Friday, September 30, 2011

Riddle Me This

Second graders this week had an easy time of it after their exams, just playing word games and puzzle type things, including some riddles.  One of the riddles is

The more you take, the more you leave behind.  What is it?

The answer is supposed to be "Footsteps" and the wordplay is on the word "take".  I walk around the room, looking at my feet helpfully, and someone usually guesses it pretty fast.  But today, someone said, "Girlfriends."  I had to concede that is a correct solution, but far too cynical for a seventeen-year-old to have.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Time Over

My school has been doing mid-term exams during the last week, which means to me arriving at school at the usual time (7:45), sitting around until about 10:30 and then calling it a day.  I have more or less created and/or updated my teaching materials for the rest of the year.  The weather has been quite spectacular--if on a few days deceptively warm--so I have spent as much time as I could dining al fresco and otherwise soaking it in. 

Today at about leaving time, I run into another member of the English Dept. and he sighs: "Well, as teachers our happy time is now ended."  We go back to full time teaching tomorrow, and we have one holiday between then and sometime in December--and that holiday is next Monday, Oct 3.  This is a terribly long stretch without a break, something like nine weeks.  On the plus side, I will have some fun units to teach in that span, like the movies unit, the toy convention, brands and advertizing, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Bonus Product:  Yesterday as I was walking home, I passed a street vendor of the sort that lays a bunch of junk out on top of a blanket on the sidewalk.  It's virtually unheard for me to buy anything from these guys, but I found the product I've been seeking, the multi-interface, flexi-handled backscratcher. Probably a bargain at oh cheon won, but I got it for sam cheon!

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn is Here

In the last few days, the weather has changed--unsufferable heat and humidity gone, mild, breezy days with temps in the teens to mid-twenties in their place.  A change so sudden and complete it's almost as if someone turned off a giant switch somewhere.

Of course, the calendar would say it is so, since the autumnal equinox occured on September 23, but things aren't usually so neat and precise.  And sadly, if the last cycle or two is anything to go by, autumn won't be around for very long before winter comes along full-fledged and dumps a thick load of snow on top of us.

So here's to enjoying it while you can--get out and about doing outdoorsy things: go see a ballgame, play in the park, insist that your favorite restaurant set up a table for you outside.  That's what I'll be doing, so come on over and join me, have a piece of chicken.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Like Sports!

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Recently I attended a baseball game at Munhak Stadium in incheon where my Heroes faced off aganst the SK Wyverns. The scores are best left unmentioned but the idea that diversity shines here was less than illustrated by the guy that said to Nick, in passing, "Yankee go home." (Well, okay, Nexen lost 3 - 6 but had a really good shot at it in the seventh.) The original plan was the outlay of extra cash--usual price for a ticket 8,000 to 12,000 W--for the "table seats" but Nick gathered a sufficient crowd (10) to order up a "SkyBox", a long ways down a creepy hall:
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...with only six seats outside to serve ten people. It's not like we invented the idea that this SkyBox was for ten people, it says so on the ticket (350,000 / 10 people = 35,000 W). We were--all ten of us--good sports about it, and the rest of the crew posed magnanimously for this photograph on my new iPhone:
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I cannot recommend going this route, however: 1) it's too small for ten people; 2) the view of the game is fine but not amazingly spectacular; 3) the idea you get freebies in your SkyBox is all wrong; 4) even when you try to order out for food and beer the phone DOESN'T WORK. I guess I'm glad i had the experience but it wasn't all that. Though they did have a special "Wyverns" beer:
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...but it turns out it was only Hite with a decal wrapped around it!

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On Sunday, I went to Sangam World Cup Stadium to watch FC Seoul host Busan I'Park. This is a great arena in which to watch a match. Alas, the team has done so well of late (winning the title last year) that many Seoulites have jumped on the bandwagon. The upshot is that it's much harder to find a good seat in general admission than it used to be. Still, I got an aisle seat (next to some English speakers) at the bottom of the upper deck. The view was basically like this:
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The game, as FC Seoul games usually are, was awesome! Busan scored just before halftime despite FCS's overwhelming possession; Seoul evened up on a corner kick batted around in the box and then earned the 2 - 1 win in the 90th minute. Two of three goals, if I even have to say it, Big Five ones! Anyway, I apologize for continuing to be such a poor blogger, at least in terms of frequency .... I hope the quality at least has not suffered.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chuseok Reading List

