Paul and Gayle are taking a year from their roles in Picton and Belleville and will be teaching at the Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad. We will use this blog to record some of our edventures!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Guest Entry: Ross Miller (Gayle's Dad)

Leaving home in -22 degree weather on Monday sure felt good. We had a snow-free drive to Toronto airport and finally made it through security, despite a real going over due to my artificial shoulders and a few screws in my ankle. The flight was a good one and we landed in Trinidad at 10:30 pm, to be greeted by Gayle and Paul and a cold Stag beer.

We started our Trini vacation with both feet in by attending Carnival. It is one BIG party with many bands, lots of noise (and I mean LOTS), drinking and very beautiful costumes. The temperature was hot but not too bad and there was usually a breeze as we watched hundreds of masqueraders dance across a stage.

Wednesday am Gayle and Paul took Heather and Katie (Gayle's sister and niece) to the airport. After they returned we toured to the ocean and walked through an area called Bamboo cathedral where the bamboo trees form an arch you walk through. It was quite neat to see a former hash route. Supper that night was different, but tasty. We ate roti (mix of chickpeas, potatoes and a curried beef or chicken) for the first time and really liked it.

On Thursday we saw and visited a really beautiful sight - a hummingbird sanctuary. Yerette is a private home in the mountains where hundreds of hummingbirds (13 species to be exact) feed and show off for visitors. It was quite the show and the owner talked about the birds and some of their amazing traits and habits. After coming home and having a swim in the pool at the complex we headed out for a seafood buffet on the water with a marina with some huge private boats in the slips.

Friday had to include a trip to the mall. Mid afternoon we took a boat tour through the Caroni swamp where we saw boa constrictors, caimans (little crocs), four eyes fish, crabs and thousands of scarlet ibis. They land on a certain island every night at about 5:45pm. It was quite a sight. Supper consisted of messy doubles (chick peas in a wrap with a  mango sauce) that we ate out of our hands on the sidewalk, like real Trinis. Then we had gyros with chicken, beef or shrimp which were really, really good.

Saturday was a real treat as well. We had a maxi taxi (small van) take 9 fellow Canadians to the southern end of Trinidad where we toured an asphalt lake (called Pitch Lake), a Trinidad declared 8th wonder of the world. It is mined and keeps on forming like a volcano. We were able to walk out on it as a guide explained interesting facts to us. Rare water lilies grow there. After we toured a wildfowl centre and Temple in the Sea on the way home. You can see the pictures in the Gallery!

It has been a busy week with Paul and Gayle being great hosts. We've had a great time seeing, learning and trying different Trini foods. We are sure glad we came to Trinidad.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Carnival 2015

The suspense has been building since we landed in August and it's finally here!  Almost immediately upon arrival in Trinidad, we heard about Carnival and how great it is. We were advised among other things, about which "band" to "play" in to avoid students and that it would be a crazy time of year.

Carnival is Trinidad's equivalent to Mardi Gras except that people go to Mardi Gras to watch the parade and people go to Carnival to BE the parade! The days leading up to the traditional Lenten "fasting" have evolved into a serious country-wide street party that sees visitors and returning Trinis fill up the airport with hundreds of extra travelers. It has been an amazing experience watch all this unfold and to learn how it works.

People begin the process by signing up to "Play in a Band" (there are lots to choose from).  This term, to most of us, this would mean "dancing in a very loud parade with a bunch of other scantily clad people". Band choice then leads to selecting a "section" of the band based on price, costume design, where their friends are, what they've heard and even who they don't want to be around (eg, students).  Most sign up and pay their deposit in the late summer or fall, however, some people manage to get signed up in the days immediately before Carnival. The average cost for women seems to be around $800 CAD and about $500 CAD for men.  Depending on the band, various things are included -- drinks, port-a-potties, security, even food and transportation. 

The end of Christmas marked the beginning of Carnival preparations.  The changes we've seen started on December 26th with the switch of radio music to SOCA -- a style that is an integral part of Carnival.  The next big change was the start of carnival warm-up parties called Fetes which increase in frequency as the big celebration nears.  People pay up to $400CAD for an all-inclusive Fete which may last 4-6 hours.  Fetes happen at all hours and sometimes start at 4am! Other things that happened included: multiple Soca concerts, Soca Monarch competitions, Carnival Monarch competitions, Steel Band Competitions (that lead up to a massive championship that happens on the Saturday before Carnival), viewing areas and stages were built, concert areas were constructed and taken down, food / alcohol vendor huts were constructed... This whole thing is a major undertaking. It amazes me that it is pulled off with so effectively.

