Author Archives: murcha

School Trip to China


Every second year our school organises a trip to China, as mandarin Chinese is taught as our second language. Part of this trip involves a four or five day visit to our sister school at no 27 Beijing. It is offered to students in years 9 and above.

I am fortunate to be one of the supervising teachers in attendance. There are 11 students, 2 staff and four adults who are related to the students. On arrival at the airport, we were met by Mr Wan who picked us up and took us by bus to no 27 school where we were greeted to our official welcome, early lunch and then attended classes. We were given a home room where most of the classes took place.

On that first day, our classes included:

  • Chinese – the historical and modern day importance of a name to the Chinese people
  • Geography – an overview of Beijing. Students then made models of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and Tainmen Square
    Model of the hutong

    Model of the hutong 


Students were then greeted by their host familes who came to the school to pick them up and take them to their homes for four nights. This really pushes students outside their comfort zones as English may not be spoken by the parents or may be very limited. Their homes are tiny compared to our large Australian homes and most Chinese students slept on a couch so that our students could have a bed. The girls especially showed some nervousness about this. All but two families had one child.

The school then treated our staff and adults to a sumptuous meal at a local restaurant  where we enjoyed amongst other amazing dishes – the famous Peking or Beijing Duck. The duck was carved in front of us by the chef!



Successfully introducing classes of different cultures

name Sophie

When classes from two different countries and cultures connect or collaborate for the first time, it can be very difficult to determine the names and gender of the students involved.

My school had a Chinese language assistant teacher  from Shanghai for 12 months several years ago. She introduced herself as Wang Yi,so we called her Wang but after she had left we realised her first name was actually Yi!!! We had been calling her by her last name.

There will be differences in the order of names. In Australia we state our first names followed by our surnames (or last names). In China, students’ last names (or family names) come first then their first name. Some Indian citizens do not have even have a last name just their first name or name of their father which is carried down through generations.

When classes do connect and collaborate for the first time, it is essential for success that teachers share student details with clear headings for first and last (family) name. Pronunciation of the name using a audio would be useful. Gender should also be shared, as foreign names may not convey whether they are a boy or a girl.

If using webconferencing software such as skype, polycom videoconferencing, ghangouts, zoom etc, signs or printouts showing the name of the student (and pronunciation if possible) could be used as the student comes up to the camera.

What tips and hints do you have? How else do names differ around the world?

Outside our comfort zone


School families have been asked to host visiting Chinese students from our sister school in Beijing. Many are reluctant and all are rather nervous. Our community is geographically and culturally isolated so people from different languages and cultures are rare.

Parents are concerned about the following:-

  1. What to feed their visitors? What will they eat and what should they cook?
  2. How will they communicate effectively?
  3. Will the students be bored?
  4. Where should they take the students?
  5. If they go to their room early, are they upset?
  6. How should they fill in the time after school and on the weekend?
  7. Most can only take a single student as they would not be able to transport them in their family car.
  8. Will they mind sharing a bedroom?

This certainly pushes many of us outside our comfort zone? How did it all turn out?  Following are some comments from parents on our school Facebook page:

We experienced an amazing week both Max and Chen taught us so much we now have a greater understanding of their culture and country.

We had such a fantastic experience with Jing Jing staying with us. She is looking forward to seeing Chelsea again next month!

saying goodbye


Contrasting countries/cultures -The things we take for granted!

the group

Hawkesdale p12 College welcomes a visit from our sister school, no 27 Beijing, every second year. Students are placed with host families for 7 nights during their visit to Hawkesdale. They attend school for 5 days of their visit and a special timetable is prepared for them. The aim of their visit is to be exposed to the Australian culture and to be immersed in the English language. Many of the host families live on farms and some live in towns of 150 people or less.

It is not until we host international students that we realise how different we are and how much we take for granted of where we live and learn. Following are some of what we have learnt.

