Home again – sort of

We left Shanghai December 18th at 1:45 PM and arrived in San Francisco December 18th at 8:23AM – yes, we arrived before we left 🙂  You gotta love time zones.  Not quite home yet, we won’t fly home until tomorrow, hopefully arriving about 10PM.  I know we will both be glad to see Rose, both of us miss her dearly.  It will be nice to sleep in my own bed (complete with microfleece sheets) and get back into my routine.

On another note, for anyone who has been following this you will see that I have re-arranged all the posts into separate posts.  This should make it easier to read and follow.

Shanghai Professional Day

Thursday was our professional day in Shanghai.  This morning we visited the Shanghai Distance Education Group – a conglomerate of TV station, universities, and digital content provider.  We were treated to quite the display – very fancy meeting followed by an impressive display of technology.  We saw the digital content server farm where they can push out media, lesson plans and teacher training.  The next stop was a room with several displays of technology.  The first was a large 3D floor model of the Group – when the presenter shone what looked like a laser pointer on any of the buildings a video about that campus would play on the wall.  The next display was on what looked like a regular movie screen and showed the various buildings (campuses).  When the presenter pointed at any of the buildings with a long metal pointer (envision a car antenna) information in terms of number of users, time logged, etc was displayed for that campus.  We also saw their vision for distance education which I am told was a Chinese version of Microsoft’s “Envisioning the Future” video (I will check YouTube when I get back to the States).

During the afternoon we visited the YK Pao Primary School, a private primary school that follows the Shanghai curriculum but is structured like an international school and has an international faculty.  The school has been in operation for about 3.5 years and moved into a very nice new facility two months ago.  In the classroom wing you see groups of four classrooms centered around a commons area.  There are IWBs and document cameras in each classroom.  I saw several computer labs actively being used by students.  The school has a nice gym and even a pool!  HSBC has financed a green roof for the school and they are working on becoming a green school.

They are soon to open a secondary school which will be a boarding school.  Our conversation revolved around the question “If you were able to create and implement a technology vision from a blank slate, what would you do (or not do)?”  I envy that situation – the ability to implement technology into the curriculum as an integral part and not as an afterthought.  They know they want a Mac-only platform, and they want their information (technology) to be available anytime, anywhere on campus and it not be a hassle to get it (i.e. bandwidth to allow for video streaming on any device a student or teacher might use).  They want to be able to incorporate technology they may not even be aware of, and they certainly want to make use of cloud computing (back to that anytime, anywhere).  YK Pao wants technology to support the curriculum and not be “the answer”.  The school has already embedded filmmaking into the curriculum and they use technology to reinforce learning materials at home as well as in language programs.

Another topic we discussed was that the China is a nation of “copiers” (knock-offs are quite the rage here) – they have no concept of digital ethics.  One faculty member told the story of mentioning it would be nice to have a particular program on a computer and coming to work the next day to find it installed on every computer – all completely pirated.  The school (and country) needs a concept of digital citizenship and a method to incorporate it into the curriculum.  It sounds like that might be a challenge since copying seems to be a way of life here.

Snow in Shanghai??

Shanghai is supposed to be the warmest of the three cities we are visiting.  However, it is just as cold – and we were greeted with falling snow when we landed Wednesday afternoon.  Snow only happens about once every three years in Shanghai.  This is by far the most modern of the cities, as well as the most affluent.  Coming in from the airport we saw very few cranes and many smaller houses/townhouses rather than high-rises everywhere.  This is a beautiful city with little pockets of green parks here and there.  The snow continued to fall all afternoon and evening but stopped by the time we left the acrobat show.

Xi’an Professional Day

This morning we visited the Nansuo Village Primary School in Hu County, about an hour outside of Xi’an.  Several years ago this rural school was identified by People to People as a school in need that could be easily accessed by their delegations.  The school has a new library (extremely small with a limited number of books) courtesy of People to People.  There are two computers in the entire school, which serves about 170 students.  Teachers use these computers to present material to students – PowerPoints, videos they have created and information found on the Internet.  When we visited it was about 40 degrees outside, and not much warmer in the classrooms.  Students and teachers were dressed in jackets and gloves, some with ski-type pants on.  There is a small coal heater in the back of the classroom and a pile of coal bricks in a back corner of the room.  These coal bricks are about 5″ in diameter and about 5″ in length with round holes running end to end.  When the bricks are spent they turn orange in color.

