26 December 2015

Construction progress continues

While students, teachers, and cleaners enjoy their Winter Break, progress on the construction site between the two buildings has continued. The hallways are filthy and the cleaners are going to have a big job to do to get them clean before school resumes, however at least work is progressing, albeit slowly (or that's how it appears). Here are a few photos to bring you up to date.
First is shot of our new PE area, taken on 22nd December 2015. Framing for the roof was going up.
The roof is on the new PE area. Looking north west.
Looking South East at the PE area.
The roof has some sections of green poly-sheeting to let additional light in.
They are green, rather than clear, so hence the green cast on these photos.
Looking up at the roof of the PE area.
Definitely room for balls to go high in Volleyball and Basketball games.
Some of the area outside my classroom with with framing removed - 20th December 2015.
There had actually been some effort made to tidy things up.
Looking out the window from the "walkway" area towards my classroom - 26th December 2015
The white rendering definitely makes things lighter and brighter in the classroom.
This is what's going on at my end of the building. 26th December 2015.
And this is taken from my classroom looking the other way.
They're working on both ends at the same time.
26th December 2015.
I'm not sure, but from the noise going on outside my room this afternoon, they are probably also working on railings along each end of the building at the moment. I keep on shutting the doors that lead to the work area to remind the children that these areas are off limits. As you can see, cleanliness of the work site is not a priority, and we can't wait for construction to be completed, since all that cement dust gets routinely tramped inside the building all day every day. Poor cleaners. It has to be discouraging for them that 5 minutes after they mop the hallways there are dirty, dusty footprints all down them. Life's like that.

The last three photos were taken back on 22nd November, 2015 and show the progress that has been made with the new hall. We're hanging out for this space to be finished so we can be more comfortable for assemblies and other whole school events.

That's it for now. I wonder how much more will get done between now and when we resume school. I'll try and remember to take some more photos on the first day back!

19 December 2015

Winter Break Begins

Last time I wrote was after a crazy weekend. The week that followed was a good one, with two teaching days followed by an inter-school sports day at the International School of Phnom Penh. I think there were students from eight schools involved, all from Phnom Penh. It was a great day. The emphasis was on participation rather than formal competition, but there was opportunity for that as well. Our students had opportunity to try a variety of activities that they don't get to do at East-West, including an 800m run, long jump, high jump, hurdles, sprints, and shot put, as well as fun activities like "rocket throw" and "fish throw" (kid friendly versions of javelin and discus), sack races, three legged races, water relay races, and standing long jump. At the end of the day there were 4 x 100m relay races for each grade level with one team from each school in each race. It was a hot day, but my lovely head umbrella helped keep me cool. Generous lathering on of sunscreen was also necessary. Frozen water bottles, topped up as I emptied what had defrosted, kept me hydrated during the day.
One highlight for me was seeing a young man who I had known as a teenager during my first years in Cambodia, working as a responsible teaching assistant at that school.
We returned to school after lunch, and retreated to the classroom where I turned on fans and air-conditioning, and settled the students with a movie. We watched Treasures of the Snow, a story I have loved since childhood, and finished it off the next afternoon after the Grade 3-5 assembly. 
It was good to have a day off the next day, and then one more teaching day before the weekend.

This week we had a full week, but since it was leading up to holidays I decided to get most of the real work done by Thursday, and make Friday a fun day. I took it one step further, and decided to show a movie on Thursday afternoon. It's a fun movie, but the setting is Egyptian and it involves archaeologists hunting for lost treasure in a pyramid, so it fits in with our current Social Studies unit on Ancient Egypt and pyramids. Friday morning we played math games (practising multiplication facts), did a little grammar, and then either played a word game or listened to a Raz-Kids story on internet safety. 

Report cards were handed out on Thursday, along with school calendars for the coming year, and returned work folders. My students amazed me by ALL remembering to return their blue returned work folders to me, empty on Friday.

