Friday, September 20, 2013

Switching Gears

I originally started this blog as a place for me to journal my experience in teaching middle school math. I also used it to reflect on my year-long fellowship in the Teachers for Global Classrooms program.

Well, rather than starting another blog, I am going to continue to use this for my math journal. I'll be adding reflections and ideas I have as I go through this 2013-2014 school year.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A visit to the International School of Simferopol

On Friday, April 12, we drove to visit the International School of Simferopol. This is another private school where parents pay about $350 per month for the child to attend. Not an insignificant sum for Ukrainians. Like the other private school we visited in Kiev, this one has beautiful facilities. The teachers of English at this school were mostly men from Turkey. We've seen very few male teachers in all of our visits.

Even the private school teachers are paid poorly and the school must follow the rules and regulations of the Ukrainian government regarding curriculum and other matters.

These are some drawings from 2nd graders, yes 2nd graders the school had displayed on the wall:

In K-1 schools are required to give time for students to take naps. Some schools just have students lie down on blankets. This school had actual bedrooms set up for naps. I'm going to suggest my school sets a room up like this.....For Teachers!

One of the students had a birthday when we were there. The parents sent over these balloon animals. Obviously this school caters to more wealthy Ukrainians.

We returned to our host school after our visit and I presented a math lesson, in English, to 9th and 10th grade English learners. I also visited some of the math classes, in Russian, just to see what level was being taught. The grade 6 class (Form 6 in Ukrainian schools) were working at levels similar to a high level pre-algebra class. Here's an example of a problem they were working on:

(-9.4 + 10.9) : (-5)

So in grade 6, they are learning pretty high levels of Orders of Operations, Operations with decimals, and solving ratios.

In the 9th grade class the students were working on what I would call Pre-Calculus. It was hard to tell exactly because of the difference in the Russian alphabet, I wasn't sure what some of the symbols were.

At the end of the day on Friday, we learned the art of Easter Egg painting. This is a traditional activity before Easter for Ukrainians. They will celebrate Easter on May 5.

A word about language:

Although most Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, the predominant language is determined by  what part of the country you are in. The eastern and southern parts mostly speak Russian, while the western part of Ukraine speaks Ukrainian. In very general terms, the Russian speaking parts are more connected with the old communist rulers and the Ukrainian-speaking areas are more liberal and more "independent" Ukrainians.


Simferopol is the capital city of Crimea. Crimea is called an autonomous republic of Ukraine. It might be similar to the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. We arrived at the Simferopol airport around 10pm and we were met by our host, Marina, and her so, Andre.

We had booked rooms at the Valencia hotel. I have a 2-room suite on the third floor. It's a wonderful hotel. It's very clean, a bit small, but my room is plenty big.

This is the outside of the hotel. My room is the one with the light on the top floor. My bedroom is the window on the right.

How can you not love a hotel that gives you shot glasses (for Vodka?) with the water glasses?

We met our host the next morning and headed to her school. The name of the school is Gymnasium 9. Public schools in Ukraine are numbered and are called Gymnasiums. We did the usual meeting of administrators and got a tour of the school.

We went into some classrooms during lessons and the first thing that happened whenever we entered, was that all the students stood up and said, "Good Morning" in English. ("Dobe Utra" in Russian). In the hallways between classes, the students would greet us by saying "hello." However, if you are a fan of Sienfeld, you may remember an episode where Jerry went around saying "hello" in a funny, weird way. This is how they pronounce "hello." I felt like the entire student body of Gymnasium 9 were in on the same joke.

That evening, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant, Venice. Some of the teachers met with us. I ordered something called "Saj" It's basically grilled meet with grilled vegetables. It was also enough food to feed the entire 8 people at the table AND take some home.

Prices in restaurants are about 25% of the cost in the U.S. So eating out is very inexpensive.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Euroland and Local Educator's Discussions

On April 10th, our 3rd day here in Kiev, we started off visiting Euroland. No, this is not an amusement park, but one of the quasi-private schools. By the pictures from the last post, you saw the difference in the school buildings and classroom compared to the first school we visited.

