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, 20 June 2015

A Visit to Chacachacare Island

Friday was Labour Day here in Trinidad. One of 3 holidays grouped closely together at this time of year. (May 30 was Indian Arrival Day and June 4 - Corpus Christi Day). For Gayle and I, this was a perfectly placed as we started exams on Wednesday and neither of us had exams on Thursday, so all the marking was done and there were no classes to plan.

A few weeks ago we'd seen that a hiking group was heading out to Chacachacare (SHA-KA-SHA-CAR-EH) island on the holiday. We'd been once before for a Hash, but we new there was a lot more exploring to be done there so we decided to go. We convinced some of the other Canadian teachers to join us as well.

This outing was slightly unusual as we were meeting close to our apartment, so we didn't have to get up a 5 am! We picked up "the girls" at 6:45 and headed to the West Moorings KFC. KFCs are popular landmark for anyone meeting or giving directions in Trinidad. Of course, since we are still Canadian at heart, we arrived before the scheduled 7 am meeting time and were not surprised that people were still arriving to register at 7:45!  We took a short drive to the launch site to meet the boat and were on route at about 8:45am (a full hour past the posted departure time!)

Most of the hikes we've been on have 20 or so people. Our usual guide is very strict about that for safety reasons. As the boats loaded, I noted that there were only 3 or 4 guides and, although it was hard to tell how many, there were a lot of people. It wasn't until we started to unload about 45 minutes later, that I saw that our group was close to 200 people.  It became very clear that our "guides" weren't going to be able to give us much of a lesson on this hike and we'd be exploring on our own.

Chacachacare has a great history and our goal was to explore this "haunted" island in greater depth.  (note:  much of the information we've found online or heard from locals is incomplete or contradictory.) Columbus discovered the island in 1498. It used as a military base by Venezuela in the early 1800's. There was a whaling station built in 1820 and a light house was erected in the 1870s. The island was home fishermen and to cotton plantations and was inhabited by 3-400 residents at the turn of the century. In 1924, the island was converted to a leper colony and nuns from France were brought in to care for the residents. The US military set up barracks and built some roads during World War II. In 1984, the leper colony was closed down and the buildings were left abandoned.

Unfortunately, Chacachacare, today,  is a real mess. It is a popular spot for visitors to spend the day or to camp and there is little or no maintenance so garbage is a big problem. The road and wooded areas near the beach and boat have bottles, Styrofoam, and bags strewn everywhere. The beach to the east side is littered with washed up plastic bottles and other garbage.

During our visit we hiked on a road up to the light house which still has cotton plants growing along the side. At the top, there were a mix of old and new structures. There were two obvious residences from different time periods, one quite recent, that have been abandoned. The diesel generator ran steadily to keep the old light house beam turning. On the way back down, we found a trail that lead to some sort of oven and another abandon concrete structure. Once back near the dock, we headed east on the trail to the old nun's residences. They are quite well persevered, but they have been vandalized. There are three buildings, some old water tanks and an outside bathroom.

Being able to explore these buildings was a neat experience and we had a great time hiking with everyone.  We finished the day with a swim on the south side of the island were there is a nice beach.

Click here to see the photos and a video.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Chasing the Hares

A couple of weeks ago I found my way to a night Monday Hash.  We usually go to the Saturday Hashes which are mostly outside of the city and give us a chance to explore the more remote areas of the country. Monday hashes are also held every 2 weeks, but they are primarily in the city.

Two weeks ago I was in the height of my preparation for Fusion and I figured that a hash would be a good opportunity for 1 last good run before the big event. I didn't know that I was in for a different kind of experience for sure.

I arrived at the bar where the run started (and finished) complete with my hashing socks pulled up and trail running shoes.  Standard attire for Saturday hashes.  As I looked around and saw a lot of familiar faces there were no long socks and everyone was wearing road runners.  We wear long socks to prevent cuts and scratches from thorns and razor grass because we are often in remote areas with no trails.  It was obvious that we weren't going to be hitting the bush at all at the Monday hash.

At about 5:25 there was a bit of a ruckus as people were cheering (and jeering) the hares who left with their grocery bags of flour.  "Cool", I thought as I realized, this was a "live" hash. The trail has not yet been set.  Off they went, with random comments following, to create the trail for us. Just five minutes later someone shouted "ON ON" and we were off to try to catch them!

As it turns out, there is a lot less planning on Monday and the "live" hash means that the hares have to act quickly.  So they're trail makers are fewer and farther between to give the group more of a challenge. The majority of the trail is on roads or sidewalks. The Monday hares are also very good at hiding flour behind trees, in ditches and around corners.

