Wednesday, September 16, 2009

THESE DAYS.... I am keeping busy! Yahoo!. Yes, some of the busy is the repetition that is necessary here to accomplish even small jobs. But I am thankful to have those small jobs to do. I spend two days a week doing school visits. One of the schools is close enough to walk to and I have been there fairly regularly (Thursdays). This is the school where I team-taught a class 7 English unit oh, so many months ago. Lately, I have been visiting and teaching class 6. Last Monday, I taught a 2-hour English lesson introducing a new unit on the environment ( © ) and demonstrating some of the Ministry of Education’s proposals and strategies to boost literacy. It was such a luxury to have 2 hours for English and I was able to follow the Ministry’s suggested timeframe for balancing all the different skills that come with language/literacy. We spent the first 30 minutes talking as a class—discussing what they knew about the environment already from their studies in science (the environment is a popular/important topic here as the people of Vanuatu figure out how to deal with all of the changes that development brings). The first part of the timeframe is for conversation so that they have to USE their English, USE the new vocabulary, get comfortable talking about each topic from the curriculum. (It is a little strange, though, because most of the topics are actually from other school
subjects—”Japan” and “Investigation” and “Radio Communication.”) Then 60 minutes for reading skills: new vocabulary words from the text, reading the text aloud (“The Peril of Plastics”), comprehension questions, rereading the text with special emphasis on those vocabulary words, and some more questions. We finished with a short group writing topic. I didn’t like the way the essay ended (no conclusion to speak of) so we wrote a conclusion paragraph for the essay. Then still time for some rhyming practice and to assign a group project (part of each English unit in their curriculum) for the week. It went pretty well. Actually, it would have gone better if I’d realized that their break started at 9:30 instead of 10:00. The kids were very patient with me that last half hour as I pressed on with English right through their break! The following Thursday, I observed the class 6 teacher as he led an English lesson. It’s hard to say what effect I had since I wasn’t able to observe him before I model-taught but it’s a start. He has had some literacy/phonics training; he just wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into the curriculum. Today, I returned to class 6 for a math lesson. This was actually my second 2-hour math lesson. Last week at the other sort-of-close-up school, the class 5 teacher asked me to model a math lesson. He asked me at 10 and the lesson began at 10:30. Half hour for an English/social studies teacher to figure out how to teach a math lesson about converting metric measurements into decimals. Step 1, throw out most of the textbook exercises because they are too complicated. (The teachers are, in my opinion, severely handicapped by the math curriculum, which uses spiraling to teach math. So Monday, it introduces an operation concept (multiplying double digits), Tuesday is geometry (how to draw a cube), Wednesday is measurement (converting metric measures to decimals), Thursday is fractions (adding of) and Friday is something else again. There might be 5 problems for each topic on any given day. It’s crazy. Anyway, we started with a review of how the measurements fit together (millimeters, centimeters, decimeters, meters, etc.) and then a review of place values and then some easy relationship in decimals and yikes, it was hard. By then end of 2 hours, the kids were able to figure centimeters and meters, meters and kilometers in both directions as decimals. Were they able to do it agaln the next day? I have no idea. They probably didn’t get the chance since the math curriculum introduced something new. Ah well. One step forward.... ‘the math lesson today was just as challenging for me—percents, capital, and interest. The first question in the textbook asked the students “How much interest do you earn on 395,000 vatu in a year with 6% interest?” The FIRST question! So I wrote a bunch of prep questions to use during our first hour and a half and we saved that beauty and all of its follow up questions for the last half hour. I was very glad that all of you mathematics teachers were not present to see my classroom struggles, but where were you when I was desperately planning my lesson?! Doing a single math lesson is hard here too because you can’t assume the kids know the pre-requisites for your topic, like how many centimeters in a meter. When you have to go back that far to find out what they know, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for the new material. It has been nice to get back into the classroom as a teacher, though. After the long hiatus and the couple of brief returns to middle school teaching, I have started to reevaluate my 10 years of teaching in the states. Now, I am anxious to compare my experiences teaching the teachers with my experiences teaching kids. There is a good chance that this Friday, I will have the chance to do that. I am supposed to do a short workshop session for the teachers at the nearby school. I am hopeful that it will actually happen though I won’t count on it until I’m actually standing up in front of the room on Friday afternoon and all the teachers are present.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

After a little trouble with my flash drive (the folder with all of the pictures disappeared somehow), I have been able to post a whole bunch of pictures from the last few months. And I made sure to include a couple of pictures of myself, as per request.

This is the first workshop I did. It was a joint effort with two other volunteers while I was visiting on Malekula. Laura is just finishing her service (on the left) and Karen arrived at the same time as me. About 25 teachers attended and it went pretty well except that we had to change venues at the last minute (pre-empted by the tourism department) and our new site didn't have any tables.


This picture is from my first solo workshop on assessment. The curriculum advisor for the zone and I drove about 30 minutes south to one of the schools in his zone and I spent the morning talking about too many aspects of assessment for the amount of time available, but it's a start. (Notice the bare feet.)

One of my earlier blogs contained some references to the kinds of food available here in Vanuatu, and especially on Ambae. I may not have access to lots of different ethnic or regional varieties but I do still have access to take away. Every Sunday afternoon, my host mama wraps up some dinner in a leaf and I carry it home to eat later.

