Monthly Archives: October 2008

A Potful of Memories

Some time around 1994, while she was in third grade, my daughter Gretchen created a clay pot.  It is well done.  It has a nice texture, the colors are sublime, and it is also functional.  I have used it in some capacity or other since she created it.  It has held change, my toothbrush, pens, and gifts from students.

What makes it great though, is the connection between the creation and the creator.  I love Gretchen, and therefore I love what she has created.


Boots and Lockers

The other day at school my 12 and 13 years old class experienced a crisis.  The number of upper school students has swelled from somewhere in the high teens to something like twenty-three or twenty-four students.  Normally, that would not be a big deal, but for my class it meant a crisis.

The school only supplied twenty book lockers for students up to that point.  It purchased ten more to accommodate the growing student population.   The problem was that the new lockers were apparently more desireable than the old lockers.  By a process of seniority, the oldest class, made up of five students, immediately took five of the ten new lockers.

So what’s the problem?  I now have nine students, and all nine students would love to have one of the five remaining new lockers.  We had a very intense minute while students were debating who should get the new lockers.  Some students actually jumped out of their chairs to go claim what was “theirs.”

So what do I do?  Lottery?  First come, first served?  Say that no one gets a new locker?  I would love to hear your thoughts about what I should do.

In the meantime, I handled the dilemma by asking students to consider our school’s success orientations in making a decision.  The success orientations include kindness/politeness, responsibility, concern for others, trustworthiness, group interaction, independent endeavor and aesthetic appreciation.   It’s how we want our students “to be.”

The discussion deepened fairly quickly to a question about why we desire new things.  Some students began saying that they really didn’t want a new locker anyway, because their existing locker worked just fine.  Others (some of the more empathetic and generous) even suggested letting the grade below us (with fewer students) have the lockers.

I don’t know if the problem is completely solved, but I hope that students have begun thinking about the deeper questions that exist side by side with this simple math problem.

Before leaving for Kazakhstan, my brother John gave me an old pair of insulated work boots to use when the weather gets cold, muddy and icy.  He told me he no longer needed them, and that he would like to give them to me.  I took them, and I am so glad that I did.  They are an old pair of Lacrosse boots that have seen better days.  But when I put my feet into them, I love what they represent.  I immediately think of my incredible brother John, I think of his kindness, his love, and his generosity.  I am so thankful for the reminder that my family is not just as a theoretical concept.  It is real, and because of it, my feet are warm.

Perhaps the connection between boots and lockers is tenuous.  But I’m not so sure.  Maybe we need to slow down a little bit as we struggle to make ends meet and look at what works, keep on using it, and only replace what really needs to be replaced.  After all, you never know what joy lies waiting for you in an old pair of boots.  Here are those old boots in all their glory.

John, thank you for the boots, and thank you for being my brother.

Conde’ Nast

Conde’ Nast recently came out with an article about travel in Central Asia.  It includes an article about travel in Kazakhstan.  Here is a sample of the writing, which is quite interesting:

It should hardly be a surprise, then, that the ‘Stans surface in the news mostly in relation to hydrocarbons and geopolitics, leaving their fascinating cultural and scenic attributes largely ignored. But this is starting to change. The ‘Stans are home to 58 million people of predominantly Turkic and Slavic ancestry who, for the first time since Marco Polo passed through seven centuries ago, are finding their place in today’s world. In the capitals, international chains are opening hotels, and in smaller cities visitors will find more and more small hotels, apartments renovated to European standards, and homestays, even in yurts—the round, portable abodes that resemble the wigwams of North America. In the ‘Stans, the buck still has some bang.

England vs. Kazakhstan

This past week, I was sent an unsolicited email from a former student, Andrew, (a die-hard Liverpool fan), and he tells me:

England(home) v Kazakhstan this Saturday night.

Kick-off: 10:15pm Eastern Kazakhstan time

Be prepared to see some dissapointed faces,

Then a colleague sends me this article from The Mail by David Thomas.  Although I have no vested interest in the match, I have a hope that Kazakhstan will win.

Guards, Fishermen, Diapers and Graves

What do all of these things have in common?  On my October 11 bike ride, Mark, Bill and I chanced upon  all four.  Today we decided to ride north out of town, along the European side of the Ural River.  We rode north of town almost to the second railroad bridge.  Along the way we apparently crossed into forbidden territory, where we were yelled at by a railroad bridge guard with a gun on his shoulder.  We kept going.

We saw many fishermen up to this point, but fewer after that.  One pair of fishermen told us to stay down low by the river to avoid contact with the guard – probably not a good sign.

After a bit we rode right into a dacha.  What was most interesting was the way of disposing of trash.  They drug it out of the house, and threw it over the gate.  To walk into the front yard, you would have had to walk over hundreds of used plastic diapers.  Although we didn’t walk into the front yard, we also had to walk over many of these diapers.  I didn’t take a picture for fear of upsetting the owners.  I would say that doing something like this is not unusual.  The owers turned out to be very friendly.

Just beyond that there were many Muslim graves.

We did see beautiful, albeit harsh country after that.  The bike ride was great, and we even had a thermos of hot coffee to drink during a pitstop.  There are many other photos at my Picasa site for those who are interested.

The Voice Thread Experiment

I made this presentation using Voice Thread.  Very soon, I will be asking my students to use Voice Thread to create multi-media presentations of their own.  I should point out that the content of the last four posters was developed at the American International School of Hong Kong.

I would appreciate it if you would make comments to the work that I have done.  This will help me to teach the necessary skills to use Voice Thread more effectively.  And try it yourself.  It’s not easy!

An Undeniable Pattern

My new school, QSI, breaks down education into three parts – “to be,” “to do” and “to know.”  “To be” refers primarily with how we interact with others, ourselves and our environment.  It is made up of success orientations.  I have discussed this previously.  The success orientations are:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Responsibility
  • Concern for Others
  • Kindness/Politeness
  • Group Interaction
  • Aesthetic Appreciation
  • Independent Endeavor

“To do” is made up of skills.  This is where students learn to write thesis statements, or categorize, or synthesize, or add, or a myriad of other skills.  I actually find it the most challenging area to teach, but also the most rewarding.  The third part of teaching is made up of subject knowledge.  It is here that we find out about what happened in 1451 or 1054, and why those events matter to us today.

So what is the undeniable pattern that I am seeing played out?  It is this; whenever success orientations are violated, learning stops – it is invariably stopped in its tracks.  For example, when students become irresponsible, or show a lack of concern for others, learning stops until those the student is re-oriented toward success.

Does this go beyond the classroom?  Just ask the students who won’t be able to attend school because of the greed of a few men willing to put everyone at risk for their own gain.