Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hong Kong: World Class City

Three days in Hong Kong and I am amazed at how unique this eastern world city seems to be.  I have made so many connections to my time studying abroad in London, which makes sense since the city was on loan to the UK for 99 years.  In 1997, the loan ended and the territory was handed back to China, who continues to influence the culture here more and more.  One China - two systems is the phrase here to describe how the governments interact.  Essentially, the Chinese communist party has tolerated the democracy of Hong Kong out of fear of rebellion, but they are most certainly still working toward One China.

Victoria's Peak

We've spent the past few days really exploring the different parts of the city.  It's a stunningly beautiful city spread across over 200 islands.  The bulk of the city is located on Hong Kong island, with many neighborhoods peppered across the other islands.  The progressiveness of the city is really energizing as well.  40% of the land is to be preserved and will never be built on.  Also, we were shown an island which has a restriction for its residents - in order to drive on the island, you must drive a fully electric car.  Amazing, right?  It is also probably the reason I see Teslas absolutely everywhere around the city.

Some of the sites we have seen have been beyond belief.  My favorite so far was an absolutely massive sitting buddha statue.  In fact, it is the second largest in the world.  Beat out only slightly by a statue in Taiwan.  The entire experience is memorable.  From the cable car ride up to the walk up all 238 septs to the large statue.  The pictures do the experiencer no justice, but have a look.




Temple of 10,000 Buddhas

We also went to this spectacular little Japanese inspired garden after the typhoon, which, by the way, never really amounted to anything.  The garden was a spectacular little oasis amongst the bustle of a large city.




Looking forward to my last two days in Hong Kong before going to my next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam!

I think this sticker I found at the base of a Buddha statue sums up life in Hong Kong


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reflections of teaching in Fuzhou

So, I have to say I was excited to experience teaching in a new city in China this year, but I was definitly nostalgic for the Greentown school in Hangzhou where I spent the previous two summers. I am so glad I opened my mind to the new city, though. Teaching in Fuzhou was truly unique. It was nothing like my previous summers. The teachers in Fuzhou were amazingly grateful for our time together. They wanted to truly learn as much as they could from our two weeks together and they put in the needed effort. 




I think this experience was so different for me because the teachers we worked with had never learned teaching pedagogy. They spent their college leads mastering content, which in a way is fantastic, but at no point are they trained in how to best teach kids. The teaching is an afterthought. Which makes sense in a country where student failure is purely seen as a lack of effort.  The teachers left SABEH as better educators than when they arrive. I hope they take what they learned and find a way to apply it to their own rooms for their own students. 




One of my favorite parts of the two weeks was something that was not done in Hangzhou. The teacher learners all worked tirelessly to create performances to end the summer program. Some of the performances were really creative and well done. It was a fun way for them to do one last activity with their newly made friends. 







Their energy and enthusiasm was infections throughout the program. Classes had shirts made, some had posters made, and one even had a banner made. Their love of SABEH was evident. 

Looking back I feel like I really helped to make a difference in the lives of the teachers. Even if they are held to curriculum and will have a tough time integrating the strategies I taught, every single one of them left the two week program with a new sense of rejuvenation within their work. It was wonderful to be a part of that inspiration. 

I don’t know where I will be next summer, but Fuzhou will always be on my list of places to one day return. 





Friday, July 21, 2017

Final Night in China

I am sitting here in my room baffled at how fast the past two weeks flew by. Fuzhou has been an incredible city with truly unique people. Through our students and assistants, I really had the opportunity to meet some beautiful people. Like the lacquer artist whose work drew me in and totally changed my views on Chinese lacquer art - which I previously did not care for, but I just had no idea what contemporary artists are doing with the medium.



Or the wonderful calligrapher who took us in and showed us how he has perfected his art over twenty five years. The self taught artist was extremely knowledgeable and gave us some pointers on how to make calligraphy.




Or the charming Yumi who toured us around so graciously in her free time because she is so dedicated to the SABEH program. She ev n took us to ja r favorite dessert place which was mind blowingly delicious while still being healthy!!


