Celebrating Holidays While Teaching Abroad

Holidays can be a difficult time to be away from home while teaching abroad.  But, just as holidays are a special time of year that bring family and friends together, it’s a great opportunity to share your culture with your students and create lasting bonds in your classroom. The following report about celebrating holidays while teaching abroad is from BGL‘s Teacher Jackie and Teacher Becky.

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Xin nian kuai le!  Happy Chinese New Year!  While teaching in Taiwan, it has been an amazing experience to share American holiday traditions with our students, and to learn more about their culture through celebrations. Teacher Jackie, normally a Distance Learning teacher for IDEEL, was fortunate enough to be on campus to celebrate Halloween with her students.

Across campus, the holiday was more spirited than expected, from learning about spider webs to participating in a trick-or-treat parade.

ImageSome of the older students were able to make connections with a similar Taiwanese holiday, Tomb Sweeping Day, which celebrates familial ancestors.  Though students do not normally celebrate Halloween outside of school, their parents gladly dress them in costumes for school – or even to go shopping or out to eat! Generally, the costumes are not scary but rather as cute as possible.  Most girls dress up as princesses, and the most popular costume for boys seemed to be superheroes.

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Soon after, Thanksgiving comes to town. Teacher Becky had a wonderful time teaching students about turkeys, and other Thanksgiving food. To her surprise, even after much discussion, pictures and videos, many students had no idea what a turkey was, mistaking it for a big chicken. A true cultural exchange was born when the ensuing discussion about traditional American foods evolved into one about traditional Taiwanese foods. Students also made some great paper turkeys and shared what they are thankful for in their lives.  Both the students and the teachers had fun sharing in the Thanksgiving holiday traditions.

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And of course, the season of holiday celebrations would not be complete without Christmas.  Teacher Becky found that many students celebrated Christmas at home with their families, so it was easy to get them into the holiday spirit. Decorating each room with a Christmas tree, Teacher Becky made sure that all of her students had a visit from Santa.  Sharing her own family’s tradition, she also had each of her students make an ornament for the class tree.

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Though the magic of Christmas captivated the students, they were even more intrigued by snow, which most of them have never experienced or even seen before.  The students really enjoyed learning about snow and making their own snowmen, with the help of Santa Claus, of course.

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Back in Los Angeles with her Distance Learning teacher hat on again, Teacher Jackie challenged her 8th grade students to create “twister carols” by rewriting lyrics to a famous Christmas carol.  Meanwhile,

Image5th graders went on a 4G field trip to The Grove, a famous shopping mall in Los Angeles that decks their halls to the max for Christmas. Here they got to see first hand some of the most prominent American Christmas traditions, compliments of Teacher Seth’s interviews with local shoppers.  They also examined the winter wonderland that much of America was experiencing by writing descriptive poems about various images of snow.  The results were impressive despite the lack of personal experience with snow.

With the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration, 7th grade Distance Learning students made connections to the recent New Year celebration in America by writing resolutions.  Below is an example of the fine work that was produced by 701 student, Dylan.

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Meanwhile, in Taiwan, Teacher Becky celebrated the New Year with her Kindergarten classes after discussing the similarities and differences between the American and Taiwanese New Year traditions.  Teacher Becky found that in both Taiwan and America, eating certain foods is believed to bring wealth and good fortune – in Taiwan, it’s fish, while in the American South, it’s collard greens and black-eyed peas.  Both cultures also share a tradition of money for the New Year, with Taiwanese exchanging red envelopes with gifts of money. The students really enjoyed sharing their traditional dragons with Teacher Becky to welcome in the New Year.

Celebrating American holidays with students in foreign countries is such a special and rewarding experience.  To see students embrace American traditions with enthusiasm and wonder, while also sharing their own rich holiday traditions, is an opportunity unique to teaching and traveling abroad.  In what ways do you celebrate holidays with your students?

California Parks Department: Best Virtual Field Trip Ever! A BGL Review

California Parks Department’s PORTS delivered the best virtual field trip we’ve ever taken here at Banyan Global Learning.  PORTS is made up of awesome rangers in awesome ranger hats who provide free virtual fields trips utilizing green screen studios and a roving EduGator.  What’s not to love?

A PORTS EduGator enables Park Rangers to do virtual field trips from any parks location.  Photo courtesy of the California Parks Department.

A PORTS EduGator enables Park Rangers to do virtual field trips from any parks location. Photo courtesy of the California Parks Department.

