26 November 2012

Teaching English in Missions: Effectiveness and Integrity

During the ACSI ICEC conference which I attended last week, I was privileged to participate in two workshops by Jan Edwards Dormer. After the second workshop, I decided to purchase a copy of Jan's book Teaching English in Missions: Effectiveness and Integrity, despite the fact that I'm not "teaching English" as such but rather teaching primary school, in English. I have to say, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I was also challenged by it.

With chapters like If you can speak English you can teach it. True or False and "First, do no harm": An English Teacher's Hippocratic Oath, you might wonder what was being said. These two chapters challenge the idea that any native speaker can teach English, and that teaching English is always a good thing to do. After setting the scene in these two chapters, Jan goes on to provide some core information that all those involved in or considering English teaching as a ministry would do well to consider, covering four types of English ministry, some requirements for English teachers, some models for teaching English, and some building blocks for English classes.

The book is easy to read (I read it in two days), with thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter. At the same time is a professional read, with a useful range of appendices and a reference list for further reading.

For me, the challenge is to learn more about something I do daily, although in the context of providing general primary school education. I'm a native English speaker, and a trained teacher, but reading this book has highlighted for me how much more I need to know in order to be truly effective in the work God has given me to do.

If I've got you thinking and you'd like to read this book, it's available on Amazon.com.

18 November 2012

What does your weekend look like?

A fellow blogger posted this queston this evening, after sharing some highlights of her weekend, so I thought I'd rise to the challenge.

This weekend's activities are a reasonable sample of a "normal" weekend, although I'm not sure there's such a thing.

After a slight sleep-in (8am instead of 6am), and the usual morning routine it was off to my piano teacher's house for my piano lesson. The trip across was uneventful, although I did notice a larger than usual police and military presence along the roads. Lesson over it was off to school. Slight delay at one intersection as we waited from some unknown (to the road users anyway) dignitary to make clear passage.

I then spent about 5 hours at school, mostly grading papers and preparing homework for the coming week or two, as well as a little planning and preparation. Why go to school? Because if I'm at school I actually get school work done, where as if I stay home I get distracted by various other things.

Next was a trip to two of the bigger grocery stores, where I bought a large glass casserole dish, as well as groceries. Why two stores? Because I can rarely get everything I want at one. Both of these stores are about the size of an medium sized IGA, and cater primarily for the expat population. One has the best range of Cadbury chocolate (from Australia) available, as well as a few other things I like, while the other carries the best range of Arnott's biscuits, and also frozen meat. Neither had the deodorant I like so that meant another store needed to be visited this morning.

Prior to arriving at the first grocery store I experienced another traffic delay. This time, we actually got told to turn our ignition off as we waited for the convoy to enter the complex 100m or so down the road, plus one van at the gate near where we were stopped. There will be many more of these delays for folk who need to use the main roads during the coming days of ASEAN meetings.

Finally headed home to find our street turned into one big parking lot, with a large function happening further down the road. Access to our gate was completely blocked from the street, so I came up in front of the neighbour's gate, along the sloping footpath, then neatly executed a 90 degree turn in less than one metre of space. It was tight, but at least I got in. A quiet evening followed after putting the groceries away.

This morning, after another pleasant sleep, I jumped on my moto to go to a "convenience store" on the other side of the main road and down a few blocks. That was no problem. Yay, they had the deodorant I like back in stock, so I stocked up, as well as getting the drinks I wanted for the coming week. Loaded the back pack up and headed for home. Got almost to the main road and spotted road blocks in place, so detoured back to the alternative intersection which was also blocked. I joined the throng awaiting the passing and eventually got across the main road and back home.

The unusual event for today was guests for lunch. I had invited my piano teacher and her husband and daughter for lunch, and was looking forward to it. I made a variation on Apricot chicken, which we all enjoyed, including the extra unexpected visitor. No problem. I can find an extra chair and plate and I had enough food. Variation was required as some of the ingredients I would use in Australia were not available here (at least not where I looked). Didn't matter. It still tasted good and my guests all enjoyed it.

After that, it was time to head up to church so I could practice on the piano there. I've been doing much more practice at home lately, but the touch of the church piano is different to mine, so practice there is important. I made it through the service with only a few variations on the theme, then home.

So that's my weekend. What about yours?

17 November 2012

Public Holidays and so on...

If there was a contest for the country with the most public holidays, I'm sure Cambodia would be right up there at the top of the list.

Since school started on 3rd September, we have had a total of 7 public holidays and 1 teacher work day when we did parent-teacher conferences. So that means that in the first 11 weeks of the school year, we have had 7 five day weeks (i.e. no public holidays). We've had two 4-day weeks, and two 2-day weeks.

This week was supposed to be the 8th five day week, but alas, ASEAN has come to Phnom Penh, and schools are closed. We were officially notified on Friday that we would have to close on Monday and Tuesday. So that makes a 3-day week this week. Next week is a 2-day week (Monday & Friday with holidays Tuesday to Thursday), then a five day week, a four day week, and one last five day week to bring us up to the Christmas break. Hmmm.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the holidays. They help me stay sane, giving valuable catch up time, BUT they also make it hard to maintain momentum with my students. Have a look at this.
Week 1     5 days
Week 2     5 days
Week 3     5 days
Week 4     4 days (I was ready for that long weekend) (Constitution Day)
Week 5     5 days
Week 6     5 days
Week 7     2 days (The 5-day break was good) (Pchum Ben)
Week 8     5 days
Week 9     2 teaching days, plus 1 day parent-teacher conferences (Coronation Day & King Father's Birthday)
Week 10   4 days (Independence Day)
Week 11   5 days
Week 12   5 days (only now it's 3 days)
Week 13   2 days (Water Festival)
Week 14   5 days (Hooray)
Week 15   4 days (big concert that weekend, so don't mind that Monday is a holiday - International Human Rights Day)
Week 16   5 days

We haven't got the calendar for 2013 yet, but I'm fairly sure the holidays are a little more spaced out after Christmas, and we should be able to get some solid teaching happening. Life is interesting.