The Carnival parades start with J'ouvert which begins about 4 am on Monday morning. The only costume is seems to be a common t-shirt for the band. People mess themselves and others up with paint, mud and /or chocolate and dance around the city drinking profusely making a big mess as they go. J'ouvert is common for people who are new to Trinidad or who don't have the money, desire or time to "play in the Mas".  The Monday Mas begins around 9am for some bands. Those that play J'ouvert usually go home for some sleep then catch up to their band.  Monday is a warm-up day where players don't wear their full costume (lots of talk of women purchasing 'Monday sorts').  Tuesday is the full show. Everyone wears their costume and bands are sectioned off to parade their way to the judging and viewing areas around the city. The longest of 3 parade routes was 10.7 km.

We had lots of visitors during carnival so we went to a stage and found some seats so we could see the bands. What fun to watch.

Click this link to see a video that shows a few sections of just one of the bands:

There are lots more pictures in the Gallery.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Update on Second Semester

With almost 10 days of second semester under my belt, I think it is time to send a quick school update.

This semester I'm teaching a grade 10 applied class of 8 students, a grade 11 university chemistry of 14 and a grade 12 health sciences class of 12 students. I know, could it get any better?

I'm enjoying all of my classes. As you may know, teaching science allows for a lot of hands on, cool learning experiences. For instance, today my grade 10 boys ran a microscope workshop for the grade 5s. It was super cool to watch my boys guide the younger students in using the microscope to view Portugal pegs (the little juice packets in a tangerine), toilet paper (unused of course), tropical plants, hair and as a finale, a dead ant.

We also had a meet the teacher night last week and during this time, the mom of one of my grade 12 health science kids contacted the Minister of Health to see if we could get a tour of the Port of Spain General Hospital. Can you say "well connected"? Anyway, I just received a phone call from someone from the Trinidad Health Network looking to help me arrange a tour. Score!

Energy is building at school as next week we have a week off to celebrate Carnival. I'd like to assign work, but I'm just not sure it will be completed, even though officially Carnival lasts 2 days.

With my sister, her daughter and my Dad and Hazel arriving shortly for a visit, I"m sure there will be a few more posts with details of Carnival and Trinidad through the eyes of frozen Canadians.

Adventures in Math Teaching (Part 1)

So, yes, you may have heard, I am teaching a math class! Specifically, I have 11 grade 10 applied students in period 3 everyday. After some shuffling of the timetable and cancelling of courses, I had my choice -- English or Math. Was there really a choice?

In the middle of January, the change was confirmed, so I straighten up my Growth Mindset hat and headed home with the MFM2P textbook. By some strange fluke, I had participated in an administrators workshop in the summer that was focused on leading math education. Still, I wasn't feeling confident that my three days of "training" prepared me well enough.

I know that I am pretty good at math. I also know that, aside from one grade 9 course early in my career, I have minimal experience as a math educator. As I started to review the text and search for other resources on the internet, I quickly learned that content was going to be easy. Teaching it was going to present challenges.

Of course, I started to find gaps in the textbook material and wanted to find a way to bump it up. More specifically, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to think more about math, rather than just follow a series of steps. During my preparations, I found reference to a TED Talk by Dan Meyer called "Math Class Needs A Makeover". I had seen this video and even used it during PD sessions. Now that I would be teaching math, it was much more meaningful. (I would recommend it to all teachers. It is worth the 11 minutes for sure.)

Armed with new inspiration, I began the journey to find ways to help my students think more about the math they are doing. This has been a journey with more wrong turns than right, but the students are really liking the approach, so together we are climbing this mountain.

Here's an example of the kind of thing we are doing: On the opening pages of the textbook there are a few review problems which are designed to get the students to think about the Problem Solving steps they've been taught. The problems were the typical type you always see in math textbooks -- Bob wants to build a fence. His yard is 39m by 21m. He wants to put a fence post every three meters. How many fence posts does he need? If you are reading this and you are not a math teacher, you probably just started to sweat a little. Problems stress kids out and what we do is teach them to find the numbers and plug them into a formula.

So, taking a page out of Dan Meyer's book, I re-wrote the problem: Bob wants to build a fence. What do you need to know in order to help him? Whoa! I could not keep up with the answers -- everything from the budget, type and purpose of the fence, size and shape of yard to the city bylaws about fences. I was amazed with the level of thinking. The students loved talking about it. We had more questions than answers. After a long discussion about real-life problems and math textbook problems, we developed some scenarios of problems we could solve. Or as they put it, "can we do the math now, sir!"

Now, we have a new routine where we identify what makes a problem a "math textbook" problem. And, more importantly, what are the associated real-life problems we would need to solve. Consider this "Tug of War" problem's opening line: "On one side are four teachers, each of equal strength. On the other side are five students, each of equal strength."
Me: "What makes this a "math textbook problem"?
Nicky: "There aren't 4 teachers of equal strength"
Me: "What are some of the real-life problems that are related to this?"
Chris: "Where do we get the rope?"

This is fun!  I am sure that you will hear more stories of my learning in Math class!