The following review is from Teacher Seth:

Our 4G Field Trips are revolutionizing the way we do distance learning.  As we plan these trips int he future, we look to emulate the rangers at PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students). Our virtual field trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park was perfectly paced and had an engaging balance of teacher-student interaction, historical realia and digital media. And this is just one of their many programs – they have an EduGator that can perform virtual field trips via satellite from each of the 268 CA State Parks. And did we mention it’s free?!

Anza Borrego is big enough to fit all other 267 CA State Parks inside of it, so Ranger Luann did the program from inside her green screen studio so we could cover more area and content.

Ranger Luann in her green screen studio at Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Ranger Luann in her green screen studio at Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

She amazed our students by highlighting the behavioral and physical adaptations of plants and animals.

She showed us fossils and skeletons that dated back to prehistoric times.

Ranger Luann with the skull of a sabertooth tiger.

Ranger Luann with the skull of a sabertooth tiger.

She had fun with the green screen and made parts of her body disappear.

The Invisible Ranger

The Invisible Ranger

And then she took us on a tour of her studio, teaching about the magic behind her techy trickery.  She zoomed in on Google Maps and found the school in Taipei!  She loved meeting our students – they were the first international students PORTS had ever worked with.

Ranger Luann zooms in to find our school on Google Maps.

Ranger Luann zooms in to find our school on Google Maps.

All in all, it was amazing!  Perhaps this student thank you letter says it best:

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4G Field Trips

Banyan Global Learning – a longtime purveyor of video teleconferencing based distance learning education – had a bit of a game changer today.  Our classrooms became mobile as we introduced to our curriculum 4G Video Teleconferencing Virtual Field Trips (4G Field Trips for short). The following report is from Teacher Seth:

We usually use a Cisco H.323 video teleconferencing system to perform our distance learning classes.  But we can also connect to the local teacher’s iPad through Skype or FaceTime.  Although the images are fuzzier and there’s just a single input, this approach works in a pinch and, most importantly, it can free us from the tethers of our desks.

Teacher Seth conducts a 4G field trip with Class 601 to Los Feliz Village in LA.

Teacher Seth shows some street art in Los Feliz Village during a 4G Field Trip with Class 601 in Taiwan.

Until recently, though, we needed to be within range of wifi in order to use Skype or FaceTime from a mobile device.  Then, AT&T’s 4G service became fast enough to accommodate mobile video teleconferencing.

Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street is a little plaza with restaurants and shops in Little Tokyo.  Today we ran out there for the last ten minutes of class and connected to Taiwan using the iPhone.  As the initial shock of it actually working wore off I realized that I had to show something more interesting than the plaza’s space shuttle statue, so, naturally, I took them window shopping.  Luckily, there are stores there dedicated to both Hello Kitty and to anime figurines, meaning there was something for everyone in our happy Asian classroom.

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Astronaut E. S. Onizuka Street.  Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

For ten minutes, our Taiwanese students walked the streets of LA.  Most exciting were the random interactions we had with storekeepers and patrons who happened to witness our little experiment.  The interactions rarely went beyond a spirited wave and hello, but that didn’t stop them from blowing the minds of all involved.

Students in Class 601 in Taiwan talk to a shopkeeper in Los Feliz Village.

Students in Class 601 in Taiwan talk to a shopkeeper in Los Feliz Village.

Most classrooms already have the basic requirements to conduct their own 4G Field Trip: an internet-enabled device connected to a projector and screen. Now you just need a target location and an interested party with a smartphone.  With such low barriers to entry, what’s stopping teachers from doing this every day?  

What will be your next 4G Field Trip?

Update:

In the following days we did three more 4G Video Teleconferencing Virtual Field Trips:

1) Los Feliz Village – a tour of street art in a shopping district near Griffith Park (see pix above).

Students in Taiwan watch a 4G Field Trip to the Los Feliz Village.

Students in Taiwan watch a 4G Field Trip to the Los Feliz Village.

2) Staples Center – Taiwan was basketball-crazed even before Linsanity (Lin’s family is from Taiwan). They also love winners and thus the Lakers, so when Lin’s Houston team was in town for the last game of the season they just had to take a 4G Field Trip to Staples Center.  We interviewed fans outside the game.

Class 501 interviews Lakers fans outside Staples Center.

Class 501 interviews Lakers fans outside Staples Center.

3) Olvera Street – a traditional Mexican marketplace near our office.  Rather than just a  cultural adventure, this trip supplemented our 8th grade mini-unit on diversity in America.  With close ties to our curriculum, this trip represents our new direction for the 4G Field Trips.

Class 801 visits Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

Class 801 visits Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles.