Sunday, April 13, 2008

Long Walks, Physics, and Rocks

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind. After school closed, I found myself teaching supplemental physics and math for some learners up until the day I left for Mpumalanga to partake in the Long Tom Marathon. After that, I headed north to the Blyde River Canyon for some backpacking before heading back to site to put on a one week science camp. There’s a lot to talk about so this could get pretty long, but I promise many pretty pictures to those who read. Click on the albums to link to the actual albums at picasaweb.

Please sir, teach us more

I spent most of the last week of the school quarter sick with some strange virus. I was finally able to get out of bed on the last day of school, which was a half day and so I went to work trying to take care of everything I’d had planned for the week. I was rushing back and forth between offices and classrooms when I turned a corner and found myself surrounded by about a dozen grade 12 learners. They asked me if I could help teach some physics and math classes over the break. Sure, I said, we’ll start on Monday. We must meet twice a day, and you must prepare some homework for us to practice, they demanded. Why not?

So for those of you who have had any experience teaching high school kids, this may seem like a tall tail so let me put this into context. In my village, there are roughly 100 kids in grade 1. My high school is fed by the primary schools and those in villages surrounding us for a 50-70 km radius. So all in all, wild approximation puts the number of kids entering grade 1 that would feed my school at maybe 250-350 kids. By grade 10, there are only about 110 of those kids left in school. By grade 12, that number falls to about 37. Of those, only about 40% pass the final matriculation exam each year. So basically, those grade 12 kids are the 1-2% of kids who care enough about school and their future to have stuck it out this far and they want to make all that time worth it by actually passing their exam. This explains why some of them are willing to do school work over the holidays.

We took our time and got back down to the basics. We worked on algebra fundamentals, fractions, and long division in math and basics of motion in one and two dimensions in physics. Then I was off to Sabie for the race.

Long Tom

Sabie is a beautiful area in the northern end of the Drakensberg range. It is covered by the largest man made forest in the world, all pine used for lumber and paper. Long Tom had two categories for the race, the half marathon (21.1 km) and the ultra marathon (56 km). The half started at the top of the Mauchberg mountain and went downhill about 1000m to Lydenburg. The ultra started in Sabie went up 1000 m to the top and then down 1000 m to Lydenburg. It’s kind of ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous is that two Peace Corps Volunteers ran the ultra and completed it. Ellen of SA 15 completed it in about 6 hours. And Adam B. of SA 16 finished in 4 hours 2 minutes, clinching 11th place overall and a silver medal.

I hung back and walked with a number of other volunteers, cheering on runners as they passed us. My knee was acting up a bit but we still kept a decent pace. That night, all the volunteers gathered and had a braii (bbq) and the SA 16 band, performed (with me on the bucket/trash can/cooking pot drums). Two of the PCVs parents were in Sabie visiting as well as a few volunteers kids. It was a lot of fun to meet them all and get a better picture of the people we’d come to know over the past 9 months (and apparently parents like to read all our blogs too…). We did an great job at fundraising for KLM. I was the second highest fundraiser overall bringing in about $1,100 thanks to your support and I also had the second highest number of overall donors with 16 donors. As a group, we shattered all records as volunteers and raised a total of over $20,000. Together we’ve made a huge impact in the lives of children through the KLM foundation. Thank you.

Blyde River Canyon

After the race, Kristy, Art, Adam, and I headed north to Graskop, on the southern end of Blyde River Canyon. Blyde is the third biggest and the greenest canyon in the world. Biggest is the Grand Canyon and second is the Fish River Canyon in Namibia (so I just need to take a week up in Namibia to have all three…). We stayed at the Valley View Backpackers which was great. We also learned that lots of people speak Sotho out there so we were able to communicate since Setswana is pretty close to Sesotho.

After a day of rest, we went on a driving tour to see many of the sites. There were lots of waterfalls named after European cities for some reason…

Blyde River Canyon

We went to the Bourke’s Luck Potholes where the Treur (sad) and Blyde (happy) rivers meet. Their confluence creates whirlpools which drill holes in the rock leading to some beautiful shapes. Bourke was lucky and found gold there. We threw a few coins in for luck since this was where our trail would end for our backpacking trip. Then we drove out to God’s Window to see the escarpment open up over the lowveld but apparently God was being shy and closed the window. (We went a total of three times over three different days, and all times were foggy). Afterwards, we headed to the trailhead and started our hike to the first hut.

