Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cosmos-Initial Thoughts about Carl Sagan's book

The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject…And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them…Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate…Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all.
Seneca, Natural Questions, Book 7, first century

I think Seneca was ahead of his time by realizing that we would be ahead of his. So much of what I know I take for granted forgetting how much of it was unknown to those who came before us. Yet everything that I know, that we all know, is built upon the shoulders of those who came before us. And in thinking about that I can’t help but wonder what those who come after us will discover and know that we cannot even imagine? What will people look back and laugh at about our beliefs, theories and worldviews? Before an idea is learned it is invisible to the point of nonexistence but once that idea is learned it becomes as clear and obvious as the daylight. And as always I am searching for more daylight.

I have been reading the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan. So far I have only read the first three chapters but I have read them each three times both out of enjoyment and in an effort to absorb all the information they have to offer. Sagan is a wonderful writer and has a way of making very complex scientific knowledge accessible to those of us without a strong scientific background. He weaves history and stories throughout the pages to connect science to the human experience.

So far perhaps the simplest and clearest thing I have taken away from Sagan’s work is that the universe is inexplicably vast, far beyond anything I can grasp. So large in fact that the idea of or need for any God or gods seems to just vanish. The Judeo-Christian God in particular seems so tiny and insignificant compared to the universe in which we reside. The biblical worldview crumbles under what we now know about the galaxy in which we live and the other galaxies that surround us. I am well aware how many people take the greatness of the universe as proof of some type of designer or creator and yet all I see them doing is creating a creator or designing a designer that simply is not needed scientifically or philosophically. In fact more often then not the creator that is created creates more problems than it solves. Our search for who we are and where we come does not need a god to explain it even if one were to exist.

I want to share just some of Sagan’s own writing to give a taste of both the grandness of the Cosmos and of the writer Sagan himself. All of this comes out of the first chapter in Sagan’s book titled Cosmos.

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

Those explorations required skepticism and imagination both. Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere. Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. The Cosmos is rich beyond measure – in elegant facts, in exquisite interrelationships, in the subtle machinery of awe.

The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be.

The dimensions of the Cosmos are so large that using familiar units of distance, such as meters or miles, chosen for their utility on Earth, would make little sense. Instead, we measure distance with the speed of light. In one second a beam of light travels 186,000 miles, nearly 300,000 kilometers or seven times around the Earth. In eight minutes it will travel from the Sun to the Earth. We can say the Sun is eight light-minutes away. In a year, it crosses nearly ten trillion kilometers, about six trillion miles, of intervening space. That unit of length, the distance light goes in a year, is called a light-year. It measures not time but distances – enormous distances.

The Earth is a place. It is by no means the only place. It is not even a typical place. No planet or star or galaxy can be typical, because the Cosmos is mostly empty. The only typical place is within the vast, cold, universal vacuum, the everlasting night of intergalactic space, a place so strange and desolate that, by comparison, planets and stars and galaxies seem achingly rare and lovely. If we were randomly inserted into the Cosmos, the chance that we would find ourselves on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion (1033, a one followed by 33 zeros). In everyday life such odds are called compelling. Worlds are precious.

From an intergalactic vantage point we would see, strewn like sea froth on the waves of space, innumerable faint, wispy tendrils of light. These are the galaxies. Some are solitary wanderers; most inhabit communal cluster, huddling together, drifting endlessly in the great cosmic dark. Before us is the Cosmos on the grandest scale we know. We are in the realm of the nebulae, eight billion light-years from Earth, halfway to the edge of the known universe.

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars – billions upon billions of stars. Every star may be a sun to someone. Within a galaxy are stars and worlds and, it may be, a proliferation of living things and intelligent beings and spacefaring civilizations. But from afar, a galaxy reminds me more of a collection of lovely found objects – seashells, perhaps, or corals, the productions of Nature laboring for aeons in the cosmic ocean.

