26 January 2011

Fun with magnets

It's been a while since I did a "school" post so I thought I'd share some of the fun we are having with Magnets in Grade 3K at the moment. Mr Dy is having so much fun he keeps getting his phone out to take photos of what we are doing! That of course reminds me that I should be taking some photos too, so out comes my trusty little camera.

The unit we are working on is an inquiry based unit, involving lots of experiments, as well as some fun demonstrations. The school had a number of magnets, and I was able to purchase some additional ones locally for a very reasonable cost. Generally that means the children can work in pairs or sometimes groups of 3 to complete the activities, ensuring that everyone is actively involved. In each activity they have to predict what is going to happen first, and write it down or draw it, and then they do the activity. One of the first things the children explored was our classroom, and they were amazed to discover some items they thought the magnets should attract were not attracted at all. Now I wonder why that might be.

Where is it hiding?

OK, let's find it!

Deep in concentration.
 Activities have included finding "invisible" items, testing to find out what objects are attracted by the magnet and which ones are, thinking about what objects are made of and how that affects their magnetism, checking out what happens when you have two magnets and you put them together different ways, and today we started looking at magnetic fields (using iron filings).

How does this work?

Why did it do that?

OK, what's next?

Working together

Writing it up
As you can see from these photos, all the children are involved, and I'm fairly confident they are learning things. That doesn't just mean learning about science. They are also learning a thing or two about working with together, and sharing ideas, and especially about communicating their ideas. Although I'm teaching in English, I'm working closely with Mr Dy so the children can also build the relevant Khmer vocabulary to discuss their ideas in both languages. Tonight's project is laminating some bi-lingual vocabulary cards to put up on display. Thanks to Mr Dy for his translation work.

The students have also had opportunities to continue their learning at home, searching their home for magnets, and for items that are attracted to magnets. It's so much fun seeing the children learn this way, even if it does take a heap of preparation to make it work.

20 January 2011

Tales of a package

Have you ever wondered about the journey of a package? Here in Phnom Penh, I sometimes wonder about the journey snail mail takes as it comes to me. I received a package today, and I wish it could talk.

Back on  27th July 2010, I requested a book called "Capture by Grace" from the Booksneeze program. On the 5th August 2010 I requested a "special" book called "The Boy Who Changed the World", then on 10th September 2010 I requested another "special" book called "Outlive Your Life". Usually you can only request one book at a time, but on this occasion the second and third books were offered in addition to your existing "one at a time" allowance. By November 2010 I had received and reviewed both the special books, but still hadn't received "Captured by Grace". I contacted the publisher, fully expecting them to say, "Sorry there's nothing we can do, but we'll reset your profile so you can request another book". Not true! They arranged for another copy to be sent. Wow, I think God must want me to read this book.

2 weeks ago, I still had not received the 2nd copy so contacted them again. No problem, we'll try again, but let's try a street address. OK. I can do that. Let's see what happens.

This afternoon we had a staff meeting, which was finished by 4pm, so I called in at the Post Office on the way home. I parked the moto and went inside where I climbed on the bench in front of the boxes to reach my colleague's box (which I use and is on the top row). Turn the key and open the door. It's a bit sticky. Now I cannot see inside the box, and in fact, it's not that easy for me to reach in, but I do, trusting there will be no nasty livestock inside! Yes! There's mail. First I pull out a card for another colleague, then another card for the box's owner, then finally a package. I wonder who that will be for. OK. Yes! It's mine! Hooray! I love packages. I closed the box, checked the mail on the counter (another colleague is also waiting for a package), put the mail in my bag and headed home via the grocery store.

A while later, as I opened the package with much anticipation (since by then I knew it was a new book to read), I noticed a strange stamp on the Customs Declaration form. It said "MISSENT TO THAILAND". On closer inspection of the printed address label I discovered it said Phnom Penh twice, but didn't actually say Cambodia. Someone had handwritten Cambodia on the label but at what point I guess I'll never know. So now I'm wondering why it got sent to Thailand. That's going to remain a mystery I feel. What I do know is that I'm grateful that someone in the Thai Postal System took the time to send it on to Cambodia. The parcel was posted in the USA on 16/11/2010, so it took just over 2 months to get to me. All I can say is "I think God really wants me to read this book, and to allow it to speak to me, and so I'd better get on with it!"

18 January 2011

Why is it so easy to hurt other people?