Today, I enjoyed a relaxed pace and worked on producing a news/prayer letter. There are quite a few hours work involved, but it's done now, and sent. Mission accomplished. I slipped out for dinner, and ended up sharing a table with our elementary principal who was on a similar mission. It was nice to have company after spending the day alone. Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to meeting up with one of my students from my first two years at East-West. Her family were in Cambodia for two years with Australian Volunteers Abroad, and I had the pleasure of teaching her and her friends for both 3rd and 4th grades. Her family is visiting Cambodia, and I'm looking forward to seeing them.

07 December 2015

A busy weekend

This weekend was fairly busy for me, but in a fun kind of way.

Saturday had three events, and Sunday had one. In between I managed to put a few Christmas decorations up at home, do a little bit of school preparation and grading, and get some sleep. Thankfully we get a public holiday on Thursday this week, and Wednesday is our Grade 3-5 Inter-School Field Day. The forecast for Wednesday is mostly sunny, and 33 degrees Celsius! Lots of sunscreen and water, along with my crazy head umbrella should help me stay cool. I've already got water bottles and peanut butter sandwiches in the fridge in preparation for that day.

Saturday morning was the grand celebration of East-West International School's 10th Anniversary year. The school opened in August 2006, just 5 months before I moved to Cambodia, and I joined the team at East-West in August 2010. There were a number of fun activities going on, but the one I enjoyed most was playing volleyball. It's not something I do often, but when I get the chance and feel inclined to do so I enjoy it (even if I'm not great at it). I did manage to get quite a few serves in, and a few other good/lucky shots. My right arm is only slightly bruised, although it was pretty sore for a while on the day. The day was complete with speeches, cake, and a presentation to our principal, who will be leaving us in the not-too-far-distant future. She has been there since school started, and is much loved by those who have worked with her.

One of the features of the celebration was an art display, put together by both the elementary and high school art classes. I was totally impressed with the work on display, and couldn't resist taking some photos to share.
This is work by students in my current class, who have been studying Egyptian art.

This work is by students from previous years now in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.

Three of these are also by previous students in 6th and 7th grade.
The bottom one of the puppy, is by one of our 11th grade students, and it was so beautiful I just couldn't resist snapping it.

Following the morning's activities (from 9 - 11.30am) the staff were invited to lunch by the owner of the school, which was held at a local buffet style restaurant. The food was good, time with colleagues away from school was good, and this was the chance to present Sandra with a very special card, created by our elementary art teacher.

From there I headed across town to a Christmas Fair, where I caught up with a few friends, and enjoyed wandering around and looking at what was on offer by various NGOs, and making a few purchases.

 By the time I got home I was ready for a quiet evening.

Sunday afternoon brought the final choir practice for this season, followed by our performance. This year's Bella Voce Community Choir Christmas Charity Concert was to a packed house with 700 tickets sold. We've worked hard, and had some fun and laughs along the way. The obvious enjoyment of the audience made it worth all the effort. There are two more private performances to go, only one of which I am involved with, but I'm looking forward to that on Friday.

Meanwhile here are a few snaps from the evening.

21 November 2015

Quick updates

Several weeks ago, I posted about the puppet theatre I'd created out of poly pipe, along with some photos. At the time I didn't have any of the finished product, so here's one taken during our assembly rehearsal.

The assembly went well, and the audience seemed to enjoy our presentation.

The next photo is one of nature's little gifts to me. I spotted this beauty on the way upstairs one morning. I love the symmetry in these creatures, and what was particularly amazing to me was the way the colour in this moth's wings was a perfect match for the wall it had landed on.

The last couple of days at school have been somewhat painful, as construction workers set about dismantling the scaffolding outside my classroom. Here's what it looked like by Friday afternoon. They're not finished yet, but hopefully it won't be too much longer, and I'll be able to open the blinds and windows and let some daylight and fresh air into the room.

Finally, my students have been busy on their culminating project for our Map Skills unit. In the past I've had them complete a poster about their country as well as the map, but this year I've chosen just to have them complete the map. Here's what they've come up with.

