Sunday, June 19, 2011

School Days-- A Day in the Fifth Grade

O-Soji... The Honorable Cleaning;-)

Once a year the kids have school on Saturday-- an "open house" day when moms and dads can drop in any time during the day to watch their kids' classes.  Fortunately everybody recovered from colds that have plagued us all week (all three of my boys home for the last three days-- Koshi, Teddy, and Papa--in case anybody was wondering where I went;-), so Yokohamapapa and I were able to go watch classes all day.
I always especially like watching the kids during Cleaning Time after lunch and recess (in that order)--it's so different from my experience in school, both as a student and as a teacher.  In Japan, there is no cafeteria--students eat their lunches in the classrooms, waiting for everyone to be served before they put their hands together and say "Itadakima--su!" (I humbly partake).  The students do the serving and, after recess, the cleaning up, too.  One of those things that educators would term an "invisible part of the curriculum".
Kids with rags wait for the Sweepers to get done...

Such a small thing, but one that teaches so much--responsibility, care for one's environment, teamwork to get a job done...

Rooms and halls are swept and cleaned with damp rags (there are sinks out in the hallways for this and for brushing teeth after lunch--another good idea) every day.  At the beginning of the year, the sixth graders go down to the first grade classrooms to teach the new first graders what to do (and make sure things actually get clean;-).  There are several jobs, and the children do them all on a rotating basis.

Buckets of water, all up and down the hallway, which manage not to get kicked over...

The Science room

Koshi wanted us to watch his science class today--interesting because I'd never seen the science room.  Do American elementary schools have science rooms?  I know mine didn't-- I never saw a science room like this until I was in Junior High.  Seventh grade, to be exact.

 This is an actual science classroom, mind-- complete with microscopes, scales, test tubes, voltmeters, and petri dishes.  Science is started right off in first grade (though it isn't called that until third grade)-- and by fourth grade they listen, take notes, do experiments, and take tests from their notes.  Things I know for a fact I wasn't exposed to until seventh grade.
Scales and weights (metric, of course)

Test tubes... petri dishes are on a lower shelf.
All I could do was shake my head and think that if American parents and school boards and educational policy makers could see inside an elementary school here-- the mysterious Asian "advantage" in science would immediately cease to be a mystery.

They start earlier.  Plain and simple.

The experimental results...
Today they were continuing their study of seeds and the conditions necessary for seeds to sprout and grow-- an appropriate activity for kids who have been growing plants from seed every year since first grade (another day I'll put up what Cici's growing).  Now that they're a little older, they can study those cute little seeds in more depth.

Seeds without air (left)... and with air exposure (right)

The window sill in the classroom was crowded with plastic cups--all labeled, some with sprouted seeds, some not sprouted.  The conditions (air, temperature, water) were labeled on the cups and collated on the poster charts on the wall with the results noted.

Aha!  That's what it needs!

Some plants were growing nicely:-))

Back in May, the fifth graders planted rice in a paddy across the street.  They go over from time to time to take care of the rice, weed the paddy (their section of it, anyway), and watch its progress.

Some things just can't be taught via worksheet-- and where your food comes from is one of those things.
rice seedlings...

Plant the seedlings just... so.
They got help from a local farmer who owns the field-- community involvement!  The kids not only plant and cultivate the rice, they also go over from time to time to draw pictures of it and write about the process of cultivation and the growth of the plants.  I *love* the layered approach they take to teaching--  this is science, health, writing, and art all rolled into one memorable experience.

...the fifth graders' section.

Awww...... planted a bit-- willy-nilly, shall we say?  It was loads of fun, though, according to Koshi.

... somehow the farmer's section is *much* straighter;-))

As Papa and I stood surveying the rice paddy during recess, Yokohamapapa decided to rest his arm on a bamboo post marking the corner of the paddy.

He gave a sudden shout...
Amagaeru-- Japanese Tree Frog (Hyla japonica)

...and lo and behold, he'd nearly leaned his arm on the cutest little green frog you've ever seen!

Well-- I knew just what to do.  Camera out of the camera bag and into my purse...catch little frog... put frog into camera bag.  I have a ten-year-old who would just love him:-))

 "Are you sure that's ok?"  Yokohamapapa wanted to know.

I assured him it would be fine, since Koshi's project group ("Ikimonogakari"--the Living Things Group) was already taking care of a turtle...

...a crawdad (one of those big American Zarigani, from the looks of him)... or two or three...

.... ants to watch them build tunnels and nests...

...and a newt, which Koshi bought at a pet store with his own money earned by washing the windows for me...

I figured-- what could it hurt to add a frog?

Sensei didn't mind at all... and Koshi's face was like Christmas:-))


  1. It's a good thing my Japanese is limited to a few phrases and that I don't have the time to study it further -- or I would *seriously* consider moving to Japan only to make sure any future children of mine get such an incredible education! I am in awe, to say the least!

  2. That is an interesting post! Some American elementary schools have science rooms, but very few schools have them.

    I liked the "hands-on" approach in science, cleaning and eating together, layering of different parts of the curriculum, (which I try to do in my music classes) and building of understanding by planting seeds every year.