It's interesting, because this means we have a 16 week term! It would be way too long if it weren't for all those sneaky little holidays. So, what should I do? Well, I think that what I do is actually OK. I enjoy the holidays when they come, and do my best to keep some continuity happening in the classroom despite the interruptions. Keeping routines going helps kids, so when I can do that I do.

And as for ASEAN, well, I wonder what Aussie parents would say about school being closed for two days with only one weekend of notification. I wouldn't like to be a teacher there in that situation. Here, it's just part of life, and you do what you have to do. Either the kids will go to work with Mum & Dad, or Mum and/or Dad may just have to stay home too. Life is different here.

What about me? Do I get two extra days holidays. No, although I do get two shorter days (9am - 2pm instead of 7am -3pm). We need to get working on WASC, and hopefully I can get some grading caught up and some extra planning done.

As for those lessons I had planned for Monday and Tuesday .... Well, that will teach me to try and plan two weeks ahead. Some can be shuffled to Wednesday, and some will just have to wait until I return from ICEC in Chiang Mai after Water Festival. Life's like that.

27 October 2012

Getting a little culture

This evening I was privileged to attend a delightful concert in the Grand Ballroom of the Phnom Penh Hotel InterContinental. It was part of the 9th International Music Festival which runs for 5 days, with a 5 free concerts. I missed the first two, both being held in an auditorium on the other side of town in the evening, as will be the final concert, but the two over the weekend I am able to attend.

This evening I was treated to a selection of three compositions by the late King Norodom Sihanouk, followed by a trio from Georg Philipp Telemann, a voilin sonato by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and finally another trio by Johann Joachim Quantz. Here's a glimpse of the musicians.
Notice the instrument on the left - a contralto recorder! Beautiful.

While this was a violin sonato, I did not envy the pianist at all. She did a brilliant job, and I'm sure the accompaniment was almost as challenging (or maybe more so) than the violin solo. Yes, I had a front row seat with a perfect view of the pianist's hands.

I loved this combination of instruments. Contralto recorder, flute, and cello, with very subtle piano accompaniament.
Alas, due to the fact that I didn't want to head for home much after 8.30pm (I was out alone and that's about my limit time wise), I didn't get to enjoy the second half of the concert, but I am looking forward to tomorrow's matinee Piano Recital. I wonder if I'll be able to get quite such a good seat. Even if I don't I'm sure I'll enjoy listening!

16 October 2012


Today I enjoyed one of the benefits of a long weekend. Today I enjoyed catching up with a friend I haven't seen since July 2011. One of the joys of living overseas is making friends from all around the globe. One of the trials of those friendships is separation, especially within the missionary community where folk regularly go on "home assignment" for shorter or longer periods of time. In today's world, keeping in touch is so much easier for missionaries and other expats than it was when I was growing up in North Queensland during the 1970s.

I remember moving from Melbourne, Victoria, to Townsville, North Queensland (2000 miles). At the time, I think most of my extended family still lived in Victoria (maybe with the exception of one aunt who lived in New Zealand). As I was only 9 at the time, it didn't really seem like such a big thing, although I know it was a huge move, especially in those days. There was no internet (so no e-mail or Skype) and STD (long distance) phone calls were really expensive. Our main form of communication with family and friends in the south was by snail mail. I think it was hardest for Mum, as a stay-at-home Mum. She was a long way from both family and the friends she'd grown up with. It took a long time for her to settle and make new friends.

Then in 1980, Dad was transferred to Brisbane, and so the family made another big move, this time only 1000 miles, but it was challenging none-the-less. Mum & my sister Jenny moved down in January, in time for my sister to start grade 10 in Brisbane. Dad and I went for a visit at Easter, and then in May Dad moved down. Meanwhile I was at boarding school for my senior year. Rather than change schools for 12th grade, I was able to become a boarder at my existing school. Most of my class were boarders (in fact there were only 5 day students out of our class of 22), so there were plenty of people around, but it was still hard. Even then, my primary form of communication with my family was by snail mail. Still no such thing as e-mail for the general population (in fact I never used a computer at high school at all), and definitely no Skype. Phone calls were limited to special occasions.

Once I finished school I moved to Brisbane as well, where once again I had the challenge of making new friends. It has been interesting in the last five years or so to catch up with school mates on Facebook and by e-mail. In Brisbane, I made new friends, and I'm pleased to say that I'm still in contact with many of them. In the last month, one of those friends that I've had since I was 17 made the journey to Phnom Penh to visit me and see where I live and work. Now that's friendship.

Today, it is easier in some ways to maintain contact with friends and family who live a long way away, but it still takes time and effort. Writing e-mails and newsletters takes time. Picking up the headset and logging onto Skype takes time. Facebook definitely takes time. But, friendships are important, and those who have no friends are often lonely and sad. I praise God for all the friends He has given me over the years. It takes time and effort to maintain a friendship, but it's worth it, and I'm thankful for those who are willing to put time and energy into being my friend as well as allowing me to be their friend.

Then there are those special friendships, that when you meet after a long time apart it just seems like yesterday. You pick up where you left off and have special times together. Today was one of those days. It was so good to see my friend and pick up where we left off. Thanks JK.