Two days was my second live Monday hash. This one was really unique as the hares names were drawn from a hat from the people that showed up. The two hares were one experienced and one inexperienced hasher.  Neither wanted to be hare because it is extra work, a lot of thinking and a serious challenge to confuse a group that is only 5 minutes behind. At one point the entire group was standing in a intersection totally confused by the seemingly dead end trail. In the end the hares had set a huge, 11 km, trail for us that took us downtown Port of Spain and finally ended in the dark.  Good fun!

Unfortunately we are down to just 3 hashes left (2 Saturday and 1 Monday) before returning to Canada.  I have signed up to be a hare for the July 4th hash near Piparo in central Trinidad. We've been out to tour the area with a bush-man so the next step is to design a trail. I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Monkey Business

Before coming to Trinidad I scoured the Internet for sciency things I could get involved in. Much to my excitement I found the Trinidad Field Naturalists. Having attended the odd Prince Edward County Field Naturalist meeting, I was eager to join and learn about the natural history, flora and fauna of this unique island, and maybe even share a "sighting" or two of my own.

By joining the Field Naturalists organization (which by the way is well established, very active group of professional and amateur scientists), I became privy to some great opportunities, one of which Paul and I took hold of today. We went on a hunt for monkeys!

Ok, that requires a bit of clarification. A Masters student from the UK is in Trinidad doing a study on the abundance of Capuchin monkeys on the western end of the island. It turned out she was looking for volunteers to help spot monkeys by walking along 1 km long transects. Sounded easy enough. We can walk, we know what monkeys look like and we like to learn new things. Sign us up.

So our day began at 5 am so that we could meet Eliza at 5:45 in Chaguaramas. By 6:20 we were bush walking with a machete blazing a trail along the beginning of the first of 2 scheduled transects. The first transect provided a steep uphill climb, which ended about 300 m above sea level in a patch of razor grass. Razor grass does exactly what you think it does, it cuts, and painfully so. This 1 km trek took just over 2 hours to complete! The second transect traversed even ground, through bamboo, vines, tall grasses, but thankfully no razor grass. It took only 1 hour.

Setting up the GPS unit.
Razor Grass -- Ouch!

In the end, playing research biologist was interesting. We learned about transects, Trinidad creatures and just how elusive monkeys are. Maybe next time we'll actually see one!

Click here to see more pictures.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Fusion Adventure Race

On Saturday, June 6 I participated the Fusion Adventure Race. This is the biggest race I've heard of here and people have been talking about it and planning for months. It is a 4-person team event that organizers take about 9 months to plan. Details, including location are kept secret until a few days before the race.

Fusion is touted as a very difficult competition. The race tag line is "When you cross the finish line, you will know more about yourself". Some good athletes that we play Frisbee with have tried it and said "never again!". Leading up to the race, I ran in the Fusion Lite race (an 18 km and over a large hill). That was tough, but definitely doable. Later we did a hike 4.5 hour hike in Chaguaramas that I was told had been one leg of Fusion a couple of years ago. We were planning for 3 longer stages and one final short stage.

Our team was made up of 4 Frisbee players: Reed (who organized the team), Jamie, John and Me. Jamie, our lone female, was concerned that she'd be holding us back. Believe me, she was the only one concerned about that!
Jamie picked me up at 1:30 am and we arrived at the race site an hour later to set up our rest area. The first stage was to start at 4 am an teams were arriving at a steady rate. We checked our gear and warmed up.
The start of the race. In the dark.
Just slightly after 4 am, about 110 teams (that's over 400 athletes) began stage one. We had to carry our "Fusion Friend" -- an awkward 4ft piece of 2 inch PVC filled with sand). We knew about the Fusion Friend from stores of previous races, so we brought along some straps to make carrying it easier. Leg 1 was 8km with a 590 metre ascent was dubbed the warm-up. It took us about 1:20 to complete it entirely in the dark.
Jamie and Reed near the end of leg 2 with the "Fusion Friend"

At around 7 am we began leg 2. That saw our team split into to 2 runners and 2 cyclists. Jamie and Reed went on a 2.5 hour run with the our "friend" -- which had other "F" words added to it's name after that leg. John and I took our bikes and headed to Brasso Seco. It was an out and back route described by Fusion as: "The hardest cycle leg of Fusion to date, 2 persons from each team had to cycle from Lopinot to Brasso Seco and return via the same route back to Lopinot covering a distance of 27.5km with a total elevation of 1,753 metres". I'd walked this route before in one direction so I knew it was going to be brutal at the beginning because no one would be able to ride up the hill. It stated to pour rain at about 7:30 which made the already rough road a really slippery mess. We finished our "walk and ride" in just under 3 hours.

After some rest and re-hydration we stated leg 3 at 12:30. This time we left the Fusion Friend at home. Jamie, unfortunately was not feeling well and by the start of the leg had me concerned that we were going to have to go without her. We started with a slow jog, but Reed started to cramp, so we had to walk the first 4 km along the road until we reached the mountain trail. We started up the mountain in a slow single file with about 30 other teams visible as the course was not suitable for bush whacking. For about 10 minutes we used roots and rocks as stairs. Jamie's condition improved greatly and Reed's cramp worked itself out. We decided to make run for it at our earliest opportunity. John was going to be challenged by the hill, so told him to grab onto some straps I had put on my back pack and up we went. We passed at least 20 teams, but probably a lot more.

