Day 4: Wuxi

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Asia » China » Jiangsu » Wuxi
October 14th 2009
Published: October 14th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

While waiting for the bus at the hotel, Jon learned from the vice principal that Dangkou MS has transformed its teaching philosophy as a result of Purdue’s visit last year. The teachers are now beginning to value the ability of students to think individually and explore on their own. Such thinking represents an incredible departure from traditional Chinese education (and also from American education, in same cases). Although this new way of teaching will take several years to integrate fully, the vice principal is encouraged at the changes already evident.

We started the day with our first lesson: Sue and Shelly’s Genetics with a Smile. This lesson examined various dominant and recessive traits: hitchhiker’s thumb, ear lobes, tongue rolling, etc. The classroom was set-up with the students sitting in five groupings of desk at the front of a large auditorium-style lecture room. There were 32 students in this particular class. The audience was comprised of ~two hundred middle school teachers. Teachers and students alike were enthralled with the American teachers. The students then took part in a hands-on lesson of flipping US coins to determine the genotypes and phenotypes for a number of physical traits. Once the students finished determining their nine traits, they were asked to draw a face representing these various phenotypes.

The next groups were Ming and Martin’s skyscraper construction unit and Jackie and Leo’s silly putty experiment. Martin and Ming were in the same lecture hall while Jackie and Leo were across the hall in the small chem lab. Jackie and Leo provided their students with a few simple ingredients and asked them to experiment with different percentages in order to identify the optimum ratio needed to make silly putty. The teachers were just as excited about this lesson as the students so they joined the teams and took part, too. Jackie and Leo had such overwhelming interest from the teachers that they had to close both classroom doors. As a result, there was little room for us to join them.

Martin and Ming presented a lesson in which students were asked to construct the tallest freestanding structure capable of holding a single can of Coke. The groups of four students had 25 minutes to design and construct a structure using note cards, tape, and scissors. The students discovered on their own the three main principles of design that Ming and Martin hoped to teach them. When they finished their structures, Ming had each team present the building at the front of the class. He found the tallest shape and tested it with a Coke can. After a few attempts, it was able to stand on its own. This team was given the prize (candy bars) for having the tallest building.

Mariah and Helen then conducted their Mentos and Coke experimental design lesson while Melissa and Sarah presented a lesson on chemical reactions. Ming was trying to be helpful by turning down the overhead lights. Unfortunately, the only obvious switch on the wall was connected to the computer and overhead projector. It took more than a few minutes to figure out what had happened and restart the computer system. Mariah and Helen described the effect Mentos has on Coca-Cola. The students told to design an experiment to produce the tallest geyser reaction, given a 1.25L bottle of Coke, string, note cards, and a roll of Mentos. The students had ten minutes to design their experiment and then each team presented the design to the class. Mariah and Helen selected two experiments to test outside. Everyone went to the courtyard to view the trials. When we returned to the classroom, the team with the higher geyser won the prize - a roll of Mentos.

Sarah and Melissa guided a lesson on chemical reactions. Students were given four items and had an opportunity to test what happens when different amounts/items are mixed together: baking soda, calcium chloride, water, and water with phenol red. When the four items are mixed, they produce a yellow solution, gas, heat, and a pop. Sarah and Melissa did a great job after lunch when they met with the same students and recapped the lesson. At that point, Melissa and Sarah walked through how scientists prepare experiments to determine what items are responsible for which reaction.

One big difference between Chinese students and American students is that the Chinese students are so quiet! We have noticed that they talk very softly amongst themselves, which is very different from their American counterparts. Most of the noise in the room came from the teachers in the audience.

After the five lesson, we went to lunch with the administrators and all of the visiting teachers. The restaurant was decorated similar to a wedding reception. Our two tables had special ribbons wrapped around the seat backs. There was a large congratulations sign across the small stage by the center table. We returned to the school and the teachers-fellow teams had an opportunity to meet again with their students to recap the lessons learned and also talk a bit about themselves.

The next session was a presentation by Jon about the GK-12 program, Purdue University, and the three middle schools. Some big hits with the audience: their fame at Purdue (from last year’s involvement), the photo of campus, successful faculty/alum: a Nobel Prize winner and 23 astronauts, the female president, American football at Purdue (the Ross-Ade photo), and the football team’s current record (a big laugh here).

Sue and Shelly followed with their presentation of Klondike Middle School. After another technical difficulty (one of the teachers accidentally turned off the computer and projector a la Ming). The biggest hit was the school day schedule (8:45-3:35). A large gasp erupted from the students, who were quite jealous. Their school day lasts from 6:30 am - 5:00 pm. They were also jealous of the ½ hour lunch break. They laughed quite a bit at the only dress code: shorts must be finger tip length or longer. Most of the students measured how long that would be on themselves. They also enjoyed the photos of the students and their classrooms.

Martin then introduced Frankfort Middle School. He discussed similar descriptions of his middle school. He showed a photo of his students taking part in the same skyscraper construction lesson that he taught this morning. The Chinese students were interested to see that American students had done the same thing, and many of the buildings were very close to the designs they constructed. Another big hit was the photo of a typical student lunch. They laughed a lot at the corn dogs.

Melissa and Sarah provided their overview of Tecumseh. Their big hit was the welcoming note for the Chinese students left from the three middle school students who created the PowerPoint. There was a lot of talking when Melissa described the amount of snow Indiana receives. Once again, students were very happy to see photos of American students conducting the same lesson (this time, silly putty) that they hadconducted this morning.

