Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interview on Yaroslavl TV

I was interviewed at Alexsey's school on Thursday, March 12 by a local Yaroslavl TV reporter. The 3-minute segment was aired twice that evening. Aside from the fact that one of my eyebrows was standing on end, I was impressed with the quality of reporting and editing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My last day in Yaroslavl

We toured Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University where Olga and Alexsey teach on Monday. The head of the geography department gave me a tour of their geological museum. In ancient times, the Yaroslavl region had been covered by a large sea. As the sea receded fossils were left behind and this museum contains many examples. I was particularly impressed by the large: 18” diameter nautilus shells.

She also gave me a tour of the zoological museum. Many stuffed birds and animals were nicely displayed in one classroom. In the other classroom were skeletons and jars containing specimens in formaldehyde. Examples of lungs of smokers are used to discourage students and pupils from smoking.

We sat down for tea – a Russian tradition and I talked about my school and experiences at the university. I also showed the Power point presentation that I had prepared.

After tea we headed for botanical gardens. These greenhouses were a striking contrast to the snow and ice surrounding them. Our tour guide was a young man who does a segment on the morning news for children on interesting facts about particular plants. One plant holds water between its leaves. Small frogs live in the plant in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Our guide picked up a frog and let it walk over his hands – so I offered to do the same to the delight of the rest of the group. These gardens had a wide variety of specimens from a sequoia tree to cacti in a desert setting. Olga remembered a turtle that had been a long time resident of the gardens. She was stunned to see that the turtle had died and its skeleton was on display in the area where the turtle had lived.

When we left we walked past the mathematics and physics building. We then headed home for a late lunch.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I owe Russia $1200

With apologies to Bob Hope, I was faced with a similar situation last night when I took Olga, Alexsey, and their friend Anya out to dinner. The bill came to 1839. The bill, of course, was in rubles. Since 100 rubles is about $3.60, the total was closer to $66. This included four entrees, a bottle of red wine from Chile, a salad for me, and a pitcher of “most” which is a drink made from berries. Olga ordered for me and suggested a particular fish dish. Anya was concerned, however, that this dish was too expensive – she said (correctly) that it cost almost $10! I went ahead and ordered it.

This restaurant is Olga’s favorite in Yaroslavl. It is where she and Alexsey decided to get married. It is a Soviet era restaurant where I had also eaten the previous Sunday. It is a mini-museum of Soviet era posters and memorabilia. There were pictures of Lenin, Breshnev, and Kruschev. The waitresses wore “pioneer” uniforms which was the name of the scout-like group that all children belonged to during the era.

Anya is a medical professional in Yaroslavl who also teaches English. She is married to an American, Rob. Rob came over to Russia after a career playing professional hockey in the US and after getting his MBA. He thought there would be good business opportunities here. They met and got married. Unfortunately, Rob came down with MS and returned home (to Wisconsin) for treatment. The American and Russian authorities will not let Rob return to Russia nor let Anya go to the US. The two of them talk frequently and their language of communication is Russian. During their conversation before dinner, Anya handed the phone to me. I started off with “Hello, Robert, this is John from Bethesda, Maryland.” He was quite surprised to hear English, let alone an American voice. I quickly explained why I was in Russia.

Earlier on Sunday, Olga and I traveled to Rostov. Sergei’s friend, Andre, drove us in his Nissan SUV. Andre, apparently, is a prominent Yaroslavl business man who owns two cars. This contrasts to Olga and Alexsey, neither of whom own a car or have a license. Rostov-Veliky is finest sites. It has a large kremlin (stone wall enclosure) and three monasteries. There is a cathedral in the kremlin along with churches and museums. Olga and Alexsey had arranged for me to have an English guide who spoke quickly and authoritatively. Rostov was founded in 862 on Lake Nero which is the largest lake in the region. The people in the town decided in the 19th century to preserve the kremlin and the city is now a major tourist site – although there weren’t many people there on Sunday as it was icy and 14 degrees. My guide showed me the museum devoted to the art of enamel. It is only one of two such museums in the world – the other being in Limoges, France. In this museum, each room represented a century and so I could see the progression in the art over the years. One piece was spectacular. It was about 12 by 18 inches. It consisted of 12 panels – one for each month. Each panel was divided into sugar cube sized parts – one for each day. On each part there was a picture representing the life of the saint whose day it was. The detailed work on this calendar was stunning.

