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Archive for July, 2010

Quiz (Thursday, 2010 July 29)

July 29th, 2010

Gave a quiz in each of 5e and 3e today. I ran off the copies on the laser printer here, which may not be feasible at post. I also drew up two slightly different tests with slightly different questions, to try to head off cheating a little bit. I also put the first question, question 1, as follows: "Check the checkbox." It’s worth one point. Not every student did so. It wasn’t even a trick, I didn’t put it above the name or buried in the instructions or anything.

One pair of students asked me during the test why their exams were different. I think this demonstrates both the prevalence of cheating which we’ve all heard about here in Cameroon, and also the lack of critical thinking I was writing about earlier.

Another student tried to cheat with a notebook, which she dropped when I noticed she had it. I put a red star on her paper just so I remembered who it was. She didn’t do very well even with the assistance. If you’re going to cheat, at least cheat well!

I have to grade the papers, preferrably tonight, so I can start reviewing stuff tomorrow and next week. I’m pretty far behind on the scheme of work, which is the list of topics I should be covering. My 3e students are stuck in numeric-base-land; I’d like to cover base 16 a little bit differently from base 2, which should be straightforward. After that I’ll talk briefly about ASCII and then I’ll call it a term. 5e still hasn’t grasped the idea of a cursor and it’s hard to get their attention; I’m thinking I’ll try to hammer the point home tomorrow when handing back the exams, and after that, whatever I manage to cover on the subject of Microsoft Word will have to do. And of course there’s the larger lesson, which is that there’s the final next week, so wake up, and any questions you have, now’s the time to ask.

Got a package from Gus today! I received: shoelaces, a collapsible spork, baking soda, a map of the US, ziplock bags, and even chocolate. Good times.

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Quitter (Tuesday, 2010 July 27)

July 28th, 2010

(N.B.: Quitter ("kee-tay") is one of the many French verbs for "get out".)

Camtel is in the process of selling me another key. It cost 45,000 CFA ($90 USD), plus another 1,000 for a blank SIM card. I will be picking it up today. This is most of them money I have "saved" to date. I will have to wait until the next paycheck before buying the next month of Internet access, or else forego eating.

Today was the best day I’ve had as an educator. My 5e class was completely and utterly disruptive; accordingly, I sent about 20 students to the discipline master. It was actually pretty interesting. You can really see the lack of critical thinking here:

  1. Student A is braiding Student B’s hair. This isn’t really allowed in class.
  2. Other students bring to my attention that Student A is braiding Student B’s hair. I glare at Student A.
  3. Student A meets my eyes. Then, as I continue to watch her, she moves to continue braiding Student B’s hair, but then changes her mind. Then she changes her mind again. In this fashion she eventually finds herself with her hands on Student B’s hair.
  4. I notify both students A and B that they are now entitled to visit the discipline master.

When I first got to class, three students were in the middle of having a fight — full-on physicality, including a headlock. Not my problem. See the discipline master.

But despite all of this, I came out of it smiling and cheerful. Why? No idea — possibly the fascinating ways the students behaved, possibly the fun of saying "You: bye!". Either way, I got to lunch feeling, as Timothy said, like a million CFA (approx. $2,000 USD).

In the clear light of day I think there must have been something I could have done differently. I started my lesson with a review of the lab class some of them had yesterday, but apparently not all of them had, because the teacher who was supposed to be there during one of the periods (was it me? I don’t think so, but who knows?) was completely missing. I would have thought those of the students who were so intent on asking me how to make corrections yesterday would want to know how to make them today, but not so.

At the end of the lesson I had about 30 students, which was much more managable, and they were pretty quiet, especially when I mentioned there was a test Thursday. Oops, should have done that at the beginning of class. Not like I know what I’m gonna put on the test anyhow.

3e by contrast was completely baffling. I gave them this assignment.

