Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anouncing a change in venue

Yes, the Slow Boat has headed for warmer territory, and is now anchored in the Gulf of Thailand on an island named Koh Kut near the Cambodian border.  No pictures as of yet, and nothing that we've done that's incredibly different from previous trips that we've taken to Thailand.  We're doing many of the things that we did last year - watching the kids run around on the beach, eating yummy street food, looking at piles of disassembled automobile transmissions near our favorite hotel in Bangkok... Traditions are traditions, after all.

And some new experiences as well, including the first Thai transvestite vampire movie that I've ever seen (shown on a bus while the kids were asleep - try seeing that on Greyhound!)  As per usual when the Slow Boat is in ports elsewhere, more details to follow as internet connections and my personal whims and motivation dictates.  Enjoy your Januaries, everyone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Mathemagical Awesomeness that is Vi Hart

Here at Slow Boat's main shipyard, we (and by that, I mean "I") have been doing a lot of thinking about education lately.  (Hmmm, could it be related to the next direction I want to go in my life?  Crazy, huh?)  As a result, you just might be seeing a few education-related thoughts, videos, or links crop up here from time to time.

And speaking of education and awesomeness, what better place to start than Vi Hart?  A rare mix of mathematics, creativity, music, art, and humor, flavored with a healthy dose of girl power awesome.  Here's one of her latest videos. If you haven't checked her site out, be prepared to park yourself in front of the computer for a while to check out her past videos as well.  Bring the kids!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lessons learned while falling


Last spring, I was headed off to one of my freshman classes that I had been discouraged with.  They were fine talking with each other, but when it came to talking out in class, they just wouldn't do it.  "What was missing?" I asked myself, and the answer came very clearly; Trust.  You can read and write by yourself, and you can listen by yourself, but when you speak a new language in front of others, you need to trust the people you are making yourself vulnerable in a certain way, and placing your trust in the people you are speaking to. So how to start talking about trust, in a foreign language, in a way that would possibly be understood?

Hearkening back to my oh so many days as a camp counselor, and in church youth groups before that, I immediately thought of a trust fall.  A bit cheesy, perhaps, but essentially simple - one student stands on a table or desk and falls backwards into a group of eight or more other students.  As long as the person falling keeps their legs and back perfectly straight, it is totally safe and easy, as the weight of the person falling is distributed among so many people. Ah, if only I could get my students to do a trust fall... but no, I didn't think they'd go for that.  Not when saying an English sentence in front of twenty students was too difficult for them.

All that to say that thirty minutes later, I ended up standing on a desk counting slowly backwards from twenty with a panicking cluster of fifteen of my students behind me, all freaking out because they were quickly realizing that I was indeed going to fall backwards into them when I reached zero.  Which I did, and quite safely, too.  In fact, it worked so well (aside from a very elevated heart rate on my part) that I went on to do the same exercise in all my other classes last spring, and in all of the classes that I taught this fall as well.

So, after doing this a few times, and giving my students a chance to write about the experience a bit before discussing it with the class (giving my heart rate time to come back to normal), here are a few things that I learned from the experience:
  • Trust is very surprising to people.
  • There is often a big difference between perceived risk and actual risk. (In other words, we usually think a given activity is riskier than it actually is.)
  • Making yourself purposefully vulnerable is a very powerful act.
  • If you are going to embarrass yourself in public, do it memorably.
  • It's necessary to continue to push boundaries - others' perhaps, but mainly your own.
As this new year is now coming in, it occurs to me that this year more than most will be a year of closing my eyes and falling, both backwards and forwards, for us, as we finish our teaching contract here and look for the next steps to take.  New situations, new jobs, new risks, and most of all new opportunities.  Here's wishing you all an exciting, risk-taking, challenging, safe, and happy 2012!