School Without Walls: Mapping Mandarin Language Experience in New York

He who is not yet informed persists in the curiosity of his gaze, displaces his angle of vision, reworks the first ways of putting together words and images, undoes the certainties of place, and thereby reawakens the power present in each of us to become a foreigner on the map of places and paths generally known as reality.

-Ranciere’s Short Voyages to the Land of People

The rethinkED team has kicked off the fall working with the Mandarin teachers in the Middle and Upper Schools at Riverdale.  The overarching aim of the project is to help students find opportunities to use their language skills outside the classroom using technology to record the interactions. This aim is not specific to World Language programs, but also builds students’ abilities to map their learning experiences in their own unfolding lives in their community.

The project came out of a desire on the part of the Mandarin language teachers to increase student awareness of native Mandarin speakers in their own city.  The feeling amongst the teachers was that students perceived Mandarin as a language spoken only in the classroom or far away.  The teachers also hoped to improve student fluency and develop their colloquial speech (as opposed to their textbook speech) by having them speak more with Mandarin speakers.

Working with two Mandarin teachers at RCS, the rethinkED team interviewed, brainstormed ideas, developed a proposal, and ultimately a prototype of an interactive map and a class blogging site with the teachers where students could go both to record the places where they spoke or encountered Mandarin in New York and blog about those experiences through video, audio, photo, and text.
The virtual interactive map allows students to individualize their learning experience by recording specific speaking interactions, and it allows the students to locate those experiences on a visual and sharable map that can be passed on to incoming grades. In turn, the map and blog allows students to visualize and interact with the earning of other students, allowing them to learn and grow more from their classmates’ experiences as well.

The first phase of this project was to:
1. teach students about the value of mapping and blogging about language/ cultural experience in their home city.
2. give students the tools to map and blog about experiences with Mandarin in the city.

In summary, Google Maps is a tool that allows you to navigate global maps and gather information. It is interactive, which means that you can drag and change directions, plot information and switch views to gather different data — geographical, roads, even visuals of streets.

Google Maps can be shared and edited much like Google docs, so that teams can collaborate and post experiences, reviews, or images. We used Google Maps to create the interactive map for this project. Each class has its own map, but all the Mandarin students have access to all the class maps so that younger students can see the places and more advanced blog entries from older students. When the younger students move on to more advanced courses, they will be able to build on the existing maps that their predecessors have already started.

The second phase of the project is to:
3.  visit Columbia University and to offer students the opportunity to speak with native Mandarin speakers, who will lead the students on a tour of the campus.

The maps–along with the text, videos, and photos in the blogs–become a portfolio of experience and work that the students and teachers can evaluate together to assess learning over time and place.


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