21 January 2012

Saturday morning in the markets

This morning I did something I don't do very often, but it was a very successful exercise. I went to Psah Toul Tom Pong (Russian Market) with a list of items to find. First for the list:
  • Construction paper/cardboard for a social studies project
  • Toilet cleaner
  • Toilet paper
  • Mini zip lock bags
  • Postcards
The good news is that I was successful on all fronts, although I did visit five separate stalls to obtain all five items.

The first item I managed to locate was the most interesting and satisfying. In the past I have been able to purchase large sheets of light cardboard for posters, but only in white with a gray back. Today I located the type of cardboard that I am used to using for posters in Australia. The huge sheets were only 3000R each (75c), and I was able to get green, blue, pink and yellow. What was so much fun about this purchase was the packaging. Imagine carrying 16 sheets of cardboard (110cm x 80cm) home on a motorbike! At first I thought I'd put it in my backpack, but that wasn't going to be very secure, so the shopkeeper, hearing I was riding a moto, very quickly packaged it up with a piece of string, complete with a lovely handle that I could sling over my shoulder. It was very secure and very practical.

The next two items were those essentials for the bathroom. Yes, I could have bought them at the supermarket, but they are bulky or heavy so it was better to buy them when I wasn't buying other grocery items. It was also much more interesting, getting the shopkeepers to correctly identify the item I wanted.

After that I was looking for mini Ziploc bags. These 10cm x 15cm bags are perfect for packing biscuits for morning tea. By putting them in these packets, it also helps with weight control by discouraging me from eating a whole packet of biscuits in a day. I can usually recycle them a couple of times. It was interesting buying these because instead of buying by quantity they sell them by the kilogram. I'm not sure I didn't pay a foreigner price for them, but I was happy with what I got.

Finally I remembered that I needed a few postcards so it was back to the stationery section of the market where the lady who helped me find the cardboard earlier was happy to sell me something from her own stall this time, presenting me with a huge array of cards to choose from.

Mission accomplished, and all in just over an hour. Shopping in Phnom Penh is not without its challenges but today it was very satisfying.


13 January 2012

Differentiated Homework in 4th Grade

Homework, homework, homework. Do we give it or don't we? How much do we give? When do we give it? When is it due in? The dilemmas of assigning homework are many. After 5 years of teaching, I'm about to implement a variation on my homework assignment booklet for the rest of the year.

I teach 4th grade in an International School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The majority of my students are ESL but our approach to teaching is pretty much immersion. Homework for 3rd & 4th grade is, by school policy, to be around 40-45 minutes per night. In order to preserve my sanity, I rarely assign homework on Friday nights. To help students learn some organisation skills, and so parents can see exactly what is required, I have developed a homework book that incorporates Spelling List, Reading Log, Goal Setting, and a Planner. The first 3 pages give instructions and menus, followed by 3 pages a week for most weeks.

Differentiation for spelling happens in a couple of ways. First, there are two versions, one with space for 10 spelling words and the other with space for 20 words. Secondly students have a menu of spelling activities worth varying numbers of points to choose from. They are each set a number of points for the week, and it is up to them what activities they complete.

The reading log is a key part of student's homework. All students are required to read for 15 minutes 4 nights a week, and then to write a comment about what they read. The differentiation comes in with free choice of reading material, and free selection of response starters (with certain parameters).

Copies were received yesterday, and as I shared the booklet and it's process with my colleague, he suggested I should "sell" it. I'd rather just share it, especially since it really is a compilations of adaptations of ideas I garnered from other teacher’s blogs or websites, or from colleagues during the past five year.

If you're interested, use the "Comments" to send me an e-mail (if you don't want me to publish your comment just say so and I won't), and I'll e-mail you a PDF Sampler or the full MS Word document (let me know which you'd prefer).

Big thanks to all those teachers who share your ideas. Maybe one day I'll start "selling" my work, but for now, I'm happy to share.

10 January 2012

First Day Back for 2012

Well 2012 got off to a good start today. It was great to have my students back in the classroom. I missed them!

Alas, it wasn't all perfect. Two students late on the first day back, not a good start. Two more students missing, and my teaching assistant heading off on the Grade 6 Field Trip. It turns out one student was supposed to tell me before the holidays that he wouldn't be back until tomorrow, and the other one has moved to another school, closer to where he lives, so hopefully tomorrow I'll have my full complement of students. I think the biggest gap was my teaching assistant. I was pleasantly surprised this morning when he unexpectedly turned up in my classroom this morning to help me get set up to start the day, since his trip wasn't leaving until around 8am, so that was a blessing and a great gift to start the year. Thank you Mr Dy. We do have a replacement teacher covering his Khmer classes and I have a lovely young lady from the pre-school joining me from around 11am, so I'm not totally without an assistant, but I have such a good relationship with Mr Dy that I'll miss him no matter how good the replacement is.

Language Arts went well, and then after recess we had some fun. The PE teacher is also off on a field trip, so it was up to me what I did with that time. A few years ago I was able to purchase some "grip ball" sets in Australia, and I'd used them during Summer School but not otherwise since I've been at East-West, so today seemed like a good time to bring them out. It was a great move. The kids really enjoyed them. Now I've just got a heap of balls than need some TLC with "superglue" to restore their skins.

Maths test followed that, and then I sent the children off to art and ICT. The ICT teacher has also gone on the field trip, but by that time the pre-school assistant was on board so she was able to take that class.