There are some hundred billion (1011) galaxies, each with, on the average, a hundred billion stars. In all the galaxies, there are perhaps as many planets as stars, 1011 x 1011 = 1022, ten billion trillion. In the face of such overpowering numbers, what is the likelihood that only one ordinary star, the Sun, is accompanied by an inhabited planet? Why should we, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the Cosmos, be so fortunate? To me, it seems far more likely that the universe is brimming over with life. But we humans do not yet know. We are just beginning our explorations. From eight billion light-years away we are hard pressed to find even the cluster in which our Milky Way Galaxy is embedded, much less the Sun or the Earth. The only planet we are sure is inhabited is a tiny speck of rock and metal, shining feebly by reflected sunlight, and at this distance utterly lost.

The universe really is amazing. Each time I read those numbers about the distances between planets, stars and galaxies or the number of stars and planets that exist I keep hoping they will suddenly be comprehendible but they aren’t. I read those numbers and I understand the words but I have no real conception of what they mean in that I have never had any experience that could be even closely associated with those numbers. What do you do with numbers like a hundred billion (number of galaxies) or ten billion trillion (number of planets and stars)? All I can say is sit back take some time and enjoy it. Marvel at it. And not many years ago I would no doubt have taken one more step and seen God in those numbers and rather than marvel at the universe I would marvel at God. But again as I have been shown that God is not needed in any scientific or philosophical explanation of our existence I no longer include him in them. He may serve to fulfill some sort of emotional desire many humans have but I no longer am included among that number.

I had some short but valuable exchanges this week with a friend concerning this topic, “the greatness of the universe,” and the existence of God. It led me to some new thoughts concerning the Christian worldview verses the scientific one. Both Christianity and science hold an odd duel view of humanity as being at the same time both significant and insignificant but they conflict concerning where and how this significance and insignificance coexist. The scientific worldview believes in humanity’s potential. It believes in our ability to better ourselves and our world by the use of our powers of reason and inquiry. The typical Christian worldview on the other hand sees no potential for greatness in humanity rather human nature is fallen and corrupted leaving us helpless to do anything except sin and ravage the good world God created. Humanity’s only hope is in God. And so we see where science would say we are significant, in our potential is the same place where Christianity would say we are insignificant. But moving to the other side of the coin Christianity sees great significance in humanity’s place in the universe. Humanity is the pinnacle of creation created last as God’s crowning achievement. For Christianity humanity truly is the center of the universe. Everything that happens in the universe is somehow connected to us, our lives and our fates. Our lives may be short but they matter more than anything else that happens in some other galaxy. Science on the other hand leads to a different picture of the universe. It exposes humanity as a small and, cosmically speaking, fairly insignificant part of the universe. The universe does not center around us or this planet. In fact we are in the far out skirts of our own galaxy and live lives measured in mere years in a universe whose existence must be measured in aeons if it can be measured at all. So here where Christian sees humanity as significant, our place in the universe is the place where science would say we are insignificant. So are humans the center of the universe but helpless to better themselves, as Christianity says or are humans cosmically unimportant but with all the potential for greatness as science would say? I truly hope the later.

So moving forward in my search I have to follow science and say I don't think we are the center of the universe, we just aren't that important, cosmically. But that is part of what makes our journey this far so amazing. Humans have pushed forward throughout history in search of truth and have come to discover more and more about the universe including that there is far more to it than just ourselves. In this way I see a level of humility in science and the use of reason that I just do not see in Christianity.

These two worldviews also approach the concepts of truth and mystery very differently. For Christianity, particularly evangelical forms, God has revealed the (his) truth. This means he has provided all the answers for this life that matter, which funny enough mostly pertain to achieving life after death, but then calls for a quiet acceptance of everything else left unanswered. Basically, we should be grateful for what “truth” we have been given and not demand more. Mystery becomes like a work of art in a museum, it can be gazed at and appreciated for its beauty but it must never be touched. Science, on the other hand, views truth as something to be gained through research and empirical evidence. Truth must be discovered not revealed. For science mystery is more like a mountain range, something to be gazed at and appreciated for its beauty but also charted and explored. The scientist works for truth while the Christian waits for it.

