Friday, March 29, 2013

The Streets of Kathmandu

Image 94/ 365: This street normally redefines "busy" and "chaotic,"
 but this picture was taken during the holiday in Kathmandu. 
Image 93/ 365:  View from the side of the road
(no sidewalks here) in Kathmandu.

Image 92/ 365: Normal street scene. Different sense of alignment
and sense of space on these roads. 

Image 94/ 365: Cows are sacred here, so they have
freedom to roam where they wish. 
When traveling in Nepal, it’s nice to know there’s no extra charge for entertainment on public transportation. That includes people watching, counting family members on a single scooter (5 is the top count so far), or watching traffic dodge cows lying in the middle of the road. It includes the sheer joy of the occasional off-road ride: I thought painted lines on the road were mere suggestions. Now I realize that even the asphalt strip called a "road" is a step above bread crumbs serving as a travel guide. It's also evident that Nepali automakers need not include turn signals in the cars, but need to beef up the horns for continued blaring and blasting. And, "the more dust, the better” ought to be the national driving motto.

Speaking of mottos, there are several catchy ones painted on the traffic cop/ director's kiosk in the center of intersections:
"Caution and care make crashes rare"
"Accidents make tears. Safety makes cheer."
"Road safety is no accident."
Wonder if they help; I have yet to see any accident!

Entertainment also includes that which I have (obviously) provided to the locals. I have talked—ok, tried to talk—to people with my oh-so-rudimentary Nepali---which just makes everyone laugh, but it eases their shyness and their stares dissolve into smiles. Today, the toddler in front of me on the bus took my finger and kissed it; as we unloaded at the same stop, she put her tiny little hands together for a farewell Namaste. Talk about unforgettably precious—but telling her mom (using my handy Nepali phrase book) that her baby was cute definitely broke the ice, and she continued to smile at me on the bus. In Nepal, people don’t say you’re welcome or thank you. Instead “they smile at you and you know it’s from their heart.”  

Image 93/365: My new little source of namaste.
If you want to take public transportation anywhere, you can ride a “bus”, microbus (white van), or tuk tuk (think motorized rickshaw). I’d highly recommend the microbus for the pure sake of entertainment. Young boys or teens hang out the side door yelling the name of stops (I have yet to see a sign for a bus stop), encouraging folks to ride, and are then responsible for remembering who is going where and later taking their money as they disembark . Constant pounding and tapping on the side of the van alerts the driver to stop for pickup or drop off, and no one seems to mind that it sounds like the van is under attack. They also don’t seem to mind that the microbus teams are in the midst of training for what must be the Nepali championship of Microbus Stuffing—when there’s no room left, let alone seats, they still keep persuading people to get on.

And then, once the journey continues, anything can happen, like today, when the door fell off the side of the van. (Thankfully, no cows were harmed.) The driver calmly pulled over, and the "door man" jumped out to fix it. With a wrench. Apparently a magical one. No one said a word, no one offered to help, and there was not a peep of discontent. There were even new passengers who paused for a minute to look at the door on the ground, and decided with a shrug that, "hey, it looks ok", and into the van they hopped. And waited while it was fixed somehow. Still no one said a single word. "Relax!", they always say--they definitely practice what they preach! 

And that, my friends, is a glimpse into life on the roads of Kathmandu. 

Image  92 / 365: Door fell off!
Nepali expletives here. _________
Image   91/ 365: The Door Man fixes the door and
saves the day!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Get Your Buddha On

Image 85, 86, 87, 88/365: The Great Stupa of Boudha
Any day is a good day when you can survive the streets of Kathmandu to get your Buddha on at the great white stupa known as Boudha. Considered one of the world’s largest stupas, it is indeed breathtaking as you round the corner of busy little alleyways into the center encircling the stupa. It holds some pretty hefty status as an “auspicious” landmark and one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist sites in Nepal. Its history dates back centuries to when it was a major player and sacred site on the trade route from Kathmandu to Tibet. For those of you who love languages, Boudha’s Tibetan name is Yambu Chorten Chenpo (Yambu is Tibetan for Kathmandu, and Chorten Chenpo is “great tower.”)

Legend has it that there are many holy relics, possibly parts of the Buddha himself included, inside the stupa, but since it has been sealed since the 5th century, no one really knows what mysteries await inside. As the home of protective Tibetan Buddhist exiles since the 1950’s, one has to believe that Boudha’s mystery will remain as such for a long, long time.

