Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Zone of Science & Math

The main man for middle school science and math.

8th graders have been working on painting the periodic table onto this wall!

The left corner of Adam's classroom used to have a couch and arm chair, but the middle schoolers couldn't handle the pressure of that privilege, so now they are in the student council meeting room.

Apparently Adam had been drinking sleepy tea while teaching---it had no affect on him. :)

For an earthquake project....

Somebody's doodles posted on the whiteboard.

Students' hand prints on the wall.

Better shot of the periodic creation.

Another angle of his classroom.

Some earth science projects--layers of the earth shown in many different ways--made by his students. I loved seeing their creative and diverse ideas!


Spirit Week

I am very impressed with the amount and quality of the work that Adam and his student council accomplished during Spirit Week. They accomplished a lot during a very chaotic week--I want to write more about it, but it's getting late and we have to wake up early in the morning. I'm running out of blog-steam!

Some of the things that student council headed up last week:

Mao Wars--raised money for the Philippines service trip.
Costume Themes--students dressed up and we had best dressed competitions
Poster Contest--all of the students were divided into more than 40 teams
Wall Painting--every person in the school put their hand print on the wall

My students won three out of five best dressed awards in our department! Some of my favorite costumes that showed up in third grade were:

Captain Hook---complete with sword, hook, eye patch, hat, and cape
Michael Jackson--a little Korean girl came dressed in a white shirt, pony tail, glove, bow-tie, and glasses
Sacagawea--this girl had a doll strapped to her back and Native American regalia

Our lovely and inspiring first grade teacher!

Adam was going for "solar system"--complete with an asteroids on his "asteroid belt"--but people gave him some grief about being "Mr. Universe"!


Bump! Set! Protest!!!

Last week was Spirit Week at SYIS---this is a great week to celebrate school spirit since the volleyball tournament was on Friday and Saturday. After a week of raising money through Mao Wars, dressing up in costumes, and participating in a pep rally, we were able to discover what true school spirit really looks like. When you're thrown into the fire, how will you respond? True school spirit is not all fun and games--it takes perseverance and a lot of flexibility.

All of the ISC schools came together to compete on Shenyang turf. It is SYIS' responsibility and privilege to host the volleyball tournament every year. Last year, I enjoyed being able to watch our students compete, since I don't get to see them play basketball or soccer at their respective tourneys. Last year, it was so cold, and of course there was no heat yet---it even snowed during the tournament!

In past years, SYIS has rented a big gym at the Sports College in our city. On Friday morning/afternoon, the different teams from around China began to arrive in our city. At noon, some of the teachers who had spent months planning the tournament went to the Sports College to begin setting up for this big event. When they arrived, they learned that there was a planned protest happening at the college. I'm not sure what the protest was about exactly, but I heard that many protests were happening at colleges all over the place in reaction to a drunk driver killing a bunch of students. Maybe that's not true...In any case, we were told that it would not be safe to be at the Sports College that weekend. It's just another lesson in China living. No matter how much you plan and prepare everything can fall apart in five seconds.

Anyway, the bottom line is that, after all the SYIS volleyball teams had loaded onto our school buses to travel to the Sports College and warm up for their games that afternoon, they learned that the tournament would have to be held at the school instead. Emergency! The staff, maintenance, coaches, players, and administration became a flurry of activity, trying to set up courts, food, concession stands, and lights for night games. I'm not sure what we would have done if we hadn't had space on our campus for four courts. I'm not sure what we would have done if it had been raining or snowing (like last year). It makes me shudder to even think about the "what ifs"! Each school spends so much money sending their high school and middle school boys and girls varsity and junior varsity teams to Shenyang. They pay for plane or train tickets, hotel rooms, and meals--it's a pricey ordeal--and to find out a few hours before the tournament starts that the venue has fallen through is enough to make the steadfast run in panicked circles.

Just as the other schools started arriving at SYIS for the tournament, the water in our building stopped running. It was like one blow after the other....but SYIS kept plodding forward--talk about persevering through trials!

Our principal and amazing maintenance crew rigging some lights that they were able to find before the sun set on Friday.

