30 December 2010

Looking back

As I write this entry there is just one day to go in 2010. It has been a year of change, of being broken, and of growth. It has also been a year of much pleasure, especially as I watched my students grow and mature. Here's a list of just a few of the events of this year.

  • Greg & Srey Dawson's wedding
  • Starting school again at the new Logos campus
  • 46th Birthday
  • Annual Logos Carnival & 1st ever Book Fair
  • News that I was not being offered a contract at Logos for the 2010-11 school year
  • Weekend escape to Bangkok
  • Northbridge Invitation Field Day for Grades 3 to 5
  • Continuing lack of electricity at school as the weather warms up
  • Highs and lows in the job search
  • Report cards
  • Brokenness before our Heavenly Father
  • Loving care of friends & reassurances of God's loving hands holding me up
  • SATs
  • Easter
  • Khmer New Year (holidays - hooray)
  • A growing knowledge of the special needs of my friend's baby (born in December)
  • The importance and joy of honest and loving friends
  • A contract for 2010
  • Electricity at last!
  • I'm teaching 3rd grade next year!
  • Time with friends
  • More report cards
  • Last day of school
  • Packing up!
  • Farewells (at school and church)
  • Holidays down under
  • Lots of appointments
  • Orff Schulwerk workshop
  • Refresh 2010 in Chiang Mai
  • Flight of the Gibbon
  • Holidaying in Chiang Mai - fun with Relle, Robyn & Terry
  • Coming Home to Phnom Penh
  • Information received at last - working through issues & learning
  • Relaxing, sorting, planning, learning
  • A new start at a new school
  • Flooded roads
  • First day with my new class
  • Precious memories
  • Swimming lessons
  • Getting sick
  • Lots of fun in the classroom
  • Starting the classroom library
  • Getting to know my students
  • Lots of learning
  • Skipping rope
  • More floods - even nastier than last time
  • Writing stories
  • Getting letters and writing them
  • Visiting the police station
  • Sharing writing
  • Cold weather
  • "I like Maths now!"
  • Clowns
  • Water Festival - the stampede
  • Mourning and thanksgiving
  • More germs
  • Leaking fuel
  • Busy days
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Classroom observations
  • Time to reflect and think about "control"
  • Traffic
  • Bush Dancing
  • Cookery
  • Christmas in Cambodia
As I look back over the year, I have to admit that it hasn't been the easiest of years, but God never said life would be easy. I will definitely admit that I have learned a lot this year. I've learned a lot about myself, and done a lot of thinking about how I live my life. If you had told me on the 1st of January 2010 that I would still be in Cambodia on the 31st December 2010, I wouldn't have been surprised, but if you'd also told me that I wouldn't be at Logos any more, and that I'd be teaching 3rd grade at a secular school, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Isn't God's timing wonderful. Through out this year, I would have to say the most valuable thing for me has been the assurance of God's loving care and His plan for my life. Thanks God.

27 December 2010

Christmas in Cambodia 2010

This was my fourth Cambodian Christmas and each one has been different. Christmas lunch the first year was ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches in a friend's kitchen. In the evening we went out to look at the Christmas lights at some of the big hotels and the US embassy, then out for dinner. The second one, I went to the Anglican church service (none at ICF that year), then had lunch alone with a book at a favourite restaurant, combined with a phone call from the family. Last year my sister and brother-in-law were here, so it was a little more "normal", with church at ICF then out for lunch, a phone call to mum, and then home to pack so I could move house the next day.

Sambath helps decorate
Rithy helps decorate
This year was different again. It started with music practice, followed by church at ICF, then I headed down to school where one of the teachers from the UK had bravely offered to cook Christmas dinner for whoever wanted to attend. In the end we had just over 30 people there. I was responsible for decorations, and was very grateful when some of our Cambodian staff offered to help me, especially when it came to climbing ladders. I do not like Cambodian ladders! There were a few expats there, and a considerabe number of the Cambodian staff, who were intrigued by the whole idea of Christmas. I set the Nativity set up, and simply let it be there, so that those who came might see part of the reason for Christmas. It created much interest, and I think was really appreciated by our Christian Cambodian staff. As I teach at a secular school I have to be very sensitive about religious issues, and so I choose to say little, and let the Holy Spirit do the talking. If someone asks questions I'm not ashamed to say what I believe, and I pray that one day the seeds that are planted in this day will grow into fruit, but that's God's job, not mine. Here are some snapshots from the lunch at school.

L to R. Alex, his friend, and our Chef extraordinaire, Ben!

Finished decorations

Karen & Mr Dy (with Esther & Tabi in background)

Kunthy and Heather - not working I hope!

 Tabi with her Christmas Hat!

The photos are all out of order since I couldn't get them to go where I really wanted them. Computer or internet connection is too slow today. Sorry about that.

Anyway, after taking down the decorations I headed across a few main roads to visit some friends from ICF, who had invited me to come and share a time of music, conversation, and more food. It was a lovely low key way to spend the afternoon. Finally I headed home to Skype the family in Australia. Christmas in Cambodia is definitely different, and I love that the rampant commercialism that is present in many western countries has not yet reached this country. Yes, there are a few decorations, but mainly in stores frequented by foreigners. Christmas Day is "just another day" for most Cambodians.

Almost finished decorating

23 December 2010

School's finished for 2010

Hooray for holidays! Yes, we have two whole weeks off school. I think the thing I'm looking forward to most is sleeping in past 6am. Even on Christmas Day I can at least sleep until 8am if I want to. Yes!

So what did the last week of school look like here in Cambodia. I can assure you it was very different to the last week of school in an Australian school.

To start with, this is just a short break, not our main holidays. Those come in July-August. That means we are not packing up classrooms and storing everything away, or anything like it. We'll be back at work again on 10th January, and in the time in between I have heaps of things to do! Lots of planning to do for the rest of the year, including meeting with the other grade 3 teacher and planning a new approach to Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. Instead of me teaching all the maths, and Nadia teaching all the Science/SOSE, we will both teach some maths and our own classes for the other subjects. At this stage the plan is to stream the mathematics classes, so Nadia will teach the more able students while I work with those who find maths more difficult. Actually the cut off point was really quite fine, and not all the students in Nadia's group can be considered brilliant math students. It will be interesting to see how it works out. I'm looking forward to only 21 sets of Math papers to grade instead of 43, and also to teaching some integrated units where we incorporate some of our Science and/or SOSE into our Language Arts activities.

So what did we do the last week of school. Actually, it was a pretty normal week. Students started disappearing for the holidays early in the week, and I did receive one delicious gift (along with a very beautiful one) on Tuesday from a student leaving that evening. I continued teaching activities pretty much as usual until today, even having a math test on Wednesday afternoon! What a mean teacher I am. Not really. This afternoon I was able to hand the tests back, with feedback, then students had fun with Multiplication Flash Cards.

As East-West is a secular school in a non-Christian country, I was guided by the principal to actually do nothing in terms of "Christmas" activities. Originally I had planned some simple ways of sharing my faith with the children, but on her advice/request I chose not to do that. Some other classes did some things, and some had gift exchanges. At the end of the day, I told the children that I preferred to give them other things which benefit the whole class, such as our classroom library. While sometimes Christmas seems to be all about "gifts", and it is true that Christians take this time to celebrate the greatest gift that we have ever been given, I'm slowly learning that there are other ways to share Christmas and it's true meaning with the children. God will use me, and give me the opportunities that He has planned for me to share His love with the children in my care in ways that are culturally appropriate and sensitive.

Having said that, I want to share a precious "gift" that I received today from one of my students. Here are some photos of it. It is something I will always treasure.
The student who made this card says almost nothing in class, but I know she is learning because she turns in the most amazing written work, and regularly gets 100% on Mathematics tests. She is very sweet, and I have grown to love her greatly. I pray that one day she will discover her voice in English, and I know that when she does, she will bless many around her.

