Our Connect with China trip in April took us to Beijing BISS International School, a small IB world school located on the 3rd ring road in Beijing. This was the school I worked in as E-Learning Coordinator and MYP Coordinator, and I wrote about our interactions with students while there in a previous blog post.
This blog post features the Head of Elementary School, Shannon O'Dwyer, who not only spent the morning with us sharing the Connect with China Collaborative with teachers and students, but also took the time to share with us her evolving use of WeChat (a very common app used by most/all Chinese and others beyond China, and also used by our Connect with China Collaborative participants) as a tool to build community within each class.
This is a significant discussion for the following reasons:
I consider Shannon a 'teacherpreneur' and as such someone who is not afraid to lead for change. Although she might modestly disagree with me, she is forging new pathways for communication and collaboration in a PYP school that are agile, creative and inspiring. This is in a learning environment where, as Shannon tells us, "students take the lead in sharing much of their learning and thinking seamlessly from home to school. With every passing day it is controlled less and less by the adults, and is more a community focused on learning".
I encourage all global education leaders to be encouraged by the work of Shannon and learners at BISS. New attitudes and habits of learning that include the use of emerging technologies show us new ways of connecting and communicating support learning. According to Shannon WeChat is providing a vital connection to everyday events in the classroom and in the community - beyond the facility of a classroom blog. Students and parents interact with teachers and school leaders sharing ideas, questions, activities and more. The interview is about 8 min. long - but I encourage you to watch it all!
Images of our trip to BISS
Classrooms, teachers, students, Beijing BISS International School, and lunch at a local favourtie restaurant!
Connecting with China is not just about connecting from within to beyond, it is also about connecting the old with the new. This became even more obvious during our busy day in Dalian last week. As we visited four different schools we observed and were shown an educational climate that is entrenched in traditional values about society and life and yet ripe for new approaches to support student learning.
What we observed included:
Jenny, a school owner, entrepreneur and businesswoman in Dalian, organized our visit to these four schools. Educated in the UK with a Masters degree in School Management, Jenny shares she is headstrong and ambitious. She told us, “Darling, I need to pretend I am ‘big potato’ in education, so my husband does the marketing and I am the academic and I run the schools and curriculum’. She currently owns three schools and has newly acquired land and big plans to build a fourth school soon. The schools we visited were not her schools as such, but she is also linked to over 100 schools in Dalian and helps with professional learning and the provision of foreign teachers to deliver English and support for IELTS and other needs.
It was very clear during our visit that Chinese students and teachers are very interested in Australia and the world. They are planning outbound trips (for the minority who may be able to afford it), working hard for possible study beyond China, and imagining what our life is like compared to theirs. At the same time it is clear that there is a strong pride and nationalistic spirit amongst students and we witnessed teachers speaking to students about how hard work and respect for others will make their parents and teachers proud and set them up for the future. I reflected on my time teaching in Beijing, and even though my school then was an international school with a mixed lot of Asian and other students, there was a keen respect for teachers, parents and even for each other that may be sadly lacking in schools in Australia (and North America).
I have written before about the ‘Dragon that roared’ and how important it is for learners outside of China to be making vital connections to those inside. Text-book learning is a thing of the past – today we must be making direct links and developing authentic learning situations for young people to experience first-hand the impact of different cultural approaches. From our experiences in Dalian it seems that using technology to connect directly with local schools is not on the horizon soon for a variety of social, economic, and education reasons. Conversations are around ‘trips’ to Australia for face-to-face encounters – online learning is not a focus yet. However this trip has made it clear how important it is for us to continue to visit, learn and share with others via blog posts, images and videos, what developments are happening inside China. I believe it is only a matter of time before real pathways will be made and direct learning can take place with local Chinese schools and students….our challenge as global educators is to be ready to take advantage of this.
It’s early in China and most of the people are on their way to work. The view from the high-speed train does not seem interesting to the locals who obviously travel this route daily. But I can’t seem to get enough. The different tones of greys, the buildings, the landscape and my imagination about what life might be like if you lived here all the time. Anshan is a mining town and it relies on the steel factory for its livelihood. To put it in perspective, the steel factory itself is as big as half of the town and it’s strange that I keep using the word town to describe anywhere in China that isn’t one of the major cities. The ‘towns’ here still have a couple of million people living in them. My interest in the people and life in China is not lonely; many young people in our Connect with China Collaborative from the USA, NZ, Australia and Canada who are keen to have a real connection with their peer group in China share it. Technology is making this connection easier than before.