Here's a few more:

This is the foyer to the school. It actually reminds me a lot of a similar area at the middle school in Mexico City where I taught.

These are some students that dressed up in traditional dress for us to see.

This was a meeting room and computer lab.

On the top floor there was this special room designed by the students for some type of council. They had a judges bench and, as you can see, a jail. I'm not sure what they actually did here.

One of the teachers gave us a little explanation of the school system.

In the afternoon we went back to the IREX office for a panel discussion. There was a young business man there that has started a non-profit to help teachers start a website for free. Euroland has pretty good Wi-Fi access, but most of the schools do not. I'd say they are significantly behind the U.S. in getting their schools connected.

There were some politicians at the meeting that seemed skeptical about a company offering free websites, but after further discussion, there was some understanding about what the company was trying to do.

From this meeting, some of us headed straight to the airport. Another Fellow and myself headed off to Simperfopol which is the capital of the Crimean Peninsular.

Ukraine Schools, Embassy and Dinner

Day two of our Kiev experience started with another trip to the IREX office to here from a teacher that teaches in the public school system. For all those teachers that are reading this you better sit down! Olexandr, our presenter, is a Master Teacher. His monthly salary is (wait for it! wait for it!) $250 per month. That's not a typo. Teachers here, even at private schools, barley make a living. Most either have spouses, usually husbands, that support them, or they hold second jobs.

Their workload is tremendous. Everyday's lesson plans have to been approved and signed off on by the Principal and the Principal can drop in any day to make sure the lesson they planned that day is what is being taught. Most teachers have their lessons complete, in detail, prior to the school year starting.

Ukraine public schools are highly centralized and thus teachers have a great bureaucracy to deal with. Teaching is not considered a very prestigious profession, and funding to schools is very,very minimal.

There are several different types of schools ranging from traditional public schools to boarding schools, to special needs schools (which are more for the blind, hearing impaired, and not  for students with learning disabilities) to schools where you attend from pre-school all the way through university.

Here's somes photo of the private school we visited. You'll notice how much nicer the facilities are. This school, parents pay about $350 per month to send their children:

The photographer in the back is actually a American trained medical doctor, but he couldn't find a job in Ukraine so he makes a little money doing photography!

This is the neighborhood right outside the school. There are miles of these soviet-style housing units throughout Kiev:

After this visit we went to the US Embassy. We had to leave all of our phones, cameras, etc. in the bus. Nothing was allowed inside.

The fellowship I have is through the State Department, so we met with the person that helps oversee the program in Ukraine.

Generally speaking what we heard is that Ukraine may be backsliding in their quest for Democracy. There's been some pretty serious allegations of election fraud and the corruption, at all levels of government, is considered right up their with Pakistan. The Embassy still hopes to be able to help turn things around and acknowledged that, for Ukraine, democracy is still a very new concept.

We had dinner at a brewery prior to going to hear a local Philharmonic.

One of the more appetizing menu items:

The beer was great!

After we got back to the hotel, I wanted to go out and take some pictures of some of the buildings in Kiev. They do a great job of lighting them up at night.

This building is called the University Building

Here are a few others including the Opera House, and a couple of Cathedrals:

I started writing this way back on April 10th. I've had little chance to finish it and I was having problems getting the pictures inserted. I hope I can catch up soon and get some posts in. Until then....

Mr. D

Monday, April 8, 2013

The first day of planned tours, etc.

Yesterday, Monday, April 8, 2013 was our first day of planned activities. The jet lag is intense! I woke up at 3:30 am ready to go. Unfortunately, there was nothing to go to. So I went down to the fitness center and did cross training for about 45 minutes.

I came back to my room and was able to sleep for about another hour. We're about 10 hours later than West Coast time. So, 11 am here is like 1 am to my body and as the day wore on, I started to really drag.