  • Old Man's War by John Scalzi - My friend The Stumbler lent me this book, which turned out to be a very good mix of hard sci-fi and battle action. In Earth's future, we have begun to colonize the galaxy, where we encounter other colonizing species, often interested in the same finite number of habitable planets. To recruit manpower, the Colonials offer new bodies--superior, genetically-modified, nanobot-enhanced bodies--to elderly humans near the end of their terrestrial lives. They fight in the Colonial Army to protect colonists from vicious alien lifeforms in the hope that may one day retire to a colony themselves.
  • On Speaking Well by Peggy Noonan - Noonan is a superb poltical speechwriter, for Reagan, the first Bush and others, who unfortunately can't put aside her political leanings long enough to make a valid point about speaking well. With the exception of Teddy Kennedy's eulogy of his brother Robert, every example of a good speech is by a Republican, and every bad speaker is a Dem. Her overweening lesson is that every speech should be simple, every point simple, every sentence simple. Of course, she lives in a simple-minded world--she's a conservative. Okay, that's a cheap shot, but she likes those, she makes enough of them.
  • Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler - A story from Britain's "Peculiar Crimes Unit", in which fallen celebrities are being murdered by someone dressed as a stand-and-deliver Highwayman. Meanwhile, the PCU's boss is hoping to get the two aged chief detectives of the unit to retire, but following the law of unintended consequences, the Home Office is moving to shut down the entire office. This is one of a series, and not the first one, but that didn't really impact my reading enjoyment--the characters were lively and interesting, the crimes quite mysterious and the denoument surprising but suitable.
  • The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg - Juvenilia about four sixth graders who make up their school's Academic Bowl team, and kicking butt over seventh and eighth grade teams throughout the county, the district and the even the state. But mostly it is about the events of the summer preceding their sixth grade year, and about how the four became friends once school started. The structure is quite interesting, as we meet one character, then that character meets the next, who meets the next until we know all four. Charming but not too deep, and a Newberry Medalist.
  • No One Will Hear You by Max Allan Collins - Riveting, non-stop action and creepiness in what may become a classic of the serial-killer genre. JC Harrow is a small-town sheriff who has come to fame as the host of an "America's Most Wanted" style show called Crime seen! His team of forensic experts and criminologists have a problem on their hands: a pair of competing serial-killers who want to become famous on Crime seen! Meanwhile, JC is becoming a bit too fond of the lady detective from LAPD assigned to the case. Complex characters, clever criminals, perfect pacing and a show-biz backdrop make for a one-sitting read.
  • Confessions of An Economic Hit Man by John Perkins - This book is abut corporatocracy's insane and ultimately self-defeating march to global empire, and the author's somewhat overstated role in it. While I think the nuts and bolts of this account are generally factual, I don't buy 100% into Perkins's overarching theme that the purpose of the IMF and World Bank is to enslave lesser developed countries by way of overwhelming debt obligations for their infrastructure problems. Further, he fagellates himself incessantly about the part he played in corporatocracy's march to global empire: he was an economist, who habitually inflated projections in order for his accounts to get bigger, more lucrative projects, and thereby saddle the poor, dumb LDC with a loan that was more impossible to repay. Perkins has had an interesting life, but the conspiracy in which he was engaged strikes me as rather ho-hum.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Chuseok iPhone

Chuseok is a three-day Korean holiday roughly equivalent to American Thanksgiving--it is the autumn harvest festival. This year's festivities run Sun., Mon., and Tues., and many schools, including mine, ad Wednesday as a travel/rest day, so I don't have classes again until Thrsday, Sept. 15. Sunday is also the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US. Very far from cool. In other news, my bank recently gave me an international credit card--very handy for traveling or setting up iTunes accounts. I've never had the need for an iTunes account ... though I do now because I just bought an iPhone 4.
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It pretty much looks just like that, though I put a few of these things called "Apps" which is apparently short for "applications" (which those of us in the know know is what we should really call the "programs" on our computer), which is what I needed the iTunes account for. One really sweet "app" is called "Seoul City Metro" from JC Multimedia Design. First, it can use the iPhone's "location" feature to figure out where you are and give you a list of the all the subway stations within 5000 m of where you are. It has an interactive map, and for each station it displays the entire train timetable, putting the current time you're looking at it front an center. It even knows if it's a holiday. You can give it a begin and end station and it calculates the route and time. Much better than my old phone's map, though I didn't have to pay for it. I also put on an app that is a Korean-English-Korean dictionary. It is quite good and even has a pronounciation feature! Unfortunately, the pronounciation seems to be only for English words ...It is from "Cole Zhu, Inc." If you know a better one, drop me a line. Done below where it says "Comments".

