Sunday, March 13, 2011

At the W.A.L.L. ~ We All Learn and Lead!!

    The sites we visited throughout our stay were amazing, but it was our last few days in Beijing that were the most inspiring.  A group of teachers and students from more than 14 countries around the world came together to take part in the Flat Classroom Conference.  This is not your typical educational conference where a participant might attend to sit and listen to presenters giving information for you to just absorb.  Were there experts there, yes.  However, instead of presenting as most would know it, they were facilitating international group's project creation.  Project-based conferencing is how Vicki Davis describs this new way of conducting a conference.  There were two strands; a student strand, which I helped to facilitate around 100 students, and a leadership strand made up of approximately 100 teachers.  The other presenters were the Flat Classroom co-founders Julie Lindsey and Vicki Davis. As well as Kim Cofino, Bernajean Porter, Frank Guttler, and Andrew Churches, and our UNI professor Leigh Zeitz.  Dr. Zeitz and our UNI Instructional Technology Cohort members; Lisa Schaa, Cathy Olson, Deb Bruxvoort, Brandi Day, Farrah Kashef, Jennie Kies, Carrie Jacobs and myself helped to facilitate as well as presented on instructional design and how it relates to collaborative project creation.  We prepared for this presentation by meeting on Tuesday nights for several weeks in advance via Adobe Connect, Skype, and Google docs during our Applied Instructional Design class instructed by Kathy Klink-Zeitz, who also traveled to China with us and helped to facilitate student groups.
    The main goal for both of the strands was to come up with an idea for a global collaborative project.  Lisa Schaa and I, the only two elementary teacher facilitators, chose to work with Kim, Bernajean Frank and the student strand. The students were divided into teams of 4-5 students from a variety of countries.  There were 20 teams and no team had 2 students from the same school/country. With time constraints on the assignments the groups were initially given, there was no time to waste.  I was very impressed how the students all had the initiative to get started right away.  The self motivation I witness in these students was incredible.  Each team had to come up with a project idea, give an elevator pitch on that idea to groups of the leadership strand who gave feedback, then create a presentation using a storyboard or animatic to compete to be one of the six finalist groups selected to work with the experts to create a movie for their idea.  In previous conferences, the project voted best of conference became a Flat Classroom project that was actually conducted by classrooms around the world. Voting has just recently closed, however you can view all the finalist videos on the Flat Classoom Ning.
    The newly created elementary Flat Classroom Project "A Week in the Life" connects elementary students in grades 3-5 from around the world in sharing what life is like in their respective schools and countries. It encourages students to connect and communicate to build an online learning community and to collaborate on a common set of guiding questions and objectives.  The new project is beginning the end of March and running through the end of the school year and my 3rd grade class has been selected to participate. I am very excited for this opportunity to help my students understand what is out there in the world and how to use collaborative tools for learning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Amazing School!!

   Wednesday, I visited the Western Academy Beijing. It is a preK-12 international school here in China which means that all the students who attend must have a foreign passport. In other words, they are from another country other than China.  They have a campus with an elementary school, middle school, and high school.  They also have a separate designing arts building that the middle and high school share.  It is a beautiful campus with amazing technology.  This picture at the left is one of the 4th grade classrooms we visited.  The students were doing a writer's workshop in preparation for a publishing party they are having tomorrow.  I asked a few students what the were writing about and one was doing a fable, a couple of the boys were writing a menu, and another girl was doing a poem.  They were very involved in what they were doing and were composing their writing on their Macbooks, which they each had one.  The school had many many resources for wonderful collaboration and technology work.  High school students pay a tuition of around $30,000 a year to attend this school, and elementary student's tuition is slightly less. Most of the teachers were also from various countries around the world.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Great Wall of China

