Culture Shock, Hong Kong (1994)

Before I became involved with my CE trip to China, I have to admit I didn’t have any clue where Hong Kong was. I knew it was part of Asia, but that was honestly about it. (I’ve mentioned before how absurd it is that I’m allowed to be a teacher with my highest level world history class being a 10th grade world culture survey course.)

Hong Kong is on the southern part of the Chinese mainland. You can see it in the lower right part of this map:

Knowing so little about Chinese history, I didn’t understand why Hong Kong was separate from China when they seemed to be part of the same country. The short version is this: After many years of trading with Hong Kong, in 1856-58, the British tried to take over Hong Kong because they wanted to trade opium more freely. In 1898, the British signed a 99-year lease for Hong Kong, which included 232 islands in the South China Sea.

The British government was renting the land from China, but because so many European people wound up living in Hong Kong, the area is commonly seen as more Westernized than mainland China, which didn’t let many Westerners in until the 1980s and 1990s.

I got most of my information about Hong Kong’s history in Culture Shock! Hong Kong, by Betty Wei and Elizabeth Li. The library surprisingly only had the 1995 version, so it was printed while Hong Kong was still a British colony. The book was reprinted in 2008, so I would like to read that version and see what’s different now that China/Hong Kong is back in control. If you visit the Wikipedia page on the history of Hong Kong, you can scroll down to a section that shows what has changed and what has remained unchanged after 1997.

Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The 99-year lease ended on June 30, 1997, and the handover ceremony took place the next day.

According to most of the encyclopedias I checked, it seems that Hong Kong mostly takes care of  its laws and governance, except for its army. So even though China is technically in charge, most decisions happen right in Hong Kong under a policy called “one country, two systems.”

This leads me to an interesting fact that Mr. Chan pointed out to me — in Hong Kong, three banks are authorized to print Hong Kong dollars, the currency of Hong Kong (which is different from the Chinese yuan).

So you might have two bills that are worth the same amount of money, but allegedly they could look completely different! I’m interested to see what this looks like in person — I worry that I might get confused…

Although this is admittedly a highly simplified view of a complex region, I always appreciate any corrections or feedback on points I may have gotten muddled.



Link of the Week!

Our class got into optical illusions after we watched the Golden Cage video by The Whitest Boy Alive. Check this out:

OK, that’s nice, you say. It’s a pinwheel, you say. Funny colors make it kind of trippy, you say. But get this: the green and blue swirls ARE THE SAME COLOR!

True story! Don’t believe me? Check it out here!

Our brains are pretty wild…


Reflections on 2008-09

Just typing in the title of this post made me feel a bit misty. I regret that due to school district Internet policy I can’t share photos of the many incredible things we accomplished this year, but I’ll do my best to help out you visual learners:

My heart is bursting with pride! You did so much this year!

My heart is bursting with pride! You did so much this year!

I, personally, process information best when I have lists. Because it’s my job to figure out how to best help us learn, I put everything in list form so when we come back in September, I have a clear plan to lead us where we need to go!

Let’s celebrate first:

Things we did well this year (as a school, as a teacher, as a class)

  • We were consistently complimented as having exemplary behavior in the hallways, in the library, and in assemblies.
  • We received good sub reports, for the most part.
  • We created and ran Wildwood’s first bookstore!!
  • I made at least two positive family phone calls each week.
  • We piloted The Daily Five!
  • We used Letters to Ms. Houghton for the first time.
  • We piloted the self-manager program!
  • We had a good spiral review system for math.
  • We started math team!
  • We had a year-round track team.
  • I won Wildwood’s Teacher of the Year.
  • We earned more than $200 for our listening library from Donors Choose.
  • We went to the zoo for free!
  • We had several exciting Marble Rewards and writing celebrations.
  • The community of King Lake was introduced to the world through Storypath.

