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Summer Trip 2013- Day 3 Wednesday

Posted by austintwu on June 12, 2013 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Today was our third and final day here. Waking up this morning I ate breakfast and prepared todays lesson for the students. Today my lesson involved a combination of reviewing the countries, and using a specific few in telling a story. I compiled all of the old country terms we had learned, and left the few non country terms aside for the time being. After I prepared my lesson slides for the day I got ready for class and went downstairs to socialize with the children.


Side note. The rooms are quite barren. In addition to the bookshelves that were just delivered yesterday, the rooms have two chalkboards, two person desks, and a six inch wide bench for each of the desks. There are no electronic devices or lights of any kind in the rooms, rather the students rely on natural lighting only. So my slides have been presented these last three days and during last year's trip on the screen of my laptop, 13 inches for the 20-30 kids per class.

 

Today’s lesson went something like this. First we reviewed the countries and cities I had already taught them the two previous days and I lead them through pronouncing each one a few times. For the second half of the class, I was delighted to teach something I want to make a tradition for all those future teachers that visit from America. I did this last year, and I got as positive a response this year as I did last year from it. One of our biggest goals is for the students to realize that there is an entire world out there for them to explore, experience, and discover. So I taught them the story of how my mother and I managed to get all the way from Chicago to Wanjia elementary in the middle of China. Now to most of these students, this school and their home is all they really know. Sure, a few of them had been to surround cities a few hours away like Xi Shui or Zun Yi, but none of them really knew any more than that. I showed them a satellite image of their school, and let the realization that this picture really was their school. We followed the turns of the road as we left the gates of the school, both out of the window and on my computer screen. Next, I showed the students the distance from here to the nearby town on yet another satellite image. This was the only distance most of the students really had an inkling of, seeing as they had on several occasions been driven and walked to and from the town. Next, I followed my path to the school backwards, from the nearest city of Xi Shui, to the regional capital of Zun Yi, and finally to the provincial capital of Guiyang. Next, I told the students about how I not only drove in a car on all types of roads for many hours, but I also had to fly in an airplane for several hours as well. I then showed the students my flights from Shanghai to Guiyang, Tokyo to Shanghai, and Chicago to Tokyo. The last part, an addition from last year, was when I asked the students to add up both the distance and time, and then compare it to the distance and time it took to walk or drive from their home to the nearest town.

 

My hope is that students either realized then or will eventually realize that I am not just from "really far away" but between here and "really far away" there are several places in between. I hope they come to understand that getting say, out of the country, is NOT impossible if they just shoot for their dream with goals along the way. First getting out of the region, then getting out of the province, and maybe getting to a major city such as Shanghai. Any more than that would be a dream too big too soon, which would be much more likely to scare a student into doing nothing. If half of the students work to reach outside of their small world right now and expand their horizons to a large city, they will all be exposed to the wonders of the international world, and some of them will be motivated to try to achieve something even greater. The goal is not to get them to go anywhere or do anything specific, but rather the goal is to allow them to be able to dream big and discover the world of opportunities that awaits them.


Next after the day's lessons I put my teaching materials back into my room and went downstairs for lunch. I will always be intrigued by the speed and efficiency of the students during lunch time. They work like an incredibly well-oiled engine and never miss a beat. There are always two people covering each task, because the overlap of each student's role is coordinated to cover everything twice so the whole operation goes smoothly. The students wanted to take photos with my mother and I, both just of us (a little interesting, me alone in a photo), with us, and together with them. After we finished our various combinations of photo shooting, the students went back to class to read their books. It is really amazing to see that they are all already so enthralled with what books we gave them. Even though some students are stuck with book five or book seven of a series they still are interested in the stories the books contain. I remember yesterday my mother and I walked through some of the classrooms asking the students how many books they had at home, to which the reply never was greater than five. To think, the amount of books I have in my house alone would last them a lifetime, as they do for my siblings and I. Some of the students would not even be able to respond to a question because they were so captured by their books, something my mother has had to deal with for me and my siblings for several years.


I had brought my Wham-O Frisbee to the school for the students to play with but I didn't remember to give it to them until today. The relatively clean, 175 gram disc was chased around, tugged over, fought over, and cried over by the first grade class for an hour after which it became a dusty dirty disc of a mass probably closer to 173 grams from all the plastic removed by gouges and scrapes. Within the second hour of playing with some older students, the disc was spending considerably more time in the air after I taught them how to throw it, but then it took a dive over the wall of the school into the neighboring property, a rice patty. A student ran down to grab it and as most of the students were leaving I started throwing it around with some of the younger students that live at the school. I switched to basketball after a bit and am proud to say that after the first four shots I had made two. I am not proud to say that for the next sixty shots I made a grand total of zero, until my 65th shot total. I think I better stick with Frisbee, 3 for 65 from the free throw line no less is quite pathetic.