There was a very steep and technical descent back to the road. We completed the descent very quickly as John loves to go down hill. We had a hard time keeping up to him. Once we reached the road, we thought, "cool, only about 3k and we are back". OOPS. We rounded a corner and the race marshals sent us up a second hill. Not quite as steep, but higher!

Here Fusion's description: "Leg 3 aka the "Camel Back" was a technical course that tested teams ability in ascending and descending. The first "camel hump" was a 506 metre (1,653 feet) ascent and a very daring descent. Teams then went onto the road where most would have thought that it was the end of hills... but it wasn't... Teams then had to ascend the second camel back which was taller at 552 metres (1,809 feet) but wasn't as agressive as the first, however, the descent was also as technical as the first downhill."
John, near the end of Leg 3.
By the time we reached the top, John and Reed were struggling. We weren't able to descent nearly as quickly. After a short run on the road, we finished the stage by crawling in the sand under a 30 meter cargo net. The whole thing took just under 3 hours.

At about 5pm the race organizer announced that they would cancel the 4th stage due to time constraints. It was to be only a 4km loop, but most of the teams were not sad to hear this news. Jamie and I could have gone for another 4km, but I think we'd have had trouble trying to get John to put his shoes on!

All in all, it was a great day and I had a lot of fun with my team. Special thanks to Todd (Jamie's husband) who came later in the afternoon with his barbeque!!!
Near the end of stage 3. Every part of me is wet!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Why I love teaching Science...

It looks as though I've been neglecting my blogging duties as of late. Not that this is a competition, but I can't let Paul log more blogs on our Trini homestretch. So here goes.

It's Monday night of our last full week of classes. I've recently had two really great experiences that once again confirmed my love of teaching, and in particular, teaching science. Last Friday, I decided to let my Chemistry boys loose on a gas lab. Perhaps not what you think. They were given the challenge to design a lab with the given materials to determine what kind of relationship exists between pressure and volume. I know - super cool, right? Well, they ate it up. They were problem solving solutions to design issues and equipment failures. They were making connections and thinking like scientists. It was very refreshing!

A few weeks ago while learning about light one of my grade 10 boys asked if we could make glow sticks. Well, today was the day to try it out. Rather than just make glow sticks (how easy is that), I decided to turn the activity into an experiment. In researching how to make glow sticks, I discovered hydrogen peroxide is a main ingredient needed to get luminol to fluoresce. It just so happens that you can buy 3%, 6% and 9% peroxide in pharmacies here in Trinidad. Not sure why you'd need 9% H2O2 to clean a cut, but that is for another blog. Back to the experiment. My students, donned in lab coats, goggles and gloves, went to work making their solutions. And then came the moment of truth - mixing of the solutions to see which would glow the brightest.

Disclaimer: As a teacher and often more specifically as a science teacher, lessons and science don't always "work".

When the solutions were mixed, the resulting solution was, as Karishma called it, "pee" yellow. No glow, no nothing, and no difference between the 3%, 6%, 9% peroxides. And then Marc and Jorge called me over and talked about a purply-blue colour, and with the skeptical look on my face proceeded to show me the video they had taken. Indeed the reaction was initially fluorescing. Too bad we decided at the end of the lab to turn the lights off so we could see it!!!

Although some may think of this as a failed experiment, I see all of the great learning that happened. Again, problems were solved, key observations were made and new questions were asked. And that is why I truly love teaching science.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Discoveries from the Science Classroom

When you were in school, did your science teacher put a note on the board, which you then copied down? And then were you expected to learn and understand the information, and write a test about it?

Over the years teaching has been evolving from this teacher centered approach to a student centered model. And I love it. So on Friday, rather than "teach" my grade 10 students the law of reflection, I told them they were applying for a job at "Mirrors R Us". Of course they would need to know how plane mirrors are made and be able to demonstrate how they work (insert law of reflection here). Let me tell you, they ate it up. Kids were reading, asking Siri, playing with ray boxes and mirrors, drawing diagrams, and asking each other questions to help prepare themselves for their mock job interview. 

It was an authentic task that gave meaning to mirrors, and allowed each student to build their own understanding by maximizing their learning style. During the job interview, terms were used, diagrams were explained and feedback was given both on the science and interview skills noted. And oh, did I mention it was a fun way to learn about the law of reflection?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Learning to Juggle

Early in the semester, Marie, the guidance counselor recounted to me that one of her former colleagues had used juggling to help the students develop a good understanding of the concept of motor learning.

"Cool", I thought. I am going to make this happen.

Here is a video of the story.