Things I’m looking forward to improving next year

  • More science and social studies! (yes — more Storypath! You don’t actually think I’d teach straight from the textbook, do you?)
  • More rubrics sent home so families know exactly how their students are doing
  • Better behavior reports from music and PE
  • More high-quality art projects
  • Making sure Letters to Ms. Houghton don’t stop after the WASL
  • Using self-managers schoolwide
  • Starting a math team page on the Wildwood Web site so we can post pictures
  • Keeping my area of the classroom neat and tidy
  • Having homework ready by the time school begins in the morning so we can pack it up right away
  • Making sure everyone is in the habit of using planners
  • Using the focus board more effectively
  • Improving the Daily Five and using CAFE strategies
  • Revisiting Afternoon Stations
  • Getting all the books in our classroom cataloged and onto the shelves!

What did I miss? What are you looking forward to? Let me know!

Let’s be proud of all the hard work we did, and excited about what we have ahead of us! And for those of you moving or heading into a different classroom, you will always be a member of our community! I love you, and remember to stay safe.


One Lovely Blog Award

Congratulations, Ms. Houghton’s Class!

We received a One Lovely Blog award from Jess, who writes about her life as a newspaper reporter and as a temporary resident of Germany! To be fair, Jess and I also lived on the same floor in the dorms at Michigan State, and we traveled to the British Isles together in 2003. (Remember what I told you about college giving you friends for life?)

Anyway, one of the terms of accepting the One Lovely Blog award is that we must bestow it upon 15 other bloggers. That seems like a rather large number, so I snipped it down to an even ten. I rely on the work of a lot of great teachers, writers and friends to help come up with ideas for making our class a great place to be! Without further ado, and in alphabetical order…

Art Projects for Kids. If only Kathy Barbro were our school’s art teacher. Thankfully, she makes her lesson plans available for gen ed teachers like me, who need to step into the role of art teacher.

Color Me Katie. I have no clue how she does it, but New York-based artist Katie Sokoler always comes up with whimsical, smart art that fits right into her community. Her work always makes me smile.

A Fuse 8 Production. NYC librarian Elizabeth Bird runs this blog for the School Library Journal. It’s always thrilling to hear from someone so excited, so giddy about books! Plus, she always has great suggestions.

Help Readers Love Reading! Brian is a Wisconsin teacher who shares books he’s had success with in his classroom. I love that his reviews have been test-driven by students!

Huffington Post. My Internet newspaper.

Life with a Little Dog. Many of my newspaper reporting friends write outside the pages of their home publication. I interned at The Gazette of Colorado Springs with Crystal, and we had a delightful time. I enjoy keeping up with her life (and the lives of her critters) in Kansas City.

Made by Rae. I find a lot of great patterns here, and Rae’s a teacher as well! I’m also always dazzled by the fabrics she’s able to find. This blog doesn’t necessarily help me be a better teacher, but it does help me be a well-dressed one… 🙂

Mo Willems Doodles. With such a busy touring schedule, raising a daughter, and continuing to write brilliant books for young (and old) readers, it amazes me that Mo has time to blog.

Planet Esme. I somewhat begrudgingly bestow this award, because although I think Madame Esme fancies herself to be quite the bees’ knees and I’m not interested in inflating her ego any more, I do discover quite a few new and exciting books on her site. Blast.

PS 22 Chorus. Is there a teacher (or human) alive who is not moved, excited, and inspired by this group of 5th graders and their fearless leader? I am so glad that they are getting the national recognition they deserve!

To our recognized bloggers: I understand how busy you are and I certainly don’t expect you to go through your blogroll and recommend 15 others (I know this whole award was probably started as a ploy to get increased traffic), but I wanted you to know we enjoy your work.

Thanks to everyone for being such a great inspiration to me (and to our class)!


Big Orange Vehicle Blog!

I said a while ago that I’d share some more about my previous life as a reporter. Here you go!

Back in 2005, I had just finished my journalism degree at Michigan State.

