Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reflections on the China trip

The purpose of the China trip was to understand first-hand the Chinese educational system and to make contact with specific schools and school leaders who might be interested in initiating or expanding partnerships between U.S. and Chinese schools. We learned much about Chinese education from a variety of sources:
  • Participants in the opening Education Summit
  • Provincial administrative leaders in the Hebei :Provincial Education Center 
  • School Administrators
  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Support Staff
Schools in China are undertaking major reform efforts in a number of areas including curriculum reform, teaching and instructional strategy, school structure and collaborative development of professional learning communities. These reform efforts all stimulate a heightened interest in forming partnerships with schools and school districts outside China.

Shijiazhuang Middle School No. 9, under the leadership of Principal Mr. Zhou Junhan, is interested in pursuing partnerships. The school includes in its administrative structure a Coordinator of International Programs, Madame Chen Na. The school has had at least one partnership in the past with a school in Denmark. It also has participated actively in the Chinese government program called Confucius Classrooms. Teachers have taken part in exchanges with schools in the United Kingdom. Within the past three years, teachers have gone to cities such as Newcastle and Donington in Lincolnshire. Teachers from the U.K. have also come to No. 9.

Marlborough will be hosting Principal Zhou Junhan in the late fall 2014. At that time, we hope that agreements can be worked out to facilitate teacher and student exchanges.

Shanghai: The French Concession and the Old City

A walk from Jing'an Park through the French Concession to the Old City of Shanghai

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School Farewell

The six-day visit to No. 9 Middle School in Shijiazhuang concludes today with a flight this afternoon to Shanghai. I am acknowledging here the generosity of our hosts at the school, especially Mr. Zhou Junhan, Principal, Mr. Luo Liping, Party Commissioner, Madame Chen Na, Coordinator of International Programs, the interpreters assigned from the English Department, Madame Shujun, Madame Shi Qing, Madame Yan Na, Madame Rui Fang, Mr. Wei, and the Curriculum Vice-Director, Madame Ma Li Qing.

In addition, I am acknowledging the Vice-Principals as follows:
  • Mr. Zhang Cheng: discipline and student activities
  • Mr. Zong Xiao Qing: senior high instruction
  • Madame Sun Cheng Lin: junior high instruction
  • Mr. Liu Yu Liang: facilities
  • Mr. Zhao Junhua: art and athletics
The School Leadership Team

Left to Right: Chen Na, Liu Yu Liang, Zhang Cheng, Liu Liping, Principal Zhou Junshan
 Interpreter Yan Na, Sun Cheng Lin, zong Xiao Qing, Zhao Junhua
In addition, I express my thanks to all the teachers and students who allowed us to observe and film many classes and activities. I return to the United States with a great sense of respect for the Chinese educational system as exemplified at No. 9 Middle School and the other schools and educational offices we visited in China.

Xibaipo: Birthplace of the New China

Today began with an excursion by car to Xibaipo, the site northwest of Shijiazhuang where the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China made final plans for the unification of the New China and the culminating journey to Beijing in March 1949. The site is inspirational for many patriotic reasons and the Chinese visit the site much as Americans visit Lexington and Concord, or Philadelphia, places where the seminal events of a new political dawn take place.

The slides from XIBAIPO trace a walk through the compound and document events leading from the war of liberation against the Japanese occupation to the consolidation of power of the Communist Party of China and from there to the formation of the People's Republic of China.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Music and Art

Today we heard outstanding recitals on four musical instruments. These were (1) Rong Hengyu, a 16-year old senior 2 student who played a traditional instrument called the Guzheng. The theme of the piece she played was a fisherman returning home in the sunset with his nets loaded with fish; (2) Zhang Wenyu, a 12-year old junior 1 student who played the Pipa, a ancient traditional instrument. Her piece was one played to accompany dancers for the emperor during the Tang Dynasty, approximately 618-907 A.D.; (3) Han Langyu, a 13-year old junior 1 student who played the erhu, a two-stringed instrument with a bow. His piece evoked the horse-racing of Inner Mongolian horsemen; (4) Fan Jiali, a 16-year old senior 2 student, who played Beethoven's opus 53, a composition called "The Waldstein Sonata." Fan Jiali has been playing the piano for ten years.

Music and Art students at Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School

The students were accompanied in the classroom by their music teacher, Weng Xiao Yun.