We have been encouraging educators to learn about WeChat, China’s biggest social media channel for connection. I put a quick shout out on the tech platform to the educators in our Connect with China group and asked if anyone would like to try connecting real time with us on the train. In less than a minute, I get a response from a teacher in South Australia from the Wilderness School who had a class of keen students willing to try. We switch to Skype and before you know it, two very different worlds are looking at each other face to face. The Australian students are on the train with us in China! I am so excited that I jump up and start showing the students around the train, asking the local Chinese people who would like to talk with them. There is curiosity from one man who says hello. The students are shy, but start practicing their Chinese language strait away in a truly authentic setting. The will to connect is equally as strong from both sides and equally as rewarding.
It is interesting the types of questions that some of the young people from the USA in the Connect with China Collaborative want to ask their peer group in China and how obvious it is that these questions have been shaped by stereotypes in the media and outdated textbooks. From the youth in the USA, there definitely seems to be an unconscious cultural superiority that leads to objectification of a whole race of people – a real ‘us and them’. The perceptions from the youth in China are equally as shaped from the messages they receive through their own media. Connections like our train virtual excursion are helping break down the barriers. Our blog has also played a role in connecting different cultures as it is a space that students can post questions. Whilst on the ground in China, we have been asking these questions to the Chinese youth and videoing their responses, which have increased learner engagement beyond the walls of the classroom.
Our Connect with China Collaborative concept for 2016 so far has been climate change. A lot of the Western students are interested in understanding what it is like for youth living in China having to measure things like the air quality each day to see if it is one of those days you can go outside and play at lunch, or one of those days where it is safer to stay inside. Some of the questions include what do the Chinese youth think about all the factories in China and the environment? This was a favourite question for the youth living in Shenyang because it turns out that most of their parents work in or own factories. They had a lot to say about the factories themselves, but not too much to say about the natural environment. It was in that moment, I understood that the Chinese youth in Shenyang couldn’t make much comparison because they aren’t growing up in a world where they have experienced much wilderness. In a city where most of the trees lining the streets are actually made from plastic to try and give a nature feel, you can understand. What we are trying to help youth understand is the connection between our consumption and the results, even though they may be far away where you can only imagine, are interconnected. We are interconnected.
Connect with China trip - Katie and Julie travel blog
Day 2 - Shenyang
Our Day 2 journey took us from Beijing to Shenyang which is further north in China, and heading towards Dalian. Flying into Shenyang was not very inspiring…..quite desolate looking from the air.
We visited the Shenyang International School and met with many Chinese teachers. The school has about 200 students Grade 1-12, and 9 Chinese teachers! It also seems to be going through transition with technology. We had a quick tour of the school and it seemed the computer lab had moved/changed and the teachers were confused as to where it was. We were told the wireless was not very good and only for some students. I managed to speak to a Grade 11 student as we were walking around and she told me Grade 11 and 12 bring their own laptops and access the Internet, and the speed is ok. Grade 9 and 10 are lent laptops. Lunch was eaten in the school canteen – a good mixture of rice, noodle and salad dishes.
A highlight of the day was speaking to four students and asking them some of the questions that came from the Phoenix School students in Salem (outside of Boston). As it turned out the students we spoke to were Chinese and some had lived in the USA. They had very definite views on the pollution in China and how it impacted their lifestyle. Of interest, we asked them what they thought about factories and received interesting responses – their parent’s own/manage factories in Shenyang.
Another highlight at the school was sharing the Connect with China project with the Chinese teachers and also showing them about life in Australia – they were very interested in both! We also managed to do a live demonstration of Voicethread and shared the Connect with China 16-1 Digital Handshake VT. Some of the teachers left comments on slides. There is great potential in the future for these teachers to be part of the collaborative. They are keen to make connections with the outside world and to share best practices.
The fast train to Anshan took about 30 minutes. We were in Business class - very comfortable! Chinese hotpot was the evening meal.
Day 3 - Anshan
We are staying in another very comfortable hotel, Pullman (part of the Accor group) right next to a building site with views across roofs to distant factories spewing smoke.
Anshen is our guide, Xiaolu’s, home town and she had arranged for us to visit the #1 school here. That fell through this morning, so we went to the mountain just out of town, Qianshen. Wonderful to be able to walk up and breath some fresh air. Katie and Xiaolu made it to the top…I was a little more casual and took my time going part of the way up and then down.
Fortunately we connected with Xiaolu’s cousin, an art teacher at the #1 school Anshen and visited in the afternoon. We were not able to go in but observed the school and students playing from the outside (the principals of the school were not in, so it was not proper for us to tour the inside it seemed). What we found out was the campus we observed was built in 2013. It had about 2000 students from Grades 1-9. The school takes students from a zoned area and housing is expensive, so they told us, as families want to live near the school to get entry. The art teacher shared images of inside the school with us – we hope to post some of these later – showing modern classrooms with colourful surroundings and good facilities. The pics taken below as we observed from the school wall is of students in very neat tracksuit uniforms playing on sporting fields and other equipment.