The four of us had lunch in a restaurant in the walls of the kremlin. Olga ordered me a traditional dish served in a container with a lid. It came with a decorated wooden spoon which I used to scoop out the delicious stew. Andre gave me a CD of music made from the bells of Rostov and a DVD of the town.

Andre drove us along the lake to one monastery. There, Olga had to put on a wrap to make it appear that she was wearing a skirt. The cathedral inside the monastery was impressive. I’m becoming more able to distinguish the different parts of a Russian Orthodox church.

Today, Monday, I’m going to Olga’s university and tomorrow morning I must bid farewell to Olga and Alexsey as I take the train to Moscow. They are throwing a party for me tonight at their flat. This certainly has been quite an experience.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


As my visit is drawing to a close, I jotted down these thoughts on Sunday morning:

My most inspirational moment was when the Russian scouts (boys and girls) sang “We Shall Overcome” in English, with meaning in Rybinsk. My most memorable moment was watching myself being interviewed and portrayed on the local news from a Yaroslavl TV station.

There were many things that surprised me in Russia. For example, I was surprised at how few Russians smoke. I only saw one woman smoke. I was also surprised by the prevalence of American products – Chevrolet and Ford in the streets. Head and Shoulder shampoo in the bath. Vanish being advertised by name and label on TV. American songs played as Muzak. And, everyone is using Windows – either XP or Vista. In one discussion with students, I compared this spread of American culture to the weed kudzu which has become an invasive non-native species in much of the North East. On the other hand, this spread hasn’t been pervasive – I saw a number of dial telephones in use.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Russian schools. I was impressed with how quiet the halls, cafeteria, and the classrooms were. Students whispered to one another. Teachers could talk in normal tones – and didn’t need to call classes to attention. Students seemed more eager to volunteer to give answers or present solutions to problems to the class – than those in the US.

One thing American schools can learn from Russian schools is that it much easier to have a national curriculum with fixed, testable standards. There is no room for implicit or explicit questioning of curriculum by teachers and students. Their curriculum is very European. Students study biology, chemistry, physics, and geography almost every year. They take 11 – 12 subjects a year – but of course the classes don’t meet every day.

On the other hand, there are things Russian schools can learn from US Schools. It appears that there is a lot of emphasis on teaching just what can (and will) be tested at the end of the year exams. One 11th form math class I visited focused almost entirely on complex looking problems that had simple, integer solutions. These artificial problems could appear on short answer tests. I believe that there is a value in longer, open ended math problems. American students use calculators to help understand mathematics – particularly as an aid to graphing. Data analysis and statistics seemed absent from the Russian math curriculum.

I’ve also been thinking how I’ll share my experience with my students and colleagues at my school. I took pictures during the math classes and took a short video of one of the math classes I visited. I’ll put these together in the form of a presentation to share with my students and colleagues. I got email addresses from a number of students and hope to encourage some of my students to set up a pen pal relationship.
I took pictures of what was being presented as well as from the math books that I saw. I was given copies of mathematics books, too. I will be talking about the international use of technology next month at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual meeting in Washington, DC. I’ll also be making a presentation to teachers at the Park City Math Institute in July in Utah.

All along, I’ve been thinking about how to collaborate in the future with those teachers I met in Russia. When I met my host and the other STEM Russian teachers in early October in Washington, I showed them some examples of mathematics software. The one that I emphasized is Geogebra. It is free and easy to download. More significantly, one can change the language easily. Math students in both of our countries do projects. What I’m hoping is that I can work with the lead math teacher in Alexsey’s school so that students can work on these projects collaboratively via the internet and Geogebra. I saw, for example, one of her students present a power point presentation on transformation of functions under translation, reflection, and dilation. This topic was identical to what I taught my pre-calculus students in the fall.

Our two countries are separated by language, alphabet and geography. But there is much more that we have in common. During the Second World War, our countries were allies against the enemies of Germany and Japan. Somehow fifteen years later, the Soviet Union and the US were enemies and Germany and Japan were our allies. Now, there still may be political differences between our countries, but the cultural similarities are striking. We should continue to have exchanges like this LTMS one to bridge the gap between us. We often say that “Children are our Future.” They, indeed, may help bring us together.

