Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hi we never discussed the

Hi we never discussed the home warranty at the closing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Train in Moscow

The train arrived at 6:45 and it was raining. The many gifts made for a lot of luggage which I was trying to take to the terminal in the rain. Much to my disappointment the driver holding my name card was not there. I was not having much luck finding someone who could speak English. After about 20 minutes I heard my name over the intercom but I couldn't understand the rest of it telling me where to go. Finally, a very stern looking policeman took me to where the driver was standing. Boy, was I glad to see him.

Last Day in Nizhney

Previously, I was in Nizhney Novogorod in March. Today we took a tour in the sunshine. It looks a lot different with the beautiful flowers, fall leaves on the trees and no snow.
After a specially prepared dinner, going away gifts, and good-byes, it was time to get on the train. This train was brand new with only two people per car.It left the station at 10:45 and would arrive in Moscow at 6:45 am. There a car from the Embassy would meet me and take me to the airport. This was the beginning of a 36 hour trip home.


Lyceum and Hoklama

When I was sick the last time I visited I was scheduled to visit a Lyceum and go to the Hoklema factory in Smirnoff. but did not get to go. So today was the day.
It was about an hours drive to the town so Nina was telling me a little about her job with the accrediting group. She talked about the issues they have in getting teachers to teach in the village schools. They are trying some programs such as buying a young teacher a car and a flat if they will teach ten years in the village. They have also offered them a 25% pay increase over those that teach in the larger cities. These approaches haven't worked real well and have gone a long way to upset the teachers that have taught in these villages and did not receive the perks.

We arrived at the lyceum in Smirnoff and toured the school before meeting with about 20 students who were in the 11th form (grade). They will be going to college next year. These students had participated in an Intel Project-based Learning classroom. Two groups of students presented their projects for us. The first group focused on the sport facilities available for volleyball, a sport they loved to play. They put together a business plan after analyzing the deficiencies (windows, lighting, floor surface) of the facilities. They met with and interviewed the principal about their concerns and proposed a funding model that contained finding sponsorships. As a result of their efforts, new windows were replaced in the gym and the floor was resurfaced. Their in-depth presentation also contained what skills they developed and what they learned conducting this project.

The second group felt their project was a little silly and didn't want to show it but the teacher convinced them to go ahead. This team of boys loved to play computer games so their presentation centered around researching the popularity of playing computer games and the future employment opportunities available for those that create them. Their project was really well done and brought a lot of credibility to the field.

The trip to the Hoklema factory was so interesting. This traditional Russian painting goes back to the founding of Smirnoff. Today their factory employs 500 painters (almost all women) and 1300 people in all the factory. We began the tour seeing how the wood is formed into dolls, bowl, cups, beads etc. The wood comes from the lime tree. From there we went to see the Matruska dolls being painted. The painting of the dolls is more like an assembly line as each painter paints a certain part of the doll, like the face, or the apron or dress. There is the traditional doll that is red and yellow an has flowers on the apron.Then there are dolls of all colors and some special character dolls. In showing us some of the special order dolls they showed us a set of dolls made for the Green Bay Packers in 2002. The outside doll is no other than Brett Favre and there are four other dolls including Darren Sharper.I asked if they sold that set and she told us they were not in their shop but only part of their special collection. When I came back later she handed me a set and charged me $18. What a fun souvenir.

The next part of the tour showed the steps in the 58 day process of making the dishes, spoons, and other speciality pieces. It includes different kinds of layers of solutions, painting and then baking. The baking process turns what looks like silver  into a very bright gold. When the pieces are ready to be painted, one painter does the complete piece. It was fascinating to see the talent of the painters.


The final part of the tour was a master class. Nina and I were taught how to paint a Matruska doll. Needless to say, I could never be hired in that line of work but it was fun to try.

I have seen and purchased pieces of Hoklema  painting but I have a total new appreciation for the talent that goes into making the them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sunday - English Class and Shish Kabob

Marsha makes a little extra money by conducting a club English class on Wednesday. The students and parents agreed to a special lesson on Sunday to visit with an American teacher. These students are eight years old and have only had three lessons. They introduced themselves and sang an English song. They sang it very well for only having three lessons. I told them all about North Dakota and they and their parents asked questions about the USA.