It seems that Shenyang is very much a factory city (about 8 million people) and Anshan (about 2 million?) has an enormous steel factory supported by mining.
It seems that Shenyang is very much a factory city (about 8 million people) and Anshan (about 2 million?) has an enormous steel factory supported by mining.
Dinner tonight was in a dumpling restaurant. Excellent food – very funny menu translations……we hope you enjoy reading these!
Katie and Julie are in China for two weeks in April 2016. This is the first of many blog posts sharing their adventures talking to students, teachers and community members in Beijing, Shanghai and more!
Our first day in China started with a midnight arrival to the hotel, a few hours sleep, scrambled (almost frantic) setting up of technology, before setting out to visit our first school. Beijing BISS International School was the school I worked at for 3 years (2009-2012) as E-Learning Coordinator and (for the last year) MYP Coordinator. Many teachers at the school, including the administration, are new, however quite a few, including the Head of Elementary School, Shannon O’Dwyer from Sydney, are still there.
Our morning was spent talking to Grade 3 and 4 students; presenting to a small group of teachers from across the elementary and secondary school levels; and talking more specifically to Kindergarten teacher Lara Ronalds and to Shannon. Some of these discussions will feature in future blog posts. For now I want to feature sights of Beijing and our student discussions.
What is it like living in Beijing?
If you want to know about life in Beijing – ask students in Grades 3 and 4! That’s what we did today at BISS.
Talking about pollution in this enormous city we learned that:
China is not a sleeping giant - these days it is a dragon that roars. Young people today need to understand more about China as a country, the Chinese culture and language, and make vital connections for future understanding. China is likely to be a part of future employment, tourism, education, and business for many.
The 'Connect with China' Collaborative successfully joined learners from Australia, the USA and China. Teachers, students and community organisations came together to learn from and with each other. Through careful selection of tools and learning design to support online collaboration participants explored the concept of 'My Community' and shared local ideas to create global outcomes. Cross-classroom teams of students researched thematic material and came together using a tool called Voicethread.
Highlights of the semester included real time linkups with China where exciting intercultural exchanges strengthened understanding between learners. One teacher in California shared at one of the regular synchronous teacher meetings that the conversation he had with his 6th grade class about the 'Great firewall of China' was illuminating and meaningful. The final online summit had classrooms from all three countries sharing their experiences in a virtual meeting room. Barriers such as language and connectivity issues melted into insignificance when participants realised they COULD in fact connect to others, and to China and communicate and share both synchronously in live sessions and asynchronously using online learning platforms.
Online global learning is imperative for all learners across the world. The Connect with China Collaborative is just one example of how meaningful exchanges lead to collaborative teamwork and ongoing construction of new knowledge. Every student at every level in every year of schooling should have a variety of online global collaborative experiences. If you are a teacher or and education leader, what are you doing to embed this into the curriculum and across the learning environment?
Explore the Connect with China 2015 pilot highlights - pictures, blog posts, co-created multimedia.
Join us in 2016: THEME - Climate Change
How is climate change impacting the world?
What is my responsibility to understand and share this impact?
How does my daily life affect climate change and how does this effect me?
All countries are invited to be part of the collaborative and make authentic connections with China.
Follow us on Twitter #ChinaConnects
On behalf of everybody at Yew Wah International Education School in Yantai, China...especially our students...Paul Ravuru and I would like to thank you for letting us participate in the Connect with China Collaborative 2015! This was the first global collaboration project of its kind for our school, and in many ways, as you noticed, we weren't quite ready! But it was lots of fun! CCC served to enlighten not just students, but also teachers and administrators, re: the benefits of connecting and communicating with the world! We hope to enjoy many such efforts in the future as a result!
We were the "Talk of the School" .... but, no, not our school, Hawkesdale P12 College in Australia, but Yeh Wah International Education School of Yantai, Shandong. Following is a comment within an email from David Deeds, a teacher at this school, after an exciting Skype linkup.
Paul (the computer teacher) and students had a great face-to-face linkup on Monday. It's the talk of the school. ;)
In the past, China has been one of the most difficult of countries to directly connect with, so it was with some nervousness that a pre-arranged skype video call was made with Paul in Yeh Wah International School. When the Chinese students first saw us, there were sounds of great excitement and delight. This excitement was a little difficult to contain at times and made hearing and listening challenging at times.
How the 45 minute connection looked:-
To finish the class, we took a selfie - just for the records.
