Digging Deep into Dynasties


Every grade in the primary school at THS has a special event that is tied to developing and supporting an area of the curriculum. For Grade 3, it is an annual trip to Xi’An, China which is the culmination of a term’s study of Ancient China.


Students start the year bubbling with enthusiasm and questions about the Xi’An trip. The trip allows our students to take their learning of the different dynasties from within the classroom to apply this knowledge when they explore authentic relics and artifacts. One of the students’ fondest memories from the trip is seeing the Qin Dynasty terracotta warriors. However, those are not the only terracotta warriors that the students see. Xi’An is also home to the terracotta army from the Han Dynasty. Through the trip, students saw first-hand the differences between the styles of each army. This comparison allowed students to further establish their understanding of changes in times and culture from beyond the classroom.


Throughout the weeklong trip, students were immersed in ancient Chinese culture through a variety of hands-on activities such as calligraphy, paper cutting and tai-chi, a form of coordinated breathing and movement exercise. Standing on the city wall of Xi'An, we were taught tai-chi by our tai-chi master. This was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Students also enjoyed watching shadow puppet shows performed in the Muslim quarters and experienced Tang Dynasty dance and song performances while trying out local cuisine.


Students also used the opportunity to practice their Mandarin. They completed challenges along the trip, such as ordering food at a restaurant and asking for directions.


The Xi'An trip really illustrates the value of learning beyond school. Students were given opportunities to apply learning to authentic situations that build deep learning understanding and skills, develop curiosity and interest and promote critical habits of mind.


As well as reinforcing the Ancient China unit in social studies, the Xi’An trip encouraged students to participate actively in activities relating to term one’s social studies unit on Early Humans. It is a joy to see students collaborate with each other to complete challenges from gathering plants for printing designs and building fires and yurts. Students were excited about taking on the role of an archaeologist, and digging up artifacts from excavation pits. They loved using special tools for excavating and were integrated among others to put parts back together to create a complete item.


However, the most important aspect of such a trip is that this learning adventure draws everyone closer. As the trip edges closer there is always a range of emotions from excitement to hesitation to intrigue. Once on the trip, it is a time of intense positivity, friendship, and exploration. Students not only take away deep learning opportunities linked to the curriculum but they also develop and deepen bonds to each other, their parents, other students’ parents, and also with teachers. The relationships made between the students during the trip were brought back into the classroom, and engendered positive classroom dynamics, greater cooperation and teamwork.  


As teachers, we are constantly trying to create deep learning opportunities for our students and the Xi'An trip is perhaps one of the best examples. We are most excited when we see our students take over the reins of their learning. We are really fortunate to have such a great opportunity to enrich our students’ learning in such a practical and hands-on manner.


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