“Is there a course that integrates literature, philosophy, history, aesthetics, science, moral education, and even physical education, while developing students’ sense of team spirit and independence?”
Some teachers raised this question when they explored the integrated interdisciplinary teaching at the beginning of the new school year.
Sure, there is. We found the answer after the excursion to Dunhuang.
A group photo taken before the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes
In the 2017-2018 school year, Kaiwen Academy (Haidian)’s “mobile classroom” program has enabled students to make an excursion to Dunhuang on the ancient Silk Road. Kaiwen moved the “classroom” to northwestern deserts, Yangguan Ancient Road, Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, and Jiuquan Satellite Launch Base. Kaiwen students received the edification of aesthetics, learned the profoundness of history, felt the subtlety of philosophy, experienced the miracles of science, and witnessed wonders of mother nature at museums, theaters, and barracks, and in the aerospace city.
Exploring the unknown
Why are murals at the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes still bright in color after thousands of years?
Why is there the fresh Crescent Lake at the foot of Mingsha Mountain in a northwest desert?
Why is there a big cistern built next to the rocket launch tower?
Why are there more, and brighter, stars in the sky in the desert?
Why is the ecological environment of Danxia landform particularly fragile?
Every day, teachers were busy answering these kinds of questions that curious students raised. In the evenings, students would put down what they had learned in the daytime in their “study notes” so that they can continue the discussion back at school.
“The excursion focused on integrating education into the students’ daily lives. We encourage our students to discover problems and seek answers by themselves through their own observations. This will increase their knowledge and exercise their abilities,” said Rufus, director of the middle school sector of Kaiwen Academy (Haidian).
The Dunhuang Museum Visit
Multi-element and interdisciplinary teaching
For integrated interdisciplinary teaching by Chinese and foreign teachers, Kaiwen Academy selected teachers of various disciplines for the excursion. During the excursion, research mentors from Lanzhou University who specialize in archeology and Dunhuang Studies explained local landforms, art history, and cultural relics preservation knowledge to students.
Some students wrote in their study notes: “The science teacher says that Millennium Populus Euphratica owes its reputation to local climate, soil, and other natural factors. As the precipitation is low and evaporation is great in desert areas, the dissolved salt easily accumulates in the soil, which restricts the survival of plants. However, Populus Euphratica has a strong ion transport function to discharge excess sodium ions. The saline and alkaline discharge of Populus Euphratica is sometimes like tears. That is where ‘Populus Euphratica tears’ come from. Our Chinese teacher told us that the spirit of Populus Euphratica is a symbol of awe-inspiring nature. Although there is no shortage of exaggeration, we should understand that it is the spirit that is important.”
Humanities and Social Sciences teacher Michael is deeply impressed by changes that the integrated interdisciplinary teaching has brought to students. “History itself is a subject of integrated knowledge. The real-world visits have integrated culture, art, religion, language, and even math into history. This has remarkably improved our students’ interest in learning. We learn history to better understand the present and ourselves,” Michael said.
Study on mural copying at the Dunhuang Painting Academy—The perfect combination of aesthetics and history
Listen to the master and share the wisdom
“How fortunate that our students can have the chance to attend a lecture by such a famous master at this age,” teacher Andy sighed, still feeling sorry for not having a chance to attend Professor Fan Jinshi’s lectures when he was in college. With this excursion to Dunhuang, he finally got the chance.
At the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Digital Exhibition Center, Professor Fan Jinshi, a well-known scholar and the honorary president of Dunhuang Research Institute, who is nearly 80 years old, gave a lecture on “Silk Road Dunhuang” to Kaiwen students. In simple language, Professor Fan explained the history of Mogao Grottoes and their role in modern culture. She told vivid stories behind many precious photos. Kaiwen’s teachers and students were all deeply impressed by Professor Fan’s “craftsman” spirit. Kaiwen students even affectionately called her “Grandma Fan.” Professor Fan said happily that she is “the daughter of Dunhuang” and that Kaiwen students are the hope for the country’s future. “I like to see you, I like to be with you, and I like that you liked my lecture,” she said.
The excursion included a murals learning trip to the Dunhuang Painting Academy. Li Yi, director of the Dunhuang Painting Academy’s Study and Training Center explained in detail the history of the Dunhuang murals and modern techniques for preserving murals. With his on-site instruction and encouragement, each student painted a first mural of their own.
A lecture by Professor Fan Jinshi
Science progress and national pride
During the excursion, what the students looked forward to the most was a trip to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Base. The students felt excited when they saw the real rocket assembly workshop and the satellite launch tower for the first time. Those serious-looking “soldier brothers” at the base were amused by the students’ eagerness for knowledge when the docent explained the rocket assembly and launching processes.
It made the students proud of our country to visit the Satellite Launch Center’s History Exhibition Hall, learn the development process of China’s space industry, and listen to the base leader’s lecture on aerospace knowledge. Kaiwen Academy will help the students who have touched the contemporary “flying Apsaras” (rockets) explore the higher realms!
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Base Visit
Teamwork and common growth
The B&R excursion, while letting students comprehend the history and culture, has also exercised their will and enhanced friendships.
Together, they attended lectures, watched shows, observed stars in the desert, hiked in the Gobi, went on outdoor adventures, and camped at barracks. Although they still look immature and naughty in the face, we see their growth in their increased discipline and responsibility each time when they lined up and engaged in group activities. This kind of growth is not only reflected in the class group’s collective ideas, but also in their sense of national pride and social responsibility.
“Before I went to Mogao Grottoes, I thought they were far away. The excursion brought me anger in addition to shock. The murals at the Mogao Grottoes have survived thousands of years’ natural erosion, but human stupidity and inner greed have almost destroyed them.
Cultural relics are like the key to treasures of ancient and modern civilizations. Cultural relics are not just objects but also witnesses of history. We protect a cultural object not because of how much it is worth but because of its historical significance and the sentiment they evoke in our hearts.
The protection of cultural relics requires each of our efforts, whether the effort is big or small and whether you are famous or insignificant. It is a supreme honor to protect an artifact although it may not bring you direct benefits. Protect cultural relics, starting with me!”
This is part of the study notes written by Eva, a student in Class B of Grade 7.
During the excursion, together with our students, we looked up at stars in the desert, trekked in the Gobi, felt history at the Mogao Grottoes, learned about satellites at the rocket launch base, strolled in the Millennium Populus Euphratica forest, and walked on the colorful Danxia.... The excursion has come to an end, but there is more waiting for us to explore. Kaiwen hopes that this excursion can plant a seed in our students’ hearts that will take root, sprout, and blossom in the future.