Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My days in Delhi

The morning arrives early again. The “Good morning Mr. Shay” wake-up call is no longer pleasant.

Today is a VERY big and exciting day. We are going to the school of our partner teacher till Noon. We are to meeting with students and teachers, observe classes, and Chhaya has asked me to teach her 12th grade class some Inverse Trigonometry!

Brad Fox, a middle school science teacher from Fallbrook, CA, and I are going to the same school. Though our driver gets a little lost on the way, we arrive there in plenty of time. As we walk in, we see students in uniforms and running around like most students do before school starts.

We begin our morning by meeting with the school principal, Mrs. Guliani (no relation to the former mayor of NYC). We spend the first fifteen minutes speaking with the principal as well as our partner teachers. At 7:30am, we go to the morning assembly. Every morning, the school has an assembly. The school is a K-12 school, so all the 6-12 students line up in ranks to hear the morning announcements. The assembly begins with a prayer, followed by a pledge of allegiance. Afterward, a group of students perform a traditional Indian song and are followed up by the “best man” yelling commands. These commands remind me of military commands where students assume certain positions. After the commands, two students ready some stories from the newspaper and another student reads a brief book report on the author Dan Brown. Another song is played and then a boy reads a story and asks about 5 questions. For each question, a student runs up to the stage and speaks the answer into the microphone. After one more song, our partner teachers introduce us to the assembly. They read our Fulbright biographies and ask us to say a few words to the school.

Though this show was a little bigger and longer than a normal morning, I am utterly amazed that the school gathers every morning, in quiet orderly ranks (sorted by grade and gender). Their respect and admiration for teachers is already quite apparent.

After the assembly, we go back to the principal’s office to continue our conversation on education, students and curriculum. The principal is truly an inspiration: she has been to the US many times, visiting schools and attending conferences. She is well versed in how our schools and India’s schools are alike and different. (Speaking with other teachers in their group, they had principals that were less than impressive.)

I watch Chhaya teacher 2nd period 11th grade math. She is teaching them about relations and functions, though from an entirely different point of view than how we teach it. She begins by working with sets and defining the cross product of two sets. She continues by discussing subsets, and defining a relation as a subset of the power set (lots of math that most of you reading don’t care to know about). This elegant approach is truly fascinating and I wonder how this approach would work in our schools.

Her class was also a breath of fresh air (though the room is not air-conditioned, so there really was no fresh air). The students were very quiet and attentive throughout the entire lecture. They raised their hands when they had an answer, and stood up to give the answer. The students were quite adept at reciting definitions and doing fast math. Very few students seemed to take notes in their notebook. There was absolutely no chatting or goofing off in the class. She never one called on a student by name.

After about 20 minutes, Chhaya invited me to the front of the class to speak with them about America and education. They had many questions: are their uniforms, is it competitive, what do you think of India, why are you at our school, are there board exams, is there homework, is your maths different than ours, etc.

Each period is approximately 35 minutes, and they have 8 periods/day.

3rd period was spent observing 10th grade. The students were quietly working on an activity where they were cutting a rectangle out of a paper, folding it into a cylinder and finding its area. The activity was very different than one in the US because the teacher was going through the process by writing an outline on the board and calling on students to fill in the details. For example: Outline, Concept, Materials Needed, Process, etc. It was run like a science lab, students were expected to fill out each part of the lab identically to their neighbor, though each student cut their rectangle to be a size of their choosing. After another 20 minutes or so, I was invited to have a Q&A session with the class.

4th period was my time with the 12th grade class. We began with the Q&A, though there questions were a little more sophisticated, focusing more on the board exams, college entrance exams, competitiveness and school culture. After about 15 minutes, they requested me to teach them about inverse trigonometry. Chhaya started them on the idea of inverse trig already, so I reviewed it a little and then started doing some more advanced problems involving the inverse property and principal value of a trigonometry function. They different were interactive and interested in the class. When I started to ask more advanced questions though, I noticed they made the same type of mistakes as my American students would make (in particular about the principal value type of questions). Most of them knew their unit circle trig, Pythagorean triples and trig IDs off the top of their head…which is pretty standard for seniors in America, too. Though when I gave them some tricky problems, that involved critical thinking skills, only one student figured out the answer in the same time limit that all the other students gave me a common wrong answer. After giving them a good hint, they quickly figured out the answer.

After the lecture, we had more Q&A time, photo time, and a gift exchange between Chhaya and myself. The kids just couldn’t get enough of talking with me about American kids…they are very concerned, interested and competitive.

That afternoon, we went to the National Science Center, which is much like one of our science/technology museums in the states…though much older. It’s unfortunate that their national capital has a science museum that is rather dated and has many broken exhibits. On the plus side, they had many fun and interactive exhibits, much like in San Francisco’s Exploratorium. After wandering in the museum for an hour, we met with its director and discussed how they operate and what they do.