Did you ever unintentionally hurt someone? Have you ever said words you wish you hadn't said? Did you ever send an e-mail you wish you could retrieve and delete? What about saying words that in themselves were not that bad, but the tone which you used was not kind or helpful? What did you do afterwards? Did you beat yourself up over it? Maybe hate yourself for it? Now here’s a challenge: Have you ever tried to work out why you did it? Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I get angry about that? Was it because something was outside my control? Was it because I resented the other person? Was it because there is something about that person that I'm jealous of? Is fear a factor here? Have I lost something? Am I hurting here?”

These are questions I’m learning to ask myself asking periodically. There are days when I simply cannot understand why I do and say the things I say; in the way I say them. I do NOT like it when I hurt people, or even when I do or say things which have the potential to hurt. From these questions, I sometimes move to even deeper and more complex questions which are harder to find answers to. Questions like “Why did God wire my brain the way He did? Why is it that I cannot seem to change the way I interact with people? Why can’t I be kind and gentle and loving like Jesus ALL the time?”

Sometimes I take these questions to God, and sometimes I struggle with them alone. Very occasionally I’ll consider them with a close friend or confidant. I don’t think that I’m alone as I consider these questions. How many people really intend to hurt other people with their words and actions? I truly believe that it is not that many. Yes, occasionally we do intend to hurt others, and those times are not good times, but generally I believe that most people do not want to hurt other people. So why do we do it? Why do I do it? Does it all boil down to original sin or is there more to it?

Someone recently said to me that “when we hurt others, especially when it is unintentional, we are often acting / reacting out of our own pain”. Since mid-February 2010, I have worked through a considerable amount of pain and baggage, with help from God and other people. I’m sensing that there is still more pain and hurt in my life that I need to allow God to heal. What pain? What hurt? I’m not ready to share that in this forum, especially as pain and hurting often involves other people, but I’m thinking about how I can let God continue to bring healing and wholeness in my life. God is the only One who can truly heal, and the best news is that He wants to. My attention was drawn to the following verse this weekend:

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25 NIV)
No matter which version you read, it is clear that when we are finally presented to God, it will be without fault and with great joy. Will the joy be ours or Christ’s? I don’t think it matters. It’s going to be a wonderful occasion. God wants us to be whole, complete, and without fault. That is His plan for us. This verse isn’t talking about now, it’s talking about the future, but it dovetails beautifully with Paul’s words in my favourite verse:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 NLT)
So where is this leading? First, I am reminded that, no matter what I have done, or how I feel, I need to remember that I am a work in progress, a work that God has promised to finish, and when that work is finished I will be without fault and there will be great joy. I’m also reminded, that I need to speak God’s truth to myself at all times. That truth is that I am His precious child, chosen before I was born, and greatly loved. Even when I fail to live the way He wants me to, I can be confident of His love and work in my life. There’s much more to healing than this, but for the present this is enough to focus on. I believe a time is coming when God will bring even greater healing and peace in my life. I’m not there yet, and it may not come completely on this Earth, but I know that it will happen, because He said it will.

14 January 2011

What a week!

After two weeks break, school resumed on Monday, and I was definitely ready for it. It was great to see the children back again, excited about learning and ready to study. Books were borrowed and we settled back into the routine. I'll post more about school at another time.

Unfortunately life in Queensland was anything but routine. On Monday evening I arrived home to an inbox containing photos of flash flooding in Toowoomba. I decided to make a few phone calls, and the more I looked on-line and spoke with people at "home", the more devastated I felt. It wasn't a personal devastation, since as far as I know my house and belongings are all fine, but rather a sense of loss those who were personally affected. Through the week I watched and listened to events unfold in the South East corner of the state as well as the South West. I heard stories of amazing courage, and of the resilience of Queenslanders, and I heard stories that break my heart. People who have lost everything in terms of belongings, but a grateful to be alive.

As a friend in Japan blogged earlier this week, it is very hard to see such devastation and be able to do nothing to help, except pray. I was only 10 years old, and living in Townsville, when Brisbane last experienced floods of this proportion. I vaguely remember it being on the news and in the newspapers, but communication and the media in those days were very different to what they are now, and I was only a child, so it probably wasn't very real to me anyway. This time, I've seen what floodwaters can do first hand here in Phnom Penh, and how disgusting they very quickly become, and I think that has made me more aware of just how nasty the situation in Queensland is.

Having said that, as I have looked today at news reports, it has been encouraging to see the number of people who are volunteering to help with the clean up. Not everyone will be able to do that, but there are many who are. Let's praise God for them, and encourage them.

