China Immersion Plan

Over the next several months I will attempt to learn as much as possible about China in preparation for my trip to Beijing and Xi’an in April.  The learning adventure I will embark on will hopefully provide another way to show my students the power that one has to learn on his/her own.

Itemized below are some of the tools that I’ll be using to start this study. Have any other suggestions for research? I hope to post summaries and reflections along the way to share what I learn. If you would like to join me on my 3 month quest to improve my understanding of everything China, reach out to me on Twitter or through posts here on this blog. Let’s see how much we can teach ourselves!

1) Books: I’m hoping to read a few books over the next few months that relate to Chinese history and culture. As I read, I will facilitate my understanding by following up on ideas via research using the following Web 2.0 skills.

Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China by Peter Hessler
In China’s Shadow by Reed Hundt

2) Blogs by educators in Asia: (Does anyone have suggestions?) I’m hoping to find a series of writers/thinkers to follow who work with/in China. Here are some folks who have been recommended to me.

Pair-a-dimes for Your Thoughts by David Truss
E-Learning Journeys by Julie Lindsay
– One Percent Yellow by Leslie Lindballe

3) Podcasts: (Any other suggestions?) As I drive to school, work out at the gym, do dishes, folding laundry, etc. I’ll be listening to various Podcasts on anything I can find that has to do with China. Filling fluff time around the house with China will help to maximize my learning opportunities throughout the next few months. (All the following podcasts can be found on iTunes)

– China on the Rise Series by The News Hour with Jim Lehrer
– The China in Africa Podcast
– The China History Podcast
– The China Business Blog Podcast

4) Twitter: (Suggestions of people or organizations to follow?) There are several experts, and expert organizations, that deal with China that also happen to work actively on Twitter. The more groups that I can network with, the closer I’ll be to information that I want to find.

– David Truss @datruss – Educator in Dalian, China

– Julie Lindsay @julielindsay –  E-Learning Coordinator at Beijing (BISS) International School

– Asia Society @AsiaSociety – As described by its website, “Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia.”

5) Interviews with Students/Teachers: (Do you know anyone who has been to China or is familiar with China?) I’m hoping to conduct interviews with those that I know who have experience with anything Chinese. I’m hoping to reflect on those interviews on my blog and see what I can learn from talking to these folks.

– Elizabeth
– Francesca
– Sharon

6) Participation in Chinese Exchange Program at School: I’m fortunate that my district will host a group of Chinese students and educators  next month. I’m looking into taking a leadership role with this exchange with the hopes of learning as much as I can.

7) General Website Reading: (Does anyone have trusted sites for information they’d like to share?) What are trusted sites that I can use to help beef up my understanding of the various topics that I read/hear about.

China Internet Information Center

United Nations in China

– Lonely

– General link hopping on Wikipedia

8 ) TED Talks: (Anybody seen other interesting presentations on China they can share?) Watching presentations given via TED Talks can greatly enhance one’s understanding/curiosity of a subject. I have found three interesting videos so far. Does anyone have any other suggestions for online videos to watch (even if not through TED Talks)?

Joseph Nye on global power shifts
* As described by, “Historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and “soft” power shifts and moves around the globe.”

Hans Rosling: Asia’s rise — how and when
* As described by, “Hans Rosling was a young guest student in India when he first realized that Asia had all the capacities to reclaim its place as the world’s dominant economic force. At TEDIndia, he graphs global economic growth since 1858 and predicts the exact date that India and China will outstrip the US.”

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset
* As described by, “Talking at the US State Department this summer, Hans Rosling uses his fascinating data-bubble software to burst myths about the developing world. Look for new analysis on China and the post-bailout world, mixed with classic data shows.”

9) Documentaries: (Does anyone have suggestions for documentaries/movies to watch before my trip?) I’m looking to rent various documentaries about China in order to get yet another perspective on important Chinese issues.

