Mandarin Chinese teachers are spending 10 days learning to incorporate technology that encourages active learning in their K-12 classrooms at a summer workshop at the University of Colorado.
CU's Teaching East Asia program is hosting its fourth summer workshop for Chinese teachers through a federal grant called STARTALK. The grant is part of an effort to increase the number of Americans learning "critical need" foreign languages.
The workshop, open to teachers nationwide, has 18 participants — but only six are from Colorado.
Jon Zeljo, a senior staff associate with the Teaching East Asia program, said he wants to see more Colorado schools offer Chinese. Challenges include the lack of a central person at the state level who can help with organization and communication and the limited availability of people who are both fluent in Mandarin Chinese and qualified to teach, he said.
"There are a lot of people interested in Chinese programs in schools, but there's no organization or way to communicate," he said. "Colorado is way behind. We're trying to create some momentum where we can get the dialogue going."
Participants in the summer workshop include a teacher at Boulder Valley's Boulder Preparatory High School and two teachers from the St. Vrain Valley School District, along with St. Vrain's Chinese program coordinator.
In Boulder Valley, Fairview High School also offers Chinese, but there wasn't enough interest to keep a class going at Southern Hills Middle School. At least three area private schools also offer Chinese classes — Dawson School in Lafayette, Shepherd Valley Waldorf School in Niwot and Broomfield Academy.
In St. Vrain, coordinator Yinyan Huang said nine teachers are teaching Chinese classes in 12 schools in the fall.
St. Vrain's Chinese program started in the fall of 2008 at Erie High School, expanding to other Erie schools and then to other high schools, with the coordinator position added last school year. St. Vrain's teachers are from China, brought here to teach for two to three years through an exchange program.
Ling Ma, who is teaching Chinese at Altona Middle School and Silver Creek High School in Longmont, said she taught for 16 years in China and wanted a challenge.
"I know I can learn a lot here about different teaching methods," she said.
For students new to the language, she said, she wants to foster an interest in the language culture.
"The interest is the first teacher," she said.
Huang, the district coordinator, said she provides continuity and training, helping the teachers from China learn classroom management skills and what students are expected to learn by the end of the year. She's also a cheerleader, talking the program up to school principals.
"Chinese is the most widely spoken language," she said. "Learning Chinese is a gift schools can give our students. Everybody needs to be prepared to live in a global village."
For the summer workshop, organizers said they chose technology as the theme at the request of past participants. The curriculum was developed in conjunction with CU's Anderson Language and Technology Center and included four Colorado K-12 teachers and a University of Denver professor as guest speakers.
Topics included "flipped" classrooms, where students may watch videos of lectures at home and then spend class time on activities or discussions, and using specific technology tools to create digital tutorials.
Courtney Fell, a CU Spanish instructor who also works at the Language and Technology Center, said the goal is to focus on a small number of "really useful" technology tools for teaching a language.
"If we can immerse students in the language and culture through technology, we can make it real for them," she said.
Julie Zhu, who teaches Chinese to middle schoolers at a private school in Tennessee, said she likes that the workshop concentrates on a few key pieces of technology instead of giving a broad view of everything that's out there.
"We can practice it until we really get it, then we can go home and really use it in our classrooms," she said. "We're all here so we can do the best we can for our students."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Amy Bounds at 303-473-1341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.