Hosting a tournament means that you naturally want to put on a good face for the other schools. Everything should be well organized, look nice, have great facilities, and provide whatever the players need. I think some of the students were embarrassed that the tournament was going to be held at the school. I think that some of the students felt ashamed of our facilities. For these sentiments which they have communicated quite clearly, I say--"SHAME ON YOU!" I was proud that we had enough space to hold four courts. I was proud that we were able to rig lights up on such short notice. I was proud that there was an area for concessions and an area for lunch and dinner to be served and eaten. I was proud that we had an activity room for people to practice in and a beautiful auditorium with lots of special FX for the awards ceremony. Although we literally had zero time to prepare for a tournament at school, it went well. The show went on without a hitch and I took pride in our school's resourcefulness and flexibility. I am ashamed of students were ashamed of our school. I ashamed that they should feel like our staff and maintenance crew are anything but top-notch. I am ashamed that they should brush aside the smoothness with which the venue transition took place with such arrogance and self-centered vanity.

It was a moment of TRUE school spirit
--when we could have been taken down, discouraged, disappointed, and defeated, the people at our school pulled together and made things work. They were flexible and had good attitudes about the whole would-be-catastrophe. Talk about looking at situations through providential lenses--all things definitely work together for good. I was very impressed with everyone--If I had been the principal, athletic director, or one of the coaches or maintenance crew members I am not sure if I could have showed such patience and flexibility---but He granted lots of grace this weekend!

Another blessing was that the weather was absolutely gorgeous! For whatever reason, we had amazing weather the two days of the tournament. Instead of being below freezing and overcast, it was in the 60's and sunny! What an enormous and unexpected blessing!

Our teams played relatively well! Middle school boys and girls teams both won first place! The high school boys and girls teams also played really well and placed in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th places. Overall, they played very well and we were so proud of our teams! Adam got to help coach the high school varsity boys team. He did an Air Alert program with them to increase their jumping height. You could definitely tell a difference between our high school varsity boys team and the other schools' teams! We had a lot of power, a lot of height, and a lot of strength!
Our cute music teacher cheering for her choir students who also were on volleyball teams.

One of the special points for me was seeing some of my old students from student teaching in Chengdu. There were three boys and three girls playing on middle school teams that had been in the fifth grade class that I was placed in for my final student teaching experience. They had grown so much! I was able to get a picture with some of the girls--but the boys were too sad to take a picture with me. They had just lost the championship game in their division.

It was fun to get to show off our facilities to the other schools--for although our buildings are in need of a fresh coat of paint and are surrounded by factories, they are the structures which house a community that has become very close to my heart. Appearances matter, but perseverance and 'get it done' attitudes are the winners at the end of the day. We may not have beautiful gardens like Chengdu, or stellar buildings like Tianjin, but I was incredibly proud of what we had to offer during the volleyball tournament. I hope that the students will go away with good memories from this event and that the other school's will empathize with our last minute emergency venue change.

Lovely Shenyang ladies and the cutest little guy, watching games on Saturday.

Adam, walking on the wall in front of our school--the volleyball team that he helped coach took a picture on top of the wall...wish I could share those pictures because they are awesome!


Gold Collars, Markets, & Cabbages

Another week of learning slipped right past and I hardly even noticed it. There were several times this past week when I thought, "I need to remember this so that I can share it on my blog". Whether it was something funny a student said, a crazy happening in Shenyang, an interesting conversation, or whatever...I had so many things stored in the blogging sector of my brain, that I lost all of the information I wanted to write about.

Thankfully, I took some pictures throughout the week. Many of the pictures were of our students, but I tried to be intentional about taking non-student pictures as well. I was a little foolish and deleted many of my pictures because I thought that I had already uploaded them onto our computer....bummer...

Cabbages and Green Onions---they are everywhere right now! People buy them off of trucks that are piled high and packed tightly with these two vegetables. They leave them outside for many days (perhaps a few weeks...I'm not sure exactly how long) to be dried in the cool air and sunshine. They will use these veggies as a major ingredient in their meals throughout the long winter. I have heard it said that until about ten years ago, the amount of food that was imported to Shenyang over the winter months was not very much--people continued their traditions of drying food to avoid hungry days.

Lots of onions and cabbages can be seen everywhere around our nice apartment complex. It is an accepted practice and respected by all of the residents. I would be worried that my cabbages would be stolen or eaten by animals--but I guess even squirrels respect this tradition.

Even though fresh fruits and vegetables are imported in great supply now, many people choose to continue this discipline of buying cabbage and green onions and drying them before winter sets in. Many older people probably remember times of hunger--storing for the winter has been ingrained into their way of life!

