After about 4 hours of sleep on the 14 hour plane ride (yeseterday) and three hours last night in our Shanghai hotel, it was time to get up for school. Our driver picked us up (we are a 9 member "delegation"), and we joined the masses on the four layer interstate. Traffic is much more intense this morning than our early evening trip from the airport last night. But, you need only look to your right and left to understand that this is a city with a population over 2x that of New York City. Everywhere you look is skyscraper after skyscraper, apartments after apartments--often filled with people hanging out the windows as I noticed this morning.
As we got closer into downtown Shanghai, the architecture got more interesting (some very futuristic-looking). Turning into the Gezhi High School, however, you enter a courtyard with architecture more reminiscent of British colonialism. (The British co-founded the school around 1876).
We spent the morning in four classrooms (English, Calculus, US History, and Chemistry). This high school is considered the finest in Shanghai, having received numerous recoginitions for performances on the national exam, admittances to some of the finest universities in the world, and reknowned alumni. The principal and the students are quite proud of this achievement.
Our visit is sponsored by the Ameson Educational and Cultural Exchange Foundation. This is one of 14 high schools in China with a small "elite" American High School Program (AP+) operated by Ameson. Our delegation is here as the guest of Dr. Sean Zhang and the foundation to observe these programs and toidentify how to begin our work as consulting, educational, and cultural exchange partners. Note: The programs are small, 120 students per school, and instead of preparing for the national exam these students are preparing to attend the top universities outside of China. They are taking the traditional AP (or IB) curriculum alongside mandatory Chinese high school course, all taught either bilingually or as full immersion English.
The classroom design and teaching styles were very traditional, not to be unexpected in a country and schooling system that prides itself on individual achievement and mastery on tests. Interestingly, the students were exceptionally engaged, which I was later told is because of the high-stakes testing and great personal drive to compete for limited slots in the universities. Although the competition is a cultural reality, the attitude among the students was very congenial and I did not sense person-to-person competition. It seemed to be more a collective commitment to hard work and achieving one's own best performance. Competing against yourself.
I asked about the use of technology, and although it is not permitted in the classrooms, they do have computer labs and internet access. Talking with the Professor Zhang later in our afternoon "dialogue", we learned that they have access to video conferencing tools and, although what we saw in the classroom today was very traditional, Zhang is ready to take steps in partnership with us to explore project-based, collaborative learning. We set some goals to get started on that together in September.
We ended the morning in a young teacher's US History classroom. Y is from Tennessee, graduated from Tufts and has been teaching here for two years. She's introduced the students to language and culture in some fun, and interesting ways. When I get back to the states, and have access to YouTube, I'll share a video of her Chinese students learning some new songs...you won't want to miss Bob Marley's Buffalo Solider!
More later on the afternoon and evening tour, signing ceremony, dinner celebration, and night tour of "The Bund."