We were also fortunate to be able to watch two art students working, one was Feng Shi Lei, a 13-year old junior 2 student who demonstrated the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy, and other an artist with pen, ink and water colors who worked on drawings of peonies.

A pen and ink drawing of a peony with water colors added
I was acccompanied through the classes by my interpreter, Shi Qing, who is a English teacher at the school.

Debate and Model United Nations

Today, after a morning visit to the China Folk Art Museum in Shijiazhuang, we attended student activities. These began with a United Nations student organization preparing resolutions for upcoming competitions. Students were dressed formally and represented different countries of the world. A Chairman and a secretary presided over the delegates and used an overhead digital device to project the agenda and the protocols for each agenda item. Delegates came forward to present their perspectives on the resolutions and then offered friendly or unfriendly amendments.Throughout, students were well-prepared with position papers demonstrating extensive research on such topics as global warming. This kind of activity is done outside the class structure and is classified as an activity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mens sana in corpore sano

Today, Tuesday, April 22, was a day of intense engagement, beginning with taking part in four classes: analytic geometry, physics, and two technology classes. Following that were discussions with a group of teachers about pedagogy and then an animated session with a large group of students of who for the most part were boarding students from rural villages. With teachers, the discussion focused on the three most noticeable aspects of the Chinese lesson planning as observed today: (1) a structured lesson with a clear statement of lesson objectives; (2) a deep and varied level of questioning moving from recall to interpretation to analysis to synthesis; and (3) a summary of what was learned by calling on individuals to stand and explain to the group what concepts were covered. With the rural students, the goal of the discussion was to stimulate them to aspire to become international students and to broaden their horizons. They asked many penetrating questions, of which the most memorable was: "What is your motto?" I played Socrates and let my daemon answer for me: the answer was "Live well and think deeply!"

Now a few clips and images from the day. The first two were recorded during the half-hour exercise period in the late morning to allow students a chance for physical exertion after the stress of the morning classes. This is deemed to be especially important as the testing dates for the Junkao and dreaded Gaokao exams approach. This is the time when the psychological offices at schools prepare themselves for appointments with nervous students. Interestingly, a component of the Junkao exam is physical fitness.

Workers and students ride to schools and offices

Bicycles jockey with cars for space on the crowded roads

50 students concentrate in an analytical geometry review

The teacher uses a digital overhead projector

A thorough review of basic principles is conducted

A volley of questions addresses slope on the coordinates

Interpreters Yan Na and Zhang Ruizhe listen to the lesson

A student is called on to summarize the main lesson concepts

A physics class studies center of gravity

Students work collaboratively

The teacher assesses student understanding in groups

On the way to a book store near People's Square

A technology class in which students construct lego bridges

The structural principles of different bridges are carefully explained

Monday, April 21, 2014

First Day at Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School

Today is Monday at the Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School. I am taken from the hotel by car to the senior high school division campus of the school where Principal Mr. Zhou Junhan, Party Commissioner Luo,  and a interpreter meet me at the front of the school inside the gates. Each Monday begins with a flag-raising ceremony on the playfield so we all walk to the concrete field where all 5000 secondary students are standing in rows flanked by teachers on one side. A faculty leader speaks from an outdoor stage and announces the order of activities. A student reads an essay called "My Date with Spring" and is followed by a faculty member who delivers an exhortation on the value of reading. There are many interesting parts in the speech and even though it is possibly twenty minutes long, all students stand still and listen. The speech mentions examples from Chairman Mao about the value of reading in crowded public marketplaces so as to increase the ability to concentrate the mind. Following the speech, a procession of student leaders march to the flagpole and raise the flag to the accompaniment of music.

Following the speech, we retire to a meeting room for a discussion with Principal Zhou and Mr. Luo. We are joined by three vice-principals and later by David Harris of CIIE. Mr. Zhou provides background information on the school, its history [founded 1956, one of the oldest in the city], its achievements, and its enrollment. There are 108 classrooms in use on the campus, not counting laboratories and libraries. One of the main differences with US education is that secondary students stay in one room all day and all teachers move to that room to teach them.

I then am accompanied by Mr.Luo and my interpreter, Ruifang, as we tour parts of the campus, including the psychology department, really a counseling and psychiatric area to help deal with the tremendous stress that students feel around the national tests.We tour a science area with robotics and engineering labs and rooms with experiments and trophies for success in competitions.

