Thursday, September 26, 2013

A (Teaching) Win + Pretty Pictures

Kristen says...

Ok, so I know this blog isn't about my "career" as a teacher (can you count it as a career when I haven't done it for a year and a half(!) and am only now volunteering for two half-days a week with a total of 6 students??)...maybe vocation is a better word?

Anyway, I know that isn't the point of this blog but I had a good teaching day, and since I don't have any close colleagues to chat with, I'll post it here instead. If you don't want to read "school stuff", feel free to skip down to the pretty pictures below!

You see, most of the actual "work" of teaching isn't done in the classroom with students present. The getting up in front of the class and giving the assignments, reading the chapters, or delivering the lecture is probably the easiest part of the job (providing the kids are behaving and nobody interrupts you...) Most of our work is done on nights and weekends and during planning periods...which is all fine with me.

What is frustrating is when your plans have to change...especially when it's your own fault.

I have a class comprised of 5 fourth graders...a grade I never hoped to teach (and honestly, will be happy to never teach again--I prefer students with 2-4 years more maturity), all students for whom English is a second language, all with varying grasps of the tongue...

The school I volunteer at doesn't officially admit 4th graders, so there is no curriculum and are no textbooks or other materials specifically geared toward this age of I'm basically making this up as I go along.

I've decided to start the year off with the beginnings of geography--continents, oceans, maps, globes, etc...I actually think the kids know some of this information, but in Russian and Korean, not in English, so it's really like working with a blank slate...something I'm not quite used students usually come to me at least knowing the difference between the Americas, the oceans, and what north and south mean...

So, it's been fun.

I've seen the kids now for a total of six 40-minute classes, so we've just barely covered anything. So far we've labeled a map, made visual vocabulary cards, and used one of the better impulse purchases I've made in my life to practice labeling the 7 continents and 5 oceans:
Thank you Discovery Channel...and Walgreens, for the 75% discount! :) In a classroom with not a map in sight, this is a lifesaver! :)
 I had given the students paper outlines of the continents last week, and their homework was to label each outline for class today.

The plan was to make balloon globes using those cutouts...the problem is, 20 minutes before class began, I realized...I forgot the darn balloons!!!

It is impossible to make balloon globes without balloons.


So. Like any good teacher, I gave myself 2 minutes of self-pity and then, with the imminent arrival of five 4th graders looming, I made something up...

Which, of course, ended up working out so much better than the balloon globes would have.

When the students arrived I had them take out their homework, and then we discussed what the equator was and about the northern and southern hemispheres. I had them point them out on the fabric map above when it became clear that my writing the word and definition on the board just wasn't getting the concept through.

Then they colored each of the continents a different color and cut them out...

This was all part of the original plan, which was to have been followed by attaching the cut-out continents to the balloon.

Without the balloon, I decided to capitalize on desk space instead.

We had been discussing the difference between a map and a globe (flat vs. round, etc) and I decided that the placement of the continents on the globe (balloon) might be better facilitated if the students were a little more familiar with the alignment of the continents on the map (where they can see all the continents at the same time)...

So in the minutes between classes (I had a double-period with my 6th grader in the hours before) I quickly made pieces of index card with the names of the five oceans (colored blue for a visual) and the northern and southern hemisphere, and cut up some tatting thread I just happened to have with me (thank goodness!) for use as the Equator...

And then I had the kids practice laying out the map on their desk:

That worked for about 5 minutes, until they caught on and could easily reproduce the map. With 25 minutes left of an 80-minute double-block I needed something else (like balloons, which I had left at home!!)

As one after another said, "Teacher, I am done" I wracked my brain to think what I could have them do that would fill 25 minutes and be educationally defensible...and then I had it...friendly competition.

Initially I thought to do a timed race of who could put the map together fastest, but each student finished the coloring and cutting phase at a different time, so that didn't really work...

Instead, I got the bright idea to turn the map into a kind of puzzle. Working in pairs, the students would take turns "stealing" elements of the the "puzzle" while their partner put the jumbled pieces in their correct places. For example, Student A might take Australia from a jumbled pile of map pieces. Then Student B would have to put the map together, at some point realizing which piece was missing, which they would then have to ask Student A for it and put it in it's proper place in the map. Then the students would switch roles. After both had done this, they would repeat the process, only the second time taking two pieces, the third round taking three, and so on.