At the top of the picture is a fried fish and the rectangular objects with white "frosting" is banana laplap with krim blong kokonas antap.

A Vila sunset.

I reposted this one as a "before" picture.

And here's Mai, all grown up. She doesn't really fit in my lap anymore but she thinks she does.

An early garden shot---

And a bit more recent, though the cabbage is now about shoulder height, I have two bean "trees," and some very small tomato and pepper plants where the brown grass is. I've also cleared a bit more space for lettuce and spinach plants, though the chickens got to my first spinach seeds before they could sprout.

Jane and me--she was our medical officer when we arrived though she has moved on to other things now. A sad day for us here in Vanuatu.

Some of my co-workers. The two men on the right, in the reddish shirts, are ZCAs (zone curriculum advisors, like superindents) and work in the office in Saratamata. The man in the green shirt is a visiting workshop facilitator and the man in the foreground was the ZCA for Maewo, though he passed away suddenly about 3 weeks ago.

These are the class 5 kids at the close-up school. I try to get there every Thursday and this particular day, I ended up substitute teaching. We did a math lesson on finding area and a general studies/health lesson on the nervous system. My brother Wilson has his back to the camera.

This is a group photo taken after a workshop at the office. Can you find me?

The education office in Saratamata, newly refurbished, and it is nice. It's about a 2 minute walk from my house. And here's a funny change for me--I am now, almost always, the first one to arrive at work in the morning!

Fourth of July celebration. For a few months, there was a PC couple living in Lolowai, about 30 minutes walk from Saratamata. They hosted a 4th of July party for our host families and some of the hospital staff. We each gave a small toktok about how we celebrate Independence Day in the US and we sang the national anthem for everyone. Hamburgers and baked beans and caramel corn were on the menu in addition to the breadfruit laplap that the mamas brought.

One of the things I love about Vanuatu is the mamas--they have no reluctance to participate in the games and activities that adults in the US would consider too childish. It's so fun to watch them laugh and giggle while tossing water balloons or bobbing for naos.

These guys are trying to bob for naos, though it was really difficult. Naos are harder and slippery-er than apples so we ended up cutting them into wedges. Wilson, my youngest brother, is in the black and red shirt.

A few months ago, I had the chance to go to a custom wedding for my cousin Alphine. It was so interesting to see the similarities in wedding traditions and the many differences that are unique not just to Vanuatu, but to Ambae.

Alphine is sitting down and the mamas are piling a few really fancy custom mats on her head. She has a big palm leaf first, I think to help support the weight and to keep the mats stiff. And then 3 or 4 mats are laid on top. The fringes hang down in front and behind and act like a bridal veil.

This is at the groom's house. (Actually the groom is from another island, so one of Alphine's uncles adopted him for the day so that the complete ceremony could be done.)
Anytime an official gift is given, the recipient must at least touch the item in thanks or as an acknowledgement. For big gifts, like the bride price or dowry, the aunts or uncles (your father's sisters and sisters-in-law or your mother's brothers and brothers-in-law) walk around the pile of gifts three times. In this picture, Alphine's uncles and cousins are carrying mats from her dowry as they walk around the bride price gifts. It actually made me laugh because each man was holding the end of the mats in front of him to keep them off the ground but it reminded me of elephants on parade.

It was very hot that day and Alphine began to look very wilted after a while, but she posed for my picture.

The groom puts his hand on Alphine to acknowledge or "receive" her from her family.

The mamas carry the mats to the pile on their heads. I grabbed my camera quickly when they first started coming but the flow of women didn't stop. I had ample opportunity to take a picture as Alphine's mamas carried their gifts to the pile.
There was also a huge pile of household goods, like the items that we would give at a shower--a matress, dishes, pots for cooking, hurricane lanterns, rakes, suitcases, buckets and bowls.

This picture shows some of Alphine's mamas (her mother's sisters) laying out the mats that are part of her dowry. The tradition is that, when the groom's family piles up the mats from the bride price, the stack has to be higher.I asked my host mama about the mats because I've never seen one in use and she said that they are just given as gifts at custom ceremonies--chiefly grade-taking, weddings, funerals, etc. So my host mama brought 3 or 4 mats as part of the dowry, her gift to Alphine, and went home with 3 or 4 different mats, her share of the bride price.

Back to the groom's house--these are piles of goods that his family are giving as the bride price. They're divided into piles by parts of the family. So one pile goes to her straight mom and dad, one pile to her uncles and aunts, one pile to her mamas and papas, one pile to her abus (grandparents). That black blob in the foreground is a pig.

Land diving is a custom ceremony from Pentecost that is done at the beginning of the yam season. It is supposed to ensure a good harvest. These days, it's for the tourists as well. There was a huge cruise ship full of Australians there the same weekend we visited.

The tower and ropes are made entirely of natural materials. And there were 5 or 6 platforms on this particular tower. It can vary. The first jumper is usually a younger boy, 10-12 years old, and tradition says that if he doesn't jump (gets scared or whatever) no one jumps.

The men and women of the village dance all through the ceremony.

This was the first jumper the day we went. He's about 20 feet off the ground and about 12 years old.

Sandy on the beach in Pangi, the only place you can get phone reception. Not a bad phone booth!