So what will Christmas look like in Cambodia this year? You will just have to check back on Boxing Day to find out. I know it will be a great time to remember why Christmas means so much to me, and to pray that others will come to know the One whose birth we celebrate, because of His death & resurrection.

17 December 2010

Fun Friday

Brrrr! It was only 21° Celcius as I rode my moto to school this morning. That was cool enough that I wished that I'd put my warm jacket on before I left home. In fact, as I was about to leave it started raining, so I put my poncho on, and I was so glad I did, not because of the rain, because it was so cold. OK, so it's not really that cold, but when the average minimum for the month is 2° warmer than that, and the average maximum is 3° higher than it got today (and it didn't get to that until 3pm), it's a bit chilly. And remember this can be our coldest month of the year. Most of the time minimums of around 27°C are more usual, and maximums between 32° & 38°C, it feels cold, and for those who have never lived anywhere else, it is definitely cold.

Anyway, as a result of the "cold" weather, we were given permission to cancel swimming today. The big question then is what to do with the boys instead of swimming. We both have more boys than girls, giving us 20+ boys, and these boys love to move! We could have just done table games in the classroom, but it would be much better if we could keep them moving. Fortunately we were able to have the school hall during that time (the playground was already in use by the older children & the girls had PE on the basketball court), and so I suggest that we do some Aussie Bush Dancing. My colleagues agreed and so that's what we did. My class had done some before as part of our music program, so I was hopeful it would go well. It was great. First I taught the Mexican Hat Dance, which was rather interesting. Some of the boys tried taking giant steps and so had trouble, and many of them had trouble with the clapping pattern. Eventually they got it, and a great time was had by all. After they had mastered that, and had some fun with it, we tried the Heel and Toe Polka! Instead of using the waltz hold we simply had the boys hold hands, and it went really well. By the time they had finished two turns of the music they were ready to sit quietly for a little while. A great way to keep active boys happily occupied.

With swimming and PE time over we returned to our respective classrooms where I happily told my class that Fun Friday this week would be cooking! There was much excitement. We packed up ready to go home, and then headed upstairs to the Home Economics room. Once there I quickly learned that it would be best to do cookery with half the class! That said, I managed to involve all the children in the process by having some measure the flour and sugar while I added the egg, baking soda, and melted butter necessary for our biscuits. There was some improvisation, and I ended up having to add extra flour to one batch when I misjudged "half" the melted butter. One batch turned out really well, while the other batch was too liquid, so I simply kept adding flour until the dough was the right consistency. All the children took turns in putting mixture on the baking trays and we quickly got the first batches into the ovens. Unfortunately I'd misjudged the timing so the children had to go home before the biscuits came out of the oven, but I promised them we would share them for recess on Monday. I patiently waited for the baking to be completed then loaded them into a container, sealed them with plastic wrap and stowed them safely in the refrigerator until Monday. I will admit to doing a taste test or two, and I can guarantee that they tasted OK!

So that's a "Fun Friday". Praise God for good times. I learned several things this afternoon, and faced a number of challenges, but when all things are considered I think the children had fun and learned something too! I think the highlight for me was seeing how much the boys enjoyed the bush dancing. This is definitely an activity to be repeated, possibly with both Grade 3 classes one Tuesday afternoon. It might even be a fun after school program activity.

16 December 2010

Tales of the traffic.

Have to love Cambodian traffic!

I worked late today, and left school about 6.30pm (when I eventually was let out by the guard who had been off having dinner). If I don't leave by 4.30pm it's best not to leave until 6.30pm as Phnom Penh peak hour traffic is not fun! Anyway, shortly before I left an ambulance sped down the street past the school, then as I was about to leave one sped up the street in the opposite direction. Hmm! I pondered my choices. Should I take the back route (still mostly major roads) or should I take the main road (Mao Tse Tong)? Choices, choices, choices. I made the wrong choice! At least I think I did.

Mindful of the ambulances I'd already seen, I very cautiously made my way down to the main drag, and headed north along it. Traffic was heavy but still moving. Got through a couple of intersections and past Parkway OK, and hear more sirens. Another ambulance heading south. Then get to an intersection where there was some manual traffic direction in addition to the traffic lights. now that was interesting and took a little longer! To get through you had to sneak between two cars crossing the intersection at right angles to you, and hope they don't start moving while you're in the middle (even while you have the green light). Part of the problem is that you can turn right or left or go straight ahead all at the same time. That works OK during off peak times generally, but it can be a recipe for disaster during peak hours. More sirens and another ambulance heading south. Still moving, albeit slowly. Eventually made it to a major intersection that is about halfway home, and somewhat hopefully thought my troubles would be over! Wishful thinking. I forgot the "Mondial Centre". It's the season for parties, and this place is a major venue for parties for those who can afford it. Oh boy. There was some traffic control taking place, but its focus seemed to be getting Lexus's in and out of the centre, and who cares about the people just trying to get home! I have been caught at this spot before, so you'd think I'd have learned.

So, since I'm writing this post, I obviously made it safely home, and it really didn't take that long. Maybe 35 minutes (for a trip that takes 20 minutes outside peak hour). Could have been much worse. So where were the ambulances going? Who knows? Probably never know. I'm just grateful that I wasn't in need of them. I want to conclude this post by giving praise to God who truly does protect me as I travel on Phnom Penh roads. This doesn't mean I do stupid things, but I really do believe He protects me in this aspect of my life (as well as many others). Thanks Lord. I really appreciate it. And thanks to all those who pray for this aspect of my life here!

15 December 2010

Control - In a bumper car?

Home group is over for this evening, and I thought I'd share an interesting analogy that one of the other group members shared. She'd been doing some reading recently, and in the course of that reading discovered this gem. Our life can sometimes be a lot like riding the bumper cars at a fair/fete/show. You think you're heading along in the right direction, when something/someone nudges you from behind and you end up "off course". You think, "OK, I can deal with that", so you do, and get back "on course" when all of a sudden you get bumped from the side. So you deal with that detour and get back on track and whammo, you get a thump from the other side. And so it goes. Life's like that. Even when when think we are going in the direction that God has led us, things happen, and so we have to deal with it. Sometimes we get back on the original track, and sometimes those bumps lead us in a totally different direction. Sometimes the bumps are God things, and sometimes they are not. No matter where the "bumps" or "nudges" come from, we can be sure that God will use them to work out His purpose for our lives.

So how does that relate in the classroom? Well, teaching is also a lot like that. You can be really well planned, and have everything "under control", when the unexpected happens. The power goes off. The swimming pool is closed. There's no water in the bathrooms. There's no water in the school. Your teaching assistant has to take an extra class becomes someone is sick. A colleague is struggling and needs you to help out, so you've got 40 kids instead of 20. You're sick. You're an hour late because the roads were flooded. The kids just don't "get it", no matter how you present the information. The activity you planned fails miserably! The list could go on indefinitely, but I won't keep going. Teaching can be like that! Hopefully all these things don't happen at once, but even if they do, somehow the teacher seems to survive, and the children seem to learn something (even if it's just that the teacher doesn't know everything) and sometimes even both manage to enjoy themselves despite the circumstances. The longer I teach, the more I believe God is teaching me to be flexible. He's also teaching me to be sensitive to the needs of colleagues and students, and I pray that I continue to develop in this area, being open to His "nudges".

Life is often "out of control". Does it really matter in the overall scheme of things. Probably not, because no matter how much we think it is "out of control", God truly is in control, and He sees the whole picture! I pray that I'll remember that each day as I seek to serve Him with all of my life, and to be surrendered to His will.

