Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not the NYTimes of blog posts, but

I started blogging and seriously following other educators on twitter last May. After a great high at ISTE11 in Philadelphia last year where I thought, "I see the brilliance of twitter and blogging!" I have slowly gone downhill. Part of the problem is that I see other educators who have amazing ideas and seem to have them all worked out. They've actually implemented tons of ideas and been at it for years. I'm a relative newbie, though I do have enthusiasm and curiosity.

So for several months now, I've felt like I had to be the New York Times of blogs to put anything out that has any meaning. Stop in tracks. That's over. Recently what I've read is blogger after blogger saying the important thing is to be genuine. Admit mistakes. You don't have to be perfect. And after all, this blog is most of all, a record of my path and my ideas.

Therefore, here is my fresh start. I'm at home on a sick day. Decided it was a good time to play on my ipad a bit and explore some of the zillions of apps I have downloaded but not used. Don't want anything too serious, after all, I am sick. I opened rad.io (the downloaded version on my ipad) and was instantly impressed with the enormity of options available. I'm listening to German music from the 1920s as I blog.

"Imagine what a music teacher could do with so many genres of music at her fingers?" Being not musically inclined whatsoever, I had a hard time imagining.

But an English teacher could have a field day with something like rad.io. Students could analyze tone. They could look at rhyme scheme in some songs. They could do a literary analysis of a song. They could compare and contrast two very different genres. Okay, probably the English teacher would not use the German station from the 1920s for this, but - imagine then what the German teacher could do!

And in just the few minutes that it's taken me to write this blog, I've heard two songs that I know when they are in English. I have unintentionally learned a bit of German and a bit of music history.

This may not be the New York Times of blog posts, but it's enough to remember what I learned today.

Delivering Relief Packs

A boy named Noppawin and his father joined our team
distributing relief supplies.

This post may not seem to have much to do with education and learning, but Saturday was an amazing day of new experiences for me.

Thailand has been in the midst of terrible flooding for several months now. Six to eight weeks ago, Bangkok was threatened with these floods. Much of Bangkok and the surrounding areas did flood, though "inner Bangkok" including where I live stayed dry. We missed some school and had some challenges to make up those days, but we have been generally unaffected.

The school, though, wanted to find a way to help. We had a collection box set up for World Vision which was a start. There are quite a few opportunities around town to help via donations or assistance packing relief kits, but there was a desire among some of us to go to the "front lines" of the flood work. It was through twitter that I found the work @TeresaTung at another international school in Bangkok was doing. She was mentioned in a CNN report (which you can read here). I followed the breadcrumbs of information Teresa was dropping on twitter and found this website that detailed their work through the Bangkok Service Conference. Teresa was gracious enough to allow several students and teachers from our school to join in their activities.

On Friday we were to pack relief kits. Traffic was horrible and a 25 minute trip took 90 minutes, so we arrived too late to help with the packing. Saturday morning was much better, though, and we were able to arrive in time to load the trucks with the 800 relief packs, 600 meals, and nine boats that were distributed to five different neighborhoods.

I went on a school bus, then transferred to the back of a cargo-type truck (where we left the door open) and finally transferred to one of our donated boats to assist with distribution. I was touched to see the gratitude of the people who are living, and have been living for weeks, in filthy waist-high water. In one of the small villages we went to, people would lean out their second story windows and sometimes climb out on their roofs to get their relief packs filled with rice, tinned food, water, and other necessities.
She's on her roof and receiving just a small bag of supplies,
but her smile made the whole day worthwhile.

It was a long and tiring day, but I would do the trip again in a heartbeat. When I woke up the next morning, I could not help but think of the people who woke up another morning to water that had not  yet receded. Even now 48 hours later, they are probably still living surrounded by the filthy water without access to the basic necessities of life.

