02 January 2017

Welcome to 2017

A new year has just begun. I celebrated its arrival very quietly in a guesthouse in Bangkok, where I'm enjoying a change of scenery. This year I decided not to make New Year resolutions, but instead I've set myself three goals.

The first goal is to increase my level of physical activity, and thus my fitness. I'm hoping to play netball at least once a fortnight at school (if we play every week that will be even better, but that depends on other people being available so I'll hope for every fortnight). I've played once, and it was fun, even if I'm not very good. I'm also going to be monitoring my activity levels, having invested some gift money in a fitness tracker. I specifically wanted one that would keep track of the stairs I climb, since I do a fair bit of that at school, and ended up getting one that I can wear swimming if I decide to get back in the water. So to make that goal more specific and measurable I'm aiming for 10,000 steps a day and 20 flights of stairs. So far I've done very well, but then I did have a very active day today. Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed taking a walk in Lumpini Park, where I snapped a few photos of the beautiful orchids in the picture below.

Today I decided to give my budget a break and get some exercise and fresh air. Well, I'm not sure the air was totally fresh, but I definitely got the exercise, along with a lot of other people. One thing I hadn't done here in Bangkok was to visit the zoo, so this morning I hopped on the skytrain and went as far as Victory Monument (see photo above), from where my sources indicated I could take a local bus to get to the zoo, or I could walk (not recommended by the sources). According to my map, it is about 2 kilometres, so I decided to take a walk. It felt a lot longer than that, but I made it, and then after waiting a while to get a bus, for which the number of waiting passengers seemed every increasing, I decided to do the return walk as well. According to my activity tracker I walked 12.36km today!

Now when I was in Singapore a few years back I visited the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari, and the Bird Park, and thoroughly enjoyed all three. Probably helped by the fact that I had company for the Zoo and the Night Safari, but I also think my experience there spoiled me a little for today's experience. Nonetheless I did enjoy taking in some of God's amazing creations. I have to admit to thinking that God really does have a sense of humour. After all, just have a look at some of the birds I saw.

I also know that He loves to show us beautiful things, and I was privileged to enjoy the display put on by one of the peacocks today. I got photos from both in front and behind, and the difference is fascinating. From the back, everything is brown, but from the front (and side) the colours are spectacular.
The photos don't do it justice, but given that I was taking these through wire fencing I'm fairly happy with the results.

I couldn't resist checking out the Australian section of the zoo, where I was delighted to see some fresh looking eucalypts. I also saw some sleepy koalas, a sleeping wombat and a pair of cassowaries.
Here are a few more of the amazing creatures God has placed in this world. Sadly so many are at risk of extinction, thanks to humans either destroying their habitats or killing them for "medicinal" benefits. That's not a goat in the top right of the next photo, it's a Sumatran Serow. 
Finally, another example of God's amazing imagination. I mean to say, how many people do you know who would design a creature like these giraffes. They are amazing in that they are perfectly designed for the environment in which He placed them in. 

The second goal I've set is something I've set myself a number of times but not yet accomplished. This year, I'd like to read the whole Bible. Now, given the amount of reading that I do, it really shouldn't be that hard, but it is something that requires commitment to doing a portion every day. Back when I first got my Kindle I invested in a copy of the Bible that is set up to help me do exactly that. It's called "Grace for the Moment Daily Bible" and is in my favourite easy read version (New Century Version). Each day has a short devotional comment, a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, a passage from Psalms and a passage from Proverbs. So far I've been reminded of God's creation, man's failure, and God's plan in the sending of His Son. What a great way to start the year. I'm hoping I can stick with it, but know that God's grace will be sufficient for me if I don't get there.

The third goal is a fairly important one, and if I can accomplish it, it will help me accomplish the other two goals. Over the last few years I've found social media taking up a fairly large chunk of time. This year I want to reduce that time to no more than 30 minutes a day. That should allow me to keep in touch with those that I want to keep in touch with, without wasting time that could be better spent doing other things.

Aside from that, I've got a pile of professional reading to complete, and I hope to do some short courses in specific areas as well. I've been asked to consider an additional role at school, which I'm thinking about seriously. Maintaining a good work/personal life balance isn't easy for a teacher, but I hope that, in His strength, I can do better at that this year.

What about you? Have you set goals for 2017? I'd love you to share if you have.

19 December 2016

What my students think about me?

Thought this photo was perfect for this post.
This is what my kiddos got up to on the last day of school
while I was out of the room sorting stuff out, and my assistant was with them.
Love these kids!
One of the things that we do in my classroom is free writing time. During this time students can write about whatever they like, in whatever format they like. Today I caught up on reviewing some of that writing and thought I'd share two pieces that were written about me. I love reading my students writing as it often gives me an insight into their thinking and even their behaviour. Both these students have English as a Second Language so I have corrected a few errors to avoid embarassment. I won't name them, but I will show them this post tomorrow in class. I share these pieces because they I love the honesty in them, and because they show that I'm not a perfect teacher. It's interesting to consider the things that they notice (like my sometimes messy desk and braided hair). I'm human, but the bottom line, as share by R, is that I care about my students. Most teachers do.