Jon finished the presentation with a Q&A session. He told the students that if they didn’t ask any questions, we would have to give them an exam. Another loud gasp was heard from the audience followed by a lot of chatter from the students. Here are their questions. (s) = student, (t) = teacher
1. Do students have exams? (s)
2. What are the exams like? What types of questions? (t)
3. How do you teach students to answer essay questions? (t)
4. What do you think of our Chinese students? (s)
5. When you come next time, would you please bring your students? (s) - Big laugh to Sarah’s response that some of her students asked to be packed in her luggage. Jon told them that we would love for some of them to visit the US, which pleased the audience.
6. What do American students do after school and do they have any homework? (s)
7. Why do American students have so much free time but they have so little time between classes? (s)
8. How can I go to your university? I like your school. (s)
9. When you teach your children English, do you ask them to copy text or tell stories from their memory? (s)
10. When the American students do outdoor activities, what kind of relationships do they have with the teachers? Do the teachers evaluate them according to their academic records? (s) The audience let out a big “wow” when Martin answered that he coaches football and basketball in addition to teaching.
11. How many PE classes and music classes do the American students have per week? (s) There was a big “oh” when Martin told them that his students have PE every day and music every other day. (Chinese students have PE twice a week.)
12. One student asked for Martin’s contact information because he would like to play football. There was a huge laugh from the audience. They applauded a lot when Martin gave him his business card.
13. When the students learn math, do they have to do many activities a day to consolidate what they learn in class? (s)
14. Your way of teaching seems quite relaxing so what can you do to guarantee their academic excellence? (s)
15. Chinese education is different from American education. What do you think about the science education in China? (s)
16. Teenagers in China are very important for China’s development. What about American teenagers? (s)
17. How long is your winter vacation and summer vacation? Do the students have homework on those vacations? (s) (Huge gasp when Shelly told them they have a 10 week summer vacation and they don’t have homework.)
18. Obama has been your president. Do you think there is still racial discrimination in the United States? (s)
19. If I go to your school when I grow up, can I be a Chinese teacher? (s)
20. What do you think is the most striking different between the American students and the Chinese students? (s)
21. I want to know whether the American schools have some school rules. Are the American students allowed to take their mobile phones? (s)
22. As a parent, do you always tell your children to do things they don’t want to do? (s) There was a loud “oh” when Jon told them that he has four kids.
23. Just now, some teachers teach music and they want one of the participants to sing a song. (s) Much applause from the audience. Fortunately for the audience, Sarah sang a solo and didn’t ask anyone to join her.
24. If a student makes a mistake, what kind of punishment will he or she receive? For example, breaking the school rules? (s) Melissa told them that if a student is caught twice with a cell phone, she gives the phone to the principal. He likes to look at the photos and read the text messages. There was a lot of laughter. The teachers looked around at their principal.
25. Is a quality education emphasized in the USA? (s)

The vice principal then discussed the importance of China working with the US and how they can learn a lot from each other. She introduced Dr. Hua to say a few words. He talked about how Chinese students are the hope of the future, for their parents, and for their country. It doesn’t matter if Chinese can have a Nobel Prize; what matters is whether they can have economic success for their country and for the world. In this process, it is important to keep learning. By continuing to learn new things, they can be at the forefront of modern technology. He then said that the traditional teaching methods cannot adequately prepare students for these new demands. New teaching models are required, which is why the GK-12 team lessons were valuable.

Headmaster Xiao then gave closing remarks. He emphasized the importance of using successful methods and technologies to find ways to solve educational problems. Only in this way can they cultivate the students to better serve the world and their country. He hopes that Dr. Hua will take him and his teachers to Purdue University and the middle schools represented by the GK-12 program.

Once school had finished, we traveled to the Agricultural Garden for dinner. This location is a series of small buildings hovering above koi ponds built using traditional Chinese architecture. Our group was split among three different rooms. Since there was no drinking last night, our hosts tried to make up for it tonight. Our room along went through six bottles of Chinese white wine (this time, it was 96 proof). And we only had twelve people at our table! I definitely recommend drinking a lot of orange and water, and eating much of the food. We finally made it back to the hotel by 8:30 but I think that a couple of the group members were feeling the effects.

Tomorrow we do some sightseeing around Wuxi then return to Nanjing.

Two general notes. The first item is driving. I must be Chinese at heart because this is my kind of driving. (The only exception is turn signals. I use mine faithfully while they never use one.) Lane lines are really more of a suggestion here. Even the center line. Drivers move all over the road to pass the slower cars, trucks, scooters, and bicycles. They will even cross the center line - while traffic is oncoming - to pass someone. And they honk constantly. While they might not drive as fast as I might suggest while in town, they do move rather quickly on the highways. I’m amazed at how many new cars we’ve seen, with several Volkswagens, Toyotas, Audis, BMWs, Buicks, and various Asian brands. It’s funny to me to see an American car with the model name in Chinese.

The second item is trees. Many participants have mentioned the prevalence of recently planted trees and shrubs. There are thousands. Everywhere we look we see plantings four, five trees deep with at least one row of shrubs in front. Jon commented that many of these varieties are not native to their areas, resulting in dramatic impacts to the Chinese water supplies.

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15th October 2009

Hi Amy, I am enjoying the sessions at the school. What is the proportion of boys to girls in classrooms?

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