After lunch I introduced my students to "Ancient Egypt" pockets. These are an excellent resource that I'd previously used at Logos, and I'm looking forward to my students learning heaps about Ancient Egypt as we work through a variety of activities. I purchased it as an e-book, which makes it very flexible! May even use parts of the material in language arts in the next couple of weeks. I love it when I can integrate SOSE and Language Arts.

Finally, I sent most of my students home at 2.30pm and welcomed my After-School Program group. I have to do 2 sessions during the year, and so this session I offered Multiplication Games. At first it didn't look like I'd have many students, but by Christmas I had 19 enrolled! We have lots of fun, and the children are practising their multiplication facts while they play. Awesome.

Well, it's past time I went to bed, but I have to finish by announcing the completion of my 2012 Homework book. It will be interesting to see how it works. I'm continuing the Reading Log and planner pages, but am changing the spelling component to a "menu" based program where students choose a number of tasks to complete, up to a set value. Some tasks are 5 points, some are 10 points and some are 20 points. Students then choose the activities they want to do to help them learn their words. I've also added a weekly "Goal Setting" component, where each student will identify a personal goal for the week, and write a plan for how they will achieve it, then check back at the end of the week as part of their journaling task. Since I've incorporated all the "holidays" into the reading log and planner pages it's a bit of an effort, but it's worth it in the long run.

OK. That's all folks. See you next time.

08 January 2012

Five years on ...

This time five years ago I think I was in a plane, heading toward Kuala Lumpur, where I would spend the night before heading on to Phnom Penh the next morning. It wasn't my first trip to Cambodia, but it was the start of a new adventure with Jesus. I was on my way to start my new career as a teacher. Wow, it's sometimes hard to believe that 5 years have gone by. There have been many ups and downs along the way, with some great highs, and some not so great lows, but in all of it, God has been faithful.

I started teaching on Wednesday 17th January 2007 teaching 3rd grade at Logos International School. 5 years later, I'm still teaching in Phnom Penh, but now I teach 4th grade at East West International School. I wonder where I will be five years from now. Actually, I don't really think about it that much, because my future is in God's hands, and what safer place for it to be. At the moment, I love teaching at East-West, and if I'm still there in 5 years time then that would be a good thing, but only if that's what God wants me doing.

I have grown to love Cambodia, and the Khmer people. I'm still struggling with the Khmer language. The trouble with learning a language is that you really have to use it to become fluent, and so much of my day is spent teaching in English and preparing lessons in English, and working with people who speak English, that I just cannot seem to manage to learn and retain Khmer. I have got a little, so I can be polite to a certain point, but that's about it. Aside from all that, it's very rare that I can't find someone who speaks English who is willing to translate for me if necessary.

These five years in Cambodia have also taught me a great level of dependence on God, and have shown me just how faithful He is. He is faithful beyond my wildest imagination. He knows what I need and He provides for me. I'm not saying it's all easy. It definitely is not, and there are many things that I still struggle with, but He is faithful, and He loves me so much.

Cambodia, thank you for welcoming me. To all my Cambodian friends (both Khmer & expat), and my friends now in other places around the world that I have met through my time in Cambodia, Thank you. You have all helped to make these five years special and I pray that God will bless you as He has blessed me by allowing me to know you. Australia will always be "home", but Cambodia is definitely my second home.

01 January 2012

Looking back, looking forward

As I look back on 2011 I praise God for the ways He has worked in my life. I praise Him for personal and professional growth. I praise Him for His loving care.
2011 was a busy year. From January to June I continued to teach 3rd grade at East-West International School. Then in July I taught 3 weeks of Summer School (grades 3 -5) which was lots of fun and also a learning experience. In August I took a holiday in Thailand, before returning to Phnom Penh and teaching 4th grade at East-West. From late August to December I have enjoyed teaching 4th grade again, and especially seeing the growth and development of my students, many of whom I taught in 3rd grade last year. What a blessed privilege to work with students for two years. During 2011 I've experienced God's love and His grace, as I continue to grow as a teacher and as a person. It hasn't all been easy, and there have definitely been moments that I wish hadn't happened, but I've also learned from those moments.As I look back on 2011, I'm excited to know that God is at work in my life, moulding me to be the person He wants me to be.

As I look forward to 2012, I look forward to God's continued work in my life. God's work isn't always easy to bear. Sometimes he prunes, which is helpful but painful. No matter what happens, I know that all He does in my life, and all the events that He allows to take place are for the best. I praise Him that I can trust Him with everything, big or small. I pray that I will learn to do that more easily.

Many people make "New Year's Resolutions". I don't want to make new resolutions. I want to keep working on some old ones. I'll mention them here, and invite you to check in with me along the way to see how I'm going.

First of all, I need to continue working on taking good care of myself. That means physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Spiritually, I cannot survive without daily time with God. This is a priority for 2012. Emotionally, I need time to relax and not think about school, and I need to be kind to myself. I need to build some "fun" into my life on a regular basis. Physically, I still need to lose some weight and gain some fitness. I've done it before, and with God's help I can do it again. I think this is the hardest of the lot, but doing this also is also good for my emotional health, especially exercising.

Apart from that, I'm looking forward to the rest of the school year with my 4th graders at EWIS, and I'm looking forward to a trip "home" in July-August 2012.

As the new year begins, I take note once again of Paul's words to the Philippians:

“I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above.” Philippians 3:12-14
As you read my blog this year, I pray that you will also be encouraged to keep looking forward to the ultimate goal of being who God wants you to be. Will pray for me as I keep looking forward, learning from the past and knowing God's grace and peace in ways that are beyond our human understanding. God is good and He loves me.