12 December 2010

Out of control = anxiety or ??? student led learning ???

This week I received some constructive feedback from a colleague. Included in the feedback was a comment about control. I think the comment made, that I feel more relaxed when I am in control, is very true. In fact, I tend to get fairly stressed when I feel like things are getting "out of control". Being relaxed is a good thing, but is being "in control" always a good thing? For example, I tend to be fairly reluctant to go to new places, where I don't know exactly what the facilities will be, and by a method of transport over which I have no control. Funnily enough, I'm happy enough to fly places, but really don't like bus travel. Even in Australia I would much rather drive myself somewhere than be driven by someone else, no matter how competent and safety conscious that driver is (although capital city public transport is OK). To get back to the topic, I wonder, is it possible that more learning might take place if I somehow lighten the level of control I have in the classroom? It was suggested that this this is indeed the case.

The Oxford Dictionary defines control as "the power to influence or direct people's behaviour or the course of events". As a teacher, especially of young children, I definitely have a level of "control" in their lives. This is a huge privilege and also a huge responsibility and I pray that this will be a good thing and not negative.

So, how can I lighten control in my classroom, and do I really want to? I mentioned earlier in the year some reading I was doing about differentiation through personality types, and this reminded me that we are all individuals, and some children learn best in ways that are almost polar opposites to my personality type. They need to talk about things to process them. They need to move in order to learn. They learn best by doing. Some children learn best with lots of freedom, while others learn best with lots of structure. Children need to be able to make choices about their own learning. At the same time, because they are children, they need guidance as they make those choices. Rather than "free" choices, children need to be offered two or three choices, all of which are helpful to the children's learning.

Consider another example. Have you ever had to write an assignment, and been given free choice as to what you write about? How difficult did you find that? Some people will not have had a problem with this at all. Others will be totally lost. What about in the classroom? Should the children have a free choice about what they learn? Or should they just be given some choices within certain parameters that will guide their learning.

One thing I've been working on this year in the classroom is the whole issue of classroom noise. Should children be allowed to talk whenever they like, about whatever they like, at whatever volume they choose? Should children be free to talk as they complete worksheets, or does this need to be done in absolute silence? In the past I thought it had to be silent, but I'm learning that some talking is OK. Something I've been really conscious about, especially in Mathematics classes, is allowing students to talk quietly while they are completing worksheets. The same applies in Language Arts. I still need to work on this, but I think it's a step in the right direction. I haven't seen it, but I've heard about teachers who have "noise meters" in their classrooms. Depending on the activity, the teacher chooses a level of "noise" that is acceptable. For example, during a spelling test, the level might be set at silent, but during project work time, it might be set at "normal voices".

I sense that there are many more ways that I can relinquish "control" without learning being reduced, and in fact, it may even be enhanced. So what does it look like when the children take greater control of their own learning. Can I facilitate learning that might just take a different direction to the one I initially planned, but which is equally (or even more) beneficial to the students' learning? If you are a teacher (or parent) and are reading this, and have ideas that might help me (or others), please leave a comment. I will be continuing to contemplate these issues, and also to look at what God has to say about them, in the days, weeks and months to come.

03 December 2010

A full week

It's been a while since I've actually had a 5-day school week, and I have to admit that it was really good to have it this week. It was great to get back into routine, and to be able to follow through with various activities with the children.

This afternoon, it was jigsaw puzzle time. Each Friday we have time set aside for "Fun Friday". This is mostly a reward to students who complete all their homework and classwork on time, but occasionally we do other things. The last time we had the jigsaw puzzles out some of the students discovered that one puzzle was missing a piece! Oh no. That was not what I wanted to hear. Not that they were particularly expensive, but 48 & 100 piece children's puzzles are not that easily available here, so I was not happy for a piece to be lost after only a few months. So today I told the children we needed to make ALL the puzzles, and make sure we were very careful about putting all the pieces away in the correct bag. Well, they did a great job. We didn't get them all finished before school finished, so I stayed in the classroom to make sure we didn't accidentally when the cleaner came through, while Mr Dy took the children downstairs to go home. A short time after he had gone, the cleaner came it, and was captivated by the puzzles, and sat down at the hardest puzzle of the lot to help put it together. Meanwhile I'd finished two puzzles. The first had a piece missing, but fortunately I found it when I finished the second one and had a piece left over. Hooray. Only 3 to go now. I was working on the next one when Mr Dy came back to the classroom, and settled down to work on another challenging puzzle. I tackled another that was partly finished, only to discover 2 pieces missing. OK, Mr Dy have you stolen my puzzle pieces? No. Are you sure? Let me look? Hooray, found them! Another puzzle complete. Two to go. Mr Dy was next to finish, so then we all worked together on the final puzzle. It was so much fun to do this with Mr Dy and the cleaner. I'm not good at names, but she was really happy when we finally finished it (and she had done quite a bit of it), although she did tell Mr Dy it made her head hurt! Hooray. I can happily report that there are no pieces missing! The children will be very pleased to hear that on Monday morning.

So as well as Jigsaw Puzzle Friday, we had a packed week. Today was Gr 3-5 assembly, which went well. On Tuesday we had music for the first time in a month or more, and on other days we also had all the "Specials", including swimming! Brrrrr!!! The water was the coldest I've felt it. Once I got moving around it was OK, but some of the kids were shivering. The pool gets very little sunlight, and the weather has been rather windy lately as well, so it was definitely cool. Yes, we even did some learning. In Language Arts we're working on Persuasive Writing, which is really interesting. Getting the children to come up with reasons for things to be different is really challenging. The whole idea of questioning "why" you do something seems to be culturally not done. We'll keep working on it though. In Mathematics we continued working on our Multiplication Facts, so we now only have one fact left to learn. I love teaching facts using Number Sense, because the children discover how easy it really is, and with the strategies we teach now, it's not so hard to learn the facts. Some people might think you have to learn 110 multiplication facts (0 to 10), but in reality you only have to learn 66 facts. Why because if you know 2 x 8, then you also know 8 x 2! I love it!

Oh, that's right, we also had a staff meeting on Thursday afternoon, and on Wednesday afternoon I finally bought a cupboard to store my teaching resources in, so I could use the bookshelf they were on previously for the classroom library. Now I can go and buy some more books! Yay! Then this morning I had an observation by the principal of part of my Language Arts lesson. Looking forward to receiving her feedback on that. She will come back sometime soon to see a Math lesson where I have the whole class rather than just half.

Well it's time I headed for bed. Hope you enjoyed this reflection on a "normal" week. Normal weeks are good, even if I am rather weary by the end of them. In His strength!

27 November 2010

Little things mean a lot

This afternoon I was disturbed by someone knocking on my door. It was my landlady and her daughter. Her daughter is learning English and has helped us communicate on occasion. Today, she told me she thought there was something wrong with my moto. Ouch! Wonder what has happened. I thought I'd better investigate, but first I'd better get properly dressed! I love lazy Saturdays at home when I can be very casual about what I wear, but it's best to be modestly attired before leaving the house.

Anyway, suitably attired, and with keys, sunglasses and helmet in hand I headed downstairs where I quickly discovered that there was indeed a problem. My moto was leaking fuel all over the ground. OK! It's always better to discover these things during daylight than after dark, so I put helmet and sunglasses on, and pushed the bike out into the road. Fortunately for me the repair shop is probably only half a km away, so I walked the bike there. It did not take the guys there very long to pinpoint the source of the leak, a perished piece of hose, which was quickly repaired by snipping off the perished part and rejoining the fuel line. He also very helpfully put some much needed air in my tires and then sent me off to the fuel station at the end of the road to refill the tank! Praise God that I rarely have more than $2 worth of fuel in the tank, so the loss was not huge. Having been almost empty, I could have put $3 in this time, but I'm never quite sure, so just put the usual $2 worth in. Half a tank will get me to and from church tomorrow as well as a few other trips around town.

