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9 o'clock on a Wednesday morning in a central district of a very smoggy Beijing. We've been invited to join teacher researchers from the Beijing Institute of Education in a morning of mathematics with small children. The visit begins with the usual pleasantries and being shown around the three storey building which hosts 500 children from 6 to 8, in classes of 40. The walls are covered with the children's art work, notably some impressive examples of paper cutting for which the school is known and which every child learns from age 6. Various little people wave and say hello - although they are used to visitors, non-Chinese folk do attract curiosity and attention.
The first lesson is with the first grade. In our honour they have donned their uniform track suits over their regular clothes. The children sit at tables of four, chairs facing the front, and are remarkably quiet whilst the teacher sets up the two screens either side of the magnetic green chalk board.
Today's topic is about comparing two quantities. The lesson begins with a picture story about two cartoon characters in a competition to see who has the most fruit, the bear with 12 apples or the bear with 8 bananas. The children confirm that 12 is more and the magnetic fruit are arranged in one to one correspondence on the board. Each child then turns over their small magnetic board on which are grouped 12 red and 8 yellow counters and replicates the one to one correspondence. The teacher uses a couple of children's boards to retell the story and to record 12, 8 and 4 in the appropriate places on them, annotating in both Arabic and Chinese numerals. She also writes the calculation 12 - 8 = 4 and the children recite it.