Table Top Mandarin with Teacher Mike

My name is Brittany Michael and I’m euphoric to be a new employee of BGL this year. I am part of the team in Kunshan, China and moved here a little over two weeks ago.
Teacher Brittany, about town.

Teacher Brittany, about town.

Throughout the time I’ve been here, I’ve had the privilege of diving right into Mandarin under the tutelage of our very patient manager, Mike Maraghy.
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On Day 1 in China, Teacher Mike eagerly began teaching us all Mandarin. This was in addition to Mike’s heading up the English department at Xing Kong, the first school to be operated in China by BGL and Tsai Hsing. Mike works with and constantly translates for Xing Kong local teachers and administrators and  prepares the American teachers to teach the BGL curriculum. He also manages the myriad details of our transition from America to living in China. My colleagues – Lucas, Courtney, Heather – and I marvel at how well Mike utilizes his Mandarin skills to communicate with school faculty and deal with the unexpected issues that arise when moving halfway around the world. We couldn’t be more grateful for his patience, perseverance and selflessness as we embark on this journey with him.
Teacher Mike translates for Brittany and her local partner teachers.

Teacher Mike translates for Brittany and her local partner teachers.

When we began learning Mandarin, we had our first lesson on a legitimate blackboard within one of the classrooms of our school building. We discussed basic sounds, touched on vowels and went over a few vocabulary words.

Our second lesson took place in Mike and Lucas’s apartment as they have a beautiful, floor-to-ceiling window in their living room with a gorgeous view overlooking one of the many lakes and parks of Kunshan. Mike creatively used dry-erase markers to write all over the window as we reviewed the vowels we’ve learned and important phonemes that differ from English and then touched on a few new vocabulary words and useful phrases.

9229094_origIn between lessons, Mike checks our retention in real life contexts and points out Chinese characters when we see them. We make Mandarin lessons out of every opportunity: during our trips to nearby Shanghai, by interacting with locals, speaking to administrators and teachers at the school and recognizing characters on signs we pass when walking/biking around Kunshan. Our third Mandarin lesson took place at a local shop called Forrest Coffee. The place is quaintly filled with a variety of little succulents and one of the main workers, Yoku, is working on his English and enjoys practicing with us. Mike used the coffee table to write out our lesson for the day and, during our bike ride to the gym right after our lesson, we continued our Mandarin practice by shouting sentences, requests, vocabulary words and phrases back and forth (much to the delight of the locals walking or zooming past us on scooters; as if five Westerners on bikes was not already a spectacle!).
9008654_origOur fourth Mandarin lesson was written back at Mike and Lucas’s glorious window during the day of the angry Kunshan storm. The wind was incredibly vicious this day and the sky poured down rain as we munched on baozi and cha ye dan inside. With more days like this to come, we hope to continue to pick Mike’s brain as we enhance our abilities to truly connect with the local culture.
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First Day of School in Asia: Where Teaching Meets ComiCon

Never has it been so professional to wear a cape and a crown to your first day on the job.

In Asia, English teachers often dress up in costume to welcome students on their first day of school. The practice may seem silly to Westerners, but ironically the silliness is seen as a sign of respect on the part of Chinese and Taiwanese parents.

Along those lines, here are some pix from our first days in Taipei, Taiwan and Kunshan, China:

Elementary teachers in Taipei dressed like Minions... and took pictures with each student as they arrived!

Elementary teachers in Taipei dressed like Minions… and took pictures with each student as they arrived!

Kindergarten teachers on the first day of school in at BGL/Tsai Hsing's new campus in Kunshan, China.

Kindergarten teachers went with a regal theme for the first day of school in at BGL/Tsai Hsing’s new campus in Kunshan, China. They also gave out stuffed bears with golden capes filled with lollipops.

Kindergarten teachers at Tsai Hsing in Taipei, Taiwan.

Kindergarten teachers at Tsai Hsing in Taipei, Taiwan went for a superhero / princess vibe.

10 Ways for Time-Strapped Teachers to Keep Up with EdTech

Teachers who love technology (like we do!) always want to learn about the next best—and most useful—thing. Whether it be a burgeoning LMS, a free game site with built-in analytics, or an app students can use for creative projects, within the booming edtech world it can be difficult to wade through the tedium to get to the truly fantastic. So, we’ve developed some tips for keeping up with edtech without tearing your hair out in the process.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

1. SCHEDULE – 2-3 professional development events each school year to attend where you think you can get the most information and learn the most. (Great resources here and here.)

2. Keep an ongoing LIST of new apps, programs and resources you hear about.  Give some description after each listing so you can remember, generally, the purpose it serves. (Some of our favorites are: Zaption, Zeal, Formative, BrainRush, DragonBox, NOVA Elements App, GoodReader, Duolingo, and ClassDojo to name a few.) Make the list in Googledoc for collaborative input.