One student hides the missing "piece" while the other ponders what is missing

This served a triple purpose. 1) They were reinforcing the placement of the different elements of the map, the chief purpose of the exercise. 2) They had to be able to identify and list by name the missing element(s), which may not sound hard to you, but it's remarkably hard for a 4th grader from Korea to remember, for example. the difference between the Arctic and Atlantic, and especially to pronounce them when asking for the missing piece. 3) It was fun! (I know this for a fact, because they were all smiling, giggling, and even said it was fun when I told them class was over. YES!) It's a proven fact (somewhere, I'm sure) that students learn more when they are having fun. Or at least, that has been my experience as a teacher.

After correctly realizing the Atlantic Ocean is missing, the student moves to put the missing "piece" in its place (and hopefully double-check the placement of South America...)

And, the nice thing is I'll see them next Wednesday and we can make our balloon globes then...but I might make a couple sets of this game over the weekend so we can play it again as a review game before our quiz! :)

Good times! I love it when classes go much better than you expect.


Are you still with me?

So, the weather here is getting colder (I've been assured that there will be snow on the ground before the end of October) but it is still sunny most days (it feels like fall in Iowa, which is something I missed in Honduras). I have actually been refusing to wear "real shoes", hoping to stave off that eventuality until October dawns, but my toes have been awfully cold in the 45° mornings...

Anyway, even though it's been getting colder there are still plenty of beautiful flowers around (I just can't get over the gorgeous gardens here!) and I snapped some pics of them today:
You don't usually see butterflies and bees sharing a flower

I love it when you catch bugs with their tongues out!

So fuzzy

 So, that's what's happening here! Busy September rolls on...and it's Tiger Day this weekend! :)


Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Busy September: Part III!

Kristen says...

Well, I meant to write this last weekend, but this weekend will have to it says in the title, September has been busy! :)

Last weekend we broke "tradition" and actually did something sporty while in Russia...well, actually, last weekend was the culmination of a series of sporty events that began the week before but...
Getting ready to be athletic...
To commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the APEC conference in Vladivostok, a Dragon Boat race was planned, to include both teams to represent local businesses as well as foreign consulates, etc.

What is a Dragon Boat race, you ask?

It's basically a fast race in a canoe-like boat that has a dragon's head and tail...if Wikipedia is to be believed (blech) the idea was originally Chinese (of course, what wasn't?) but has now spread all over the world. Various family members have commented on recently seeing Dragon Boats in different parts of the US and the world. If you Google it there are some fun videos on the Internet that you can watch to get a better idea.

There are apparently varying ways to row in a Dragon Boat, and the Russians have (not surprisingly) come up with their own way...which seems to be pretty effective. The local team (the Vladivostok Tigers) have been World Champions more than once in the past few years, according to one semi-pro Dragon Boater who works at the Consulate.
Tigers of Vladivostok, Sports Club
Why was a Dragon Boat race planned to commemorate APEC, you ask?

No idea.

But anyway, it was organized, and our Consulate was invited to participate.

So we did!

We had the option to organize a 10-man team, a 10-woman team, and/or a 10-person team, made up of 6 men and 4 women. We couldn't find 10 interested women, but we had enough to participate in the 10-man and 10-person competitions.

Originally I wasn't going to participate (not for any reason, I just wasn't asked) but somebody (Chris) let it get around that I'd rowed crew in college (which is true, for one semester in my sophomore year...I would probably have continued but I knew I was going to have to miss an entire season while I studied abroad in London so had to give it up) and I was recruited...

Drake University crew member 2003! :) / 2013 Consulate Team...funny

Of course, Dragon Boating is much different than rowing crew, but the contest is at least held at a place that looked familiar...
Note the unadorned dragon boats in the front and the image of the crew team on the side of the building.
We had practices three times before the actual event, with between 8 and 12 people in the boat depending on who showed no time did we actually practice with the boat exactly as it was for the race, so I took pictures of the trophies before the race thinking that this would be the only shot I'd get of the hardware.

The all-male team was up first:
Chris is in the middle, with the sunglasses.
And then my mixed-gender team was second:
I'm in the back, on the far side of the boat with the pony tail.
The race was *only* 200 meters in Novik bay off of Russky Island (maybe a 20-minute drive in good traffic from our house, and crossing the new gorgeous bridges) but let me tell you, 200 meters of Dragon Boat racing is exhausting, especially when you've only practiced two or three times.

Still, believe it or not, both teams won their heat! It was great!

Even better, when it came time to hand out the trophies, we were awarded first place of the Consular teams! :)
The top of our trophy
Even, even better, we also got medals...given to us by Ivan Shtyl, 2013 sprint canoe bronze medalist at the London Games! :)
I love Chris' face in this picture

 He was nice enough to pose with our team for a photo:
 and sign medals for those who wanted it:
 Winning is fun! :)
If you're interested in seeing the complete scores or other pictures you can click here or here for two local newspapers' coverage of the event.