Uglich - Russian for angle

We had to get up at 6 am for our trip to Uglich. The vodka last night made it harder to rise that early. It was cold again this morning, about 20 degrees.

After breakfast, Alexsey and I took the bus for 45-minutes to the central bus station. There we met two other teachers and my translator. The bus to Uglich (100 KM away) took 2 1/2 hours. When we got there, we were met by an official of the Uglich Pedagogical College who was our host for the day. She showed us around the school. A student gave us a tour of the school's museum. We had lunch and I was given a nice book of the town.

After lunch, we toured the town. The town is named for the Russian word for angle - as it is where the Volga changes course. This town is south of Yaroslavl and there are a set of locks to enable ships and barges to travel. The cathedral is set on a lovely piece of land. Three of its interior walls feature copies of Italian frescoes by Rafael. The fourth wall was filled with Russian Orthodox icons. It was beautiful and I'm hoping that there are pictures of it in the book I received. We then went a short distance to a church which was dedicated to the son of Ivan the Great who was killed at this site. It, too, was a beautiful church - decorated quite differently from the cathedral. We walked around and stopped at a private museum in an old house dedicated to life in Uglich 100 years ago.

We had some time to kill before the bus to Yaroslavl and I was given the choice of visiting a museum about prisoners or one about vodka. Even though I knew that the vodka museum featured a tasting at the end, I chose the other museum. It was the smallest museum that I had seen in a long time. Aside from the entry room, there was only one other room - and that was a cell. While that cell may have had at one time 16 people, the 7 of us filled it with ease. I told Alexsey that, after taking a photo of the interior of the cell, I would be telling my students that this is where I had stayed for my two weeks in Russia!

We arrived back home at 7:30. Olga and her mother had prepared a lovely supper for us - of Russian handmade ravioli. When we arrived the cat was sitting at the table watching TV. I was impressed by all of their hard work in making the dinner - and even more impressed with the dinner itself.

Tomorrow, we are traveling to Rostov.

Bye for now

A day at school

On Thursday night, I saw the rebroadcast of the Yaroslavl TV segment about me. It was over 3 minutes long and started off with the announcer standing in front of what looked like a six foot photo of my face. The piece was well edited and my English remarks were apparently well translated into Russian.

When I got to school on Friday, I was treated as somewhat of a celebrity. The younger pupils asked me for my autograph. Alexsey's school is a neighborhood school for grades 1 to 11. The students in the lower grades kept coming up to me throughout the day. I learned at the end of the day that there were two young boys who cried because they didn't get an autograph.

I saw four classes. In the first class, students presented math projects via power point. The math they were presenting was very similar to what I teach in my American pre-calculus classes. This turned out to be fortitutous because my folllow-on-project will be to get American kids and Russian kids to collaborate on math projects using Geogebra. This free software can instantly translate from English to Russian and vice versa.

The second class was Information Technology. The teacher taught the 20 students for the first half of the period and then they worked in pairs using Microsoft Draw on computers.

The third class was a 9th grade chemistry class. The level of chemistry these students were doing was similar to what we do in my school in 10 th grade. The teacher demonstrated an experiment (without safety glasses) and the students did a similar one in pairs (again without safety glasses) at their desks.

The fourth class was the highlight of the day - if not the week. This was a 7th grade math class. The teacher was using problems from the 9th grade end of the year exam to challenge these students. These students worked in groups and the teacher had devised a scheme for the group itself to get a grade. Students were meaningfully helping each other. Once a solution was arrived at the students presented the problem to the rest of the class. The other students could ask questions - and if the presenter couldn't answer them satisfactorily, the grade was lowered.

One of the problems that the students worked on is of the type that is traditionally quite difficult for 9th graders. It dealt with a person who drove to a city at 15 km/hour and then drove back at 10 km/hour. The total trip was 1 hour. How much time was spent on each segment? One girl presented the solution from her group. It was correct and explained well. I mentioned to my interpreter that this young girl was quite bright. At the end of the day, I wasn't surprised to see her picture on the wall in the front hall of the school as the top pupil in her grade.