Next a trip to the local park for shish kebabs. Nina, Vladmir, her sister Nadia and her husband Oleg made quite the feast. Sausages, barbecued pork, salad, decorated apples, pears cut like pine trees, cucumbers pickles YUM!

Saturday - My Last Day in Volgagrad

It was hard to think that it was my last day in Volgagrad. It had been a wonderful week and I had made some very wonderful friends. Natasha's mother came for a visit and what a delightful lady. She had been a teacher for 44 years and you could tell that that is where her heart is. She had taught geography and then had taught home economics for the rest of her career. We were talking about the difficulty that Russians have with the many documents that need to filled out for the government and some of the poilicies that are difficult for people to deal with. She commented that she so respected the United States for their Bill of Rights that has lasted since the 18th century. I always find it so interesting that Russians know so much about us. When I tell people that I am from North Dakota, most of them know where the state is located. Could I tell you different areas of Russia?
Natasha and I had a nice discussion about their school system. Their students take eleven subjects in a week. Some meet only a day as others might meet three times a week. You can imagine the scheduling. The classes are about forty minutes. Teachers do not have their own classrooms so they need to move all over the school. The school has many floors so they get a lot of exercise during the day. Natasha's classes vary from day to day. Some days she teaches  seven classes. Teachers teach six days a week and young teachers get two hundred dollars a month. They get an additional twenty dollars if they check their students copy books (homework). They have a lesson plan book/gradebook that must be filled in every day and left in the office. The book is checked everyday and teachers get paid only if it is completed. They have started anelectronic grading system but now teachers must do both. Teachers can retire at 55 but they get a pension of one hundred dollars so it is difficult to live on that.
Of course, I seem to create some sort of excitement when it is time to do something. This time I left my registration papers in my suitcase. I thought I only needed my immigration card. I did not know if the officials were going to allow me to leave Volgagrad and go to Nihzney Novogorad. The official told me that I must keep my papers with me at all times. I am going to Nihnzey Novogorad as that is where I visisted a year ago last March. I have very good friends there and I wanted to see them while I was in Russia. The American Councils supported my trip here as they called it a follow-on program.

  I sat to business man that works for Caterpillar. He was creating a PowerPoint in English. Wehad a very nice visit on the plane. He asked if someone was meeting me as he would help me with the airport if they weren't
There was Nina and Vladmir at the airport waiting for with flowers - it was so nice to see them. I had been worried about Nina as she quite writing anв I knew something was wrong. She has developed glaucoma in her eyes so she cannot use the computer very much. She was an IT teacher and now she works on an accrediting team for the 3000 schools in their region. Each school must be accredidted every five years.
It was very late so we went directly to Marsha and Sasha's house where I am staying. Marsha is an English teacher who was my interpretor when I was here before. She now has a beautiful little boy and the government pays her money to stay home with him for three years. It is so great to spend time with them again.
Luckily the medicine was working and I was no longer struggling with a fever.

Friday -Trip to the Doctor

Hard to believe but I guess I want to explore the medical system when I am over here. When I had my cancer surgery lymph nodes were removed from under my arm so the lymph system does not work quite right. On Friday morning I woke with an infection in my upper arm, I know that I need antibiotics for this (sometimes I am given a couple of IVs so off to the doctor we went. Galena knows a doctor who is the head of the department so we got right in. She sent me to the skin specialist who then sent me to the head doctor. I was given two antibiotics, antibiotic cream and something like Benebdryl and was sent on my way. My arm was very puffy and very hot and I had a fever to go along with it. The doctor said it was fine to go on with my regular schedule.
The rest of the morning was meeting with just the heads of the departments at Lyceum 8. They were very interested in PowerSchool, in the structure of our school system, in our grading system, etc. They also brought in their nice charging case with iPods in it and wondered if I could tell them how to use them. We didn't have much time at that point but that conversation will continue.
Galena had aranged for us to have a yacht ride on the Volga with the Vice Speaker of the State Duma (authorities?) so onto the marina. The yacht ended up to be a sailboat that Sergey ran with the motor so the ride was smoother. Wу had a very nice lunch and Sergey and his wife have been singing together for 33 years. He plays the guitar as they sing. They sang a few songs for us, one of them was the first song they ever sang together 33 years ago. I asked them if they sell their music and they said they only do this as a hobby so they give their CDs to friends. I am happy to say I have one of the CDs in my suitcase.