Of course, being the loving wife I am I can't help but share the other fun event of the day...while they were tallying the results of the Dragon Boat races they offered the chance for anyone who wanted to participate in a kayak race...I had already changed my clothes (you get remarkably wet during Dragon Boat competition) but Chris was game:
 Unfortunately his kayak wasn't, and he got a little wet... :)
 However, a "fishing" kayak was quickly procured for him, and he smilingly participated in the race.
 He did a nice job and didn't finish last in his heat! :)
 Other highlights of the day included seeing this gigantic specimen of sea life:
Who knew there were jellyfish in Russia?!
The business of life has continued into this past week, when I started volunteer teaching 2 days a week at a local school, providing 6th grade English lessons for the lone American student and cultural studies (social studies) for some Korean fourth graders. It's heaven.

We also celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day at the Consulate this past week:
We are nothing if not goofy! :)
Booty for those willing to dress or talk "Like a Pirate"

The business continues this week...September 29 is "Tiger Day" in Vladivostok! :)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Busy September: Part 2

Kristen says...

So, where were we? :)

Believe it or not, we have been living in Vladivostok for almost exactly 9 months, but on Friday (besides the whole three weeks at home thing) I left the city for just the second time since our arrival! (The first was the two days in Артём.)

Leaving the city isn't hard, we just have to get official permission, which makes spontaneity difficult...

Luckily my Friday trip wasn't spontaneous, so I had the permission to go to Ussuriysk, a city about 60 miles north of Vladivostok.

I actually went for a 55th anniversary event for the Primorskaya State Academy of Agriculture. We were specifically interested in the academy's forestry school, but ended up seeing a lot more of the school that we originally thought we would.

The day started at a local auditorium, where a nice gentleman explained the history of the school to us (in Russian of course) which I'm sure was interesting if you know Russian...
 When that was over there was a 20 or so minute break during which it was decided that the Americans in the group would be better served taking a tour of the school instead of listening to the next session (again all in Russian), so we set off with one of the students to see the school, the dorms, and the two school museums...

One was more of a natural history museum with these highlights of Far Eastern animal life:
Hedgehogs (I love the Russian word for hedgehog: Ёж)
A flamingo... (native to Russia?!)
A creepy tiny deer with large fangs (WHAT?!)
So some of those animals were weird...

I also got to pose with this beautiful animal:
Amur tigers are definitely native to Russia.
 The other museum was about the history of the school, which was pretty interesting and had books of history like corn yields from 1955!
 After touring the school we saw a little bit of Ussuriysk, including their World War II memorial:
We were not the only visitors of the day:
Our tour guide, Christina, also pointed out the name of her great grandfather, one of the more than 6,000 Ussuriysk soldiers lost in the war.
Next door to the memorial was the three-room town museum, apparently a converted school building.
"Welcome to the Museum--Inscribe yourself in the city's history."
The museum was very nice, with some examples of early Russian clothing, more natural history, and explaining the links of the city with China (apparently the Chinese were in charge of the city at one point). It also had a room full of early techologies, including this typewriter, which caught my fancy, mostly because I'd never seen a cyrillic typewriter before!
 Next door to the museum (are you sensing a pattern here? Apparently the downtown square is the tourist center of the city!) was this beautiful храм, which we didn't go into because we none of us had long enough skirts or head coverings appropriate to the occasion.
 It kind of reminded me of all the beautiful churches in Honduras! :)
  After hitting all the city highlights we went back to the celebration event. After a short coffee break we attended the afternoon session, which was actually a showing of the dancing, singing, and other musical talents of the academy's students, interspersed with awards given to faculty, staff, and other school supporters.

 I always really enjoy going to events like that because Russian folk dances are really neat, and I love the costumes:

 Afterwards we had an hour's break before the 4:00 lunch, so we drove out and walked around another, less populated part of the city, where we saw some mushrooms made out of tree stumps:
Apparently at one part of the morning session one of the speakers suggested that one of the important elements of the school was protecting the forests, which in turn protects the wild mushroom populations--in the US we think of mushroom hunting as somewhat dangerous (unless you're looking for morels, I guess) but mushroom hunting is a major fall activity here...
 We also saw this fun tableaux, with the Russian house on the far right and the scarecrows on the far left!

All-in-all it was a great day, and was nice to see another part of the country.

Something funny, I was warned before I left that the road to Ussuriysk wasn't very good--apparently they are building a nice, new multi-lane road but right now you are relegated to a two-lane dirt road--so I was a little worried...oh boy. If all the roads in Honduras were as good as that road, the trip to Amapala and back would have been half as long and twice as easy! I was very pleased! :)

One more, coming soon! :)