Our last full day in Delhi before we travel about India began much like every other day. We headed to USEFI for probably two of our best meetings: the first one was with a man who runs an after-school tutoring center and the second session was with 5 students who are in their first or second year of college in Delhi. Both of these sessions were wonderful as they helped shed the light on what is really going on in India’s school.

Most student in the science track take after-school tutoring for hours a day. The national board exams, given in 10th and 12th grade are VERY competitive. Success on these exams will place students in certain high school and college tracks. Scores of at least 90% are necessary to enter into the science track or competitive colleges. Nearly all students who want to get into very good schools (or into science tracks for 11th and 12th) take after-school tutoring at a center. Also, students who wish to enter IIT (India’s Institute of Technology: probably the BEST school for engineering in the WORLD) need to take an additional exam in 12th grade. This exam is not at all aligned with the curricula of high school, so students attend tutoring to learn these concepts so they can score well enough to earn one of the 1000 spots at IIT.

The panel of students was also very illuminating, as they helped us to see the real pressures and desires of India’s youth. Most of these students were in the Commerce track (business, economics), which is one “level” below the science track. These students were very bright and motivated and made it very clear that they did not have to work as hard as the science track students, who slept on average 4 hours/night!! They all had a tremendous sense of civic pride, none of them wanted to study outside of India, or if they were, they intended to come back to India after earning their degree.

The afternoon ended with a little site-seeing and shopping. We went to FabIndia, basically a Target of India. I purchased a couple shirts and a pair of pants! We also went to Ghandi’s Ashram in Delhi, which is where he was assassinated. The museum and ashram were lovely and showed his final steps before being martyred. After visiting the Ashram, we went to the India Gate, which is a large war memorial, built for WWI, and now used to commemorate all veterans of India.

We left Delhi and headed to Kolkata (Culcutta), taking Jet Airways (which is basically like United). The flight was wonderful, though oddly enough, we had to board the 737 using a staircase, rather than the gangway that most airports have. We arrive in Kolkata with not difficulties and are quickly on our bus to the hotel, the Oberoi Grand, yet another 5-star hotel…I’m sure getting tired of this treatment! =)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

two more busy days....

The morning of July 6 came too soon for me. Fortunately, I have been sleeping through the night, though many of my colleagues seem to be waking up at 4am. Breakfast was again a magnificent American and Indian buffet, full of eggs, French toast, hash browns, as well as tasty Indian treats whose names, as well as flavors, are complex.

After breakfast, we went to USEFI for a full day of meetings. We met a panel of three experts in Math and Science education. These people have been at the forefront of creating the national syllabi and textbooks used by my schools in India. The session was 2 hours long, though not nearly enough time to answer all the many questions that we all have.

Following that panel discussion, we had a meeting with Dr. Pawan Sikka, one of India’s renowned scientists and educators. He spoke about India’s scientific revolution since it was formed in 1947.

The meetings are very informative, though we all seem to not be used to sitting and being lectured to for hours on end….not to mention the severe jetlag that most of us still have.

We had lunch back at our hotel, though this time we ate at the Chinese restaurant. The food was top-notch, and according to many guide books, it’s some of the best Chinese food in Delhi!

After lunch, we headed back to USEFI to meet our partner teachers. Part of the requirements of this program is that we will be paired with a counterpart in India. We are to develop a curriculum unit with their guidance and support. My counterpart is a wonderful woman who teaches math: Chhaya Sharma. She teaches upper secondary math (grades 11 and 12) at Kendriya Vidyalaya Sector-4. The Kendriya Vidyalaya (or KV) schools are national schools that follow the national standards. All KV school in India follow the same daily syllabi. These schools are Government Schools (what the US would call Public schools) and are considered some of the best government schools in India.
Chhaya and I spent hours together, discussing math, teaching, pedagogy, education philosophy and Indian culture. I have been learning so much, yet I still have many questions for her.

After our meeting, we were all whisked away to the Red Fort, one of India’s major landmarks. The Red Fort was built many years ago, before the English showed up. The design elements remind me very much of the Forum in Rome. After touring the Red Fort for an hour or so, we made the trek to dinner…

We walked down the major road out of the Red Fort and bee lined it to McDonalds. Though most of us did not want to eat there, our guides informed us that this restaurant is really the only one around that we would be able to tolerate. The road itself was a major eye-opener. Up to this point, most of our time in India has been spent at our hotel (which is 5-Star), our gated USEFI compound, and in the air-conditioned bus between the two. The road we walked on (though it was only for about 2 blocks) was the real India. There were many beggars, wild dogs, street vendors, homeless people and septic smells from every corner. It was very overwhelming. Though not all of Delhi is like this road, we were all (including the seasoned travelers among us) overcome with the abject poverty and conditions of this part of town.

After dinner, half of us stayed for a show in the Red Fort, where various buildings were lit up as music and the story of it’s creation and uses were told over the loudspeakers. Sleep did not come soon enough.

We had an extra early morning on July 7. We boarded the buses at 7:30 to go to Humayun’s Tomb. Humayun was the second Moghul ruler of India (Sha Jahan, who build the Taj Mahal was the fifth). His tomb was a beautiful example of the Moghul architecture, which is full of arches, symmetry and geometry. The gardens surrounding his tomb were also lovely and different than the gardens we typically see in the US.