  1. Create a column of numbers from 1 to 100, as follows: put 1 in the first cell. Select all the cells. Select Edit->Fill->Series. Activate the "Progression" checkbox and then OK.
  2. Install a macro package, as follows: click Tools->Macro packages. Activate "Analytical macros". Click OK.
  3. Create a column of numbers which are the binary translations of the numbers in the first column, as follows: put the formula "=DECBIN(A1)" in the first cell. Choose Edit->Copy. Select all the cells. Select Edit->Paste.

Naturally, not a single person followed even one direction. Most of them copied the "sample table" I had on the board, which went from 1 to 6. Some went as far as to hand-fill numbers up to 100. Some even attempted to hand-translate their numbers to binary, getting as far as 12 (which naturaly corresponds to the binary "300"). I told them to erase everything and start over. I had to even demonstrate quickly on one student’s computer what I wanted. It’s not a 60-minute assignment — it’s maybe a 10 minute assignment for someone who has a little experience with Excel. OK, some of this can be chalked up to inexperience, maybe not having seen checkboxes before, stuff like that. But really, there’s only so much illiteracy you can forgive. Grr.

OK. Deep breath. The trainers have mentioned that here there is a "culture of literacy" which we Americans have and the Cameroonians don’t. I thought that was a crock of shit, and to some extent still think it’s a crock of shit. I think what you’re really seeing is a deeply-ingrained respect, I would say fetish, for hierarchy, which puts other people above papers and documents, combined with an information-poor environment, where the only way to learn something is to ask someone else. Naturally people don’t read because something someone else tells you is more important, and anything you read is bullshit anyhow. I am going to have to think thoroughly about how to encourage that to change a bit.

Does this dovetail with the way that nobody will explain me anything, and instead everyone insists on doing it for me? Not sure. Maybe people here just prefer to learn things from watching.

Last meeting we had for model school, Julia asked whether it was OK to have students bringing misbehavior to your attention, disciplining each other, etc. This gradually morphed into a discussion about the peculiar habits bred into the students here: standing when a teacher enters the room, standing up when asking or answering a question, and so on. It’s all to show "respect", but the more I think about it, the more I think there’s such a thing as respect poisoning, and this country has it. I don’t want my students to not look me in the eye and speak too softly to hear. I want them to think! I want them to do things I never would have expected! But then again, I guess that little girl who was braiding hair was doing exactly that, and I threw her out of my class.

Fuck, being a teacher is hard.

Lastly, gave myself a pretty sincere shock plugging something into the wall last night. Sat for a while wondering if I was alive, wondering why I wasn’t in more pain. Answer: rubber-soled slippers? My arm doesn’t hurt, it’s functioning and it’s not numb, so I guess I’m doing well.

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Neurochemical (Sunday, 2010 July 25)

July 25th, 2010

The party last night was themed "Middle School Dance Party". Sometime during the night I drunkenly misplaced my Camtel USB modem, which is a pisser but in theory not a crisis. If nobody finds it by Tuesday I’ll buy another one. I can afford it, even if I have to take $50 out of my USD bank account. So now I’m sitting at the "training house" and surfing the ‘net here.

Today is hard for some reason. There’s some anxiety in my heart that I don’t understand. Maybe it’s the neurochemical aftereffects of drinking so much.

We’re having a bumper crop of sick stagiaires lately. Typhoid, worms, and possibly other random crap. (No malaria as far as I know.) Everyone has been treated but some people are feeling better than others. Timothy is still working on getting better.

Decided to take some time to clean up my about page and change the theme for the blog to make the link to the about page a little more prominent. Opinions gratefully solicited.

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Everybody’s Feeling Good (Thursday, 2010 July 22)

July 22nd, 2010

Randomly happy today, and also yesterday. Some of it comes from talking to Gus online. Some of it was before that. It’s true what they say, that stage is a roller-coaster.

There are lots of things to be legitimately happy about. I am finally understanding a little bit about teaching. Example: today I reordered my lesson on binary, deciding that converting from base 10 to binary would be more useful to understand fractional numbers in binary than the other way around. Last week it wouldn’t have occurred to me that one of the operators I could use is "reorder the lesson you’re giving".