When I eventually got home, the landlady was out, but I do have a small gift to give her next time I see her. Little things like them climbing the stairs and knocking on my door to tell me actually mean a lot.

One day at a time

Christmas is coming, but it doesn't feel like it. Christmas in Cambodia is definitely different to Christmas in Australia. Yes, the commercialism is starting to creep in, especially in some of the larger stores. You can now buy tacky Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and even some Christmas cards. As I have watched friends posting on Facebook about setting up Christmas trees and decorating, and even buying "Back-to-School" supplies, I have felt twinges of wishing for Christmas at home, but then I remember how long it takes to get there and back again (and the cost), and I think that I rather just stay here and enjoy the peace and the break from the everyday routine.

It's hard to get excited about Christmas when you know that you are single. Christmas is  much more fun when little children are involved. Yes, I do enjoy celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, but I sometimes fear that this purpose is lost to much of the world where Christmas is celebrated. I'm also wondering if it's OK to share the real reason for Christmas with my students. My heart desperately wants to do this, to set up a Nativity in the classroom, and to read the real Christmas story to my children. I guess I'd better put this on the list of things I have to talk to the principal about. I don't want to deny the other parts of Christmas, and am happy to decorate the classroom with other Christmas characters as well, but I need to be able to share His love with my students. That's why I'm here. God will guide me through this Christmas season, and it will be just the Christmas He wants it to be.

One day at a time. That's all God asks me to handle. He gives the strength for each day, as the day comes. I want to praise Him that He has given me the strength for each day this week as they have come. He has guided me through each day, and ensured that the children have been learning things along the way. He guided me as I allowed the children to share their experiences of the Water Festival holiday, including the tragedy. Cambodian television did not sanitise the shocking images that were shown on the local television stations, and they were played over and over again, with no apparent thought that children might be watching this as well as adults. Some of my students have seen things no child should have to see. Pray that they will not suffer as a result of this. Pray that I will continue to be sensitive to them in relation to this.

As my body continues to fight off the germs that have been attacking it, it is a reminder of the need to take care of our bodies. They are his temple, and so we need to respect them. I pray that He will help me to do just that in the coming days and weeks. God, you have given me so many good things that I do not deserve. Thank You. Please help me not to complain when tougher times come along, but to lean on You and Your everlasting, unchanging love.

25 November 2010


How can a single day be both a day of Thanksgiving and a day of Mourning? It seems to be a contradiction of major proportions, and yet it has happened today. I've been reminded in different ways, that for my American friends today is Thanksgiving Day, and I hope that they have been able to be truly thankful for the many, many good things God has given us all. While some have reservations about this day, I personally think that it is a great idea to have a day that is dedicated to giving thanks. I'm not sure it needs all the food, and other stuff that goes with it, but I guess that's part of the fun. Having said that, shouldn't every day be Thanksgiving Day? I'm thankful that I woke up this morning! Thankful for a bed to sleep in. For air-conditioning to facilitate sleep. Thankful for food to eat, clean water to drink, clothes to wear, a home to come back to at the end of each day, internet, friends, family, and most of all a living God, who cares about me, whom I can have a personal relationship with.

I need to remember too that He is a holy and righteous God, and nothing that happens in this world is missed by Him. He knows what happened here in Cambodia on Monday night. He knows about the miners in New Zealand and their families. He knows about the conflict between North & South Korea. He knows about little Calvin Dedert and the sufferings of that baby boy, and how hard it is for his parents to see him suffering. Yes, He knows all things, but He wants us to tell Him about them. He might already know how we feel, but He wants us to tell Him. He want us to tell him about the injustices of this world, exactly as we see them. He may not change this, but don't doubt for a minute that He hears you, and He cares.

Today was officially a Day of Mourning here in Cambodia. On the surface it seemed as if life was just going on as usual, but it wasn't quite. Yes, many businesses were open as usual, and we had school as usual, but all around the city the flags were flying at half mast. On major holidays here in Phnom Penh households and businesses are expected to fly the Cambodian flag. Many mini flagpoles are installed in specially drilled holes on the pavements, then removed when the holiday is over. Today those flags were all flying, but at half mast. Our school flag has been at half mast since Wednesday morning (at least), and this morning we observed a minute's silence before separating to our classrooms to start the day's work. Government offices were all closed. Continue to pray for the people of Cambodia. Pray especially for those who were caught on the bridge and survived. Trauma counselling and Critical Incident debriefing are not easily obtained in this country, and yet there are going to be many young people who will suffer unseen effects for many days, weeks, and even years to come. Pray for their families, that they will know the best ways to help them. Pray for those who are able to provide those services, that they will not be burned out.

As I finish writing, this post, it is with the hope that I can move on from here and focus again on positive things, and with the knowledge that God is good, all the time! Who He is does not change, although the circumstances around us do. Give it all to Him, and give Him the glory and praise and thanksgiving that is also due to Him.

23 November 2010

How did this happen?

That is the question on the lips of many here in Phnom Penh at this time. I don't know if we will ever know the full story of what happened on the Koh Pich bridge last night, but I do know that there are many grieving families in this country tonight. Most of those killed and injured were young people, often young women, who had gone out to simply enjoy the final celebrations of the biggest festival of the year. In many cases they were their families hope for a better future. There are many reports in the media about what happened, and some graphic footage has been shown on local and international television. The prime minister has declared a National Day of Mourning on Thursday. What that means, I'm not really sure.

At this stage I do not personally know any of those killed or injured or their families, but that may change tomorrow when I go to school. I pray it doesn't but if it does, I pray that God will give me the right words to say in whatever situation I find myself in. Meanwhile, I can pray for those who are grieving. Grief in this country is something which is shared both visibly and audibly. For many it is a grief without hope. Pray especially for any who are Christians, grieving Christian young people, that God will bring something good out of this tragedy.

As I watched postings on Facebook today, I was reminded of God's protection of His children. One of this year's Seniors at Logos International School posted that that she had been at the site, but chose to go home at 9.15pm. By 10.00pm she was home. When she got home she saw, on the television, all that was happening. She could so easily have been caught on the bridge. I praise God for His protection of this child of His. How many others were likewise protected? We may never know.

Some will question how a good God can let these things happen? I think that if I lost someone precious to me in this disaster I would ask that question too. I don't know the answer. I just know that we live in a world that is fallen, and so we see bad things happening. I also know that God's word says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). As we pray for those who are grieving, let us also pray that God will bring something good from this terrible disaster.

16 November 2010

Just clowning around!

This afternoon the children (and teachers) from Grades 2, 3 and 4 at East-West International School were treated to a fun performance by two crazy, clever clowns. Organised by one of my colleagues, the children watched two zany clowns from the Clowns Without Borders present an exciting performance. The children alternatively giggled and gasped as the clowns danced, acted and juggled their way through the afternoon. Some of the children even had a chance to participate!
Earlier today I was wondering what activity I would assign the children during our reading response time tomorrow morning, but I’m wondering no more. Instead of a reading response, this time I will ask the children to write and draw about this afternoon’s performance. We will brainstorm words that we could use to write about both what they saw and how they felt. It will be interesting to see what things they remember and which things they enjoyed the most. A big thank you to the guys from Clowns Without Borders for their performance and another one to Miss Nadia for organising the visit to EWIS.

15 November 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Combining well known passages from the early chapters of Acts with anecdotal stories from Bible times to today, this book seeks to challenge readers to “make a difference”. From young people to the elderly, Max invites readers to make a difference, in one way or another.