The last class of the day was a class that I taught - primarily to students who knew some English. I had been alerted to this possibility when I was in the US, but I couldn't really plan the lesson until I had met some of the students. I decided to focus on some less traditional aspects of mathematics and presented a lesson on game theory. I used the bags of American taffy that I had brought as props and taught the students a version of the game NIM. They played with each other and slowly started to figure out a strategy for the game. Yuri seemed particularly adept so, as this part of the lesson was drawing to a close, I suggested that he play me. I let him decide who went first. He started off well, but made a mistake and I decided to go ahead and win the game. He didn't seem upset. I then showed the students a variation of the game. After that Egor and Yuri volunteered to play another game - with nine cards labeled 1 - 9 while I allowed the 20 students to munch on the candy. Various adults, including Alexsey, dropped in during the class. It went well and the students posed for a picture with me at the end.

School ends at 2 pm. At 2:30 I ate lunch with Alexsey and is administrative team in the cafeteria. I was somewhat surprised to see a bottle of wine on the table. I was even more surprised to see that what I had thought was a bottle of water, was in fact a bottle of vodka. Needless to say, lunch was great.

We made it back home, had a cup of tea, and then went off to Sergei's for dinner. He lives in a flat with his parents a mile from our flat - the ice was treachorous, but we made it safely. We had a Russian dish: plimini that he had made from scratch. Sergei is a pathologist and a teacher of physicians - even though he is only 32. His English is quite good and the two of us spent most of the evening talking.

Our agenda for Saturday: Travel to Uglich.

Bye for now

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Russian TV star

On Thursday, we headed off to Alex's school which I had seen briefly on Saturday. I had breakfast with some of the staff there before heading to a room filled with 25 of the school's English speaking students. I met with them for an hour. They were great and had lots of questions. I showed my powerpoint and tried to show a DVD that I had made of my school - but it kept locking up.

The pupils asked about my impressions of Yaroslavl and of Russia. They asked questions what sports I liked, what I liked to do in my extra time, and in general what life was like for me in the US. They were quite familiar with American culture. One student said that it is too bad that another culture seems to be taking over their own culture. I tried to compare it to the weed "kudzu" but wasn't successful. US products are everywhere. The clothing worn by folk on the bus all has English words on them. The shampoo in my flat says "Head and Shoulders" and looks like the American bottle. All of the computers run Microsoft Windows. The students' favorite music groups include American ones.

The kids were a lot of fun to talk with. I gave them a bunch of small gifts and my business card. None of them has written to me so far. Many asked to have their photograph taken with me.

After I met with the students, I was interviewed by a reporter from a local TV station. She also interviewed Alex - who is the headmaster of the school. After about ten minutes we all headed to another building for an assembly put on by the students. In this assembly kids from various grades sang songs in other languages than Russian. Most of the songs were in English. Some were quite good. The last song was "It's raining men." To my surprise, I was asked to be one of the judges to decide which of twenty songs was the best. Well, even though I'm not Simon Cowell I knew that none of these groups would be going to Hollywood.

After a lunch with the staff, Alex and I headed by bus to the center of town and we met up with the two other American teachers who have been staying in the Yaroslavl region. We had a good, English speaking tour guide who was of great help. We toured the old monastery (see the photo at the beginning of the blog) and eventually made our way to a museum on "music and time." This museum featured old music boxes and gramaphones - most of which worked. There were a number of old clocks, bells, and irons.

After this visit we headed toward a cafe. It was great catching up with Liz and Leah. It was great being able to talk in English without pausing for translation. They are each doing well.

Russia continues to melt. The streets in a couple of days will be like the canals of Venice.

When we got home, Olga and Alex turned on the TV in their bedroom while we were changing out of our school clothes. Suddenly, Olga called me "John! John!" Fortunately, I still had my pants on. I went to their room and caught the end of the segment on the local news channel about my visit and the kids performance. It will be repeated later this evening.

Tomorrow, I'll be meeing with teachers at Alex's school and then teaching a math class. We are going to Sergei's house for dinner tomorrow. He is a physician who I met last weekend.

Bye for now.

After school activities for Russian pupils

On Wednesday, Alex took me first to the Yaroslavl Department of Education. I met the Superintendent of the 100-school district. Although I had a translator, the superintendent's English was good enough so that I didn't require her aid. I showed my powerpoint presentation about my school, city, activities, and my family. We talked about the differences and similarities between education in our two countries.

