Archive for December, 2008

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The last month of school…

December 21, 2008

In the UK the last month of school is a fairly relaxed affair – kids in 6th form and year 11 are off on study leave and doing exams and the others are all dreaming of what they will do on their holidays.  The reports are all done, work is pretty easy – just the last topics to finish off and gained time to do other bits and pieces in.  Not so in Markham.  ALL the pupils in all the years sit exams in the last month.  These exams are written in school, invigilated by teaching staff, marked in school and count as 50% of their grade for the year.  If pupils fail a subject they have to do holiday work and sit recuperation exams in the holidays.  If they fail a number of subjects in recuperation then they have to resit the whole year.  It is tense to say the least and we have to have the exams marked and reports written for all the kids by the end of the second to last week.  We then come in on the Saturday morning to decide which kids have failed and need holiday work.  We then have to write the holiday work and the recuperation exams (and markschemes) ready for the lasst week.  The last week is on a COMPLETELY different timetabe – you have one or 2 lessons with each class that you teach to go through the end of year exams.  The kids don’t really care – the work ethic here is not ‘where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time’ but rather ‘did I pass the year – phew!’ If they didn’t pass the exam they listen, but only so they can try and beg a few extra marks. It’s quite sad really!  The IB kids also do their ‘Group 4 project’ in 2 days of the last week – the work never seemed to stop!

Also the S3 (year 10) Tambopata trip happens in the last month.  I went for both trips this year and hence had a week less than everyone else to write reports and do marking.  The Tambopata trip is great, but exhausting – you are working from 4am – 10pm (sometimes later if the kids won’t sleep) without a break, including the weekends.  I did actually get a bit of a rest, but only because I got stung by a scorpion while putting my trousers on one morning and had to spend a day in bed, then a day on the sofa.  I was lucky – the last person who got stung by the same species of scorpion had to spend a week in hospital with their whole leg swollen and paralysed – the guide’s quick action helped localise the toxins to my foot so 2 days not walking and one more limping about and I was fine!

Back at school it didn’t feel like Christmas at all – all the kids were focused on their exams.  There were no christmas decorations, no cards, no presents, no games, no videos, no carol concert – it was very weird.  There was however a LOT of stress and grumpiness and a complete lack of communication which was getting very frustrating – there are a lot of new staff in science (including the HOD) and noone really told us what was going on.  The reporting systems in the school are sooooo complicated that we wasted a lot of time getting nothing much done working it out!

Back at the flat I woke up one sunday morning thinking I’d go and read my book on the sofa for a bit only to find myself splashing through the lounge.  I quickly realised that the neighbour upstairs had a broken pipe (or something) and the water was dripping through my light fittings and  ceiling.  Thankfully, once I’d got dressed and gone upstairs to try and explain, she sent the workman she had clearing up her flat down to mine.  The ceiling is still wet though, and starting to go mouldy.  The arquitecht has been and said that it could be another 3 months or so until it is properly dry (this was after he’d drilled a number of holes in the ceiling to let the water out faster!). Delightful!

There were, however, nice things to break up the stress.  The British Ambassador’s Christmas Party was excellent – the house and grounds were gorgeous with fairy lights and candles and the food was delicious.  A nice excuse to wear a skirt (although my legs were still covered in bites from the jungle!) and high heels 🙂  The last 2 days of school had no teaching, they were ‘Commendations assembly’ ‘Speech day’ and ‘Graduation’.  All formal occasions.  I was out by 10 minutes on the length of the headmaster’s speech too, so didn’t win the sweepstake (or the bottle of champagne the head donated when he found out what we were doing!).  We found out who the prefects and house captains would be next year (with some nice surprises) and which kids had won prizes etc.  Graduation is a very American like affair (after all it is only high school) but the kids love it – it starts at 7pm, the kids in LN or UB who have now finished their high school studies process in in caps and gowns with different stripes depending on whether they have passed or achieved merit, honours or distinction.  A lot of this depends on effort and conduct during the time at school and if they have been involved in extra-curricular things.  What is strange is that a lot of people there only applaud for their own child, and after that just have a bit of a chat with the people around them and stop listening.  What is considered impolite here is quite different to the UK!  After the ceremony was a cocktail party and a chance to say congratulations and goodbye to my UB students.  It did seem a bit weird to see them graduating when they hadn’t actually got their IB results yet…  

After the cocktails a number of the staff went out for a celebratory drink in a nice bar in Barranco.  Somehow we ended up in a ‘club’ nearby and wended our merry way home at about 3 am.  Thankfully we didn’t have to be in school until 1230 the next day…