Death is the great mystery which most of us fear, even if we pretend not to so I can understand people’s desire for answers (comfort) concerning it. And that is where the Christian God becomes so attractive, he promises you life after death all you have to do is accept him. But this acceptance requires you forfeit any further genuine search for truth and instead be satisfied that you have all the truth you need. Instead of encouraging the best attributes of humanity, our capacity for reason and desire for knowledge, the Christian God pats us on our head and tells us to not ask questions or use our minds but rather merely to do what we are told and he promises us a treat (heaven) if we are good. Now, for me that trade off just isn’t worth it anymore. Surrendering the pursuit of knowledge of the heavens for a life in heaven is not worth it. I say, not without hesitance, that I value knowledge above life. Truly, Adam and Eve made the right choice, mythically, because if eternal life is coupled with eternal ignorance that seems to me more like a punishment than a reward. (Maybe that will be my hell) So I say let us be brave enough to use our minds to search for the truth without the fear of discovering our own inconsequentiality. We may not live forever but let us remember that our knowledge is as much for those who will come after us as it is for ourselves. We will not unlock all the mysteries of the universe but let us not stop trying just because some god asks us to. Who knows maybe we’ll find out what he’s been trying so hard to hide from us all these years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Long Day

Well summer vacation has official started. What that means is the kids and the normal teachers are all off. By normal I simply mean the regular grade teachers. A few teachers like myself and one of the other English teachers still have to come to school every day. So for the next two weeks I do not have any classes but am still expected to come to school and be in my office from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Needless to say that is quite a bit of time each day to fill with lesson planning or other forms of work but I’m sure I’ll find something to do.

But this entry is about Monday. Last Friday I was told by one of the English teachers that there was going to be a teachers’ trip on Monday. “What does the mean,” I asked her. She tried to explain that all the teachers were going to go on a trip to a lake somewhere. I was not overly excited about the idea but said okay. She then quickly added that she and my co-teacher would not be going. “What!?,” I said Apparently both her and my co-teacher had other obligations and would not be able (have to) attend. What this meant is that I was about to go on a trip with all the teachers from my school except the ones who speak English. I asked her how long the trip was going to be and she told me we would probably be back around 9 or 10pm. “Really!?” My heart sank ever deeper. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get out of going. But the weekend came and I just put it out of my mind.

Now when I tried to sleep Sunday night I struggled even more than usual. I do not think it was directly related to the trip the next day but it was odd to have to fight so much to sleep. I only slept about 4 hours before I had to get up and go to school. Now I was not really sure what to wear for the day. I wanted to wear shorts and sandals but did not know if that was okay. I knew I was going to be around the principle and vice-principle so I ended up deciding it was better to be safe than sorry and I just wore a pair of khakis and a polo. I would soon discover that being “safe” doesn't always keep you from being sorry. I also grabbed my backpack, instead of my man purse, and threw in a hoodie “just in case” and a book since I figured I wouldn't be doing a lot of chatting on the bus ride.

I ran out the door to discover that it was raining; always a good sign, right? I had gotten into the habit of walking to school in sandals and shorts and then changing into my pants at work because in the rain my shoes and pants, from my knees down, would end up soaking wet and would take a long time to dry. But I did not want to change in part because I didn't want to be carrying my shorts and sandals around with me all day so I just went to school. But as expected by the time I got to school my legs and feet were quite wet. So while that was not a surprise what was a surprise was that as I approached the school I saw all the kids had come and were also entering the school. I thought summer vacation had already started so I was very confused about why the kids would be there. This stirred in me a mixture of terror and joy; terror that I did in fact have class that day and was now unprepared for it but also joy at the thought of not having to go on the trip with all the teachers. Is that as sad as it sounds? I also noticed that a large number of moms had also come with the kids and were just standing around outside the school.

