Friday, 29 April 2011

Wrapping Up

Today, the 29th of April 2011, the day of William and Kate's Royal Wedding, I find myself with a bit of spare time and an Internet connection, and so able to write a few words to bring this blog to a close.

It is three weeks, almost to the hour, that I landed back in the UK. I have stayed eight days with my sister and her family in Guildford, twelve days with my parents in Farnham, and now I'm here, renting a small room in a house near Oxford. I have spent some time with my family (fantastic) and have met with one or two friends (great), but I have to say that I really, really miss the people, the life, the climate and the beauty of Sri Lanka. But mostly it's the people.

There are two or three more articles I want to write about my time in Sri Lanka just to wrap things up a bit but I haven't felt in the mood to write them. I can use the excuse that I was busy at my sister's or that my parents don't have Internet but that's only part of the story: I could have had access if I'd really tried. You see I'm struggling hard to readjust to coming home. In Sri Lanka I had made a real connection with good, honest people who needed my help and were truly grateful for the time I spent with them. To have men weep at your leaving party, well, I don't see that happening here, do you? Not that I wanted them to weep - I'm just trying to illustrate the emotional connections I made. When I feel able to I will write those articles and retrospectively date them to precede this one so that they don't seem out of sequence.

Anyway. The most pressing matter is that I need to get a paid job. In case you don't know, even though I've been teaching abroad I'm not actually a qualified teacher, I'm an electronics engineer, so I'm looking for work in engineering for now. I have sounded-out my old place of work - JET at Culham - and there are a couple of possibilities. One is web work. The other, somewhat less certain one, is electronic system enhancement and maintenance. Each will be around two days a week which will give me one spare day to work on educational matters. This is great news and I'm extremely grateful to the managers there who have gone out of their ways to try to make this happen for me. But... this is my old life! This is not me now! It doesn't thrill or excite me like my work in India and Sri Lanka did. I don't feel passionate about it. It's not working with people. It doesn't have the immediately obvious impact on lives that teaching has. But I have to be a realist - it's what I've got to do, at least for now. It is a beneficial field to work in and in this economic climate, and at my age, I am actually extremely lucky to get good employment. So, the hope is to work in the UK for at least a couple of years and then to go volunteering abroad again in the future.

I plan to cold-call on local schools and put out feelers to explore the possibilities of improving my teaching skills. That's a story for another day and another blog. Farewell for now! Thank You to everyone who has followed me or has read my postings. I hope you enjoyed this part of the journey - I know I have!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

From ASL's Newsletter

In Adopt Sri Lanka's newsletter there was a nice article about my 12 months' work at their Tangalle office. Such a great team to work for and such great teachers to work with!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Not Goodbye

OK, you're going to think me a right old sentimentalist when I tell you this: I couldn't bring myself to say "Goodbye" to my friends in the Polla, the market. It was just too hard. I couldn't do it! I tried, I really tried, but I found it impossible. Stupid, eh? But even now, as I write this, I'm reliving it and it brings tears to my eyes. "How ridiculous" you must be thinking! Well imagine how ridiculous I felt. See, I didn't just think of them as anonymous stall holders, I thought of them as my friends. Even though they didn't know my name nor I theirs, they were still my friends. After a year of getting to know these guys - visiting their stalls once a week, negotiating to buy my fruit and veg, having a little chat and a laugh with our limited common language and lots of gestures, being treated with familiarity and respect, and never being taken advantage of - well, let's just say I felt we had a bond. Good people. So I wanted to not disappear without a word or explanation or wish of luck. My last chance came three days before leaving Sri Lanka, at a time when the market was at its busiest. Was that a good idea? Who knows, but it gave me the cover for circling and approaching and retreating, shaking, without being noticed. I knew that I wouldn't be able to bring myself to answer that question "when will you be back?" or "when will I see you again?" with "never," because that's what I truly think it will be. Crazy? Oh well, that's me. This is a theme that repeats itself with my every farewell from this beautiful place.

These are a few of those friends. The banana lady with her son - she was always generous, carefully selecting fresh, fat, tasty hands of Embul plantains for me. The grey-haired lady with the ready smile who sold me big grapefruit-like Jambola. The tomato guy with an eye for the ladies, who was reputedly always quiet when his wife was around, here pretending to plant a kiss on the dark-haired Jambola lady. The lady with the packets of herbs and spices who I only ever actually bought from, in large quantities as presents, a few days before leaving. And the papaya girl, always in that blue dress, who would carefully select and put aside a ripe and a not-so-ripe papaya in anticipation.

More photos from the Polla

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Video - Connecting Globally

This is a short video I made at the request of my PLN friend, Lisa Dabbs @teachingwthsoul, for her ASCD 2011 Annual Conference presentation "Connecting Beyond the Classroom Walls" on March 28th.

For it, Lisa requested the following:
  • Introduce yourself, what country you live in/tell us what you do as an educator
  • Tell us how you got started connecting Globally
  • Share with us what are you doing, currently, to connect Globally
  • How has this positively impacted your work as an educator with students?
Hopefully this will tell you a little bit more about me and my year with AdoptSriLanka

PS, in reality my skin has a bit more colour to it :-)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Progress Report for ASL

This is a copy of a report I sent to my manager, Bec Lyons, just prior to my leaving Adopt Sri Lanka. For completeness I should mention that the scope of the course included: browser configuring and use, effective web searching, email (including attaching, labelling, distribution groups), photo-editing and managing, security, social media, burning DVDs, using USB memory devices, digital cameras and probably other stuff I've forgotten.

