Friday, May 15, 2015

Beyond History and Politics

Where I'm teaching, on the east coast in the city of Qingdao, China, most nationals hold grudges and hatred toward the Japanese because of events that took place in history. In 2012, there were riots in cities protesting anti-Japan messages related to disagreements over who owns the islands nearby. An English teacher at our school from Japan stayed in the teacher dorm for weeks during that time. Her heart was broken because she came to China for that exact reason: to show that Japanese can forgive and love Chinese.

Fast forward to now, neither country has taken ownership of what happened. Punches are continually thrown back and forth in media and politics. Truthfully, I still don't see much of a difference between the two (thank you, Neil Postman).

These past two weeks, my 5th graders have been learning about camping, itineraries, and how to plan trips. Upon completion of their understanding and analyzing of the content, the students had to group up, plan their own trips, and write a 3-day itinerary. They did phenomenal on working out the details together in the process and then creating brochures for their trips.

What made me stop in my tracks was what is pictured below.
Inside the classroom of a private Chinese school, there was a group of girls from (L to R) Korea, China, and Japan. 

Recent events have been cast aside. 

These girls laughed, joked, and planned a fun trip to Korea. Originally, their destination was to Japan! I wish the news would show stories like this. You know: the stories that make you freeze, stop thinking about everything in life, and run chills up your arms. The collaboration was just beautiful.

This is exactly what I hope every one of my students learns. No matter what culture or people say, we can still love, respect, and learn from those whom our country has had trouble with in the past. 

Forgiveness brings freedom. When we move beyond history and politics, who knows what is possible?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Our BYOD Club Didn't Work And It's OK

Earlier this school year, I was eager to be in the process of preparing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Club for our upper elementary. I was reading article after article and processing what to do during it. What I failed to consider were the steps to set it all up beforehand. I was extremely focused on the school acquiring Wifi, since it still doesn't have that, and simply moving on from there. (Sadly enough, our elementary office has more hot spots than the 3 buildings of our private K-12 school has routers combined.)

For some reason, in the meetings I held with administrators at the school, the solutions never came for how the school operates on ethernet providing kilobytes per second, the internet itself turned off in every classroom, and our school of 700+ students and 80+ teachers having one IT guy (who doesn't know Apple products while Google would be useless too since it's blocked by the Great Firewall.)

A couple of the previous issues were mentioned by the elementary principal to me, but we never took time to work out how these and other problems were going to be handled. This was all late last winter toward the end of the first semester. The break in between semesters, Chinese New Year, was when I took serious time to reflect on a culture where digital learning prospers by Eric Sheninger. It was at this time that there wasn't any communication from the admin to me about what was being worked out or what was going to happen when the next semester came. Therefore, I decided not to follow through with the idea before chaos or any constant, unconsidered situations would arise.

Upon our first workday of this spring semester back, I went to the elementary principal and informed her of my decision. She was surprised, and her surprise surprised me. To me, it was obvious how this club was not near the possibility of succeeding. How could it? It moved all too fast for it to do more good than harm. I rushed it.
One of the many lessons I have learned is this: Have a team of professionals dedicated to working out solutions (along with plans B & C) take the necessary time to prepare an action plan, follow it through, and reach a point where outcomes and positive collaboration can happen between students, teachers, administration, and the school's stakeholders.

Through it all, I felt the worst for the result I gave my students. They had been a part of this, so much so that they helped me make a video asking earnestly for wifi and resources other than books on their desks. I really wanted this to happen, obviously since I had rushed it. I went to each of the students I originally had planned to be part of the club, apologized, and reminded them how we can still work together via Minecraft and other media. Thankfully, every single one of them understood, while a couple asked questions about why. I explained the technicalities of it and how it couldn't work for now and not even for some time here. For the students and me though, moving forward isn't going to stop.

It's OK. I've been doing what I can this year with my 5th graders outside of the box. I now look forward to where I will move on to next, and I'm preparing for that adventure.