I was eager to get up stairs because I had sandals and a different pair of pants up there that I could change into that would be dry. But when I got upstairs to my room all the doors were locked. The school never provided me a key for the English room. My co-teacher has one and usually the door was either already unlocked from the day before or he had arrived and the room was open. But Monday my co-teacher was not coming to school so I had no way to get into my office. Irritation now joined confusion, sleepiness and soaking wet on the list of un-enjoyable experiences I was having only a few hours into my day. I went looking for someone who could help me. After about 15 minutes of wandering the halls (really just walking from my room back down to the other English room and back again many times) I found one of the other English teachers. She grabbed me and said she needed me. Before I knew it I was being dragged to the school office and then the principal’s office to sign some papers confirming my upcoming vacation days. Okay, fine I thought though I was not sure why it seemed so urgent since those days are a month away. Finally I explained to her about needing to get into my room. So we went back into the office and after about 10 minutes of watching them root around in various draws and cabinets they said they could not find a key for my room. So we went down to the first floor into a different administration office and again I got to watch them look around until they pulled out 3 large key chains with 10 to 15 keys attached to each one. It looked like they had some sort of mark or writing taped to each key and they slowly started examining each one trying to find the right one. Finally they handed the English teacher one of the key chains with a specific key. We went upstairs and it worked.

During this time I had also asked about why all the kids were there. I found out that they had a small ceremony congratulating them on another semester completed and then they would be going home. The ceremony was only one period so basically all the kids came to school so they could be there for 40 minutes and then head right back home. This explained why so many of the moms were just hanging around. Now while this news calmed any fears I had about having to teach any classes unprepared that day it reaffirmed my suspicion that I was going to have to go on the day trip with all the other teachers. By the time I got into my room I only had about 10 minutes before all the kids left and they started herding all the teachers toward the bus that they chartered. Basically I never got to change out of my clothes. The pants were fairly dry by this point but my shoes were still wet enough to be bothersome. I checked my e-mail and then we were off.

On the bus ride I sat next to Lim Suk Ju. Lim is his family name so I just call him Suk Ju (sounds like Soak Jew). He is one of the fifth grade teachers and besides the other English teachers he is the person I know the best. He likes to talk with me and his English is not bad depending on the topic. I found out that my co-teacher had actually talked to Suk Ju and asked him to keep me company. It is funny when a person doesn't know a lot of English (or any language I am sure) because subtlety is not really possible. So Suk Ju told me that my co-teacher said he “had” to talk to me. I laughed a little and questioned him, “did you not want to talk to me?” Suk Ju immediately started saying “no, no, no” showing he understood my question and how I was taking his words but he didn't have another way to say it. “No I like talking with you but I have to talk to you.” I tried to explain to him the difference between the words “have/had” and “get”. It was fun. During the trip he noticed my I-Pod so I showed him my music. I was very surprised to discover which bands and musicians he had heard of. Some of the ones he knew did not surprise me like Michael Jackson, Nirvana, even Coldplay and Green Day. But he knew a lot more rap/hip-hop than I would have ever thought like, Kanye West, OutKast, Eminem and The Black Eyed Peas. And then there were just other random ones from different genres that he knew like Jason Mraz, Alicia Keys, Sum-41, The Offspring, Avril Lavigne (yes I have her on my I-Pod), Placebo and Snow Patrol.

Before we got to our destination we stopped for lunch. It was fine nothing wonderful. Suk Ju tried to make sure to talk to me but at the big table other people began having conversations with him so I spent more time sitting quietly than anything else. With the stop it took us over three hours to get to where we were going. When we got there it was already 2 so at that point I knew we were not going to get back to the school until pretty late. I had been warned that it would be 9 or 10pm but I just didn't want to believe that but now I knew it was true. From the parking lot we could see a large lake. I was told that it was the largest human made lake in Korea. As we walked around I also saw multiple statues and discovered they were all made for the Olympics, which Seoul hosted in 1988. We headed down a large hill towards the lake. Once there we filed onto a medium sized boat. It was motorized and filled with seats facing each direction so people could look at the view. The boat puttered along and took us to the other side of the lake, which is where the trailhead is. The trail leads to a very old Buddhist temple at the top, which is still being used by Buddhist monks. The temple location is almost a thousand years old. The original temple had been destroyed during the Korean War but was rebuilt on the same spot with the same design. The hike was probably my favorite part of the day. By this time Suk Ju started hanging out with some other people. I began the hike next to the group but soon found myself breaking away in part because they really were hiking quite slowly in an awkwardly large herd and also because it allowed me to turn on my I-Pod and enjoy some music during the ascent.