*   *   *

Computer Training Report
Clive Elsmore 1-April-2011

This short report covers my period of volunteering with Adopt Sri Lanka, from 24th April 2010 to 8th April 2011, during which time I set up and ran a computing training programme for teachers out of ASL's Tangalle office. The central aim of the programme was to improve the effectiveness of communications between Sri Lanakan schools and their overseas twins, as part of ASL’s TWINS Project.

I spent the first three months of the period establishing a small suite of three computers, arranging a data network and power distribution, writing the curriculum and training materials and identifying resources. Additionally I introduced cloud computing to ASL by converting the eighty or so school profiles from MSWord to Google Docs which benefited ASL’s working practices and allowed me to manage the timetable efficiently.

The Computer Training programme started in early July 2010. A timetable was established by Jude and Sanath, the Field Officers at Tangalle. The schedule needed constant maintenance by them to accommodate daily cancellations and rescheduling. The teachers were phoned, usually in the morning of the lessons, to remind them and to account for unexpected absences, leave, meetings or family matters. The programme needed a fair degree of flexibility to maximise the utility of the computers and my time. Google Documents were again used - a spreadsheet for the timetable and linked documents for training records. These in turn were linked to the school profile documents.

Most teachers came in their own time, after work finished at 13:30. Lessons ran from 14:00 to 15:30 and 15:30 to 17:00. Initially we scheduled up to six teachers per period and pressed my laptop into use. However, because the training was tailored to the individual teacher and the teachers varied considerably in experience and ability, and because the personal schedules of the teachers precluded ability-grouping, this number proved impossible to teach to my satisfaction. We soon reverted to a policy of one teacher per computer, with an ideal maximum of three at a time which allowed my laptop to be used for recording progress, partnering the teacher-student in exercises which needed it, or for demonstration purposes.

Because I kept training records it has been possible to produce a few statistics. (If anything, these figures will under-report hours.)

For the teachers who attended 3 or more 90-minute lessons, records show that:
  • 45 teachers received training
  • 31 teachers are currently receiving training (“active”) and 14 stopped coming during the 9 months for a variety of reasons, or were dropped (“passive”).
  • The majority of teachers were trained in the use of three web browsers, three search engines, and search techniques.
  • A total of 848 pupil-hours’ training has been delivered
  • 20 teachers have started emailing their Twin who were not before
  • 10 teachers who were already emailing their Twin have gained in confidence and ability (for example, they are now able to attach photos or reports)
  • Of the 31 “active” teachers, all 24 who are Twins Coordinators have emailed their Twin and the 7 who are not Twins Coordinators have demonstrated their competence to email effectively
  • The 31 “active” teachers have each received 23 hours training on average (range 4.5-37.5 hours)
  • The 14 “passive” teachers have each received 10 hours training on average (range 4.5-19.5 hours)
  • 16 teachers have received training in the use of photo-editing software (Picasa)
  • 10 teachers have received training in the use of VOIP (Skype)
  • 5 teachers have received some training (though not enough to be considered competent) in advanced social media tools (Twitter, Blogging, Google Reader and Tweetdeck)
  • 2 teachers are now actively Skyping with their Twin
  • An unknown (but significant) number of teachers have received some training in the use of Facebook

I intentionally did not perform any formal assessments of progress because
  • the limited timescale and ‘teaching to the test’ would reduce the scope of the course
  • the fact that marks depend on too many variables and are an unreliable indicator of competence
  • because grading is no incentive for improving performance
  • and because ‘failure’ is a disincentive.

My opinion is that all teachers who attended my course have benefited in various ways - at least in terms of confidence but also in terms of ability and knowledge, some markedly so.

Near Future or “Going Forward”
The teachers will continue to improve their competencies if they continue to practise. We should leave it to them to decide when they consider ASL’s facility/training is no longer of value. A small number of teachers have bought their own computers or are now funding Internet connections at home so they will have less use for ASL’s facilities. A larger number of teachers do not have computer/Internet facilities either at home or in school so ASL’s facilities are important in terms of maintaining/improving skills and communications with Twins. Field Officer Jude Lasantha is competent in all the necessary programs and has the temperament to be a good trainer. Using Tangalle’s computers, he could provide support on a formal or informal basis. For the next twelve months or so I will also endeavour to provide support via Skype and email from the UK, though I do not see that as long-term arrangement and is dependent on many unknowns. Finally, my curriculum, exercises and links to resources are all available online and, given time, I expect to add to them :

Response from Bec:

Clive; this is brilliant. It is great that you have been able to present the stats and outcomes so clearly. Thank you!

You have made such a fantastic impact on our work in Sri Lanka. I have seen the skills and confidence of all our team grow as a result of your support. The introduction of google docs and picasa have been real time savers and makes supporting the team and monitoring their work from Galle so much easier. The teachers all have such positive things to say and thanks to you they can now access so many new possibilities.

We all really appreciate the time and dedication you have given to our organisation.
Looking forward to seeing you on Monday/Tuesday. I hear the teachers have arrnaged something special for you on Sunday. Enjoy!


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sunrise on the Last Mornings

The last few days I've been waking early. Really early. Like 03:30 or 04:00. It's impossible to go back to sleep with so many things churning in my mind. Today is Saturday 2nd April. In seven days time I will be waking up in the UK.

