Saturday, March 28, 2015

Making Connections

Most of life's moments should be a vehicle for connecting with others. Too often we think they are about fulfilling some personal need, like hunger, entertainment or personal comfort. But the hope, faith and love shared between brothers and sisters in Christ can sustain us through difficult times.

Everyone in all cultures needs to eat, sleep and enjoys entertainment. If we recognize these moments as means to an end, then we are free to cherish the connections they forge. But when we operate in different cultural spheres, it can be extra difficult.

What many people lack is the right adapter. Just as South Africa operates on 220 volt and my electronics use 110, our relationships need adapters. Patience, love, and faith are the tools God grants to open up opportunities for building meaningful relationships.

Sometimes those interactions are temporal and other times they grow into deep, lasting bonds. By next week, I won't be able to share in the daily lives of those families serving here in Pretoria, just as I have been out of touch with life back home while here.

I am grateful for all the wonderful experiences and people I have met at Bethesda Outreach and for the gracious, hard working team members who have joined with me on this journey. I believe we will all live more richly because of our time together.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Compare and Contrast

Cultures may be different but children all develop in similar ways. This morning I had the privilege of observing Miss White's fifth grade English class. Miss White is one of the few American teachers at Jabulane Christian Academy in South Africa. It is difficult to make good comparisons in such short time but here are a few things I noticed.

Fifth graders act the same in every culture. They know who they like and who they don't like, today. Tomorrow it will probably change. As a result, seating charts become a teacher's way to manage an ever changing social landscape.
Kids are always quick to point out a teacher's mistake. Students always find my typographical errors. Miss White's students quickly found her American spelling of "color" instead of "colour".

Students wear uniforms in South Africa as a way to blur the poverty lines, but signs still exist if you know where to look. A lack of supplies will always make teaching a challenge. This week is the end of the grading period, so most of the dry erase markers and ink pens were drying out.

Teaching will always be a profession of compassion. I watched Miss White take time to address behavior issues quietly on the side and public distractions with patience and grace.

A room filled with multiple home languages is even harder to manage. One student had to clip down for an angry outburst, both because it was not in English and because it was unkind.

But best of all was the confirmation that a Christian school provides amazing opportunities that cannot be found in public education. Miss White addressed issues beyond punctuation and grammar by applying scripture to each situation. Her ability to build up each student's moral character while simultaneously increasing their knowledge is an amazing gift that will last far into the future.

Returning to Africa

After twenty years, today I returned to Africa. My last trip was for six weeks as part of a college internship to Lusaka, Zambia. This time is for ten days with a team of eight adults working at Bethesda Outreach orphanage in South Africa.

It may have been due to jet lag and general travel exhaustion, but when we finally sat down for dinner with our hosts a flood of memories came back. Everything from the heat, the juice we drank and the overall feel of the place were powerful reminders of my previous visit. I didn't realize how strong the emotions and memories would be, even after twenty years.

God met our needs while traveling over the past two days. One team member got sick shortly into our fifteen hour flight across the Atlantic. Though the first half of the flight was very uncomfortable, she did feel better by the time we touched down.

Only one bag did not arrive with us. It has personal items for one team member, but nothing critical is lacking. That means all the supplies and contributions to the orphanage arrived without incident. None of our flights had any difficulties in the air or delays on the ground.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

QR Codes: Moving Beyond the Display Board


Students used QR codes to move beyond the tri-fold display board during last week's Spanish Day. I appreciate teachers who are willing to step out and let kids try something different. 

Last week the seventh grade students shared group presentations on various Spanish speaking countries. The gym was full of games, food and display boards as students interacted with parents and elementary classes.

But one group added a new element this year: QR codes that linked to additional content they had compiled. Though not as popular as their snacks, these boys learned valuable lessons in curating digital content. Their booth location was determined by strength of WiFi signal. They also learned that visitors still needed help understanding how to use the codes.