      Today we woke up excited to go to the Great Wall of China, one of the great wonders of the world. We opened our hotel curtain this morning and witnessed a beautiful site... the smoggy pollution seemed to have disappeared and visibility was amazing.  Little did we know that we could actually see the Water Cube and the Bird's Nest, two of the sites of the 2008 Olympics right out our hotel window.  Apparently, the city sent up some sort of "weather bomb" and manufactured rain or wind to get rid of the pollution. This made us very excited to spend the day outdoors at the WALL!  We boarded a bus at around 8:00am, which would have been around 6:00pm your time last night, for an hour and half drive out of the city to the Great Wall at Mutianyu Village.  The Great Wall was built originally many years ago to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups. The majority of the Great Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, a long, long, long time ago. It is actually high up on a mountain so there were a few choices on how to get up there. 1. hike 2. open sky lift 3. an enclosed cable car, we chose the last choice. It got us up to the Wall very quickly and we were then able to walk for a good mile or more along the top of the wall. It was a pretty tough job. The Great Wall has many hills and slopes through out and was good exercise.  Can you imagine what a job it would have been building such a tremendous wall high up on a hill that many years ago? It was hard just walking, let alone hauling the stone to build it. We had the same choices to get back down the mountain from the Wall plus one more...
a toboggan!!  I, of course, chose this route! It was so much fun.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More photos, photos, photos... Day 3

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

    We visited the largest city square in the world.  The Tiananmen Square has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history.  The Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City was built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty.  There were several guards all around and many other visitors sightseeing. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.  It was very interesting hearing about all the history of these places.  The Forbidden City was built before anything was ever even discovered on our continent. We were taking lots of pictures and there were several Chinese people who wanted their picture taken with us. Also, while we were taking a group picture we had many strangers snapping pictures of us as well. It was kind of strange.  The Forbidden City is called so because it used to be that the common folk were forbidden to enter.  It is very beautiful and many signs of the symbolism of the culture.  I saw many doors like we'd made our classroom door into.   After leaving the Forbidden City there are several vendors outside the gates waiting to sell you things.  This is where I purchased my souveniers to bring back to my students.  However, after purchasing the gifts the vendor wanted me to buy more things and would not leave me alone when I refused.  I finally rushed off to catch up with my group and she actually chased after me.  She continued to follow us for almost a half mile back to our bus, it was rather funny.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flying Acrobatic Show

Our plane landed in Beijing, China approximately 4:15pm on Sunday afternoon.  By the time we picked up our luggage and got out of the airport onto our shuttle bus to the hotel it was around 5:15pm.  We arrived at our hotel, checked in and dropped our bags off and headed straight to the Flying Acrobatic Show that was booked for us at 6:30pm.  Now remember we had just been on an airplane for 14 hours and we were pretty tired, but I am really glad we made it to the show! Check it out:

The Sacred Way and the Ming Tombs

Our tour today took us to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. It was a very interesting place and I am sure it would be absolutely beautiful in the spring and summer.  It is the site of thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty.

First Visit to Schools in China

  Today was the first day back for a new semester at schools in Beijing, China.  They just had a four week break for the Chinese New Year.  We visited a campus which had both an international school for 1st-12th grades and a local Chinese junior-senior high school.  The international school was very similar to our school, however the class sizes were much smaller.  The 3rd grade class only had 8 students and the teacher even had a teaching assistant.  We peeked in on a lesson in a 2nd grade classroom and the teacher was using a Smart Board.  They spoke English in the classrooms, however most of the students were Chinese.  It is considered a private school and the students must pay tuition to attend.  In the public school on the same campus, the students wore uniforms which looked like sweatpants.  The halls were pretty dark and the class sizes were much larger, 30-40 students.  In this school the students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers are the ones who switch from room to room.  The air polution here is pretty bad and today the level is so high that they keep the children inside for recess.  The kids seemed excited to see us.  We are touring with our group from UNI which is mostly teachers from Iowa and then we had 7 high school students from Camilla, Georgia  with us as well.

Photos!! Photos!! Photos!! February 20th - 21st in Beijing