the potholes

the rondavals

The Blyde River Canyon trail has two huts along the trail. They are equipped with toilets, bunks with mattresses, fire pits and wood. Quite plush. We had a good meal after cooling off in a nearby waterfall and went to sleep. The next day I was the first up, I stepped out of the hut and wiped the sleep from my eyes. I saw some logs on the ground. I thought to myself, Adam and Kristy must have made some picture or something before going to sleep. As my eyes focused though I realized they were letters spelling out “DIE”. At first I was a little confused and then it dawned on me. It was April 1. Adam, must have been pulling a stunt. So I decided to take it to the next level. I climbed onto the roof, dropping my cap and leatherman by the door and started making noise. Adam came out and saw my stuff on the ground. As he looked around confused, I reached down and pulled his hat off. He then accused me of writing out the message with the logs. I reasoned that it couldn’t have been me since I was the first one in that night and the logs were wet, suggesting they had been out overnight. He put on like it wasn’t him and for a while had me thinking it was Kristy. The next night though he came clean.

april fools!

finding the trail

The hike was pretty good. Not too strenuous, which was perfect after the Long Tom. It was kind of bizarre though because sometimes we would be within earshot of the road and we kept running across parts of the vast tree farms. We saw some dear and antelope and lots of baboons but wildlife was pretty scarce. The second camp was nestled among a bunch of rocks and we ended up spending the afternoon bouldering around. We were pretty wet since it had rained all morning and while trying to dry out our clothes on the fire, I burned my socks L but I had a spare pair. After we finished the hike up at the potholes, Marianne, who runs Valley View Backpackers, picked us up at Bourke’s Luck Potholes and we went back to her place. She made a tall stack of Dutch pancakes which were incredibly delicious. The next day we went to Sabie and then the next day started making our way back to site.

Tricked into Learning

Tsoe Science Camp 2008

Adam came back to Tsoe with me so that we could do a one week Science and Sports Camp. Our goal was to use hands on, explorative methods to teach basic science concepts and also teach some sports to entertain the kids over the school break. Learning some lessons from my last camp, I split the day into two sessions, mornings for ages 7-14 and afternoons for 15+. We had roughly 30 younger kids each day. We made volcanoes and dinosaurs from home made play dough. We went rock hunting and talked about the rock cycle. We played with springs and talked a little about waves. We made ant farms and talked a little about insects and the requirements for life. We played kickball and four square. All in all it went pretty well although I don't think I could be a primary school teacher. Those kids can be tough to handle sometimes.

For the high school kids, we did a chemistry exploration called mystery powders. We gave the kids 5 mystery powders and gave them 6 tests to do to try and figure out what they were. We then gave them some mixtures and they had to use their tests to determine which of the 5 were in the mixture. We gave the kids notebooks for their work and taught them how to write a simple lab write up. Almost every group was able to figure out the mixtures. The second day we did ecology with them. We went outside and tried to do some observations, using our lab books to record all observations. We tried to discuss some basic adaptations to try to get the kids to think about why things are the way they are. We had mixed results there. I was impressed though at the knowledge the kids had about some of the plants. They knew which things were used in traditional medicines and what bugs and things were dangerous for livestock. At least I learned a lot. The next two days we did a physics exploration on the nature of waves. We had four stations for the kids to explore. One station was a ripple tank with two Huygen’s sources and various barriers. One station was a slinky spring that they were to calculate the velocity of waves in through observation and through theory based on tension and density. Another station was to use a candle and paper to find the focal length of a lens and to see the inverted image. The last station was to use an assortment of glass shapes to see which made a rainbow and what the others did to images and then to use mirrors to reflect a light around the room. Overall we had pretty good results. The last day we had a test and most kids did well with our high scorer getting 90% correct. For sports we played kickball and basketball and the last day we had a 4 vs. 4 tournament.

rock hunters

By the end of the week, both Adam and I were exhausted but I think we can say it was a huge success. They kids learned, had fun, and got to use resources that were sitting around gathering dust. Maybe one or two will actually see science as something fun and interactive rather than a boring class that is all paper and work. One kid, Thato, told me, "I think you've done something good here. The kids thought they were playing but they were actually learning."

testing ideas

School re-opens tomorrow and I’ve already got a lot of things to do. Our computer lab is full of new computers, a computerized writing board, and a digital projector. We just need to get clearance from the group that donated it to start using it. My school was selected to receive 1,100 books through the Peace Library Project. Now I have to raise money through my school and at home to pay for shipping. (There’ll be a post just on this soon but if you can’t wait, you can go donate now at: ). I’ve got 4 school improvement plans to finish and start implementing and I’ve got committee meetings and trainings to go to. I’m going to try to continue doing extra math and science classes for grade twelve. I’m trying to start up a pen pal exchange with some students here and at home. And I’m trying to work with a few teachers that have asked for help in a few areas. We’ll see how the juggling act will go.