When we left, we started to walk along the embankment of the Volga river. The Volga is Russia's longest river. After we were walking a while, the translator said that we would be walking for "two hours!" I think she meant to say that we would be walking for two kilometers. We came to the Children's Navy Center named for Admiral Fedor Ushakov. He is the famous, so they say, admiral who never lost a battle. This center is one of many that pupils go to after school for about 3 hours a day. It is funded through the government. In general, schools don't offer activities or sports - so the government funds many of these centers. Here the students learn principles of navigation, knot tying, and in the summer- sailing. I was impressed with the dedication of the staff. They gave me a kerchief to wear which is part of the pupils' uniforms.

We then had lunch at a restaurant that Alex likes. We had greek salads and a dish that sounds like "Salalanka" and looks like borscht. It was more flavorable.

The big news on Wednesday is that Russia is melting. The temperature was around 40 degrees. The hard packed snow was turning quickly into slush. Icicles loomed dangerously overhead. Men shoveled snow off of roofs. I would have been lost if it wasn't for my LL Bean boots.

We hopped on a bus and headed for the Childrens Animation Center. This after school club taught kids lots of different animation skills. I saw a number of good, short films. A Yaroslavl animator won the Academy award for animation a couple of years ago for his film 'The Old Man and the Sea."

After a quick dinner, Olga and her mother and I went to see the ballet. We had tickets to see Sleeping Beauty. We got dressed up and took a cab into town - but when we arrived there was a sign posted saying that the ballet was cancelled. Olga got her money back - but there was no explanation of what had happened. We decided to head toward an Irish Pub that I had spotted. On the way there, we stopped at one of the 3 McDonalds in town. I took a bunch of photos, but wasn't tempted to eat a Big Mac. This outlet had a drive through and a McKafe.

We were joined at the Irish Pub by two friends of Olga's. We had a great time, even though little English was spoken. AFter an hour or so, we decided to head to a cafe. There we had more fun, but even less English. At about 10 pm I indicated that I was tired and we hopped in a cab and headed home. We arrived home at about the same time we would have if we had gone to the ballet. I told Alex, who hadn't wanted to see the ballet, that we really enjoyed the ballet!

On Thursday, Alex and I were walking past the cafe - and I pointed to it and asked "ballet?"

Bye for now,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Russian math class + more (part 2)

The students in this class volunteered extensively. They were eager to be called upon. After the teacher reviewed problems involving shadows, he started the new material on lenses. He illustrated, using the smart board, the effect on rays of light by convex and concave lenses. He then used the lenses at the front of the room, a lazer pen, and later a flashlight to illustrate the effect of the three 3 inch diameter lenses at the front of the room. He talked about the focal point of a lens and the focal length. Then the pupils were all handed a lens on a vertical stand, a vertical piece of metal on a stand, and a small candle. The students lit the candle using matches! They used the light coming from the candle, passing through the lens onto the piece of metal to find the focal point. Once they did that, they measured the distance to find the focal length. The girl sitting closest to me, however, was confused. She didn't seem to grasp the idea of focal point. I was impressed by how much was accomplished during this classs.

In the next hour, I met with a group of English language learners. I briefly described my school to them, gave them small gifts, and answered the questions. In the group of 30 students only about 8 asked questions - but they asked many of them. They asked about what I liked in Russia and the differences between Russian education and US education. They asked what type of music I liked. They asked about what I did in my free time. Two students had just seen the movie "Watchman" over the weekend and loved it. I was impressed since it had just been released in the US over the same weekend. One student asked me my opinion about Putin and I was careful not to say anything controversial. One student had been in the US in LA and loved it. I was impressed by how well the students spoke. They certainly felt comfortable asking me a variety of questions. Afterwards, I handed them my business card and many had their photograph taken with me - with their camera and with mine. One student had an Iphone.

By the time the class was finished it was 2 pm and I was famished. To my surprise lunch was prepared for me in the headmaster's office. The headmaster at this school is a woman - a former international gymnast who looked like an older version of Olga Korbut. I was given a lunch of soup, a hamburger pattie, a chicken pattie, and some mashed potatoes. I was the only one of four people eating this food! The other ladies had bread and sausages. They brought out a bottle of French wine (a big no-no in my home school) and proceeded to try to open it. This must have been a very special occasion as none of them knew that the seal had to be taken off the top first. I, not surprisingly, came to the rescue.