I got to the top in about 30 minutes and by the time I did I was drenched in sweat. At this point my khakis and polo had proven not to be the best outfit for this adventure further the backpack with a hoodie proved to be nothing more than a nice blanket to insulate the heat trying to escape from my back. Better safe than sorry had turned into very, very sorry. All the other teachers were in t-shirts and shorts or some sort of hiking gear. It was clear from the beginning I was the only one who was not aware of what we were going to be doing that day. I still have not become accustomed to the humidity. It was only are 80 or 85 degrees but I couldn't walk 10 steps without sweating and even when I’m not sweating here I just feel moist and sticky. All the places I have lived Denver, Phoenix, Oakland and Pasadena even when they were hotter than it is here they never felt like this. I miss LA. It really is worth the high rent. Okay enough whining.

At the top the temple was beautiful. The temples I have visited are set up as multiple buildings of different sizes. Each building is basically just one room and has one or multiple shrines in it and usually statues of the Buddha. Many of the rooms have places for candles and incense. At this temple there were seven or eight different structures. I walked slowly around and enjoyed each room. All the designs and color are just so amazing. As you visit multiple temples you see that certain shapes, patterns and colors repeat themselves over and over just like for temples and churches in the West. But of course the Buddhist patterns and colors are so different than the ones that I am used to it is hard not to be but taken in by the newness of the experience. After about 20 minutes some of the people from the group I started with began showing up and looking around. For the next 30 minutes more and more of our group made it to the top. I was done looking around as the last members of our group made it to the top. By that point Suk Ju and a few others had also been there awhile so we decided to head back down to the boat. As we went down I discovered that one of the girls spoke English quite well but was nervous about speaking to me. So the three of us chatted the whole way down and she became more and more comfortable as we went. When we got back to the dock there was a long line of people waiting for the boat to come and take them back to the other side. According to the schedule the boats would come to the dock every thirty minutes. I knew we were looking at, at least a three boat wait and that was assuming everyone from our group got back though I was fairly sure would happen since we were looking at an hour and a half wait. As we waited I was encouraged to see that the boats came more often than the sign said. It was one about every 15 minutes. More and more of our group started to show up to the point where it seemed like we could jump on the next boat, this was the third boat so to this point we had had only a 45 minute wait. But when the boat came and our group started getting on it soon became clear that we weren't all going to make it onto that boat. I would say about half of our group made it on the first boat and funny enough it was the group who had arrived at the dock last. Finally we got our turn and made it back to the other side of the lake. In all, we were at the lake and temple for about three hours but an hour of that was spent standing at the dock.

When we got back on the bus it was a little past six so I once again got a little hopeful that perhaps I would be home by 8 or 8:30pm. But alas it was not to be. After about 30 minutes of driving the bus pulled over at a restaurant and we all got out and had dinner. This restaurant was really just a house in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't another building in sight from it. We were still up in the mountains somewhere. Dinner was actually pretty good. By this point Suk Ju and most of the guys were drunk or at least fairly tipsy. And the more they drank the harder it was for any of them to speak English so by this point I just sat and watched people converse. Like most dinners the actually eating only took 10 or 15 minutes but the 15 minutes before the food gets there and the 30 or 45 minutes of hanging out afterward was just one long scene of watching people’s reactions to their conversations. I of course don’t have a clue what they were saying but I am starting to notice a difference between when I listen to conversations now and when I first arrived in Korea. I am starting to be able to distinguish words and clear sounds. Basically I have no idea what the words mean but they are actually starting to sound like words instead of just noise. Still an hour of listening to words you can’t understand is fairly dull.