Friendships aren't easy. Sometimes we hurt each other. Sometimes we are just too busy. Sometimes we want people to carry us, when we need to carry ourselves. Sometimes we need to grow into a friendship. No matter what, friends are important. If you are one of my friends, then I thank God for you. I thank God for what you give to me, and I thank God that you allow me to give back to you. Thanks for being my friends.

15 October 2012

Five years on ...

This time five years ago I was on my way home to Australia following the death of my father. I still miss him, but the pain is getting easier. It helps to know that one day I will see him again. I wonder if the King of Cambodia and his family have that comfort. I suspect not. Today, the King Father, went to meet his maker. He saw much change during his life, from French colony to indepndence, war and peace. You can read about his life here. Life is fragile. I thank God that He loves us so much He made it possible for us to know Him personally, despite His perfection and our imperfection. I also thank Him that the death of His children is never without hope. God is good. Let Him take control of your life. He will not let you down.

05 October 2012

Open House

Today we had our first ever Open House at EWIS. From 1.30pm to 2.30pm we opened up our school for parents to come and have a look at what goes on in the classrooms. I couldn't keep track of who had parents come this afternoon, but there were certainly enough that it was worth doing.

Chatting with the principal after school it was interesting to hear that more than one teacher had wondered why we hadn't done it before, so I suspect it will become a regular event on the school calendar.

This morning I was frantically putting together and getting copying approval of my class handbook. A little late, but it contained important information for parents about classroom procedures, homework, what we are going to learn, and how to contact the teacher, as well as our class schedule. Now the first one is done it will be much easier to update for future years. I just have to get a copy of the Khmer translation, so I can save it in a safe place. My poor assistant had to completely retype all of the material (even though it he had translated it last year) because unfortunately his computer had crashed and he no longer had last year's translations. Fortunately I had a hard copy! Next year I'll be able to send it home on the first day of school (at least that's the plan)!

It was also interesting to hear this afternoon some of the fun things that had been going on for parents to look at. In my classroom students were working in small groups on their "Create a Country" project. In one of the 2nd grade rooms there was a Science Fair happening. Fifth graders were peer teaching in one room and having a technology based lesson the other. I wish I'd been able to escape and go and visit some of the other classes.

19 September 2012

Ten minute challenge

I'm taking up a friend's challenge to write for just ten minutes then post.

This morning was just another Tuesday. Headed upstairs at 7am to put my bits and pieces away and squeeze in a little grading before lessons started for the day. Back downstairs at 7.28 for bell time at 7.30am after which it was back up the stairs with my munchkins. A quick stop on the 3rd floor to remind some 3rd graders why we don't run in the building, then on to the 4th floor. Oops, the delay on the 3rd floor meant some of my kids had already interrupted the Khmer class to put their backpacks away. Sorry Mr Dy and 6th graders. That sorted and attendance taken, it was straight into work with a quick math test. Marked those this evening and discovered some areas I need to review. Next comes two hours of Language Arts (half the class doing English & half doing Khmer for one hour then swap).

Hooray, it's recess time and no-one has to stay in today. After that my students had music, so I got busy with some grading and organising for the next lessons. Also went to track down the self-adhesive contact I'd ordered for covering books from the classroom library to enhance their longevity. Soon the children were back and it was into Maths, followed by some silent reading, and house-keeping (mostly homework related).

Lunch (no duty today, so a quick meal then back to get ready for Social Studies). A fun Social Studies lesson looking at lines of latitude then it was time for swimming. 30 girls, and almost all of them were swimming again! Yay. Went more smoothly than last week as we'd reorganised the groups and got some extra spotters. I had 9 girls in the deep end and they all did really well. 30 minutes later and it's time to get out. Saw the students out the gates, then it was back upstairs for some book covering, marking papers and getting ready for tomorrow. Just as I was about to head home it started pouring rain, so I delayed a while.

And my time is up! Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of my day.

10 September 2012

Welcome back to Grade 4K

Almost 12 months ago I posted Welcome to Grade 4K. It's been by far the most popular of all my blog posts with 902 page views at the time of writing. Now it's time to welcome you back to Grade 4K for the 2012-2013 school year. Come on in and take a look around.

Before you come in, you might like to look at our bulletin board.
The two posters are about myself and Mr Dy. In a few weeks time the board will be covered with posters that the children have prepared about themselves.

I found these bright coloured foam stars while I was home in Oz.
The children had great fun decorating their own stars with markers and glitter glue.
Every child in Grade 4K is a star and is encouraged to shine as brightly as they can.
On your right as you walk in the door are two sets of shelves, divided into 24 boxes. Each child has his/her own box to store workbooks, homework folders and work-in-progress. It does take a little time getting books out for lessons, but as the children become more familiar with the books they get quicker.

Above the shelves (or cubbies as the children call them) is our Star Helper wall, the Kindness Box, and some posters encouraging the children to do their best all the time. I love the bright colours and the encouraging messages. The pile of folders on the end of the shelves are for testing. They give each child his/her own space, and it helps me know that the work I get on a test is the child's own work.

Four tables, six chairs at each table. Sometimes I really like individual desks, but I'm used to these now, and have learned to make them work well.

Foam mats make the tiled floor a little softer for sitting on, and add another spot of colour to the room.

Books, books, and more books! I love encouraging my students to read.

A new set of Go For Green pockets was needed this year due to a slightly larger class size, and I was delighted when the lady in our local copy shop produced the clear pockets that I've used this year. Students know their own number so names are not necessary, make this reuseable!

For some reason Mr Dy's desk is almost always much tidier than mine!
I love these language arts posters. I inherited them from the previous 4th grade teacher
and they are perfect for 4th graders, especially as we work on various aspects of grammar.

