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, 25 April 2015

Blindly Avoiding the "X"

Every two weeks or so we try to attend the Saturday Hash that is hosted by the Port of Spain Hash House Harriers.  You've likely read about our hashing adventures.

Hashing is a game, not a race.  There are no winners or losers. Everyone has a different experience and every hash is different.  As we run, we follow blobs of shredded paper that mark the trail while yelling "ON, ON" to tell others which way to go. The "problem" is that not all trails are correct so at times the trail is more like a maze, complete with dead ends.

I like hashing because of the challenge of finding the correct trail. All trails look the same, so you don't know you're wrong until you find an "X".  Whether the trail is correct or not, IT FEELS EXACLTLY the same -- it feels like SUCCESS, it's that same feeling when you "know" you are RIGHT.

When you find the "X" there is a brief moment of frustration and disappointment, but that is quickly overcome by an overwhelming need to back-track and catch up to the people who have found the correct trail. The FEELING OF FAILURE lasts a very short period of time.

As a new math teacher, I learned quickly that my grade 10 students hate the feeling of failure. They have translated that "HATE" feeling into hating math.  Everyday I remind them that mistakes are good because we can learn from them. Yet, I have continued to assign work and to give tests in a way that reminds them what it FEELS LIKE TO FAIL.

A good example was Wednesday. I was away and left a test. The students had done very well on their review activities and I thought we had corrected their misunderstandings. They were ready.

You know where this is going right?... Yepper. Bomb-a-rama.  I looked at the results and saw blank pages and confused answers. I was not greeted by many happy students on Thursday (even before they saw their results).

I listened very carefully as I took up the test because I needed to find out what I had done wrong.  The answer was reveal on the second question "State the slope and coordinates of the y-intercept for each of the following:..."  CRAP.  "coordinates". We didn't talk much about the coordinates of the y-intercept -- they all knew that the "y-intercept was the 'b' or the initial value but the coordinates....  BOOM -- That FEELING OF FAILURE had taken over on the second question and most were unable to recover from it. The bigger problem is that that feeling lasted for the rest of the day, over night and beyond.

What a different experience they would have had if I had left out the offending word, more importantly, if I had been there to PUT THEM ON THE RIGHT TRAIL.

What they really need is a MATH CLASS HASH.  One question a time -- THE FEELING OF SUCCESS. INSTANT feedback when they are wrong. ENCOURAGEMENT to go back and find the right way.

Friday's class featured a "Performance Task" (which sounds much more professional that a Math Class Hash). Students were given one "challenge" at a time. When they were done successfully, they moved on to the next.  If the made a mistake, they had to go back a try again. While, it wasn't perfect -- the shift happened -- the FEELING OF SUCCESS was everywhere. They even started to help each other.

I don't really know where this will lead, but I think I have found the right trail...ON ON!

PS -- Thanks to Laura Woodall, who, in a very short conversation, helped me understand the concept of what it FEELS like to be successful.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Superthon 2015

You've heard of a marathon, right? In case you can't remember the exact distance of a marathon, it is 26 miles (41.8 km for those metric kids in the crowd). Well, yesterday we participated in our hiking guide Emile's first every SUPERTHON, a 31 mile (49.9 km) trek from Matelot to Lopino. Emile hand picked only the strongest, the toughest hikers he could find. And because there weren't too many of those around, he allowed us to join the fun!

The day went like this:
- Up at 1 am
- Arrived to the bus pick up at 1:45 am
- Attempted to sleep on the 3+ hour drive to start point (very ineffective)
- Started hiking at 6 am, with a gentle rain and uphill terrain, and slippery trail conditions
- First stop, Madamas beach, 9 am and 3 hours into the hike
- Second major stop for "lunch", 12 noon, Paria Bay
- Third major stop, 2:30 pm at Brasso Seco, for great eats (rice, potatoes, dhalaloo, chicken, salad and juice)
- Fourth major stop, and the FINISH, at 7 pm at Lopino
- Fish broth soup, a medal and the sweet sense of having accomplished something REALLY physical and mentally tough
Gayle looks on as Emile gives instructions at 5:55 am to the sleepy hikers!
On the way, it was cool to realize that there was no way, other than by trekking or boat, to get to these remote places.  We could see fresh turtle tracks and some fresh egg shells that had either hatched or been dug up by predators.