Miss Karen by a student

Meet Miss Karen. She was one of my favorite teachers that I ever studied with. Even my mom really likes her. Even though I just learned with her I was starting to like her everytime I see her. Miss Karen has long hair, and she braid it to school because she won’t have lice in her hair. She likes to see us doing the right choice and completing homework on time. First when I was not in her class yet I always wanted to learn in her class. Before I get to learn with her I was scared, but then it was great learning with her. My mom says she only get mad when homework is not done. She was right. One reason that I really loved learning with Miss Karen is that she has a lot of cool stuff. She also cares about other students too, including me. I hope that she has good toys or stuff for us to spend with our tickets. She also treats people fairly in the class too. She is one of my favourite teachers of all.

Miss Karen by another student
Miss Karen is my teacher. Sometimes Miss Karen is mean. Sometimes Miss Karen is kind. In swim class Miss Karen is teaching in the shallow end. I think Miss Karen likes to wear a pink T-shirt. Sometimes Miss Karen is funny. Miss Karen wears glasses. Miss Karen’s table is a little bit messy. My mom said “Miss Karen is a good teacher.” Miss Karen comes from Brisbane. I think Miss Karen likes to eat vegetables. I think Miss Karen is a good teacher. Miss Karen is always busy. I think Miss Karen likes to say long words. Miss Karen almost all day wears a watch. I think Miss Karen is very tidy. Miss Karen on Thursday and Friday doesn’t give us homework (so I like it). 

30 September 2016

What's new around Room 16

It's been a while since I posted any pictures of my classroom and the hallway outside, so I thought I'd do a quick update. I recently asked our school director about the possibility of some extra bulletin (notice) boards for the hallway outside my classroom and one more for inside. He said yes, and they were installed a couple of weeks ago. It took quite a bit of time to move material around, freeing up one board for the Khmer classes that meet across the hallway from my classroom to use if they desire. If they don't use it, I will no doubt find a way to fill it up again. Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of the bulletin boards for Grade 4K.
This board is at the front of the classroom,
right beside the whiteboard that is the main focus of teaching,
and where I also project onto, making PowerPoint presentations interactive.
Our IPC units require various resources and student thinking to be displayed.
That's what this board is for.

This is a the other end of the room, and changes regularly.
As the year progresses, I plan to include more Khmer language on this board,
to help increase the children's vocabulary in both languages.

This board is next to the door and holds classroom management material
as well as our IPC Personal Goal material

This photo is the hallway outside my classroom.
As you can see I've now got three bulletin boards
on which to display important information about what we're learning as well as student work.
Board 3 is waiting for student book reports which are almost finished.
I hope to have those displayed before parent-teacher conferences this week.

This is first of the two boards together.
The focus of this board will be what we are learning about.

These cute posters were created during the first week of school
using some foam dolls I picked up at KMart when I was home.
The students loved making these.
First major writing task of the year are our "All About Me" posters.
This was also opportunity to teach students about writing Personal Narratives.
The smiley faces cover photos of the students!
This year we have an improved system in place to follow-up students who are absent. It requires teachers to complete a slip and put it on the door outside our classroom to be collected by one of the guards/drivers during the first part of the morning. I got tired of sticky-taping the note to the door, and then finding sticky tape left on the door, so I asked our maintenance man to screw this cute little character to my door. I was given four of these some years ago, but I hadn't really used them very much. Now I'm really happy to report that, although the first one was broken when they tried to use an electric drill to screw it up, I had another one AND an ordinary screwdriver. Now this cutie is happily doing the job. No more sticky tape!

29 September 2016

Challenges and creativity in science teaching

One of the challenges of teaching in a developing country is that you can't just walk down the street to the local School Supply store and pick up the equipment you need for a science experiment. Well, maybe in some developing countries you can, but definitely not here in Cambodia. So that means you have to get a little creative, visit a few (or sometimes many) different stores, and try out some more unusual options. It also means you have to think ahead a bit.

This coming week I've got an experiment to complete that is part of our International Primary Curriculum (IPC) unit called "Investigators". We've almost finished our Investigator Training, and we are currently investigating an accident scene involving a victim with blistered lips! This particular experiment requires students to determine the heat insulation properties of various different types of cups. Just collecting the suggested types of cups was the first challenge.

The experiment called for four types of cup: plastic, paper, polystyrene, and metal. Now plastic is easy, and so is paper. Metal reminded me of the metal cups we used in the dining room when I was at boarding school back in 1980. Then I saw some photos of those multi-coloured aluminium picnic cups that most families seemed to have when I was growing up. A photo on Google reminded me of my old enamel camping mugs, great for keeping a cup of herb tea hot on a cold night! My colleague did some hunting around town for metal cups with little success, so I did some hunting of my own. I eventually found some small stainless steel mugs like this one.
Now you might think finding polystyrene cups would be easy to find, especially in a country where so much street food and take-away food is packaged in polystyrene. Alas, that was not the story. I eventually found them in a grocery store that caters for foreigners, which also carries quite a lot of Australian products! They even had them in three different sizes. Bonus!