Last weekend, I went to WuAi with one of my good Shenyang friends who is going to help accumulate props for "Treasure Island". We were actually able to buy a few items as we scouted out the market stalls, and were able to barter on some bigger purchases that we will need. Fun things like treasure chests, steering helms, trees, stockades, and maybe even some swords. The only swords we saw that were within our price range were the kinds that are used at wedding to shoot off fire crackers. They have sockets on the tips of the swords where fire crackers can be loaded.

We will possibly use these strange decorations for the island stockade. They aren't the most formidable defense I have ever seen, but they are light and can be stored easily backstage.

Here's a string of pictures taken outside of the main WuAi market buildings...I was just about to buy some wooden buckets that will be used for swabbing the decks.

The wooden buckets....I think they are intended for "spa" like uses, such as soaking your feet.

Autumn means that street-vendors start selling baked sweet potatoes! They smell delicious!

Our radiators still haven't turned on. They are supposed to warm up starting on November 1, although many of the other foreigners in our apartment complex say that their heat turned on several days ago. Our radiators are still as cold as ice! I hope that that changes tomorrow! This year seems a lot warmer than last year's Autumn in comparison....something that I will talk about more in the Spirit Week post.

Adam's computer charger got stuck in this power strip from wouldn't come out no matter how hard we tried! He tried taking it apart with our IKEA tool set, but to no avail. We didn't have the right kind of screw driver tips. Adam said he had never seen screws like that in his life! Finally, he was able to pry his charger out of the power strip!

Last picture is of some noodles that we like to order from a little hole in the wall restaurant close to home. It's extremely cheap, filling, and so yummy! The noodles are handmade at the restaurant too!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Food Chain & Other Zoo Incidents

For several weeks now, Mrs. Zhao and I have been planning our field trip to our city's zoo. This year was going to be on a slightly grander scale than last year, since we had invited the 2nd/3rd grade English Support classes to come too. There is a surprising amount of things to be done to prepare for a field trip, and some of it involves calling, re-calling, and re-calling to confirm and reconfirm what you already know...or at least what you think you know. The customer service at the zoo informed us repeatedly that they opened at 8:00 in the morning and closed at 3:00 pm. Thus, we planned to leave at 7:45 and take the forty minute drive to the zoo. However, when we arrived at the zoo, no one was around. This was rather infuriating, especially when you have a van full of 17 eight-year-olds who are going stir crazy.

We waited.

It wasn't until 9:30 that a zoo employee arrived to the ticket building. What made it frustrating to me was that there were other ticket counters open at 8 o'clock, but the employees were completely unhelpful. They would not take our money and give us tickets, since we were paying for the group rate. They wouldn't even let us know what time the zoo ticket people would start working! It's a little maddening to control a van-full of kiddos when you have no solid information to give them. They can hardly be controlled when there is no goal in sight. It's hard to be patient when you are just sitting in a humid van for indeterminate amount of time. It's hard to be the blind leading the blind--not a situation I would consider ideal.

Which brings me to a flashback. Suddenly I remembered last year's field trip to the zoo--how we also had to wait for an hour in the van. I remembered all the mindless nonsense I had invented to keep the kids occupied, and how bored and crazy they were. Last year, we were told that the workers were merely "late" because of the rain. Yes, it was pouring for the first hour of the field trip last year, so it was actually a good thing that we were trapped in the van's purgatory.

On a side-note, while sitting in the van, I learned a lot about the different Korean and Japanese dramas that my students watch on TV. I am surprised at the content--doesn't seem to be entirely kid-appropriate, but they think it is fantastic. There is one show about a girl who is also a wolf with nine tales. She has magical powers but wants to be human. She marries and her husband promises her to not say that she is a wolf for 10 years--if he keeps his promise she will become a full human. But the day before the 10 years is over, the husband forgets and calls her wolf-with-nine-tales and everything is lost. That's the theme for this sitcom/drama. Field trips provide chances to bond with students; we're not constrained by a schedule or routine.

Apparently, the zoo does not open at 8 o'clock as advertised online and repeatedly communicated over the phone. Putting this year's experience together with last year's, I coming to the conclusion that the zoo has a later opening time during the autumn months. Geez--for unprofessional service and poor communication, I hardly expect to pay such steep prices. For goodness gracious, I'm used to touring zoos for free!

What the dill pickle, is what Adam would say.