Why did we CHOOSE to do this? As you can well imagine, I questioned this during the 13 hour trek. It wasn't about the views, or the yummy snacks along the way, it was about the challenge and pushing my limits to see if I could do it. Life really begins when you are on the edge of your comfort zone, right?

PS - There wasn't really an option not to finish. Most of the trek was only accessible on foot or by boat. It was only after Brasso Seco and the 25 mile mark that you could have opted for the bus to take you to the finish. But then there wouldn't have been a medal! Note: All 16 participants that started the hike finished, one solely due to Paul's heroics. But that is another story.
The end of the hike with our Medals!
Unfortunately, due to a technology fail, the camera was not charged so there is no gallery to share.
You can see the details with our Interactive Map.

A look at one of the many north coast beaches we explored on our hike.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

St. Vincent Part 3 - Authentic St. Vincent

As teachers, we are always trying to provide authentic and relevant learning opportunities to our students. Well, given those two criteria, our ride back into Kingstown from Chateaubelair was truly a great learning experience!

On our last day in St. Vincent at 8:45 am we reached Chateaubelair on foot, optimistic that we'd catch a minibus within 30 minutes, and fit in our 3 planned stops (the Vermont hiking trail, the St. Vincent Botanical Gardens, and the Fort Charlotte tour) before flying back to Trinidad at 6:45 pm. Right, we were overly optimistic and failed to realize that things aren't as orderly or reliable in St. Vincent as they are in Canada.

By 9:45 one full mini bus had arrived and departed. By 10:15 two pot smoking guys assured us another would be along shortly. By 10:45 we had befriended a young woman who said "Big Mac" was on his way in his minibus and she had asked him to save her 3 seats. By 11:30 three more full minibuses had come and gone and one pot smoker was still there assuring us once again that he would flag a taxi or minibus for us when they came along. At 11:45 Big Mac barreled into town, and somehow we crawled into the back seat of the van where we settled in between two others for our ride back to Kingstown.

Combine loud music, hot and sweaty conditions, a stop to put more oil in the engine, smoking brakes, 23 passengers plus a baby, narrow windy roads and fear the back door would unlatch and throw us on the road to our deaths, it was perhaps the most memorable ride yet. And it only cost $3 Canadian!!!

We did manage to tour the botanical gardens, and the downtown market area before catching our flight back to Trinidad. One out of three isn't bad!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A New House

Early in the new year we started into the availability of houses in Belleville and Prince Edward County. We have always resisted the idea of living in the city, however, our time in Trinidad has found us living the suburbs in an apartment!  We like the idea of living rural, but we've realized that there is much more to taking care of a home in the country.

The MLS website is very helpful and we watched some desirable properties came and went.  In the middle of March, we found what looked like a good house and contacted our agent. She, took a look for us, and gave us a very wise "slow down". 

I booked a trip for the Easter weekend to come to visit Abby and to have a look at some houses. After dinner with Abby and her new boyfriend I arrived at the Furmidge residence on Friday evening. Before I left, we'd researched online and had interest in 7 homes in and around Belleville. Rob and I toured with the agent for a good part of Saturday.

We saw old, new, big, small, finished, fix-'er-uppers (we scared off some potential buyers at one house when we measured a ceiling beam to see if it was warped!) and one that we really liked near Moira.

After a thorough home inspection on Monday, we started the purchasing process, and by noon on Tuesday, we had a deal.  We are moving into 29 Munro Avenue on July 10th. It's a nice 2 bedroom bungalow with a finished basement. 

Click here to have a look.

