May 2010 No. 36
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Libraries and Reading
Seeds to Garden
Integrated Practice Class
New Video: Sweet Potato Project
Helping Schools in Gansu: Part 2
Chicken Raising Project: Part 5
Health & Nutrition Project
Green School Project
Recognition of Recent Donors
Seeds to Garden
Zheng Kai, Program Manager
At Guan Ai School, every class has a daily reading period. Students can read books of their choosing from the school library or classroom book corners. Teachers will occasionally also organize activities such as storytelling, reading aloud, or book discussions.
Above: Students draw in an apricot orchard.
"Seeds to Garden" is a series of activities we are doing in the second grade class at Guan Ai. When spring arrived, their teacher, Ms. Wang Yanzhen, and I brought them outside to observe the flower blossoms. The children wrote and told stories about spring and planted their own seeds, keeping an observation journal of the growth. This is a description of our process.
After reading a book about spring, Ms. Wang often held a discussion about the story. The topic of discussion would sometimes come from her, sometimes from the students. Every student would have a different perspective on the story, making it even richer. After Ms. Wang read the story The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, students asked a lot of questions demonstrating their understanding of the story and their great interest in it: "Why did the flowers grow that big?" "Why did the seeds fall into the river?" "How could a seed so small grow into such a big flower?" "Why was this seed so lucky?" "Why does one seed produce so many more seeds after it's grown?"
Upon hearing other stories to do with the growth of seeds such as Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, Rainbow Flower, and Gudao Bear, we asked students to put down in their reading journal whatever feelings or drawings they had. Some students responded to the content of the story. Others would express their own opinion about the story and give reasons for why they liked or didn't like a character.
Above: Students planted seeds in flower parts that had their names on them.
In mid-April, students brought some vegetable and flower seeds from home to plant in flower pots. They had many dreams for the seeds:
"I think that after my seed has grown up, it will be the world's most beautiful flower."
"I think my own seed will secretly grow up in the soil during the night."
"I think that my flowers that grow from my seed will be very beautiful. It will sprout in a few days. I am so excited."
After class, the students would run to their flower pots to see if the seeds had sprouted yet, how tall they'd grown, or how many leaves there were. Every day, you could see students watering their seeds and loosening the soil.
One day, not long after the seeds had been planted and the students returned to school after a weekend, they found that the jasmine and scorpion plants only had a little bit of green left. Their leaves had all been eaten by birds. We saw this unexpected event as a teachable moment. Ms .Wang led the students to write their feelings in their observation journal. Here is a sampling:
"On Sunday afternoon, when I saw that the birds had pecked all the leaves from my flower pot, I knew that my flower would grow again."
"A lot of flowers have been pecked away by the birds. I feel bad about it. If I see birds pecking at the flowers, I will definitely shoo them away."
"Today, a lot of flowers had been pecked by birds but I was happy to still see a sprout in one flower pot."
Above: On May 4, this bottle gourd plant had grown leaves.
After this incident, the students moved the flower pots next to their classroom, right under the window. When the weather was good, they would bring the pots under the sun and continue to take care of them, everyday while also filling out their observation documentation forms.
Above: A students' observation form from May 10.
Most of the students' seeds sprouted. The gourd plants even grew several centimeters a day. However, there were a few students whose flower pots remained bare and as their classmates counted the number of leaves on other plants or measured their height, these students could only look at their pots full of dirt and wonder when their seeds would sprout.
"My seed still hasn't sprouted. My heart is broken. My heart's love has jumped away," wrote one student. "I see that my seed still hasn't sprouted. Inside the pot is only hard dirt. I'm sad," wrote another. "Today, I saw that my seed hadn't grown yet and I am sad. Mr. Zheng said that during recess he will give me a flower to plant in my pot. I think that one day my flower will definitely become very pretty. Today I watered my seed and wiped the pot clean."
Above: A plant that has sprouted four leaves.
As time passed, sometimes the seeds were pecked by chickens or owners forgot to water them, or they didn't sprout. The students would make comparisons between these real life circumstances and things they read in stories. For example, in The Tiny Seed, the wind blew a group of seeds and some fall into the sea, others in the desert. Some were eaten by birds. The comparisons the children made with this story allowed them to have a deeper understanding of the story content and what the author was trying to express.
INTEGRATED PRACTICE CLASS
Integrated 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.
Guan Ai Primary School teachers and RCEF staff schose the sweet potato as the subject of a yearlong interdisciplinary project for fourth and fifth graders this year. The sweet potato was chosen because it is an important local food and can be explored through hands-on activities and observations and interviews in the community. This is a video that describes several stages of the project, which you can also read about here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Above: Students went to the Yellow River to explore water sources in their community.