Until a few weeks ago school started at 8AM, but a new government regulation for primary schools dictated that primary students may attend school more than 6 hours per day.  Now the morning session runs from 8:30 to 11:00 AM, the students go home for lunch which runs from 11:30 to 2:00.  Students return to school for another three hours of classes in the afternoon.  Just like the middle/high school we visited in Beijing teachers only teach 2 to 3 classes per day – I asked, this is simply a coincidence, it is not a regulation.  In this school they may teach more than one subject – generally a core subject like math and another course such as music.  No teacher teaches all subjects.  They are certified in the main subject they teach, but often not in the second subject.

Teachers at Nansuo Village Primary have only basic computer skills but they do use the Internet to find ideas for teaching.  There is an online forum for teachers they use to share ideas with other teachers around the country.  Professional development can be either by choice or as mandated by the school or township.  Teachers can attend a continuing educational facility for training to update skills.

Students are assessed for math skills once per week and other subjects on a monthly basis.  If a student are not performing well there are mentoring/tutoring opportunities after school.  If this is not sufficient parents step in and find someone to help their child.  There are no such diagnoses as ADD/ADHD.  Teachers visit student homes to let parents know how their child is doing and there are parent conferences at the end of each semester.  In addition teachers can contact parents by cell phone.

This afternoon we visited Xi’an Eurasia University, a private university established in 1995.  approximately 20,000 students (mostly female) attend classes in a variety of majors.  The delegation had an opportunity to share ideas on integrating technology into the classroom.  They face the same problem we do in the states – teachers unwilling to change their teaching style form teacher-centered to more modern  styles which focus on inquiry and problem solving (student-centered) – those that engage students young to old and get them excited about learning.  We indicated that technology integration is not about the technology itself but the technology can enhance the curriculum.  Just like in the United States there is such a focus on testing (in this case, university entrance exams) that there is a hesitation to try something new.  We suggested coaching and mentoring programs as well as targeted professional development.  Several delegation members suggested targeting teachers to pilot technology projects.

The delegation offered a variety of information on the use of 21st Century skills, along with numerous resources they might be able to use such as Schoology, GoingOn and Edmodo – all social learning platforms or tools.    The faculty at XEU expressed concern that rural areas do not have the hardware nor access that urban areas do, both of which are required for the use of such tools.  Indeed, we have seen a range of accessibility in the schools we have been in from the one to one laptop initiative in the international school to a school of 1700 with two computer labs and only teacher laptops to a rural school with a total of two computers.  Almost all students in urban areas have access to a computer at home.  In rural villages there is a government subsidized computer in a family home for use by the entire village (typically by the farmers to check seed prices and the like).  Students at Nansuo Primary do have (limited) opportunity to use the 2 school computers after school.

Xi’an Cultural Day

Today (Monday) we first stopped at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of two pagodas in Xi’an.  It was built to house the writings monks brought back from their travels.

The highlight of the day, however, was the trip out to see the terra cotta warriors.  Discovered by farmers digging a well in 1974, the warriors are in several pits that have been excavated.  Pit #1 is the largest and houses the largest number of warriors and it is believed there are over 6,000 of these warriors, most of which have not yet been excavated.  All of the warriors that you see are either in pieces or have been put bag together in a painstaking process of reconstruction.  The warriors were built by the first emperor of the Qin (“chin”) Dynasty to accompany him in the afterlife.  The warriors appear in trenches approximately with earth-rammed berms between.  They were originally placed on brick paths and the ceiling consisted of wooden beams covered by fiber and then earth.  These life size statues of both men and horses were destroyed at the end of the Qin Dynasty by rival factions who broke into the underground structure smashing the warriors and horses and setting fire to the place.