3. KEEP your entire team WORKING on research and testing new technology that is available. Organize a task list and be systematic about testing for maximum efficiency.

4. CONNECT WITH OTHERS – Keep an open dialogue with your team and with your personal learning network. What’s working and what is not? Some top hashtags to follow on Twitter are: #edtech, #edchat, #elearning, #ipadchat, #flipclass, #flippedclassroom, #iPadEd, #EdApps, #iPadClassroom and #mlearning.

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Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

5. Go with the “DOES IT STICK?” approach.  After your team starts testing something, ask yourself: “does it stick”?  If it stays on your radar, it’s probably worth keeping. If not, dump it and move on.

6. COMPARE AND CONTRAST… given there are so many apps and services now that serve similar purposes, choose the top two or three and test those against one another.  Have one of your employees try one and another employee try the other.  Have them take notes and then at the end, collect your team, compare the two and decide which to go with for the time being (A great general resource is the EdSurge EdTech Index which offers a multitude of categories and suggestions).

7. DON’T MIX testing and what your company is currently using at the time.  Implement after testing and decisions are made.

8. BE OPEN TO CHANGE – keep your eyes and ears open to what may be new, better, etc. If you stick with a given piece of tech for too long, you may find yourself quickly outdated and unfamiliar with new stuff that’s out there.

9. STEP BY STEP is the way to work through all the new ed tech options otherwise you could just feel completely overwhelmed and do nothing.

10. ENJOY THE PROCESS – Remember to enjoy the process! This should be fun, right??  Don’t get bogged down feeling it’s tedious work.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

So… how do you keep up? Write a comment below!

York, PA’s Weary Arts Group – A 4G Field Trip for Students of Shakespeare

There is perhaps no better way for students to dive into the art of theatrical performance than by studying the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare. While reading an adaptation of the comedy Much Ado about Nothing, BGL‘s 8th grade distance learning students explored the themes of the story while learning how to add expressiveness to their acting of the play’s scenes. This 4G Field Trip with the Weary Arts Group in York, PA brought the concept home for these students in a fun and informative way. Our gracious and dynamic hosts, Calvin and Dante, mesmerized the class with their performances, and the students were grateful to learn from some experts.
Thanks to Teacher Jackie for facilitating the trip and for creating short and long versions of the field trip video. See them below!
SHORT VERSION:
LONG VERSION:

That’s Crafty! Our 4G Field Trip to Tom Colicchio’s LA Restaurant

Wow! BGL’s 501 Class was very lucky to take a virtual field trip to Tom Colicchio‘s Craft LA, one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. The charming and well-spoken manager, Todd Thurman, led the tour and gave the 5th graders a unique insight into the process behind creating some of the world’s finest dishes.

Manager Todd Thurman introduces Taiwanese 5th graders to Craft LA.

Manager Todd Thurman introduces Taiwanese 5th graders to Craft LA.

“Teacher Todd” first showed us around the patron area, discussing the nature of the owner’s fame and the concept behind the design of the dining space.

Students are introduced to Craft's formal dining space.

Students are introduced to Craft’s formal dining space.

The real fun started as we headed into the kitchen. As we visited each of the stations, Teacher Todd told us some of the work that goes into creating such unique food. All of the fruits and vegetables are sourced from Farmer’s Markets up and down the state of California. Some markets will come by the restaurant with a huge selection of food with only the most superb ingredients chosen by special Craft staff.

Chef de Cuisine Ray England addresses the students.

Chef de Cuisine Ray England addresses the students.

We had the pleasure of meeting the head chef (or, “Chef de Cuisine”), Ray England, who talked to the students about Craft’s use of the entire animal after butchering. This made sense to the Taiwanese students, whose culture celebrates the eating of many foods that we might consider “exotic” in an effort to waste no part of butchered animals.

Dessert!

Dessert!

Of course, the students were most excited when they saw the gourmet chocolate chip cookies and, especially, the homemade sorbet and ice cream. One student wished that there was a machine that would allow people to “throw stuff through the television screen” so that they could eat some of the ice cream. The Craft staff got a kick out of the enthusiasm the students showed for their favorite sweets.

Afterwards, Teacher Seth was so hungry he had to sit down and sample the octopus and summer squash puttanesca and orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

The best octopus I've ever tasted.

The best octopus I’ve ever tasted.

Orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

Orecchiette with lamb and fava beans.

All in all, a fantastic experience for students and tour guides alike. This was a great way to wrap up our food unit, which also had us taking a virtual field trip to a farmer’s market and conducting a recipe collaboration with the Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh.