 

As the last of the students left, they all wanted yet another round of pictures, and then they were out the gates. We have decided to have one more Skype practice session tomorrow morning before we leave at around 7, and then we will be off too. All in all I think that this was a wonderfully productive trip. We checked up on the overall situation of the entire local area, brought books and established a book corner in each classroom, set expectations from the students for next year, and looked into the overall healthcare and agricultural situation of the area. In short, we've accomplished both short term and long term work, something I am quite satisfied with. The exhaustion I feel right now is a satisfied exhaustion, satisifed that I have done as much as I can to make a difference these past few days.



 

 

Summer Trip 2013- Day 2 Tuesday

Posted by austintwu on June 11, 2013 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Today was day two. My lesson plans for today were a combination of reviewing yesterday's lessons and learning some new vocabulary along the country and capital city theme. I added much more narrative and lecture regarding each of the countries, as well as photos of their capital cities and famous landmarks within each city. In addition, I made sure to talk about as much history and geography that was relevant for each of the locations. My goal behind this is, within reason, for each and every student to have higher expectations and wants of life, and to help facilitate that I showed them many places outside of Guizhou and outside of China where students can aspire to work to journey to one day. At the end of each of my classes I found that they were much more receptive to asking me questions and I was glad I broke through that barrier of awkwardness with them.

 

I was delighted throughout the day to help a student that graduated last year, Li Miao, with her math and English studies. What she as a 7th grader was learning was the equivalent of what my public high school's 9th or 10th graders would learn. She did not come to me because she had trouble with topics that she was currently learning, and these topics were quite varied compared to the few at a time that American students would learn, but to check her work. She had come up with a correct and concise proof to a question, a route I do not think I would have been able to prove. But she asked me for help because she was worried that there was something she had not learned yet that would invalidate her current solution. I asked her if she had checked the answer key in the back of her homework and she first replied no, because to her checking that answer key would have rendered the entire benefit of the homework useless. After we confirmed her answer was correct, she told me that an answer simply wasn't good enough for her teacher because he needed to see work, and yet while she had a solid proof she was still worried about it. It was in this interaction I had with her that I realized the unerring perfection that is instilled into Chinese students in their mathematics and school work in general. They practice hours memorizing texts that they learned for vocabulary’s sake in order to understand context, and have that need to make sure their logic and practices are sound in all disciplines. After I assured Li Miao that her solution was sound, I realized that the reason she was not sure of her proof was that a few formulas her class had learned had been given, and not derived. While this can be the most efficient way in some cases, I believe that the origin of formulas and a general background understanding of any topic is lacking in the Chinese curriculum. Simply knowing a formula will not always be enough if given problems about it, one has to understand where it comes from and more importantly, what it really means and how it can be manipulated.

 

After lunch Principal Wang, my mother, and I began the process of distributing the books. Brief tangent: it was incredible that Principal Wang was able to call Sunday evening and order seven bookshelves, delivered by truck today. It is just this kind of attention to detail and motivation on his part that allows us to do what we do. We brought the books to all the classrooms, each grade's set marked by a strip of colored duck tape we had brought from the U.S. We went into each classroom descending grades and thoroughly explained to them why we had brought the books and procedures for signing them in and out throughout the course of the next school year. We have put in place a sign in and sign out sheet for the books, which goes with the bookshelves and books in each of the classrooms.

 

After organizing the books, us three left to go visit the local clinic and also the headquarters of the local government. There we spoke with both the local doctor and a local government official. At the clinic, we spoke at length about the situation of healthcare in the region. The population out here in the mountains, albeit with their rural lifestyle and lack of amenities or other integral parts of urban or suburban life, is much better off from a healthcare perspective than in the city. For over five years now, the government has paid for, through multiple channels, essentially all healthcare expenses for the rural population at little cost to the people. All vaccines for children and procedures throughout pregnancy are free, regardless of insurance. Every resident of the rural area has access to government insurance for less than 10 U.S. dollars a year. This insurance, if a resident possess it, covers 50-100% of all medical costs depending on the injury. In the rare case that someone has to go to a large city where the rules are different, the government can still cover up to a very large percentage of medical costs, depending on the ailment. In addition, children are covered in several other ways. Children can be covered through their school's insurance in the case that something happens at their school, they are covered for free based on whether or not the school has paid for their liability insurance, priced at less than one U.S. dollar a year. Third, families can also buy a type of life insurance for their children which can cover either severe injury or death.

 

At the headquarters of the local government though is where I experienced by far the most interesting conversation today. The local official told us that because of the work that we did at this school, the effect was magnified tenfold to the surrounding schools. For example, the initial construction of this school's main building that we are now in fifteen years ago resulted in government funding to become available int he surround villages for schools. The push to make breakfast available at this school this past year has resulted in surrounding schools having funding available for breakfast as well. Our funds going to the construction of a dormitory and cafeteria have also spurred interest by the local government to allocate funds to do the same for dormitories. I'm really glad to see that we have had this long term effect as well as just helping our students. I hope that one day the impact of what I do will have such a big effect, just like the impact of our work here has spread throughout the area.

