Students, lessons learned, and goals

Dr. Christine Royce reports on another busy day in Shanghai.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today was the day for students, lessons, and—for me—personal goals. Now, this may sound like the students are those in the classes we teach or observed and you would be correct. However, the word student took on a much more meaningful connotation today for me and I hope for others. We, the participants in the conference on both sides were the students in that we were learning from each other, our colleagues, and the experience at hand. We also visited schools where we were able to interact with students allowing us to be in a familiar setting.
The morning was spent in concurrent sessions on similar topics from yesterday. The structure—the Chinese present a series of case reports related to the topic, engage in discussion, and then we, the Americans, present on the same topic. While the original intent was that we would do similar things, there was something lost in translation at some point. The group from NSTA convened teams that would present the topic as a team approach, having worked several months on our presentations. I appreciated this approach in that it allowed me to better know some of my colleagues—David, Walter, and Piyush—as well as have a discussion (albeit via email or conference call) on the topic at hand. Our topic was how we prepare teachers in this country, which focused on a historical overview of the structure of teacher certification. In contrast, we received different examples of programs that work with teacher preparation from our friends in China. Each was interesting and informative, just simply assembled in a different manner than we expected.

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One example of our becoming students today dealt with the translation. While the past two days were simultaneous translation, today’s approach was sequential translation—we say something and then it is translated. This actually was an interesting experience, identifying where to break to allow enough information to be provided, but not too much that the translator would lose the concept presented. Back and forth went the sharing of information—first in Chinese to English and then English to Chinese. My lesson learned, related to the preparation of presentations, is that it may not always go according to the plan given; however, in this case the task was successfully accomplished if you stay flexible. Staying flexible is not always an easy goal—so today was a great reminder of how much you can learn if you do remain flexible.
We were also students learning about the other countries programs and efforts to improve science education. For example, one presenter was sharing that the Chinese education programs are attempting to move away from traditional programs towards competency based programs. This point was reiterated on the American side in that we are doing the same. One aspect that did amaze me during the presentations was our counterpart’s ability to interweave examples of their programs and efforts with those of other countries. Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, and France were but a few of the countries that were mentioned. Usually the connection was related to something the other country has done that China has adapted or modified. If we are all lifelong learners—it was clear today that I—and I would venture to say, some of my colleagues—aren’t as skilled at knowing what China is doing as quickly as they know what we are doing. The lesson I learned from this aspect is that it is a large global world, and too often I get caught up in the happenings within America only. My goal for the future is to broaden my horizon to learn more about science education efforts worldwide.
Following lunch, one of the highlights of the trip thus far: visiting a primary school and high school. First we were treated to a presentation at Haihua Primary School, which would be considered a “key” school, or as we call it, “magnet school.” This elementary had as an emphasis science and technology. Much of the focus was related to the environment and man’s impact on the environment. Upon entering the room, the delegation naturally gravitated to the back of the room where students were sitting at different stations, ready and willing to show us their activities. After being gently guided to our seats for a presentation about the structure and purpose of the school, we were then able to interact with the students, ask them questions, observe them building or constructing things, and get a sense some activities that were identified as lessons. Activities included using paper magazines to make ecological holders for pencils as well as constructing cars from kits provided. Several students also demonstrated two “magic” activities which had a connection to science content. It was enjoyable to meet these students, most of which could converse with us in very good English (thank goodness, since we weren’t able to converse in Chinese). They answered our questions, showed us their activities, and were generally pleased to represent their school.
This was one of the factors that came to the forefront at both schools—a sense of pride in what they were doing and a sense of belonging to their school. Students at the high school were engaged in demonstrating similar activities as well—robotics and a biology investigation. While not as conversant with us, the sense of enthusiasm was present for what they were doing. We had a presentation and question-and-answer session with the administration and teachers at Luwan Senior High School. One of the interesting answers to the question “What are your challenges in the classroom?” related more to the big ideas than what we often hear if American teachers were to answer this question. There are many reports that describe teacher challenges as classroom management, class size, impact on time, lack of parental involvement, as well as a myriad of others all of which do impact learning and the classroom environment. The teachers talked about average class sizes of thirty-five students and having less instructional time in the week than we have. The teachers provided reasons such as “breaking traditional thinking of the students,” how to get them to think independently without the help of a teacher, and “how to make the lesson more interesting to meet the needs of the students” were answers provided. My lesson learned here is that we often focus on the logistics and process of running the classroom, which I know is important, and often forget that there are bigger ideas to consider such as those mentioned by our Chinese friends. My goal is to try and remember the bigger picture even when the day becomes overwhelmingly filled with those minor details.
Finally, the last student experience of the day was an individual one. I was fortunate to have a former graduate student and graduate assistant Tian Shen join our team for today’s presentation. Tian was at Shippensburg University for two years obtaining his Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has since returned to his home city of Shanghai, where he teaches at the Shanghai International School High School Division. While not a science teacher, as he teaches 7th grade math, Tian was able to join the team and provide comments related to his experience of taking classes in a teacher preparation program during the session. The excitement he demonstrated at being asked to participate in this event made the day absolutely wonderful. He was an outstanding student in our department and is obviously becoming a well-respected teacher at his school. The most important lesson of all is that involving your students engage in opportunities such as these as well as those that are present in your classroom allows them to grow. What seems like a simple goal—involve more students in opportunities that meet their needs and desires is often overshadowed by the two lessons mentioned above—only focusing on the local agenda, the here and now if you will, as well as becoming consumed by the daily logistics and not looking towards that big picture. My final goal that I set today is to involve more students in opportunities and programs in which I am involved, to help broaden both their and my own views of education in a global society.

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