The final day of school involved nothing but the ‘Headmaster’s Christmas Lunch’.  All staff were invited to the headmaster’s house where we found the garden transformed into something similar to a wedding marquee – tables set with lovely christmas decorations and waiters bringing round wine, cocktails and nibbles.  We then had a DELICIOUS buffet meal with turkey and beef, rice (well it is Peru!), and about 300 different vegetables  (that may be an exaggeration…)  I decided to forgo dessert (either lemon or chocolate cake of some sort) for second helpings of the main course – especially the carrots and onions (which were dripping in butter and honey) – Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Saying goodbyes was strange – a lot of staff are leaving this year and many others are going ‘home’ for the 2 month break.  I’m one of the few that are staying here without family  – I hope I don’t get too lonely (although I’m sure Marco won’t let that happen!).  I expect I am about to find out what a traditional Peruvian Christmas is like – apparently it all kicks off at midnight on Christmas eve (when all good English folk are at Midnight mass singing carols…)

All in all it has been a very stressful end to the year, but I now have 2 months off and lots to look forward to!

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2nd Jungle Trip

December 10, 2008

As a biology teacher you dream of being able to do decent ecology practicals. The chance to teach the entire iGCSE ecology module to the whole of year 10 in 9 days in the Amazonian rainforest is a dream come true. However taking 2 groups of 67 pupils to the rainforest is not an easy undertaking. Thankfully Harry organises most of it, although Peruvian logistics makes it more interesting. I am sure that if you were taking a school group through an airport in the UK you would have to tell them in advance and they would arrange for people to get you through check-in, security, airport tax etc. Not in Peru. Chaos comes close to describing the scene in the airport. Add into this ‘Peruvian time’ and things get VERY tricky. In the end, after waiting for kids to get out of Starbucks and dealing with many officious airport staff we made it onto the plane – but we had to run from security to the gate!

 

Composting

Composting

 

 

 

Our first flight took us to Cuzco where we stopped to refuel, and then we continued over the Andes to Puerto Moldonado where we were met by our guides and taken to the offices of Rainforest expeditions for a cold drink of aguaje juice before splitting into groups. The kids that did geography went to a place to talk about sustainability and we went to a ‘tierra de los niños’ run by a local school – it is basically an area of land that has been legally given to the kids from the school for them to run as they want. They have planted a range of gardens with local food and medicinal plants. We were doing a ‘service project’ to help them clear an area for their vegetable garden and paint the signs for the different things they were going to grow. Unfortunately they had very few tools and so most of the kids went for a walk into the surrounding countryside with the guides. We were also treated to traditional music and got time just to talk and play with the kids. It was good fun despite the suffocating heat and humidity!

 

Having fun

Having fun

 

 

We then met up with the geographers at the port and boarded our boats for the hours trip upriver to the lodge at Posada Amazonas ( http://www.perunature.com/pages/home_posada.htm ) which is probably the best lodge in the region.  I had a room to myself which was an unexpected luxury, but only because I was going to be there for the full 9 days and the other staff were only doing 5 days each.  It is an amazing trip.  Each day the activities start at 5 am (4am get up, 4.30 breakfast…), lunch at 1, afternoon activities at 2 pm, dinner at 7 pm and late activities at about 8.30.  The kids get to do all of the different activities;

 

After the rain

After the rain

 

 

Lake – visit an oxbow lake that is home to a family of giant river otters, where they get to fish for piranahs and learn about food chains.  A chance to have a swim in the river on your way back!

 

Sunset

Sunset

 

 

Birds – walk to the 37m Canopy tower and climb up to see what life is like at the top of the forest and then go to a hide overlooking a clay-lick.

 

The tower

The tower

 

 

Mammals – a LONG walk to a mammal clay-lick where they make wax casts of the footprints and look for other signs of mammal activity as well as learning about nutrient cycles, and maybe having a mud fight.

 

Dusky Titi monkeys

Dusky Titi monkeys

 

 

Insects – Walk to a GIANT kapok tree, taste some termites  and also use the capture-mark-release-recapture method to estimate the population of any ant colonies found on the way.  Also a chance to think about classification.

 

Attack!

Attack!

 

 

Ecology – Use various techniques to gather data (transects, quadrats etc.) and design their own research project as part of their coursework

 

Rhino beetle

Rhino beetle

 

 

Night insects – go and look at insects that come out at night attracted by a bright light placed in front of a white sheet

 

Assassin bug

Assassin bug

 

 

Night walk – a slow wander through the jungle at night looking for the telltale  reflection of eyes.  

 

Tree frog

Tree frog

 

 

Night Solo – 20 minutes alone, in the jungle, without your torch.  Tranquil or terrifying depending on your point of view…

Day solo – 20 minutes alone, in the jungle, in the daytime – peaceful time to just look at the life going on  around you.

 

Agouti

Agouti

 

 

Washing up – particularly for those kids who can’t be punctual, can’t use civil language, are far too lazy or are just being a pain!  Dishes from 67 students, 8 members of staff, 8 guides…  not what they’re used to in Lima!

 

The trip is just an amazing oppurtunity – I am so lucky to be able to go!

 

Funny fungi

Funny fungi