Next week each group will have to present their country to their classmates, and try to convince them why it would be good to move to their country. Later I'll display them in the hallway, with a written piece for each group, and the option for students from the grade 3 to 5 classes to vote which country they would like most.

Reflecting on passing time.

This week it has been a privilege to see parents posting photos on Facebook of their children's high school graduations and formals. These are children that I once knew quite well, having watched them grow from babies, through toddlerhood, and into primary school, and taught them in Sunday School and Kids' Club. They are now young men and women, on the verge of exploring life beyond high school. It is delightful to see their growth and evidence of their growing maturity. In May 2016, I hope to have the privilege of seeing some of my first students (3rd & 4th graders) graduate from high school. It is exciting to know that many of those students I had in my first class have gone on to become young men and women of faith and integrity.

At the same time, it makes me increasingly aware of the passing of time. It's now nearly ten years since my first visit to Cambodia, and in January it will be nine years since I came to take up my first teaching post on a six month contract. While I was prepared for it to be longer than six months, I don't think I had any idea that it would be this long. I have grown so much over those nine years. I've learnt so much about teaching, and about working with people, and about living in a country that is not my passport country. It hasn't all been easy. In fact there have been times which were extremely difficult for me. Times of pain. Times of uncertainty. Times of anger. Times of grief. There have also been many great times. Times when I've seen the lights go on for a child - the "Ah, now I get it!" moments. Times when I've seen children discover the joy of reading. Times when I experienced God's grace and forgiveness. New friends. Fun times with old friends. I've learnt that it's not necessary to be totally in control of what's going on in my life. I've learnt that I'm not really a very adventurous person at all.

People sometimes ask me how long I will stay here in Cambodia. My answer to that is "As long as God leads me to stay."  How will I know when it's time to move on? I'm not sure. I just know that God will make it clear to me. Meanwhile, I have a desire to see continued growth in the education of Cambodian children, and to do all I can to help the young people of Cambodia grow, learn, and make a difference in the future.

This school year has already proven challenging, but it has mostly been good. I have been challenged to think about the ways that I teach my students, and how effective that might be. After four years teaching the same grade level, it is possible to be stuck in a rut, so that's a good thing. It doesn't mean it's easy, but it is good. I will be a better teacher because of the challenges I've experienced this year. I've also been challenged again in the way I interact with colleagues, and that's a good thing too. So thankful that God is slowly changing me. He is so patient.

It was good to take the break from study this semester. I wouldn't have chosen to do it, knowing that I'm proceeding slowly anyway, but it was necessary. Now I'm looking forward to getting back into the study routine again. Time passes. It's good to "stop and smell the roses".

04 November 2015

Getting creative

It's hard to be creative when you're battling a head cold, but that's life when you're a teacher. Mostly it's easier just to keep going yourself than to prepare material for someone else to teach. Add to that the complication of a Grade 3-5 assembly on Friday led by Grade 4K and you'll get a picture of life for me at the moment.

Let me show you a few pictures of just a few things that have been happening in Grade 4K this week.

First of all, an update on the chair bags. The students think they are great. Here are some photos of them in use, with homework folders tucked in the bags while student complete their Homework Planbook for the week.

The big chairs!
Previously these folders would have been on the floor under the chairs.
Now they are much safer.
And the small chairs!.
Several years ago I purchased a set of Scholastic Book Report Posters called Book Butterfly. Check out my original post about these here. Happily as well as the original posters, they come with a black-line master so I've been able to continue the project, using A3 photocopies. This year each of my English Language Arts groups read a different novel (largely as a read-aloud with lots of discussion along the way) and then each student completed a book report on their own. Here are this year's posters. (These were finished a few weeks ago, but I only got them marked and displayed this week.)

