Tuesday, November 9, 2010

21st Century Primary Education

There are as many different reasons to bring the study of different cultures into an elementary classroom as there are different cultures to learn about.  Whatever your reason might be the response from young children is usually honest and open curiosity.  If the country you are sharing with your students is one that you are curious about your students will pick up on your interest. 
As a teacher I have tried to take full advantage of the summer months to read professional journals and current research about teaching and especially to travel.  While on trips I collect games, cards and common household items that I can bring back to my classroom along with photographs, recipes, and spices. Then during my travels I keep the students in mind and make sure to visit places that will be of interest to them.

Youngster helps to wash the rental bicycles, Dali

Traveling with my own children when they were young was a perfect way to see a new culture through the eyes of a child.  I also invite friends and friends of friends, along with parents and family members of current students into my classroom to share first hand experiences of places we are learning about.  The Peace Corp has a great program to bring recent returning volunteers into classrooms.  High school students who have traveled through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, Amigos, Global Visionaries or Bridges to Understanding are all happy to come to a classroom as a volunteer to share their first hand experiences. 

Great Bend in the Yangtze River 

We are fortunate in the Seattle area to have so many programs bringing international travel experiences to students.  The World Affairs Council has also compiled a great list of travel opportunities for teachers.  With a bit of planning you could be packing your bags next summer for the trip of a lifetime.  Sharing your own first hand experiences with your students adds a wonderful dimension to a study of another culture.  It is the moment when a student looks from me to the globe as his finger traces the path of the Yangtze River and asks, “you’ve been there?” and I nod, “yes” that I see the world truly open for him.  The message is, “I went there and so can you!”  And now, that student is ready to learn as much as he can, so when his turn comes he will be prepared.  For now, we open our hearts to learn about other ways of living and thinking, full of curiosity and understanding and without prejudice or fear.

Better City-Better Lives, Shanghai
21st Century China is in the news every day, and I want the students I teach to have a clear understanding of this complex culture that has made significant contributions to humankind since ancient times.  With a growing middle class society in China, American children today perhaps have even more in common than ever with their Chinese counterparts.  Technology makes it possible to communicate and share in greater depth with students and classrooms around the globe. 

This past summer while traveling in Shanghai with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia I spoke to the parent of a kindergarten student at the Children’s Palace.  We were talking about schools.  The parent said in China the push is get the schools to operate more like American schools with an emphasis on creative problem solving.  I said, in the US we are told we must teach the children to work harder, as Chinese students do. We smiled; both of these comments are true.  We can learn a lot from each other.  
Dance class at the Children's Palace, Shanghai

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