 

On a different note. Today Principal Wang became Master Chef Wang when he created a beautiful goat stew. The mountain goat was killed early this morning in a careful way as to not ruin the meat. The meat then had all the blood pumped out of it, and finally was butchered. The hide was burned to get the fur off, and then that meat was added to the rest of the meat in a pot where the goat was first boiled once. Afterwards, the meat was cooked with all sorts of amazing spices and vegetables which culminated in an amazing goat stew, which would not have been possible without mother nature's mountains giving the meat its rich texture from making those goats climb all over them.


 

 

Summer Trip 2013- Day 1 Monday

Posted by austintwu on June 10, 2013 at 4:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Today was our first day here. Since I didn't write before today, I'll go over that real quick. Our total travel time before Guizhou was twelve hours to Narita, three hours to Shanghai, and three hours to Guiyang, where we left on Monday (with layovers of course). We got picked up at about 7 by Principal Wang and drove for about 8 hours including an hour long lunch break somewhere in the middle. The highway only lasted half of the distance, so it took us about three hours on and five hours off the highway before we got here. The school itself looks the same, except the location of the computer room changed so I had to reconfigure a wireless router to get the internet to work. Something really interesting I realized when I got here was that this school actually gets internet through a fiber optic cable, courtesy of the Chinese Government. We were shown to a different room this time, as it seems this time around we are staying on the the third floor. We ate dinner and went to sleep pretty soon since it had been a long day of traveling and we had lots to do the next day.


This morning my mother and I woke up at about five, not sure whether or not that was from the jetlag or from the general early rising lifestyle of the people here. We got ready for the day, went downstairs, and ate breakfast. Starting at about six students began to arrive, even though class did not start until 9:10. Every morning the students come here for breakfast if they cannot afford it at home, so they get here between six and seven to eat. Students walk anywhere up to an hour and a half to get here, so I can only imagine how early students get up. After breakfast, the students go about their normal operations after a meal, cleaning the dining area and all the dishes and then readying the school for class. It was raining today, and all of the students brought umbrellas and were sure to clean their shoes before going inside the school. from 8:30 to 9:10, students reviewed their studies in their classrooms by themselves, each being led by a class leader.


I taught my first class to the sixth graders starting at 9:10 and taught a combination of country and sport related words in English. While the students didn't remember that much from last year, they were very eager to learn all they could from us. Though I was a bit nervous and awkward at first my nervousness dissipated much sooner than it did last year, and I was comfortable again within the first fifteen minutes. After the standard vocabulary memorization, I used the last ten minutes of class to ask all the students what they wanted to know from me, or if there were any words I could teach them in English. Despite their eagerness towards my original standard lesson plans, when I asked them for questions they clammed up. I understand this is because they are not used to that kind of teaching and while they had lots of questions for me they could not bring themselves to ask them to me in a classroom setting. At the end of the 40 minute period, I wished the sixth graders good day and moved on to my next classes, the fourth and then fifth graders. Each class period was ultimately incredibly eager at first and then shy later, and I had to bring up a reward to get any of the three to ask questions.


After my classes were over (the first three periods) it was time for lunch. In the same way as last year, each table had students of different ages at it. Each table's oldest students were in charge, and brought food to the table when it was served. Younger students would stack up bowls and chopsticks afterwards, and older students would bring them back to the kitchen. Finally, the tasks of washing the dishes, cleaning the classrooms, and rearranging the desks and chairs were divided between the older grades. A while after lunch, when the other students were back in class, I received a few visitors from last year.


One of the most important things I want to accomplish is to have a sense of continuing contact with the school in addition to once a year. That is the only way my efforts can come full circle and have any lasting effect on the students. Today I set up a Skype account with the students at the school on their computer. With the webcam that we bought, I taught ten students, three each from sixth and fifth and four from last year’s sixth grade, how to call out on Skype when needed. Tomorrow Everett should also send a contact request and we might even be able to Skype him during class. This will allow the students to contact us over the course of the year, whether it be during their school days or weekends, so we can keep up the connection with them. It is key that I make a lasting impact on the students greater than the week I am here so that I leave a lasting impression, which is crucial to any long term changes.


On a more personal note, I was really happy to see Ao Shuyuan, the young boy with esotropia (cross-eyedness) in his left eye, to be wearing an eye patch last night. This morning he took it off and his mother told us that for the past ten months he had been going to Chongqing for a procedure that was slowly fixing his eye. He reminded me again of just how intelligent he was when he too figured out not only how to work Skype on the school's computer but also on mine, which was in all English.


That’s all for today I think. I doubt I'll write this much more while I'm over here but who knows? Tomorrow we will set up an organizational system for the books we brought and visit a local clinic to learn about the state of the healthcare that is available.

 

 


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