I was fortunate to get these two new whiteboards in place of the one I had previously.
The board on the left has the weekly homework plan on it, which students copy into their Homework book. The right hand board has the daily schedule, date, and working space.

The column of words on the right were made by my 3rd grade students about 18 months ago. They are words students and teachers can use to encourage each other when someone has done a good job.
The noise meter is still working well.
The white posters in the centre show how to use some templates that I keep on hand for when the children are working on posters or displays.

So that's the Grade 4K classroom. I hope you enjoyed having a look around. Be sure to come back soon and find out what's happening in Grade 4K.

02 September 2012

Ready, set ...

This time tomorrow the first day will be over! Am I ready? Well, as much as I'm going to be. I do have a plan for tomorrow, which is a good thing. Hopefully it's a realistic plan, although better to overplan than underplan I say, especially where kids are concerned. If you have a plan, you can always diverge from it. If you have no plan at all, then you set yourself up for failure. The key to having a plan is to be sure it's flexible. Yep, you heard me correctly! The plan has to be flexible. There are so many variables on the first day of school, not the least of which is the children. With 23 children in my class for day one it's going to be a very full classroom. It will be really important that we have homes for everything, and that everything is returned to its home as soon as we finish with it. So check back tomorrow, or in a few days to see how that first day of school went, and whether we stuck to the plan or were flexible or both!

29 August 2012

Work in progress.

Back here I promised to take some before and after photos of work in progress in the classroom, and I did. These were taken the next day. The finished product photos were taken today (10/9) and you'll find them on a later post.
Looking straight ahead as you walk in the door.

The rest of the room. Notice the wide open windows. We are not allowed to have A/C on unless the children are in the classroom. Fans help a bit, and if there's a breeze that's good too (although sometimes both create more problems than they solve by blowing things around) but it was a long hot week.

Mr Dy's corner

Classroom library is just about done.

The overflow of the classroom library.

27 August 2012

Something to think about ...

Tonight, as I was enjoying some Facebook time and catching up on blogs that I follow, I was delighted by this post. Please take a moment to read her post before you continue reading this one.

As I read Kara's reflections, it prompted me to think about the children I will be teaching this year. Each child who will come into my class this year is unique. He or she will bring his or her own special qualities, gifts, and needs. Each one has been placed in my classroom for a reason. I do not know what that reason is, but I do know that God will show me during the course of the year.

Teaching is a privilege and a huge responsibility. It was said today, that in Cambodian culture teachers are seen as just as important to children as parents, and at times even seen as "second parents". What a trust is placed on us.

As I start this year, I pray that God will lead me to know how He wants me to meet the individual needs of the children in my care. I pray that I will be open to His leading and guidance. I pray that I will be sensitive to their needs. I pray all this knowing that as I endeavour to lead and teach the children I will also be learning. I learn so much from the children in my care. I thank God for the privilege of serving Him and them in this way.

I also thank Him for those who pray for me! This is not a job I can tackle in my own strength. No way! It is His task, and I seek His strength, enabling, and patience to do the very best job that I can do, in His strength. I pray too that they will see Him in me.

First day back ... for teachers

I've been back in Cambodia for just over a week, and today was the first official day back at school for teachers. It was great to be back. There were lots of new faces, especially among the secondary staff, and it's looking like being a great year.

We all met in the hall, and it was time for the round of introductions, then a break to meet individual, then time for some sharing by the principal about the history and establishment of the school.

After that it was off to the classrooms! I did get most of my furniture moved one day last week, and had started unpacking stuff, but then managed to get sick, so it had pretty much stalled at the stage of the photos below.

Today, with the capable help of my trusty assistant Choundy (Mr Dy), much more progress was made. All the boxes are emptied, and quite a bit of stuff got put away. In between there was much sharing of information with new colleagues and a little planning going on. I'll take some before and after shots tomorrow, and let's hope it looks a lot more like a classroom by the end of the day tomorrow.
Now it's almost time for bed, since I havea meeting with my fellow 4th grade teacher tomorrow morning to finalise our lists of school supplies to be ordered before the whole of school meeting in the hall at 9am. Looking forward to another fun day of getting ready, and to meeting all my new students next week!

The Box - the end of the story

A quick update on the story of "The Box".

As I mentioned in my last post, I needed to empty the box once it was moved to see just how much damage had been done, to rectify what I could, and then repack. So that's what I did. The first stage was to completely empty the container, identifying as we did boxes which were ant infested or likely to need repacking due to mould or moisture. Unfortunately we found a heap of ants had found their way into the box (no doubt trying to escape the damp weather we had over the last two years) so there was quite a bit of cleaning and repacking to do as well as mould to be cleaned away.

Most of the stuff stacked on a tarp to air.

Another view of the same stuff.

The rest of the stuff.
 We covered both heaps of stuff with tarps overnight as the whole job took about three days. Too much stuff to deal with all the ants and mould and stuff in just one day. Before closing the box overnight we also painted with endrust the metal strip down the centre of the box on the floor, and then sprayed it thoroughly with indoor/outdoor insect spray. The next morning it was opened up to air thoroughly before we started packing. The next step was to hang a number of objects from the sides. This served a dual purpose of saving floor space and also creating some air space around the inside of the container.
Yes, I'll have a bed to sleep on when I eventually return down under!
 After that it was sort, put shelves in, fill the shelves, pack, clean, sort and put more stuff away.
Somethings have to be accessible, like the file cabinet. Note the mattresses now suspended from the ceiling as well. Hopefully this will both provide some insulation and allow air to more around them.

What remained about the time I took the photo above. Covered it up and finished the job the next day.