Special thanks to Rob and our agents, Colleen and Marc who helped make this happen. And to the Furmidge and Palmer/McCarrell families who hosted me!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

St.Vincent Part 2 - On the Edge

We knew very little about St. Vincent before our Easter getaway, but learned much during our 5 days there.

In researching things to do in St. Vincent, hiking to La Soufriere Volcano was put on the top of the list. And it didn't disappoint. On Monday morning, right after our 7am breakfast, off we trekked with our guide Franklin, in hopes of clear skies and a decent down into the crater of the volcano.

The beginning of the hike was easy, as we strolled along the beach and then up an old river/lava flow valley. The next leg of the journey took us up the mountain, along various NARROW ridges and through NUMEROUS ganga farms. I'm finding it funny that spell checker is highlighting ganga, when it is SO common in St. Vincent. It was crazy to see so many pot farms tucked deep in to the sides of mountains, but then I guess who is going to go up there and bust them?

After 2.5 hours of hiking uphill (you can't imagine the size of my legs now :) - and for those who have seen us both in shorts you should figure out this is Gayle typing, we finally reached the summit and one of the coolest views we've both ever seen. We were looking into the mouth of a volcano. And it gets better - the volcano erupted in 1979!!!  So what do you do when you are at the top of the crater of a volcano? You climb in, of course.

So down we went, using ropes to sturdy our steep decent. The coolest (or warmest if you want to be literal) part of the crater was a fuming, stinking and sulfur spewing mound of greyish yellow coloured rock. Did I mention it reeked like sulfury rotten eggs??? Needless to say we didn't hang around there too long.

The walk back to the academy was quick, and Franklin's 316th trip to the volcano was in the record book with two Canadians.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

St. Vincent Part 1

This post is a combination of two posts written independently (and miles apart) over Easter. Can you tell who wrote what?

With two weeks off at Easter, we were looking for somewhere new to explore. It had to be fairly close by, not too expensive and something we'd enjoy. When we booked our Christmas break trip to St Lucia we'd learned that Liat airlines offers a very cheap rate for early booking. At that time we knew that we had a 2 week Easter break and that we'd need to "renew" our driving permits at the beginning of April. (We've managed to work the system by leaving the country every 90 days to avoid the hassle of getting a licence). St. Vincent won out, and after our 5 day visit, it certainly didn't disappoint. I dare say it was a vacation made for Paul and Gayle!

We began our research to find a place to stay and things to do.  We found the Richmond Vale hiking center. This place hosts a climate change and international aid school called the Richmond Vale Academy. It seemed like a perfect fit for us!

Our trip started with a 6 am early flight from Trinidad to Kingstown, St. Vincent. Why waste the day, right? After landing around 7 am, 5 minutes in a taxi and we were waiting for a bus with about 25 locals at the leeward terminal. We felt significantly out of place with our large backpacks as we examined the crowd to determine who to ask about which bus traveled to Chateaubelair.  After about 25 minutes, a flurry of activity started as minivans of different colours sped into the lot one after another honking loudly. Each had a conductor who slid open the door and yelled the destination. As the busses stopped passengers got off and paid. While we knew where we were going, we had difficulty understanding the local dialect and asked a young man which bus to take.
We checked in with a driver and loaded our stuff.  In another 15 minutes,the bus was full enough to leave.  

We listened to the locals chatting, laughing and joking and quickly realized that there were similarities with the trinny slang, but we were going to struggle to understand for sure!

Soon we were en route (along a VERY windy road) in a lively minibus to Chateaubelair , a small fishing village on the leeward side of St. Vincent. After an hour and 15 minutes of windy mountain road we arrived at the end of the route.  Almost everyone got off the bus at an small "store" in a little fishing village on the west coast. We we relieved to be able to stretch our legs!  There were a few locals on the streets who pointed us in the direction of Richmond Vale. I guess we were not the first white people with backpacks who got off a minibus...