Commencement speakers! (All from the Honors College)

Commencement speakers! Andy and Vinay are now doctors, Ron was the head of the Honors College, and I became a teacher.

I knew I was going to serve with AmeriCorps in the fall, but my summer was dedicated to cops and courts reporting at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida.

And also fishing.

And also fishing.

I learned a ton about reporting (including the fact that I never, ever, ever again want to call a man to tell him his parents were buried alive), interviewed some amazing people, and met some pretty incredible coworkers.

Jeff Brumley is one such coworker. I used to sit across the aisle from him in the newsroom, and he was always in good spirits, with nerdily interesting facts to share. He was also one of the members of the T-U softball team, the Hacks, to welcome me out into right field.

He’s still holding down the fort as religion reporter at the T-U despite the craziness in the newspaper industry, and he’s still excited about the shuttle launches that happen a few hours south in Cape Canaveral at Kennedy Space Center.

With reporter Dawn Klemish at Kennedy Space Center

With reporter Dawn Klemish at Kennedy Space Center

Jeff also runs a neat blog called the Big Orange Vehicle Blog, which celebrates orange modes of transportation. Orange is the color of his college, the University of Tennessee. (See, ladies and gentlemen, you notice that I talk about going to college even during the summer. Remember that I love you and want you to go to college so you can have a job you love. Going to college gives you a community that you are a part of for the rest of your life!)

Jeff in college and Jeff now.

I found two orange vehicles in Seattle on my way home from a hike yesterday, and Jeff featured them this week! He also said some awfully nice things about me.

The moral of this story is the same as many I tell you during the school year: work hard, be nice, go to college, do awesome stuff, get recognized for your hard work. I love you and miss you!

(Jeff, I hope it was OK that I snagged those pictures…)


2008-09 Read Alouds

Here are the chapter books we read as read alouds this year!

The Whipping Boy
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
The Twenty-One Balloons
Because of Winn-Dixie
Becoming Naomi Leon
The Mayor of Central Park

I’d never done The Twenty-One Balloons as a read aloud before, and I was a little anxious because it’s written at a 6th grade reading level with a lot of obscure cultural references, but they loved it! It was a chance well-taken.


Postcards from Tomorrow Square

James Fallows is brilliant. I first heard about this book on Fresh Air, and it has been a thoroughly investigated, thoughtful account of life and business in China. And of course, it was a great read because Fallows is an irreverent, fun writer.

All of Fallows’ essays are online, but I enjoyed reading them all in one place.

I was saddened to discover many of my bookmarks fell out of the pages I marked for quotes. The ones that remained wound up not being the quotes I was looking for. Here’s an important, one, though, which I pull for my friend who said, “You’ll have to tell me what you think of China, because I hate China.”

Almost everything the outside world thinks is wrong with China is indeed a genuine problem. Perhaps not the most extreme allegations, of large-scale forced organ-harvesting and similar barbarities. But brutal extremes of wealth and poverty? Arbitrary and prolonged detentions for those who rock the boat? Dangerous working conditions? Factories that take shortcuts on health and safety standards? Me-first materialism and an absence of ethical values? All these are here. I’ve met people affected by every problem on the list, and more.

But China’s reality includes more than its defects. More people are far better off than they were 20 years ago, and they are generally optimistic about what life will hold 20 years from now. This summer’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finding that 86 percent of the Chinese public was satisfied with the country’s overall direction, the highest of all the countries surveyed, was not some enforced or robotic consensus. It rings true with most of what I’ve seen in cities and across most of the country’s provinces and autonomous regions, something I wouldn’t have guessed from afar.

One of Fallows essays, “China’s Silver Lining,” which is about pollution in China, is directly related to an article about climate change in this week’s Economist. I love when the books I read actually help me understand complicated current events!


I’m not quite ready to reflect on the school year yet, in case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about my kids. That post is coming, and I wish my students in summer school all the best! (Today’s their first day)