So--around 9:30, we were finally able to purchase our tickets, drive to the main entrance of the zoo, go through the gate and walk into the first exhibit.

A word of warning:

Having lived near some fairly decent zoos in America, I must admit I have a certain standard for cleanliness, creativity, and humane treatment towards animals. When I was a nanny for a little girl in the Gold Coast, we used to walk to Lincoln Park Zoo a few times a week to see the animals. I have that zoo mapped out by heart.

Even though I had several warnings from team members here, nothing could have prepared me for the zoo last year! However, this year I had strapped on my mental armor before walking through the front gate. I was going to be strong, tolerant, and accepting. I was going to remain calm and unshaken by whatever sights, sounds, or smells assaulted me. I am not an animal lover by any means. I have no deep-seated desire to save the animals, protect the whales, or join PETA. My aversion to eating meat has more to do with bacteria than animal's rights...but this place makes me feel eerie and uncomfortable. I snapped some pictures to share with you. Once again, there are no pictures of the students themselves because of a school policy--I wish that I could share some of the pictures with students in them because they show a whole different dimension of the zoo. Plus, some of the pictures are hysterical to look at! I have such funny students!

Back to the first exhibit....the first exhibit contains what I assume to be stuffed animals. Lions, tigers, deer, baby elephants, alligators, and horses are stuffed into misshapen figures and put on display in darkly lit halls. It's a little creepy--it makes me wonder if those animals died of natural causes or if they were poached (in some cases)

(these kinds of displays, out in the open, with poor lighting, and obviously deteriorating hides, makes me feel sad for these animals. I really wonder if these animals were once alive--it's hard to tell since they are stuffed so poorly.)

(creepy looking deer--their bodies look slightly askew, especially their faces. The marble eyes freaked my students out.)

After walking through the "gallery of death" (basically), we hopped onto a safari bus that would take us through the wild-life portion of the zoo. Guess what time it was? 9:40. Guess what time the driver said we would start the safari? 10:15. It seemed pointless to wait 35 minutes, since we were obviously the only people in the zoo at that time. But, right before we left, a few folks showed up and joined our group on the bus. Last year, the bus took us through different sections--in the tiger and lion sections, the bus driver fed the animals chicken legs out of his window. I think a sign of assimilation in me was that this year, I was looking forward to the chicken leg feeding. While we were waiting---it seemed like all we had done all day was wait---we gave our students permission to eat their snacks. It wasn't the cleanest bus in the world, eating a few snacks was definitely not going to hurt it. Snack time seemed to occupy the students for a while, as well as teasing each other that the tigers were going to eat the students.

One cute little 3rd grader said to me, "Do tiger like creamy thing?" I laughed and asked, "Why are you asking? Are you creamy?" She smiled, her little dimples showed, "Yes, I am creamy". What does that even mean?! I love English language learners! I loved to tease my students that the lions or tigers were going to eat them--they think that it is hysterical!

The bus ride itself was very different than last year's. Most of the dangerous animals (tigers and lions) were caged in small areas. I found out later that this is because they are re-designing their habitat area. I'm not so sure though--I didn't notice much renovation happening. This also meant that we couldn't feed the animals chicken-legs. Yet another down-point in the day.

(Now that I think about it, most of the animals were caged up on the safari ride--which was a little lame since there was absolutely no need for us to be on the bus. There were fences and electric lines everywhere.)

(I think this lion was one of the only animals that wasn't entrapped)

(bones of prey that the wolves ate--it was a little disturbing to see carcasses and sheep skulls everywhere--the students were shrieking, "that animal so poor!")

I love field trips. I actually like the Shenyang Zoo--it's growing on me. It's small enough so that we can conquer it in a few hours, but big enough so that we feel completely exhausted by the end. There is always a 'but': But it is a sobering place. This year, I wanted my students to notice the exhibits in a way that would make them somber. I wanted them to focus on how habitats could be improved. I wanted them to propose design improvements. After we got off the bus, we started touring the main part of the zoo. Because it is beginning to feel quite cold here, many of the animals had been removed from their outdoor habitats.

(The students were hilarious as they interacted with these emus. The emus actually looked a lot better than last year, when they were basically living in a mud hole and were soaking wet. They are a little freaky looking and students kept getting a little too close--close enough for the emu to reach them. The kids quickly figured out that they should stand a good distance from the fence)

(Vultures in a tiny cage. There was no space to fly, only a branch to walk across, no food was present in their cage either.)