In the pictures below you can see prayer wheels, one of my longtime favorite aspects of Buddhism.  Prayer wheels are covered with mantras, like Om Mani Padme Hum, various symbols, and / or dakinis, female spirtual muses of sorts to aid you in your spiritual practice. (at least in Tibetan Buddhism) The more times the mantra is written inside the wheel, the more powerful it is said to be; even so, spinning a prayer wheel equates to reading the inscription thousands of times!
Image 84/ 365: A monk with his mani  prayer wheel in front of a row
of wheels (behind the red "curtain")

Generally, the wheels are spun clockwise to mimic the movement of the sun across the sky. As the wheels are spun, prayers are sent out to manifest wisdom and good karma, while destroying the bad karma. Chant your oms as you spin the wheels to enhance your mindful path to enlightenment, my friends. Compassion, wisdom and Bodhicitta (one who aspires to become fully enlightened to benefit everyone) may well be yours. And, after spinning the wheels, if you have any “extra” good karma, please, do as the Tibetan Buddhists do, and dedicate it to others who may need it. 

Image 83/ 365: Row of prayer wheels with prayer flags strung across the top.
Spin them smoothly, not too fast, not too slow, while chanting Om Mani Padme Hum.

Image 82/ 365: Prayer wheels come in all sizes. Rotation is almost
always clockwise (unless you want to stir up some wrath). This
dog may just be the most enlightened animal around.

Image 81/ 365: Tibetan script for Om Mani Padme Hum. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Holi-- A Rangi Changi Day!!

 My house baba blessed me with
 a two-tone tika after breakfast.
Leave it to the travel gods to land me halfway around the world just in time to celebrate the colorful day of an ancient Hindu holiday!
My day started off fairly inconspicuously, with my house baba painting tika on my forehead after breakfast of spicy daal bhaat...since today, the last day of Holi, is a national holiday, schools are closed, and most Nepalese do not work. In a nutshell, this is the day of celebrating good over evil, and the arrival of spring. I've heard three stories about its history from local Nepalese, and each involves quite a bit of trickery by mischievous beings, human and deity. Holi is also known as the Festival of Colors...and as I was about to learn, the Nepalese take their "playing colors" very seriously!
 Daal Bhaat, rice and beans--
for breakfast and dinner, along with curried
veg. Nepalis love their spicy food.
 Neighborhood kids greeting me
in the morning--Happy Holi!!
As we walked through town to 2 of the local orphanages to celebrate and play colors with the kids, it soon became apparent that rooftop water balloon and water bucket insurgents hang out on the rooftops awaiting unsuspecting Holi-ers. But it's not just about the water, since it is a Festival of Colors, you see. Colored powders that span the rainbow make quite a lovely paste when water is added to them...
A girl from the orphanage
reacting when a water bag burst at her feet.
 Throwing colored water!
Happy Holi, indeed!
Men, boys, women, and girls alike stroll around with boxes and bags of brightly colored powder which they love to wipe on your face as they wish you a Happy Holi! It is definitely a day of fun, laughter--oh, how my jaws and belly ached from laughing so hard today!--and EVERYONE gets involved. This day is one far better told through pictures than words. So, enjoy! And by the way, the Nepali for "colorful" is "rangi changi," so please, feel free to exclaim Rangi Changi! as you watch the video. :) (C'mon, you know you wanna!)

Please click this link to see more pictures:
Happy Holi Video

Don't let that cute face fool you--she was a menace with
a "lola", water balloon.

 One of the girls with a "sprinkler" to make those colors stick!

 Local boys joining in on the fun

Monday, March 25, 2013

Touchdown in Kathmandu

On the final descent into Kathmandu, we were greeted by sunny views of terraced hillsides, a mountainous background, and countless colorful little stacked box houses. Apparently the Nepalese travelers were as enthralled as me--everyone was craning to see out the windows--window seats were prime real estate on this flight judging by the bickering and trading spaces before take-off. 
Upon landing, the collective hush that enveloped the cabin during descent erupted into cheers and celebratory rabble. Appeasing the Safe Landing Deities?
Giving new meaning to the term "crushing horde", airplane touch down obviously equates to permission to jump out of your seats and grab your bags, then push forward through the aisle--even though everyone else is doing the same, and the doors aren't even close to being open yet. 
All of a sudden, someone yelled something ("Yeti is at the front door!"?) Not sure, since my Nepali is, umm, a bit rudimentary (ok, nonexistent) at this point...but whatever it was, everyone jumped and turned around to crush toward the back door. It was hilarious to watch. Being taller and able to hold my own definitely has its advantages.

Security and "customs" was a breeze, unlike the shady dealings in Mumbai, with its overly complicated checking of name tags and boarding passes (no fewer than 12 checks within an hour), and its random charges with no receipts (receipts only if you pay the highest charge). A stamp on my passport, a cursory glance to make sure it was me, and a mere wave through with my bags. I was in. :)
 The parking lot outside Kathmandu's airport.

The parking lot redefined chaos, however, and prepared me duly for the streets of Kathmandu, where cows, goats, pedestrians, trucks, mopeds, cars, and bikes all share the roads, and painted lines are a blatant waste of resources and time.