Out of the boat and on to the dacha (country home) of Natasha's Oleg's friends. As we passed by many country homes on very narrow roads, you could not see the houses. Galena says it's because Russian people are afraid so they put up these fences to protect themseleves. Andrew and Natasha's dacha did not have a high fence. Andrew had in the last year built the new house after tearing down the one that was there. It had a main housу ща a living area, kitchen, and two bedrooms. In the back was a barbeque area with table and overhead cover and a building with a sauna and a room for relaxing. Both buildings had fireplaces. The gournds were cover with fruits and vegetables - apples, peaches, berries, grapes, cucumbers, onions, herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. Wу tok a walk to the Volga River and he showed us where he fishes. He likes to dive and spearfish. We ate some of the fish that he had caught.

 The meal was delicious with cancers (Russian lobster), a couple of different kinds of fish, barbequed pork, vegetables of all kinds, and torte. Of course, there was vodka and cognac for toasting.
Upon arriving home, my night was spent with my friend, the fever.

Tuesday Already

It is Tuesday and I will be going home tonight. I will try to get caught up before I leave.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Foreign Student Day and Day 2 at the Forum

I arrived at school this morning in time to see their first celebration of the year. They have some student from AFS at their school and AFS had asked if they could plan a special day. The courtyard was filled with primary age students and students through the ninth grade. Italian students, Indian students, Malaysian students and Guatemalan all performed and talked (they had been invited from other schools). The Russian students performed traditional songs and dances. After the gathering the foreign students participated in classes and then all met together to have lunch before returning to their schools. I didn't get to see all of the courtyard celebration but with what I saw I couldn't help but see the pride exhibited by the foreign students and the respect and celebration shown by the Russian students.It made me wonder how much we celebrate the cultures in our schools???

Next on the agenda  was an online video conference with three groups - Teachers at the Forum, the Professional Development division for the school and the State Education Authorities. It was the first meeting of it's kind that they have had they asked very good questions. They wanted to know why they cannot have professional development that is more relevant to something they are doing in their classrooms. They get theory after theory but no one helps them understand how to apply it. They also wondered why they had to go to the Professional Development Center for their in-service. Why can't some classes be put online? They asked me to tell about our system and then continued to ask for changes in their system. There are two teachers that have programmed in Moodle. All the teachers wanted to know why this system could not be set up for them to use for their classes. They also have some cable channels but materials are not presented this way or are not being used. They thought there could be a better way of using these channels. Both the Professional Development group and the State Authorities were pretty quiet during all of these questions. One teacher specifically asked the head of education to please answer the questions. His answers were pretty sarcastic. By the end of the conference, members of both groups (PD and State Auth.) said they were open and willing to make some changes.

After a very quick lunch, it was time for my workshop, which instead of one, ended up to be two. I showed the Kindle, the iPod touch, the GPS camera, the digital microscope and podcast material. The teachers had not seen these used in an educational way and were so amazed. I told them not to beleive that our students are using them much but these devices do exist now.

The second session and wrap-up was also fun. They were so appreciative. I worried that it might be discouraging since they do not have that many resources. But I asked them to think about the possibilities and work toward a dream that their students will someday learn from these devices. The Superintendent said her idea of an electronic book was a CD - she was so happy to know of other formats.

On to the American Center - this presentation was about North Dakota. There were probably about thirty people there - some Americans, a University English Teacher, some Russian students hoping to come to college in America, some students from foreign countries.... I had prepared a presentation but there was no projector so we sat and talked. I had brought many postcards so I sent them around as I told about North Dakota. They had many interesting questions - ranging from our economy, to homeless people, to the state of technology in Volgograd Schools, to what kind of work do my children do.... I said that I had many postcards and feel free to take one - guess what? They are all gone!

Now it was time to go home. I think I will actually get to bed by eleven tonight. Tomorrow will be more presentations in the morning and then a yacht trip down the Volga in the afternoon. Dinner will be at the dacha (country home).

My pictures do not relate to today - all I have is video and I can't upload it here. But I will just add a couple of pictures from before.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Today's Forum

Today was an exciting day as three hundred teachers came to the lyceum for a forum (conference). I was asked to speak to the group earlier than planned and I had hoped to connect by Skype to Darin. Well, it was five minutes before starting time and I hadn't even been able to test the connection. I was about to give up hope when low and behold there he was. The connection worked beautifully, very clear, and the sound was perfect. Thank you , Darin - I do believe in this picture he had just said that his eyes were a little red as it was in the middle of the night there.