When I read the first few chapters of Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado I was a little disappointed. I’ve read most of his other inspirational titles, and this one just didn’t seem destined to have the impact of some of the others. After all, I’m already living and working cross-culturally in a third world country, where I hope that I am making a difference in the lives of the children that I teach. I’ve definitely stepped out of my comfort zone of middle class Australia. Fortunately, having agreed to review this book, I kept on reading and I’m really glad I did because once again God is using Max’s writing to challenge me. Some of the later chapters are definitely touching some sensitive spots. A gentle reminder of the power of prayer, something nothing and no-one can stop us doing, was timely for me. Don’t take my word for it. Get hold of a copy of this book and read it with an open heart. You can make a difference!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com http://BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

13 November 2010

Miss Karen I like Maths now!

It's comments like this that just make your day. This came from a little girl in my class who really finds mathematics difficult. She spent the first 5 years of her life in an orphanage, and while I'm sure she was provided with the physical things she needed there is so much that she missed out on. Simple things like counting games in the car on family trips, like helping mummy count the cans of soup to buy in the weekly grocery shop, like playing counting games with big brothers and sisters. Mathematics is all around us in the world, but children in orphanages tend to miss out on much of this. This little girl is fortunate. She was adopted by loving parents who are doing their best, not only to provide her with her current needs, but also to help her make up for some of the things she has missed. I love mathematics, and having my students enjoy it is just one of the many pleasures of being a teacher. It's not always easy to do this, especially when students have not seen successes in the past, but it is worth every minute of preparation that it takes to help the struggling students and at the same time extend the more capable ones. I love this job!

06 November 2010

It's too cold!

On Thursday morning this week it was not until I had been at school for about 15 minutes that I realised I'd left my swimsuit at home. Oh no! Swimming is compulsory, and teachers are expected to be in the water with their students. I will admit that I wasn't looking forward to swimming, but I had put all my gear in my swim bag ready to go and then simply forgot about it in the early morning rush. I decided to confess to the principal and see what she wanted me to do. I always prefer being up front about these things. As it turned out, she had been meaning to tell us that, given the usually cool temperatures this week, it would be OK for us not to do swimming this week. Hooray! That got me out of a whole. While some of the students were a little disappointed, the girls all enjoyed our skipping and ball games time. The boys were a little more disappointed on Friday, although not all of them, however by the time they had spent 45 minutes playing UNO in groups of 7 or 8 with a teacher or assistant none were upset by it. Brrr! While I'm enjoying the cooler weather, I do hope it warms up a little before next Thursday, or at least that it is a little less windy than it was on Thursday and Friday. That wind was definitely coming from Arctic regions!

Sharing your writing is so much fun.

One of the fun things that part of my class did this week was to share their writing with some of the students in one of the Kindergarten classes. I mentioned two weeks ago that one of my Language Arts groups had been writing "David" stories. Some of the children didn't get them finished in class, so I gave them a week to finish them, and on Wednesday this week we headed down to Kindergarten to read the stories. First I read the original "David goes to School" to the class, then we paired the children up and they each got to read their stories to several Kindergarten students. The stories have now been placed on display in the school library so other children can enjoy the work of these budding authors.

I learned a lot from this teaching activity. I think the most important thing that I learned is that if you give children a model and a structure they find it much easier to write, than if you just ask them to write you a story. This is especially true for students working in their second or third language. As a teacher, I know that I still have so much to learn, and I hope that I will always be a lifelong learner.

Another fun writing task we have undertaken over the last week has been letter writing. Over the summer we were contacted by a teacher in the UK who wanted to give her students a genuine writing activity, as well as a chance to learn a little more about another country. We received the letters from her students a short time ago (yep, arrived safely through the mail), and hopefully all the replies from my students will be ready to post off on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. Most are done, but a few still have pictures to finish. They've asked if we would send them some audio/video, so that will also be on the agenda of things to do on Monday. That will need to go electronically, but it will be fun to do. Hopefully my internet connection will cooperate sufficiently to allow me to send it, or I might just burn it on a CD and send it that way. Either way, it's fun for the children to have this link with children on the other side of the world, and to see some of the ways their penpal's lives are similar and different to their own.

Writing can also be challenging. Children who read widely are also better able to write well. Imagine that you can speak a language, but cannot read or write it. When most of your lessons are in that language, school has just become so much more difficult. Planning meaningful lessons when your student's abilities vary from beginning readers to competent readers reading at or above grade level is especially challenging. That's one of the main challenges of my classroom this year. There's a great resource that I've been trialling the last week, but it requires a subscription for me to continue using it. It allows me to differentiate my reading lessons very well without too much effort, and the program contains a substantial number of non-fiction texts as well as fiction ones, so cultural issues become less of a problem than with other programs. Pray that I will make wise decisions about the best and most ethical use of the limited resources available to me.

26 October 2010

A day I could have done without

Life continues to be an adventure. I woke this morning to the sound of thunder and rain. Now that makes it really hard to get up, but I managed to get out of bed and get organised for the day. By the time I left for school the rain had stopped, so I packed the raincoat in my backpack, along with all the other goodies for the day, including my peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and headed off to school. The road at the end of my street was slightly flooded, but nothing major like a week ago, and so I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary as I headed to school. I got part way down my new route (which is about 5 minutes shorter than the old route), and found the road was partially underwater. It was interesting to realise that the concrete blocks down the centre of the road were also providing a mini dam in some places, and fortunately for me I was on the high (dry) side. I did end up going through water for about one block, which was more challenging because of all the potholes that I couldn't see to avoid. I eventually arrived at school only slightly damp to just above the knees and definitely on time.

The first part of the morning went well, with story time, handwriting, changing library books, and problem solving. I also had the fun task of playing postman for my children. Over the summer break we had arranged to exchange letters with students in an English school in Great Britain. The letters arrived last week, and so today I distributed them to the children. This was very exciting for most of them, since generally they had never received any mail before. Later this week we will be writing replies, which will be fun.

Recess saw me on duty in the playground, and the children having lots of fun! I haven't forgotten I promised photos of them skipping, and had actually hoped to get some good ones today, but the skippers were in a different area of the playground to where I was supervising. They are coming.

After recess we have our Language Arts time, and the first part of the lesson went really well. The children were busily planning their stories when I was summoned to the office. Late last week we were asked to bring out passports to school today, and somehow I forgot. I arrived along with the other teachers who for various reasons had also been summoned to the office. After considerable time we were interviewed, and answered some questions. Just before lunch time, myself and a colleague were asked to go with the officials, and so began a lengthy visit to a local police station. That gave me a chance to get to know my colleague a little better than I might otherwise have. We answered questions, and thumb printed the interview record, and eventually we were allowed to leave, and by 3pm we were back at school. I praise God that He kept us safe, and that He kept us calm and patient. I think that the thing that I was most concerned about my absence was what my students would be thinking, and I pray that they will not have been worried by the whole situation (in reality they probably knew very little). God is good. I could have been alone, but not only was I with a colleague, but I was with a colleague who shared my faith. It could have been a very hot day, but it was overcast and relatively cool, so we were not as uncomfortable as we could have been. Lunch was definitely very much enjoyed when I eventually got it at 3pm this afternoon.

Well, that's it for today. I praise God that He was with me through this experience, and that it ended in freedom. The experience has certainly made me appreciate our Khmer staff. I'm not sure what God's purpose in today's events was or is, but I do know that He will use it for His good.

24 October 2010

What's happening in Grade 3K?

This week some of my students have had a lot of fun writing "David" stories. No, I'm not talking about David and Goliath. I'm talking about a very normal, naughty little boy. The first story in the series is called No, David, and the second, which we had lots of fun reading this week, is called David Goes To School.