I think the real thing that makes the difference, though, is having a plan. Knowing that I’m going to my post as planned, knowing that I can apply myself to learn how to teach better (the way I have decided to apply brute-force-and-ignorance to learn a million other things here), knowing that I can find and study my weaknesses in French (which are: I tend to fuck up conjugating 3rd person plural; I tend to fuck up gender of nouns; I need to remember to use que and qui when introducing relative clauses); all of this makes me feel like I’m on solid ground, even if there’s lots I have to work on.

But maybe I should stop drinking so much, all the same. 4:30? Time for a drink! PC really does change you..

Oh, or maybe it’s the outfits:

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3881-rot.jpg

This is the Informatique pagne ("pan-yuh") which has writing on it as follows: "video club", "continuity girl", "je suis le show", "boy", "happy", "kartier show", which my host sister Nadege explains is Camfranglais for a location in the city where there is an impromptu party, with music and a bunch of people hanging out.

I’m also very proud of my 3e class, which contained a student that understood the following problem. Imagine, you’re trying to take the mean of two numbers, 18 and 18. The computer gives you 27.

  1. This is a problem, isn’t it? If you said "yes", you are already doing better than some of my 3e students.
  2. Why is this happening? The formula you are using is x + y / 2. That’s how you compute means, isn’t it?

It’s an order-of-operations error, naturally, and it’s pretty common when writing code. Someone who understands this is well on their way to becoming a kickass informaticien (wc?) because they understand the difference between what they wanted the computer to do and what they told the computer to do. I’m really goddamned pleased about this, and even more pleased that it was a girl who had the answer.

I just wanted to write once where I wasn’t in a trough, but for once at a peak, so that you know not everything sucks here. I know how to fry plantains! I can actually communicate basic things in French! I still have friends back home! Not everyone here is a tool! I’m not even deranged by the fairly large spider I saw in the bathroom last night! I thought, "I am going to have nightmares about this for sure", especially its sinuous movements, but actually nothing untoward happened. My host brother wants to listen to my MP3 player, so I set him on Bridges and Powerlines! That’ll learn you to borrow my music.

I made a life behind a mask
Just one more night
Then we’ll cross the border
Like a pair of spirits
In disguise

—Bridges and Powerlines, "The Thieves They Are Everywhere"

Aside: I am currently teaching a 5e and a 3e class. These symbols mean: cinqième and troisième, or, translated, fifth and third. Cardinal numbers in French are generally number + superscript e. In this context, they correspond to levels of school. The Francophone system, which is based on the French system, starts at 6e, sixième, or sixth grade, and descends year-by-year until 1er, première, or first, which is the second-to-last year. Afterwards there is terminale. Model school ends after two more weeks, and I have no idea what I will be teaching at post, so..!

Random other things: in French, I have many of the same verbal tics I have in English, including: "I think so", "I’m not sure", "a little bit"; "something like that"; "hey, what’s up? How are you?" as two separate questions. You can say "pendant on y est", "while one is there", which is sort of "by the way".

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Antivirus (Tuesday, 2010 July 20)

July 21st, 2010

Turns out antivirus is the same word in English and French. I discovered this while I was trying to load the software I had painstakingly downloaded onto the computers in time for clubs tomorrow.

The computers in the lab room here at the model school are already majorly fucked. How exactly they got that way is anyone’s guess, but probably some got something off of some USB key and some, which are actually connected to the Internet, probably caught something that way. IE6 or whatever. Naturally it’s bad practice to cross-contaminate, so after you put the USB key into one infected computer, you go back to the Linux machine to decontaminate. One really nasty system managed to corrupt the installers for the software. To make sure that didn’t happen again, I did a diff on the USB key after each system. Fortunately the installers have consistency checks, and they only failed on one system, so likely that didn’t go too far. Also awesome: shitty little *.exes that get sprinkled through your filesystem.