We left the tomb for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). This organization is much like our national Department of Education. They make the national standards for all subjects, as well as syllabi, curricula, pedagogical suggestions AND textbooks! Their materials are made available to all 26 of India’s states to either adopt or adept for their needs. We met with a panel of math and science experts. Our panel is in charge of creating all these materials, standards and textbooks for math and science. We had so many questions that we were late getting to our next meeting. I requested that we visit them again when we return to Delhi in August.

After meeting with the panel, we were led to their bookstore, where we purchased their resources. I bought every math textbook from grade 6-12, as well as many reports and resources for a total of 1045 Rupees…which is equivalent to about $25!!! For those who don’t know, a single mathematics textbook in the US costs about $76-100.

After shopping, we went to the Center for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT). Their goal is to incorporate more of India’s culture into school. There, we met with a panel of experts on religion in Indian society. We had a representative of Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Christianity and Judaism (the Muslim was unable to attend). Each speaker first talked about the state of their religion in India and then answered many questions from our group.

After the panel, we went to their theatre for a lecture on Odissi dance and to see a performance of their traditional Indian dance. The dance was truly magnificent! Two sisters, one in 11th and one in college, danced 3 pieces for us while their Guru (teacher) explained meanings, movements and costume. There was a 3-piece band accompanying them (drum, violin and a traditional Indian instrument). After the dances, we had a question and answer period with the group! It was a very magical night.

Back to the hotel and not nearly enough sleep….again….

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sorry...been tired....update on Austin and day 1.5 of India

Hello again!

First, allow me to apologize for not updating any sooner than now. I will be making updates regularly at this point on.

My adventure began in Austin, Texas on Jun 30. I arrived mid-afternoon and was whisked off to our hotel, The Homestead Suites, in Downtown. I met the 15 other math and science teachers right before we went to dinner at Clay Pot, an Indian Restaurant there. I look forward to getting to know each of them more over the next 5 weeks together!

The next morning, July 1, we awoke early to go to the South Asian Institute at UT Austin. There, we had 2 full days of meetings with authorities on the economy, politics, language, religion, caste and class systems, sexism and education. It was to VERY full days of being introduced to all the complexities of India’s culture and life.

Dinner that night was on a river boat cruise. It was a lovely evening of chatting and getting to know my colleagues better! I was also voted to be the group leader for our journey in India, so I will be the main source of contact between the people organize our trip and the team of teachers.

On July 2, we had more meetings, as well as an early Texas BBQ Dinner. We then went to Bat Bridge, which is the Congress Street Bridge, where each night at dusk, hundreds if not thousands of bats fly from their home under the bridge to get dinner. It was truly amazing.

Our big journey began on July 3. We left our hotel at 8:30 am and eventually boarded a small plane in Austin bound for Washington Dulles. After waiting in Dulles for about 3 hours, we boarded a rather large plane for Frankfurt, Germany. After waiting four hours there, we boarded an even larger plan for Delhi, India. We arrived in Delhi at approximately 1:30am local time, which was about 31 hours after we left Austin. The flights were long as well as the layovers.

The rest was truly magical.

After receiving our bags, we were greeted by our handlers from USEFI (United States Educational Foundation in India). They gave us each a small bouquet of flowers before we boarded our bus for our hotel, the Hotel Taj Mahal. Our hotel greeted us with a full 5-Star welcome! All their employees were on hand to greet us as we walked inside. We were led to the lovely bar area and were honored by receiving a Bindi, or red dot on our forehead. We were also given mango juice as our bags were unloaded and our rooms were sorted out. After much fanfare, we headed to our rooms to clean-up, unpack and get a nap before July 5 officially began. By the time we went to bed, it was nearly 4:00am.

About half of us decided to get up early (9am) and have breakfast, so as to force our body to adjust to the new time change. The food and service was impeccable. Four of us then decided to go for a brief walk around the neighborhood before we had to meet for lunch at Noon. Lunch was another spectacular buffet. The food styles and flavors were amazing and delicious. At 1:30 we were picked up to go to the USEFI office for our inaugural sessions. We had about 3 hours of meetings, followed by lunch and then another hour of meetings. Again, the topics of the meetings were about the educational system of India as well as more of its history, art and culture. That night, we also had a reception held in our honor at USEFI. We were all terribly tired, but we managed to make it through a long afternoon and evening of activities and work.

I’m tired…more updates tomorrow….

Friday, June 13, 2008

The first blog

Hello and welcome to my Blog!

The intention of my blog is to describe my summer's adventure in India. This past February, I was awarded a Fulbright to spend the summer in India. I will be travelling with 15 other math and science teachers from accross the US to learn more about India and her education system.

Just yesterday, the high school I helped to create, Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, had their first graduation. It was moving, emotional and exciting.

I now have two weeks to get ready for my 6 week adventure in India, as we leave for orientation on June 30!