I might just lie, or read a bit or turn to the Internet. Sunrise is around six - probably a bit before, but recently I haven't seen it come over the horizon because of low, distant cloud. If I get my timing right I'll take a cuppa across the road and watch the sun emerge over the sea, red, orange and gold through the thinning haze. And, with luck, light will be reflected in a broad, wavering carpet stretching towards infinity.

The sea at this time is silver-grey and almost merges with the cloud. Nearly out of sight there's the silhouette of a container ship or a trawler boat. Little single-man fibreglass boats are dotted right across the bay - at night time the sea is sprinkled with sparks from their kerosene lanterns. Already, some are returning to the harbour - rowed by lean, fit, burnt, sweating bodies. It's a huge distance for some and it must take an hour or more. Progress is imperceptible. The ones further away pull up on a closer beach - perhaps their catch is sold to local guest houses. Often there are little thatched covers along the beach where a bicycle lives nightly. Maybe the fish are taken to market on two wheels.

All the time there is a roar from the sea as the waves erupt and unroll with a thunderous din, seething, boiling. The sand now is much higher than it was six months ago - but perhaps the same as a year ago. It covers the bottom treads of the make-shift wooden stairways. And the beach is dotted with holes - some one centimetre, some ten. The crab inhabitants emerge, scuttle about for a bit, visit other holes and then are on the sea-line. Maybe the foam contains rich pickings. They venture further and get washed into the depths.

The sea-roar is constant. On wilder days I swear you can feel the ground judder beneath your feet. But today there's nothing but the noise. And as far as I can see - which is miles - the beach is empty, save for a few fishermen pulling in a huge net. There's gentle sweeping and brushing-up of leaves going on in the hotels, guest houses and restaurants behind me. My time here is trickling through my fingers but the calm, the coolness, the light, the view, and the natural order of things - for now, they're all mine!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Clive Sirt

Subject: clive sirt

Dear sir
      thank You very much sir .    You taught us alot      IThink You
are the great teacher in the world   . We learned a lot   WWe met
many teachers    lBut  You are e ear y
one oef star in     our minds     Another few days
 willsay good bye to sri lanka       sir  iwil wish
kyou    that all merry makings    and  happyness  bring to your life


*   *   *
This was written by one of my favourite teacher-students (well, they all became favourites in one way or another!) Nine months ago she had never touched a computer before, and it took her quite a while before she was able to drive a mouse reasonably successfully - but she persevered and got there. You might describe her as eccentric or a bit scatter-brained but that would sound too negative - she was a lovely lady who cared a huge amount for her children and was unfazed by the challenge of learning "Computing" late in her career.

In fact, she had one of the highest attendances in my class and clocked up a total of thirty six hours. She was consistently early, keen to get started, and always phoned in if she was likely to be absent. Sure, she would drive me nuts by never doing exactly what I told her, or missing out instructions of exercises, but we could always smile it off!  A great character and a pleasure to know. One of many I will miss when I leave in a week's time.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Rude Awakenings... if I went to sleep at all

Why are they chanting outside my house? On the beach? ALL NIGHT?

They're not. I've just been to look. There's a small, low-price guest house, set back from the road, all lights on but nobody to be seen, Buddhist flags outside and loudspeakers blaring away. Nobody to ask and I'm not about to set foot inside to find out. I bet the people at the next door Hotel Guyana are not amused. At least I'm a hundred metres away.

To be fair, this is not a patch on the noise I suffered in India, and at least the noise is fairly harmonious. Well, harmonious compared with that raucous caterwauling and squawking that passes for Hindu temple music. It's probably a relay of the chanting from the nearby Buddhist temple. But it's ALL NIGHT and I need my sleep!  No chance now. I'm awake and the volume is going up again ...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Twitter Avatar

I change my Twitter avatar every couple of months or so. Well, if Google can do it, why not @CliveSir?! It's a bit of harmless fun. I don't change the cartoon, only its position, size and background to keep some commonality, but there's still quite a bit of scope to be inventive.

This is my latest. I announced it with this tweet "Over my left shoulder there's a sun rising behind a planet. This is opening of which iconic film and what's the connection with Sri Lanka?"

It was answered exactly ten minutes later by @geraldaungst: "@CliveSir 2001 A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke, a resident of Sri Lanka." Spot on!

OK, so it's not exactly a tough question but it did give a few of us some amusement. I'm now wondering if I might do this regularly...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Another morning at school

Yesterday I went to help at the school up the road. When I arrived I found half the teachers were missing because they were attending a ten-day seminar on something or other, or on leave or sick. No one was deputising because there would be a shortage of teachers in the area and anyway, locums or relief teachers don't seem to exist here.  The kids who had bothered to turn up mostly seemed to be pleasing themselves what they did, apart from the older ones who did at least appear to be having lessons.

All these seminars and conferences and workshops that the teachers attend - it's great in one way if they do actually develop the teachers' skills but I'm not overly convinced they do. And the curriculums seem stuck in the 19thC so what's the point? Personally I wonder if it's politically motivated - the education department can show that they're really investing effort in this zone - the zone in which the President has a personal interest. Whatever, even after the conferences the teachers seem to need to get paperwork signed to approve their absences - and that takes more time. It affects attendance at my afternoon classes and some teachers either turn up late or don't appear at all.

Back at the school... I found one child with a box of matches and took it off him. It made no difference - other kids had matches too. Maybe they were allowed to because some were gathering up leaves and burning them behind the buildings!  I suppose it's a case of Darwinism in action - if they get injured or killed then they weren't 'fit'. Oh God! I questioned a teacher about it and she looked at me as if I was mad!