Imagine if you can, all the things a little boy could get up to which would be unhelpful in the classroom, and you have David. After we read the story together, several times, I challenged my students to write me a David story. Possible topics were David Goes to the Farm, David Goes to the Market, and David Goes to the Zoo. They had a great deal of fun doing this, and are now at the point where they are publishing their stories. Next week, we will take our stories down to the Kindergarten classes, so the children can read them to a real audience. Some of these students have very little English, or at least limited reading and writing ability, and so the task has really challenged them, but they have risen to the challenge

Tomorrow, I plan to share one of my favourite books with the children: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Have you had days like that? I know I have, but tomorrow is not going to be one of them. How do I know that? I know it will be a good day, because I'm giving it to God, and I know He will guide me through the day. There's a possibility "bad" things could happen, but I know that God can use whatever happens for good, so long as I let Him. I hope that my students have a great day.

It's also going to be a good day because I have a new bell for my classroom, which I plan to teach the children about. If the bell dings once, it will mean be a little quieter. If it dings twice, it will mean be a lot quieter, and if it dings three times then everyone must stop talking until the bell dings again. Hopefully I won't have to get to three dings! This also means that my clapping pattern can be used consistently when I want the children to stop talking, put their pencils down, and look at me. This will usually be because I need to give further instructions or because it is time to transition.

Well, it's time I stopped rambling on, and finished some planning for tomorrow so I can go to bed!

11 October 2010

It's an adventure following Jesus

Some of you might recognise the title of this post as a children's song that was popular at STBC for a number of years. Following Jesus in Cambodia is definitely an adventure. Some days are more adventurous than others. This afternoon, while I was at the gym, I had a chance to see some Australia news, and I noted with interest that South East Queensland has been deluged again. I just checked the TRC website, and it's great to see the dam levels slowly increasing (even if some of it is coming from the Wivenhoe Dam). Why was this so interesting? Because the rain has been the cause of adventures for me today!
I headed down to school about 8.45am this morning, noting that traffic was back to its normal chaotic self, after several peaceful days over the holidays. It was overcast when I left, but not raining, and I arrived safely. I'd been there about an hour when the heavens opened, and we received a torrential downpour. It eased after about an hour or so, and I was able to get down to the photocopy shop about 2.30pm without getting too damp. When I left there, I put my raincoat on, and headed up to the gym through reasonably gentle rain. I spent about an hour at the gym and by the time I left it was raining heavily again. Based on past experience, I felt it would be best to take the long way home (it's higher ground), which I did, and so I didn't have to go through any flood waters until I was about one block from home. The semi main road which runs parallel to my street was still OK, but once I turned off it, I was in water (over a foot deep in places) all the way home. In fact there had been so much rain that the water was up to the top of our driveway. The photo below was taken previously, and gives you some idea of just how much rain we have had. The whole street was a river this afternoon. The day this photo was taken there was at least some road visible in front of our house.
When I got in to my apartment, it was to be greeted by pools of water across the kitchen floor. Fortunately the floor is tiled, and it just requires mopping, but I've just mopped it for the 3rd time, and it's likely to continue accumulating all night! Where does it come from? It appears to seep through the wall, which may have been waterproofed at some time in the past, but it no longer is! At least it's clean water.
So my prayer for tonight is that it will stop raining long enough for the water to drain away. I can handle going through dirty water (often mixed with sewerage) on the way home, but I really don't like doing it on the way to start the day.
I also feel for those people, and there are many of them, whose homes are flooded with this dirty water, or who don't have a decent roof over their heads, and so will have a very damp night tonight.

08 October 2010

Playground Fun

Last weekend I was very extravagent, and spent $3.50 on an 18 foot long skipping rope. It's a proper skipping rope with handles and is bright yellow and black. On Tuesday this week, I was on playground duty at recess, and I took the skipping rope downstairs with us. The children were really excited, and it didn't take long to get the fun started. Not long after the 3rd graders started enjoying themselves I had 4th and 5th grade students (with whom we share recess) lining up to say, "can we play too?". It was great to see the children all playing together and having fun. Even some of the teachers were getting in on the fun. I'll have to say this was one of the best purchases I've made here in Cambodia (after all those books of course). I'll try and take a photo next week to add to this post.

04 October 2010

A Monday in the life of Grade 3K

It’s only Monday, but it’s been such a good day that I thought I’d write about a day in the life of Grade 3K at East-West International School.

The bell rings at 7.30am and all the children line up in their classes (from Pre-school 1 to 8th grade). The principal says good morning to all the children, and they say good morning to her, and to their classroom teachers. Then, since it is Monday today, the children (and Khmer staff) sing the Khmer National Anthem as the Cambodian Flag is raised. Those who don’t know it are expected to stand still and quiet out of respect for our host country. After this, the children are dismissed to their classes with an encouragement to learn well.

After climbing 3 flights of stairs, the children reach our floor, and then they take off shoes and backpacks, and bring water bottles and homework (including classroom library books that need changing) into the classroom. Once they are settled on the mat I take attendance, taking this time to personally say good morning to each student by name, and then I read aloud part of a story to them. At the moment we are reading The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. Sometimes I will get the children to make predictions about what is going to come next, other times we’ll talk about new words, and other times we will just enjoy the story together.

The next item on the day’s schedule is a whole class language arts time. On Monday that is when the children prepare their spelling lists for the week, as well as noting any other homework that is required. This is an interesting time, as all the children are at different stages in spelling, so they each have an individual list. This list might include words they got wrong in written work, vocabulary words from our current Language Arts theme, as well as words from our Core Words lists. The teacher has to check each list before they go home, since it is very easy for the children to copy a word incorrectly, and if they learn to spell it incorrectly it is so much harder to then relearn the correct spelling. Preparing the lists takes longer or shorter times depending on the child, but all lists have to be finished by 9am when the children head off to ICT and library. Children who finish quickly have the opportunity to enjoy some silent reading time. This is also the time when the children change their classroom library books. ICT and Library lessons give me one of my three short preparation periods for the week, so I usually try and get some papers graded, future lessons planned, or even some filing done!

There is just ten minutes between ICT/Library time and recess, so this is usually silent reading time. Recess lasts for 20 minutes and the children usually enjoy the break playing downstairs under the building. After recess, we have a two hour block during which the children have one hour of English Language Arts and one hour of Khmer instruction. They are divided into two groups based on language ability, so the Khmer teacher and I each have half the class at a time. This is a great time because it allows for more individual attention to students, and for better differentiation of instruction. At the moment we are working on a “recount” of a visit to a hospital, and all our English language activities have been focused around a short piece of writing. I’m enjoying this, and getting some great ideas for building Language Arts units.

Lunch follows at 12 noon, with 20 minutes for eating and then 20 minutes for playing. Today I was on playground duty for the second 20 minutes, so I have to make sure I eat my lunch before the children are released from the eating area. Unfortunately today it poured rain during our lunch break, so part of the playground was not able to be used, but with a large part of the playground under the building there is still plenty of space for active play (although Australian students would find it very restrictive).For those who remember the posts in my original classroom at Logos, there are several of these and a staircase in the middle of the play area, but the children still manage to have lots of active fun!

Lunch is followed by two 50 minute lessons. I take the other Grade 3 class first for mathematics, while their teacher has my class for Science/Social Studies, then we swap over and I have my own class for mathematics. We then have 10 minutes at the end of the day for final notices and packing up ready to go downstairs. It’s essential the children are downstairs in the waiting area by 2.30pm as there is very limited parking in the streets around the school, so we aim to have the children picked up as quickly as possible. Each afternoon the principal and her Khmer colleague are at the gate to say good-bye to the children individually in traditional Khmer fashion. I love that she does this.

