Article by Li Wang, Chinese Elementary Teacher
“今天，我们要给你们讲一个长长的故事，是真的。” （Today, we are going to tell you a long story, it’s a ture story.）
“是《我们的蘑菇》。” (“It’s called ‘Our Mushroom’”.)
“我等一下会教你们这首歌。” ( “We will teach you this song later.”)
At Duke University in the Sociology Psychology 128 classroom, every Friday morning, college students come here to have their Mandarin Chinese class. But this time the class looks different, a group of children from International Montessori School are teaching. They shared their knowledge about mushrooms with Duke University students, gave a group presentation(the long story), and taught them songs. After that, Duke students played games they designed with children. All in Chinese!
“Wait a minute, what’s going on here?” You might ask. Well, I have to say it’s a long story.
In the fall of 2018, a group of children came to the first Chinese Elementary Class in IMS. Guess what they consistently find on the playground, outside of classroom, under the tree, on the grass… ? Mushrooms! So with information provided by our head of school Angela, our class went to a mushroom farm to learn more about them. The class came back with a bunch of mushrooms ready to grow in class and on campus. The children took good care of them even during weekends and holidays. Classroom lessons and “works” were designed to help children keep learning about these human-friendly fungi; they READ, WRITE, and SING about mushrooms. They GROW, EAT, and SELL mushrooms.
At a certain point, I remembered some events I participated in a few years ago with the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. I shared the idea with children that they could visit Duke’s Chinese class. So we started to plan this trip. The children and I worked together, called Xie/Hsieh Loshi from Duke, figured out time and dates that would work for both sides, proposed things we could do, came up with a transportation plan and packing list for the trip, and of course, prepared for teaching the university students all in Chinese.
Then the day came. On March 8th, we got there and the children gave a confident and clear presentation. They taught the Duke students a song they planned. Then they taught another song 《春天在哪里？》 （“Where is spring?”）they just learned because they determined that the university students learned quickly and sang along very well. After that, the Duke students prepared word study activities for our children to learn. They read, wrote, and played games together. Our Duke friends quickly learned the Chinese names of our IMS children. A Duke student gave a short closing speech:“我们很高兴你们今天来。你们的中文很好，我跟你们学了很多东西。谢谢你们！” (“ We are so happy to have you today. Your Chinese is very good, I learned a lot from you. Thank you!”)
A parent said, “I don’t know how to speak Chinese, but it is so wonderful to see how you interact with each other in Chinese.”
Hsieh Laoshi from Duke shared that this class is on the “fast track” for studying Chinese, typically some of them choose Chinese as their major. Both the Duke students and the IMS children have studied Chinese for the same number of years. He commented several times about how well he thought our children spoke Chinese.
Our children, through this year long project, have worked as chefs, farmers, scientists, writers, artists, singers, public speakers, trip planners, storytellers, entrepreneurs, mathematicians and teachers. They were able to appreciate just how much they can accomplish even at their young ages and that they have knowledge to share with others who may be order than they are. Partnerships and experiences like the one between young IMS students and university students at Duke University enrich all of us and impress upon the students the joy and value of sharing and collaboration.
Am I proud of them? Absolutely Yes! More importantly, I learned so much from our IMS Chinese elementary students and look forward to continued learning together.