Category Archives: project-based learning

“Students 2.0″ website back up

students 2.0 screenshot, new url 2012Just a quick mea culpa and news of a resurrection: The mea culpa? I let Students 2.0 url lapse in the transition from Korea to Singapore. Then I fell into several fathoms of off-web seas — three years of graduate study (and a new Masters in Ed. Leadership last year), and three years of China voraciousness — and only recently surfaced to get the site back online.

So Students 2.0 — with help from “Arthus” and a nudge from Lindsea — is indeed back up, but with a twist: it has a new address: it was .org.)

Apologies to all for that lapse. Better late than never. And it’s nice to revisit that stretch of the path.

Eine Kleine Rap Music

Confession: I’m no fan of student rap projects. So how nice to be compelled to send this email “grading” Ashley’s and Rachel’s Russian Revolution rap:

email grade


Here’s what I’m talking about.

On other fronts:

Since starting this job in Singapore three years ago, I’ve been overwhelmed with graduate school–Master’s in Ed Leadership will finally be done in July–and with the typical demands of teaching and annually refining new courses and, less typically, of forming PLCs and learning how that works by doing it.

That has left an average of maybe five minutes a week, over these years, of free time.

Now that the degree is done, I hope to get back to writing–possibly in a new space, though, and on new topics based on new loves. Just FYI, in a sort of “I’m not dead yet” way.

Chinese Scholar-Gardens: Research as Performance

Chinese scholar-gardens are incredibly interesting. Just ask Will, a very sharp sophomore in my History of China class. His screencast on the origins and aesthetics of these gardens lays it out for you quite well.

No high-tech razzle-dazzle is intended here at all. On the contrary, the allure is in the relative simplicity of screencasting for student research projects (here are the simple assignment sheet and simple storyboard template, for the simplicity-lovers out there who don’t like it when “tech” means “complicated”). It hits so many of the common skills in one fell swoop — researching, writing, speaking, visually presenting — and, as an added bonus, makes “grading” far more pleasurable than merely reading the work.

As in Joy’s piece last week, Will’s below, too, takes a minute or two to warm up. After that, it kicks into a teach-in on this exquisite 1,000-year tradition in China that, I think you’ll agree, easily meets the rhetorical obligation to “entertain as it informs.” (I’ve already told Will, in my best Moe Howard voice, to “remind me to kill him later” for using a watermarked image in such an otherwise high-quality production.)

Seriously: Give it a watch. Most Westerners are incredibly ignorant of how refined Chinese civilization was for all but the last two centuries. Somehow Japan gets all the credit, when both its Zen and its gardens are derived from Chinese Chan Buddhism and scholar-gardens. Will teaches it well.

Next up: Megan on the history and culture of Chinese tea.


Dean's Tweet

Note: The point of this post is Joy’s video at the bottom. The rest is secondary.

Reading Dean‘s tweet felt oddly like posthumous eavesdropping on what the living say after we’ve passed. (It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone?) It’s nice that what was said was nice.

It’s also nice to be so caught up in loving what you’re teaching that you’re too busy learning more about it to want to sacrifice time to write about teaching. I’m that ga-ga over the history of China.*

Teaching Chinese history here in Singapore is especially poignant to me, at this point, because I’m now sufficiently steeped in it, after three spellbound years, to teach it from new depths — and hopefully to re-introduce so many of my Westernized Chinese students to their own exquisite and unappreciated roots. So many of these students come into my classroom saying “I know nothing about my Chinese roots,” and I wonder how this can be so, given that their parents, though Westernized, surely have a stronger connection than their American-educated children.

But then I think about my own experience in Shanghai last summer, when I went to the Foreign Language Bookstore downtown in search of one of China’s foundational Confucian classics,  the roughly 3,000-year-old Shujing (The Book of Documents). I was amazed that the Chinese staff at the bookstore had no knowledge that it existed. Had Communist anti-Confucianism — or Chinese Communist Capitalist consumerism — so severed today’s Chinese from their roots that even they were oblivious to them too? I found the book, after being told they didn’t have it, by ransacking the shelves and discovering it myself. And I read this rough (and far more refined) equivalent to the West’s Hebrew Bible cover to cover, within the month, and tried to pass that torch, as any good Confucian transmitter of the ancients would do, to the young — especially my Chinese students.

When we reach the beginnings of the triumph of the West, in its Full Metal Jacketed glory, over China with the 1840 Opium War — and the triumph of Westernization and modernization — I tell my students that, to me, the best part of our story is over. Traditional China is finished, and now we move into 160 years of dreary and decidedly non-exquisite wars, hot and cold, between capitalism and communism, Christianity and Confucianism, and other uninspiring tales of woe.

We reached that point a week or two ago in the current course, and I put the brakes on for a brief discussion about the effects of learning this history on my students. That “poignant” part I mentioned above came when the occasional Chinese student articulated a new appreciation for the deep roots of that fine history, a new pride in its distinctive traditions and values compared to the rest of the world — and especially compared to the world of my own Western roots. Call me immodest, maybe even delusional, but I find great satisfaction in the possibility that I might have returned these young growths, uprooted from the native traditions and culture of their ancestors by the onslaught of my own gold- and God-obsessed ancestors, at least somewhat to an appreciation of what was lost in that transplanting. As I joke to my students, I’m white on the outside but yellow on the inside, and they’re the opposite — and don’t know what they’re missing while I, ironically, because of my years of immersion, do. (Thus, to repeat, the silence on this blog. My interest in iPads is nil in comparison to the supremely literate millennia of Chinese culture. My biggest sadness is knowing, first, that I’ll probably die before finishing reading all the texts I want to read and, second, that even if I don’t, I’ll only read them in translation, and not in the rich originals in the Chinese script.)

And now that I’m feeling like some silly and self-inflated reverse missionary of post-colonialism, I’ll get to the bone I originally opened this post to throw to Dean and anybody else who wants an example of beautiful learning. I read Dean’s tweet just before grading this independent research project on the Tang and Song dynasties (roughly 600-1200 ce).

The assignment itself was simply to research a self-selected aspect of this Golden Age of Chinese civilization, write a 700-1000 word script, and then create a screencast reciting the script to well-chosen accompanying images. In one class, a girl asked if she could take it beyond simply filming a Powerpoint and use film instead. Of course I said yes, remembering as I did Chris Harbeck‘s advice from the old ed-geek days to “release the hounds” and see where they run without the schooly, teacher-held leash.

Thank goodness I did. That girl is Joy, and she’s Taiwanese. Here in Singapore, Joy had already been re-discovering her Chinese roots by practicing Tai Chi and calligraphy, learning to make dumplings by hand, and surely other things unknown to me.

Joy chose to explore the Golden Age of Chinese lyric poetry of the Tang Dynasty. The result, below — technical quibbles aside — is evidence that Joy is aptly named. Give her a couple of minutes to get past her intro and into the heart of it all, and maybe you’ll get some of that ga-ga too.

I’d almost buy her some pro-quality audio and video gear if she’d promise to share more along these lines in a regular series.

(Joy posted the video on her class reflective blog here, if you want to read the script with the poems she recited or drop a comment.)

* I’m also in the third year and final year of coursework for my Master’s degree, he moaned. Can you say “exhausting”?