Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne,

Well, this week we hit several major high points.  First, we received, after 25 days, our replacement credit cards that sweet Adam sent April 21. This is a major relief since we head out for a month of travel on Monday (more on that below).  A second milestone was our plans for traveling in Guatemala during the second half of June solidified on Thursday. The folks at the boutique hotel, Doña Beatriz, a few yards from our apartment, made all the arrangements for us, including a stay on the grounds at Tikal National Park, and on an island in the lake near Tikal.  We are ecstatic about this (more on that as well below).  A third milestone was the five meetings I had with teachers and school directors this week.  At each meeting with the teachers, I spoke only Spanish, because they only spoke Spanish.  Each meeting lasted approximately 2 hours at a coffee shop and resulted in some very interesting things (more on this one below the other two).  The best of all, we are both feeling much better and are about health-ready to travel soon.  We have been battling stomach problems for about two weeks, off and on, and have nursed ourselves back to health by eating carefully and a whole lot less. As a result, there is a whole lot less of both of us.  We both desperately needed to lose weight, but did not sign up for this extreme weight loss program.  We have vowed to keep the eating to a minimum on our trip, so hope we abide by that. Our fourth happening this week was a Wednesday morning tour of La Reunion, a resort nestled near Volcan Fuego, an active volcano we can see from our apartment in Antigua. One of the teachers at the school invited us, so we went.  Here is the website for the place:  It was a magnificent morning, which included a delicious breakfast on the open air porch, overlooking the valley and foothills. We rode golf carts around the place, and enjoyed the six star tour treatment for which the resort is famous. We didn't even know it was there, but were thrilled to be there for a morning.

The below parts: We leave on a 24 day journey starting on Monday.  We fly to Mexico City, via Panama, then spend a week in and out of Mexico City, with side trips to Jalapa and Cuernavaca, spending our 33rd anniversary in Mexico City on June 3. We plan to enjoy museums, floating gardens, parks, the subway, and markets in this part of the country.  After a week we'll fly to Puerto Vallarta, where we have gone for many years to stay at our time share, Sheraton Buganvilias.  We have no real plans for this leg of the trip other than to swim, lay at the pool, walk the malecon in the evening with the local people who come down the mountain to watch the sunsets. We return to Mexico City for a day, then fly back to Guatemala.

The other below part: On June 13, we begin our east Guatemala/Honduras Maya tour for nine days.  We begin at Copan, a Mayan ruin in Honduras, then spend four days on the Guatemalan Caribbean coast, in Livingston, a town only approachable by boat, which is at the end of Rio Dulce, a river that flows from a lake, through a canyon, to the ocean. We have read about sailing, canoeing, hiking, and motorboating opportunities along the river, lake, and ocean, so plan to enjoy our time playing in the water in this idyllic setting. We will be met by a transport service that will take us to Tikal for two days, then the lake for one, after which we will fly back to Guatemala City, then Antigua on June 22.

We will be home for four days, one of which I will present a workshop/conferéncia on "The Learning Brain", based on the neurological theories posed by James Zull, which I use in my classes at UNT. The administration is very happy about this and welcome the notion of encouraging other methods of teaching to reach the children, so that they learn, not just recite.  Tom and I will attend a dinner that evening with the school personnel.

We will hang around Antigua, or follow the interesting things that come our way for the remaining three days, then head out to Lake Atitlan for a four day stay on the lake in Panahatchel.  This mountain lake is nestled among a circle of volcanic mountains in the northwest part of Guatemala.  We had hoped to do some volunteer work there with my Alpha Chi group, but that never materialized, so maybe another year. This is where Ron Wilhelm and Kim Batchelor provide services through an NGO Methodist group at the lake.  We'll make an effort to find their contact there and hopefully tour the facilities.

One more thing below: The results of the meetings with teachers and administrators netted some very interesting possibilities. First, the principal de la primaria escuela (elementary school) has begun an action research project that duplicates the successful, published study conducted by Monica Daniel, a former PDS graduate, and her mentor teachers in Denton ISD last year, whereby students read for five minutes during each return transition time in the day.  The directora has pretested the students, established baseline, and the teachers are now requiring the students read 5 minutes when they return from the two recesses, once in English, and once in Spanish. She will collect formative data in mid-June and again in July, August, September, and October, and will share the results, so that we can compare her findings against what others are doing with the model in other schools in Texas.  Also, the school directoras are very interested in an exchange program between the school and UNT COE. This is something I will have to begin to broker when I get back. Finally, the teachers are very eager to try new ideas that might help their lagging students, since there is a pretty sizable group that cannot learn with any long-term comprehension, with the instructional methods used.  All agreed to share what they learn and I look forward to hearing from them.

