Chinese education leaders visit to glimpse trends, best practices

Portia Downey and DeLandon Mason

When DeLandon Mason lifted a brass trumpet to his lips May 1 in a classroom of the Learning Center, the notes he blew were somewhat reminiscent of the beginning of a horse race.

His audience – a delegation of secondary school principals, owners and founders from China – smiled and clapped.

Mason, a graduate student in the NIU College of Education’s MAT program, then produced a trumpet made of garden hose, duct tape and a plastic funnel. As he began to play, eyes brightened. Grins widened.

Applause this time came not from appreciation but amazement and awe for the student of Portia Downey, the college’s professional development coordinator who invited Mason to co-teach “Framework for Inquiry-Based Instruction” with her that morning.

“The buzzing takes practice, and it seems silly,” he told the group later amid honks on plastic mouthpieces, “but the children will learn.”

So will the adults.

Moments later, the 15 visitors began to fabricate their own trumpets from the provided supplies and to attempt making music. Some fruitlessly filled their instruments with air – the proper technique is not blowing into, but vibrating lips against, the mouthpiece – while others caught on and conjured sounds of all sorts.

chinese-7Downey and Mason already had taught the group how to construct cell phone speakers from cardboard tubes, plastic cups and duct tape, and later would make soundwaves visible by sprinkling salt or sugar onto plastic wrap stretched over the speakers.

“That’s how your eardrum works!” Downey told her students for the hour.

It was a fun way to start a day of presentations on the latest and best practices in teaching and learning, particularly in science methods, as well as U.S. trends in education.

Other presenters included Jodi Lampi, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, who spoke on “Infusing Disciplinary Literacy into Content Area Courses.”

Jim Surber, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, opened the afternoon with “Educational Leadership in Illinois.” Fatih Demir, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, closed the day with “Emerging Technologies for UX Design and Research.”

“The Chinese people believe so much in education and in moving their children ahead,” says Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs. “They’re focused on the newest innovations in learning, and they want their children to be subject to those newest innovations. This is one way for them to get a step ahead.”

chinese-1NIU’s visitors are currently the guests of St. Bede Academy, which regularly hosts delegations from China as a part of its global collaboration. The Catholic high school in Peru, Ill., enrolls about 50 boarder students from China each year; it also maintains a sister relationship with Kinglee High School in Zhengzhou, China.

Creating a pipeline of students from China into the United States, and Illinois in particular, is advantageous to both sides of the partnership. It also boosts NIU, Borg says.

“St. Bede’s wants an association with a university in the region, and we have seen definite benefits to being a part of this,” Borg says.

“The Chinese education leaders are not only checking out schools in the United States for their students but are also interested in professional development for their teachers,” he adds. “They want summer programs for their teachers to come to the U.S. They requested programs focused on science education, and we wanted to demonstrate that we have a strong faculty presence in science learning.”

Lampi opened her presentation with a picture of an apple, prompting the visitors to ask questions about the fruit.

chinese-6After her discussion of the disciplinary literacy and the characteristics of text in English, history and science, she challenged them to describe how their thinking had changed about the apple through that exploration.

“It was just amazing to hear how those different perspectives provided different questions,” Borg says, “and how people in those specific disciplines think – to have that set of glasses on.”

Surber spoke of U.S. trends in school leadership, telling the group that administrators here are educational leaders in addition to managers. Demir demonstrated the latest in educational technology.

“They were excited about each of the areas,” Borg says. “Our relationship will continue, and they will be sending us proposals forthcoming. They clearly identified NIU as being a quality place for students to learn.”


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