In theory we could download some antivirus software onto a key and use that to clean up a little bit. This was my assignment this afternoon. No luck for varying reasons, all more-or-less boiling down to the fact that antivirus would really like to have Internet access in order to update its virus definitions. AVG flat out refuses to install without a valid connection. Microsoft Security Essentials installs but lets you know it’s outdated, and refuses to do anything until it’s updated. As far as I can tell it’s not possible to download a virus signature database onto a key or anything like that, although all the help files are in French so who fucking knows? Avira is almost 30 MB so one hopes it has virus definitions in there somewhere, but on any given run from C|Net I only managed to get a 1/3rd of the file before running out of patience, so again who fucking knows. Broken OSes, viruses transmitted by USB keys, antivirus software that doesn’t work out of the box. I can’t believe any one of these problems exists, much less all of them in the same reality. Long story short: fucking goddamnit, people.

All of this really makes you wonder who wrote a virus that transmitted itself via USB key, why they thought this would be a good idea, and what the eventual payoff is. It’s not like attacking systems connected to the Internet, where if you 0wn them, you basically get an additional computer with an additional Internet connection. If you 0wn some arbitrary Pentium I in the middle of Underfuckistan, what do you have?

Today Claude came back from working "in the country" for a few days. He brought a cacao fruit and a citron, a little lime. When you crack open the cacao fruit, there are these white seed-ish things that you suck on. They have a sweet, citrusy taste. You spit out the seeds. I think the cacao nibs are found inside, and they get sold by the bag after they dry. Apparently you just can’t buy the fruit fresh, probably because of the value of the seeds. Too bad. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, I recommend it.

Been playing a little bit with my other laptop, the ZaReason Teo. It’s almost exactly the same form factor as my MSI Wind 110, but the hardware is more open-source friendly. Power it on and it walks you through the Ubuntu install, but it’s customized a little bit evidently because the machine is showing up on the mDNS network as zareason-teo. Cute. Hoping that goes away when I reboot. I named the machine jonah-hex, after this review on Tor.com with the teaser, "It’s like a drinking game that hired actors". I have high expectations for this machine, but I think I’ll probably be satisfied. Some things are already nicer on jonah-hex. It’s running 10.04, whereas the MSI Wind, who is named joker, is stuck perpetually in 9.10, which is 6 months older, and can’t be upgraded because of the finicky video driver. In general 10.10 feels a little snappier, and UNR is basically the same, no real changes.

Also interesting: turns out you don’t need usb-modeswitch — I plugged the Camtel key into the freshly-installed laptop, and after about 20 seconds it just disconnected itself and started over as a modem. Hmm. Need to tell Timothy, who’s had no end of trouble with the damned thing.

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Du courage (Monday, 2010 July 19)

July 20th, 2010

Andrea gave me a pep talk today. Not Andrea the trainee, but Andrea the current volunteer. Her basic point: some days teaching sucks, sometimes it’s awesome. Give it a year or so. See what happens. If you’re still miserable, there’s no shame in flunking out of the Organization.

I just have a hard time seeing myself doing this for two years. Maybe if I was teaching "higher level" stuff, but today I taught a lab class on how to type capital letters, and how to use compose keys to put circumflexes and umlauts on vowels. Frankly, there are people better suited to do this than me. The nationals here are pretty good teachers qua teachers. What’s the problem?

I’m not sure exactly where Andrea got the idea that I was going to flunk out right away. Sure, I think about it all the time — every couple days or so. I miss home. I miss my friends, I miss Gus. I miss a world that made sense to me. I don’t really love teaching, and don’t see what it gets me to learn how to do it. But everything else is awesome — I love the food. I love the people. I love talking to strangers. I generally love using another language all the time.

Drunkenly drew a bucket of water today. Every time I do this in the dark, I worry about falling in. Actually, change "in the dark" into "drunkenly". I stopped at one (bucket); there’s enough water for tonight. I don’t want to be a statistic. Weaved my way back to the house. Fortunately, it’s dark, so no one can tell whether I’m weaving blindly or weaving drunkenly. Some little girls advised me not to draw water in the dark because you could fall; hopefully they can’t tell either whether my French sucks because I’m white or because I’m drunk.