Today was my last Spanish lesson for a month, but there will be lots of practice in the days ahead. Tom had his last lesson yesterday, and is ready for practice on the road.  We will be posting lots of pictures from our adventures across the next month, and may or may not be posting again until our return in late June, as we will not take our laptops with us for the month.  We'll try to keep up with emails, since most of the places we are staying have wifi.

Today is a rainy day in Antigua, with a temperature of 72. It feels and smells like Philmont.  The town is abuzz with the world soccer champion game between Barcelona and Manchester. Red and Blue strips, UNICEF symbols of the team were everywhere.  After our short walk in the rain, we enjoyed watching the final victory in our apartment.  We are hanging out, with the windows open taking in the cool air, listening to the birds, and gathering our thoughts before the next leg of our Adventure 2011.

Hope all things are well for you and yours.  jt

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 18, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne,

It has been a quiet time here in Antigua since my last post on Mother's Day.  Since that time, Mother's Day, May 10 has come and gone, with much national flare and no school.  The school where I observe closed for two days, and for a week before the days off, the school was a flurry of Mother's Day gift making.  There were celebrations for the mothers at the school, all over town, and in every home.  Tom took me out for mother's day dinner at Del Cerro on the top of the hill, and it was lovely to see the night lights.  We had a lovely time. Earlier in the day we went shopping and several places in town were handing out roses and other mother's day treats.  It is quite the deal.

Our new friends also stayed for another week, as they were invited to take Spanish lessons from a new instructor, and provide commentary on her behalf at the end.  They have moved onto their next leg of their adventure in northern Guatemala and beyond.  They were truly delightful, funny, and interesting.  They were a wealth of information about places they have been and things they have learned along their way.

During this time we have also been experiencing some stomach troubles and general achy feelings here and there.  Tom has been on antibiotics, but we are both on the mend.  It's been tough going, since we have been pretty careful about what we eat and drink, and feel better tonight after a cup of chicken soup and cheese pita breads.

The big news last week was the meeting we had with the principal of a public school in Jocotenango.  This is a small village just outside of Antigua.  The standard communication here is word of mouth and personal reference.  So, this is how it played out: I met a woman during the alfombra building event on the Monday before Easter, who teaches in Jocotenango.  I told her that I was looking for a place to observe in a public school, and she agreed to help me out.  Later that evening, another teacher, who teaches 6th grade math, agreed to help me get into the school for observations.  Tom's Spanish teacher, whose hosted the alfombra construction, wrote a formal letter on my behalf, asking the principal at the school for a meeting. Tom delivered it, I typed it in Spanish, then Tom took it back to his teacher, who gave it to her secretary, who gae it to her math teacher husband, who carried it to the principal.  Five days later, I received a message from Tom, in reverse order, saying I could come by for a meeting when I wanted to.  So, on Wednesday, May 11, Tom and I took a tuk tuk to the school, and were greeted by a large, iron, locked door.  We knocked and someone opened a small door in the larger one, and we said, in Spanish, that we would like to meet with the directora.  After just a few minutes we were admitted by the directora herself, Señora Romero.  The word had traveled quickly, because the first thing she said to me was "You are the one who doesn't know how to speak Spanish". Well, of course I had to agree, but I assured here that Tom was "perfecto".  We stood in the foyer for a bit, then were invited into hre office to visit.  I did all the talking in Spanish, slowly, haltingly, but with a fair amount of confidence, and it worked.  She agreed to let me come in July for two weeks to do observations.  It was uplifting and exciting to affect this event.  Initially, I felt like Dorthy trying to get into Oz. It was far less trying, but similar in so many ways.

I am in my last week of observations at the current school, as they go into finals next week. It has been quite interesting to see test preparation, when the students actually know what is expected. There is a fair amount of hand wringing and the teachers seem a bit more on edge, but the students are going through the motions and redoing what they have done in preparation for what they have to do next week.  Everything is rote, repetition, and regurgitate what has been delivered in lectures.  The students have been responding with willingness and readiness.  As always, the teachers have been wonderful about letting me observe and learn.  This is a truly amicable place. 

At this point I have written my report to the school and have been asked to conduct a one hour workshop on learning and teaching methods in mid June.  Of course, I have agreed, and look forward to the opportunity to pay the school back. It seems that I'll be talking to the entire faculty from preschool to high school. It should be interesting at best, since some folks speak Spanish, others English, some both.  I hope to have an interpreter, since one hour is not nearly enough for me to speak this technically in Spanish.  I am sure it will all work out.

We have continued our Spanish lessons and are both making good progress.  Tom is going great guns and loves his work.  I have moved into another form of verbs today and am enjoying the progress, although for a week, I was pretty miserable sorting myself out as a learner.  All is well now.  We both speak Spanish all over town, and I am enjoying more conversations with teachers who only speak Spanish.  A few of the speak slowly enough for me to sort out how to respond.  It is what I had oped to accomplish and look forward to more learning and practice.  

