Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Are You Ready For The Summer?"

So this summer camp wasn't exactly "Meatballs."

Instead of cabins, we had classrooms. Instead of lakes, we had lessons.

And there was no Bill Murray, aside from the bit of him I always carry in spirit.

But we still had plenty of fun!

Let's back up for a moment. 

Usually, I would be spending late July and early August visiting family and friends in America. This year, of course, is different because of COVID-19. If I were to leave China on my U.S. Passport -- even though I own a home and have a valid residence permit in China -- I would face the same fate as one of my co-workers, who's been stuck in the Philippines since January.

So, toward the end of the regular school year, our company floated the idea by us: How would we like to spend a couple of weeks teaching at the local educational summer camp they run?

After I went to an early meeting and showed interest, my picture made it into some early marketing that went out to students and their parents. How did I know? My friend Julia texted me to say her son Leo had seen my picture, and now he wanted to go to the camp!

At that point, I pretty much had to commit.

The camp itself was 10 full-time days over two weeks, but it really turned out to be three weeks of work. Before camp started, meticulous lesson plans had to be submitted covering each of the 33 class periods I'd be teaching, and then I had to prepare for those classes.

Most of my classes would be specifically for my "homeroom" group of kids, but I was also assigned a Culture class that I'd teach four additional classes. How could I represent American culture in a way that would be both appealing and accessible to 9- and 10-year-old children? I struggled with that for a while, until the thought hit me -- kids love cartoons! And while animation is entertaining, it is often designed with lessons in mind, whether it's exposing viewers to new facts on a show like "Dora the Explorer" or the moral to the story of a Disney movie.

If I was going to talk about animation, I knew I had to get them hooked quickly -- and the way I did that was by producing two videos: a six-minute "history of animation" video and a shorter one in which some of my American friends' kids talked about the current cartoon characters they like the most.

(I am sharing the "history of animation" video with you here, but I promised my friends I'd keep their kids' appearances in the classroom only... no Internet. Sorry!)

There was also a short book I'd be teaching in a Reading class, and the "reading video" provided was woefully poor, so I created a new version of that, too.

So, even before camp began, I'd spent a full week getting things ready to go.

This was my classroom. All of the rooms were named after prominent U.S. universities -- Princeton, Yale, Harvard, etc.

Mine was the only one with the requisite Chinglish misspelling: Standford.  🤣🤣🤣

My classes were broken up into six different subjects: Culture, Reading, Oral Practice, Listening, Drama, and Dubbing. 

Dubbing can be a lot like karaoke. In fact, sometimes it can be karaoke: In two of my Dubbing classes, I had them learn and sing songs from Disney movies, since lyric videos and videos with instrumental versions were easy to find. "Let It Go," "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," and "I'll Make a Man Out of You" were all big hits. However, they surprisingly hated "A Whole New World." Some of the kids even said it would make them run to the toilet and vomit if they had to sing it. 

In the other Dubbing class, they learned a classic Spongebob Squarepants scene about chocolate. They LOVED that one -- especially getting to shriek "Chocolate! Chocolate!" at the top of their lungs.

Six of the girls in class singing "Let It Go."

Culture, as I mentioned earlier, revolved around animation. After showing them the videos and talking a little bit about why animation is such a special artform, I let them loose with their imaginations, challenging them to come up with their own animated characters, then coming to the front of class to talk about their creations. There were definitely some pretty cool ones!

Oral Practice and Listening kind of blended together. Some of the classes were based on a text, with chapters on weather, best friends, work, and free time. But other classes were activities I had to devise on my own. I won't go into all of the lessons, but I'll hit a few of the high notes.

When we did the "Work" chapter, I had them do an exercise called "Draw Your Dream," where they envisioned themselves in the careers they hoped to have as adults. Again, got some really nice work from the students on that.

For a listening exercise, I went into the activity room during lunchtime and laid out a couple of courses in tape. Students paired up in groups of two. One would wear a blindfold, the other would be the guide. And using only words, the guide would lead the blindfolded partner through the course as quickly as they could, with time penalties for stepping on or over the lines marking the courses. They loved this! They even wanted to do it a second time, but another teacher had commandeered the activity room during that period.

When we did a class about deductive logic, they loved playing a "20 Questions"-style game and didn't want to stop. We kept it going through their snack time as they ate! We did an "echo" game, where students worked in pairs and had to mimic each other, adding a new word or gesture to the sequence each time. 

But the text also opened up the opportunity for some more profound discussions, too. During the "best friends" unit, we were asked to predict which people might be best friends, based solely on their pictures. When the book revealed the answers, they weren't at all what we might have expected, which brought us a great opportunity to talk about the phrase "you can't judge a book by its cover," how it's not the things we see that draw people together as best friends, but the things we feel. 

The Reading class text was a picture book called "Be Polite and Kind," which is kind of self-explanatory -- good manners vs. bad manners. Of course, they loved when I acted out the "bad manners" part of it, especially "grumpy grumbly man."

The Drama class was aimed at putting together a presentation that would be part of the camp's closing ceremonies. Since I had to come up with the activity well before camp started, I had no idea what the students' English levels would be, so I decided to do something on the easier side, but with a twist: I wanted them to not only read "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish," but also re-imagine the book as the illustrators of their own lines. 

It turned into another great arts & crafts project, with some great creativity from the students.

Then we rehearsed our lines and choreography prior to the big closing ceremony!

After the closing ceremony, we went back to the classroom, handed out completion certificated, and took pictures. It was a nice, relaxing way to end things. (We even got one last snack.)

While I missed getting to see my family and friends in America this summer, this certainly filled the time that would have been vacation in a fun way.

Since I usually work with high school students midway through their teens, I get to see a lot of the angst that accompanies those years in class. But that's not the case with 3rd graders. So much fun, so little drama! Granted, they can be a handful, and they can be loud at times, but you also get to see a lot of that youthful exuberance. And, of course, it helped that we all hit it off really well.

I'll miss this group of kids. Though I wonder if I might wind up seeing some of them again in several years...


  1. I love how you have documented this well planned and executed with beautiful pictures outlining the different subjects and student involvement/projects. The videos you produced for the class were excellent too! If you don't mind, I'd like to borrow the animation one as a springboard into animation in my Film Studies class. As a teacher, I appreciate all the time and effort you put into planning for your classes that so often goes unnoticed, but the results are truly rewarding, as I can see in the joy on the faces of those children!

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