Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Making Classroom Connections

Since our return to the United States, many of the teachers who participated in our study tour have had opportunities to share their experiences with their students. These direct classroom applications are what make a culture come alive for students. They feel immediately connected to the people and places they see in pictures because their teacher has actually been there to experience the smells, sounds, and sights of China. We have featured three of our participating teachers who have shared their stories and pictures with all of you. This is just a taste of the amazing work that is now happening in classrooms in New England as a result of this travel experience.

David Bosso
Because my freshman course, "The World and Its People I," covers ancient China to the present, there are many extremely useful elements of the program and study tour that will be incorporated throughout the school year. Just as one example: upon my return, we were just beginning the Mao era of China. The Forbidden City, the host family stay, speaking with our guides who lived during the Cultural Revolution - all of these experiences provided a much more holistic understanding of this time period than what I could have learned from textbooks and personal research. I believe that I have much more insight into why Mao is still greatly respected despite many of his detrimental policies, and most importantly, I feel I can adequately convey to my students the many aspects of Mao-era China.

There are so many experiences: visiting the Great Wall and getting a better sense of its size and construction, seeing the Terra Cotta Army and sensing the power of Qin Shi Huangdi, touching loess soil near the cave homes, the security at Tiananmen Square, visiting the school in Pangliu Village and experiencing rural life, witnessing the hundreds of construction cranes in Beijing and Shanghai, the food. In each case, the real-life experiences, especially in the form of anecdotes, photographs, and literature strongly supplement the textbook, lectures, discussions, etc. which will provide a more informed approach to our understanding of China. The trip will continue to play a significant role as I gather source material related to current events, controversial issues, and discussion topics for my students in order strengthen the China component of our Social Studies curriculum.

Sally Lividini
Over the last few weeks, I have found many opportunities to share my experiences in China with my elementary school students. Because I teach art I see every child in the school. Upon my return I shared some of the objects that I purchased, including a lovely silk kite in the shape of an owl. My second graders were making fish kites before I left on my trip, so I was very excited about showing them how a real kite is constructed. After a week, I arranged many of the objects and photos from China in a display case located in the front of our school. It is the first thing my students and their families see as they enter our building. The students look forward to going down to the case and spending part of the class period talking about all the "treasures" I brought back to our school. My students are encouraged to ask a question about one object or picture in the display. The first question always leads to a deeper discussion about the object or subject matter of a photo; what it is, where I got it, why I bought it or photographed it. Over the years I will continue to use my experiences, pictures and the artifacts I collected to enrich my classroom teaching.

Katie Carpenter and Shannon Famigletti
Before we left on the trip, we shared our itinerary with our classes and the other teachers at our grade level. We posted our travel plans and relevant links on our classroom webpages. We created a bulletin board that the students could consult so that they could follow the geography of our travels. In true elementary school fashion, we glued photos of our faces to popsicle sticks and a colleague moved them through China as we traveled. Our teammates had copies of the destination reports our colleagues wrote to share with the kids. The students were excited for us to get going so they could hear about our trip.

While on the trip, we were in almost daily communication with the students in our classes. Through our posting of photos, our blogs and podcasts, the students really felt like they traveled with us. They asked questions that we were able to respond to quickly. They used the information we posted combined with the websites we left for them to research areas of particular interest (or to answer a question we may have posed for them.)

Earlier in the year, during our study of ancient China, students learned about the Great Wall, Qin's Terra Cotta Soldiers, the existence of city walls during the early dynasties, as well as the cave houses. Seeing images of their teachers and hearing the anecdotes of our time spent at these sites allowed the kids to connect all that they studied with our personal real-life experiences.

The kids were also excited to share their experiences about following our trip with us. They were interested to see the movie that we created with all of our pictures from the trip and had enthusiastic conversations around the curriculum, materials and resources we brought to share with them. We look forward to using these photos, movies, and resources with future classes and colleagues. It was an invaluable experience that we recently shared with our staff, which has inspired many to look into study tours of their own. Clearly the trip is an experience we will always remember, and through the wonders of modern technology we hope it made a lasting impression on our students as well. Our only problem now is, choosing which study tour to do next...

1 comment:

Jessica Sztaimberg said...


This must have been a truly amazing experience for your students to interact with you while you were abroad! It’s great that you can mix the personal knowledge that you gained from experiencing China up close, with the text book lessons, making your classes have a real, personal, feel to them. I find it very interesting to incorporate what you had been teaching with what you learned and saw abroa; since your class was not able to go to China. That is a great idea!

Where will you go next? :)