Over the past three days, we’ve had the opportunity to visit three public schools in the Tokyo area. All the schools have been extremely welcoming, and Ms. Russell and I feel so grateful we were able to witness the similarities and differences between Japanese and American schools first-hand.
On Wednesday, we went to Fukushima to the Fukushima First Elementary School to visit former 2G student, Rio Wattanabe. I was so excited to see him again and travel to his school in Japan The school was extremely welcoming at the Vice Principal gave us a detailed overview on the school’s history. We learned that at this school there is only one class/ grade and there are about 32 kids in a class. We spent our time at the school with Rio’s fifth grade class. We were very exctied to be able to teach a lesson to the students with the help of Rio’s mom, Aya who served as our translator. First, we showed the class a slideshow about Boston and more specifically Lawrence School. The students were excited to see what schools look like in America. Then, we led the class in a game of “Simon Says”. The students picked up on the English words quickly and only a few students did the movements at the wrong time. It was a lot of fun! Lastly, we gave the students the opportunity to practice speaking in English and while having a simple conversation. Using modeled sentences and pictures, students practiced saying
“Hello my name is _____________”
“My favorite hobby is ____________”
“What do you like to do?”
The students were quite successful and Ms. Russell and I were very impressed!
Before leaving for Japan, we had our second grade students in Boston make postcards for the students in Fukushima and were were excited to give them a book of Boston Landmarks. We were even more excited to find out that the students in Fukushima made a book for our classes explaining important features about Japan and many things that are a part of children’s culture. It will certainly serve as a wonderful teaching tool during out Japan unit!
After our school visit, the Wattanabe Family took us to a delicious authentic Japanese restaurant where we feasted on sushi. We then went to COM COM, which was a public indoor play space. It resembled the Boston Children’s Museum, and we had fun as Rio showed us all his favorite activities. These indoor play spaces were particularly popular after the earthquake.
On Thursday, we went to the Fujisawa city Daido Elementary School. Former Lawrence students Toshiki and Riku Suzuki are currently students at this school. We met Mrs. Oka in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45am. We were so happy she met us to lead us around and translate for us throughout the day! We would have been lost without her!
Upon arriving in Fujisawa we were greeted at the train station by the Suzuki family. We were incredibly happy to see the dynamic brother duo- Toshiki and Riku. They greeted us in their Red Sox jerseys and we were off to the school, walking amongst the students. The principal of this school planned an interesting day for us and we were able to see many different class settings including a traffic safety class, gym, shodo, math and more! We even got to eat lunch in Toshiki’s 4th grade classroom! We especially enjoyed playing dodge-ball with the students at recess!
As an after school treat, Mrs. Suzuki took us to Kamakura for sightseeing and dinner! We really enjoyed this historic little town. It was especially exciting for Yu and Go Fukunaga to join us for this part of the day as well!
On Friday we met Mrs. Osaka at our hotel in Shinagawa and she traveled with us to Mitaka where we met the Ito family. We went to Rio’s school, which was called Mitakashiritsu dai 5 Elementary School. Rio was in my class two years ago and I was beyond excited to see her again! We were greeted by the principal, vice principal, and Rio’s classroom teacher. Mr. Ito was kind enough to take the day off from work to translate for us.
At the beginning of the day, we introduced ourselves to the school during an assembly similar to Lawrence Community Meeting. As we walked around the school it was so nice to be greeted by the students. They were very excited to say “hello” in English. If you ever want to feel really popular, go to a school in Japan for the day as an American teacher!
During first period, we were invited to participate in the Shodo lesson. We were both a little nervous as we hadn’t had much practice with Japanese calligraphy. The students assured us though that we did an okay job. We spent the majority of the day in Rio’s fifth grade classroom. We observed a few lessons and got to participate in the sewing class as well as library. During library, we read the class the book Take me out to the Yakyu. The students seemed to enjoy this though it is written primarily in English. We also enjoyed playing card games with the students during break and chatting with them over lunch. We quickly learned that there are many more similarities than differences between American and Japanese students.
The teachers and students at this school could not have been nicer! We feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience of visiting Rio’s school.
The set-up of the classrooms we saw in Japan had some differences than our classrooms at Lawrence. At the entrance of the school, there was a space where students stored their outdoor shoes and umbrellas. Students’ backpacks were kept inside the classroom, because there were no cubbies or lockers outside. Japanese students tend to have the same backpack from kindergarten through fifth grade, and they can cost between $300 and $900. Oftentimes, grandparents give the backpacks as gifts. Students spend most of their time at their desks, which were organized in rows. The teacher stood in the front of the classroom to give directions. Student work was displayed on the walls, otherwise the walls were left empty. The math tools included an abacus and the clock from the wall.
General Environment of the Schools:
When the students are not in class, there seems to be more freedom for the children than we have at Lawrence. Most children get to school independently. We were surprised by the private school students (as young as first grade) who were taking the trains in Tokyo by themselves to get to school. The children who attended public schools would walk through the neighborhoods on their own beginning in first grade. They receive training on this each year, and sometimes, parents would wait in designated spots along the commute to make sure children are safe. Each student also has a alarm on their backpacks that they can pull if they have an emergency and need help from adults.
Once the students arrive at school, they can walk around the school freely while the teachers get ready for the day. The schools have music and chimes that can be heard over the loudspeakers that signal transitions throughout the day. When the students changed classrooms or got ready for lunch, they did not walk in lines, but went on their own without the teacher. With this freedom, came responsibility. The students took turns serving food to their classmates in the classrooms. They were also responsible for cleaning the classroom and the school each day. After lunch, you would see students wiping stairs clean, emptying and flattening milk cartons, sweeping the floor, and cleaning the bathrooms.
The students hold the adults in high regard, bowing when exiting the office to show respect, and thanking their teachers before and after each class (ahem…2G should take notes on this section!).
Pictures to follow later!