Tomorrow at 8:00am we depart Fuzhou for our next destination: Hong Kong. As part of SABEH’s contract we are given a week long tour around the country. This year we will be going to Hong Kong. I am sad to leave traditional provincial city life in Fouzhou so soon, but the allure of Hong Kong’s busy streets and bright lights would attract anyone like a moth to a light.

For now, I am signing off from mainland China for my final time this year. The next blog post I make will be done so without the great firewall complicating things!  Also, still stay tuned for mor teaching blogs. Things have been busy, and time limited. I will be sharing my experiences as soon as possible 😁
Ready to say: See you later China!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Protesting Civil Rights in China

I am not sure why, but Blogger continues to delete my posts.  This is a repost of the one from earlier since it was deleted.  Happy reading!
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Unfortunately I am writing this post on my second to last day of teaching in Fuzhou.  What a whirlwind it has been!  China is such a unique place with amazing people.  Getting to know the teachers and assistants provides an experience unlike anything else.  The connections that are formed between us go quite deep as we are all working toward the same goal of improving instruction to make our students stronger!

Today I taught the teachers in my classes about reader's theater.  We talked about the benefits of acting out written scripts and then I had them perform mini plays about famous people from the civil rights movement in the US.  They only had about an hour to prepare their skits and some of the creativity they showed was remarkable.  They had all kinds of props to make it more realistic and used great expression while acting, which is WAY outside the comfort zone of most of the teachers who tend to be quiet and reserved.  They had a blast with this lesson.  It was definitely a home run..

Arresting black protesters

Staging Rosa Parks' bus protest

Protesting MLK at the march on Washington



This week, the evidence of our work here became clear as the teachers were to demonstrate a lesson using the techniques they learned from our time together.  Some of the lessons they taught were incredible.  It was great feedback that showed our time teaching here.  It was like watching a different version of myself up front teaching.

Their eagerness to learn to become quality teachers is inspiring.  I even had an assistant approach me about how teachers in the US make all of their worksheets and presentations so nice looking.  Naturally this evolved into a working lunch where I taught her about Teachers Pay Teachers and showed her the basics of designing materials in Powerpoint - or ppt as they call it.  It was impressive to have such creative passion from a Chinese teacher.  I told her she needs to send me the materials she will make.

As far as cultural experiences, China never falls short.  The other night we visited the residence of a doctor and professor with a strong interest in tea culture.  He hosted us with a presentation about tea and a spectacular tea ceremony.  We even had the chance to practice ourselves.  Tea art is a field of study in China and something college students become certified in.  My tea skills were rookie level, but it was still fun!


Oh and big things are in the works for SABEH.  If you have ever been curious or interested in teaching in China, next summer could be the year you've been waiting for!  Stay tuned for more details throughout the rest of 2017.

For now I must sign off and prepare to go watch the final set of reader's theater plays from my final class.  If made possible by the wifi,  I will attempt to post a video here in the future!  Until next time....

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Visiting a public primary school

Ahh...I am sitting in my new Chinese oasis - Cafe G.  This magical little coffee shop really helps me focus on my writing and escape the sometimes overwhelming madness of this country.  I am currently enjoying a caramel macchiato and avocado chicken panini....IN CHINA.  The owner seriously knows her stuff 😁.  

Things have been enjoyably hectic the past few days here in Fuzhou.  I am one class away from the weekend and finishing my first week of teaching!  The classes have been nothing short of successful even though it is unique to hear their worries on some of the strategies I have been teaching.  I am coming to find out  that their way of preparing to be educators is by mastering the content of their class.  They, at no point, learn about educational philosophy, pedagogy, or even psychology.  Realizing this, I can truly understand why American strategies can appear overwhelming and cause worry. It is great seeing how eager they are to learn this critical information.