 Fruit vendor, one of many stands along the narrow
road I would consider an alley.
As we headed toward my lodging, the driver turned off onto a walkway that doubled as a road. One that barely looked wide enough for 5 people to walk side by side accommodated--as if through magic--passing vehicles. And nary a shout from the pedestrians who were so close I could reach out and touch their tikas.

 Selling an Indian dish of panipuri. Described as a puff
of bread with a special "cooling liquid" (syrup?) poured into the center.
Good for hot days, so they say. I shall take their word for it.
An arrival that has brought my sleep-deprived senses alive, and I've only just begun. That's all for now. Tomorrow is Holi, a national holiday, so stay tuned to learn along with me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Someday" has become Today

A long-time dream of "someday" has come to fruition. Today. 
Stay tuned for posts when the Internet Deities and the Electricity Gods align to provide simultaneous service... 
International rates now apply. :)

Image 69/ 365 Days of Awesome. Really Awesome.
In the meantime, my dear students and other readers alike, what's your "someday"?
And what steps have you taken today toward yours?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Because THIS is what matters...

Dear Teacher Evaluators/ Policymakers/ Politicians,

    As you seek the Holy Grail of That-Which-Constitutes-An-Effective-Teacher, it is increasingly apparent that little consensus exists among you in determining precisely what constitutes an effective teacher. Or how to compensate one for his/her efforts. You acknowledge disparate teaching for students in a high poverty status or children of color, despite seemingly common knowledge that this is not ideal. Of course, I have not seen you in my school visiting the passionate, hardworking, conscientious teachers who have voices, experiences, and thinking that beg open and honest discussion. By virtue of your position, you are far removed from our everyday classroom realities, but we invite you to listen. To understand that teaching is not about checking boxes, circling bubbles, or categorizing anyone in black or white. It's about being comfortable with change--lots of it, ambiguity, ups and downs, continual reforms, lost instructional time due to assessments, mandated irrelevance--antithetical to best practices for a number of reasons. It's also about real life. Where you can throw aside the lesson plan when it's "just not working" or one of your students has issues that need to be acknowledged and dealt with, positive or negative, because hey, they're human.
     Instead of your reforms, look at mine. Mine are borne of reflective practice, collaborative efforts, and even--gasp--response to student feedback. So, yes, 8 and 9 year olds are given a fair opportunity to help inform my efforts and my instruction. I want them to be engaged, I want them to learn, and I want them to think. I can never assume that I know how to facilitate those things in the best way for them, so I ask. I communicate with my stakeholders. After all, those efforts are what make our jobs--my teaching and their learning--more effective.
     Take a page from my playbook. If you want to help us do our jobs more effectively, then show us by asking us and including us more frequently in your conversations. Communicate with us, and yes, expect good things, because there are many. Don't invite us to serve as token teachers on your committee. Assume good intent. And remember that for us, the first two pictures in this post encapsulate the rewards that matter most. The last picture embodies what we feel you want from us.
      In review, let's take a one-question test:
Which of these three pictures, if I was teaching your child, would YOU consider proof of my effectiveness?

The two images at the top of the post are Images 67/ 68 of 365 Days of Awesome. The bottom picture here failed to make the grade.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Setting Goals

Image 66/365: Our chart to help us keep track while learning about
goals and setting goals. 

Images 64/65 of 365: This is where we started. When asked "What are goals?" "What kind of goals have you had or do you have?", the above statements were the primary responses: kids had not heard of them, let alone had them. 

Our third grade CCSS includes learning about notable people, entrepreneurs, inventors, etc. In social studies my students learned about several different people, so in my literacy/ writing group, I wanted to extend their thinking. I decided to do so through the lens of goals/ goal-setting. To get inside the heads of others, to understand that the success of all of these notable people didn't "just happen", that there was much more to it, that it didn't always come easy.  And that often, seeds of inspiration, along with the start of the necessary work, came at young ages.

We began by talking about goals, obstacles, who can set goals and why it is ok to fail. We used short biographies of random people, from Michael Jordan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Nawal el Sadaawi to Frida Kahlo. Each of them had goals, took steps to achieve them, yet encountered obstacles along the way. And we watched several video clips demonstrating perseverance, learning from failure, helping others, and not giving up.

Students were given short bios to read, with several purposes for re-reading: 
for comprehension, to understand what their person's primary goal in life was (which in turn required re-reading to understand why that may have been unusual or a feat in itself), to determine both steps and obstacles in pursuit of the goals, and how they defined/ achieved success. We also sought evidence of failure.

They read and re-read while using a scaffolded note-taking guide, created posters of their notable people in pairs, then shared their information orally with the others. Prior to that, however, they recorded their presentation on our voice recorders--which, by the way, is a great way for them to work on expression and fluency if they're shy--they can take the recorder into the corner of the room where no one can see them, and practice away!