Finally, just before 3pm, when the majority of the children are gone home, we are free to head back to our classrooms, to prepare for the coming day, pack up, and head for home!! I’m not sure why I feel that today was such a good day, but I do know that it seemed to go smoothly, and I’m looking forward to another busy day tomorrow! Maybe it was just a good day because most days are good days. I thank God for his strength throughout each day, and for all the lessons I am learning along the way.

* ICT = Information and Communication Technologies, which is more than just computers, but it does mean the children get to use the computers in the computer lab.

30 September 2010

Three very important minutes

This afternoon, God blessed me through three very important minutes with one of my students. Praise Him for all He is teaching me each and every day, as I journey through this year of change and discovery.
So what happened? I have had a lot of difficulty convincing one of my students that he needs to do his homework. Yesterday, after a month of other strategies, he had a chat with the principal and I told him that if he continued to not do the homework without good reason I would need to contact his parents. Today, his homework was done.
Then this afternoon, as I was handing back some other work, I discovered his copy of the worksheet was missing. He said he didn't know where it was, and so we went and had a look in his bag together. What I found there prompted me to ask a question about his parents, and his response to that question prompted a longer conversation. In talking with him, I discovered that both his parents are presently in other countries, one just for a short time and the other for a longer time.
That made me think! I wish I had taken more time earlier to find out what was happening in this boy's life outside of school, and to let him know that he matters, and that I really care about him, not just his homework/schoolwork. When I moved to this school, the importance of relationships was emphasised. Today, reminded me of this. My personality type has a tendency to focus on getting the lessons taught, and the academics of education. Praise God that He is teaching me, ever so gently, to get more in touch with the Feeling and Intuitive sides of my personality, and to be more thoughtful about the who of teaching rather than the how & what. If you pray for me, then pray that I will continue to be sensitive to both God and my students as I learn to focus more on relationships and a little less on academics.

25 September 2010

A productive long weekend with some fun thrown in!

One thing I love about this time of year in Cambodia is all the Public Holidays. Friday was Constitution Day, next week is a full week, but the week after Thursday and Friday as well as the following Monday are Pchum Ben. The following week is another full week, then we get another Friday and Monday off for King's Coronation Day & King's Father's Birthday. All those holidays are great for making sure I spend some time relaxing, and still keep on top of things for school, but they do make covering curriculum a challenge!

So what have I done this weekend? Well the first project for the weekend was the Classroom Library. I wanted to assign reading levels to all the books that I could, make an inventory of the titles and put labels on them so I have a chance of getting them all back. Here they are all packed up and ready to go, along with a few samples. That is now complete and I'm looking forward to taking the books to school on Monday morning.
Another job on the agenda was planning for the coming week. For me, that also involves making sure I have all the materials that I need ready for the coming week. I've done most of that, with just some laminating projects to finish off. Since the laminator takes a while to warm up, I try to do this in batches, so it will probably be tomorrow evening's job to finish those things off.
One of the pages I follow Facebook is Scholastic, and today I discovered they were having a one week sale on Teaching Resource Books for just $1, at Scholastic Teacher Express. http://teacherexpress.scholastic.com/dollardeals?&product_type=269&view=all. There were 278 teacher resource books available as e-books for just $1. I got over $100 worth of books for just $15. No delivery - just download them and save them in a safe place and print them (either single pages as you want to use them or whole books). That was time consuming, but also fun!
Over the last two days I've also managed to read 5 or so of the books, enjoying rereading some of the classics, as well as some I've never read before. This is NOT work. It's fun.
I've also managed a trip to a local store for some essential/non-essential supplies for the coming week, and but will have to do a little more shopping tomorrow when I will go a little further afield for bread and refrigerated items.
This evening I plan to visit a friend, for pizza and a movie.
I've still got a lot of other jobs on my "To do" list, but they will just have to wait. Tonight I'm going to relax, enjoy good food, and good company and hopefully a good movie too!

24 September 2010

"The Boy Who Changed The World" by Andy Andrews

The Boy Who Changed the World is a delightful children’s book, telling the stories of four boys who grew up to change the world. The key message of the story is that all children can make a difference, and that “every little thing we do matters”. The Curriculum Guide (available on line) is for Pre-K through 2nd Grade children, but this story could definitely be read and enjoyed by any elementary aged child, and even with middle and high schoolers.

The beautiful illustrations impressed me, as did the way the author connected each boy’s story to the next. The font is clear and easy to read, and I liked how some key points are emphasised in different fonts. The message comes through very clearly, and the story itself is easy to read. While the message is clearly a Christian one, and God’s plan for us to make a difference is clear, it was also presented in such a way that I felt comfortable reading the story in my secular classroom.

To see how children would respond to the story, I read this book to my 3rd grade class the day after I received it, and they enjoyed it. Many of the children recognised and appreciated the fact that they can change the world. Considering that English is the second or third language for almost all of my students, I was thrilled at how much they connected with the story. The repetition of key phrases was very helpful for children who are still learning English. In each of the four stories within the stories, there were aspects that the children were able to connect with, such as Norman playing a game with his sisters, and Moses giving up something precious (his horse) for something even more precious (George).

Here’s what some of my students said about the story:
  • I like the story because Moses traded his favourite horse for George.
  • I like this story because it is very good and it tells everybody about how to change the world.
  • I like the story because the boy saved one billion people.
  • I like the story because the four boys grew super plants for people that are hungry.
  • I like the story because it tells us how to change the world.
  • I liked the story because I love the two girls. I like their hair colour.
  • I like the story because the story tells us how to learn to change the world, and I liked it because the story tells us how to learn to do something right.
As a teacher, I also appreciated the Curriculum Guide on Andy’s website, and I’d really encourage other teachers to take time to share this beautiful story with their students, and to use the Curriculum Guide to make the most of the story.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

23 September 2010

Old books and new books

Those who know me well will know that I love to read, and so it will come as no surprise that I greatly desire to engender a love of reading in my students. To do that, they need to have books available! We have a developing library at East-West, with some great books, but at the moment the children cannot borrow books (forms need to be signed by parents stating they will cover the cost of replacing any lost books - and I understand and support the reasons for that). At the same time, it does make it difficult for some of my students to read at home, and so I sought donations to help me build a personal classroom library that I can lend to the children. I have had one donation so far which has enabled me to make a start on this project, and so yesterday I went to a great second hand book shop where I purchase 90 books for $80. That equates to about 4 books per child at the moment. I'm still hoping for more donations, so I can also give each child their very own, brand new Scholastic book at Christmas time, as well as offer a wider selection of books, including more non-fiction (harder to get hold of, and more expensive). This weekend's project is to identify the reading level of the books and also label them so they return to the classroom! I suspect I'll probably read a few along the way as well. I still enjoy reading kids books. Watch this space for the children's reactions to their new "classroom library".

On Tuesday evening I received a very special parcel. I'm very grateful to the guys at Logos who made a special, unscheduled trip to the post office to pick it up for me. It was a brand new hardcover copy of a book called "The Boy Who Changed The World". It is so exciting to receive brand new books, and this one will be greatly treasured. I shared it with the children on Wednesday morning, and they really enjoyed it. Watch this space for a BookSneeze review, coming very soon.

19 September 2010

Some memories are precious, ...

I wrote this entry about a month ago, and for some reason it never got published. I found it today as I was cleaning up my "desktop" so here it is. I hope it might be a blessing to those who read it.