(these geese were so bored...or maybe hungry...that they ate part of their exhibit sign. It could also have been that they had nothing to play with in the little space)

(This sheep needed to be sheared very badly. It also was extremely dirty. I'm guessing by the length of it's wool, it was never sheared in the spring. There were huge sections of feces hanging from it's body.)

(These monkeys are smart enough to beg for food. They thought that we would feed them, and so were begging quite desperately. Their exhibit was below us, and some were throwing themselves against the concrete walls, trying to get closer to us. Then they would have to climb out of the trench which they had fallen into after trying to jump up to us.)

At least, that is what I would like to think. There was a scandal last year involving siberian tigers dying from starvation at this zoo. They were not being fed. If you look at the different exhibits, you never see any food for the animals--and if you walk around all day, you never see a zoo keeper feeding any of the animals. This is a major difference, even in comparison with the Lincoln Park Zoo; it seems like zoo keepers are always feeding or preparing food and supplements for the animals there. Here, the majority of the workers are street-sweepers. So, I hope that the animals have been removed to another location--because otherwise, they might be dead.

One of the most shocking places is where the elephants, rhino, and baboons are kept during the cold months--which is at least half of the year. It smell horrible inside the building--we literally had to force some of the students to enter. It's sad to see such large animals held in such small cages. This is when I feel like joining an animal rights activist group. The rhino was so depressing--it really makes me want to cry for them! Poor baboons too--what a sad existence. I hope that they get to exercise in larger areas during the winter. I don't know how the animals are rotated through locations throughout the entire year, but I hope that this place is not their winter home.

(I have some really sad pictures of this exhibit, but since they include the faces of my students, they are not posted here.)

(The rhino was very upset in his exhibit. He kept attacking the bars with his horn--it was very loud and aggressive sound--made the exhibit feel extremely eerie and uncomfortable. He had no food or place to rest or play. He hardly had space to turn around and his floor was soaking wet. The lighting was extremely dark in this building and the smells were horrible. The students were shocked--one girl said, "It's like he's in jail".)

(I hope that the baboons do not live in these conditions all winter)

(This is a young elephant, but they also had a female and a ginormous male elephant in even smaller cages. The male elephant had huge tusks--he could not even turn around.)

When it was time to break for lunch and recess, I thought it was interesting how the kids choose to sit on the ground or steps instead of the tables and chairs. They thought the chairs and tables were too dirty. They are such clean freaks! They would wash the flag-stones or wooden steps with their wet-ones/anti-bacterial before sitting down--and most of them sat on tissues so that they would not have direct contact with the ground. Although I also did not sit in the chairs, I did not sanitize the ground or sit on tissues...thank you very much.

(Gifts of food given to me by students. I had also brought my own lunch and snack, so I felt extremely full all afternoon--but how can you pass up delicious kimbop?)

Now for the signs. Of course, there were some great translations around the zoo, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

We finished the day by looking at each of the exhibits, drawing lots of observations, and working on design proposals in small groups. We also bought some ice-cream treats. What a cold day (high was 60 F) for ice-cream! We loaded ourselves back onto the school van and headed back to our drop-off/pick-up spot. We were right on time for the parents to pick their kids up. On trip back, four of the students fell asleep--it was a quiet ride back--everyone was tired.

(this is what the beetles looked like that were crawling around the area were the students were working on their improvement project. I had never noticed this kind of bug around here before--the kids kept shrieking and saying that they were "poisonous lady bugs")

(Since I didn't get to drink my usual cup of coffee that morning, I was very excited about my coffee flavored ice cream treat. Even though it was a crisp fall afternoon with no sunlight to warm us, ice-cream tasted good after our busy afternoon)

Besides having to wait a lot, not being able to see all the animals, and having a brisk day outdoors--the field trip was a lot of fun and a welcome break from our usual schedule. I am blessed to have such a great class and an opportunities to go on field trips. I never thought I would go to a zoo in China!

Did I mention the decor? The whole place is decorated with military weapons and vehicles. Especially the wild animal safari area. There must be hundreds of items around the zoo--even huge transport carriers and tanks. It's not in the best condition--some things are falling apart and rusted over--but it is definitely genuine. It makes me wonder about who once operated them, what happened to those people, and what conflicts they were used in)

What a fun day!