Following this in-depth look at setting goals, encountering inevitable obstacles, taking steps toward success, and realizing that success can look very different to many people, these are how some of the comments looked. Keep in mind that 3 weeks prior, these 9 year old students had never heard of a goal. 

 Images 60/ 61/62/63/  365: Responding to "Why Goals are Important"
Judging by their responses, I knew they had grasped the gist of our objectives, but was unsure of the depth of their understanding. Before we moved on to the next objectives which included more detailed writing, I wanted to see how they would apply what they had learned. I asked them what advice they would give others, or what they would tell others about goals, setting goals, and/ or the importance of goals. Here are some of their responses. (Don't you just love post-it notes for quick responses?!)

Images 58/ 59/  365: Advice they would give others about goals, or what they would tell others about them. 

Image 57: I like to learn [teach] goals so kids won't give up so they learn how to do [be] a role model. 

Overall, I was pleased to see that they had started to grasp these ideas, and could use much of the targeted vocabulary in their discussions, if not in their writing--yet. Stay tuned for part two, when we unveil their masterpieces--a culmination of 6 more weeks of 30 min/ day, attacking the standards one step at a time. We will also see what their reflections are after completing this work, and revisiting their initial post-it note responses!

Common Core Standards Addressed:
RL: 3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
RL: 3.2 Recount stories, determine the central lesson or message, and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text. 
SL: 3.4 Report on a topic or text with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
SL: 3.6 Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.
W.3.2 Write informative texts to examine a topic and convey information clearly.
W.3.2 Develop the topic with facts, definitions and details.
L.3.1 Demonstrate command of the convention of the Standard English grammar usage when writing or speaking.
L.3.1i Produce simple, compound, and complex sentences.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Extraordinary Heartfelt Awesome

Image 56/365: Look what we found in our mailbox!
Once again, Ms. Fraser's Super Stars rock the Art of Awesome on an epic scale! What a surprise we found in our mailbox this week--a homemade cookbook direct from PS 207, Room 403. It just doesn't get any better than this--handwritten recipes from our pen pals. I gotta say, classic risotto and Nana's meatballs will likely be tested at my house this weekend...or maybe Josh's zucchini pie?...and then there's the "Sweet Recipes" which comprise 2/3 of the cookbook. I take that as a sign! :)
Ricotta cookies, mud bars, cheesecake---oh my, the choices are delicious, and so different from what my students are accustomed to. Which, of course, will prompt us to try making at least a couple of them together in our cooking club.

And just who, dear readers, do you think should benefit from our learning efforts (aligned with our new recipes!) in the project lab, aka, kitchen? Hmmmm.....If the old adage is true, "you get what you give", then Room 403, you're in for a treat!

Image 55/365: All the ingredients for pure happiness.  
Image 54/365: So excited to dig in  
Image 53/ 365: Thank you!!!!

Image 52/ 365: Look at those happy faces, Room 403!! Just so everyone knows,
the whole idea for reaching out to a class from New York after the Hurricane
was that of Guadalupe, seen here holding our AWESOME cookbook!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Lunchtime Skype Session

Image 51/ 365: Skyping with our virtual host, Miguel!

Image 50/365: Learning about how small actions can have big impact!

Today our lunch bunch skyped with new global partners, and Our Lunchtime Skype Session Padlet contains some reflections about what we learned, what we liked, and a couple of questions we have. We learned many things about Guatemala from Miguel's passionate firsthand knowledge. Miguel is based in Connecticut but is facilitating our art exchange with a class in Guatemala through Creative Connections. We would like to thank him for his time, informative pictures, and interesting information!! Not to mention, all of his behind-the-scenes work putting this together for us.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Simple Reminder to "Embrace the Blur"

Image 49/ 365: Today's short post is in honor of 
my students who can be honest and take risks.

This little post it note has been on my desk or stuck to the keyboard of my laptop for several weeks now. This simple stickie note has resonated powerfully with me over the past 2 months after one of my confident, effervescent students handed it to me in the middle of class. 

Maybe it was the fact that I thought the lesson was easy that day (how could he not know what to do?!), maybe it was the author of the note (someone typically confident beyond measure), or maybe it was the fact that it was given to me during a word study session (have you checked your spelling?)....

Whatever the cause or whatever the reason, that small gesture of him reaching out has helped me pause and rethink my pace, my plans, and my instruction. It has also renewed my resolve not to assume anything, and to provide tools and means for students to communicate with me in different ways. Despite our best intentions and thriving knowledge of best practices, it's easy to get into a groove, to think that all is well, and to gauge groups of students as a whole. 

This note, simply written on a sticky has been one of the best reflective tools for me this year. Like I said, it serves to remind me of many things, not least of which is the fact that the human factor is always in play--and to embrace the blur between teaching and learning.