UbD in China

How do you say Essential Question in Mandarin? 

We now know, thanks in part to our project in Beijing working with 300 Chinese educators!

The Beijing educational system turned to UbD™ as part of a nationwide commitment to increase the development of critical and creative thinking, as part of China’s drive to modernize its educational system and workforce.

The hospitality we were shown was delightful – and humbling. The Beijing Opera, a Mongolian dinner and show, an Emperor’s meal in a converted 300-year old royal guest house, a guided tour of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace – these were just a few of the many stimulating sites and experiences we had.

We were amazed and humbled by was the work ethic of the Chinese teachers. Not only did they give up 6 days of winter vacation; not only did they work from 9 to 4 each day with us: they met for an hour or more after we left to go over the work of the day in teams, and did homework each night (that the Principals checked!). We would then arrive in the morning to receive our Powerpoint – in English and Mandarin – with their questions from the postmortem session, typically totaling 20 or more excellent inquiries. Then, during workshop exercises or breaks, they peppered us with more questions or a desire to have us critique their emerging unit designs. (In addition to the 2 official translators, one of a dozen teachers of English from the 3 schools was always at hand to translate.) If this attitude is typical of Chinese teachers it won’t be long before they have a world-class educational system.

A poignant and revealing moment came in the closing ceremony, where 4 teachers were asked to give speeches discussing their reactions to the work and the week. All spoke of their amazement of our ability to answer questions spontaneously on the fly, and to make them feel respected as learners, thereby. One male math teacher began his remarks with an off-the-cuff reflection on teaching this way. But then he told us that he would now read his ‘real’ speech! He had been so taken by our unscripted talk that he wanted to try it himself publicly.

As happens when people come together to work together our own learning was intense. There was one inescapable Enduring Understanding from our extraordinary experience: Intellectual understanding is impossible without openness to cultural and social understanding.