was not surprised to see the children today act very disciplined at school. They always stand up to respond to the teacher. The children in English class recited their numbers for us. We could hear other classes reciting together loudly many times during or visit.

Students have jobs at school, just as they do in the U.S. I saw some emptying the wastebaskets at recess. helpers.jpg

I have much more to share, but want to try to add a picture or two before my time runs out. Tomorrow we travel to Shanghai, a very modern Chinese city.

December 13, 2010

Culture! Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Warriors

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:30 am

I have had limited access to the Internet in the last two days, so am trying to post both about our school experiences so far and about our various culture experiences. I am going to toss some pictures up for you with captions.

They don’t eat dogs in most of ChinaThis is in Xi’an. Proof that dogs are safe as pets in most of China. Manchurians sometimes eat dog in winter :(






The garden at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an

The garden at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an






Rubbing the belly of a big jade buddha at the Xi’an Jade center is supposed to be good luck.Jade Buddha belly






Do you know where jade can be found? These jade rocks show what jade looks like in various stages from natural rock to polished rock. Jade comes in MANY colors!

Jade rocks







Warriors Pit 1

The “eighth wonder of the world,” the Terra Cotta Warriors. Find out more about them on the Internet. They were discovered in 1974 by four Chinese farmers drilling a well.

Restored warriors

Restored Warriors

Look carefully to see where the many pieces have been put back together. It makes Humpty Dumpty sound easy.







Terrs Cotta Warrior pit 1

Pit 1: How the pit looks when the warrior pieces have not been collected and rebuilt. What a jigsaw puzzle! All the warriors are/were in pieces.

warrior chariot (bronze)

Bronze Chariot found in with the warriors (only HALF the scale of the warriors)


Stay tuned for more info on schools and culture. It is late at night now, so I have to stop posting things.