Done! The guardians of "The Box". The gentleman in this photo did a huge amount of work in helping me move, unpack and repack the box (along with another very helpful gent).
So it is now to be hoped that I will have little need to trouble "The Box" apart from occasionally filing of paperwork. I certainly don't intend getting anything else out of it. A huge thanks to those who helped me, and to the wonderful couple who just happen to have space on their block of land to safely house the shipping container. God is good!

08 August 2012

When a holiday is not a holiday ...

... when the shipping container full of your Aussie household goods (and precious books) is going mouldy and has to be relocated, emptied, cleaned, bug sprayed, and then repacked! Doesn't sound like much of a holiday to me either, but that's what I'm up to this week. Last week I did a little sorting, and Monday I did a bit more, but today was the big day.

I arose at the most unreasonable hour of six o'clock this morning. Yes, I know many people rise at that time or earlier every day, but I'm on holidays and besides which it was freezing cold. How do I know, because when I went out to the car at about 6.30am there was a layer of ice on it. I actually had to pour water over the windscreen several times to get it clear. Brrrrr! That dealt with I was on my way.

On arrival I moved a few things out, and a few move down from higher positions then closed it up again. Here's the story in pictures.

The box. Note how we've had to dig out the front right corner so we could open the doors.

Rear view after the box next door has been moved. See how the base is almost buried.

The very excellent crane that did the job.

Digging out the corners to get the points where the chains are fixed onto the shipping container.

Checking the chains with slight tension just before the lift.

Off the ground!


In the new location. Notice the bare ground where the containers had been resting.
With the drought broken, they had sunk into the ground quite a way.

Getting the big stumps in place to hold it off the ground. With air able to circulate more freely and any run off able to get away we're hoping that mould growth will be a thing of the past.

Once it was moved, the next job was to empty it and find out just how much damage there was. Actually, it was surprisingly little, although we did find a few redbacks and quite a number of ants nesting inside some of the boxes. Some cardboard boxes need to be replaced, and there's quite a bit of mould on some of the furniture but all in all, considering I was anticipating a 6 months absence when I first packed stuff up it's in pretty good shape.

Tomorrow is going to be another big day, with the cleaning, sorting and repacking needing to be finished by 2.45pm so I can get on with my AustSwim supervised experience. I guess there's no doubt that I won't be bored tomorrow!

20 July 2012

Tales of Traffic

One of the pleasures of being back in Australia is driving a car.

In Cambodia, I ride a moto, rain or shine, that's just how I get about (unless I happen to walk, or very occasionally I take a tuk-tuk). Now since I'm rarely going any great distance, and with the number of cars, vans, trucks, and buses in Cambodia increasing at a very rapid rate, my moto is actually a pretty efficient way to get around. $2 fuel will get me through most weeks and sometimes even a fortnight. If it's raining, well, I just pull out my rain poncho and go anyway (occasionally I'll delay a journey if time isn't an issue and there's a high likelihood of the rain passing fairly quickly). On a hot day, it can be rather pleasant to go for a ride, since moto riding has a way of creating a cooling breeze. Cold weather - well, what's that. There were a few mornings a year or so ago when I was grateful for a light jacket on my morning trip across town but that's about it.

Now I'm back in Australia temporarily, and it's very definitely winter here. Take tomorrow for example: the forecast is for a minimum of 5 degrees Celsius, and a maximum of 17 degrees. Riding a motorbike in that sort of weather would be really chilling experience. I'm very grateful for access to a car while I'm here.

The other big difference between my Cambodian travel and my Australian travel is the distances. Today I covered about 500km. I went from Coffs Harbour, New South Wales to Toowoomba, Queensland via Brisbane. Alas, I needed fuel and got lost trying to find a service station when I got off the motorway. Never mind, I eventually found one before I ran out, and got back on the highway.

Now I'm not sure how the population of the greater Brisbane area compares with Phnom Penh, but there are plenty of cars. Sadly some had an accident this afternoon, and I didn't find out until it was too late to take an alternative route, so I was caught in a very orderly traffic jam. Why do I say it was very orderly? Well there were no motos driving down between the cars and on both sides of the cars, to start with. Not only that, the cars/trucks/buses all stayed in the correct number of lanes of traffic (2). Yes, there are definitely some things I like about Australian traffic.

Eventually we passed the scene of the accident, and here was another difference. There was no crowd of people hanging around. The fire brigade and police were there. The fire brigade seemed to be keeping things safe, and the police were doing their best to keep the traffic moving around the scene. I suspect the ambulance had already come and gone, and that there were other police trying to piece together what had actually happened before they cleared the scene and opened the road up to traffic again.

Once past the accident, the rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, and I thank God for a safe journey on a sunny day. Oh, that's right. The sunset was awesome! Couldn't stop to take a photo but it was beautiful, although the hour before it set was painful as I was pretty much travelling directly into it! Oh well, life's like that.

13 July 2012

Finishing the year

Ooops! It's almost a month since I last posted, and school has definitely finished.

So what did we get up to during the last two weeks of school.

We worked hard and played hard.

Mathematics assessment. We did a big mathematics test of the semester's work over two days, with interesting results. Many of the children did very well on the first half of the test, which was mainly computation involving word problems. The second half was not so well done, and showed me a weakness in the program. It was one that I was vaguely aware of, but it didn't really sink in until we did this assessment. We need to do my ongoing review. I've got a strategy in mind for this next year, and it will be interesting to see how it works. Part of the problem is that mathematics has a language all of its own, and when you don't use language regularly you tend to forget it.

End of year concert. The rehearsal was a marathon effort, but the children did really well. Then the concert in the evening was to a packed hall. We had over 400 seats and they were all filled, and the children sat on the floor at the front of the hall. The performance went well, and children and parents all seemed to enjoy the evening. My class sang two songs. The first was "Charlie Chaplin Went to France" which they sang as a round, complete with movements. The second was an Australian song, "Sun-a-rise" which they sang beautifully in unison. Well done grade 4K.