I checked the schedule of the teacher I was meant to be helping and tried to substitute for her. My first class had one child in it (there are normally two). All credit to him, the lad stayed and put in a good effort with his double period of English Grammar practice.

In the other lessons I had varying degrees of success (that's a euphemism for considerable degrees of failure). I was barely able to control some classes which, I suppose, is hardly surprising when they can't understand me and when the accepted alternative is to run around madly outside or do nothing. But, with some, I was disappointed with myself for not being able to exert any discipline. I had a few better moments, sure, like when I got some of them doing action songs, but mostly they were running riot. I can't even say that my presence was better than nothing - they tend to get very noisy when I'm around which if great when it's under control, a disaster when it's not, and must be distracting for other classes. Oh well, chalk it down to experience... maybe I need an emergency strategy like a set of fun classroom activities, but I also need to learn what to do when kids are going beserk.

Monday, 21 March 2011

My Daily Commute in Time Lapse

This is the route I take every day from my room beside the beach to the Tangalle office of AdoptSriLanka where I work.

I wanted to record my journey and thought I'd try something slightly creative. The walk is 15 minutes but I decided the whole film should last a sixth of that - or two and a half minutes. I could have used the video on my camera and speeded up the replay but then everyone and everything would appear to be moving incredibly fast, which is not Sri Lanka in the remotest! With the "time-lapse" method that I've used, speed of movement does'nt seem excessive.

It's something I had intended playing with in India but, because of the off-road track, the camera would have had to have been hand-held, no doubt using the optical viewfinder, and therefore very conspicuous. And, the variation in height would probably have meant the shots were extra jerky.

With my method of strapping the camera to the bike at least the height variability is all but eliminated. And strapping it near my right hand on the handlebars meant I could operate the shutter as I walked along without anyone noticing. By the way, adhesive bandage is perfect for this task :)

The camera used was my old compact Canon A700. The shots at the beginning and end were taken with my Nokia 6300 - a basic camera-phone, and the music is by Morcheeba - a British band, playing Caribbean-style music, in Sri Lankan urbanness. The music and 300 or so photos were assembled using Windows Movie Maker.

When I uploaded to Youtube I was informed that the music was subject to copyright (which I knew, but at this point it was only a temporary experiment) but then it said I didn't have to take any action and that maybe some adverts might be associated, or maybe not. So far so good but we'll see how that goes...

Part of the idea of it being deliberately low-tech was that then teachers or students could make something like it themselves even with a very basic camera-phone or digital camera. I know that most gadgets these days do video too but I still like this clunky effect!

It's not meant to be serious and there are things I could have done to improve it but I'm quite happy with it as it is. I hope you like it too!

Linked to from Nicole Dalesio's Digital Storytelling On The Go website

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Local Government Elections

In the UK, voting in local elections is often carried out in school buildings; schools shut for normal business and the teachers and kids get a day off. It's the same here, except that the teachers and kids get three days off! It's quite crazy! Much of January and February was taken up with preparing for the annual Sports Meet, there are Poya days (full moon days), religious and statutory holidays, two New Year holidays and God knows what else - it's no wonder the kids all need extra tuition after school! I can well understand why the teachers complain about fitting the curriculum into the days when the schools are open!

So today is polling day. The day before yesterday, all teachers at public schools were sent an SMS message telling them of the extra two days' holiday. Talk about leaving it till the last minute! Yesterday the voting booths were set up and tomorrow they'll be removed. Five-minute jobs for which the kids lose two days' schooling.

In recent weeks the political parties have been out campaigning with their loudhailer-equipped vans and flag-carrying, horn-blowing motorcycle entourages, pasting up their posters and ripping down opponents', setting off firecrackers, behaving belligerently and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Every other tuc-tuc, taxi, van, and lorry seems to be displaying their political affiliation loudly with windscreen-covering posters.

The police have been very evident for the last few days, and today particularly so, accompanied by personnel from the army, air force and navy, plain-clothed officers, security people and special forces. But, judging by the trickle of voters voting at the primary school opposite my office, turnout was poor. Maybe it's just this town, the President's home town, but there were probably more security folk than voters!

Postscript 18-3-2011: Today, Friday, I heard news that there were several fights in Tangalle town last night after the polls closed. A member of the Green Party was knifed and subsequently died. Members of the Blue Party were trying to steal the voting box of a predominantly Green area. This being the President's town (Blue Party - UPFA), the police turned a blind eye to the fight. Alledgedly. With this kind of thing everyone has their own version of the 'truth' of events and circumstances. There was certainly little celebrating last night when the UPFA won again, though this time with a very slim majority.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Day Tripper

A few weeks ago I went on a little tour to see some sights near Tangalle, the town where I'm living. This was courtesy of Teacher Indu and her family, a kind "thank you" for the computer-training lessons I've been giving her.

The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the visit to Mulkirigala Rock Monastery. It comprises caves on three levels, carved into a 200 metre-high lump of rock. Actually, they're not so much caves as low, shuttered-off recesses, each containing reclining Buddhas, statutes, wall paintings and other works of art. I liked the fact that it wasn't clinically pristine or all protected behind glass, and on a fairly human scale. Some of the Buddhas were, in fact, quite small. I couldn't quite understand why there would be a police station half-way up the rock but there it was! It was also nice that the route to the top was tree-lined and peaceful.