I gave the headmaster gifts: a book of photos of Washington, a Washington DC calendar, a DVD of the inauguration and a set of American educational motivational posters. In turn I was given a framed picture of the school.

Alex came back at the end of lunch and we then traveled by car to another school. This school was attended by Yaroslavl's most famous citizen - the first female cosmonaut. A classroom in the school has been turned into a museum in her honor. It was fascinating to see all of the memorabilia there. The (female) headmaster showed me a picture of the then young woman in a classroom. The headmaster's mother was the teacher in the classroom.

Eventually Olga came by in a taxi and we traveled back to the flat.

Tomorrow, I'll be visiting some other educational institutions in Yaroslavl. In the evening we are going to the ballet: Tsaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty. Olga kindly found an English synopsis of the plot for me to read.

Bye for now

Russian math class + more

Today, Tuesday, was the first day after the three-day weekend.

Our first goal of the day was for me to become registered with the local authorities. My Russian visa states that I'm here on a cultural exchange and thus I needed to officially register. We took a bus into town but got off before the center of town. We walked past many, seemingly identical apartment complexes and went into the door of one. We walked up the stairs to the fifth floor and found ourselves in a government office. Alex, fortunately, had a friend who works in this office. She examined my passport and visa carefully and gave us forms to fill out. Alex and Olga took me outside to the waiting room and asked me to sit while they filled out the forms. They needed information from my passport and information from their own files. The worked on this process for half an hour - and had go to back once to get a question asked. In the mean time, I was watching others trying to deal with the bureacracy. Folk would knock on doors and wait and wait. There was a lot of apparent confusion, but no one raised their voices. Alex and Olga later told me that a lot of people were citizens of former Soviet republics who had to come to this office to get their working papers. The good news is that I got the blue stamp! I'm not sure what would have happened otherwises.

Today was warmer, about 40 degrees fahrenheit. The snow was turning into wet slu'msh. Puddles were everywhere. We took a cab to Lyceum #86. Olga stayed in the cab which took her to the university. Alex brought me into the school. I'm getting good at understanding his German. We eventually were met by the deputy head: Ludmila Korbut who was also an English teacher. She was my interpreter for the day. Ludmilla took me to an 11th form math classroom. This is the top grade in the school and it became clear that these students were preparing for a major examination.

There were no calculators or computing devices evident at all in the classroom. Some students had their notebooks open, but few actually took notes. The teacher used an LCD projector to present the powerpoint containing problems to be solved. I sat in the rear of the classroom and photographed many of the problems. Obviously, I could read the mathematics but I couldn't always tell for sure what the instructions were. With the first batch of problems, the students were given functions and were asked to determine their domains. Some of these functions looked bizarrely complicated, but the kids (and I) were able to deal with them. While they were working on these problems, I borrowed a student's textbook. The textbook was essentially a series of problems. There was no text in the textbook. There were no "word" problems. The title was algebra and there was no evidence of statistics, for example.

The students were then given equations to solve. Students were called on to solve them. Sometimes students came to the front of the room and solved them on the black board. While the equations were complicated looking, it was clear that they all had solutions which were integers and it appeared that students were just trying small integer values for the variable until it worked. At the board, however, students were identifying the domain of the variable and using this to limit the choices for its value. One student found the derivative of one side and used it to show that the function was increasing for large values of x. Another student miscopied a problem on the board. No one noticed - not the teacher nor the classmates. After about 5 minutes the student noticed his mistake and corrected it.

The problems that were presented in class were similar to ones I've seen in Russian textbooks. One had Cos^2(x*sinx) on the left side and log base 5 squared on the right. While these problems were quite artificial, the teacher was using these as exercises - in the way a coach might use exercises to prepare her players for a big game.

The math class was followed by a physics class for sixth graders. The teacher used a smart board to present the lesson. Students came up to the front of the room and used the smart board to illustrate principles. For example, they illustrated what the shadows would look like if there were two suns and one planet.