Wild China” – Trailer * This documentary chronicles the story of Chinese wild life. As described by, “An exotic fusion of natural history and Oriental adventure, “Wild China” is a series of journeys through four startlingly different landscapes, each based around the travels of a real historical character.


I’m Going to China!

My district just approved a trip for me to travel to China this April vacation. I will travel with a group of education administrators from the Boston, MA area. We will visit schools in Beijing and Xi’an while attempting to learn about the Chinese education system.

I have traveled to several different countries, but other than a brief stay in Turkey, this will be my first trip to Asia. Aside from the articles I read in the news about the political and economic happenings in China, I could use a boost in my understanding of Chinese culture. In an attempt to blitz my brain with Chinese culture studies before April, I have bought a couple books to read. The first of which is Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. Mother nature granted me a snow day so I’m planning on starting my China investigation today.

Does anyone have other recommendations for reading up on Chinese culture/society? Have you been to China? If so, any advice?

Pondering the Future of Professional Development

This post is also published at Magistra’s Musings and has been co-written by Danja Mahoney (MagistraM) and I.

Here are two professional development possibilities that are in the works. Which policy appeals to you the most? If you could write the PD policy for your district, what would you look for?
Policy A:
All teachers will attain certain goals each year of their employment. They will attend prescribed workshops (e.g. blogging, podcasting) with specific targets to be met at the end of every two years. By the end of 6 years in the district, all teachers will be expected to have met all of the PD goals by attending the predetermined workshops. Teachers will be evaluated on their successful completion of the workshops and having demonstrated mastery of the material covered in each workshop. Continued employment is contingent on regularly meeting the goals detailed in the district plan. 
Policy B:
As a benefit of employment, all employees will be given the opportunity to further their professional knowledge through participation in workshops designed to increase knowledge and understanding of technologies. These life skills workshops will be offered regularly with a variety of topics to be presented during each workshop period. Workshops will include podcasting, blogging, building a PLN, etc. During each session, educators will have the opportunity to choose which workshop best meets his/her current needs. Each two years the educator will list the workshops attended and reflect on how those tools/skills have improved his teaching/learning. At the end of 6 years all teachers will have had the opportunity to attend all of the district’s workshops.
Which plan would you vote for? Things to add or subtract? Pros/cons?

PD Through A Café Culture

In my senior year of college , I regularly retreated to my advisor’s office late in the afternoon to review new ideas that came to me for my thesis.  As we delved into late 19th century Spanish literature and it’s relation to Spain during this period, we often talked about how Spanish intellectuals gathered from all over the country in the geographically central city of Madrid to discuss ideas for how they would build the country’s new republic.  My advisor would talk about how they spent hours of the day in official meetings debating what would constitute the infrastructure behind the new state.  Despite days of organized negotiations, my college advisor talked about how the Spanish “café culture” provided the true progress towards building a new democracy. What is the Spanish café culture? In Spain, breaking for an hour with friends to have a coffee after lunch is common practice. Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee and running, Spaniards will sit and chat with friends. In the late 1800’s, intellectuals supposedly gathered with comrades and engrossed in informal debate in between official meetings. My advisor insisted that this informal debate yielded the vast majority of progress towards creating new policy.  Through creating relationships, both personal and professional, and shaking off the aura of work that often clings onto official meeting environments, the Spaniards may have created the framework for a democracy. I admit that I haven’t reviewed this history and I am reciting this story from the memories of times spent with my advisor. That said, the potential for a “café culture” for spreading ideas is intriguing.

Now, how does this relate to professional development for educators? I feel that some of the most productive PD moments come from this kind of informal gathering of intellectuals. The central question for other teachers: Does your school have a café culture?  This culture doesn’t have to literally include coffee, however, it should include a regular informal meeting of teachers/administers where pedagogical debates occur and people share their ideas?  If so, how does the “café culture” work at your school? If your school does not leave enough time for informal idea sharing, why do you think that’s the case? Do you see this method as an important way for teachers to develop their skills?

