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SAS Microcampus Allows Students to Learn Outside the Walls

May, 2012
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An exciting new program has become a reality at Shanghai American School (SAS).

On Saturday, March 17th, a group of grade 8 SAS Puxi students left Shanghai, departing for a month-long learning adventure in southwest China’s Yunnan province. These 11 students and their three chaperones, with the help of the internationally recognized Linden Centre (www.linden-centre.com), set out to live and learn in the small village of Xizhou, located 2,000 meters above sea level in the shadow of the Cangshan Mountains near the shore of Lake Erhai, outside of Dali.

During their time at the Microcampus, students used laptops and distance-learning applications in order to honor the existing SAS curriculum. The program would clearly not be viable in the long-term if students simply “missed” a month of their schooling. On the other hand, all parties involved in the planning process – teachers, student, parents, and administrators – recognized that there would be little sense in sending students to a small village 2,000 kilometers away only to have them bound to the traditional limitations of the “four walls” of the classroom. Regular classroom teachers were very supportive in developing plans for the absent students and making thoughtful choices about the most important skills and concepts to be learned while students were away. In addition, the students were given tremendous flexibility in the options available to achieve those academic goals.

In the weeks leading up to their departure, each student explored several topics of particular interest that might become the focus of an intensive investigation, (the inquiry project), during their time in Xizhou. Topics selected ranged from local fish farming operations, to textile production, to photographic comparisons between Shanghai and the students’ new home. Students developed partnerships with experts in and around Xizhou, and spent more than two hours a day learning alongside local students as they performed authentic, interesting, and important roles in their community. In the process, students made meaningful connections with the Bai people, the main ethnic group of the area.

Microcampus students also participated in a service-learning component in which each student chose an active elder in the community and prepared a short biographical sketch of that community member’s life. As the community ages and these stories begin to disappear, SAS students will be capturing and preserving these important memories. Community members were invited to view these short sketches, and they are available for viewing at a local museum that is being developed in honor of the village’s historical connection with the Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group who erected a navigation station in Xizhou during World War II.


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