Reading assessment. Yes, I managed to complete running records for all of my students, including the three I know are not returning. I used RAZ-Kids for this, and it was great. With the aid of a good external speaker on the computer I was able to hear even the most softly spoken of my students clearly. RAZ-Kids running records are great because you can go back and listen again to be sure you record correctly the type of error that students are making.

Field trip. Despite major changes at my favourite bookstore, I was still able to take most of the students there to choose their end of year reading book for the summer. I bought a few extra books for those students who were not able to go, so they still got to choose from a selection of books.

Biography posters. The children did a great job on their biography posters, discovering along the way a little of what it took for people to come up with amazingly useful inventions. They also discovered that some inventors invented or contributed to the invention of many items.

The last day of school was a fun day. The children helped clear out the classroom, taking everything off the walls (in case of painting), and packing all their belongings in their bags to take home. For Khmer class they enjoyed reading the new Khmer books Dy and I purchased some weeks ago. After recess was the fun of choosing "Go For Green" and "Homework" rewards, and receiving their books and gifts from the teacher. They even had time to start reading their "new" books.

After lunch, we had one final treat, in the form of an ice cream and donut party, then it was time to say good-bye. Sadly it truly was good-bye for three of my students. One is returning to Australia, after two years in Cambodia, another is returning to Canada, and the third is moving to Siem Reap. I will miss seeing them all next year, and hope they do well in their new situations.

After the children had gone, and the goodbyes were over I returned to the classroom to finish packing everything up ready for the long summer break. I eventually finished, and with a little help from some of the guys was able to have everything stored and moved to the necessary positions by 6.30pm. It was worth staying a little longer so I didn't have to go back on Monday. Hopefully everything will still be there when I start setting up next school year.

30 June 2012

Daily Gifts of Grace: devotions for each day of your year

With a delightful, hardcover, ribbon bookmark, and magnetic cover flap, this book of daily devotions for a whole year is sure to delight. Daily Gifts of Grace: devotions for each day of your year is a Women of Faith publication. Written by women, for women, this book provides daily reminders of the amazing gift of God's grace to us. Writers such as Luci Swindoll, Shiela Walsh, Kim Cash Tate, Marilyn Meberg, Patsy Clairmont, and Jenna Lucado offer personal insights into a wide variety of aspects of God’s grace. Each dated devotion has a focus verse and a brief (one page) comment that will inspire, challenge and encourage the readers on their daily walk of grace. The honesty of the writers is refreshing, and the simple clear presentation of the book makes it easy to read. With a whole year’s worth of readings I have only sampled a few as I write this review, but I know I’m going to enjoy the daily reminders of God’s grace throughout the coming school year. It would make a lovely Christmas gift for any lady, old or young, who desires to spend the year living in the grace of God.

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.

16 June 2012

A busy week as the countdown continues.

Nine school days to go!17 sleeps until I fly out of Phnom Penh.
18 sleeps until I land on Australian soil (I get to sleep in Kuala Lumpur for one night).

It's been a busy week this week. We've been doing standardised reading tests, two maths tests, writing biography posters, spelling, journal writing, and lots more.

This week our students completed a Reading Placement Test, and it was really interesting to look at the results. The majority of students did very well on the "Phonics" section of the test, then very poorly on the "Vocabulary" section, followed by satisfactory performance on the "Comprehension" section. Considering the majority of our students had very little exposure to English until they were about 5 years old, it is not surprising that their vocabulary is less than what a student who has heard English all around them most of their lives. What I do find surprising at times is the level of comprehension they have, despite the limitations of their vocabulary. The majority of students did really well. Clearly enhanced development of vocabulary is something I will be thinking about very seriously as I plan for the new school year.

One of the fun things we started this week was a final "novel study" with each of my Language Arts groups. I really want to do more of these next year, and to use graphic organisers to help the children think about various aspects of the books they read (characterisation, plot, setting, etc.). One group is reading "Ramona Quimby, Age 8", while the other group is reading "Fudge-a-mania". I'm hoping we can get the books finished before we break up, but it could be challenging. Graphic organisers are great for helping the children think about what they are reading, and those which use drawing allow all students to participate, even those who find reading and writing challenging.

Inventions went on hold this week, although we did have a further look at the life of Alexander Graham Bell, one very famous inventor. Meanwhile I've got a stack of empty tissue boxes waiting for me to fill them with miscellaneous items ready for my students to begin "inventing". We will see if they can come up with something that way. Hopefully I won't just get toy cars and planes. This is a really hard activity to scaffold, because I don't want to stifle their creativity, but I also want to students to "invent" something useful.

Next week we've got maths tests to complete, and the end of year concert on Friday night, so we'll be busy again. It will be the final week for structured homework, and biography posters are due in next Friday (some are already finished). While we are winding down, it's really important to keep a level of routine happening. Bored kids end up getting into trouble.

10 June 2012

What will this week hold?

It's Sunday night, and almost time to hit the sack, but before I do, I thought I'd reflect a little on the week to come.

With just three weeks left in the school year, there's a temptation to start winding down, but that really doesn't help the children and in a way it's actually hard work for the teacher too. When the children are engaged in learning they are happy. If they have too much "fun" time, then it becomes boring.

So how do I finish the year. The last week will be crazy, and the second last week only slightly less crazy. The second last Friday we have our end of year concert, so there will be lots of time practicing for that. The last week we are going to have a sports day, and I'm also planning a mini field trip to the local bookshop. I like to send my students off for the holidays armed with a new book to read, and this year I thought it might be fun to let them choose their own books (within reason and subject to my approval).