Continued on the next post.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Visit to a Russian Farm

Since International Women's Day fell on a Sunday, yesterday, everyone had the day off today. We traveled by car for 30 minutes to the village of Tutaev and saw a 17th century Russian Orthodox Church. It was large and beautiful. In the winter, only the bottom floor is heated and services are conducted there. This is true in all of the churches that I've seen so far.

Tutaev, like Yaroslavl, is on the Volga. Here the Volga wasn't frozen and we could see churches on the other bank.

We then drove to Rybinsk the second largest city in the Yaroslavl region. Rybinsk was the last port on the Volga and was very prominent in the 18th and 19th century. Its population is about a third of Yaroslavl's - about 200,000. On the way to Rybinsk, we picked up my friend Liz from Pennsylvania and her host family. We traveled in two cars across the river to a farm which regularly hosts groups.

We were met at the farm by six people, including a ten year old, who were dressed in traditional Russian clothes. They, accompanied by a man on an accordian, sang songs and danced. They served us fortified wine - like a sherry - and buns. They then asked Liz and I to dance with them. I had to dance holding my wine in a plastic cup - along with my camera. They had a lot of energy and spirit.

When we got into the farm enclosure there was another set of songs to welcome Spring. Of course, it was snowing lightly - but folk knew that spring was on its way. The group sang a song to welcome Spring and sure enough, a snow mobile came bringing him - in costume. He was, by the way, the same gentleman who drove one of the vehicles.

We were then met by ten children who were scouts at the school Liz will be visiting. These scouts, and their leader, are learning English well. We played games and danced together - to old Russian folk songs. My friends took photos of me while I was dancing - I haven't seen them yet.

We were served a meal of fish soup and shiskebob - made of sheep meat. Everything was delicious. The children talked with us and asked Liz and me for our autographs. I hadn't know that I would be meeting anybody and didn't bring any gifts. In fact, all I knew about the day was that we were going on an excursion in the two towns. Neither Liz nor I knew that we would be seeing each other.

It was great to see Liz and to be able to speak to her easily in English. She, too, is having a great time.

After dinner, the host at the farm showed us around their modern house. It was quite big. The man of the house saw me admire his large bottle of scotch and offered Liz and me first vodka and later, to me, scotch. He also made sure to show me his firearm collection in is office- many shot guns and a few rifles.

It was a lot of fun being outside in cold weather. I brought sufficient clothes so that I'm comfortable in the cold. Everyone enjoyed having a day off.

Tomorrow, I'll be visiting a lyceum in Yaroslavl. This is also the day when I have to register as a foreigner in this region. I'm looking forward to visiting some mathematics classes.

Bye for now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It is snowing in Yaroslavl

It has snowed all day here. I'm glad I brought my LL Bean boots. Alexsey and Olga showed me around the old part of the city. Their friend, a pathologist who knows English, came along with us. When we got to the center of the city, a former student of Olga's who works as a tour guide met us and accompanied us around the town. His English and knowledge of the town were good. We went into many Russian Orthodox churches and saw aspects of their Sunday services. We saw the spot where Yaroslavl himself slew the bear which led to the founding of the city 999 years ago. We walked to the banks of the Volga which appeared to be about a mile wide. It was almost entirely frozen over. Today was Sunday, International Women's Day. Lots of people were walking around enjoying the fresh snow.

People were ice fishing on the river, sledding, and cross country skiiing. I saw one woman walking her cat.

We had lunch at a Soviet style restaurant - that functions as a relic from the past. There were photographs and posters on the wall from the Soviet era. The photographs included some of Kruschev and Breshnev. The menu was meant to be oldstyle too. We had borscht, red wine, salad and bread. It was very pleasant.

Tonight Alexsey and Olga have invited guests over for dinner. One arrived early and I shared the Banneker year book with him. Unfortunately he doesn't know English.

I showed Olga some math games that I will share when I teach some lessons next week. She showed me some games her (college) students play - which included tic-tac-toe and battleship.

Tomorrow we are off by car to Tutaey city and Rybinsk city which are said to be beautiful.

Bye for now

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday in Yaroslavl

Olga, and her mother Nina who lives with them, cooked me a nice, light meal at midnight Friday. It was accompanied by tea and brandy.

