Silkworms and Calligraphy

The annual China Expo brings the whole Lower School together to celebrate Chinese culture.

It’s time for the yearly China Expo, and the 4th grade classrooms are filled with experts on the country’s history and culture. Eye-catching exhibits can be found wherever you look—topographical maps, miniature terra-cotta warriors, real silkworms, posters depicting Chinese words and the Buddhist Eightfold Path, and many other intriguing displays.

One of the things that sets the Lower School apart from other elementary programs is the Chinese curriculum, which students begin in 4th grade and may continue all the way up through 12th. Over the course of the year, 4th graders become acquainted with the basics of the Chinese language, learning to write as well as speak, and do an intensive study of ancient Chinese culture. The Expo—an exciting annual exhibition that began in its current form in 2015—is a chance to share their knowledge and know-how with parents and younger students alike.

Edith Zhang co-teaches the 4X class with Barbara Davison and is also the Chinese teacher for the entire 4th grade. After Edith and her fellow 4th grade teachers took a life-changing trip to China through a faculty venture grant, they were inspired to make the Expo more interdisciplinary than it had previously been, crossing history with science and art.

Kathryn Bauman-Hill, who co-teaches 4Z with Joyce Olagunju, elaborates. “The trip to China broadened the possibilities and viewpoints of how we looked at the Chinese historical experience,” she says. “We focus on perspective, which kids use as they develop an understanding of their Expo project; the balance between nature and progress; and innovation, which is a large lens through which we look at ancient civilizations and China.”

Students have a wealth of ideas and topics to choose from for the exhibition. “It’s really a culmination of what they did all year,” says Edith. “They think about what they’ve studied, set up their booth or exhibition, bring in props or make them themselves, and borrow items from the Chinese collection we have here at school,” she says. “They think about who their audience is, from four-year-olds to grandparents, and decide how to prepare their talk. They have games for the little guys and lectures for the grown-ups.”

Marne Manoukian, co-teacher of the 4Y class with Adam McNeil, stresses the many ways students choose to present their topics. “For example, our Antiques Roadshow exhibit was presented by ‘auction experts’ on Shang Dynasty artifacts,” she says. “An exhibit on Daoism was very peaceful, surrounded by examples of simplicity and nature. The Silk Road exhibit involved an exciting and challenging game incorporating the risks that travelers along the Silk Road took. The calligraphy exhibiters invited younger students to begin their writing practice with simple characters.”

All these lessons, Kathryn adds, are reflected in the Expo. “The kids wanted to make their exhibits interactive. In one, they have people trying to match dragon parts together; in another, you play a quick ‘would you rather’ game about which Chinese invention you’d most like to have. There are models of the terra-cotta warrior army and a station where kids get to be archaeologists.”

Because students work so hard to prepare the expo, it’s no surprise that the event is invariably a success. Younger students love being taught about China by the 4th graders they look up to, and the 4th graders relish having expert knowledge on their subjects.

“Students must really learn about a topic to be able to teach it,” says Marne. “This is such an uplifting way for them to finish the year, feeling so confident with their knowledge, having successfully shared it with others, and having had great fun doing it.”

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