Want Tech in China? Start With a “Special Zone”

The morning of meeting our Chinese elementary head, I went to a Chinese-English teacher for advice. This was a continuation from a day earlier when I told him that I believe our elementary leadership had one feeling toward integrating technology tools, fear. What he said yesterday morning has stuck with me since. He said that, though he is in strong support of what I’m doing, he has the same fear because of a situation that happened last year. A student published information on QQ publicly for his peers to read on a topic not appropriate for their age. It’s stories like these and countless others that have me as a teacher strongly believe that we as educators should be guiding the youth in a direction of positive use of the tools they’ll need to operate for professional and personal reasons.

Thus, Thursday afternoon this week, the head of our elementary and I firstly went over the vision of the school taken from the school website.

“We strive to provide a holistic education by uniquely combining national and international curricula with character building and cultural experiences. We endeavor to help students recognize and fully develop their optimum selves spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, aesthetically, and socially so that he or she may become lifelong learner and responsible citizen who can influence our society and community positively for the long term”

We quickly got into details because I asked how we were providing “cultural experiences” and carving our students into “responsible citizens.” We talked specifics and then I was able to emphasize how our school admin could be using WeChat, Weibo, and/or QQ for branding and a for a reason Eric Sheninger always says. “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” This, along with a few other points, were well worth mentioning because of cultural differences in education. Though this was the case, I made it a point to draw her attention to the fact that obtaining the tools necessary for better, more improved student learning is a worldwide issue because “the Internet age” (as one of my student’s dubbed the present) is much more global than it ever has been. It’s not just a US problem.

Now, for teacher-to-teacher communication, the stumper came when I asked how we teachers are able to still actually get on the internet even while there is no wifi. She didn’t know. Our elementary director said she hadn’t thought of that before so I had to tell her because it happens daily. It’s the reality. Yes, students will possibly work ways around sites blocked and other mumbo jumbo, but funny enough, so will teachers. And we do. If we want it bad enough, we’ll get it. Thank you, 3 and 4G. 😉 What to keep in mind is how things may work top down in China. The Firewall likes to keep certain past events sensitive, and for the case of our admin and not to get kicked out of the country, I respect that. This had me understand why she as our leader came off with a slightly controlling manner when we spoke briefly last week. It also has me pondering how the school admin will respond in the future. This is where the key to unlock possibilities lies. We cannot, at a private Chinese school, have Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) on our computers and devices and use American IP addresses. The government and Internet won’t work that way. What we will have to do is coordinate collaboration & communication through avenues different from that of the norm, Twitter and Facebook. Whatever it takes, right?


How will this happen?

Remember how I said I met with teacher who said things I would keep in the back of my mind? That convo continued to an idea he had. Back during the Revolution, Deng Xiaoping put into action the idea of starting new economic ideas in a small contained environment called 特区, or Special Economic Zones. There were many cities like this around China at that time, but for our case, it will probably be just one. One classroom, or “special zone,” will be where we test out for teachers to integrate tech with simultaneous student usage. And as former Chairman Hu Jintao said on the 30th anniversary of the SEZ, these areas need to “be bold in reform and innovation in their roles as “first movers.”” I totally agree so I plan to quote Chairman Hu to our school admin and hope that there will soon come a time when Chinese teachers can collaborate with one another and use mobile learning tools to guide students while admin can be mouthpieces for the school and the students will learn with 21st century education and skills in mind. To my surprise, the Chinese elementary head agreed with all of this and more because she knows our students are growing up digital natives. Now, she said, it will take convincing the rest of the admin and putting much more focus on improving our resources. But we need to start somewhere and starting with a “special zone” will be best since we currently have weak signals and connections as well as just one tech worker for a K-12 school with over 600 students.

Up to this part in the journey, I cannot thank enough people for your support, but I shall start my list now since I know the resources and encouragement come from around the globe and the team is ever-increasing. In no particular order:

Eric Sheninger – @E_Sheninger
Scott Capro – @ScottCapro @BFC530 #BFC530
Ritu Sehji – @rsehji
Rosy Burke – @rosy_burke
Jessica Raleigh – @TyrnaD @BFC530 #BFC530
Michael Boll – @autismpodcast
Chris Carter – @christocarter
Ryan Harwood – @rharwood17
and many more, especially a couple vital teachers at my school… THANK YOU!