This afternoon my students had some fun as they showed me a little of what they have learned about landforms. I randomly paired the students up, and equally randomly allocated them a "landform". Along with their allocated "landform", each pair received a 15cm x 20cm  piece of black foam core board as their base, and each table was given a tub of "Kiddie Clay".
Here's what they produced.
Teachers aren't supposed to have favourites, but I was most impressed with the peninsula, complete with lighthouse, the volcano and the mesa. Considering they had about 40 minutes, no tools and only the five colours of clay you see above, I thought they did a pretty good job.

One of the things my class is doing for assembly is a puppet play. I've been experimenting with using a clothes rack for the "theatre" but it's not quite big enough, so today I decided to get creative. I walked down the end of the street, and round the corner to where there are several local plumbing supply stores. I was on the hunt for poly-pipe, and I found it. Unfortunately, one of the parts that I had hoped to find is not available in Cambodia (at least that was what I was told), so I ended up with some spare bits, and something not quite as sturdy as my original plan, but I think it will work. Since they'd already cut the pieces before I discovered that I could get three-way connectors I brought the pieces home and here's what I came up with.

I've actually got a dark brown sheet at school already which I'll be using for the front piece, and some fabric that I'll use for the backdrop, but I used bedsheets here so you can get the idea. I need to dismantle it and put it together again in the classroom tomorrow for a test run, then I'll dismantle it again to move it to the assembly location. I'll try and remember to take some more photos when we rehearse tomorrow afternoon.
My original plan had cross bars linking front and back frames at the top, and another bar across the bottom at the front for stability. I just had a thought that if I were to get four more T-connectors and cut both front and back supports into two pieces, I could get those extra cross bars in, but hopefully this will work for Friday. The picture below might make that clearer.

22 October 2015

A well-travelled gift from a school friend

Another school week is over, and I'm enjoying the fact that I have another 3 day weekend. I've still got some marking to catch up on, and some planning and preparation to get done, but I'm feeling like I have a manageable workload again.

Yesterday I actually took an evening off and went out for dinner with an "old" friend. I say "old" not because of our ages, but because we knew each other 30 years ago, and haven't been in face-to-face contact for a long time. Thanks Eric, for making the time to catch up with me in my "home town", and for treating me to an evening out. It was a great time.

Eric also played courier for me, bringing a gift from a classmate from high school days. Some months ago, this friend asked if there was anything she could do for me and my classroom. I knew she loved sewing and making things, and I have long wanted some chair bags for my classroom, to give students a safe place to put folders while they are working on other papers. Up to now, the folders either had to go back in their cubbies, or on the floor under their chair. One required lots of movement (which is not always a bad thing), while the other could be hazardous to the health of the folder.

When I was in Australia at Christmas a few years ago, I found a great chair bag for just $2 in Big W. It was a perfect fit for my special teacher chair, but it was just a bit small for the student chairs. I was going to make them myself, but when Sandra offered, I thought it would be a great project for her, if I could just work out how to get them to Cambodia. Freight was going to be expensive, and with no guarantee they would actually arrive. When Eric mentioned he was coming to visit this month, I quickly asked if he would be willing to bring the chair bags with him. He agreed, and so the sewing began. I photographed and measured the chairs, and sent that information through to Sandra. She got busy, and one of her friends even loaned her a chair that was the same as one of the two types I have in my classroom. The next challenge was to get the completed bags from Sandra in Townsville to Eric in Maryborough (over 1000km). I connected the two of them, and they worked it out. Thank you.

On Monday, the bags finally arrived in Phnom Penh, having travelled from Townsville to Brisbane, to Burpengary, back to Brisbane, then on to Vietnam, Laos, and finally to Cambodia. Happily Eric now has space in his luggage for some souvenirs! Yesterday afternoon, Eric and his travelling companion visited my school, and saw my classroom. The chair bags had finally arrived.

This morning I put them on the backs of the chairs before the students came in. The students weren't sure what they were at first but they found out fairly quickly. With three tests to do today, the bags came in handy, storing the "testing folders" in between rounds of tests. I neglected to take photos of the bags with the folders in them, but they worked beautifully.