In 1974 several farmers were digging a well and they found pieces of the warriors in the process.  A local archaeologist alerted authorities and the rest is more or less history.  Archaeologists determined the area involved and a warehouse-like structure was built over what would become “Pit #1.”  Upon excavation the warriors displayed vibrant blues and other colors.  However, the colors have not withstood the exposure to air.  Scientists from several countries have consulted and until a suitable method of preserving the color is found no more excavation will occur.  In the meantime there are plenty of pieces to put back together.  When we arrived at the building housing Pit #1 I was totally unprepared to walk through a set of double doors and find myself looking down on hundreds of warriors and horses.

The warriors show surprising detail – braided hair, tread on the soles of the boots of the kneeling archers.  Thus far no two warriors is alike.  Each has different hair, clothing, facial features, etc.  There are foot soldiers, horses pulling wagons, archers (both kneeling to nock arrows and standing to fire), cavalry and infantry in what are now three pits.  In one of the pits visitors can see the remains of the sagging beams, waiting their turn for excavation.   Bronze swords that were unearthed still had enough of an edge to cut several layers of paper in one cut.  The wooden spears and crossbows have long since rotted away, as have much of the fittings for the horses.

Welcome to Xi’an

The transfer from Beijing to Xi’an (“she on”) was uneventful.  Xi’an, although a large city of over 8 million, has a very different feeling than Beijing.  Once the capital of China, Xi’an isn’t as metropolitan.  The city doesn’t seem as vibrant as Beijing.  I am told Shanghai will be very different again.  The area surrounding Xi’an is agricultural in nature and indeed we passed many many fruit trees and what looked like vineyards (although the Chinese are not big consumers of wine).  On the drive from the airport we passed many high rise apartment buildings that are under construction.  In fact, it seems everywhere we go there are cranes running.

Beijing Cultural Day

Today we traveled first to Tiananmen Square.  This is the largest city center square in the world and the scene of the infamous showdown between student and tank in 1989.  One side of the square is bounded by Chairman Mao’s mausoleum (which we did not go into), next around clockwise is the People’s Republic of China “Convention Center” where meetings of importance take place and celebrations occur.  The next stop clockwise is Tian An Men – the temple for which the square is named and from which Mao proclaimed the country the People’s Republic of China.  There are bleachers to either side from which dignitaries can watch parades passing by.  The final side of the square is the China National Museum.
On the far side of the temple from the square is the Forbidden City and its nine gates.  One gradually passes through the gates into the innermost sanctum of the ancient emperors.  When you exit the Forbidden City you enter the Imperial Garden.
The afternoon was spent climbing the Badaling portion of the Great Wall of China.  What a fantastic opportunity!  I never in my life thought I would visit China, much less walk on the Great Wall – this seemed to be the general consensus of most delegates.  From the point we climbed onto the wall we could climb a longer but less strenuous climb or a shorter but steeper climb.  My husband and I opted for the tougher route – very steep at times but with spectacular views of both the wall and the surrounded countryside.  As with many touristy areas of Beijing the vendors are pesky and don’t take “no” (in any language) for an answer.  Judging by the fact that we witnessed three climbing a ladder to hoist themselves onto the wall, I don’t think they were supposed to be there.
One thing I will say about my stay in Beijing is a noticeable lack of trash.  One would think a huge city would be teaming with trash and plastic bags.  So far, I have seen on trash bag being plucked from the median of the roadway and another blowing in the wind from a tree limb.  No litter on the ground, even in the poorer areas of town.
Tomorrow we are on to Xi’an (“chee-an”) where we have two professional visits and a cultural day to see the terra cotta warriors which were discovered by peasants digging a well in the mid-1970’s.  I may only make one post from there as from here on I must pay for Internet access.

Tidbits About China

Some more information about China from our national guide:

China has relaxed their one child (actually one birth) policy to some extent.  In the case of a couple where both partners are “one child children” they are allowed to have two children.  Rural families are allowed a second child four years after the birth of their first child IF the first child is a girl.  Ethnic population families are allowed more than one child since their populations are already small.

In China most urban children have at least one computer at home along with Internet access.  However, rural children rarely have a computer and Internet in the country is non-existent.

Most elementary classrooms have 40 to 50 students with one teacher (no aides).