We’re not done yet. And for the sake of the students, we’ll continue to “be bold” as the “first movers.”


One Small Step for a Chinese School…

I include this first post of a series on my personal site for a couple reasons:
1) I work at a private Chinese school (and this blog is about Chinese culture), and
2) for more communication since Schoology‘s blog will only let users comment. Speaking of comments, once sending out the below original question to the world for assistance, tens of people have reached out with hearts that have the same passion and care for my students. This crowd has come from the U.S., Australia, Korea, China, and beyond while it’s not just teachers. Ed tech game changers, American education influencers, Apple Distinguished Teachers, Google Ed Trainers, superintendents, and much more have retweeted, made suggestions, and shared resources in the midst of collaboration.

It’s been a blessing in the midst of an inner struggle. Where is “inner peace” when you need it? Sorry, Kung Fu Panda, not this time…I’m not giving up or in because good is not good enough.

(See the full conversation of @shyj and me here)

After I finished Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, I picked up Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Maybe this was a bad transition in my reading material, but Sheninger has quoted Pink in the book and webinars and I’m quite interested in motivation since I teach elementary-aged Asians in a private Chinese school where 95% or so of the students are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The more I’ve gotten through Drive, the stronger my belief has grown in the necessity of mobile learning tools, their relation to modern life/jobs, and how much fire can actually reside and be tapped into within one’s innate motivation. Not to mention, if teachers don’t take the opportunity to train the students to become well-rounded citizens, which includes being a digital one, who will? As all of the Chinese staff have reminded me so far, the students’ parents don’t know how to guide them. Playing games is the priority of a tool that could foster one’s love of learning. I’d like to change that since Candy Crush can only teach you so much. 😉 Hence, the above question was asked of me after sending out an SOS.

Yes. My students rely solely on curriculum, teachers, and dictionaries for their language learning. We have one TV and computer in the classroom, but only the teacher is really allowed to use these. A computer lab/class is where basic skills are learned and then games or social media (point made?) take place. What then can be done to further the educational abilities of our students? Well, I believe we first need wifi.


And since our administration doesn’t believe wifi can be beneficial, I’m going to meet with them to display and discuss the endless positive possibilities. I just hope not to overwhelm them with the experiences I’ve had over the past few days alone as well as the last few years. And that’s one of the hardest parts about all of this…feeling alone at school yet consistently connected with hundreds outside of it and the country. But I’m encouraged because I know many of you are behind me. My students will be very pleased to know this and to see your support. I show them and my peers at times via my VPN.

Around ten of those 6th graders helped me make a movie to be presented to the admin next week with English and Chinese because they’re all in for change. As a Chinese colleague reminded me, students are not their real selves in front of the admin. I knew this thus I had the students find me personally to record short videos of themselves providing reasons why we should have wifi. And some of these students stand out by standing up so I admire them even if they’re 11-12 years old. They have grit. They have a gut that tells them there must be a more modern way of learning, and they’ll do whatever it takes. As Chris Carter put it so eloquently above, a few of the students have spoken plainly and frankly for our school leaders. One even stood in front of a book case and said that with the internet, he can know or search for anything. Without it, he is limited to only what is in on his desk.

Keep the conversations going…because #internetmatters, especially for ELLs in China.

a cellphone

(We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogs on Culture Shock in China to bring you this short story…)

My wife and I were shopping for baby supplies at Target a few days ago. It was going smoothly, and the excitement inside me was building while I was daydreaming at the same time. I kept imagining a little critter at all these different stages and ages that my wife and I were discussing. I even got to pick out my favorite outfit for the boy. Oh yea, some of you may not know. We’re going to have a boy! At least that’s what the Chinese hospital told us, and we’re assuming they wouldn’t joke or lie about this since the gender is something nationals actually aren’t allowed to know before the birth.

With random thoughts popping in and out like a Chuck E. Cheese game, a young girl’s voice came out of the blue.

“I want… I want… I want a cellphone.”