So what are we going to do this week? First of all we are doing some school-wide testing of Reading ability, so that will take a small part of each day. Then the children are working on Biography posters about inventors, so that will keep them busy too. Then we still have some math lessons to finish off, so we can do some final assessment. We'll also start reading some novels together as a fun way to finish of the year.

Then I'm still trying to get those inventions happening. A few children have some creative ideas, but the majority want to invent a card game or a paper car or airplane. I tried another activity on Thursday to get their creative juices flowing, but it really didn't work. I've shown them lots of examples of inventions, they've researched and reported on an inventions, we looked at an inventor's life and they are now researching and preparing biographical posters on an inventor of their choice. For some reason they just cannot seem to think outside what they know. I think this is partly cultural. From what I've seen, Cambodians find it very hard to think outside what they actually know and can see happening around them. I'm making generalisations here, so feel free to comment on this. I wonder if this lack of "creativity" is partially a result of not wanting to lose face by having something fail? If anyone reading this has some ideas of how to get the creative juices flowing I'd really love to hear from you, because I'm stumped, and I'd really love my kids to get a taste of "inventing".

Maybe I should just put together some boxes of  unusual combinations of materials and ask them to invent something useful using whatever is in their box. Get them working in groups of 3 or 4 to do this. What do you think readers? I'd love some input here.

07 June 2012

Some excitement today.

Just for something different the power went out this morning at about 10am.

Actually, it went out twice. It went out again around 1.15pm as well.

Both times it was only out for a minute or two. The cause? Well, that's the excitement bit.

I was working with my second English Language Arts group in my classroom just before 10am this morning, when I kept seeing bright flashes of light. At first I thought maybe the fluorescent tube was going, and it was flickering, but it wasn't that. Then I thought, maybe it's lightening? There was no thunder following so no, probably not that, and besides which the clouds hadn't really built up enough for that either.

Next thing I know the power goes off. OK. We can deal with that. I went outside to go to the bathroom and was met by a colleague who said there was a problem across the road, including some loud bangs that could have been gun shots, and so please keep the children in the classroom for recess. Then we heard a fire engine siren. Hmmm. Something is definitely not right. Looking from the vantage point of the fourth floor we could see white powder all around the shop across the road from the school. Couldn't see much else as the roof of the gym was blocking the view.

Given the power going out and coming back on again, I sent my assistant downstairs to find out what was happening and if we could let the children play under the main building at least.

When he returned it was good news. Yes, we can go downstairs. Hooray! Both kids and teacher needed the recess break.

When we got downstairs we discovered the cause of all the excitement was an electrical fault across the road from school. The transformed box had shorted out and caught fire. Fortunately it was quickly doused with dry chemicals, and no one was hurt, but it did add some excitement to the day. I think the kids were disappointed that there was nothing to see, but I suspect the store owners were very grateful it wasn't any worse.

Life in Cambodia is definitely NOT boring!

31 May 2012

Not what I expected ...

Ever had a day that turned out being totally different to what you expected. I guess most people have, but there's no way I would have predicted today becoming what it was.

The day started out well, waking before the alarm clock after a refreshing sleep. The usual morning things happened and then it was off to school, where we got the day underway in a slightly different than usual way. My kids are learning a song to sing in a round for the end of year concert, and today they got it really well. Way to go 4th grade. Next week we might even put some actions with it. Then it was on to our Daily Language Review activity, and following a little pre-teaching, I ended up giving stickers to all except about 3 of my students (to get a sticker they have to get it all correct 1st time so this was something of a record). Language Arts and Khmer were next, and the day was proceeding pretty much as usual. After recess duty, and getting spelling tests under way, I headed down to the office to check over some photocopying that we ordered, ready for next year, and while I was there I found out that one of the students from my previous school, Logos, had been killed in a traffic accident overnight. I knew him slightly from my time there, and was able to juggle some things so I could attend the memorial service being held that afternoon. Several of our high school students at EWIS were friends with this student as well.

The memorial service this afternoon was an experience I will never forget. Such grief, openly expressed, over a young life lost. The whole service was in Korean, so I understood little, but one hymn they sang reminded me, that even in their grief, they were not forgetting the certain hope we have that Yo Han is with Jesus, and that one day they will be united again.

This evening, I was able to attend a gathering of a very different kind. The annual Logos awards ceremony was scheduled for this evening. It's a very important time in the lives of many students, especially those getting "honours" or "high honours". In the light of the events of the last 24 hours, the evening's program was modified. The students still received their awards, and a few special awards were announced publicly, but what followed was a precious time of remembering Yo Han and celebrating his life.

One of the teachers expressed it beautifully when he spoke of Yo Han. The essence of what he said was, "grieve for those who are left behind, for those who are missing Yo Han, but don't grieve for Yo Han, because he's gone on ahead to a life more full and more amazing that anything we can imagine". Yo Han knew Jesus, and it was great to hear of his personal and spiritual growth over the past year or two. Without a doubt, Yo Han is celebrating tonight. He is with the Lord, and those left behind have that blessed comfort of knowing they will see him again.

For now, I need to pray for those students at EWIS who knew Yo Han. I pray that they will know the comfort that only Jesus can bring. I pray that they will know the Jesus that Yo Han knew, because I know that's what he would want.

It reminded me of the time when my Dad died. Yes, I was sad, and I still miss him, but I don't grieve without hope. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my Dad is with his Lord and one day I'll get to see him again. Dad would have been 74 yesterday. I wonder if he's met Yo Han yet? I wonder if they are both worshipping our awesome, all powerful, all knowing, all loving God together. I think my Dad would enjoy Yo Han, because Dad had a "naughty" streak too. Dad wasn't perfect here on earth, but it is now, just as Yo Han is, not because of anything either of them did, but because of what Jesus did for them!