For now, we are working on getting healthy again, and plan to continue to enjoy our time here. We may even make it to Guatemala City for a film premiere this weekend, depending on things in general.

I hope this finds you doing well.  Love to all.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011

Greetings and Happy Mother's Day to anyone who is a mother by virtue of having raised a child, or to anyone who has ever mothered anyone in time of need.  We wish you all a lovely day and many more lovely days ahead.  Here in Guatemala, Mother's Day is celebrated on a specific date every year, May 10.  At the school where I am observing, an entire week of intermittent bits of time have been devoted to preparing outstanding Mother's Day presents and highly decorated cards.  The children are working fastidiously, and with great care, to create these extraordinary gifts.  The teachers of the younger children in particular, spend additional time putting in the details of these painted boxes.  On Monday, May 9, the mothers will come to the school to receive the gifts, enjoy some nicely prepared snacks, participate in a program of songs and small plays, then take their children home, where the next day, everyone will stay home in celebration of mothers.  As I watch scores of mothers carrying their children on their backs, while working in the market, holding the hands of others on the way to school, on motorcycles with two children on the way to school, or nursing them in the parks, between jobs in the square, it is amazing to see the outpouring of love and respect for mothers that is observed.  Buen dia de la madre.

This past week has been one of work and study.  I have worked on understanding the Guatemalan mathematics curriculum by pouring over the textbooks they produce for teachers and students. There are a number of interesting discoveries I have made in the area of whole and rational number. A huge emphasis is placed on the understanding of base 10, which is understandable, since their entire measurement system is based on metrics.  The interesting discovery is the terminology of sistema decimal applied to whole number.  This interesting, since this is considered a rational number concept, hence a possible disconnect for learners coming to the U.S.  The linguistic difference is potentially a problem, but that is something I will have to continue to explore when I get to the U.S. later.  I did speak to one of the teachers, in my broken Spanish, and learned that most of the parents in public schools, where she taught for years, do not help their children with homework, since they themselves do not have more than a third grade education, and can neither read nor write.  Likewise, I have spoken to some wealthier parents who also do not help their children with homework, since they are busy with their work, or do not understand the math concepts themselves.  I have not witnessed tutoring programs, like in the U.S., so learning is up to the child, which, if they don't get the math concept when it is presented, just don't get it, and the downward slide begins and continues for all time.  When I speak to people here about their schooling and mathematics, most reply that they quit understanding at a very young age, and avoid math regularly.  It's all been interesting and the learning has been incredible.  I am working with a couple of curricular folks to figure out some potential assessment methods and possibly some action research projects for the teachers who are interested.  It has been a good week at the school, to say the least.  I will continue to go there through May, then hope to begin observing in public schools in July.

We have continued our Spanish lessons full tilt. Tom has become very relaxed in his lessons and is enjoying them immensely.  I,  however, have hit a high level of frustration with some new ideas that have been brought into the class.  I continue to improve my speaking and understand better, but because of the log jam we are experiencing, my class has stalled out at past-tense verbs of various kinds. There are assumptions made and missed opportunities, which I hope to overcome, since I don't have enough Spanish speaking skills to explain to my teacher why I am stuck. She, as do the teachers in the country, only knows one way to teach, drill, so I try to muddle along with considerable error as my learning style now, getting through the seemingly never-ending list of verbs I don't know, but am expected to conjugate with skill.  Ah, the life of a beginner.  I persevere, because this is very important to me.

The people we met several weeks ago, who are traveling across North and South America, taking pictures, and writing stories, have been staying with us this weekend. They generally stay in hotels they are rating, or with friends they know, but were without a place for a few days, waiting for replacement credit cards to come into Antigua.  Because they are driving across the continents, they have a large, very comfortable truck, so the four of us took a road trip to a town just south of Guatemala City, Amatitlan. There is a lake there, and it turns out, a beautiful spa, the Santa Teresita.  We all enjoyed the hot springs baths, a massage, smoothies, and in general, a relaxing time at the spa. The building is a very tall, all small stone structure, with many swimming and soaking pools.  We were the only non-Guatemaltecan people there, and were received with kindness and grace, as we are everywhere.  Eric and Karen, the couple we traveled with, took us to a place in Guatemala City for ceviche. We shared a dish of very fresh, very tasty fish, then returned to Antigua in the dark, which is a bit treacherous, since the roads are so curvy, unlit, and filled with folks on a Saturday night, driving a bit recklessly.  It was a grand adventure.

Today, we'll Skype with Adam and Catherine and my mom, and enjoy the new blue, smoke free skies of Antigua, and who knows where the wind will blow us next. 

I hope your day is a good one, and that you and yours are doing well.  Love Jeanne