Saturday, March 14, 2009

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

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