When we got back on the bus I was finally getting a little excited. It was 7:30 by this point and we had been driving for a little over 30 minutes so I thought okay 1 and a half hours to go that puts us home at 9pm. I mentioned the time to Suk Ju and then he told me that we actually had gone the opposite direction of the school to go to the restaurant. So instead of being half an hour closer to the school we had moved half an hour further away. I couldn't believe it. I asked why the heck we did that and he said the restaurant we went to was one that the principle really liked and wanted to go to. My head just dropped to my chest and I slouched over in sadness. That moved my calculation of 9pm back to 10pm assuming all went well. We did end up making one more stop about 15 minutes later. It was just at a large gas station rest area type of place so that everyone could use the bathroom before we got back on the road. This is the type of stop I couldn't really be too upset with. Anytime the bathroom is an option I take it especially before long car/bus trips. I had actually been fairly disciplined all day with the amount of water I drank trying to keep it to a minimum so that I didn't need to use the restroom that often. Still this stop cost me another 15 minutes.

So finally we were on the road headed towards home for sure. Now the bus we had been riding was fairly nice and high tech. It had a large TV and a P.A. system that allowed people to speak into a microphone at the front of the bus and be heard by everyone in the back. My seat was actually right below one of the speakers. I have found that a lot of Koreans still tend to yell or speak quite loudly when they have a microphone basically acting as if they didn't have one, which is tough on the ears when your right next to the speaker in a small enclosed space like a bus. I had put my ear buds in and was trying to listen to my I-Pod but one of the teachers up front was going on and on about something. Then suddenly everyone started cheering and pointing my direction. Suk Ju got up from his seat and went to the front of the bus allowing me to see that they were pointing at him not me. Suk Ju took the mic and music started playing and then the TV started flashing pictures of people dancing. Then it happened Suk Ju started singing. I was in a karaoke bus. The lights on the bus were turned off and they had multiple little disco balls that made lights flash everywhere like we were in a club. The singing was deafening from my seat. I couldn't hear anything from my I-Pod. I kept cranking up the sound more and more to the point where it was hurting my ears as much as the speaker right by my head. The rest of the trip was spent with various teachers going up to the front and singing karaoke music. Now every song was in Korean, no surprise there, but I was amazed to discover that even though I couldn't understand any of the songs I could still tell who was good and who was not. And there were a lot more people who were not good at singing than those who were, in part I am sure it was because by this point most of them were drunk.

The ride home was looooooooong and painful, I mean that literally by the time I got off the bus my ears were ringing. It was about 10:30pm when we finally pulled up to the school. I jumped off the bus as fast as I could. All the teachers were standing around waiting for the gates to be opened so they could get to their cars but I just said good-bye to Suk Ju and took off towards home. I walked in to my place around 10:45pm and just collapsed. I am not social by nature so even if I had done this exact same trip in America with all English teachers I am sure I would have been fairly drained by the end of it but not like this. This trip was over twelve hours a majority of which was spent on a bus and being constantly surrounded by conversations I couldn't understand in an environment that impeded any attempt of mine to enjoy my own music, podcasts or read a book. But relax, it’s over.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Impending Summer

As is so often the case I find myself both relaxed and worried. This week is probably going to be my easiest week of work since I began teaching here. It is the last week before summer vacation for the kids. Each class I teach is two hours and it has been only the first hour of each class that we are actually doing any work. The second hour has been merely a party where the kids get to bring snacks and we show them a video for fun.

The work that we have been doing that first hour is going to what we call our English Village. This is a large room in the school in which they created different sections where the kids must practice their English for specific settings. There is a restaurant, a store, a bank and an airport all set up. This week they are going to the restaurant and the bank. I have been acting as the waiter and cashier for the kids at the restaurant. They have to practice ordering off a menu, which includes main dishes, appetizers, desserts and drinks. Then they have to pay for their meal using fake American money we gave them. The word appetizer has probably been the hardest part for everyone.