On the bus ride home, my husband had a chance to talk with two students from the sponsoring school. We were both very impressed by their maturity. This trip for them may have been part of the CAS component of the IB Curriculum. This has opened my mind to another aspect of the IB Curriculum. Creativity Action and Service. This weekend I saw those aspects implemented in a way that truly touches lives in a tangible way.

Educational pundits often demand evidence of such claims. Here it is in the form of a translated note from the village we went to:

Dear teachers and students of the New International School of Thailand and the Biking team from Baan-Fah Piyarom village,

We are so happy to have been touched by such a small group of people with such big hearts. We are very grateful for your courage that has made you reach out to help us. Your help has given so many people hope to stay strong in this time of crisis. The things you brought for us have been very helpful to our community.

And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The people of our village

And from one of the students who went on the trip:

I am so glad to have been able to take part in this trip. Nothing will ever top that moment when we, although complete strangers, exchanged smiles as though we have known each other for the longest time. Please let me know if you would like me to send the flood victims a message and I will help to translate as much as I can. I will also send them a link to the video of the pictures and clips from both Friday and Saturday once it is done.


This is what education should do. Affect people. Connect people. Improve lives.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Simple Post

After discussing materialism and dualism today, my student M. said, "Philosophy is so cool."

Thank you, M., I needed to hear that today.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Update from Bangkok Learning & Teaching Zone

This boy is jumping into the ChaoPraya river near the Sathorn
Pier. The current is very strong and the boy may be having
fun, but he is taking great risks with his wellbeing. The water
is both powerful and dirty.
Bangkok has been threatened by floods for about three weeks now. There is a long backstory to this flood, but what's important for the perspective of this blog is the effect it is having on education. The impact is wide: from teachers and students who simply can't get to school to teachers and students living in evacuation centers or having lost loved ones to drowning, electrocution or disease. A large portion of the country's rice crop is ruined. Tens of thousands of jobs are at least temporarily if not permanently lost due to flooded factories.

On my local level, we have missed ten days of school for this flood. The Thai Ministry of Education mandated that we close for eight of those days. Right now it's unclear when we will open. My school is not underwater, nor are the roads around it, but there are shortages of supplies in the city, travel in certain places is difficult (you have to take a boat or hitch a ride on a truck), there have been threats to the water supply, and nobody really knows the direction the water will go or the path it will take. There's also a constant threat to all of the flood barriers put up to protect inner-Bangkok because those flood barriers, while keeping the water out of inner-Bangkok are keeping the water from leaving the areas behind the flood barriers. There's quite a bit of political play involved in the whole thing, but I'm not qualified to address it all nor is this the place.

photo from @_bjb. We have not seen this situation
personally, but it is a reality in Bangkok now.
In the midst of this, we are to go on with what all of Bangkok seems to be calling elearning. Some schools and some teachers are more prepared for it than others. I'm pleased that I had already introduced twitter and blogging to my students. It made converting my lessons to elearning easier. I also had the benefit of doing my MEd online, so I felt confident to create a clear lesson. Many of the teachers at my school who had not had much experience using technology in the classroom have switched to edmodo, which seems to be working fairly well for our secondary students.
It is rather normal to see boats in the back of trucks lately.

You can see there is a large cement wall in front of this store.
Many businesses have quickly put up cement walls to protect
their shops.

My husband lets you know what he
thinks of the smell of the water.

It is at times like these, though, that I become very aware of the noise and interference that students have to deal with, and that we as teachers often deal with. My students have been traveling to avoid floods, have been evacuated from their homes, have been without electricity or reliable internet. Granted, some have taken off to the beach and will return refreshed and relaxed without checking in on their elearning, these are the same students that are apathetic on a regular basis. The diligent remain diligent even during the crisis, though I can understand the low-(sometimes high) level of noise and stress in their heads at this time. I hope that I'm a flexible teacher who sets realistic goals for my students. We claim in our mission statement to teach the whole student. I believe that entails understanding the whole student, including their physical circumstances. It means being flexible in times of crisis.

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