I am sleeping in their living room on a futon. It is a nice, airy room with a small balcony overlooking the parking lot. Snow isn't shoveled here and the streets and parking lots look like those commonly found in ski areas.

Today we had a lovely breakfast. Olga made coffee for me! We had bread and cheese. und

At 9:30 Alexey and I took the bus to his school. It was a 45 minute trip. I recognized the old monastery from photographs.

Alexey is the principal of this 'middle school'. Today, Saturday, the school had a special assembly in honor of International Women's Day. One is supposed to give women presents on that day. I learned in DC that giving an even number of flowers is bad luck - one only does that for funerals. Somehow I'm going to have to get some flowers tomorrow for Olga and Nina. Hey - I could buy a dozen flowers and give one of them 7 and the other of them 5!

Upon entering school, I was met by a head teacher who will be my translator when I visit again. A young teacher of English also helped. I met the staff and toured some of the classrooms. Obviously the math classroom was a high point. The students had models of the various polyhedra. The posters on the wall were interesting- from a math point of view.

The two hour assembly was great. There were skits, songs, and dances. The little kids were great.

AFter the assembly there was a tea for faculty. Alexey is the only male teacher. During the tea party games were played. Alexey and I participated in one. We, and another teacher, were supposed to draw a picture of a woman - while three others were supposed to draw a picture of a man. We were to do this blindfolded on a piece of paper on the wall with a marker. I (lucky me) went first and tried to draw a head. I drew the hair ina particularly poor way. Fortunately, I was stopped. Alexey drew the body - to the laughter of his colleagues and the third colleague finished the drawing.

We got a ride back to Alexey's flat from a friend of the translator. When we arrived, we at a lovely meal that Olga had prepared. I then took a nap while Alexey and Olga went out to the store.

Later on Saturday evening, we had supper. The tea was served from an old "samoyed". Their cat likes me. He (or she) is very quiet.

Alexey and Olga are spending the evening watching a Russian movie, while I am fortunate to get some internet access.

Tomorrow we tour Yaroslavl.

By for now

Greetings from Yaroslavl

I've been in Yaroslavl for 20 hours, now. I've slept for about half of that time. We left Dulles airport at 5 pm Eastern Time and flew to Frankfurt. After the 7 hour flight we had an hour to catch the flight to Moscow. The 8 of us made it was ease, but not all of our luggage did. My luggage arrived in Moscow safely but we had to wait until the next flight from Frankfurt for the luggage from two of my companions to arrive.

Three of us took the train to Yaroslavl. We had been warned that the journey from the airport to the train station was difficult - it certainly was with luggage. We took a train from the airport to the Metro station on their "circle line." Then we went up and down lots of steps to get to our subway line. We took the subway to the train station - lots more steps. Fortunately we had two guides from American Councils to help us.

The head guide, Olga, was terrific. She had taught Russian at Bucknell Univ for three years recently. She learned that I had graduated from there and we shared our experiences.

Liz, Lena and I shared a small compartment on the train with a Russian man who spoke some English. Mostly we shared the compartment with our luggage. The trip was just over four hours and we were met by our respective hosts in Yaroslavl.

Alexey's wife Olga speaks English. A friend of their's had a car and he drove us (and my luggage) to their building north of the city. They have a 3 room flat on the third floor. Olga's mother-in-law lives there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I will be visiting Yaroslavl which is an old, walled city about 155 miles NE of Moscow. The population of the city is about 650,000. It is on the Volga river. I'll also be visiting the smaller city of Uglich which is due west of Yaroslavl.

The temperature now in Yaroslavl is 26 degrees Fahrenheit - which is simlar to what the temperature is in Washington, DC.

The most important church in the city is the Saviour Monastery Cathedral which was built early in the 16th century and is shown on the right, above.

I'm finally packed and I'll shortly be on my way to the orientation in Washington, DC. There are seven other teachers from across the USA who will be participating in this trip. I met two of them in October in Montana when I met ten of the Russian teachers.

As you can see, I had some help packing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


As a participant in the American Councils for International Education Teachers to Teachers LTMS program, I will be visiting Yaroslavl, Russia for 2 1/2 weeks in March, 2009. LTMS stands for: the Language, Technology, Math, and Science Exchange. This visit is sponsored by the US State Department. Eight US teachers will be participating in the visit.