What I would really like to share with you in this post, though, is the exciting time I had on an adventure to a primary public school last night.  First, of course, the journey was just so spectacularly Chinese.  The plan was set to meet at 7:00pm at which time cars would be waiting to take us to the school.  Well, that almost happened.  there was actually 1 car waiting, which was impressive, however....as our Chinese colleagues quickly learned, one car was not enough for 12 teachers and two assistants.  And so began the process of trying to arrange Uber cars to the school.  To the surprise of the people in my car, we made it to our first stop both alive and in a timely manner, both of which were a surprise due to the questionable driving techniques of our driver and every single other person on the road.  Anyway, we quickly learned that one of the other cars had become lost in the move to our destination.  After about a half hour they arrived and we were ready to go only.....we were not at a primary school.  We were at a normal university (teacher college).  One of our hosts decided it would be great to make a stop at the university to offer us a tour.  Now first of all this college campus is absolutely not what you are picturing in your mind right now.  It was more like a public space for dancing, sports, and general tom foolery with a few university buildings and copy shops throughout.  It was really quite striking to see the difference compared to a western campus.  

Student dorms
4 to a room - smaller than US dorm rooms
Newly air conditioned!


After about an hour walk around the campus and some delicious watermelon juice, we made our way to the next stop via Uber, which, by the way dropped us all at the wrong location once again.  Although it did drop us next to this fabulous street food stand...which we did NOT eat at...


After about a 15 minute walk we had finally arrived at the primary school, which was great since it was now 10:00 at night!



It was a newly built school, which was quite obvious.  I was actually surprised at how clean and modern it was.  It reminded me a lot of the school buildings at the campus I worked at in Hangzhou.  The difference, though, is that the school in Hangzhou is a private school with much more freedom and funding than the public schools.

Anyway, we were fortunate enough to meet up with a teacher from the school.  He took us up to one of the higher floors to view a classroom.  Even though it was clean and new, it was still very much designed with a Chinese philosophy of education.  The classroom was small and jam packed with desks....enough for 48 students, in fact, leaving very little room for the students to move about.  What you see in the picture below is the entire classroom, minus another row of students, which are to the left of where I was standing in the photo.



At the front of the room was a raised platform where the teacher stands and lectures.



One thing that is always neat to see in Chinese schools is cleaning supplies.  Just as in Japan, the students are responsible for keeping their school clean.  Each day students are assigned a cleaning or housekeeping task to complete.  We could see the pile of cleaning supplies at the back of the room.



This was a fifth grade classroom for 48 students.  They stay in that room all day while teachers rotate in and out teaching them different subjects.  I can't imagine trying to keep 48 11 year olds focused and working hard in a classroom setting like this.  It really gave me a good insight to the minds of the Chinese teachers I have been training.  I suddenly understood their most frequent complaint: "I can't do this with my students"  it was quite clear after this experience how truly limited they are regarding space for moving around in the classroom.

We ended our tour with a stroll along the roof of the building where there was both a cool breeze and a stunning view of the city.



All and all it was a wonderful night with a fascinating look into 'real china'.

Tonight, I am mentally preparing myself for a KTV outing with our teaching assistants.  For those unsure, KTV is karaoke, but with your own personal room.  It will take me far outside my comfort zone, but isn't that what this trip is all about?

When in China......


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Greetings from Fuzhou in southern China.

Wow.  The past few days have been an absolute whirlwind.  After my plane debacle in Beijing, I finally arrived to my destination of Fuzhou a mere 78 hours after leaving my house.

Arriving to my destination was all I wanted by the end of those 78 hours and what a surprise I was welcomed with.  As I opened the door to the room I will be staying in, my breath was taken away by the stunning view out the wall of windows next to my bed.  Every time I see the view, I forget it's real and not a painting!



As soon as I arrived in the city, I needed to hit the ground running due to my flight delay.  Having my flexibility muscle strengthened by the airline mishaps prepared me for the flexibility that was needed upon my arrival.  I had only 30 minutes of access to my classroom for set up and to make copies before the first group of students arrived.  Through the work of a possible miracle, though, everything was set up and ready for when the first group of students arrived.  This year, my teaching experience is slightly different.  the SABEH program at this site is run through a university who recruits teachers from all over the Fujian province to come and be a part of the SABEH experience.  Rather than teaching different content, every educator we are working with is an elementary school English teacher.  They teach english as a second language to 3rd -6th graders.

