Sunday, September 14, 2008

My research and how you can help me continue it

The paper I am writing about my experience in Cambodia now has a working title, "Using Information and Communication Technology to Improve the Quality of Primary School Education in Cambodia: How the Internet can Help Cambodia Train its Teachers, Improve Grade Promotion Rates, and Produce Better Cohorts." It sounds complicated, but the concept is simple: it is a look at how ICT, specifically the Internet, can help Cambodian teachers to improve themselves and therefore make them better teachers, producing better students. And that, my friends, is a one-sentence summary of a 35-page paper!

For those who have never tuned in to this blog, here is some background to get you up to speed. This past June, I worked with primary school teachers at Wat Bo Primary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia, teaching them how to use the Internet and email, among other things.

I would like to return to the Wat Bo Primary School in the summer of 2009 for at least two weeks to do more research and continue where I left off. I need to show the teachers the Interactive English Language Lab software I built (we simply ran out of time before) as well as a host of other things, such as where to find teaching materials on the web. I would also like to provide the school's teachers with a printer, so they can produce output for the children such as worksheets.

I need your help to go again. I saw another person who raised over $4000 for her work in Cambodia through ChipIn, so I decided to give it a try myself. I am trying to raise about $6600, here's my budget. Here is how I am doing:

For more information about me, or my goal to help the teachers of Cambodia improve the quality of the education they provide, or to see the detailed project budget, see the special web pages I set up for it. You can also contact me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To My Students (Wat Bo’s teachers)

To My Students (Wat Bo’s teachers),
I had a lot of fun in Siem Reap. Your gifts were very kind. The shirt, the scarf, and the Apsara dancer statue were all very nice. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I miss you all very much. Please tell your students, the kids, in the English classes that Mr. Tom says hello and misses them, too!

I appreciate all your email letters. It is a good way for you to practice your English. Keep your messages coming. I like getting messages from friends.

This is me, at my desk in my office, getting back to a 'normal' life.
A few of you have asked about my job. I work at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia (America). For my job, I build web pages on the Internet. I am including two pictures of me at work for you to see. The first one is me at my desk, and the second is me working with Ruth, the Assistant Webmaster. Together, we are a department called Web Services. Ruth deserves a big “thank you.” Without her running the department while I was in Cambodia, I would not have been able to leave my job to teach you about email, and the Internet. This is me talking to Ruth. Ruth deserves a huge thanks for running the department while I was abroad.
My job is at a school, but I do not teach students. I am part of the staff that makes the school run, like the Director and Vice Director at Wat Bo. Also, Tidewater Community College is a college, which is different than Wat Bo School. At Wat Bo School, you teach students in kindergarten through grade 6. Tidewater Community College teaches grades 13 and 14. From Tidewater Community College, students can go on to University, or grades 15 to 20 and beyond.

I told some of you that I am a student studying at University. My University is the College of William and Mary. I am studying for a master’s degree, or grade 18. I will graduate in December of 2009, hopefully!

Dr. Don Rahtz, my professor, handing out bread at the Shinta Mani Village. He wanted to be certain the two oldest ladies in the village were fed.The College of William and Mary, and my teacher Dr. Don Rahtz, are who you should thank for buying the Internet connection for Wat Bo School. The Internet connection at Wat Bo School costs US$ 150 per month you know! It is very expensive, so be sure to thank Dr. Don and the College of William and Mary, too.

Also, you asked about my dog. I told you all how much I missed him. You know my dog is like my son! I posted his picture here so you can see him. His name is Caesar. He is three years old. I had him since he was a little puppy, just 5 months old. His birthday was 30 June. I was with you in Cambodia then, so I missed his birthday this year. It is okay. We celebrated it this weekend.
This is my dog, Caesar
Keep practicing using the computer. If you have questions, see Tong So Chea! He can help you because he is very good at computers. You can also email your questions to me.

Do not forget that I showed you how to chat with me, so in the morning in Cambodia (between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.) you may see me online in the Yahoo! chat. We can even try to video chat using the web cam I set up for you.

I hope that I can see you again someday. Please take care of yourselves, and stay in touch with me.

Kind Regards,
Tom Feist

A bit about my return and my final blog entry

Sorry it has been a while since my last post. After I left Cambodia, I went for a week-long tour of northern and central Vietnam. That tour was not part of this course, so I will not cover my Vietnamese adventures here.

No sooner had I shaken my jet lag, but I caught a cold. I am sure glad my health held out until I got back! In any event, I am finally coherent enough to collect my thoughts for my last entry.

My final entry will take the form of a letter to my students, or the teachers and staff of Wat Bo who I taught to use the computers. Yes, I am aware the letter is written in very elementary terms: simple sentences, simple concepts, and simple language. I had to remember my audience—they are just learning English, and do not understand how our educational system works. I wanted to write a note they could comprehend.

The lesson traveling teaches: “Why do you…?” versus “Why don’t you…?”

Me and our guide in Kompong Kleang. It is through his brother that Ponheary is able to purchse brand new bicycles for only $40 for the children who graduate and want to go on to secondary school.When traveling, fortunes change on a dime--and, ironically, some of those fortunes-gone-bad end up costing small ones! Traveling encourages you to keep an open mind.

More importantly, traveling opens for you--if you allow it to--a wider perspective on life. With this new perspective, you more often softly ask “Why do you…?” to seek understanding than boldly blurt “Why don’t you…?” to belittle. This wider perspective teaches you to appreciate differences and embrace rather than shun them; to stand back and simply say “huh,” while admiring a different technique rather than to scorn and accuse someone of doing something “the wrong way,” or “not how I would do it.” Finally, the wider perspective encourages you to less often use the extreme descriptors “right” and “wrong,” and more often use a subtler descriptor--“different.”