Last night as I was looking at some of the thousand or more photos posted on Facebook, there were two things which struck me. The first was the power of the water, and the second was that, even in the midst of the devastation, people were seeing and photographing and sharing beauty in the midst of destruction. Floods are not beautiful, but there is still much beauty in the world. If you are reading this, and have become, as I was beginning to, overwhelmed by all the negative aspects, please take some time to find something good to look at. Look at young people and not so young people pitching in to help with the clean up, without any expectations of "reward" aside from the intrinsic reward of knowing they have done the right thing. Look at nature, and in the weeks to come see how our amazing fauna and flora bounce back. Yes, it has been bad, and it will be tough going to a long time to come for many people, but God will use it for good, especially for those who love Him.

In conclusion, I have one more praise point, and it's a big one. I praise God that relatively few lives have been lost, and for the way everyone is working together to see Queensland overcome this blow! 

04 January 2011

Thinking about home

Christmas and New Year's Day often turn the thoughts of expats to "home", but it's not those special days that has my heart turned to home at the moment. A very large proportion of my home state has been inundated by floodwaters, including towns which have been completely evacuated (yes, 100% of the population has had to leave town) while others are isolated by all usual means of transport (road, rail and air). One major town (population 75,000 people) is still waiting for flood waters to peak. Much of the airport runway is under water, and supplies routes are likely to be cut for up to two weeks. Many people are losing everything, while others are philosophically saying "at least we're still alive". In a "rich" country like Australia, many people have wealth beyond the imagination of many of Cambodia's poor, and there are also many people who don't have a lot in comparison, but no matter how much you have or don't have, it's hard to comprehend losing everything. Check out this amazing photo story to see some of what's happening. Check out the ABC (Australia) website for up-to-date info.
The clean up from this disaster will take months, and it will take years for many of our farmers to recover, but at the same time, I think of previous disasters in Australia and remember the resilience of the Australian people, especially country folk. We will look back in the months to come, and we'll see markers for the 2011 floods on people's walls, and we will see people getting on with their lives.
Australians are already rallying to support those affected. The southern states are sending SES workers north. North Queensland SES workers are heading south. Governments are making plans for recovery, and organising supply flights. Life will go on.
There's a famous Australian poem, called My Country, of which I will quote just a few lines:
"I love a sunburnt country,
of droughts and flooding rains,
her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!"
Australia is my country, and I love her. I've seen her in drought, and I've seen flooding rains, but she's home.
Twelve months ago, the dams supplying my home town of Toowoomba had less than 8% of their capacity, and water restrictions were major. Today they are at 62.3% of capacity. There has been a rise of almost 20% of capacity since Christmas. Australia is a land of extremes.
As you read this, pray for the people of Queensland. Pray for the leaders making decisions for the state's recovery. Pray for the people who are devastated. Pray for the people who are helping out. Above all, pray that people will turn back to God. I cannot do anything else, but I do know that God will hear my prayers for the people of my country.

01 January 2011

New Beginnings

Don't you love the way we get to start a fresh calendar on 1st January each year. Actually, I don't have any new calendars to start. Maybe there are some in the mail. Anyway, that doesn't matter, because it's still a new year.

What is even more amazing is that God allows us to start each day afresh! He doesn't keep a record of those things we stuffed up, of the things we didn't do, or of the things we did that we shouldn't have done. Of course there is a proviso on this "forgetfulness". We do need to bring our sins and failures to Him. We need to be honest with both ourselves and Him. Only when we humbly admit our failure to reach His standards can He forgive us and allow us to begin again. The beauty of it is that He does do that.

Why? Why should an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy God forgive us and put our sins away from Him? Is it because we are somehow good enough for Him? Did we do something to deserve His forgiveness and grace? No. It is simply because He loves us. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to earth as a baby (the source of our Christmas celebrations), for the express purpose of saving us from our sins. Was that an easy thing for Him to do? I don't think so. Would you find being separated from your only child easy? Would you find being cut off from God easy? Would you like to die on the cross, deserted by all your "friends"? I didn't think so. Neither would I. God did it though. Jesus died on the cross, separated from His Father, was buried, and the triumphed over death.

Thanks Lord for all you have done for us. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you that you take us just as we are, and love us with your everlasting, unconditional love. Thank you Lord.

May the year ahead be one of growth, especially in the knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Saviour, as I continue to seek to serve Him. And may those who read this also experience the amazing, wonderful love of Jesus Christ, the only way we can truly know God.