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Argument for Streaming

I have not been a very good blogger of late, and for that I do apologize to my regular reader. I do have a few reasons/excuses, just as a preamble to today's post:
1) Nothing big to blog about of late, things have mostly trod along on an even keel;
2) School and job-related activities have picked up, what with school going back into session, my extra class for Nambu district requiring some evenings and most of Saturday;
3) Other projects in the sitting at the computer and writing vein, having reduced my will to continue at the same for blog purposes.

And here we are again; nothing much to report, except I had a bit of a fracas with one of my co-teachers last week. As background, let me remind the reader that one of the key classroom management techniques I use here is "the stopwatch", something suggested by Dave Deubelweiss during my initial training by SMOE--so it has the imprimatur, as it were, of my employer. We have fifty minutes of class; when class begins, I start the stopwatch, and when the stopwatch (a big red one with one-inch digits) reads 50:00, class ends. If students won't stop talking, are misbehaving, egregiously off-task, etc., I stop the stopwatch (beep) until they get back to what they should be doing.

Another management technique I've picked up is the "exit pass" or "exit check", where students have to show they completed the written work before exiting the classroom; my co-teacher and I each cover a door and mark them off as they leave.

One of my co-teachers has a tendency to leave class either right at ending time or even a few minutes early. On Wed., he left so early he didn't know I was doing an "exit check" (this is usually only done when a class is not being diligent), putting me in the position of checking all forty students' work alone, and making some of them late for their next class. Unfair.

I happened to catch him in the hall on Thursday and mention to him that he left early, leaving me to do the check alone, etc., etc. He said, he needed his break time before the next class, that he thinks I should only follow the bells, and he recommends that I not use the stopwatch method.

I pointed out that this was the technique I had used since coming to Korea, and no other co-teacher had suggested it was a problem, what was ...--

He said, he could not adjust to my teaching style and if I had anything else to say, I could say it to the Principal! He walked off, leaving me to marvel anew at the psychic treat that is the passive-aggressive.

We co-taught three periods together all last semester, I asked him for his comments and suggestions on my lessons on several occasions, he has my email and phone number, but never once made a suggestion or comment. We were to teach first period together the next day, so I went round to his office when I arrived at school, bearing a blueberry pastry and a bottle of OJ from Tous les Jours. I asked if there was a time we could get together to discuss the problem he told me about, since after all we have practically a whole semester left, and I wanted to make sure he knew how important his contribution was ...

So we sat down after first period and I asked him to help me figure out what we could do about the issues. His only problem, at least that he is admitting to, was not following the bell schedule. I pointed out that since the construction of the new gym outside my very windows, we could no longer hear the bells anyway, so I used the classroom wall clock as a guide.

I asked him to consider the teaching situation from my point of view: I have no power over my classes. If I use the discipline techniques that other teachers use, I could easily be deported for assault. I do not assign grades, and the conversation that is the key aspect of my teaching is not even covered in testing. Just about all I have is to make them stay after class a few minutes when they misbehave.

I agreed with him that yes, it is an inconvenience to the co-teacher, but no more than it is to me, and the whole point of it is to be an inconvenience to the students. Hopefully, they'll remember staying after class and losing their break time, and won't repeat the behavior that led to that outcome.

Besides, I asked, more or less rhetorically, how often have I kept a class late? It's pretty rare, he agreed. He also agreed that he was displeased with his students' behavior in my class sometimes, but he could not stop it. The problem is, he explained to me, while I choked on irony, is that some students are able to get along perfectly well in my class, but some of them do not understand anything I say. They are bored and act out. Wouldn't it be better if each class has students of similar ability?

I sighed. Yes, yes, that would be better.