So now I've got all my cups lined up, the next challenge is how to measure insulative property. The suggested procedure is to pour hot water into each of the cups and measure the temperature over time, so see which cup keeps the water hot for the longest time. That would require a laboratory thermometer, of which we have none. My colleague thought he had solved the problem when he bought some clinical thermometers, and some clever person suggested putting each cup into cool water, and monitoring the temperature of that cooler water, to see how much it heated up. He tried it this week, and it sort of worked, but the narrow temperature range was something of a problem. I am also hesitant to use them as they look very suspiciously like they are a mercury thermometer, and I don't want the responsibility of mercury in my classroom.

After having hearing his experience, I thought about using standard weather thermometers. While their range isn't a wide as a laboratory thermometer, it does go from -40°C to +50°C, and the ones that I bought cost me all of $1.80 each. I just did my own mini-experiment to see if they would measure water temperature and here are the results.
The thermometer on the left is in refrigerated water (about 8z°C). The one on the right is in tap water (about 28°C). It was very satisfying to see the temperature drop rapidly when I put it in the iced water. Yes, I think that this just might work, especially using the water bath method suggested to us. Both thermometers are exactly the same, so I'm thinking that the different camera angles is why it's harder to read the one on the right than the one on the left.

We'll see how it goes next week, but I'd say that's another successful modification to a project in order to use materials I can actually get my hands on!

15 September 2016

Science Fun

In Grade 4K at EWIS, as part of our IPC Investigators unit, we are busy learning how to investigate a crime! Well, actually we are learning lots of science skills that we will use to help us investigate an imaginary crime. Along the way we are having some fun doing experiments.

One of the experiments we have done required the teacher to track down absorbent paper (coffee filter papers work very well) and black water-based markers. Finding water-based markets was a bit more of a challenge, but I managed to track down several different brands and had some fun testing them out (in between uni work).

Earlier this week we completed the experiment and then I made the students write it up as a formal report. Their report writing skills are still a work in progress, but some of them did a great job. Most of them still need to work on adding details and making sure they include all the steps. Tonight, so that everyone can included a picture of the results I've been scanning the absorbent paper. It's very interesting to see how the same process can sometimes yield different results, and I thought I'd share them.


Faber-Castell Jumbo Connector Marker

Pentel Marker
All student worked from the same instructions and supposedly followed the same process but as you can see the results are somewhat different. Very interesting. Maybe the size of the dot had an impact? I'm not sure, but meanwhile I'm thinking students will be happy to have pictures to add to their reports, at least I hope they will. Got to love being able scan stuff like this.

09 September 2016

A successful outing

Today I had a successful day. Nothing big was achieved, although it was a fairly good day at school. The success came in the form of a shopping trip.

Our current IPC unit has an extensive list of resources needed, one of which is PH testing strips. When I was at school I'm fairly sure we called it litmus paper. There were a few alternatives, but they are quite complex, so if I could find what I needed it would be good.
Not having easy access to a science teaching supply store, I thought that a medical supply store might just have what we needed. So, this afternoon, I headed out on my trusty moto to the area known to some of us as "pharmacy corner". Yes, there are literally dozens of pharmacies and medical equipment stores all located on the same couple of city blocks. I tried a couple of smaller places without success (no doubt hampered by my lack of Khmer language) and then a bigger pharmacy. Still no luck, so I headed down the street a couple of stores and walked into a place with a name that seemed to have good potential. A young man opened the door for me and offered to help, but litmus paper just wasn't working. When I talked about testing acid and alkaline, another young man behind the counter seemed to know exactly what I was looking for, and told the first young man where to find it.

Hooray! It seems like a small thing, but finding this will make our unit of inquiry that much more interesting for the students and definitely simpler for the teachers. Yes, that's what I'd call a successful outing!

10 June 2016

Why I do what I do!

When I became a teacher I wanted to make a difference for the children I taught. Sometimes you hear about it, and other times you don't. Today I was privileged to receive the notes below from a student and his Dad. I've blanked out the names to protect their identities. It is little notes like this that make the long days and sometimes nights preparing work and marking it, and just thinking about the children. I've received various notes from students and parents over the years, but this one was really special. I should add that not all parents want their children in my class. There are some who don't. That's OK. Meanwhile, I can only hope that they've seen Jesus is me, because on my own I'd be the mean, scary teacher this boy thought I was before he joined my class. I thank God for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Cambodian children. I thank God that He has softened me, and helped me become a kinder, more caring, while still strict, teacher. I pray that He will continue to guide and lead me to make the difference in the lives of the children He brings in to my classroom.