  • Some of the Chinese students have never seen stars
  • A blue sky is a rarity in Beijing and they love our blue skies.
  • Some students have never been exposed to the dark (the lights are always on in Beijing)
  • Many have not eaten with a knife and fork
  • Many have not seen a rainbow
  • Our families are large – most have 3 or 4 children.
  • Our homes are huge cf their small apartments
  • Houses tend to be one storey here – multi-storey there.
  • The countryside and space that we have between houses and farms is the complete opposite
  • There is little traffic ie cars on our country roads but it includes milk tankers, stock trucks and the occasional tractor on the road.
  • Freedom in internet access.
  • Students will be able to ride a horse (which they have only seen in picture books or in a zoo)
  • Many are afraid of dogs and most country families have dogs in Australia.

Australia is a wonderful country to live in and the country areas are great! We were proud to share our country and homes with the students and staff.

in the classroom


Mystery Animal

Video call snapshot 151.png

As our school teaches mandarin Chinese, any connection with a school in China is of special interest. The assistant principal of an Bozhouu International School in China found me on the Skype in the Classroom website.

As we had already completed a mystery skype connection, Richard suggested that we do a mystery animal game this time, using skype as the videoconferencing tool. He had prepared a wonderful sheet to share with the students bearing images of African animals complete with the names in both English and Chinese.
mystery animal1

Following is how it looked:-

  • Each class had previously chosen an animal from the sheet.
  • My students  had printed off their names on an A4 sheet for clearer understanding.
  • Boxhou rang us on skype. There were technical difficulties on their end but all was resolved within 10 mins.
  • Students played paper rock scissors over the camera to see who was to start first. Hawkesdale, Australia won.
  • Students had to ask questions only with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. eg Is your animal grey? Is your animal a carnivore?, does it have a long nose or trunk?  etc.
  • They took it in turns to ask questions and each student would introduce themselves one at a time.

There was much laughter in the classroom on both sides as we tried to understand each other’s accents, names etc. It took approximately 20 mins for each side to actually determine the other’s animals. All the Chinese students stayed in over their recess period to complete the  a second mystery animal.


Student reflections on their individual blogs:-




Technology choice in student outcomes

Kiaras scratch book

Providing students with a set of skills  in  a variety of technology tools and apps is essential. When outcomes  are set,  students should be encouraged to choose the tools for presentation.

Year 8 students were asked to create an animated and interactive digital book for my 2 and 4 year old grandchildren. (See their assignment) They were learning how to create media for different audiences. The animal theme was up to them. Sound and action buttons were to be added to provide extra engagement. The end result was to be embedded as a post on their blog. They were encouraged to use MS Powerpoint for its ease of use and ability to be embedded easily into their blog.

To my delight, one of the year 8 students, Kiara, converted her presentation into Scratch. She added the images as stage backgrounds and  buttons and arrows  as sprites.

Having used Scratch to create games in the GamesNET project with ACMI last year, she has continued to be creative and innovative in its application. See Kiara’s ebook on African Animals 

Compare this with the Powerpoint Presentation from other students Baby Farm Animals by Milla and African Animals by Megan and Farm Animals by Dominic

When English is not a common language!

books on languages

This was topic that I put up for round table discussion at the recent Global Education Day, which was part of the ISTE 2016 conference. The full agenda for the Global Education Day can be found here.

As technology enables teachers/students/classes/community members to become increasingly globally connected, it cannot be expected that all connecting parties will speak English or a share a common language. This leads to different demands in communication and collaborative skills.

This session will encourage participants to discuss, share, interact and take a look at some of the apps, tools and physical ways of ensuring that communication and collaboration can still take place. Looking at challenges and enablers.

Although most participants were interested in working with their own mixed culture/language classroom, the same principles apply with virtually connected students.

Questions to be considered:

  • Why is it important to work around students who are connected but do not speak a common lanugage?
  • Other means of communicating?
  • Where do we find people who do not speak English?
  • Resources available
  • What tools can we use – synchronous and asynchronous to overcome the language barriers?
  • What would/could you put into your grab bag of objects to share local culture?
  • Further tips and hints on being prepared.