Andrea noted that it’s hard with emotional connections at home. Even when you take her statement at face value, it’s true.. and it’s not just having a girlfriend, it’s having friends who you’ve known for a dozen years. It’s having an aged family. It’s having been at home for far too long. It’s "Missing You" by trash80 and "Streets" by she.

Dreamt last night of a con somewhere in another city, whose streets I was wandering. (Somewhere in Canada?) Some chick (an old friend?) was interested in me, kept sending me SMSes which I read on a bizarre ancient black-and-white PDA thing. (An iPaq?) Woke up confused, looking through my mosquito net at daylight out the window and parsing it as a doorway in another room. Got out of bed at 7 AM with less than an hour to get to school. The other night I heard a noise like someone trying to open my door, but it could have just been the electricity shutting off. It’s 11:30 now and I think I need to go to sleep.

Heard word today that yes, I will be going in fact to my post. I guess they need me enough. Jenny is being treated for both malaria and some random bacteriological infection, and seems well enough. Julia came down with something but doens’t seem to yet have a fever.

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Téléchargement (Sunday, 2010 July 18)

July 18th, 2010

Downloading stuff to throw on the lab computers before next "club" time on Wednesday. So far I have:

  • GIMP
  • Dr. Python
  • Dia
  • Firefox
  • Tuxpaint
  • Graphcalc (Windows-based graphing calculator program)
  • Celestia
  • Audacity
  • Blender

Surprisingly, all of these have Windows releases, even Tuxpaint. I’m grabbing Tuxmath and Tuxtype too but those are more "game-y" and so might not fly as educational software. (Similarly GCompris.)

I would ideally like to provide also some documentation, preferably in French, for the above programs. I spent about an hour or two trying to come up with a way to mirror the Blender wiki pages in French without grabbing all the other languages. Gave up when I realized I couldn’t automatically scrape the <![if IE 6]> links. So they get nothing except whatever internationalization/documentation the programs come with. Think of it as an applied version of the OLPC principles.

Today’s been a nerdy day. I also spent a little while trying to understand what I have to do to make my two laptops talk over wireless without any other equipment. Neither of the wireless cards can do "Access Point" mode, so it’s gonna be "Ad-Hoc" networking. Tested with my N900; no luck. Caught myself planning a lesson yesterday, realized I was basically planned up until Wednesday because of the lab sessions I have, and rejoiced a little. Guess I have enough time to do all the homework I want.

Also: today at the well, a little girl asked me "S’il vous plait, chargez-moi". "Charge me?" I thought she meant to add water to the bucket, but she meant to help her put it on her head. Charger can also mean "to load", after all.

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Well (Friday, 2010 July 16)

July 16th, 2010

Congratulations everyone for finishing the first week of model school.

I have been complaining a lot about all the things I have to do — and I do have a lot more than I actually want to do, but right now I’m not doing any of them. Tomorrow I want to go shopping. Sunday is laundry. I also need to create some lab work for 5e on Monday (J-P is running one of the classes), and some lessons for next week (3e: binary; 5e: output devices). Language classes tomorrow, including a "competence" on the hospital. And the most annoying is the program-wide "homework", which includes interviewing locals about religion, which is the social equivalent of pulling teeth for me. Fact is I could be working on any of those things right now, but fuck that. Julia mentioned beaching herself on her bed like a whale, and I’m not excited about that either (because my sheets are getting really ripe), but fuck being productive. Was thinking about breaking out my "other" laptop, the one I impulse-bought before coming here and still haven’t run, but haven’t gotten there yet. Instead I’m browsing Wikipedia articles on African languages, which could theoretically be related to work I have to do.

But what I’d really like to talk about today is wells. I’m not an expert in the subject, but I’ve brought up a few handfuls of buckets of water so hopefully I have something to share. Of course, I’m learning, as I have elsewhere in life, that I tend to think I know more than I actually know, so much of the things you read here will be vastly incorrect. Suck it up.

