The peach blossoms are out in Houjia Village, where RCEF Teacher Ms. Sun Huimiao works. Last week, she designed a special outing for children and parents to provide a chance for bonding and learning in nature. Ms. Sun's goal was to show rural parents in her community how to cultivate a sense of beauty, observation and creativity in their children from an early age.
The children excitedly danced and ran ahead as the group walked into the fields around the village "looking for signs of spring." Ms. Sun encouraged everyone to use their hands, their noses, their eyes to touch, observe and feel the wheat, peach blossoms, and meadows of vibrant yellow rapeseed flowers. Afterwards, they gathered natural materials -- twigs, petals, leaves -- and made mosaic art projects.
Ms. Sun held a discussion with the parents. "What use does this activity have for your child's development?" Through exercising their powers of observation, the children strengthened their connection with nature and sensitivity to beauty. The parents talked about how young children's learning begin with feeling, and how important it is to activate their all their senses and curiosity.
This kind of activity is all too rare in rural China, but also very suited to the natural environment surrounding rural families. However, it takes inspired and dedicated teachers like Ms. Sun to thoughtfully facilitate and lead. RCEF exists to find and support teachers like Ms. Sun and to share their meaningful work to inspire more teachers in China.
The vast majority of children in China grow up in the countryside. How this next generation of citizens in the largest country on earth are educated shapes the future of our world. Thank you for caring about them and supporting the development of rural teachers for them.
One of the RCEF rural teachers supported by our project is starting a new Community Education Center in her home village, Houjia Village, Shanxi Province. RCEF funds allow her to paint and fix up four classrooms in the village elementary school that are getting a new lease on life, and provides her with advice and volunteers. The first activity will be an extracurricular Winter Camp held in January for children and teenagers on break from school. Not a tutoring or test-prep camp, it will instead be aimed at engaging children's interest in new topics relevant to their lives through books and movies. There will also be a playroom for younger children and fun, organized activities that bring parents and children closer together. This kind of center and such activities are extremely rare in rural China and this pioneering project is only possible with your support. The lessons learned will be shared with other pioneers in rural China who may be able to start and run similar initiatives in their rural hometowns!
We are one month into the new school year in China. Four RCEF teachers are situated in Yongji County, Shanxi Province bringing a unique style of Reading Classes to rural children in second, third, and fourth grades. Reading Class is a new course in China that aims to increase children's interest in reading and breadth of reading material.
In rural China, most children do not have access to books beyond their few textbooks. RCEF has set up libraries in rural village schools and is supporting local teachers to develop curriculum to make use of a wide variety of books to guide and engage children. An example of this reading curriculum can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME2zGvuXwk4&feature=relmfu. It describes how teachers helped students investigate the impact of the surroundings on their lives through books. They selected the topic “Exploring Village Changes in My Community” and found three related books: The Changing Countryside, The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, and China in Liang Village. The reading process was divided into four steps.
The first step was pre-reading, which was based on students’ real life experience. Its purpose was to arouse students’ attention to the reading materials and the topic. First, teachers presented students with pictures of their own village from thirty years ago, asking them to compare and contrast them with the current situation, and encouraging them to express their own thoughts. Then, they guided students to think more specifically about the impact on the environment on people’s lives.
The reading process aims at strengthening students’ improved understanding about the text content. Students also learn some reading skills during this process. For example, when teaching The Changing Countryside, teachers invited students to start from the cover and make predictions about what would happen. Next, we led students to observe the first picture in the sequence showing how the countryside changed over time. In this way, students observed the first picture, wrote down what they saw, and checked their predictions against the next picture in the sequence. They did the same thing for the following pictures on their own.
The next step in the curriculum was to practice students’ ability to retell the whole story. Students try to retell a story by using the tool of “story structure” designed by the teacher. For example in the The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, teachers helped students go over the basic elements in a story: time, place, figure, plot and the topic. Students tried to retell the changes of the village over the past twenty years. The teachers were surprised by students’ ability to include their own thoughts and expressions when retelling the story.
In the process of application, students applied the knowledge they learned in the class into their own lives. They also try to analyze the problems that they learn about. After reading the books, the students’ task was to investigate the changes in their own villages over the last 20 years by conducting interviews of school staff, family members and neighbors. Through this unit, students learned more about their community and its history and also cultivated their interests in reading, improved their reading skills, and enhanced the ability to analyze problems.
“Smoking is bad for you.” Children in China are taught this in school. But what if your local economy if based on tobacco? That’s the reality in Yuxi City, Yunnan Province where our program’s Rural Teaching Fellow, Ms. Huimiao Sun, is currently leading a summer camp for children to explore this very topic.
The children, in grades 3-5, are from poor families who migrated from rural areas to Yuxi City to work. They know that Yuxi manufactures a brand of cigarettes famous throughout China, but don’t know much about the tobacco industry or the health effects of smoking. Rather than preaching from a textbook, Ms. Sun set up an experiential learning process whereby the children can touch, observe, and think about the tobacco issue from many perspectives.
This week they walked through a tobacco field and interviewed farmers about how the crop is harvested and dried. They went on a greenhouse tour led by professors at the local agricultural college and observed biotechnology experiments on tobacco plants to control pests. Later, they visited the local Center for Disease Control to learn about the negative health effects of smoking and the government’s attempts to phase out economic reliance on tobacco. Tomorrow they will organize their notes and do further research to prepare for a debate on the role and impact of tobacco on local society. Ms. Sun will guide them to discuss what action they may take to inform the others about what they’ve learned.
This kind of place-based, interdisciplinary project is emblematic of the enriching, real-world relevant education that the Rural China Education promotes, with the help of donors like you. Thank you for your support of rural teachers and their innovative teaching experiments!
The Rural China Education Foundation is piloting a professional development fellowship for rural educators in China. Our first fellow is Sun Huimiao, former elementary school founder, principal and teacher. Ms. Sun is a 40-year-old native of Houjia Village, Shanxi Province. She only graduated from high school but with her keen sense of children's emotions and how to connect book learning with the real world, she is one of the most talented teachers RCEF has come across. Check out some of Ms. Sun's teaching in action below!
Here, Ms. Sun brings students on an investigation of water pollution and sources in their village.
When she noticed third-grade boys' fascination with snails, she helped them turn it into a research project!
RCEF is currently investing in her by sponsoring an 11-month fellowship for Ms. Sun to learn more about leadership, educational theories, and non-profit work. RCEF assigned her a coach to help her set and achieve her goals for personal and professional growth so that she can return to her hometown and become a more effective teacher and educational leader.
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