    Now that I have read your post and looked at rice planting pictures, the Chinese song about planting rice is stuck in my head! (Of course, I could be singing The Frog Song—Gwa, Gwa ...

    I'm just posting about lettuce, although I did see some mushrooms in the yard today. I may have to investigate.

  3. Reminds me of Aristophanes! (froggy) - what will you feed him/her - do you breed maggots for the newt? I had Saturday morning school but then I went to an old style grammar school.

    It is great that they start science so young - does it however translate to appreciation of the natural world as adults, after all Japan is the 5th biggest CO2 emitter?

  4. [Taking a coffee break from studying!]

    My Sage is much luckier than so many American kids. Although her school doesn't have a science room, they have microscopes and scales and such in room and they do experiments.

    They actually did the seed thing this year where they planted seeds in different cups with different conditions on their windowsill. They also drew pictures of its different stages [3rd grade btw.] This year, they went to a gem and rock exhibition for their class field trip! [Remind me to do a post on what she brought home.]

    They do have wet wipes [which parents donate] and clean their desks after experiments, snacks, and at the end of the day. I have no problems with their to science [Though I'm not happy with the math sections:(]. I have heard a lot about elementaries that don't even have a science program though.

    They did however, vote to eliminate busing for our district so I will have long walks to school in the fall. Maybe I'll be able to gather neat pictures like you do.

  5. Aha! Thank you. I came across this quote a while back, and I've been dying to use it:

    "There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings."
    —Hodding Carter

    I never saw a science room until my first year of grammar school (aged 11). The first 'science' I remember being taught was at age 5(1971), when a teacher in what had been a traditional Church-affiliated school, but was now attempting to keep up with the times, tried to tell us something about the beginning of the universe. Apparently it all began when the Sun (our sun, Sol) exploded. I remember seeing some obvious flaws right there; though kudos for trying I suppose on reflection.

    Hmm, interesting that even now I look back and think of that as science, but not all the usual growing of cress etc. Seems I was always more into physics than biology. Nature or nurture...? :-)

  6. Good to see the traditional 0-Soji being practised - it's a wonder it hasn't been marketed as a fitness routine yet.

    Let's not be critical of the kids' rice-planting. They didn't have the advantage of being able to use the farmer's mechanical rice-planter, which plants the seedlings with precision and without backache.

  7. Josephine-- most things to do with school here are pretty positive, from my perspective. Interestingly, they seem to complain about their schools about as much as Americans do... Maybe our little elementary school (small by Japanese standards) does a few things a little differently than bigger city schools in Tokyo-- but I know for a fact that all kids grow plants from seed starting in first grade:-))

  8. Cary-- I wondered about that. Schools in the US seem so hit-and-miss sometimes. One school will have a great music program, the next one--nothing. Ditto science, art, FL, and just about anything else.

  9. Dom-- Froggy's name is is now officially Aristophanes:-)) I like it that they do so much with science so early, too. They actually don't have Saturday morning school anymore (they did when my husband was in school)-- this weekend was special for the Open House for parents to observe.

  10. Alice-- sounds like you guys are lucky! That's just what I meant in that comment to Cary above-- schools in the US are... spotty. If you're in a good one (and it sounds like you are), count yourself lucky and *don't move*. You have no buses next year?? Wow-- San Diego just did that, too (well- I think you have to pay if you want your kid to ride the bus. A couple hundred per year.). I was *very* surprised. Here's hoping that in your case it turns out to be a good thing! Keep your eyes peeled:-)) (please do a post on what Sage is doing at school--I'd be very interested to hear!)

  11. Daz-- you physics, geek, you:-)) (I mean that in a good way;-) *Great* quote!! I think I may have to put that one over on the sidebar, too...

  12. Roy-- I really like that they still do O-Soji (everywhere, as far as I know). It surprises me, too, that nobody in Europe or America has picked up on that idea as a way to get kids moving their bodies--exercising and cleaning all at once:-)

    Not criticizing their rice-planting... just thought it was cute:-)) I see the occasional O-Baasan, back bent double from planting rice. When I was pregnant with Koshi (#1 kid), an elderly woman bent in half from (I assume) a lifetime of rice-planting and a low-calcium diet walked up to me, patted my stomach, and congratulated me on expecting. She continued talking to my stomach (since she couldn't straighten up to look at my face)... and I was just sure she had *no* idea I was a foreigner. I doubt she'd have approached me had she been able to see me:-))

  13. aww! Yay for froggy! He looks like some of the tree frogs we have here.
    In elementary school we did have a science room. I think there were microscopes too. There were definitely pet rats and also an inflatable planetarium, like a giant tent you could sit inside and project the stars into the ceiling

  14. Sarah-- isn't he just the dearest thing?:-)) You had a science room in elementary school? Wow--lucky! I know I didn't...but I think that was a considerably longer time ago (1970's. *ahem*.) And an inflatable planetarium?? How cool is that?! I feel gypped now...