The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 2, 2006


China visit inspires curriculum development

Carlisle teachers enjoy a visit to the Great Wall during their recent trip to China. (Courtesy photo)


What do folktales, the history of woodblocks, endangered animals, and world literature have in common? These and other areas of the school curriculum are being enhanced by Carlisle teachers and the superintendent as they return from a two-week educational visit to China.

Carlisle teachers Jen Reinhard (fifth grade), Peter Darasz, (second grade), Sue LaPorte (Reading Specialist), and Courtney Hadley (middle school art) spent part of last summer and fall preparing for the trip to China. The Carlisle School is a member of Primary Source, a Watertown-based educational foundation that "promotes history and humanities education by connecting educators to people and cultures throughout the world," according to their website, To qualify for the trip, the teachers were required to complete the Primary Source Summer Institute.

"I took the Primary Source course "Highlights of Chinese Civilization," Danasz said. He attended full day classes in June, July, and September. "In order to complete the course requirements you needed to do a minimum of researching and writing up, testing out and reporting on one lesson relating to China and how it impacted your classroom." After the classes and the final project was completed, he said, he applied for a position on the trip and had to state "a classroom goal that you could complete either during the trip or after the trip. You also needed to write about any experiences that you have had that would indicate you would be a good candidate for an intensive two week stay with other people and you had to get a complete physical with all the shots."

The China Study Tour, which was led by two Chinese educators along with Primary Source staff, is "designed to deepen educators' knowledge of the world." This is the second group of teachers to visit China; Cyd McCann (technology), Erin McAuley (middle school social studies), and Carolyn Platt (language arts) traveled in 2005, along with former art teacher Beth Sherman.

Trip experience was "life-changing"

During two presentations of their trip the teachers showed vivid slides and movies to illustrate their experience. They visited a dizzying array of cultural sites such as the Great Wall, palaces, the old and new city of Beijing, the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, Yangtze River, Temple of Heaven, and the terra cotta warrior army in Xian. Though they had numerous amazing experiences such as trying on costumes at the Peking Opera, their strongest impressions, they said, were gained through school and home visits. In the city, they toured well-maintained city schools, many attended by children of Communist Party members. They also visited a migrant workers school, which was considered illegal by the government until recently; children of migrant workers are not usually allowed to go to school in Beijing. The teachers headed out to the countryside and visited a village school, each having a chance to teach a class. They were also invited into homes of Chinese citizens to share meals. Throughout their visit they found the same themes: school was paramount to all families and seen as the key to a better life and all children are similar the world over. All teachers agreed the trip was life-changing.

Chinese folktales

Each teacher returned with specific plans on how to incorporate the knowledge they gained into the school curriculum. Darasz explained he was interested in collecting Chinese folktales. "Folktales have been a part of the second grade curriculum for as long as I have been teaching second grade (five years) and I know that they were a part of the curriculum before I switched over from kindergarten," he explained. "We read folktales from different areas of the world, including the United States, and do a variety of activities with them." Each year the second grades perform a folktale play at the end of the Folktale Unit. "Next year I plan on adapting a Chinese folktale into a new play for my classroom to perform." He said he and LaPorte "bought quite a few books on folktales," so he needs to choose the right one before writing the script, songs, and planning the costumes.

Study of traditional literature

"Our Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Frameworks require students to compare traditional literature from different cultures and also to perform readings of text," explained LaPorte. "While in China I collected some traditional folktales. I also took pictures of the area and the people who live where these tales originated. I plan — and have started with one fourth-grade teacher — to work with teachers on combining these two frameworks by having students read and perform these folktales in a reader's theater."

Darasz said he created traditional literature activities to coincide with the Chinese New Year in January as part of his course requirement for his trip. "I read two different, common early childhood stories that could be compared with similar Chinese literature," he explained. "The books were: Yeh Shen - The Chinese Cinderella (by Ai-Ling Louie), which was compared to our version of Cinderella and Lon Po Po (by Ed Young), which is a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood. The reason I chose these stories is because they were well known to our children and could be easily compared to the Chinese version." Using Venn diagrams (two circles, partially joined in the center) to compare the similarities and differences between the stories, allowed the teachers, he said, "to expose our children to the fact that children in other countries share similar tastes in literature."

"The first grade teaches a unit called "Children Around the World," explained LaPorte. "The essential understanding they want to get across to students is that people are more alike than different. In other words, we have different homes, habits, celebrations, educational systems, et cetera, but children all have the same needs." LaPorte said she can add first-hand knowledge to the unit. "All first graders saw, through a PowerPoint presentation, Chinese schools and the country. I am in the midst of developing this presentation into lessons that will become part of this unit of study. I believe that viewing and hearing this information from someone who has actually been there has a stronger impact on children's learning," she said.

Standing at the Tiger Leaping Gorge are Carlisle Teachers Peter Darasz, Courtney Hadley, Sue LaPorte and Jen Reinhard with Wanli Hu from Primary Source. (Courtesy photo)

Endangered Species unit

Reinhard has created multiple lessons on the giant panda in support of the fifth grade endangered species unit, which takes place in May and June. The touring teachers visited a Panda Breeding Institute, which raises giant pandas and releases them into the wild. Reinhard was thrilled to hold a nine-month-old giant panda on her lap. Her lesson plans provide activities to introduce concepts such as habitat destruction, poaching, refuges, wildlife corridors, birth weight, life span, food consumption, habitat range, and conservation efforts. Her plan and activities can be easily modified to study other endangered species.

