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!

Feedback from #RSCON11

The 2011 Reform Symposium Virtual Conference on 8th and 9th January represented an incredibile opportunity for free, engaging CPD for educators and everyone with an interest in education. It was aimed towards new teachers but there was learning to be had by all.  By any standards it was a huge success.
If you don't believe me, read some of the feedback! I have searched through my Pile of Education Blogs (currently standing at 633!) and, amongst all the enthusiastic mentions, link and resource sharing, I found these gems:

Thursday, 13 January 2011


I thought I'd share some photos of the dramatic skies we've been having lately here in Tangalle, southern Sri Lanka.  The first was taken at 06:30 on what turned out to be a very rainy day. The others were taken just before sunrise at around 05:50 this morning. The colours were quite incredible and the day turned out to be dry and sunny. That's in contrast to much of the last month which has been rainy and dull grey. Hope you like them!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

RSCON11 Reform Symposium - Follow #rscon11 on Twitter!

This worldwide online education conference takes place today - January 8th (and 9th, depending on your timezone.) The Reform Symposium is FREE and offers the opportunity to connect to, and learn from, educators and other professionals in the field of education worldwide. It's brilliant Professional Development and I am going to make absolutely sure I attend as many of the sessions as possible!

I've made a timezone-programmable Google Doc version of the RSCON schedule and the link is below. First I want to explain that it is as up-to-date and reliable as I can make it - I've copied the details directly from the source - but I can't absolutely guarantee that it doesn't contain small mistakes. If there are any changes after I publish this post then I'll list them below and I'll Tweet them out if they're important - be sure to follow me on Twitter - @CliveSir. And on Twitter the hashtag to follow is #rscon11.

The advantage of this doc is that you can just enter your timezone offset from GMT and the doc will display the sessions in your local time automatically. Log into your Google account then click on the link below and make your own copy. You will only be able to change the timezone in your copy - not my original!  Remember, you must be logged into Google to be able to copy!

OK, here it is: Timezone-Prog version of RSCON11 schedule
Please let me know if you find it useful.


  1. 08/01/2011 08:48 GMT Joel Wagner's Presentation Title has just become available: 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Explained Before My First Job