After the meeting, we go outside to watch the students assemble for exercise. In large groups they line up and run to the playground. We join them as they run to music and chanting around the perimeters of the field. The physical exercise is part of the school's campaign to encourage wellness as well as to reduce the stress of the looming tests.

In the afternoon, after lunch, I attend two classes, each forty minutes in length. There is music to signal the changing of periods. The first class is an English class with about 50 students. They are seated in rows and extensive use of the digital overhead projector is made by the teacher. Despite the crowded conditions in the room, the students are encouraged to work in groups, leaning toward one another as they solve problems and then are called on. Students stand to announce their answers. When it is time to change class periods, the Chinese teacher enters to teach the students.

Following the classes, there is a meeting of about 20 teachers of English and Chinese. We discuss teaching methods and instructional reform. The teachers want to know many things about schools in the U.S. such as how many students are in each class, how long the school day and the class periods, and what is taught. They understand that their day is long, beginning at 7:40 a.m. and ending at 5:20 pm. But they have two hours and twenty minutes for lunch and a nap. Almost all students and teachers go home for lunch. The class periods are each 40 minutes long and the day contains nine class periods excluding lunch. But much of the day is spent in preparations, in discussions about curriculum and instruction with the teaching research department, in training, and sometimes in giving extra help to students.

There are a number of common misconceptions about the Chinese school day. First, all students in a given grade take the same subjects. Despite the long day, teachers teach only two classes on most days. These classes are large, usually from 40 to 70 students, but using as an example the subjects for Grade 7 students, they only meet as follows:
  • Chinese: 6 times per week
  • English: 6 times per week
  • Politics: 2 times per week
  • History: 2 times per week
  • Geography: 2 times per week
  • Mathematics: 6 times per week
  • Physics: 3 times per week
  • Chemistry: 2 times per week
  • Biology: 2 times per week
  • Physical Education
Most of the teacher's schedule is devoted to preparation, discussion and training. The following is an actual teacher's schedule: Students take 31 periods of classroom instruction in the same room for which there are 45 slots for classes. During the open periods, students are either outside for physical education or in the classroom doing homework or studying. In our discussion, teachers and Mr. Luo were intrigued with the idea of splitting the large classes in two for one day a week as a pilot and teaching 25 students instead of 50. This would mean giving up a preparation period and making a few other arrangements, but the experiment could help with the curriculum reform goal of creating more student-centered classrooms, especially in the areas of language learning.

What follows is a collage of pictures taken during the day outside and inside the classrooms at Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Participants move to individual school assignments

Yesterday morning we were picked up at the Yan Shan Hotel by our hosts for the upcoming week's residence near the school to which we have been assigned. I was met by Mr. Luo Liping, Communist Party Commissioner for the Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School, Chen Na, an administrator with the International Program at the school, and an English teacher from the school who served as translator.

I was checked in at the FuYi Hotel which is located a short walk from the campus of the school which is located on Jiuzhong Street in the Xin hua district of Shijiazhuang. We strolled to the school, be sidewalks lined with the bicycles of students and adults were at the school on this Saturday for testing practice. Banners were flown over the school announcing the test activities.

For a hour or so we walked the neighborhood of this part of Shijiazhuang discussing the school structure and the activities of the upcoming week. After lunch at a fine restaurant, we drove to the Shijiazhuang Botanical Gardens, a large, beautiful part with tulip plantations, museums and an extensive lakefront. While strolling through this beautiful park, we discussed international student programs and our hopes for the future. The school has had one brief program with a sister school in Denmark and is looking to expand its international contacts. My translator had also spent ten months teaching in a Confucius Classroom program in Donington, England.

In the evening, we drove to the residence of Mr. Zhou Junhan, the Principal of the school. There, in the company of his wife, our driver, six assistant principals, and two colleagues, we made dumplings, rolling the dough ourselves and filling and pinching the small pockets in several traditional Chinese family ways. It was clear that the evening had planned to welcome a visitor with deep respect.

The dinner consisted of many elegantly prepared traditional Chinese dishes and there was much conviviality. Many exchanges of respect took place and all looked forward to the week ahead.

Shijiazhuang No. 9 Middle School, visit to the Botanical Gardens, and dinner with Mr. Zhou Junhan