Here are a couple of closer views.
The big chairs

The little chairs
So I close this post with a great vote of thanks to my friend and fellow member of the class of 1980 at The Cathedral School of St Anne & St James, Sandra Hubert, and to my friend from my years in Brisbane, Eric Perkins. Thank you Sandra and Eric (and anyone else who helped along the journey of the chair bags).

15 October 2015

Holidays are over

My six day break is almost over. It's almost time for bed, once I post this and hang the washing up to dry. It was a much needed break, and I'm looking forward to seeing my students again tomorrow. I wonder how many will turn up and how many will take the extra day to make a 10 day break. Who knows? I have to be there, so I have lessons planned for those who do come. Meanwhile I thought I'd report back on the achievements of my break.

On Saturday I made a lengthy "To Do" list, which I posted earlier. I'm happy to report that I managed to cross off 39 items out of 50, and one of those remaining I made progress on but cannot complete as it's a Unit Plan which is still a work in progress. Here's what that list looks like now.

Very satisfying
One thing that doesn't appear on this list is to take a mini-vacation. With all I've dealt with since school started, I decided that it would be good to treat myself to a couple of nights in a hotel. I did that, and it was good. I didn't do a lot, mostly staying in my room, and eating in the hotel dining room, but I did try to have a swim one day. When I went down to the main pool there seemed to be quite a few people, including children, already there, so I thought I'd try the roof-top pool instead. That's really more of a spa than a pool, but the spa part wasn't going, so I just relaxed in the water for a while. It was when I was getting out that I got a bit of a fright. I put my foot on the wooden surround of the pool, and next thing I knew it had collapsed underneath my weight. Fortunately I wasn't hurt, but it was a bit worrying. Never mind, I wasn't hurt, and I had enjoyed relaxing and watching the clouds building for a while. Later I enjoyed soaking in a hot bath! Yes, it's one of those things I enjoy occasionally. It used to be a great way to warm up on a cold Toowoomba winter's night. Here in Cambodia, I need to be very cool, in an air-conditioned room preferably, so I can enjoy the warm water. Other things I enjoyed were watching TV while playing Scrabble on the computer, lots of reading (the room was lovely and bright during the day), and some colouring in. One project that didn't make it on the above list was to complete a sample "Book Butterfly". I'd already done all the writing, so it was just the colouring in to make it beautiful, and that was definitely a fun holiday job. Here's the finished product.
I do have another sample that I use with the children, but this one is for a book that I use to teach the whole process. Last year I did it on an overhead transparency using the document camera, but I thought this year it would be good to have one that I can display for the children to refer to as they work on their own posters.

The other not-so-fun thing that I did was visit the dentist. Twice. Not only that, but I've still got two more visits to come. Friday wasn't too bad, with a thorough cleaning and two teeth filled, but today I was there for ninety minutes and had six teeth filled. Grrr. For someone who had no fillings until she was 16 it was a pretty sad state of affairs. Meanwhile I'm thankful for good dental services at about half the price of similar treatment in Australia (or maybe it's better than that). Next time I won't leave it 3 years between checkups!

10 October 2015

School doings

Another month has come and gone. September was a tough month, and October has brought some challenges as well. Thankfully I seem to have recovered fairly well from the dengue. It has taken time, and I still feel like I'm trying to catch up on two weeks of doing little more than I absolutely had to do. We've finally made it to the "holiday season". During October and November I have a total of eleven public holidays, which is something of a relief after just one in the last nine weeks (and that was only two weeks ago). Including the weekend I've got six days off now, followed by one school day then another weekend. The next week we get a holiday on the Friday, and the week after that we get one on the Thursday. I then get a full week, followed by another three day weekend and a four day week. One more full week, plus a Monday and then it's another six day break for Water Festival. After that it's only 3 weeks to our Winter Break (Christmas & New Year), the middle one of which has a holiday on the Thursday!

