Innovative curriculum makes hard lessons fun

The transition from kindergarten to life in primary school can be difficult, even traumatic, for children and parents alike.
Ti Gong

Students from a Baoshan District primary school investigate their local communities.

The transition from kindergarten to life in primary school can be difficult, even traumatic, for children and parents alike.

Some primary schools were asked in November to come up with innovative ideas and build a curriculum based on experiment, inquiry and games, instead of traditional classes.

Such has been the success of the program that it is to be expanded next semester from 16 pilot schools to all primary schools in Huangpu District.

Schools select meaningful themes from students’ real lives and build holistic learning units around them. Through what often seems like play, kids learn to explore their environment and society by building good habits of behavior, study and socializing.

In creating a learning environment where children can experience the real world, schools can use a variety of methods to assess progress, including recordings, discussions, presentations and the real results of practical tasks.

At New Putuo Primary School in Putuo District, Friday afternoons, when the new-style classes take place, have become a time of great excitement for first and second graders. The theme this week is “dandelions.”

“Dandelions are very common and can be seen almost everywhere on our campus,” said Shou Junmei, the school principal.

“Students learn about the plants, find where they grow best and try to work out why. They make guides to tell their schoolmates how to best take care of them. They also make pictures to decorate the classroom.”

On close inspection, a task that may at first seem trivial, is found to involve reading, writing, counting, science, teamwork, art, creativity and a sense of genuine purpose.

At Baoshan No. 1 Central Primary School in Baoshan District, students are being “community owners.” They are carrying out field investigations in communities around the school — observing the environment, interviewing residents and officials, collecting information and finding good and bad practices. They show their findings through pictures, performances and writing.

They even went so far as to develop proposals for improvements to the communities and staged warmly received performances for senior residents.

“We have learned a lot,” said Lu Juefei, one of the students. “We had to talk to a lot of people and I learned to respect others and not to quarrel.”

“I used to be too shy talking to strangers, but I gradually became braver and became more confident,” said another student Wen Xinyi.

Shanghai Education Commission believes the program has been very helpful to students trying to adapt to primary school. It has increased both their interest in learning and their study skills. Teachers can see the importance of such classes and reportedly enjoyed developing their own skills in designing activities.

“Kids gain a lot through fun and games in kindergarten, but in primary school, they have to do so much more. They have to expand their experiences and develop their study skills, imagination and range of behavior,” said Tan Yibin, deputy director of teaching research at the commission.

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