I should have walked away and tried getting my mind off topic by talking with my wife, but the conversation between the girl, her father and grandma was too funny to be true and it didn’t stop there. The grandmother pointed the sentence out over and over to the shopping father and how it was a full sentence. The father then stopped and asked the grandma to write this down. The girl was “2 years and 3 months old,” and this was one of her first full sentences. In fact, it may have been the first one. I’m not quite sure because of not catching but just a gist. Following this, the grandma asked the girl to say “daddy.” It took the girl several times before she responded.

By now I’m sure you’re thinking, that’s socially unacceptable. Who would drop eaves and then blog about it? And you know what? You are right! I tell this story though to make a point. What do I want my child’s first word, first sentence to be? I won’t be able to control everything, and I don’t mean the technology issues. Right now, I’m reading a book called The App Generation. I’ve been poring over the book to understand my students better, but it seems that much of what’s been stated thus far has been quite relatable. Reality check! What I really mean is that I won’t be able to create my boy’s firsts, and I don’t want to try and live through him. Sure I had my wife buy an All Star outfit for him, and I would be lying if I said it was because it was “cute.”


Raising our child his first year in China will be interesting to say the least. We’ve seen it firsthand. In months it will be our turn, Lord-willing. What will our boy want? What will I want for him? I can tell you one thing. My cellphone won’t be at my side at all times for him to see because what I want will be in my arms and in my heart.

A Child-Like Change

Last Saturday, I went to meet a student. I shared with her how hard it is for me to celebrate birthdays and holidays because they remind me of how I should be the other 364 days in the year. Examples I gave included Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. I then proceeded to ask what she thought about this. “Good question.”

I thought so too because it’s been what has triggered my Scrooge mentality for years.

Then, she said, “but on days like Thanksgiving, I think we can be more thankful.” Okay… I hadn’t heard that before, or at least I hadn’t been willing to hear it. The more I chewed on this conclusion, the harder it was to forget. I couldn’t let those words go. The following day’s (Sunday) afternoon was when the excitement and joy hit me. In my heart, I realized what I had been doing for years was hurting the relationships I have with people. Why? Because I wasn’t looking into others’ love languages. I was being selfish and not thinking about the joy that others could be experiencing with gifts, time together, etc.

The thoughts continued to flood in… Continue reading

Hot and I Don’t Care

Currently, I am at a local friend’s house in the midst of studying Chinese. He is in the middle of studying English. I’m sure he has been doing it for over an hour or two since he keeps murmuring while looking at his phone dictionary, and the paper he is writing on is covered front and back. The words he is using are ones I don’t even know, and they would probably be used by my grandma in a wicked game of Scrabble. And they call me an “English teacher” (ha!). I’m here reviewing my Chinese, and my wonderful Anki tells me that I’ve crammed 625 vocabulary cards in 48 minutes. I need to take a break. I think my brain is swelling.


A thought came to me this morning as my wife and I walked to the school cafeteria for lunch. I need to speak Chinese. As soon as I walk out of our apartment, I need to speak Chinese. Some of you may say, “No, you don’t.” But I think it would just be a waste for me not to learn the language. It just happened to hit me even more today. At times, it’s been a struggle using another language. It’s been a little difficult also when simply walking down the road in 30˚-40˚C weather (that’s 86˚-104˚F for those doing the conversion in your head). To arrive at my friend’s place, I had to walk 400 meters or so, and by the time I reached here my shirt was already drenched with sweat. Even though my friend’s air conditioning isn’t on, I don’t care. Water seems to be at the forefront of my mind more than usual, and it’s either embrace the sweat or complain about it. I’ll choose the former.

Speaking of not caring, when I was with a Chinese friend yesterday I asked about the police signs posted above the roads and what they meant. My friend chuckled, defined that particular one, and said, “Nobody reads those.” I pressed even further and questioned if anyone reads the partnering signs that include encouraging phrases, quotes, and proverbs for all to see and take in deeply. “I don’t think so.” Then, just for fun, I asked if the government officials read them. “I hope they do.”

What does that mean? I have yet to inquire, but I do know that my friend and I both have things we don’t care about.