(I have been thinking about this for a while and was inspired to write today after reading an article from the Harvard Business Review titled “Spreading Critical Behaviors Virally” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan.)

A Different Kind of School Set-up

The Educon 2.2 conference last weekend was held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. The physical organization of the school grabbed my attention. First of all, none of the hallways were the traditional dull off-white color typical of public schools. Bright colors filled all walkways and all the walls were ordained with student work. In a simple way, the colors made the school feel more cheerful.


The classrooms were also very creatively constructed. In no classroom did we see lines of desks. Most rooms had tables grouped into small working centers. Those rooms that did have individual desks arranged their desks into similar small working units. This set-up seemed to foster collaboration and the sharing of ideas because it reinforced the fact that SLA expects students to work together.


The science classrooms also had their lab and their traditional classroom in the same place. Need to do an experiment? Get up and walk to the other side of the classroom. I also found it interesting that many of the classrooms had plants. Plants by the windows. Plants hanging from the ceiling.


At one discussion session entitled “What if school wasn’t just like real life, what if it just was real life?” lead by Diana Laufenberg of the SLA, she spoke of the importance of letting the students own a part of the classroom. She talked of giving each class a portion of the wall of the classroom. Let those students decorate and design that part of the wall so they feel like they have their own special part of the room. She said this helped lead to student buy-in and also lead the students to take pride in their working space. I thought this was a really interesting idea and I’m thinking about how to incorporate it to my classroom.


These ideas lead me to reflect upon my own school and classroom. It seems that there are several simple changes that I could make to my room to encourage comfort and collaboration. It’s time to take some action. In terms of the walls of the school being painted in tough economic times… let the students do it with money from donations while under supervision? How do you arrange your classroom to encourage these feelings? How might you be able to change the layout of your classroom to encourage comfort and collaboration?

Lessons from Educon 2.2: 5 Requests Of All Savvy Teachers

Over the weekend I co-led a discussion on professional development at Educon 2.2 with @magistram and @bknittle.  We talked of subversive professional development as a way to spread ideas of project-based learning and tech-integration.  Defining “subversive professional development” became our first challenge.

After our hour and a half session, I now understand SPD as a teacher-to-teacher, community-building approach to PD instead of the traditional administration-to-teacher approach.  What do I mean by that? Savvy teachers need to take other teachers in their departments, and schools, under their wings and organize their community around developing professional learners.

Here is what I would ask from those currently leading the charge towards innovative education:

1) Reach out to us, your colleagues, and show us how Web 2.0 tools can make our work more efficient and effective.

2) Encourage us to take creative risks and share these risks with the world. @shareski told me, “build your career around transparency and value failure as much as success and you’ll be fine. Better than fine.”

3) Promote our great ideas! Help us build a PLN and applaud our efforts.

4) Focus on the positive because that moves things forward and prevents discouragement.

5) Take a risk on those of us new to teaching. As a new teacher, I am hungry to learn. Show me how to learn and show me how to learn with my students.

Through these requests you will construct a community of learners.  Community creation will lead to collaboration that will ultimately culminate in a culture of learning coaches.  To paraphrase what @willrich45 said in one session, instead of focusing on teaching people how to teach, we need to teach people how to learn. You savvy teachers can stimulate this movement.  Show us the ropes and welcome us to your community.

Profe Springer and Sean Go To Educon: The Podcast

Follow us in Philadelphia! Sean and I are heading south to attend the Educon 2.2 conference. As stated on the Educon 2.2 wiki, This conference is an innovative education conference that looks to bring together people who are looking to discuss the future of education in america. We will report on the various discussions we attend and ideas that we come across through our new podcast! We admit that our first podcast is a little silly, but we promise for a nice blend of entertainment and knowledge from here on out. Subscribe to our podcast at our new website.

Listen to our brief introduction and get excited about learning new philosophies, integration techniques and other helpful education tools! Our adventure begins this weekend and so can yours!

Educon Episode 1: Introduction