The rest of the presentation lasted for fifteen minutes after the connection and all went well after a worried start. I was sure to stay in the time limit as I didn't want to get the forum off schedule. We then listened to three presentations given by university faculty members. The third presenter talked a lot about Web 2.0 tools.

We met the other teachers in this area from the  LTMS program for lunch. It was fun to see people that I had not seen in almost two years. I remembered faces but I certainly did not remember names. Our food is always very colorful - includes fresh, salted vegetables, many friuts, soup, fish, cheese, pies (rolls with filling -egg, jam, veggies)coffee, tea and wine for toasting. We also always have a fruit compote drink. On the right in the picture is Natasha, my interpreter.

I originally was to present at one so the session I was in still had a little time. So I showed podcasting (as the presenter in the morning had mentioned it), the Schroeder student's movie of their TV studio and a little bit about Google Docs.

Time to move again. This time we visited the local College Academy of Agricultural Studies. They focus on a number of specialties including ecology, energy resources, information technology, video production and many  others. They also focus on agricultural specific topics. They have an area where they work with animals. The students are in charge of their care. I had a close encounter with a camel.

After a very nice dinner at the academy we were on the way home. It is already midnight and I am not in bed yet!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's Tuesday - I Think!

The days go by so quickly and we are so busy that it is difficult to remember what day it is. Today was the student Olympiad and the teams of students from different schools came to the Lyceum to participate in Information tasks. Each task was allowed fifteen minutes and the teams could take no longer. part of the time limit was to help them realize that different strategies are needed when time is a factor. They were involved with creating a brand and a slogan, researching and then deciding on the ideal education system, mixing a song, doing a scientific experiment, and others. Winners were chosen at the end of the morning. The students enjoyed it and seemed to work real well in their teams.

I have a presentation tomorrow so Natalya helped put together the Russian slides that will show on the screen at the same time as the English version.

We headed to the country to visit a school on the military base. Its quite large as it once housed 750 students and now there are five hundred there. On the way we crossed a canal that connects the Don and the Volga River.

I am hoping to Skype with Darin during my presentation tomorrow. We will see if it works.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Clean Clothes

Well, first of all, it is nice to have my luggage. I was able to wear my own clothes during the first day at the Lyceum. I was greeted with caravy (bread) and salt and a traditional dance with song. Upon entering the building some primary students were participating a a remote control car contest through an obstacle course. I spent the morning visiting many classes - geography class, primary physics class, English class for first graders, dance class, a class devoted to the study of local monuments, a demo of their distance education classes built with Moodle and a music class. The physics class was fifth graders that were learning about physics principles from their teacher and a high school physics teacher. Some of the older students had worked with the younger students as they studied principles of physics related to flying paper airplanes and constructing a workable parachute. Today was the final testing and there were experts (students dressed in graduation gowns as judges)that were testing the final products. They graded them on construction and the length of flight or time in the air for the parachutes. A winner was determined based on these qualities. The students were so excited as they watched the results(the same person always flew the model to keep the variable the same). I was so struck with the smiles and motivation of the students as they participated in all of the classes I attended. You could tell they enjoyed being there.

During the Moodle demo, they showed me a site developed by a math teacher that provides tutorial help for students studying for the math examination (sort of like our ACT). This site is accessed by 15,000 people a day.
In the afternoon we visited a museum in the countryside that showed the life of the Kozaks. It included a lunch of traditional food (soup, vegetables, a pastry with meat, watermelon, a sweet pastry and moonshine. The herb in the moonshine was thyme.
On the trip home we stopped at a market with many different vegetables and fruit. A watermelon was selling for seventy cents and a huge potato sack of different colored peppers was three dollars.

This evening I watched a production at the Lyceum put on by former students of the Lyceum. They all are involved in other careers but continue to come back and perform in plays. I found out they agreed to do one more production of this play because Natasha (embassy official) and I were in town. We got home about ten and Natasha, my host, showed me pictures and told me about escaping twice from the Chechin Republic (her home). It is a very moving story and helps me to understand how lucky I am.

The weather has been beautiful and the people are wonderful. Tomorrow I am going to be part of a team as we participate in an IT Olympiad. More to come......