Participants at the Global Education Day round table included representatives from 

  • Edutopia
  • The Wonderment – creativity is the common thread
  • 1to1 Learning

A number of individual educators

Students with neurology problems – communication is important for these.


Suggested Apps used for teaching and learning for students who are bilingual within your classroom

Lingro – brand new students who have no English – converts into their own language. How to mediate meaning

Need to be very explicit in connecting visual materials with language.  Tech helps bringing to life eg little farmers, toca nature, age dependent – kinder: framework for basics of how things work in world, little builders etc Break it all down visually in explicit steps.  PBS kids, visuals show timelines, visuals extentuate.

Skype – direct audio translation Tried European languages, Latin America

Figures of speech can cause problems


Autistic kids – stories to tell, bring in the photos, audio. Social stories. Where do I live? Made it personal – pics of sons room, house etc to make personal connections. Could make it cross cultural.

Edmodo, facebook, twitter, google have translation options.

Make videos that are very visual so that anyone of any language can understand that. Takes away from the spoken language. Kids around world, kids create what they like. Biggest problems is to make connections. Language is a form of communication but not the only one. Kids creativity is universal. They all have ideas. Art based, pictures based, what do you hear?

Common Challenges and Strategies – how to group students

What is the common challenge for teaching students of mixed languages:

Often the baggage that comes to classroom, how to create a culture that helps them handle their “baggage” (ie the problems they bring with them from previous experiences).. Students come from war torn countries, some dont have electricity, some are here illegally. What stops them completing their homework etc and how can we overcome that.

Brian’s connections are with refugees, how to preserve culture, figures of speech, how to understand different types of humour, sarcasm – didn’t translate on any and every level. Cultural barriers. Global Education projects – use a variety of technologies that can be tailored to student needs.

System challenge is assessment – regardless of advancement of students, they never get to the top.

Assisted technology is a huge barrier – the classroom cannot be carried over into the community – digital inequity. Disagreement – Columbia has private school – all resources, cf with another school that only has books both achieve well on the standardized tests.Gifted kids from other cultures/languages- how do you meet them. Can’t even assess what they really know.

Multi lingual team in some districts – if one school has more than 20 non-English speaking students, then get language experts to come in for 1 hour per week. Google translate is used – gets ideas across, although translation is not yet fully functional. Get students onto one platform so they can communicate – translation problems, get teachers to be able to access the site.

China cannot access the sites. Google translate does not translate all the alphabets. Trying to meet stakeholders wherever they are. Parent/teacher interviews: greet parents in their language first, then communicate using lots of pictures etc.


Difference  between real time mediating and non real time.

When starting with students at personal level, educators can give support at different levels. Classroom of 60 students, the more you give to enable students to make decisions, the less you have to provide support. Eg crying may indicate being hungry, pain, outside comfort zone etc when kids need you.  Get others to collaborate with those who are good at certain subjects.  Collaboration is key to synchronous learning.

Learning one to one foundation Erika Twani CEO Community and parents want the kids to attain a certain grade but kids new to country it is ok if you try it again. Unlimited ‘redos’. Collaborate collaborate collaborate

The first story that kids will read in class is Romeo and Juliet – come up with ways of teaching it that does not talk about Shakespeare.


Second session –

Apps – google translate – audio conversion. Google translate app on the ipad or android devices- even translates signs overseas – images, audio and text


An idea for collaboration beyond languages

Bi-lingual setting – English and Spanish will look at pattern of shadows – different shadows in different latitudes.

Gnomon Project –

Look at what the shadow does every day for a long time, it will alter. How will it look if other side of equator, north of equator.

Dept of Defence Schools cos they speak English


Collect height of the shadow, length direction, Record as a percentage – 50% is a common language-

Winter vs summer, different hemispheres etc