So far the lessons have been a blast.  They've learned to save Fred, teach vocabulary within context, and even how the classic shaving cream spelling activity.  The appreciativeness and curiosity of the teachers is remarkable.  They want so badly to soak up all the  information they can to take back to their own classrooms in the fall.







For now, I need to sign off and get back to school to teach my final class of the day.  We sure are kept busy here!  Stay tuned for another blog to be released shortly with some pics of the sights and sounds of Fuzhou.  Until then......zaijian(goodbye)!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Flexibility and Unclear Information: the Main Ideas of China


First, I have to start this post by saying how amazing Google’s Project fi is for traveling!  Not only do I get super cheap calls and texts, but I get unlimited LTE data at $10/Gb, same prices as in the US!  Thanks to that, I am happily typing this post on a bus on the way to a hotel in Beijing, note - this is not part of my intierary, to be explained momentarily. Anyway, get Project fi when you travel!

Find more at https://fi.google.com/about/

Now, on to the more important stuff like why I am not in Fuzhou yet!  As the title of this post suggests, my flexibility muscles have been greatly stretched over the past two days, starting back in the US. Upon arrival to the airport in Newark, I learned that my flight to Beijing was postponed five hours due to weather, which was fine. They then set me up on a new connecting flight to Fuzhou since I would be missing my original. Things took an exciting turn, then, when I landed in Beijing and learned that the next available flight to Fuzhou would not be for about 48 hours. The connection they had rebooked was still missed due to the delay.  My flexibility muscle was rock solid at this point and I did what needed to be done to ensure my timely arrival in Fuzhou. Which leads to the second part of the title for this post.

Unclear information.

 I have blogged several times about how situations tend to be unclear in China. Well, it is no different when dealing with a Chinese airline. Trying to get information was so.....endearingly Chinese. After wandering the airport and standing in line for 3 hours, and by line of course I mean mob of pushing and yelling people, I finally made it to the ticketing window to find out no flights were available and a hotel would be provided and was then directed to the managers “line” for hotel information. Needless to say five hours after my arrival in China, I am finally leaving the airport for a hotel.

To be honest, this messiness and incompetence is part of the reason I love China. Crazy, right?  During the school year I teach my students about the importantace of trying new things in order to connect neurons in new ways within your brain, making you forever stronger. These experiences of survival in China continaullay help me to grow as an individual, and connect more survival neurons! Spending time here has allowed me to go with the flow no matter the situation and not get angry or upset at things beyond my control. A delayed flight, so what - it will give me time to eat before departure. A missed connection flight? Oh well, now I get to spend a couple nights in Beijing. There is always a positive to be found in every situation. This being my third summer in China, I realize the importance of this understanding.  For now, I'm going to relax and enjoy my alone time before the teaching madness begins on Monday!

P.S. Since I have ample time on my hands right now, I decided to make the helpful graphic below to prove my thoughts on China 😄



Friday, June 30, 2017

The Final Countdown!

5 .... 4 .... 3 .... 2 .... 1 .... ASIA!

In only five days I will be boarding a plane to return to China for my third summer in a row.  The next few days will be made up of final touches to lesson plans, buying last minute items, and saying my goodbyes.  Even with all of the amazing experiences I am about to encounter, working with the Chinese teachers is still at the top of my list.  I am especially excited about the teaching this year because I will be doing so in the city of Fuzhou, which is further south and more provincial than where I worked the previous two summers.  Experiencing life in another Chinese city is sure to be memorable.  After my time in China, I will be traveling on to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand to meet some amazing people, experience history, try food unlike anything else, and see beautiful landscapes.  My travel route is laid out in the map below.



