Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oktoberfest, El Centro

Geoff and I have had a few very uneventful weekends, because I've had to catch up on work before the quarter ends. By this weekend, both of us were going stir-crazy and wanting to go away somewhere for the weekend. But, we had promised our friend Andrea that we would go to her Oktoberfest party, so we decided to stick around the city...

We decided, instead, to make the best out of Andrea's party. We went and bought a ton of beers (a mix of cheap and nice beers), bought two giant beer mugs, got some plastic cups for beer pong, and made jello shots! Andrea's party turned out to be totally fun, even though the Americans mostly turned in somewhat early. We ended up partying with her Salvadorean friends, plus Jon, after everyone else had left. We taught the Salvadorean girls how to play flip cup and beer pong, and they taught us how to play Vikingo and Marcas. And we silly-danced. It was pretty awesome times. :)


One thing we did try to do this weekend was to go down to El Centro to visit the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Teatro Nacional, which are all on the same block in El Centro. We got inside the cathedral, and it was pretty neat, but both the National Palace and the National Theatre were closed to visitors. What a shame! We were also warned by our taxi driver to not walk around past the 2 block-by-3 block area, since El Centro is not at all a safe barrio. Anyway, the cab driver said we'd be OK if we stayed around the very bustling parts of town, so we didn't press our luck. We left pretty soon after visiting the cathedral, since I wasn't feeling very safe. Afterwards, Geoff said that he felt like people were giving him pretty unfriendly vibes. I am not sure whether I had felt the same, but it was definitely a very impoverished part of the city. As soon as we had gotten out of the cab, a waft of something in the air had told me that there were homeless people nearby; and sure enough, you could see them every few feet, huddled next to a building or holding out their hands to beg for money. According to things I've read on the internet, El Centro suffers from a lot of street violence, and isn't really safe to visit at any hour.

Generally speaking, I'm feeling a little frustrated by the security situation here. Some days, it seems like we cannot really go anywhere. Even on our way down to a popular bar one night (La Luna Arte y Casa), a kid jumped out in front of our taxi cab in an attempt to stop us -- probably for no good. The cab driver eventually drove around the kid, and the cop car behind us picked up the kid and took him down to the station, but it's hard to say that we're going to keep being so lucky.


Anyway, the first quarter is already over! Can you believe it?

I need a break. We've only had one long weekend since the school started. The next 3-day weekend will be the weekend of Halloween. I cannot wait!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Unconventional" measurement methods

I have been thinking about doing a mini Geometry unit on non-conventional measurement methods. My inspiration comes from the fact that, in order to measure the exact height from the second-floor balcony to the ground, I had to tie a string to a weight, lower the weight to the ground while keeping the string taut, and then measure the length of the string afterwards. (I was measuring the height in preparation for an Algebra 2 linear regression project.) There are other "non-conventional" measurement methods, such as using water to measure an irregular volume, that my 9th-graders almost certainly are not familiar with. Same goes for measuring perimeters around irregular shapes using a string or a rope. I think the mini unit has potential to be really fun for the kids, and also very educational / directly relevant to our Geometry content strands. :)

After some quick brainstorming, I recalled vaguely a classic puzzle of how to measure the weight of an elephant. I guessed that it would involve using buoyancy / weight of displaced water*, which, after looking the problem up on the internet, is indeed one standard way of measuring something that heavy. That might be cool to teach the kids. Another really awesome story that I found while looking this up was the story of the Chinese emperor who received advice from a kid for weighing an elephant. They sort of do use buoyancy, but in a much more intuitive / elegant way! I think my kids would dig that.

...Some days, I love teaching Geometry. It's pretty funny, because Geometry was my least favorite math topic in high school! (I did like it in grad school though.)

*Another way of doing it, I think, is to use pulleys to keep dividing the weight, until you can suspend the elephant in the air. But, that would take a whole lot of pulleys...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Math Videos

How do you feel about the usefulness of videos inside the classroom? I was wondering about this today, and did some research to look up interesting math videos online. Sadly, there really aren't very many math videos out there -- definitely not as readily available as videos for history, English, or science. What a shame!! Seems like we are missing an entire medium of instruction this way. Videos in other classes can evoke emotions, which can then help to trigger a higher level of engagement during the class discussions that follow. I have decided that I would explore this method of teaching a little bit further.