Now everyone can see the menu as they wait in line to order so it is kind of interesting to see how well the kids understand how money works. Most of the kids ordered and then after I tell them how much they owe they have to lay out their money on the counter and try and figure out how to give me the right amount. They had to pay the exact amount I was not giving them change. They all had enough money and the correct denominations to pay the exact amount so figuring out how to give me seventeen dollars instead of just twenty was part of the exercise. But there were a few kids, mostly girls, who ordered their meal and handed me the exact amount even as I was adding up the total. After buying their meal the kids then went over to the bank where they deposited the money they did not spend with my co-teacher. That was another fun thing to see, when the kids found out they had to put the rest of their money in the bank some of them started buying less in order to have more money left over for the bank, again mostly girls, and some just went all out and tried to spend all their money, which was not possible with the prices, and these were mostly boys. Ah the odd things you notice when you take lunch orders for seventy kids.

The worst part about it has been that this section of the school has absolutely no air conditioning and only a few tiny windows. I have been sweating to the point of actually dripping onto the counter in front of me. The kids have noticed the heat too and the longer we are there the faster the kids order so they can go to the bank and then get back to the classroom where there is air conditioning. Sadly that was not an option for me I had to be in there for everyone’s order. As the days have been getting hotter the school has finally allowed us to control the air conditioning in our own rooms. Since then I have discovered that my co-teacher and I do not share the same feelings about what is a comfortable temperature. This does not surprise me but being in the room with him reminds me a lot of Phoenix. In Phoenix it would be triple digits outside but when you walked into a store or movie theater the temperature would drop 30 or 40 degrees and there would be freezing cold air blowing on you constantly. Basically, my co-teacher likes it cold.

Now in two weeks my Summer Camps begin. These camps are intensive language sessions for all the grades. So for one week the kids will have four hours of English a day; two hours with me and two hours with the 3rd and 4th grade English teacher. There are three major changes I will be facing. First I will be teaching alone, second I will be teaching all the grades (1st-6th, not just 5th and 6th), and third I have no set curriculum but rather must create all my lessons from scratch just like I have been doing with my after school classes. I also must coordinate my lessons with the other teacher so that we are working together even though we won’t actually be working together. Now my concerns change depending upon the age of the kids. With the younger kids the lesson planning is far easier (the alphabet, colors, animals) but teaching alone is far more scary. They are just beginning and don’t know any English so I just don’t know how you get started when the teacher and the students don’t speak the same language. Then as the kids get older (4th, 5th and 6th graders) I become less concerned about being alone with them since I have experienced that before rather I am far more concerned about lesson planning as their lessons need to more difficult yet not to difficult. Finding the proper middle ground between too easy and too hard has been fairly difficult with my after school classes. So the rest of this week and all of next week will go towards planning for my Summer Camps. I can tell you that my concerns will not subside any time soon but if nothing else at least I have some time to relax while I worry about it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Open Classes

I have done almost no writing the past two weeks, which is rather unusual for me and I don’t really know why. It has not been because I've been too busy to write but rather I have not found myself with much write about. The last couple of weeks have been rather slow and mundane. Even on the weekends I have not been going out as much as I had been the previous months. In a way my social life, the last two weeks, has been kind of like it was my first month here virtually non-existent. But four months of living here makes doing nothing different then when I had only been here two or three weeks. Being alone is just not as scary as it used to be. And probably more than just the fact that I have not being doing much I haven’t been writing because I have lacked any desire to write, which is odd for me.

The semester is winding down. This is the last week of school for the kids before summer vacation. Then they’re off for a month. Summer vacation here is shorter than winter vacation. It’s basically the reverse of what we do in the U.S.

I teach two advanced level classes on my own without my co-teacher. One is on Tuesday afternoons with a group of 5th and 6th graders and one is Friday afternoon with a group of 4th graders. Last week both of the classes were made open classes. What that means is that the classes were opened up to allow other people to observe them. Who comes to the open classes varies but in this case the classes were opened up for the children’s parents. Needless to say I put a lot of time and effort into my lesson planning and lost some sleep waiting to teach, maybe more accurately I should say perform, in front of my students’ parents. Now I guessed that only mothers would be attending due to the timing of the classes and that guess was confirmed in both sessions.

