April 2010 No. 35
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American and Chinese Teachers Meet
Libraries and Reading
Reading Here, There, Everywhere
Integrated Practice Class
Qingming Holiday Activity
Helping Schools in Gansu
New Home for Chicken Project
Sweet Potato Project Update
Recognition of Recent Donors
American and Chinese Teachers Meet
Above: Guan Ai and Trinity students exchange friendship banners.
At the beginning of April, RCEF's program schools in Shanxi Province welcomed visitors from Guan Ai's "sister school" in California. The group of 20 educators, parents, and students came from Trinity School in Menlo Park, California and California State University Los Angeles. They toured Guan Ai and Xiao Chao Primary Schools and discussed how service learning and reading is taught at their schools. The American and Chinese students also had a chance to learn about each other through the sharing of holiday customs and agricultural crops, and engaging in singing, games, and planting seeds.
Here are some reflections from the educators who participated:
"I learned so many things that I want to try in my classroom. The students and the staff at Guan Ai School helped me return to Trinity with a renewed enthusiasm for teaching."
"The exchange was very thought-provoking. Becoming a good reading teacher doesn't naturally happen just by accumulating experience. A personal love of reading is a necessity. From our conversation with the Trinity School librarian, I saw how she tries hard every day to interact with students and teachers and find out what they need so that she can broaden and raise their reading level. She is very responsible and dedicated."
"The welcome and the joy in the faces of the students and the faculty really required no translations. It's amazing that across the world, we face similar challenges, experiences and joys when working with children."
"Whether it's reading class or any class, the American teachers pay a lot of attention to the students' own thinking and opinions. Guan Ai School does better at this than many public schools but there's still a big gap between us and the American school. The road ahead will be hard but we have confidence to do a good job and strive to teach to the level of student-centeredness that they practice because the children are the future of the world."
Above: "Sister School" principals Mary Menacho of Trinity School and Sun Huimiao of Guan Ai Primary School.
"Meeting the team brought home to me how particular and yet familiar school environments are. Just in the short meeting, it was obvious that the personnel were people committed to improving their school and making learning accessible for their students. I especially delighted in the ways the students were sharing with each other. This dedication and interest in learning on the part of the teachers was evident not only in their questions during our discussion but especially in their students. I am so grateful to each person at Guan Ai and Xiaochao for welcoming us, engaging in dialog, and sharing ideas with us. What an honor. Thank you."
--Mary Menacho, Head of School, Trinity School
Reading Here, There, Everywhere
By Sun Chuanmei, Program Manager
April was full of learning opportunities for the teachers in RCEF's reading project. A primary school librarian from California, Becky Zeren, demonstrated a reading lesson in the newly opened library at RCEF's partner school, Xiaochao Primary School. Afterwards, all the teachers sat in a circle and asked Becky questions about her two decades of expertise in library management and reading. By the looks on their faces, I could tell they were struck by what they heard.
Above: Teachers and students listen as American librarian Becky Zeren reads a story.
In mid-April, I attended the First National Conference on Rural Library Construction and Reading Promotion in Wuhan. It was my first time meeting so many people working in this field. Everyone has their own strengths and methods—it's like a hundred flowers blooming!
At the end of April, I went with my RCEF colleague, a teacher, and a principal in RCEF's program to the Sixth National Reading Forum held in Changzhou. It was organized by the organization "Draw Close to Our Mother Tongue". It was a four day meeting with rich content. There were professional experts on reading giving presentations and also demonstration lessons by classroom teachers. The topics were diverse and content was rich: recitation, poetry, novels, picture books, etc. Every demonstration class showed off different kinds of colorful methods. The best part was that the teachers who participated gained a deeper feeling for reading. In addition, they had ideas for how reading can be done in a school, especially a rural school. This experience really emphasized for me how the promotion of reading starts with individual sparks.