Near Dickwella we visited what is claimed to be the tallest seated Buddha on the island. It's 50 metres high and backed by a concrete building with stairs to the top. It's a bit of a monstrosity, to be honest, and devoid of architectural or historical merit but still, it's worth a visit for its sheer size and curiosity value. In the basement are scenes and paintings depicting life in Hell, with bodies shown being mutilated, sawn in half or impaled on stakes by fiendish, grinning devils. A surprising number of wrong-doers were white-skinned!

And finally, we stopped at the Blow Hole near Kudawella. The sea was calm so it wasn't blowing too much, but apparently you can get plumes of sea water up to 25 metres high on a rough day!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Waking Early

So, here we are again. Four in the morning, unable to sleep. What's going on in my head keeping me awake. So tired that my brain barely functions. Urghh....

This has been going on for a while now. I will eventually wake up and drag myself around for a bit and then off to the office. I'll be reasonably alert for a few hours and then the tiredness will creep in, just in time for the first teachers to arrive for their lessons. I try my best but my energy is lacking and they get short-changed.

It's just the worry of what will happen back in he UK. I can't seem to help it - no matter what I tell myself or what reassuring words I hear, I worry. And at night the stuff going round and round wakes me early. Where will I live? Will I find a job? Will I find something that's more than dead-end? How will I be able to afford to live or eat or get around? How will I be able to see family or friends when everything is so damned expensive? Should I be doing something about it now? Maybe I should address it but I just try to suppress it, and it's always there, prowling in the background.

Time is just rushing by. I'm on an express train - everything is a blur and I can't stop or put on the brakes. In less than one month I'll be 'home'.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Little Boy - Helen E. Buckley

Here's a tale about a child and stifled creativity which I heard for the first time yesterday. It seems to be all over the web in various forms. I believe this approximates to the original version :

The Little Boy - Helen E. Buckley

Once a little boy went to school.
He was quite a little boy
And it was quite a big school.
But when the little boy
Found that he could go to his room
By walking right in from the door outside
He was happy;
And the school did not seem
Quite so big anymore.
One morning
When the little boy had been in school awhile,
The teacher said: "Today we are going to make a picture."
"Good!" thought the little boy.
He liked to make all kinds;
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats;
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.
But the teacher said,
"It is not time to begin!"
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
"Now," said the teacher,
"We are going to make flowers."
"Good!" thought the little boy,
He started to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.
But the teacher said "Wait!"
"And I will show you how."
She drew a flower on the blackboard.
It was red, with a green stem.
"There," said the teacher,
"Now you may begin."
The little boy looked at his teacher's flower
Then he looked at his own flower.
He liked his flower better than the teacher's
But he did not say this.
He just turned his paper over,
And made a flower like the teacher's.
It was red, with a green stem.
On another day
When the little boy had opened
The door from the outside all by himself,
The teacher said:
"Today we are going to make something with clay."
"Good!" thought the little boy;
He liked clay.
He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks
And he began to pull and pinch his ball of clay.
But the teacher said, "Wait!"
"It is not time to begin!"
And she waited until everyone looked ready.
"Now," said the teacher,"We are going to make a dish."
"Good!" thought the little boy,
He liked to make dishes.
And he began to make some
They were all shapes and sizes.
But the teacher said "Wait!"
"And I will show you how."
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
"There," said the teacher,"Now you may begin."
The little boy looked at the teacher's dish;
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his better than the teacher's
But he did not say this.
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again
And made a dish like the teacher's.
It was a deep dish.
And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait,
And to watch
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn't make things of his own anymore.
Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.
This school was even bigger
Than the other one.
And there was no door from the outside
Into his room.
He had to go up some big steps
And walk down a long hall
To get to his room.
And the very first day
He was there,
The teacher said:"Today we are going to make a picture."
"Good!" thought the little boy.
And he waited for the teacher
To tell what to do.
But the teacher didn't say anything.
She just walked around the room.
When she came to the little boy
She asked,
"Don't you want to make a picture?"
"Yes," said the lttle boy.
"What are we going to make?"
"I don't know until you make it," said the teacher.
"How shall I make it?" asked the little boy.
"Why, anyway you like," said the teacher.
"And any color?" asked the little boy.
"Any color," said the teacher.
"If everyone made the same picture,
And used the same colors,
How would I know who made what,
And which was which?"
"I don't know," said the little boy.
And he began to make a flower.
It was red, with a green stem.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Direction Needed

For the last two and a half years I have been "in my element". Sir Ken Robinson* would define that as having a passion and a natural aptitude for doing something. I would be one of those who says "this is what floats my boat" and "this is who I am".

I'm an independent volunteer teacher of computing. I have spent 18 months teaching kids in India and 12 months teaching teachers in Sri Lanka. I find that I have an aptitude and a passion for what I've been doing. I love it! But it's all about to change when I return to the UK in April. I'll have no job and no home to go to, but worse: I fear I will lose my identity. Trouble is, I am not a qualified teacher and, because of that, I'm worried that I'll lose the "me" that I have become.

Brief background:
I'm 56 and for the last 30 months I've been volunteering as a teacher of computing - teaching basic stuff like office applications, simple graphics, and basic hardware in India. Internet, browsers, searching, email, Skype, photo editing, Twitter, Facebook, blogging etc in Sri Lanka.

Previously I was employed as an electronics design engineer, safety system programmer/maintainer and web master at JET - a research centre near Oxford. I was there for 21 years. (I have an upper second BSc in Electronics Engineering and Computer Science from 1981). It was a good job; I enjoyed it a lot, but the passion was not all it might have been.