The word we use here to describe usage of a well (fr: puits) is puiser, or "to draw from". You can also puiser l’eau from a forage, which is basically a pump with a really deep straw. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the usage, but I think in English you "draw water" from a well. The process has two parts: usage of the well, and carrying of the spoils.

To actually get water out of the well, you first go to the well. Most of the wells here are open and, although surrounded by stone, built into the ground, not at waist height like you might have seen in the movies. To get water out, you need a dipper, or some other container that can hold water. If the well is public, a plastic bucket will probably be there already, with a cord tied around the handle. You need to drop the bucket into the water, but the plastic is lighter than the water, so if you’re not careful, the bucket will just kind of float on the surface of the water. I’ve seen three major techniques for handling the bucket:

  1. Drop the bucket until it’s just above the surface of the water. Then, flick your wrist and release the cord. Ideally, the bucket will be 90 degrees rotated when it plunges into the water, and will take on water fairly fast. If you aren’t very good, it will be at an angle and take on water slowly.
  2. Invert the bucket before dropping it — face it completely down. Somehow the air gets forced out fairly easily and the bucket becomes full, unless it gets some English on it and then who knows what will happen.
  3. Plunk the bucket if it has a bit of water in it but isn’t filling rapidly enough. Lift the partially-full bucket out of the water, and then drop it back in.

You can generally see when the bucket is full. Now, haul it up. This is an art. Generally I’ve seen people use long, sure strokes to pull the bucket in a few hands. The hole to the well is generally narrower than the well itself, so you’ll have to be careful when you’re navigating the bucket out. Then, you empty the contents into your bucket, which you brought for this purpose. Rinse your bucket first. If your bucket is big, you will repeat the above procedure until your bucket is full.

Now you have a bucket full of water! Good job. Now comes the hard part: carrying it.

  • Naturally you can carry the bucket in one of your hands, but this will render you massively off-balance. If you are feeling daring or want to integrate, you can try putting the bucket on your head. Something sloshy like water is going to require hands to steady, but generally carrying things on your head is easier than carrying them in your arm, because your arm and hand will get sore pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I find that I spill more water when it’s on my head, because it’s harder to judge equilibrium, so I carry it in my hands. I’ve seen people make a fist with their other hands and rest them on their lower back. Not sure this helps.
  • Now, walk back to your house or wherever you want to take the water. Walk slowly (fr: "doucement"), especially on inclines. You’ll probably overfill your bucket and spill a lot.

Lately I’ve decided to draw two buckets of water each day after school. That seems to cover my bathing and toilet needs (half a bucket for bathing; a bucket for toilet). The water goes in a bidon, barrel, that is kept (uncovered) in the bathroom. Today I drew three, which also helps to cover someone else, in case anyone else uses it. I get home out of breath and sweaty. Another trainee said, back in Yaoundé, "I am gonna have such guns after this", but consensus seems to be that you probably won’t, somehow. Plastic clothing is best for this activity, because the rope tied to the bucket is always dirty. Try not to step in the mud that is created by the water you spilled, because you will get the house muddy.

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Blowout (Thursday, 2010 July 15)

July 15th, 2010

The 5e class at model school is full of little assholes. They’re rowdy. Maybe it’s because there are 52 of them, which isn’t even that much by local standards. Anyhow, I spent my whole lesson stuck in a tarpit of something I shouldn’t have been trying to teach and disciplining students. I think the two are related, actually, but everyone else who’s taught cinquième thinks the same things I do.

But fortunately, since I only used 10 minutes of material, I don’t have to plan as much for my lessons tomorrow! Every cloud has a silver lining.

Some random things.

  1. A moto can carry another moto. I’ve seen it.
  2. There is a tennis court here. People even use it. They aren’t very good.
  3. Crashed a Pidgin lesson today. Pidgin is a language spoken in the Anglophone part of the country. It’s a fun language, but basically not well-studied.
  4. Rose mentioned to me Ethnologue, which has a page for the language spoken here, which is nevertheless not very helpful.
  5. A shirt a few days ago on one of the students. On the back, the words "Professionele Jiegdoplieding". It’s not uncommon to find people here, especially kids, with clothing that has other languages on it.
  6. Pictures.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3836.jpg

This is the path that goes from my host family’s house to the "base" for training.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3837.jpg

This is the path that goes the other way. Looks pretty developing-world, doesn’t it? But if you climb a bit:

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3838.jpg

You’ll see there’s a paved road here. On that paved road..