INTEGRATED PRACTICE CLASS
Integrative Practice Class is a mandatory primary school subject which emphasizes interdisciplinary, community-based learning. It helps students to learn more about their own culture and environment. Together with local teachers at our two partner schools, RCEF staff members are developing practical methods for teaching this class with the goal of sharing field-tested lesson plans and methods with other schools in the future. Below are updates on the projects at our two program sites, Xiaochao Primary School and Guan Ai Primary School.
Above: Students shared stories about their grandparents.
Xiaochao students have been doing a series of community research activities to document local customs for traditional festivals. Although students went grave sweeping with their parents each year during the Qingming Holiday (also known as "Tomb Sweeping Day"), most knew nothing about the ancestors they were honoring. Students brainstormed questions they could ask to learn about their ancestors and learned interviewing techniques. They interviewed their relatives and learned many interesting things about their great grandparents. One student learned that her great grandmother was the best paper cutter in the village, another discovered that her great grandfather was an outstanding teacher, and a number of students learned how to make simple toys that their grandparents played with as children. Students found some common experiences that many of their ancestors shared, such as migrating to escape famine and contributing to war efforts.
At RCEF's winter teachers' conference in February, Xiaochao teachers met volunteers from the Western Sunshine Foundation who teach in impoverished schools in Gansu. They were deeply moved by the volunteers' perseverance at serving children under such difficult conditions in mountainous, remote villages. When they shared this with their students, the students immediately expressed an interest in doing something to help. The Gansu volunteers plan to raise chickens in their partner schools in order to supplement students' nutrition with eggs. Xiaochao fourth graders are going to raise money to contribute to this project. They brainstormed a number of fundraising methods, including traditional approaches such as posters and presentations, but also more novel ideas like selling their hair! This week, they are designing posters, writing proposals and composing speeches for a school-wide fundraiser.
Above: Students feed the chickens in their new, expanded home.
Guan Ai students have been raising chickens for half a year. You can read the history of this project here: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]. For the first several months of their lives, the Guan Ai chickens have been kept in a cage to protect them from predators. Now that they are large enough to protect themselves, some villagers helped us build a chicken run so that they can run around outside. Students designed and built some parts of the new coop, such as the door and the nests. In the weeks that followed, students noticed some weaknesses in the original design and have made a number of modifications. For example, the bottom of the netting was originally held down by bricks, but the bricks often shifted around because many students crowd about the chicken coop during break times. Therefore, the students dug a trench, pinned the netting down with bricks inside the trench, and then covered it back up with dirt. The students originally used wooden boards covered with hay as the flooring of the nests. They observed that the hens scratched at the bottom for a long time and tried to surround themselves with hay using their beaks. They deduced that hens like to lay eggs in a deep bed of hay, and replaced the boards with basins and baskets.
Above: A student checks on the nest he and his classmates made for the laying hens.
Above: Students check the growth of the sweet potato seedlings every day.
Above: Students record the daily temperature checks on a blackboard.
For over a month, fourth and fifth graders at Guan Ai have been learning all about the cultivation of sweet potato seedlings. Past lessons in this year-long unit on the sweet potato, are available here: [Part 1] [Part 2]. After designing and building a brick planter covered with a plastic sheet for incubating the seedlings, the students have been measuring and recording the temperature in the planter to prevent overheating. They are also reading materials about the science behind seedling cultivation. During this process, teachers are fostering students' skills in understanding technical writing and applying it to real life situations. Students have also been researching the nutritional value of sweet potatoes and trying out recipes to write a sweet potato cookbook. If you have any recipes to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
We are grateful to all the supporters who donated to RCEF in April 2010! (A complete list of donors through the years is available here.)
Silver Sponsors ($1000-$4999)
Matilda C. Young (San Francisco, CA)
Bronze Sponsors ($100-$999)
Diana Chang (Toronto, ON)
The RCEF Newsletter is a monthly publication about the educational initiatives being carried out by RCEF in rural Shanxi Province, China. We currently have two program sites: Guan Ai Primary School and Xiaochao Primary School.
(C) Rural China Education Foundation 2009