The government owns all the land, but people buy apartments on what amounts to a 70 year lease.  This policy is new enough that no one knows what will happen when the end of 70 years occurs.  You are allowed to sell an apartment or pass it along to children.

And my last item to report, tonight at dinner I ate a scorpion.  Yes, a scorpion!  I cannot believe I did it, I am not inclined to eat creepy crawly things…but I did this time.

Beijing Professional Day #2

Today we visited the Beijing Normal University (BNU), specifically the School of Educational Technology (SET) and the “#3 Middle School Attached to Beijing Normal University”.

BNU’s focus is on educating teachers and SET’s focus is on various aspects of educational technology.  One of their projects is a study involving 280 schools and over 50,000 students around the country and looks at integration of technology into the English curriculum.  The video we saw encompassed a single 45 minute class of 2nd grade students.  The (Chinese) teacher spoke entirely in English.  The lesson began with the teacher asking questions and the students chanting back the answers, in this case days of the week.  The teacher then asked dialog-style questions of the students.  Next the students opened their laptops and read material in an online lesson.  This was followed by the teacher asking questions about what the students learned in their reading lesson.  Finally the students were tasked with a project (describing their dream day).  They worked with their seat partner to develop a presentation for the rest of their class.

In a Q&A session we determined that China has may of the same problems we have in America – students eager to use technology and teachers hesitant to integrate it in their classrooms.

The middle school we visited has 37 classrooms and 1600 students – junior students grades 6 – 9 (compulsory years) and senior students grades 10 – 12.  The junior students are from the surrounding area while senior students are accepted based on exam scores.  The school day runs from 8AM to 5PM, the last hour of which is actually after school activities.  Students attend seven 45 minute classes and have a one and one half hour lunch (!) which is spent on campus.  Teachers teach a maximum of three classes a day (yes, you read correctly, three classes).  Teachers of Chinese and math only teach 2 classes per day.  The remainder of their time is spent in their office planning and preparing lessons.  The majority of the classes are required courses with some electives available.  In this particular school there are only two computer labs, each with about 50 computers.  The classrooms have a computer for the teacher to use to teach lessons and offices are equipped with a computer.  Teachers also have a laptop to use.

Welcome to China

(Thanks to Crystal for posting this for me – Edublogs blocks access from China because of a high amount of spam so I cannot post myself.  I also won’t be able to see any comments until I return to the states).

Arrival in Beijing was uneventful.  I must say the airport is the quietest I have ever been in.  Stood in line to get my passport/visa inspected and stamped and then walked through the rest of customs without a hitch.  We traveled to the hotel through rush hour traffic – yeehah!!

Thursday morning we had a meeting of all the delegates for “formal” introductions and an overview of the program.  Then our national guide, “Shawn” gave us a brief history of China.  Students attend public school free for the six elementary grades and three junior high grades.  If they pass tests they then pay $500/year to attend public high school.  University costs $1000 – 1500/year.  Ninety five percent of city kids attend senior high and the main reason for dropouts is economic.  Fewer rural students attend, also for economic reasons.  Students have a 1 month winter vacation and 2 months in the summer.  Generally they attend 4 classes each morning and 2 in the afternoon and then there are a variety of after school classes and activities.

We spent Thursday afternoon at Beijing International School of Singapore (BISS), a K-12 school with about 300 students from around the world.  These are children whose parents are in Beijing for business reasons who work at an embassy – no Chinese nationals.  These students are what are called “third culture students”.

The school itself is a former four-story “government” school building that BISS has leased.  It is surrounded by apartments and small retail stores.

The elementary classrooms have pods of computers in the classrooms and grades 6 – 12 have a one to one laptop program in which students are required to own a laptop (MacBook). They have an IT support department complete with help desk.  The school provides a standard image but students have administrative rights to the laptop since they own it.  The school periodically checks for pirated software and students sign an AUP.

This school uses StudyWiz for a learning portal with access for teachers, students and parents.  BISS uses a private label WIkispace on which each student has an account which is used for creation of e-portfolios.

I was extremely impressed with the student artwork on display in the hallways – it was phenomenal!