No formal structure had been planned for the connection, but each country had some objects to share and my students had printed their names on an A4 sheet of paper in both English and Pinyin. However, despite formal planning, the skype videoconference worked remarkably well. There was lively chatter at times. Students made the most of spontaneous learning (or teaching on the fly!) by showing pics on their mobile phones to share over the webcamera.
Following are some of the responses from students re "Why they enjoyed the skype linkup!"
Tim: I think that it is a good way to learn about China because they live in China and they can also speak English so we can ask them questions. It was cool to talk to people from far away in a different time zone.
Abbey: I enjoy it because we get to talk to the country (and language) that we learn about at school.
Clem: i enjoyed the skype with china it was some times hard to understand them but it was fun
Emmerson: I enjoyed this session because we got to link up with kids the same age as us and they lived in a different country. I think this is a good way to learn about China because we get to learn new facts about the country from people that live in china.
Georja: I really enjoyed our link up and hope to do it again because it was good as we also learn Chinese at our school.
Jess: My favourite part of the link up was learning that there was another Jess in that year seven class.
Jack: the session was fun because we got to learn about their school and their lifestyle. it is a good way to learn about china because they can tell us in person if it is right or wrong.
I learned that all of the class have phones and not very many of them have pets which I find odd bacause everybody in my class have at least one pet.
Milla: I really enjoyed the link up because it was really interesting to see the difference between them and us eg the technology. They had macbooks and everyone had a mobile phone. Some had iPads. Yet, we also had similarities eg magazines, pets, liked playing video games.
Read some student blog posts summarizing the learning
Tim Skype with China
Jess Link Up in China
We cannot wait to connect again!
The Flat Connections Global Project 15-2 Keynote was given today by Katie Grubb from Mandarin Pathways. Katie is also the co-founder of Connect with China.
She spoke about the need to find alternative pathways to employment and how global awareness and intercultural understanding help support not just new perspectives on life but also new avenues of working and living.
She also spoke about the Connect with China collaborative and how we are working through connection and communication issues to bring teachers and students and community members together for collaborative activities.
View the recording.
We were excited for our meeting. Across boarders and oceans we were connecting to make the impossible possible. Our first meeting was like a blind date because we had not actually seen each other yet and weren’t fully sure what we were getting ourselves into. Unfortunately Mr. Skype did not live up to his reputation. His online bio was way better than reality. You could hardly see anyone and the conversation was glitchy. Luckily we could use texting throughout the call and managed to find a way to connect. Miss WeChat heard about the date and came to party to rescue us all. We found out it wasn’t Mr. Skype’s problem at all, it actually ended up being our parents. They had come along to the party and were hiding in the background watching us. They were afraid that we might say or do something that would get out of hand and couldn’t be controlled. The Firewalls may have though Mr. Skype was a bit loose – too open, or may have just been worried we would go way beyond first base. Even with having VPN in the house to mediate, things were just not running smoothly. Bless Mr. and Mrs. Firewall; they were just trying to protect us.
This is the love life of technology and I’ll let you in on a secret: we have gone way beyond first base. Home run is in sight. You see I’m not convinced that there is the ‘one’ out there and that we should all be holding back and waiting for them to come along. It’s about trying a few different one out until you get closer to ‘the one’. As you go along, you find what works and what doesn’t. There isn’t a single perfect fit. In fact, when I was young my mother always said to me ‘don’t even think about settling down with the first one until you have tried a few out.’ I didn’t really know what she meant at the time, but she was right.
How do you keep your connection and keep it fresh? COMMITMENT and TRUST is key and it’s what got us all through the first ‘blind date’. And in the case of the Connect with China Collaborative, it’s what keeps us going. Being social and sharing ideas is where the biggest growth happens. Having to innovate and create in the present moment cultivates the subculture of entrepreneurship. We brainstorm; talk, use the cloud, and most of all have lots of fun. With over 250 student and teacher participants from around the world, we have created a subculture of ideas and action. We have become a global family shaping global perspectives.
Social media is ingredient X and makes the flavor unique. Whether its emails, Fuze, Skype, VoiceThread, WeChat, WeTalk, or WeLearn (I made the last two up), WeWouldn’t have a voce without being on social media. Our community groups keep us grounded and connected to the real world. They feed our curiosity and everyone likes the attention. So cheers to our global family with the ups and downs and everything in-between. We know who you are and are delighted to be sharing the table with you. Want to join the family? Connect with us and get involved J Just make sure you have your seatbelt on because it is a digital ride that will take you to places you haven’t been before.
View our series of collaborative blogs created by educators and learners from around the world. This is the space that ideas become real.