I did manage to find one source: , which appears to be promising, at least in terms of its Geometry videos clips. One thing I liked, for instance, was a clip where they showed a fun animation of a shape transforming into another similar shape -- something you just can't visualize quite as well on a whiteboard. I'm going to try to get a hold of this video in order to evaluate it further. The same website also sells another video about the historic applications of math (something that I think is so rich, yet so rarely discussed with kids). I'm very tempted to buy it, but I think I'm going to wait on this. No $40 impulse buys. --Here, that money could buy you 40 beers! :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Things that drive me nuts

...Oh, obviously (as an addendum to the last entry), there are things about living in El Salvador that drive me absolutely nuts. For instance, I've been trying to go pick up my ATM card from the bank near my school. The first time I went there, I got there at 4:30pm and only the express window was still open. They told me to return between 9am and 4pm the next day -- a near impossibility on a school day, unless I grab my stuff, abandon all meetings with parents/teachers/kids, and run out the door after my last period. So, finally I went back a week later to pick up my ATM card. The customer-service agent who spoke to me briefly made me sign a form and told me to return 3 days later, when the card would be ready. I waited a full week, and went back on a Saturday. This time, I had to walk 40 minutes from home to the bank. When I got there, I waited 20 or so minutes -- a very moderate wait time, for El Salvador --- to see a customer-service agent. Then, she took my ID and left me waiting at her desk for another 20 to 30 minutes, while she went to the backroom to fetch my ATM card. After waiting for what seemed like forever, she came back and told me that -- surprise, surprise! -- the card was not ready, and that it wouldn't be ready until the following Tuesday. Too tired to argue with her, I told her that I needed to withdraw some money. She asked in surprise, "You don't have your checkbook with you?" I told her dryly that I had anticipated having my ATM card in hand. So, she wrote a letter to the bank teller and took my ID to the teller. I had to wait in another line for about another 20 minutes in order to see the teller, before I could withdraw my money. Following that, I walked 40 minutes home, having really accomplished nothing and having already wasted half of my Saturday at the bank.

And on the same day, at a different bank, my friend Andrea had the same exact experience trying to do something else that's very simple. I don't understand why everything has to be so complicated down here. Everything!! Efficiency surely is not of critical importance here. Coming from NYC, this type of stuff just drives me nuts.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Luxuries, PSAT

I'm not going to lie: One of the beautiful things about living in El Salvador is having a weekly maid service. We pay her $12 to come for a full 8-hour day once a week, which is actually higher than the usual rate for maids. She cleans our apartment, cooks, and -- most importantly -- does laundry and irons my clothes! (Those who have worked at my old school know how I don't iron, like, ever. I actually don't know how, really. My clothes are still wrinkly after I iron them, so I just never bother.) It's really fabulous. I don't think my life will ever be the same again, without having to worry about laundry ever.

Another item of luxury is our beautiful sunshine year-round, which allows for things like hammocks. Geoff and I sometimes complain about one of our hammocks being less comfortable than the other, but then we both feel silly: complaining about a hammock is about as ridiculous-sounding as complaining about a massage (which, believe it or not, people do around here).

But, no complaints about our massages! All of the international teachers who live in the complejo have regularly scheduled visits from a local masseuse; that, too, is really cheap. The standard rate is $15 for an hour of massage. Well, Geoff and I hadn't been on the bandwagon, but we serendipitously found a masseuse to come to our apartment today for the first time. (The girl was already in the building servicing someone else, when she stopped us in the stairwell over the weekend and handed us her business card. Funny thing is that we had been trying in vain to contact the complejo masseuse, so we gladly made an appointment with her on the spot.) Anyway, she came today, and she was brilliant!! Geoff and I feel completely relaxed afterwards and couldn't stop raving about her.

Life is really lovely these days...


In school news, I can't believe how quickly time is passing by! It's already near the end of the first quarter, and so I have to rush to give a round of tests this week in each class, to allow for last-minute makeup points next week. I've already warned Geoff that this weekend I will be mired in work, in order to finish grading ~90 tests...

I am also helping to prep my kids for the PSAT this year. It's the first time in many years that I've taken a look at that material, and I'm amazed by how clever some of the questions are. For instance, this one in particular tugged at my Algebra-teacher heart:

You are told that k and L are perpendicular, and that (4, n) lies on line k. Your task is to find the value of n. Such an elegant way to test that the kids know a slew of stuff dealing with linearity!