Some memories are precious, so we can tell our souls to recall them with pleasure. But other memories bring pain, and telling your soul to remember those is difficult. Yet both can be profitable to your soul as you assign meaning to them. Profitable memories are those that add to your soul wellness rather than subtract from it. They prompt maturity and growth rather than drag you down or keep you stuck in your own immaturity. Profitable memories contribute to your personal depth and understanding. They challenge you to think broadly rather than narrow your perspective. That’s why profitable recollections can be either pleasant or painful. Even hard times in our lives can contribute great wisdom to our thought closets. (Rothschild, J. 2007. Self Talk, Soul Talk.)

As I read this paragraph, and the paragraphs that followed, it prompted me to think about the memories I have stored away in my mind over the past six months. There were definitely some painful ones, but I can truly say that those painful memories are profitable. Remembering being told I wasn’t being offered a contract for the 2010-11 school year is definitely a painful memory. Not knowing what was next in God’s plan for my life for almost 3 months is also a painful memory. Being offered a contract for the 2010-11 school year is definitely a good memory. The fun I had doing the Jungle Flight during Refresh. Now that is definitely a good memory, even though it was a bit scary at the time! So what great wisdom has gone into my thought closet as a result of this time? More than anything else, I can say that I have seen, and felt, God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness in provision for my physical needs, but mostly faithfulness in that He has always been beside me through the journey. Faithfulness in teaching me the lessons I need to learn. Faithful to the passion He has placed in my heart for teaching middle-upper primary school students. Faithful in the provision of His peace.

God is faithful. What about you? Do you have painful memories that God uses to bring His wisdom to your life? Why don’t you share it with someone. Make a comment on this blog. Write a note to a friend. Write an e-mail. Write your own blog entry. Share one of your profitable memories so that others can learn from them too!

18 September 2010

Another exciting week in 3rd grade

This week has been full of fun and learning. It has been exciting to watch the children become more settled in the classroom, and especially to know that I do actually know all of my students' names. Well, maybe that's not quite true. I know the names of all the students in my "homeroom", but I'm still trying to learn the names of some of the students in the other grade teach, who are my students for mathematics, and I'll also probably have some of them for swimming.

As I learn the children's names, I am also trying to get to know their personalities a little better, and to learn the best ways to teach each child. This is challenging me, but is also very important to me. The better I understand my students, the better I am able to meet their needs.

Swimming was an interesting experience. We had girls' swimming on Thursday morning, and boys on Friday afternoon. As this was our first lesson with them in the pool, it was our first chance to really find out their abilities. The pool is a reasonable size, with a deep end and a shallow end. It has steps for entry and exit as well as ladders, and has some rails attached to one side at the shallow end for kicking practice (as well as giving less confident swimmers something to hang on to. Our first battle, with the girls, was to actually get them into the water! It was cold! At least until they started moving around. Since I was still trying to throw off the cold I'd caught a couple of weeks ago I didn't get in the pool this week, but usually I will. It was interesting to see the different ability levels, and also different confidence levels. We have them ranging from non-swimmers and scared to confident with little technique to some quite competent swimmers. It will be interesting trying to meet all of their needs, and especially making sure the non-swimmers get the chance to learn basic water safety skills and then to learn to swim. The boys were much more eager to get in the water, and most were very eager to show off their ability. They were also much louder than the girls! Still, despite the water being cold, I think that most had a good time in the pool, and are eager for next week's lesson.

This week was the first week with formal homework assigned and followed up, and children got a sticker for each item of homework that was completed (up to 3 stickers a day). At the end of the week, the level of homework completion determined who got to participate in "Fun Friday". Sadly only about half the class were able to enjoy this week's activity involving creating pictures using fishy foam shapes! Looking forward to having more children enjoy next week's activity.

This week I was also able to ability group some of the children for Mathematics, and that was really helpful. There are still some challenges associated with the Math program, and I'm going to have to work out some ways of extending some of the children, but it will happen.

Next week I hope to start assessing some of the children's reading levels, so I can tailor their instruction more individually, as well as ensuring that they have appropriate reading material for free reading & home reading. This afternoon I went to one of our local second hand book stores and selected about 80 titles, which I'll pick up early next week. Most were $1 each, with a few hardbacks for $2. I'm looking forward to levelling them, and getting them into the hands of the children. It's great to be able to get books for kids at such good prices. They're pre-loved, but all the ones I chose have plenty of life left in them! I did manage to find a copy of "Ralph S. Mouse" which I'm thinking of reading aloud to my kids. We'll do a novel study on "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" a little later in the year. That will be fun I think, especially in a country where so many of us travel by motorcycle most of the time.

That's all for now. It's time for bed, listening to the sound of gently falling rain! Hope we can make it to church tomorrow without a boat!

10 September 2010

Where did this week go?

It's hard to believe that we have already finished two weeks of school. At the same time, I'm praising God for His strength to get through this week. On Sunday afternoon I experienced those tell tale signs that I was nourishing some nasty germs, with lots of sneezing and a drippy nose. I took some garlic tablets, headed home early and had an early night, but all to no avail. The bug had got hold of me, and it's stuck with me all week. I wish it would go away! So I armed  myself with a box of tissues and bravely headed off to school on Monday morning, where I quickly discovered that I was not alone and that several of my colleagues were also in various stages of battling similar ailments. I guess it comes with the territory. Various forms of infection do seem to be an occupational hazard when you teach 7-9 year olds in a "large" group. Life's like that!

So was it a good week. Well, apart from the germs, I think that I learned a thing or too, and so did my children. I am starting to feel like I'm getting to know the children a little better, and have probably got three quarters of the names of my own class sorted out in my mind. There are a couple of boys who are similar in looks and behaviour, and if I can't see their faces then they may well get called by the wrong name. There are also two girls who are similar build, and both very sweet, whom I have been mixing up a bit. I get frustrated when I do this, since names are important, and I really do love each of these kids in their own individual way, and I want them to know they are important enough for me to call them by the right name, so I think they'll be wearing name tags in class for one more week. Hopefully by then I'll have them sorted out.

One thing I learned this week is how much some of the children struggle with reading and following simple instructions. We did a mathematics test today, which consisted of a single page of questions in almost exactly the same format as we had worked in class over the last two weeks, and I was flabbergasted by the number of children who were unable to simply read the instructions and answer the questions. No, I'm not talking about the students that I know have very limited English here. I'm talking about students who have quite good English. Definitely something we will need to work on. The other big concern in mathematics this week was the number of children who were still doing basic addition facts by counting on their fingers. By 3rd grade I expect most children to know these facts without having to count, but obviously there's still need for work on this. I can see some flashcard making coming up!

A good thing this week, was getting the children grouped more effectively for their Language classes, and knowing which group was which. While I'm doing roughly the same content with each group, there is definitely room for differentiation here, both by ability and by learning style. I'm still struggling with reaching the children in the class who have very little English, but am seeing some progress with them, even in just understanding simple instructions and classroom procedures. Building vocabulary is going to be an essential part of both Mathematics and English classes. I must go back and review some of the ESL strategies I learned at a workshop in the past and see how I can better help all the children learn. This weekend I hope to get some Mathematics grouping done, so I can better differentiate instruction in that subject as well. This is more challenging as I have two classes, but in consultation with the other teacher, we decided if might work to mix the two classes up based on ability levels. We'll try it and see how it goes. Hopefully it won't make the Science/Social Studies classes too unbalanced in terms of ability.

Something else that I have done this week which I'm really happy about is to accept a certain level of talking and discussion of work between the children when they are completing written tasks. In the past I have expected this to be done in silence with no conversation allowed, but I'm learning that there are some children who simply must talk about things to process them, and so long as their chat is on topic then it's OK (unless it's a test that I need individual work for).

Next week's excitement will be the opening of the swimming pool for classes. Fortunately for me, 3rd grade swim lessons are on Thursday and Friday, so I've got almost another week to get healthy again before I have to get in the water. It should be fun actually.