Russian Alphabet flashcard app by www.hamdouchi.com

Russian Alphabet flashcard app by http://www.hamdouchi.com

It’s our back-to-school-week, as well as my back-to-learning-Russian week. You may be wondering why I’m learning Russian instead of Azeri, the official language of Azerbaijan. Isn’t Russian outdated in this part of the world? Isn’t Azeri the language of the Azerbaijanis’ hearts?

My answer is really simple. I have 13 students in my class. (I was blessed with one new student this week so I now have four girls named Leyla in my class! But I will save that story for another blog entry.) The majority of them speak Russian as their first language, and the ones who don’t can understand many Russian words. So guess who was the only one who couldn’t speak a word of Russian in class?

Also, most Azerbaijanis can understand and speak basic Russian. It will also give me access to a bigger part of the world, including–Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, to name a few.

After a month of being in Baku, I made an effort to learn the language. I downloaded a couple of apps and hired a tutor. I was able to learn the alphabet, but after a few weeks, I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed. There are too many words to memorize. The words have soooo many syllables. Gender? Russian has three genders for their nouns? You’ve got to be kidding me! I need to memorize all these words before my tutor comes!

So like most frustrated students, I quit.

Thankfully, I have friends who have encouraged me to get back on the learning wagon. I also admire them because they’re making an effort to learn a new language by putting in quite a few hours per week. For now, I’ve decided to make my own curriculum using my resources and to practice speaking whenever I can.

Here are some of my decisions and methods to help me learn the language.

This an iphone app called 50 Languages.  I'm not sure if I would recommend this or not because I have yet to maximize this app.

This an iphone app called 50 Languages. I’m not sure if I would recommend this or not because I have yet to maximize this app.

1. Invest one to two hours per day learning the words. I do this when I have breaks in school and in the evening.

2. I’m learning the same words that I teach my students. This week we learned about the people in our school community and three-dimensional shapes. Since the words were relevant to me, I was able to remember them more easily.

3. I’m now focusing on words that I can use in everyday life. I downloaded this app called The Spacing Effect. I don’t recommend it because the audio that I paid for doesn’t work (so I have to check the words’ pronunciations through Google Translate) but the app propagates a learning philosophy that matches mine. I’m learning words like, “I want”, “How do you say…” and “chicken”. The app also doesn’t encourage drilling. Instead, I learn the words, and then the next day, the words come up again, and if I get it right, it will probably come up again a few days later so it gets stored in my long-term memory. If I don’t get the word right, it will come up again the next day. This releases me from the self-pressure of memorizing too hard which leads me to frustration.

The Spacing Effect app for Russian.  I don't recommend this because the audio I paid for doesn't work.

The Spacing Effect app for Russian. I don’t recommend this because the audio I paid for doesn’t work.

4. I’ve stopped worrying about grammar. My goal at this point is to express myself in Russian. Grammar inhibits that so I’ll save it when I’m more confident about my speaking skills.

5. I’m applying my knowledge of speaking Russian whenever I can. In school, in restaurants, in stores.

I want to connect, slowly.

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This is the third book in the Hunger Games Series, and I’m afraid, not my favorite. But not because the plot or characters weren’t compelling. I just found myself feeling low in part 3, which is appropriately entitled The Assassin.

The book started out well enough with Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, waking up in District 13, an underground rebel District in the fictional country of Panem. She discovers that her mentor Haymitch was working closely with President Coin, the rebel leader. Katniss also discovers that she was a pawn all along in the war between the Capitol and District 13. The fact that she symbolized the Mockingjay gave people hope and a reason to rebel against the Capitol, which exploited the other districts and mistreated people.

Katniss is once again reunited with Gail, her hunting partner and love interest in the Hunger Games. They are very much alike because both of them are warriors that are driven by their anger and hate. They train, plot and fight together, as well as fight each other. Peeta, Katniss’s love interest in Hunger Games and Changing Fire, was tortured in the Capitol, his mind warped with fake memories that lead him to almost murder Katniss because he believed that she was a propagator of war.

The love triangle between Katniss, Gail and Peeta magnifies in this book. At one point Gail declares that Katniss will eventually choose the one she can survive with. This is my favorite part of Mockingjay, and perhaps the whole series. In the end, Katniss does choose one of them, but I won’t tell lest I spoil it for you. The unconditional love that this man shows for her in spite of the fact that she’s damaged, moved me to tears.

But alas, the love triangle is not what Mockingjay is about. Propaganda is described in an entertaining almost reality-type-show way with the costumes and scripts and characters who play directors. The mind games and power struggles mirror real life politics.