The Spanish teacher is already thinking of ways to improve and expand the digital component to the entire project. This year was more about exploration, discovering obstacles and pushing limits. Now we know where some of the process bottlenecks are and can think of ways to assess student use of digital content in their displays.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Out of This World Google Maps

Google Maps is an exciting way to introduce students to geography. They are often amazed to discover their house on Street View. But Google offers additional interactive maps that could be valuable in the classroom. 

If studying the moon or the history of the space program, explore Google MoonFor lessons on the Red Planet, try Google Mars.
Or if you need to explore galaxies, nebula or the solar system, try Google SkyStreet View also allows students to explore national landmarks, museums and important sites.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Minecraft: Essential Handbook


Minecraft: Essential Handbook
Minecraft: Essential Handbook by Stephanie Milton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Anyone who is new to Minecraft or curious about this game that has engrossed their kids should read this book. Filled with short descriptions, anecdotes and playing tips, the book is easy to put down when creepers arrive and equally easy to pick up after the threat has passed.

As a programmer and gamer, I appreciated the quips from creators Notch and Jeb about their early intentions and fumbles. My kids also enjoyed reading about other players who had made similar game play mistakes.

Overall a great little book that should grace the shelf of every serious Minecraft player. But be forewarned, there is a whole series of books to go along with it!



View all my reviews

Math Homework: It's About Time

I don't like math homework but it's only a matter of time.

My daughter has an 8th grade Pre-Algebra book with 800 pages of content, over 900 pages if you count the extra material. She attends school for 180 days and classes average about 40 minutes.

180 days times 40 minutes = 7200 total minutes in class

7200 minutes in class divided by 800 pages = NINE MINUTES PER PAGE!!

And that does not allow for tests, reteaching, standardized testing, sick days or field trips. No wonder teachers send home so much work. There is no way they can cover it all in class!

I understand the importance of math, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out answers to math problems, but something is not adding up. We continue to reap the changes brought on by No Child Left Behind legislation. And her book is not unusual, most math textbooks I've seen are just as hefty.

A quick glance through her math book confirms that it is built for fast pace acquisition of knowledge. Each lesson runs four to five pages in length and consists of a new concept, taught in three to four different ways, then followed by 50-75 problems to solve.

That translates into 20 minutes to learn something new, then master it in the next 20 minutes. On the following day you continue to build and review, build and review. But what happens to those who cannot keep up with this relentless pace? Don't worry, you can always work on it at home.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Exploring the World of Mulan Through Minecraft

Last week our school performed Mulan Jr so Minecraft club explored the Forbidden City.

For those who are not familiar with the story, Mulan is about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to join the Chinese army and bring honor to her family by defeating the invading Huns.

While historically, Mulan is set earlier much earlier, most of the imagery used refers to Americanized "Ancient China" themes. This gave us the liberty to explore an 18th century Forbidden City reproduction through Minecraft.

Project 1845 has a wonderful map of Beijing as it appeared around 1751 AD. There is an older, less complete version available in the Minecraft EDU World Library. Students are able to explore vast areas, sometimes even getting lost! We tried two different types of sessions with the Forbidden City map.

The first was more of a scavenger hunt. Students had a basic travel guide map of the city as tourists would use today. Then they needed to locate different points of interest and take a selfie screenshot at that location. After ten minutes of running crazy, the sheer size of the world really hit them as students realized they could not rely on working memory to locate places.

The second session was a capture the flag style game. Students were divided into two sides: Huns and Chinese. Each logged in as "HunName" or variation so that it was easier to identify teams. The Huns started outside the city gate and the Chinese near the throne room. The Emperor (me the teacher) sat on the throne waiting to be captured. This was done in survival mode with chests of supplies scattered around the city.

Once students understood the scope of the world, they settled into their roles. A lack of teamwork by the invaders set them back at the beginning. Sharing of limited resources was also an issue as everyone wanted the best armor and most of the food. As we discussed this afterwards, students acknowledged these issues and developed better game plans for future attacks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

High Stake Testing Survival Guide for Students

Interesting that the news emphasized surviving the test instead of performing well. There has been a major shift in testing philosophy in Indiana over the past few years and it's starting to take its toll.