Great example of science inquiry learning from Chinese village school

February 1, 2012, [MD]

")Rural China Education Foundation is an NGO set up by overseas Chinese who want to strengthen rural education in China. They train local teachers, develop materials, provide some funding, and also invite volunteers from China and abroad for shorter stays. I had the chance to visit two of their schools a few years ago, and wrote a short report on their school library projects. My wife also volunteered with them some years ago, and made a short movie about their summer volunteer project.

This past year, my wife has been spending a lot of time in the area near Guan'ai (one of the two schools mentioned in my report) doing her own independent projects. Sun Huimiao, the old headmaster at Guan'ai, is now working in a school at a nearby town, and she has brought all of the creativity, imagination and passion which she displayed at Guan'ai.

My wife worked with RCEF to document one of the projects Sun carried out with the primary school students. It's a real inquiry projects, initiated by students' authentic curiosity, and pursued through discussion, watching videos, looking up online, creating posters, writing, and presenting. An incredibly refreshing sight after all the rows of Chinese students repeating as a choir (example.

What is even more interesting about teacher Sun's case is that she is not a classroom teacher. Many of the students in the school stay in the dormitory (their parents might be from villages around, or they might have migrated to the big cities to look for work), and Sun works as a dormitory coordinator. Thus, this entire project was not in the context of a classroom, and was done entirely voluntarily by the students (of course, this also means teacher Sun was not constrained by any curriculum standards).

Have a look at the great video below, of how Sun turns the students fascination with snails into a great inquiry project. (Slightly longer version with more teacher reflection).

Hope to see more of this kind of innovative teaching in Chinese rural schools (and indeed, I know RCEF are documenting other practices, including a wonderful reading circle that a teacher organizes with her students each week).


PS: When looking for an example of students repeating out loud, I came across this BBC documentary series on Chinese schools which looks well made and worth a look.

PPS: The picture above is from my visit to Guan'ai a few years back, and not from the school depicted in the movie.

Stian Håklev February 1, 2012 Toronto, Canada
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