Many thanks Teacher Seth’s good buddy Jim Wisniewski for setting up the trip! Here are some of the best thank you notes from the students:

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Kindergarten Field Trip to the Taipei Zoo

With all our virtual field trips it’s sometimes easy to forget the value of a traditional, in-person field trip. The following is an account from BGL‘s Teacher Simon about a great trip to the zoo with his kindergarten classes:

As the sun finally made its way back out after a week full of rain, we found ourselves departing for the Taipei Zoo on a beautifully warm Thursday morning. We had three classes (about 90 students) piled into 6 fun-filled vans for the short ride down Muzha Rd. to the other side of the river. The day was warm, the sun was bright, and the kids were more than excited to share this moment with each other and their teachers.

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The zoo here in Taipei is filled with a variety of animals from tropical environments, dense forest habitats, African Safari, and even the arctic (scores of penguins hang out in their nice, cool, indoor habitat). One of the great things about Taipei, or Taiwan for that matter, is the ease of accessibility to enjoy the simple things in life. From the zoo to flower gardens, the gondola rides to the paddle boats, Taipei has a variety of affordable options that suit all walks of life. Where else can you find yourself spending the day in the presence of a few gorillas, some cuddly pandas, or some rather boisterous Kangaroos for the whopping price of 40 Taiwanese dollars (or roughly $1.25 US)?

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The agenda was rather unscripted as we let the students take the lead. The red class and I found ourselves getting to know the greatest and by far the most popular at the zoo: the panda. I don’t know what it is about those creatures that seem to capture the hearts of all young boys and girls in Asia, but a classful of giggling five year olds interacting with the gentle giants sure was a fun site to see. Granted the pandas just eat and roll around for the most part, those little balls of fluff were quite enjoyable. After the panda, we made our way up to the miniature train station and boarded the zoo’s funnest form of transportation that took us up to the Penguin House and the African Safari.

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Within the African Safari were some more popular animals including the lion, elephant, giraffe, and the kangaroos. The kids were having such a blast watching the penguins, posing for all of their goofy pictures of the animal structures around the habitat area, and complaining about the stinky smell of the elephants. Of course, as is the case when taking care of groups of small groups of kids anywhere in the world, eventually their interests were reduced to a singular goal: eat food. So, we found a nice picnic area at which to reenergize after all the walking. Cookies, crackers, gummies, milk tea, seaweed wraps, and chips of all shapes and sizes were consumed in a way not unlike the little hungry pandas. 5 and 6 year old children are without a doubt some of the most unselfish little angels on Earth. I loved watching them share their snacks with each other and I couldn’t help but accept some of their offers of a cookie here and a cracker there.

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After our snack and our newfound source of energy, we made our way to the koala habitat and finished the day off with some camels, guinea pigs, birds, and these incredibly active creatures called Coali Mondis (Brazilian Weasel). The kids absolutely loved seeing these little guys running around, jumping on each other and climbing through the railway system above our heads.

 

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All in all it was a great afternoon spent at the zoo with the kids. We have been studying animals for months, so the kids were incredibly excited to apply their newfound knowledge with us in the presence of the animals. Opportunities such as this – that afford our students authentic ways to communicate in English outside the classroom – are truly special. It creates a sense of fulfillment to see all of our hard work paying off and to see those beautiful smiles glow even brighter than before.

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Kung Fu, Zen Buddhism and the Shaolin Temple – An Independent Research Project for 5th Graders

Our 5th graders in Taiwan are new to our distance learning program, so one of the first units we do with them is a familiar topic – Ancient China. We teach about Chinese New Year, the Great Wall, important rivers and inventions, and China’s greatest teacher, Confucius. But the most popular lesson is based on a trip that Teacher Seth took to the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province of Central China.

First the students read a brief chapter on the history of the Shaolin Temple and its importance to Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. Then, they watch a video about Teacher Seth’s trip:

Then, the students complete the following assignment:

Today, you learned that the Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and of Kung Fu. You will choose ONE of those three topics – Zen Buddhism, Kung Fu, or the Shaolin Temple – and do Internet research on that topic.

Then, answer following questions.

1 – What is your topic?

2 – What are some important things that happened in the history of your topic?

3 – What are some things people do to celebrate or practice it?

4 – Who are some famous people who are associated with your topic? What is their relationship to it?

5 – What is your opinion about your topic?

The best of those reports are linked for download here:

Jasper:                                                            Tiffany:

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Annie 21:                                                            Moe:

 

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Christine:                                                         Nicole 30:

 

 

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Angelica:                                                         Sherry:

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What awesome research projects has your class conducted? Leave a comment!