All those holidays were going to be my sanity preservation for getting my university studies completed, but with dengue on top of no assistant and the chaotic start to the school year I made a difficult decision to withdraw from my studies for this semester. So now, instead of madly trying to catch up on readings and write my second assignment I'm planning a two day mini-holiday, plus some days to catch up on stuff at school.

To help me stay focussed, and to give me the pleasure of crossing things off as I get them done I made a new "To Do" list this morning. Here's what it looks like. Some of these will be fairly quick to do, and others will take longer. Others won't be finished before the break is up, and that's OK too. It will be good to see just how much I can get done.

The list as it was at the start of today's working session.
I didn't take a photo of it when I finished today, so I've marked them off in the photo. 
The green lines represent jobs that are partially completed, or will be completed before I go to bed tonight. It may not seem like a lot of progress, but it is definitely progress.
You'll notice I've actually added more jobs to the list. That happens!
If  you look closely, you'll see that one of the jobs I have to do is to Review Conference Notes & Forward. We had Parent-Teacher Conferences from 2.30 pm to 5.00 pm on Wednesday and Thursday this week, which meant that this list was longer than it would have been on an ordinary week. Life's like that. It is good to meet the parents, and to share some things they can do to help their children make progress. 85% attendance was very satisfying, if tiring. I was grateful for Mr Vichheka's help with translation for those parents who don't speak English.

Tomorrow, after church and lunch, I'm heading a short distance from home to a hotel with a swimming pool where I'm going to stay for two nights. After all that has happened in the past 10 weeks, I feel in need of a real holiday, so I'm having a two day mini-break. Since I dislike travelling out of town on Cambodia's roads I've found a place very close to home that isn't costing a fortune, but which will be very comfortable, and give me the break I need. I'm taking a jigsaw puzzle and some cross-stitch as well as books to read so I won't be bored!

An interesting menu

A friend and I tried out a new (for us) eating place recently. I got quite a few chuckles as I read the menu. I'm posting a couple of pages here. See how many interesting "typos" you can find. I'll post a highlighted version in a few days time. I'm not naming the restaurant, and I will actually be returning because the meal I had was very enjoyable. Just some fun here.

Which item would you like to try?

Construction Progress

Since I last wrote things have been moving along with the centre building. There are now going to be five floors, with PE on the top (5th) floor. Hooray! I have to admit that I wasn't that excited about the thought of PE classes happening right outside my classroom. The 3rd and 4th floors will be vacant at the moment for potential expansion. The lower floors will be our eating area and a play area for the younger children (up to 2nd grade). There's going to be some shuffling of rooms in the elementary building as well, but at this stage I don't have to move! Hoping and praying that continues to be the case.

Meanwhile here are a few photos of what's being happening outside my windows.

Top left and right - almost ready to pour the 4th floor
Bottom left and right - and the pouring is done, just in time for the rain!

Anyone notice any problems here, apart from the poor quality of the photograph?
I should add that it just started raining as I took this.

Top left: This guy is obviously very important, but he certainly doesn't look excited about his work.
Top right: It's a bit hard to see, but the guy in blue is actually tapping on the framing, I suspect to make sure there are no air bubbles in the post, meanwhile the guys in the background are cleaning up a spill!
Bottom left: Cement pouring pipe in-coming.
Bottom right: Some major safety issues here. Note one of these workers is wearing rubber boots, a hard hat, and a harness which is secured to one of the rebar uprights inside the post that is being poured. The other worker is wearing flip flops, has no hard had, or safety harness, even though he's higher. A sad reflection on the value of life here.
Bottom left framing for the uprights.
Top and bottom right: Uprights set, framing removed ready for the next stage.
The forest of steel outside my classroom as they get ready to pour the next floor.
It's all very quiet outside my windows this week as the country observes Pchum Ben. Public holidays are officially from Sunday to Tuesday, but we're off until Friday, when we work one day and then get another weekend. No doubt there will be lots of action on the construction site once the holidays are over.