For the last 18 months of my time there I helped out one afternoon a week at a Special Needs school. I found it so rewarding that I became convinced I would enjoy teaching. That was a key factor in me giving up my safe existence and taking a gamble.

What happens next?
I'll return to the UK in April and I'm wondering which direction I should take. My intention is to stay in the UK for 2-3 years or so, to spend time with my son and daughter (in their 20s), to get some teacher training in, earn a bit of cash and then go off volunteer-teaching again but in even less developed countries this time.

What I want to do is improve my teaching skills to make myself more effective in the classroom.

People tell me that a PGCE would give me the theory but not the classroom practice, and I wouldn't be able to take on paid work while training - it's a 100% commitment. And then there are the fees...

One ex-headmistress has suggested I get into school tech support by touting my CV from school to school - turning up on doorsteps and getting my face known. She says I will find schools willing to let me teach based on my experience alone, in addition to doing tech support work. I am not so sure.

A teacher has suggested the Graduate Teacher Programme but I understand there's huge competition for that, and I'm unsure how I get the employment element in the first place.

What I do know is that I love working with young learners and I would prefer some pedagogical challenge as part of any employment.

So, you see, I'm somewhat lost!

In writing this I'm hoping that someone might have some insights or opinions to guide me and I welcome your comments below.

[* Ref Sir Ken Robinson: Ideas for modern living: passion, posted 22/2/2011]

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Few Photos of Sri Lankan Food and Packaging

This is proper paper recycling! Here, paper bags have been made by recycling pages from old school text books and exercise books. My "short eats", like the roti and toast in the centre, always come accompanied by interesting reading or pictures. Even pills from the pharmacy will come in little hand-made paper bags. It's incredible to think that the price of these must undercut machine-made, mass-produced brown paper bags.

This is typical of a fish rice-and-curry "lunch packet" from a "hotel" and this one came from a place just two or three doors away from my office. It tastes better than it looks! The shop is a rather squalid little place with a couple of well-worn plastic tables and chairs but the food is more like home-made cooking than the packets you get from the bigger places. Yes, it can be hellishly spicy! I used to buy these for lunch every day (the contents vary daily) but now I have them made by the housekeeper at my digs - Concy, the mother of Jude, one of ASL's field officers. Either way, my lunch packets cost Rs.100 - or about UK£ 0.60 or about US$ 1.0, a bargain by my reckoning!

The various pictures on the left were for sale at a market in Galle. They wouldn't have been out of place in India, either, and they (or larger versions thereof) can often be spotted adorning homes or three-wheelers (as tuc-tucs are called here.) I find them rather hideous but then my taste would be considered extremely bland by Sri Lankans! On the right is more paper recycling, with the cone containing Gal Siyambala, aka Velvet Tamarind. I've tried them - they're sour and often used in traditional dishes. It's not a cultivated tree so these have been gathered from the wild.

On the left are Wood Apples - they're about the size at cricket balls with an incredibly hard outer skin. You have to crack them with the back of a heavy knife-blade or a hammer to open them, a bit like you would a coconut. Inside are a lot of seeds surrounded by sweet brown-ish pulp which you scoop out and put in a blender to make a fruity drink. On the right is fruit known as Bael or Beli, which is similarly hard to crack but a little smaller and more fibrous inside. In the centre are Papaya, Embul plantains (small bananas), green oranges and a large Jambola. I usually have a third of a Jambola for breakfast each day - it's not quite as tasty as pink grapefruit but it's not far off and, being less juicy, it's easier to eat with your hands.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Goal 7 - Play and Have Fun! #30Goals

Goal 7 in the 30 Goals Challenge that I'm doing was to bring some fun to the classroom.

Here's one of the fun activities I came up with - words added by Teacher Vajira during our Image Editing class:

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Clive Goes For A Day Out To Matara

Oh what a complete waste of time! I had planned a few hours of shopping of Matara followed by a class for the boys from the school up the road but neither took place!

It didn't start well. I caught the correct bus but it was heading in the opposite direction - away from Matara! I had double checked by asking two passengers too, but perhaps they'd also have said "yes" if I'd asked if their pants were on fire! Never mind, I realised quickly enough and the driver kindly did an emergency stop.

Then I caught another bus; this time the right one. Well, the right one in terms of it going to Matara, only the wrong one in terms of the speed, the huge number of stops, and craziness of driving. It was so awful that I had to get off 8km from my destination, feeling dreadful. My whole body had pins and needles and I was within seconds of throwing up. Oh Boy! I walked for 3 or 4 km just to recover enough to catch a final bus. Not so great on a very hot, sunny and sticky February day, feeling very green and sweaty, with road dirt clinging to me from the streaming traffic.

It wasn't a successful trip - I was not in the mood for shopping and found no suitable shops, let alone shirts. As time was now running short I came back, after doing what I should have done in the first place - taking a travel sickness pill. It worked, but now I'm shattered.

The return journey was a lot better. I got to the office in time and waited, and waited... and I'm still waiting an hour later! This is the third time I've arranged a special class for the boys and they've not appeared. They're keen, but I'm insisting they bring one of their teachers and it seems the teachers are letting them down.  I don't know why - perhaps because they're not getting paid for it - but they always have an excuse. I'm running out of patience I must admit.

Tomorrow, Sunday, it'll be the girls' turn. At least they turned up once (but failed to appear last week). They seem keen too, and the teacher is a little more enthusiastic. Let's hope they come.