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3840.jpg

Is Claude. And further..

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3843.jpg

Brooklin Salon. I’ve wanted to take a picture of this place since I first got here. It’s a hair salon, basically, I think. Not sure what will happen if I ask for the "Ché"..

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3848.jpg

Tennis court. Not a great action shot, but the real action didn’t come out well.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/wpid-DSCN3857.jpg

Vladimir’s shirt. "JE SUIS 1 SUPER HEROS", or, translated, "I AM 1 SUPER HEROS".

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Contact with the enemy (Wednesday, 2010 July 14)

July 14th, 2010

I’m fairly certain I don’t have enough material here for the two lessons I’m giving tomorrow, but I’m hopeful and frankly I just don’t want to do any more work. There just isn’t enough time in the day, and I’m fairly certain that would still be true if I hadn’t hit the bar with Allison and Peter to talk strategy.

I haven’t really had any classes since the last time I wrote, but the lessons still reverberate. There are a few other things we’ve discussed:

  • different tactics for getting the students to actually generate responses — although that might be a challenge, since I’ve also seen students refuse to even read things that are written on the board. But, for example, telling the student to put something in cell C2 and seeing whether they can successfully indicate the cell named.
  • Excel (or any spreadsheet in general) is actually a pretty useful tool to teach someone, because it’s useful even without a printer, and it’s actually a fairly general tool that lets people do a lot of "semi-programming". It can be useful to manipulate data and can save you time even if you can’t sortir ("go out" or "bring out") the results. Whereas a word-processor requires you to be able to print things or else it’s basically useless; a letter that never leaves your computer can’t be sent, almost by definition.
  • Allison used a competition in her class to encourage the students to participate. Divide and conquer. Only problem: too much noise. I guess we’re walking a fine line.

I am hoping to cover in my class the mistakes made in the lab sessions earlier this week. That’s kind of a potpourri in 3e but should dovetail nicely in 5e with the lesson I’m going to teach about the different "areas" of the keyboard and what the different keys do. I’ll be able to talk about Verrouille Majescule (Caps Lock) and why you shouldn’t use it, and why it’s better to mix capitals and lowercase, and how the cursor works. And hopefully next lab, the students will be able to do something more interesting than write a sentence.

Time sure flies. The week is already half over, but I still feel like I’m stuck in Monday evening. Only 26 more months amirite???

Speaking of lesson plans and how they never survive contact with the enemy, today we talked about the Organization’s contingency plans. Basically they devolve into two parts: make sure we can be contacted, and be aware of how to get to the collection points. There are three basic actions here: stand fast, consolidate, and evacuate. We just need to be ready to receive directions to do those things in case that happens. There’s an election in February, and that’s kind of touchy for the Organization; they’re keeping an eye on things "just in case".

There are a few other topics I would like to talk about, but none of them are really resolved. Me and Peter "ran" the first meeting of Informatics Club today — here, school gets out early on Wednesdays so there is time for "clubs", which are nominally academic — but it felt kind of vague and undirected. Some students worked on classwork they didn’t understand; some messed around with email and stuff (only 8 computers were connected to the ‘net, or else they all would have done that). But a lot looked bored. Me and Peter are gonna install Gimp and whatever other software we can think of on those machines; hopefully that’ll pique their interest a bit. Peter also had the idea of having a "suggested activity" on the board in case the students do get bored and want to feel accomplished, but not making it mandatory.

My first bottle of conditioner ran out today. I guess that means I need to start looking at local products. This both upsets and kind of excites me. Jenny got sick today, but according to me it’s probably not typhoid; she probably has the test results by now but I haven’t spoken to her yet to know what it is.

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