Our first stop was the IREX office here in Kiev.

We spent the morning there learning about the history and culture of Ukraine. Which had some interesting aspects. We had an early lunch then went to visit a local, public school.
The staff and students were great, but the building was more like a converted house than a school. The hallways were narrow, flooring was varied and haphazard and the classrooms are about the size of bedrooms.

The students gave presentations to us on their favorite visual artists. This was, for them, a way to practice their English, which was multiple times better then my Russian. The East part of Ukraine speaks Russian and the Western/Southern part speaks Ukrainian. The difference between the two languages is similar to the differences between Spanish and Portuguese.

Here's a quick video of some of the students saying Hi to my students:

From the school, we took about a 3 hour tour of Kiev. When I heard that I  are would be going to Ukraine, I was not real excited. I imagined that it would be a visually depressing place due to the Soviet influence. I am also here at the time of year that is most gray and with little greenery. There nice parts of the city, but I did find the tour yesterday more like I expected.

There were rows upon rows of these Soviet-type housing.

We saw many statues of famous Ukraine/Soviet heroes from the 2 world wars as well as symbols Soviet propaganda.

Below is the statue of the Motherland. It's sits on a hill that is the highest point in the city.

Here are a few other statues we saw, each has a history of why it's there.

The more traditional cathedrals with their ornate roofs of gold were very impressive.

We finished up the day at a traditional Ukrainian restaurant. Both dinner meals we've had so far start out with a course of different salads, cheeses, and meats, this is followed by some type of root vegetables like potatoes and then we are served grilled chicken, pork and beef. The food is very good and hearty and just about everything is served with sour creme. And, of course, something to wash it all down with:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Good Karma

Last night when I got to my hotel, there was a group of Chinese nationals having a problem getting their room. Only one of them spoke any English at all. Apparently they had thought they had reserved a room with 2 beds. Instead they only had a room with one bed and the clerk was unable (unwilling??) to give them another room. I overheard this and remembered that I had a reservation for 2 double beds.

So I offered to switch my room for theirs. After all, I knew I was soon to be in the position of not speaking the language, being in a foreign land and if I ran into a problem, I would hope someone more familiar with the culture might help me out.

This morning as I was getting on my flight, I thought I would just ask if there was an emergency row seat available. There was not, but they said they had Economy Plus seats at a price. I asked how much and when the counter guy looked it up, he said for some reason I was able to get the seat at no extra charge, rather than the normal $99! He didn’t know why, it just was!! Six extra inches of legroom and no one in the middle seat. I also got an emergency row seat on the flight from Newark to Frankfurt.

Good Karma indeed.

5 am and ready for the 20 hour flight to Kiev

LAX to Newark to Frankfurt to Kiev! I leave at 6:20 am from LA today and land in Kiev Sunday morning at 1:15 pm. There's a nine hour difference. Should get my novel done by the time we land!

Let The Journey Begin!

I started my journey from Santa Barbara airport Friday night. I'm so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. Plus! The airport is so mellow and easy to fly from.

Then once in LA, I had to stay overnight and had to get up early, so I needed a "relaxer."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ready or not (Ukraine) here I come!!

One week ago today, I boarded a plane and flew to Miami to spend some time with my son at the University of Miami. My son, wife, and I went down to the Keys and did the tourist things. I flew back to Santa Barbara and got in around 11:00 pm yesterday.

Tonight I fly to LAX. I stay overnight and catch a flight at 6:30 am to Newark, NJ. Then I hop on a plane with a fine group of fellow Fellows to fly to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Kiev, Ukraine. East Coast - West Coast - Eastern Europe.

Before I left for Miami, I started my what to do/bring/remember list:

Today, I'm going through all of it. I've added more and I'm starting to get that butterfly/anxious/excitement "what did I forget" feeling. No problem. I'll do some meditation breathing and change the butterfly/anxious/excitement feeling into, "this is going to be soooooo cooooool!"