*   *   *
Addendum: They did come, and it was a successful lesson!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

30 Goals Challenge #30Goals

I'm participating in a "30 Goal Challenge" for educators, organised by Shelly Terrell, a leading light in my on-line Personal Learning Network. I know that I'm not a fully-fledged, qualified educator but my hope is that my experiences and what I do now will qualify me to participate and perhaps I'll get some learning out of it - if not as an educator then as me personally!

I started a blog specially for it: @CliveSir and the 30 Goals Challenge
I'm up to Challenge 4 for which I chose to make a video podcast - it might amuse you!  There will be one challenge per weekday for six weeks; the weekend is for reflection.  That takes me into mid-March if I manage to keep up with the goals.

I'm struggling a bit, to be honest. I am so Slow! It takes up a huge chunk of time but somehow I'm managing to fit it in. A couple of times I've gone to bed past midnight which is unheard of for me and gives me a problem because I can't help waking up early. Overall though, I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't enjoy it!
Incidentally, a snapshot of my connection with Social Media reveals that today:
  • I subscribe to more than 1000 blogs
  • Of which, I read 12 regularly, the rest I search or randomly sample
  • I follow 855 people on Twitter
  • I have 551 Twitter followers
  • I have tweeted 1,769 messages

This, my online Personal Learning Network, has grown to these levels from near-zero in July last year! The majority of people I follow and who follow me are educators of various flavours and I have learnt much from this vibrant community.

I can imagine a few of my off-line friends reading this and just not getting what Twitter and blogging is all about. You should commit to checking it out else you'll be left in the 20th Century. You'll never know unless you join the party, and I don't mean just standing at the kitchen sink!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sports Meet

They call it a "Sports Meet" but I call it complete and utter barking madness! Ever since the new school year started the kids have been practising for the "Sports Meet" - at every available opportunity. That's nearly two months of virtually zero academic work. It's craziness personified! I voiced this opinion to one of the teachers today and she said, "oh no it's not zero. We managed to do two and a half hours of lessons yesterday." Well no, actually, it's only two hours after accounting for the half hour breakfast break. And this, I am told, is happening in every school throughout Sri Lanka!
So I turn up at the school this morning only to find the girls lining up on the playground. Meanwhile the boys are lounging around or doing what boys do: certainly nothing academic. And the girls are now performing their drills: moving as directed by the teacher with the whistle. They're doing this because the sky is overcast today and it's not baking sun - an excuse they could have used for 90% of the days in the last three months! And they're doing this "because the children love it..." Well yes, of course they do, but everything in proportion, eh?
The boys are now putting the shot, or racing within inches of the girls to no discernible finish line, or doing a high jump into a sand pit, or playing netless-netball and goal-less football.
The teachers are milling around, chatting, and the only one who appears to be doing something with the kids is the one blowing the whistle. The head is busy doing papers or marking attendance sheets but stops long enough to tell me that this spectacle finishes on 21st February - three weeks' time. Meanwhile a teacher is trying to get me interested in his business plan.  I attempt to have conversations with the kids but, to them, that's too much like work, so I return to my office.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Impressive Young Compère

I got it wrong in my last post. I said "The whole thing was compèred by a young girl, not from the school, who was obviously very practised in such things and did her job very professionally." - well that little girl actually turned out to be a student at the school after all. Not only that but she's also one of my favourite little characters! I simply did not recognise her, and she did her job of speaking to the audience so well that I thought she had been brought in from outside. That one has skills and confidence well beyond her eleven years!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

First Day of School

This morning I totally forgot it was Tuesday and it suddenly hit me that I should be at the little school up the road.  I dropped everything and pedalled like a crazy thing, arriving at 09:00 instead of 08:00.  I needn't have worried - it turned out that there were no lessons planned, but there was to be a 'function'!  All over Sri Lanka, today was the day to welcome the Grade One youngsters to their new schools.

There's a real sense of community at that school, almost like belonging to one big family.  Everyone knows everyone else and I guess there's a strong social interdependence.  I spoke to my teacher-friend, Mr Misthar whose daughter was starting today and he not only seemed to know all the parents but he knew all the children too!

The parents had arrived, with their offspring in smart, new, spotless whites and blues, and the children were all mingling and chatting away.  There was no hanging on to Mum's coat tails - these kids were happy and excited, if perhaps a little overwhelmed.

The other children arranged themselves (the older ones organising the younger ones) into two lines, but after about 15 minutes in the baking sun it became apparent that power was needed for playing the national anthem so there was a half hour delay while coils of wire and extension leads were found and slung up to convey the power to the classroom.  The older boys took charge of this - no one told them what to do as far as I could tell.  OK, it was a bit chaotic but they got there.  I can't imagine "Health & Safety" allowing kids to climb on the roofs, twist bare wires together and stick the ends in power sockets using matchsticks, can you?  Heaven forbid they actually operate switches!

The boys also wired up the sound system and microphone - we were having the full works today!  You may remember that I said the school had no electricity.  Well, the bill was finally paid by the Education Department and the power restored last Friday.  The Principal was quick to remind me that my organisation, AdoptSriLanka, had promised them a CD player.  I said I'd get that ball rolling.

So, after the electrics had been sorted and decorations hastily (but skillfully) put up, the new children were escorted by Grades 2 and 3 between two rows of cheering and clapping kids to their new classroom.  And they really meant it - they were truly welcoming the little ones into this next stage of their lives.