Towards the end of the story (and this is why the book depressed me) many of the main characters are depicted as traumatized war victims that are beyond repair. Images of booze, drugs, unkempt hair and incoherent mumbling pervade these last chapters. The symptoms of damage and trauma hit too near to home for me. I originally read this story to get back on the reading wagon. For entertainment. As an escape! But instead, I found myself relating to the pain and trauma that uncontrollable circumstances, such as war, can bring.

Did the book end with hope? All I can say is it wasn’t the Hollywood ending I was craving for.

In her acknowledgements, Suzzane Collins writes–“Special love to my late father, Michael Collins, who laid the groundwork for this series with his deep commitment to educating his children on war and peace.” I couldn’t help but think that I wish I were a middle school teacher using an interdisciplinary approach. This is an entertaining book that could be used as a springboard to deeper discussions on actual case studies of war, their causes and impact. I’m sure that adolescents will find the setting and characters compelling enough to transfer the concepts they learn in Mockingjay to analyze wars, and perhaps choose peace, should they one day find themselves in a position to do so.

Dripping with passion!–a phrase that best describe the people I worked with today, a phrase that used to describe me, and words to describe what I hope to get back!

My morning started off with a visit to Fazlani L’Academie Globale to attend an IB Asia Pacific regional visit. These visits usually focus on the diploma programme, which isn’t my area of interest. But today, Mignon Weckert and Kathy Derrick, PYP (Primary Years Programme) regional managers who are dripping with passion! when it comes to learning and the PYP led more than half of the meeting. PYP Coordinators from all over India flew down to Mumbai, and the kindergarten room we sat in was charged with excitement, burning questions, and a passion for teaching students! It’s good to be in the company of like minds.

When I returned to school, the fifth grade teachers pulled me into their room and we put our five heads together to try and come up with statements to help students build on their inquiries and conceptual understandings. Yup, I know a lot of jargon. Let it suffice to say that we pondered on concepts, words, learning. It was very much like trying to solve a puzzle.

Time stopped. Nothing mattered outside the four walls of S’s class. Nothing mattered except student learning.

That’s why I’m in education.
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I was very impressed with the art work in Fazlani. The focus was more on expression and creativity, rather than technique, which to me, is the purpose of the art. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Fazlani's first grade students created this ostrich to communicate awareness on the ill effects of junk food.

I’ve been working in international schools for the past eleven years and International Day is always my favorite special event. Yes, I know that we have to get beyond flags, food and festivals, and focus on culture, diversity and other concepts. But still! I don’t mind being thematic even for just one day! I love traveling to classrooms that represent various countries. I love tasting diverse flavors. I love the colorful costumes, fun games and awesome dances. I love it when parents help out and participate! Hope you enjoy viewing these photos as much as I do! 🙂

Students representing South Africa!

The path to Sri Lanka

Love it when parents help!

South Korean fans inspired by their flag's colors

Indian artifacts!

More Indian artifacts

R's child representing Sri Lanka

Can't get enough of Indian artifacts!

Posing by the Hall of Fame stars in Seema's class which respresented the US of A

Cherries are a common fruit in Norway

A year and a half ago, I scribbled this tweet–

I had only worked for five months in my current school that September, and my goals as a curriculum coordinator were very clear: to invest in the professional development of teachers and to obtain international school accreditation.

We got our accreditation (PYP authorization) last December! And I promise to tell that story in another entry.

So going back to that late September in 2010, right before our pre-consultation visit from the IBO, I remember thinking that I can’t rush this process. Together, as a school team, we needed to break the soil and build a good foundation. By that I mean we needed to be clear on our educational philosophy and what practices we would use to live out that philosophy. So much of our hard work for the past years have been to unpack key words from the International Baccalaureate mission statement, the guiding principle of our school. Here are two paragraphs from that statement–

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

As a leader, I always believed that the best way to teach is to model. I’m hoping that those are the seeds I’ve planted with the people I work with. I strongly believe in the IBO mission statement, and I hope I have modeled being an inquirer, knowledgeable and caring. I hope that I’ve respected the culture of the people I work with as well as shared a little bit of my own. I hope that it is apparent that I don’t know everything and I am still learning along with everyone else. I also hope that I have at the very least, listened to various perspectives, and shown that I’ve valued them.

These are the seeds I hope I have planted, my investment, not through my words, but through my actions.

My latest line which I know makes me sound like a broken record when I speak to the teachers I work with is–That’s why my investment is in you!

Many of them already live out the IB philosophy and I’m hoping that they continue to collaborate and be inquirers, knowledgeable, caring, open-minded and authentic, not just to the students but to each other. That’s how I’ll know that I’ve been successful as a leader.

So, it’s my last six months in Mumbai, and writing is definitely helping me transition to the next chapter in my life. It is also the end of a season, and I remember Pastor Joey saying–Never fight the seasons. Embrace them.

Here’s a poem from Ecclesiastes 3 that helps me embrace whatever season I go through–

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

That September in 2010, that was the time to plant.