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]