Me riding on the bow of the boat in Kompong Kleang, so I could get a good view of upcoming shots. The trade-off was it was in the beating sun, but the hat really helped a lot more than I thought it would.
Enjoy a couple of photos of me taking photos, being a tourist, and otherwise absorbing the Cambodian culture.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

“Tank yoo, tea-chea”

Practicing the -sh sound, here with the word fish.
This entry comes a few days late, because I am now touring Vietnam and have a very tight schedule. Nevertheless, it's better late than never.


Today, I took a break from teaching of the teachers. It was time for me to give teaching the students another try. My first short experience was so exhilarating that I was nervous with excitement. I taught four hour-long sections, one each of third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Since the teachers were all familiar with me from having attended my internet classes, it was a smooth experience. They were all comfortable to just take a seat and let me lead the classes.
Without seeing the word, kids had to recognize a color and point to it on the board, and say it out loud so everyone could hear.

I brought candy to reward the students who tried hard. Since many of them are very poor, any type of food is a tremendous motivator. Noting that their texts are complicated and sometimes irrelevant, I created my own lessons—one about colors, and one about special sounds. The colors were aimed at the younger children, and the special sounds aimed at the older ones. The special sounds lesson I built with some basics, and as I noted other letter difficulties, I adapted it for each class.
We played a game where I showed objects and they had to call out the name of the color.

English pronunciation is very difficult for Asian mouths, particularly the “l” sound, as well as “x,” “z,” “sh,” “f,” “th,” “thr,” “b,” any word that ends in “s,” and others. I worked with the older children on these difficult sounds, and they were riveted. I transformed their “feesch” to “fish,” “powpo” to “purpule,” and “bock” to “box.”

Here, we are matching the color to its name on the board. If I look sweaty, that is because I was--it was at least 85 degrees in the classroom.
For the younger children, we worked on colors. First, I showed a flash card with a color on in, and worked with them on the pronunciation. First, we said the color
names as a group, then I called on them individually to come up in front of the class and practice it where I could hear them better. They all sang along in unison and it was evident that they were all trying very hard. Next, we played a color game. I asked them to find objects in the classroom that were the color we were More pronounciation practice. The word blue was esy for them, and there was no shortage of volunteers.saying. They had a hard time understanding what I was asking them to do, until the teacher explained in Khmer. To each child who found an object that was green, yellow, orange, red, black, brown, pink, etc. I gave a piece of candy. They were so excited about the game that we actually went past the bell in my first two classes.
Here, I am working with kids individually, practicing the words. For their effort, they were rewarded with a piece of candy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kompong Kleang

A family of kids watches us walk by. This happened frequently, as they don't see tourists often here in this remote village.
Today a few of us took an excursion to the floating village of Konpong Kleang. It is Cambodia’s biggest floating village, with a population over 10,000. What an awesome time we had! The people there don’t see a lot of tourists, and they were very curious and very friendly.

So what is a floating village? Houses on the “mainland” are connected to a dirt street, which is nothing more than a big pile of clay soil. Other homes, stores, and even schools, float on the water. You see, the water level of Cambodia’s central lake, the Tonle Sap, rises 30 feet in the rainy season. It is just the beginning of the wet season, so the houses are still dry underneath. In a couple of months (September or October), however, the street would be the only dry land in the entire town.
Kids on a ladder outside a house. The amazing thing is that all around town, kids who can barely walk are climbing ladders!

A somewhat below-average house that is common in many areas of the floating village.
There are a fair number of Vietnamese who live in the village, too
We walked for a couple of miles down the road, stopping to take pictures of the kids (who almost all sout “hello”) and artisans. I took lots of pictures, a small fraction of which I share in this entry.

Within minutes, a man who runs a tour boat found us, and we made our way to his boat and out onto the lake.

A glimpse down the main street of the mainland. The plastic contraption on the right is a cricket trap. Cambodians eat crickets.
A house boat

18 email accounts and an English lesson

Yesterday I continued working at Wat Bo, teaching the teachers how to use the Internet. I had 18 students, the most ever. It was exhausting, but they were so engaged it kept me energized. I cut them loose a half hour early, so they could beat the rush that comes at the day’s final bell—some 2,000 kids running into a street that is completely clogged with motorbikes and cars waiting for the students.

I wandered over to Alice’s English class, where she was trying to help the kids through an awkward English lesson while the teacher fussed with a cassette tape. If only his lessons were on a CD, he would be more effective. If Alice and I were not there to fill the dead air, it would have been a real waste of instructional time. It was not the teacher’s fault things were disorganized; he was doing the best he could using a shared classroom. The workbook the kids all had told us to ask them if they had objects. Simple enough. The objects, however, were not intended for this audience. It wanted us to ask them if they had credit cards, cameras, or mobile phones. We both decided that was pointless, and ditched it in favor of a more fun and interactive lesson.

We looked around the room, and called out objects the kids had. For example, I saw one boy had a hat, so I asked, “Who has a hat?” The boy raised his hand, and stood to say, “I have a hat.” I instructed him, “Show us your hat.” He held it up for everyone to see. “Very good,” I said, giving him a wai which he returned and sat. Alice called out, “Who has a watch?” There were lots of children with watches, so hands flew up. One by one, they waited to be recognized and stand to say they had a watch. We got them all involved, and gave lots of praise and The kids were so engaged and they stayed after the day’s final bell!