UWindsor sister-school program 'life-changing' for local principal

Talbot Trail Public School Principal Chris Mills and University of Windsor's Shijing Xu participate in a Skype call with Ren He Jei Primary School in Chongqing, China.Talbot Trail Public School Principal Chris Mills and University of Windsor's Shijing Xu participate in a Skype call with Ren He Jei Primary School in Chongqing, China.

On a rainy Tuesday evening, educators at Talbot Trail Public School sat in a semi-circle and fixed their gaze on a screen in the library.

Seven geometric shapes of various colours lay scattered in front of each person while on the other side of the world, educators in Chongqing, China began a lesson on Grade 2 arithmetic.

“This has been a life-changing experience for us,” said Talbot Trail principal Chris Mills.

“We are able to learn what works over there and they are learning what works over here.”

The Canada-China Sister School Network is an extension of the Teacher Education Reciprocal Learning program, which works to create a shared learning experience for schools in Canada and China.

Developed by University of Windsor’s Shijing Xu and University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s Michael Connelly, the program is operated in partnership with the Greater Essex County District School Board, Southwest University in China and schools in Chongqing.

On Tuesday, educators at Ren He Jie Primary School instructed their Canadian peers to make any shape using the seven geometric pieces (known as tangrams). If one sailboat consisted of seven geometric pieces, then how many pieces would be required for two sailboats? It’s a technique used at the Chinese school to teach students in Grade 2 multiplication.

“We really want to see what the strengths are in each system and what we can learn from each other,” said Faculty of Education professor Dr. Xu.

“By interacting with one another, we can build something new, generate new knowledge and develop new strategies.”

Staff from Talbot Trail Public School cut out a tanagram for a lesson in Grade 2 arithmetic from their peers at Ren He Jie Primary School in China.

Staff from Talbot Trail Public School cut out a tanagram for a lesson in Grade 2 arithmetic from their peers at Ren He Jie Primary School in China.

Talbot Trail is involved in the sister school project along with Eastwood Public School, Kingsville Public School, Prince Edward Public School, Queen Victoria Public School, West Gate Public School and Walkerville Collegiate Institute.

Each school has a different topic of focus, with Talbot Trail focusing on math.

Mills first got involved in the program while working at Glenwood Public School and said he initially thought they would be teaching more than learning.

Since then, Mills and other teachers from Talbot Trail, have had the opportunity to visit the school in Chongqing.

“One of the things we all noticed was how similar the lessons are,” Mills said, adding he thought teaching techniques would be different because of larger class sizes.

“There were about 50 students in the classroom, but we still saw a lot of partnered learning.

“One of the things we really liked was the consolidation piece where the children had to explain what they learned at the end of every lesson.”

Mills and his staff liked the idea so much, it was discussed at Talbot Trail’s most recent school improvement planning meeting with the intention to incorporate it into lessons starting next year.

Since Chongqing is ahead by 12 hours, the monthly Skype meetings take place at the local schools at 7:30 a.m. or 7:30 p.m.

Along with the pedagogical skills, Xu said the partnership provides teachers and students with the opportunity to share their own cultures.

“We need to understand how children learn in their home country and what the culture and traditions are behind it,” Xu said.

“If you understand the culture better, then you understand the home to school connection.”

Visitors to Talbot Trail Public School are greeted by a display of mementoes from the exchanged visits of staff from Talbot Trail and Ren He Jie.

Photographs, hot pot seasoning and a banner with Chinese calligraphy tell of a partnership that has strengthened into a friendship.

“Shijing asked after I went to China if I would ever send my daughter to China,’” Mills said.

“I wouldn’t have thought that before but after seeing how we were treated and how everything was handled I would in a heartbeat want my daughter to be part of that program.”

Research on the program is funded by a seven-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council partnership grant.

Xu said the program, which started in 2010, also provides Canadian teacher candidates with a learning and research opportunity in China. Every year, students from the University of Windsor spend three months at Southwest University and Chongqing while a group of SWU students spend three months in Windsor.

For more information about the program, visit www.reciprocal-learning.ca.

Educators from Ren He Jie Primary School in Chongqing, China lead a lesson on Grade 2 arithmetic for staff at Talbot Trail Public School.

Educators from Ren He Jie Primary School in Chongqing, China lead a lesson on Grade 2 arithmetic for staff at Talbot Trail Public School.

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