During our 40 minute walk to the Richmond Vale Academy (our digs for the next 4 days), we met two Vinny farmers. The first, in rubber boots who was carrying a machete was heading in our direction and he said he'd walk with us.  Honestly, we were both a little nervous as we were expecting to be asked for a guiding fee for his help. However our fears were proven wrong.

As Casper walked with us, he pointed out local trees and plants and told us some of the history of the area. We soon caught up to his farming partner, Charlie, who, it turns out has grown children living in Canada. They took us "the back way" to see the plantains they would be harvesting later that day. On the way, we saw the remains of a long defunct Arrowroot mill. They took us under their wings, answering our questions, showing us roadside plants and then giving us a tour of their vegetable farm, as well as inviting us back on Wednesday to help them plant sweet potatoes, by hand, on the steep side of a terraced mountain.  After about 40 minutes of walking, our farmer guides bid us farewell and invited us back on Wednesday to see them breaking new ground. Too bad we wouldn't be able to make it!

We felt very safe and welcome in St. Vincent as we trekked the last 500 m to our destination. 

Fast forward a bit to the highlights of our stay at the Richmond Vale Academy, a center/school that runs educational programs about climate change. It was a super cool experience to be surrounded by people with such strong beliefs about the environment who are committed to living lightly on our Earth. We were able to converse with people from around the world and hear their stories and ideas about sustainable living, while at the same time living lightly as well. Breakfast, lunch and dinner mainly consisted of local, organic foods that were yummy and healthy. We feasted on an invasive species called lion fish for supper one night, caught by local spear fishing. We also got to pick and eat fresh fruit from the fruit garden.

A highlight for me, aside from the fresh guava, papaya, star fruit and applepears, was reconnecting to ideals that are important for me. I really do believe in living lightly and taking action to reduce my impact on the Earth. After 8 months in Trinidad somehow I've managed to put these things on the back burner. It was refreshing and inspirational to see and hear how 2 people have encouraged and motivated numerous others to take action.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Maple Leaf Sports Day

Early in the school year I found out that Sports Day would be one of the most important events of the year for me. Many students recounted how it was a highlight for them and that they looked forward to it this year. One even demanded that it become a full day event held off site at a "proper" sports facility. I learned that it had traditionally been a half day event for secondary students that was held at the school.

At the end of January, following a PTA meeting, I learned that since it was the 20th Anniversary, the PTA would like the Sports day to include the entire school AND to be a full day of events AND to be held off-site.  Wow -- This was about to take on a whole new life of it's own. (and take over most of my time!)

As I began to work with the committee, I discovered that a whole school day had never been done! In fact, we were breaking new ground in a lot of ways - new venue, adding the middle school students, a whole day for secondary... I also decided that it was time to shake things up even more by changing the structure of the day to achieve to goals -- i. get everyone moving more; and ii. give the senior students an opportunity to practice leading.

As it turns out, these two goals were much bigger that I anticipated.  Tradition at Maple Leaf (and in most other schools here) is that the Sport Day events are a mix of "church picnic" style things (sack races) and athletics (50 m dash).  A few students from each grade and house are selected to compete in each event. So a student might compete in two or three events over the course of the day. Medals and house points were awarded at the end of the day. My idea of changing to a day of events where everyone participated (students would rotate from event to event) and secondary students lead (organized and lead events, as well as leading teams of little ones) was met with skepticism by some on the organizing committee. It was surprisingly easy to achieve consensus that we could move away from awarding medals. In addition, I set my sites a little higher and contacted a local company that organizes kids adventure races to see if they could provide some events. They suggested a few things and were really keen on an obstacle course!

The culmination of all this change and planning was March 27th. A day like never before at Maple Leaf!  Over 40 students were given leadership positions -- supported by an unbelievably caring staff! Over the course of the day we had 16 events for students, 5 whole house events, a series of tugs of war, a water slide, a bouncy castle, football games and most importantly, a ton of FUN.

The pictures and smiles speak in a way that is much better than my story telling!
You can see lots more pictures by clicking here!