A Village Filmmaker Exchange Program showcasing works of rural filmmakers from around China took place in Yongji this month. Guan Ai students had a chance to dialogue with a rural Tibetan filmmaker named Wang Zha after viewing his documentary film Water which captures scenes of water in his hometown. Fifth grade students discussed their impressions of the film and made comparisons with people's attitudes about water, water usage and water pollution in their village. The students created a concept map detailing the many water-related issues in the local area, and split into groups according to their research interests. One group went to the Yellow River to learn about how it is diverted to nearby cities for industrial use. Another learned about pollution of the Sushui River. The group researching the topic "The Water of Our Village" interviewed the former village head about the evolution of water technology in the village from a hand-cranked well to the current mechanical well and water tower. Another group looked at the everyday uses of water and wasting of water in the school and village.
Above: Students study a map of the Yellow River.
On the evening of May 20th, Wang Zha came to Houjiazhuang Village (where Guan Ai School is located) for a showing of his film to villagers and students. After that, fifth graders presented their own research findings. Teachers and villagers were impressed by the students' work, which included their own hand drawn maps showing the course of the Yellow River and Sushui River through Yongji, diagrams of pumps and dams in the Yellow River, stories of how each household of the village came to have a water tap in their home and much more. Students were surprised to see how much local water has changed, especially in terms of worsening pollution. They took this opportunity to encourage villagers and schoolmates to conserve and protect local water.
Guan Ai students have been raising chickens in the school playground this school year. Their six hens have been laying 3-5 eggs each day since March. By the beginning of May, they had accumulated a cardboard box full, which they decided to sell. They visited the local township market to observe villagers sell eggs. They learned that the market price is about 5 Chinese yuan per catty (which has 7-8 eggs), but that each average size egg is usually sold for fifty jiao, making it more profitable to sell by the catty. They also found that not many people from the township were buying eggs from the villagers because many of them had their own egg-laying chickens or preferred to buy the cheaper eggs produced in factory farms.
Above: Students' eggs and signs attracted attention at the market.
Above: A buyer told students to emphasize their eggs' large yolks as a selling point.
Early the next morning, we took our eggs to the city to sell, hoping that city dwellers were more likely to pay more for home grown eggs. The students started out asking for 9 or 10 yuan per catty, and though they attracted a crowd, no one bought any. The students created posters explaining their project and the advantages of their eggs, which were laid by hens that are fed grains, soy beans and fish bone. Finally, one man bought one catty of eggs and gave students a pep talk as well as marketing advice. As the day went on, the students became more courageous and effective and were finally able to sell all eight catties of eggs for 43 yuan by early afternoon. Click here for a description of the experience by one of the accompanying teachers.
Above: A student makes a fundraising poster.
In April, fourth graders from Xiaochao School made plans to fundraise for primary schools in Gansu Province to raise chickens and supplement student nutrition with eggs. The schools are located in impoverished, mountainous areas and are partly staffed by volunteer teachers. The students put their plan into action this month. First, they divided into three groups to write speeches, write a fundraising letter and create a poster. The letter and poster were displayed in the schoolyard with a board where schoolmates could leave comments. Many students expressed concern for the Gansu students and interest in supporting the chicken raising project. Next, the students elected five representatives to give speeches to the other grades. The class split into five support teams to coach the representatives in the presentation of their speeches. The fourth graders then went to each class and to the teachers' office, giving their speeches and passing around a collection box. In the end, they raised over 700 Chinese yuan.
Above: Students created books with nutrition facts that they researched.
Xiao Qian, a public health student from the University of Michigan who was one of RCEF's first summer volunteer teachers, visited Guan Ai School for one month to implement a health and nutrition project. Qian taught sixth grade students about nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet. The students split into teams to research the various food groups. Each team wrote a book about their food group, including specific foods and their nutritional value and appropriate amounts to eat. One group researched different types of junk food, their effects on our health and recommended healthier snack alternatives. Students were given blood tests for anemia, which is very prevalent among rural students, especially students who live at school like most Guan Ai students. According to the results of the test, 6 of the 101 students who took the blood test have anemia, which is much lower than the national average for rural schools. We will provide recommendations to their parents about how to improve the diet of their children.
Above: Students pose with their adopted tree.
Earlier this semester, students of Xiaochao School had designed and planted a garden for their school. This month, the fifth graders each adopted some of the trees, researched their trees and created plaques for each type to educate their schoolmates. Each student is now responsible for caring for their own adopted trees.
Wedding Gives to RCEF
We are grateful to all the supporters who donated to RCEF in May 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)
Haoyan Sun (Denver, CO)
* Donation made in honor of the upcoming wedding of Ting Zhou and Weiji Ma
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