28 May 2012

The countdown begins ...

This time in 5 weeks I will have just one more sleep in my Cambodian bed before I begin the journey "home". Wow, this second half of the school year has flown by. We've had lots of fun though.

First there was Ancient Egypt, followed by Biomes, and now we're busy with Inventors and Inventions. We've also done heaps of mathematics, writing narratives and reports, lots of reading, plenty of homework and a few other things as well.

Currently in progress are written reports on an "invention", with a Biography Poster on an "inventor" to come next week. I hope we'll also manage to read another book in each Language Arts group. Lots of mathematics topics still to be covered, with some fun topics in there to finish the year off, and to top it off I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of "inventions" my students come up with.

I've also started thinking about "next year", requesting books, and thinking about an overview for the year. Also thinking about where I'm going to put all my students and their belongings next year as it looks like I'll have a bigger class than I did this year. Not big, but bigger.

Meanwhile, my tickets have been bought, and I've started some "going home shopping", as well as tucked a few things in suitcases already. I've registered and paid for a Teacher of Swimming and Water Safety course, and my First Aid course through the QAS.

I hope to get a newsletter and schedule happening in the next few days, but for now I still have some arranging to do and report card comments to write!

20 May 2012

Out of your depth?

Ever felt out of your depth in some of the tasks that you need to complete? Then maybe you can relate to some of my feelings about teaching swimming twice a week to my students at school.

Yes, I can swim. Yes, I can teach. So why do I feel out of my depth combining the two? I think the real reason is that there is a world of difference between being able to swim and being able to teach someone else how to swim. I've been attempting to do it for over 5 years now, but I always knew that I really didn't know what I was doing. Yes, I've read books on the subject, and even done a mini-workshop on it a couple of years ago, but that's not the same as really learning how to teach swimming.

This semester I've had the chance to work with a trained swim teacher (actually he's our PE teacher and for various reasons we've been able to have him help with 4th grade swimming), and I've realised just how little I know about teaching kids to swim. For that reason, part of my "summer" break will be spent completing an AustSwim Teacher of Swimming and Water Safety course. I've wanted to do it for some time, but the cost and finding a course that was on when I was able to do it have stood in the way. When I'm only in Australia for 4-6 weeks, fitting in professional development isn't easy. This time I decided learning how to teach swimming was a priority and so I'll be spending two days at Chandler learning how to teach swimming and water safety. A gift from my home church helped cover the costs. I may not be able to complete all the supervised practice that I need to for certification (at least not while I'm in Australia), but I should be able to do the rest of the course. I'm seriously hoping that when I return to Cambodia in August I'll be much better able to teach swimming and water safety skills to the 4th grade students.

Now let's hope it's not tooooo cold at the end of July when I'm doing the course. Remember, this is mid-winter in Australia even if it is my "summer break".

14 May 2012

Heart of Gold by Robin Lee Hatcher

Heart of Gold by Robin Lee Hatcher
Set in Grand Coeur, Idaho, a "rough and tumble" gold mining town during the Civil War in the USA, this delightful romance was a great read. Shannon Adair has come with her minister father to a place she initially finds very difficult. The arrival of Matthew Dubois's dying widowed sister provides Shannon with an outlet for her nursing skills, although the relationship is not without its challenges. Both ladies have suffered loss due to the war, but on opposing sides. Can friendship grow despite these differences? What about the fellows who are vying for Shannon’s attention? Will her grieving heart learn to love again?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Heart of Gold". The characters were well developed and believable. The way in which the characters changed over the duration of the story was appropriate and inspiring. The use of letters to Shannon's friend in Virginia was a great way to help the reader understand what was going on in Shannon's mind. Overall, this was a great read - enough adventure to make it interesting but not so much that it was not believable. I'd be happy to recommend it to others and I would certainly read other books by this author.

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.

09 May 2012

Did I mention I love shopping ... for books?

Today is another Cambodian public holiday. This time it is the Royal Ploughing Ceremony holiday. While we had a holiday, most shops and markets were open and trading as usual, so it was a good day to sneak in a little extra shopping. Actually, today I was shopping with a specific purpose in mind. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that one of the things I have set up in my classroom, thanks to some supporters and a great second hand bookshop, is a classroom library. The books in the library are all English. Today, I fulfilled a promise to my teaching assistant to get some Khmer books for the children.
First we went to the local market where we found a great selection of books. They were a quite a bit more expensive than last time I went Khmer book shopping (about 3 years ago), but we did find some great resources. We also went to one of the large international style bookshops where I was amazed to discover they have a whole new area of the store dedicated to Khmer language books.
Here's what we came away with. Somehow I doubled up on two titles but I'm sure they won't go astray. I'm looking forward to sharing these with the principal tomorrow morning and with the children. I know several parents who will be very happy to see their children encouraged to read more in their own language.
The books are a popular series of Khmer readers for children.

Biographies: These are in English and Khmer but most are about Inventors so fit with our current unit, and it will be good for students to read them in both Khmer and English.

Khmer folk tales: You can buy English translations of these for about 4 times the price!

Does anyone recognise the one at the bottom of this photo? Yes, it is a Khmer translation of a well-known children's story that has been around for many years.

These are to help our non-Khmer children learn words.

Some chapter books or compilations of short stories)

Non-fiction in Khmer! With great photos.

More non-fiction

This set of 9 books was just $7.

This is a beautiful story of friendship, and a reminder of the dangers of landmines (still a very real danger to people in rural Cambodia).