With no set curriculum to teach and no mandatory assignments to give out, I have the latitude to talk about anything that strikes our fancy in class. This is a privilege I am ever grateful for. Now, well entrenched into my 7th year of teaching, I pause to think about the Top Five most appreciated/engaging lessons that are a part of the standard teaching toolbox I have built over the years. These lessons are chosen as 'prime' based on participation and student enthusiasm.
Here they are, in no particular order.
Mental Health and Depression: (Sophomores)
Born of the tragic loss of young actor 桥任梁（Qiao Renliang), AKA Kimi due to suicide last month, and incorporating a lesson on public speaking, the students are to give a persuasive speech on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. After hearing their (limited) knowledge about depression and suicide, I thought it would be a good idea to give them some basics about clinical depression and what to watch for.
I was taken by surprise to see most of my students sitting up and taking notes (or take pictures of the informational slides). Normally, they are not engaged when all I do is lecture. Seeing their interest in this topic convinced me they are thirsty for this type of knowledge.
NOTE: in the course of the public speaking portion of this lesson, I introduce them to Toastmasters International, an organization for those who are interested in public speaking or building their confidence, with clubs all over China. (www.toastmasters.org)
Body Image: (Freshmen)
Modified year by year to reflect the current 'thin is beautiful' craze – last year, it was the A4 paper challenge, this 'show' includes everything from cultural beauty concepts to aesthetic beauty – PHI (pronounced 'fee'), otherwise known as the golden ratio. From calculating body mass index to keeping a food diary. The necessity of body fat is emphasized, as is drinking water for health. Eating disorders are also featured.
The highlight of this presentation is when students are invited to calculate their BMI. A discussion follows about healthy eating habits and how damaging some media ideals of beauty are. The lesson generally wraps up with 'how to keep a food diary'.
Cooking Class: (Sophomores)
What student isn't crazy about food? And who (in China) doesn't want to know about cooking western food? Usually around Thanksgiving, I pack up my oven, implements and some food for a lesson on western cooking.
We start the class by making a fruit cobbler or some cookies, from scratch. While the aroma of baked goods wafts through the room, the students are treated to pictures of a typical western kitchen, and what cooking utensils might be found in it. We then have a 'guess that tool' activity, in which I offer the students measuring cups/spoons, a potato masher, an egg slicer, some silicone spatulas and other tools, and they have to try to guess its use.
And then, we have an egg slicing contest, in which one student slices a hard-boiled egg with a knife, while another uses the egg slicer. Everyone is amazed at how efficient the egg slicer is, and from there, we make egg salad, served with crackers.
I have introduced pasta salad and mashed potatoes in the past, but they got mixed reviews. The most favored dish is macaroni and cheese casserole, baked to a golden brown, with spicy chicken chunks mixed in. For dessert, we enjoy the cake or cookies that had been baking while the fun was going on.
This is, hands-down, the students' all-time favorite lesson.
This is CCTV, Channel 15 news! (Freshmen)
Depending on the size of the class, 6-8 students 'volunteer' – they have no idea what for. I send them into the hall while I tell the remaining students about the day's activity.
In groups of 2 or 3, they are: a family who will not leave their village even though the government has evacuated everyone else; the family of a kidnapped child; scientists who have discovered the Fountain of Life (drink the water and live forever!); plane crash survivors; a gang of thugs who are terrorizing the city; the country's oldest married couple; foreign teachers who have fallen in love in China; students going to Beijing for a conference on education reform; and a famous rock group who will give a concert that night. I give each group a prompt sheet, with questions they might have to answer when interviewed.
While they rehearse their part, I visit the students in the hall. They are reporters who will interview the groups in the room. Each 'reporter' receives a prompt sheet with questions they might ask their interview subjects.
After everyone has had enough time to prepare, the game starts. The reporters and interviewees are not permitted to talk to one another until time to play...
“This is Kathy Krejados, with CCTV, channel 15 news. Today, our top story is...”
As I announce each 'story', the reporter and interviewees come to the front of the room and do their role-play. It is made more fun because I bring props, and the kids love to make use of them!
The last news story is invariably the famous rock group, and usually they will sing a little bit. With that, just as the bell rings, the news anchor signs off: “Thank you for watching CCTV channel 15 news; I'm Kathy Krejados, and we'll see you again for the 6PM newscast.”
Smiles and laughter drift out as the students leave.
The Online Class: (Teaching Majors classes, Sophomores)
This has been, by far, my most ambitious project. Changing from our standard, lecture-style classroom, this series of 6 lessons is held in the school's computer lab. The purpose is to introduce students to resources they might not know are available to teachers.
Here I instruct on proper use of PowerPoint, introducing OpenOffice software (www.openoffice.org), a free office suite comparable to the MS (and better than WPS) office suites.
Fully 2 days are occupied with Quizlet – how to use it and how it benefits teachers and students alike, and another 2 for Wikispaces. The students' assignment is to create a study set of Chinese words for me to learn, using both of those applications (haha!)
The last week is dedicated to Camtasia, as screen-capture video capable software. Their final exam is an assignment: produce a 2-minute teaching video on any topic they choose.
Overall, this teaching gig has tested my creativity to the limits, but it has also given me free reign to explore what can be done in a classroom and how I can help these kids develop a love for learning. I believe I am lucky that I am not expected to be a traditional teacher, regurgitating the same material year after year.
I wonder if, were I to be a 'standard' teacher, if I would keep up the level of enthusiasm and energy I get to project in class? I wonder, if other teachers were to have the same latitude I have, would they deliver their lessons with more zest and zeal than my colleagues currently display?
And sometimes, I wonder: do zest and zeal actually matter when teaching?