The Three Perfections

Hadley developed "The Three Perfections" unit and has been recognized by NASDTEC (The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification) for her outstanding program. She explains the unit "highlights the values of the Chinese society that stress the importance and the reverence of art and the artist. The Three Perfections refer to calligraphy, painting, and poetry. Teaching this unit not only highlights the most popular art throughout many dynasties in China but also gives wonderful insight into the values of China as a culture. In China, combining the three perfections in a single work of art is considered the highest form of expression," said Hadley. "Exploring a country's culture through its art can enhance a person's sense of how they relate to others. China has an elaborate art history. What better way to study and appreciate it than though art?" The students finish the unit by creating "a work of art that combines the Three Perfections." Students who explore cultures through art grow in self-esteem, tolerance, and confidence as they experience a different culture, she pointed out. When asked how the Three Perfections Unit would support the middle school curriculum Hadley replied that it can "easily be taught as an interdisciplinary unit with language arts and social studies." There is a connection with Language Arts, poetry and social studies with studying different cultures and values, she added.

History of woodblocks

Explaining that China invented the woodblock, Hadley said her woodblock unit is in development. "The unit will involve looking at woodblock printing from other countries as a means of giving a voice to the poor and the oppressed," she explained. "German artist Kathe Kollwitz will be studied as well as other artists and countries." I was thrilled when I accidentally ran into a famous block artist in Xian and was able to buy some of his work, get a book he had written, and other examples and artifacts," she said.

Superintendents and Principals

Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle traveled to China as part of a leadership tour or "principal shadowing." She was joined by Superintendent of Concord-Carlisle Brenda Finn and other administrators from Lincoln-Sudbury, Whitman-Hanson, and Malden. The group had numerous seminars and cultural visits including the Communist Headquarters, but the "riskiest thing I did," said Doyle, was to stay with host families without any other Americans for four nights during the trip. When asked how her visit would impact her job, she replied, "The trip to China has provided me, one of 30 administrators traveling on this second journey of the principal shadowing program, with multifaceted staff development which will impact my professional decisions as well as enhance collaboration between Carlisle and Concord...Since returning from China, Brenda Finn, members of her administrative team, and I have met to collaborate on our world language program expansion, (Elementary world language and Chinese in the middle school) following extensive dialogues on the trip abroad in regards to the importance of world language and cultural awareness. Traveling to China provided me with an extraordinary opportunity to study current educational issues, think globally and explore potential partnerships for our school; studying their rich history was also phenomenal. One of the results of this trip may be a three-way student exchange with Concord, Carlisle and a middle school in China."


A class in a Chinese migrant workers’ school, called The Dandelion School. All four Carlisle teachers got a chance to teach a class.

Last year's trip

McCann said she was responsible for creating a searchable database of all photographs she took during last year's trip. "This database has been incorporated into a Chinese Literature Circles unit that Carolyn Platt developed as well as a Chinese Timeline that was taught by all the sixth grade teachers. I also worked with Carolyn to digitize her unit so that the entire unit, images and movies are available in a CD/DVD package. We are submitting this final product to Primary Source and hope to have it accepted in their library." Platt notes that, "All referenced material will be electronically linked for easy access. Next year the new 6 LA teachers will have a complete and convenient unit to follow. It will also be on file at Primary Source for teachers in other districts to use."

Literature circles

"China is the setting for a sixth-grade social studies and literature circle unit in which students will explore and analyze geographical and universal themes in their novels," Platt explained. "Literature circles will provide opportunities for small, student-led groups to discuss and write about books set in China." Platt gave the following examples to show how her trip impacted student learning: "Red Scarf Girl is a novel set during the Cultural Revolution. I was able to share the personal story of our Primary Source Leader Wan Li's struggles during the Cultural Revolution. Students analyzed an English translation of Mao's Little Red Book purchased in Beijing. We had interesting discussions about why Mao's picture still hangs in Tiananmen Square to this day and whether it will during the Olympics. Chu Ju's House deals with the issue of 'one child-one family.' During my two-night home stay with a young Chinese family (father, mother and little boy) we discussed issues related to this policy and parenting in general. I was able to share information with my students that isn't found in sixth-grade textbooks about China."

Similar to Reinhard's unit on Endangered Species, Platt notes that "This unit is a prototype and can be adapted for studying multi-cultural novels, whether they are set in Asia, the Middle East, Africa or any other location in the world."


Fifth grade teacher Jen Reinhard at the Panda Institute.

Next destination?

Besides tours to China, Primary Source offers educational courses on Japan, Africa, the Middle East, global awareness and American History, and trips to Japan. A tour to Africa may be added soon. Other school districts that are members of Primary Source include Bedford, Belmont, Concord, Dover-Sherborn, Lincoln-Sudbury, and Lexington.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito