Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our last full day in Khabarovsk -- Visits to other schools

Public School #30
Bright and early, Marina met us at the hotel to walk us to Public School #30. This school is different that the Lyceum we have been working at for the past week. The Lyceum as an entrance exam, whereas the public school has to accept everyone. School #30 has 1,117 students, grades 1-11, 45 teachers and an indoor shooting range.

So the indoor shooting range was actually pretty cool, complete with AK47s hanging (as decoration? o the wall. The instructor (pictured above with me) was very generous to offer us the chance to shoot, but we declined due to time. To get to the shooting gallery, we walked through our first classroom there which was a military science class. Scattered throughout the room were gas masks, weapons on display and other military paraphernalia. When we walked back through the class after visiting the shooting range, I through my arms up in victory and yelled "Bullseye!" This got a surprised look on the students' faces until I said, "No, not really," which garnered a big laugh.

Globalization on trial!
From here, two students gave us the official tour through the school and we were directed to an 11th grade English class. This as a fun lesson we observed and discussed with the class. They had been researching the topic of debating the pros and cons of globalization. The class presented their findings in the form of a mock trial, complete with judge, jury and a verdict.

This was done very well. I thought it was an excellent lesson for students to use their English language skills to synthesize and analyze their thoughts and research in a foreign language.

The students' arguments against (western) globalization:
-- it causes local cultures and traditions to disappear.
-- it brings technology and innovation everywhere, for which it is very expensive for other countries to keep pace.
-- western businesses control other cultures' natural resources and business infrastructure.
-- it beings foreign diseases.
-- it brings drug abuse, prostitution and organized crime.
-- it brings western fast food companies which destroy native, cultural foods and brings obesity and other nutrition-related health issues.
-- western culture destroys local culture. One example cited was how Hollywood has destroyed  Russian film making (but every students said they prefer to go to American films more than Russian films).
-- Interational crime & terrorism.

The students' pros for globalization:
-- It increase the development of nations.
-- It increases the spread of democratic organizations and government systems.
-- Interational NGOs (Non-Governmental Organzations) were exampled such as Greenpeace and the Red Cross which do good around the world.
-- It opens up opportunities to travel and have international cultural exchanges (example cited was how the Ion Curtain curtailed such exchanges).

In the end, the jury found Globalization "not guilty."

Afterward, they were interested in hearing our responses to their project. While for the most part I had to agree with everything they were saying pro and con, was there not drug/alcohol abuse and prostitution before the Iron Curtain came down? If they don't like companies like Pepsi or McDonalds coming into their culture (or movies for that matter), can't they simply vote with their rubles and NOT buy their products. Hence the companies would go away. What about cooperative scientific ventures such as the space program and medical research? Does a culture have to lose its traditional identity just because they become more connected with other countries? What's the benefit of living in a bubble?

Well, they did ask for my opinion.

I recommended that if they were really interested in examining the effects of globalization through the lens of work financial organizations, that the read the book Confessions of and Economic Hit Man.


From here we visited an 8th grade class for an English lesson. The topic was literature. the class was divided into three different "book clubs." Here, we listened to students discuss their favorite characters in literature. To make it even more fun, the students dressed up like their favorite characters. There was a Catniss Evergreen, Harry Potter, etc.

The school had an extensive woodshop. The teacher explained how important it was for students to learn to work with their hands. Agreed!

Lunch Lady!

Students in the literature class, dressed as their favorite characters

Tea and "pie" -- a deliciously sweet pastry filled with jam

Peeking inside a classroom

A first grade English class, performing songs (in English) as they learn the different names of fruits. They sang along to the background video. Thin: Dancing pickles. It was sooooo cute!
I also like the idea that they were learning about the importance of eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables as part of them also learning Enlish.




On to Gymnasium #5:

This school has 730 students in grades 3-11, and 50 teachers.

Our first class we visited here was a 10th grade English class round-table discussion on "What is beauty?" The teacher's prompt was: "Beauty is the measure of all things" by Walt Witman. I particularly like the way English teachers here use these kinds of discussion group activities to get students to use their language and to flush out their own ideas about issues while at the same time practicing speaking, listening and comprehension skills. I give these discussion group activities high marks for their very high level of language use and metacognition.

Out teacher and student guides while we were at the school.

From Walt Witman and onto a 9th grade English lesson using the topic of family dynamics as the base for discussion. "Can a family relationship be ideal?"

This lesson included a listening comprehension activity where students had to listen to 5 different recorded speakers and answer questions that related to what they said. There also was a guided discussion surrounding the activities. I was most interested in hearing the students talk about their families and how they interact with their parents and siblings. I will state that this activity did seem a little "old Soviet" to me. The emphasis was on how important it is to keep a strong family, and incorporated a video about dysfunctional relationships between American mothers and their daughters. Still the students were using their English and flushing out their vocabulary. And that is the goal for the class.

This Gymnasium school is a language-oriented school. There are 14 language teachers here (beside the Russian teachers) that offer English, German and French.

By the end of the day, we were back to the Lyceum for an afterschool club call Club Success. Here, the English teachers had the students involve us in fun activities like "Bubbles" to help their students use their English skills. The club also covered some American topics like naming pictures of famous US landmarks, singing This Land is Your Land, and having Eric and I talk about and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

We ended the session with the Russian students receiving index cards from my American students. Before I left Sierra Vista, AZ, I had my students write on one side of an card something they would like Russian students to know about them and their life in Arizona. On the other side, my students asked a question that they would like to know about the Russian students. Then the Russian students read the cards and spent some time writing a response back to my students. Easy and awesome!

At the end of the Success Club, the Lyceum's principal made a nice speech about our visit there. With everything that was said about how nice it was for them, I hope they know how our being there was incredibly wonderful for us. Gifts were exchanged, photos were taken with the students, and exchanges of e-mail address, instagrams, facebook stuff, etc.

But the highlight of our day was a quiet tea party arranged for us by our English teacher hosts. The pt out quite a spread, including a meat pie, sweets and candies. But it was just being with them that met the most to me.

We left for the airport the next morning. As Marina e-mailed me, there was a lot of activity going on while we were there. Now that we're gone, things can settle down back into their normal routine. But the memories we made there will be etched in time forever.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Another busy day: And, making one of my lessons relevant in a Russian classroom!

Tuesday, April 8th 2014

Today was another busy day and another highly productive one. We observed three classes, presented to three classes and conducted an ecology lesson/lab for students in the 11th grade. And then to top it all off, we participated in a teachers workshop that was arranged by our school that included 44 English teachers from around Khabarovsk and the director of the Khabarovsk Education Center.

Computer Science

First off was a 6th grade computer science class. The teacher was showing them how to program algorithms  in order for their computer program to draw various geometric shapes. Then she let them loose on the computers to try it for themselves. Some were achieving some level of success, some struggled. But I was impressed at the level they were working. The program they were using was ROBOWIN.




Our second class of the day was observing a geography class. Now, geography means a little something different in Russian schools. The teacher explained to us that 6th, 7th and 8th grade geography lessons include studies of topography, plate tectonics, the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmospherics. Upper level grades include studies in economic geography.

This particular lesson focused on biotic and abiotic factors associated with the soil, including learning about the zones of soil that make up the lithosphere. All in all, in our schools, this would be a earth science lesson, or a basic geology lesson. I particularly enjoyed the teacher's dynamic personality in the classroom and how the students responded to her. She also used a visual aide that she moved around the classroom for students to see how the various factors that make up soil settled at different rates.

 One thing I was wondering about: All of the teachers have very nice PowerPoint presentations for each of their classes. I asked if they all make their own PPTs and Marina told me that the PPTs come with the curriculum. I think this is a really good thing for teachers to have access to for their classes. I don't know how much time I take making my own PPT presentations for my classes. And since I teach 6 different subjects, this eats away at a lot of my time.

For the next two classes, Eric and I made more presentations to 10th graders and 11th graders about who we are, our schools and where we come from. It is really fun interacting with these students as they have a lot of questions about Americans and schools, and it also gives them a chance to hear native English speakers and practice their language skills.

Eric at the board presenting
For our 5th period (an English class with a focus on ecology as today's lesson), we heard a beautiful presentation made by a student who researched environmental issues about the Khabarovski Krai -- all in perfect English (including her PPT). She is an 11th grader and spent about 6 months working on her research and presentation. She even created three lessons that she taught to lower grades to help educate them and raise their awareness about environmental issues in their area. Very impressive! 
When she was finished, I took one of my hands-on lab activities (using M&Ms, always a favorite) and used that to address the issues surrounding overfishing and resource depletion, and the conflicts it creates. I hoped this would be a good lesson to address an ecosystem issue and the students really seemed to enjoy it. One comment we heard from a teacher later in the day was that she thought the Russian school system relied too heavily on teaching theoretical knowledge as opposed to practical knowledge. She told me she thought is good that I do many hands-on labs in my science classroom and she thought the Russian system may be moving more in the direction of "Inquiry-based" learning.
After our Fishing For the Future lab, Eric and I observed a Physics lesson. The principal informed us that the physics teacher there is the best teacher in the area and that she teaches in a more "classical" way.
Today's 9th grade lesson was on electromagnetism and induction theory. The teacher seemed stern, but it was obvious that the students respected her a great deal. This was the first class we have seen that the teacher used handouts with problems for the students to work on and turn back in. She also used a giant stopwatch on her Smartboard and the problems that the students needed to work on (in teams) were timed. When the time was up, everyone's pens went down and the worksheets were tuned in quickly. Once the students demonstrated that they understood the key concepts and could explain them, the teacher had a hands-on lab activity using electromagnetism for students to use to solve more problems. It seemed that everyone was successful and by the end of the class, the mood had changed so that the teacher was joking around with the students and the students with her.

More Americanism!
We didn't have any more classes planned after that lesson, but the students and teacher from a 10th grade English class asked if we could join them. How could we say no? Of course we did! We both gave more presentations about our schools and had a great question and answer period afterward. It truly is a joy to interact with these students, and afterward get together to do group photos and individual pictures with everyone who wants to.
But that's not all ...
Marina and a team of teachers from the Lyceum had arranged a teachers' workshop where 44 English teachers from around the area came to hear us talk and for a matter of fact discussion/Q&A session about the state of education in our schools and in our countries. I will write more about this workshop in the next blog.
Afterward, Eric and I joined Marina, Ira and the school's principal for a delicious supper at the principal's favorite restaurant. The conversations were lively and it was a great opportunity for us to discuss important similarities and differences between our school system at the administrative level.  I will greatly cherish that time we spent breaking bread together, sharing our ideas. Thank you!


Exchanging pics and Instagrams after class

Students in line at the cafeteria

And ..... Lunch!

More Pics from Khabarovsk!