When Tuesday finally rolled around and I cleaned myself up a little more than normal and wore a more formal outfit for the day. Sadly it was very hot that day and my long sleeved collared shirt was killing me. I quickly figured out that I should have simply brought the nice clothes with me and changed before the advanced class but as I could do nothing about it I simply appreciated the fact that white shirts make pit stains much more difficult to see. I did learn from this mistake and brought a change of clothes on Friday. Tuesday was the first go round and as the day moved along I become more sidetracked from my normal classes and nervously focused on the impending doom that was my afternoon class.

In my lesson plan I read an article and showed some YouTube clips to the kids about a new robot called the Wakamaru robot designed by a Japanese company. The robot can be programmed to do different things. But what is really new is that it is able to interact with people and have spontaneous conversations. It has a 10,000 word vocabulary and vocal recognition software so it can “know” certain people and remember past conversations with that person. The main point of all of this was to get them to practice using gerunds and infinitives in descriptive ways. The kids then got to design their own robot and decide what they would want it to do and then we all shared with each other. Here are some of the robots the kids created (the child’s name is followed by the robot’s name, which is followed by its abilities or functions. Also I just copied the students sentences from their worksheets so there are grammar errors but you get more of a feel for the each kid’s voice);

Grace: ToTo Bunny-It is very familiar like a real friend and you can love and take care of it. It can clean the house in 10-15 minutes. It’s fast just like a real bunny. So it can run, jump and play ball. It can talk a few sentences.

Julie: Ms. Maily-It can teach the children and can speak any language. Sometimes she cooks…like mother’s.

Eddy: I-Robot-cooks, reads a book and fights.

Sunny: Metoo Robot-cooking and reading

Christine: Sericadoca II-cooking and teaching. The students like it, she is world start! P.S. she is very smart and pretty.

Anna: Roo-cleans house, cooks food, plays with baby.

Brian: BJ2-Has vocabulary of 100,000 words. It can speak 100 different languages. It can speak like a girl, boy, man or woman. It can play and show feelings. It can take tests and show score. It can walk like a human.

Sally: Smile -w- It is small and very cute. Has a vocabulary of 100,000 words and can sing a song. It can speak 5 different languages. It has voice recognition for up to 50 people. Plays with me and reads books. It can move 1 km an hour.

Alice: Wharoo- It is small, cute and beautiful and has big eyes. It has full vocabulary of 120,000 words. It is able to store and read electronic books. It can move 2 km in an hour.

Chris: Bumble Bee-looks like a person colored yellow, black, blue and gray. It can speak English, Chinese and Korean. It can show feelings. It has two eyes and can feel. It have radio, DMB and P.C. can think and can show feeling. It can transform into a camera and it can run.

Sophie: Rilakkuma-It looks like a bear and is medium size. It speaks Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. It cooks, does laundry, makes beds and plays baseball.

You can see once one kid comes up with an idea (moves 1 km and hour, has vocabulary of 100,000 words, etc) that it does not take long for other kids to copy it or try and one up them (moves 2 km and hour, has vocabulary of 120,000). This would be even more apparent if I shared all of the kids’ robots but I just wanted to give a sampling of some of the ideas the kids came up with.

Some other robot functions kids had included playing soccer or other sports; dancing with people; playing the piano; and doing homework. All the robots could talk and recognize people just like the Wakamaru robot. I was surprised to see that a lot of the kids included cooking with their robots, which I thought was a great idea and it made me want to add that to my robot. Of course some of the boys created fighting robots.

After all my worrying about the class on Tuesday only one mother showed up. I discovered that most of the kids had not told their parents about the open class. I could not say I was upset with them even though I had to kind of pretend like I was. On Friday there were four mothers and I definitely could feel their eyes on me the whole time. The good thing is my Friday classes are always better than my Tuesday classes because it is my second time doing the lessons and I am able to see what worked and what didn't in the first class.

So that was my week of open classes. This week is setting up to be pretty laid back. We are just doing some review with the kids and then having a small party (30 minutes) for each of the classes. More writing is to come but at least that is something for July.