I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to have this experience and can't wait to see what my mind is opened to both culturally and geographically this summer.  Please be sure to follow along on both my blog and Instagram.  You can easily view my Instagram posts on the right side of the blog; they will update daily.  Finally, you can follow along with MiniMike throughout the summer by searching my Instagram account with the hashtag  #minimike


Happy reading 😀

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bringing the World to my Classroom


One of my goals of traveling the past few summers was to find a way to instill an interest in foreign culture within my young students.  Even though they are only 7 and 8 years old, it's quite remarkable how interested they are in foreign cultures.  The allure of life outside their comfort zone proves to be both mysterious and exciting.  Last year, I found it difficult to incorporate cultural education into my daily teaching schedule.  Everything changed this year, though, when I decided to align every one of our math chapters to a different country.  The result has allowed me to introduce cultures from around the world all while making math more exciting!

At the start of each chapter, my students beg like hungry dogs waiting to hear the location of the next country they will be learning about.  I am usually forced to give a clue or two before the countries are revealed as their anticipation is too great.  "It begins with M" or "It ends with A" have them scouring their minds for geographical locations that match the clues.



After the country reveal, I spend just a few minutes at the start of every math class throughout the chapter giving interesting facts and facilitating a discussion around the country.  The curiosity of my students has made this one of my favorite parts of the day!


These cultural facts have sparked remarkable conversations with my young students.  They have discussed everything from Nelson Mandela fighting apartheid in South Africa to the impact of the atom bomb on the people of Hiroshima.  These heavy topics are put into context through our study of the country and allow for an appreciation for events that have helped to shape our globalized world.  I have used picture books like the ones below to help introduce some of these topics.

                  


Through our discussions, I have been amazed at the knowledge the students have gained about geography.  They have learned the continents, the definition of a country, and even general location of the places on a map.  This is quite remarkable to me considering the third and fourth graders I taught in the past were limited beyond the identification of the United States on a map.

In a globalized world, I feel it is my duty as an educator to prepare my young students for the challenges that come with such a market.  An appreciation and understanding of different cultures is critical in many professions in 2017.  One can only imagine their importance by the time this group of students graduates in 2027.

Finally, to add an element of culmination, the students receive a 'passport sticker' at the end of each chapter.  These passport stickers are placed on the front of their binders as a reminder of not only the math chapters they have passed, but also the countries they have studied.  The students are always just as excited about gaining a sticker for their passport as they are about seeing their test scores.  There is a sense of pride and accomplishment anytime a sticker is given.


Overall this experiment in bringing a cultural appreciation to my seven and eight year old students has been an overwhelming success.  I would encourage anyone hoping to broaden their students' minds to find a way to squeeze world cultural education somewhere into your busy days.  The benefits are more than worth the few minutes it will take from your day.  Stay tuned for more posts on this project in the making in the future!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Let the Planning Begin

Welcome back! Even though it is not quite the summer yet, I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be spending another summer in China! This past week I accepted a position teaching with SABEH in Fuzhou, China. If you've read my previous blogs, you will know that this is not the city I have worked in for the past two summers. Unfortunately the Greentown school in Hangzhou is on hiatus with their summer programs as they focus their resources on opening a new campus this summer. Greentown has already mentioned, though, that they would like us back for the summer of 2018. For now, though, I could not be more thrilled about getting to learn a new city and meet new educators. Fuzhou is the capital of the Fujian province, which is famous for many things, including tea. This provincial city will give me a fantastic experience of 'real' China.









 As spectacular as Hangzhou is, it is very much a modern city with many modern amenities. From what I have been told, Fuzhou is much different than Hangzhou. I am really looking forward to spending some time in provincial China! While changes are naturally plausible, the current timeline has me teaching for two weeks beginning on July 6, followed by a week of travel around China. It is also in my plans to continue my travels after my SABEH experience. I am planning on visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand during the two and a half weeks after SABEH. I am both excited and anxious about exploring the beauty of Southeast Asia.


I will be posting periodically throughout the rest of the school year as I prepare for yet another journey to the amazing land of Asia.  Stay tuned!