I was the only White there and I felt very honoured and privileged to be accepted and permitted to join with the celebrations.  As in India, there were a couple of VIPs there who may have been from the mosque or the council, I have no idea, and they made their long and impressive speeches.  Truthfully, they weren't too excessive, thank goodness.  All the time the kids were popping out to the toilets or chatting, as were their parents - no one batted an eyelid.  The speeches were followed by the Grades 2 and 3 doing little routines and recitals, and all with about fifty of sixty hot bodies in the not overly-large classroom, with little or no ventilation.  I was dripping and embarrassingly smelly by the end.  Not pleasant!

After all this, the new children took a turn at the microphone!  They had apparently learned songs and movements at pre-school classes and they were proud to share them.  It was great!  These kids felt totally unfazed and at home, even after an hour and a half of celebrations.  Amazing, and a pleasure to watch!

At the very end, each child was presented with a stack of government-supplied workbooks and three sets of clothing, plus a brown bag with bits and pieces in - maybe some pencils and pens.  Whatever it was, the children were happy to receive it.

The whole thing was compèred by a young girl, not from the school, who was obviously very practised in such things and did her job very professionally.  And finally, juice and bites appeared from nowhere, served by some of the Grade 6 students.  In all, there was great involvement from all the students, whether in front of the audience or behind the scenes, and all of them seemed to accept their roles and duties as if it was the most natural thing in the world - they simply got on with it.

I was the only one there with a camera and I snapped away as much as possible but the light was very strong outside and the room poorly illuminated by natural light inside, but I did what I could.  The Principal side-lined me later for prints of the photos - no problem.

As an aside, the boys in Grade 11 ('O'Level year - about 15-16 year olds) have been begging me to help them with computing.  The school itself has only one computer and I don't know if that even works.  They tell me that they use Internet Café computers when they can afford it.  At Rs.50 an hour (about £0.28 or US$0.45) that turns out to be about once every one or two months.  I arranged for six girls to come to use ASL's computers for an hour on Saturday mornings, and six boys for an hour in the afternoons, but only if they're accompanied by teachers.  Willing teachers were found so the kids were delighted!  Bearing in mind that I plan to leave in April, I'm not sure how these sessions will work out or what we'll achieve but I'm sure we'll think of something.  I'll ask what their expectations are and see what I can do to meet them.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

RSCON11 Schedule - Making It Multi-Timezone

When I first saw the Google spreadsheet schedule for the RSCON11 Virtual Conference it looked like this :

The times of each presentation were given for eight timezones but mine here in Sri Lanka (GMT+5:30) wasn't listed due to space limitations. I could have clicked on the associated links to check the times but that would have been a nuisance to do - far better to have one sheet with my local times visible. I also realised others would be having the same inconvenience. Besides, it being a spreadsheet, it was crying out to be programmed! I decided to make a version where you could enter your timezone and have the spreadsheet calculate your times.  The end result looked like this :

The above shows the schedule for Perth, at GMT+8:00. The cream colour indicates the day change but unfortunately Google in its wisdom has decided that midnight, with a valid time of 00:00, should not be displayed. Now, I realise this is far from perfect but the fact that you could put in any timezone you wanted seemed like an improvement to me, and the generous organisers of #RSCON11 supported it as an alternative method of schedule presentation.

I gave some instructions for downloading this spreadsheet a little before the conference started.

 I have been asked how I programmed it. It is actually quite straight forward. Firstly the cells containing dates and times should all be formatted withe the Date time format :

It's unfortunate that the date format has to be the crazy mm/dd/yyyy  but that is all Google makes available, unless you want to get all complicated, and I didn't! At least the time of day is given in the 24-hour clock which is great because it doesn't have the ambiguity of the 12-hour scheme.

As well as formatting these cells you should also click the text colour or background colour icons and select "change with rules". Here I've changed the font colour to dark blue and the background to cream when the cell contains the string "1/9/2011" :

Next you need to format the two cells with times in them, using the Time format. What those are for will become obvious in a second :

Now we get to the point where we need to add formulas. Columns A and B contain times in the PST time zone. These lag GMT by 8 hours so, to get times in GMT, you need to add 8:00. That's the value contained in cell I4.  To get the times in your local timezone you need to add your offset from GMT. That is the value contained in cell C4.
So, for example, if the time is 07:00 PST then adding 8:00 gives 15:00 GMT. And if you're in Sri Lanka or India (which have an offset from GMT of +5:30) then adding 5:30 gives a local time of 20:30.
The time in cell I4 doesn't really need to be visible because it's a constant but if it was hidden then a user might think the cell was empty and write something else on top of it.
The formulas in the cells are as follows:
C6 is =A6+C4+I4
D6 is =B6+C4+I4
...and so on.

If you're going to copy and paste the formulas (much easier than typing each in individually!) then the C4 and I4 references need to be made absolute rather than relative to the cell you're putting the formula in. That means that you need to put a $ in front of the column and row reference. The formulas end up looking like this:
C6 is =A6+$C$4+$I$4
D6 is =B6+$C$4+$I$4
C8 is =A8+$C$4+$I$4
D8 is =B8+$C$4+$I$4
C9 is =A9+$C$4+$I$4
D9 is =B9+$C$4+$I$4
...and so on.
And that's all there is to it. Perhaps that'll help you if you ever need a multi-timezone conference schedule.

I have an idea how to improve this in the future. It entails having a master timezone schedule on sheet 1 and then copying the cells onto further sheets and doing the necessary time adjustments. It will mean you won't even have to enter your timezone, you'll be able to just point directly at the corresponding sheet. That's the idea anyway...

If you happen to know how to make midnight (00:00) visible, or if you know how I can add in a constant time directly into the formulas, please let me know!