When Freda Sherman was preparing to participate in a study program in China last month, the Hickory Ridge Middle School social studies teacher was looking at it from a historical perspective.
But once she got there, what captivated her most was the country’s current focus on conserving energy.
That was just one of the things that Sherman said surprised her about her first visit to China, which took place June 16-26.
Sherman and 23 other K-12 teachers from around the state were selected to participate in The Center for International Understanding’s China: Then and Now program, where the teachers visited Beijing, Shanghai and Wuxi.
They saw historical sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. They also looked at businesses in China to see how they were dealing with the surge of the middle class and heard about strategies companies are using for addressing the Chinese market, Sherman said.
When they visited Wuxi, the city’s director spoke of its energy conservation and how the city had to come up with ways for providing energy while also keeping in mind the environment, she said.
They also saw how energy companies are trying to incorporate solar energy into businesses and homes, among other things.
One of the most shocking things in China was the smog, Sherman said. Even though she had heard a lot about it, she said she was not prepared for it.
Because of the smog and state of the environment, her group’s tour guide said people in Beijing can only drive their vehicles on a certain day of the week or they will be fined for it. She said it made her think about what that would be like.
“The Chinese people have had to adjust their (way of) life,” Sherman said.
Sherman said she will use these observations in lessons with her students as they explore China and how the environment has changed the way people live there now. She already plans to have her students look at how they are contributing to the detriment of the environment and find ways to conserve energy.
“One of the themes with social studies is people in their environments, how you interact with your environment and how people change the environment,” Sherman said. “We’ll be looking at that theme of geography.”
Sherman will also be able to share photos and stories about her visits to famous sites there, such as the Great Wall of China.
“I had no idea it was so massive,” Sherman said about the Great Wall. “You don’t understand how high and extensive the wall is until you see it. I was quite overwhelmed.”
Brian Hamilton, assistant principal of instruction at Hickory Ridge Middle, said Sherman’s trip is a great opportunity for students to use 21st-century skills. He said Sherman could upload photos to a storytelling program where students can write observations about the pictures, and they can read the blog she wrote about the trip and respond to it, among other things.
“The kids get to relive the experience with her,” Hamilton said. “We have a unique opportunity here for a full immersion experience.”
“I want them to get as close to my firsthand experience as I did,” Sherman said.
She brought back maps for students to retrace her steps through the cities she visited, artifacts and even a traditional Chinese outfit to dress up in during the upcoming school year.
“With all that I’ve gathered, my goal is to reach every type of learner by providing them with the different experiences,” Sherman said. “I wish I had the opportunity to travel internationally as a kid. I’m trying to get my students as close to it as possible.”
That is the goal of the program, said Meredith Henderson, program director for The Center for International Understanding.