Wednesday, June 30, 2010

chang chang changeddy chang shebop

Everything is de cabeza here in Oaxaca-land. The election is coming and the evil PRI candidate ("Eviel" is, in fact, his name) has his image plastered hither and yon, as does the ever-confusing Gabino, who has managed to gather almost every opposing party to endorse him.

At home, here on Calle Sauces, it's not much better. Our roof is leaking mercilessly, which normally would not keep me up at night, but we have wood floors upstairs--not our choice and why they did this, I'll never know, and they are the wood laminate cheapy kind that starts to bow and sway with even a whisper of moisture.

So why not host a teenage guest when all this is transpiring? And plan a new school, and weed the heck out of its yards, and try to sneak in work when and if the kids go to sleep?

The past month stands out with some crystalline Oaxacaesque moments that I cannot ignore, however, such as Mario, my one-time English student, running across the street to tell me he's entering university in the fall. I like that, how your students from all the years past and all the places you have taught just expect you to be proud of them. And I always am.

One morning at the Xochimilco market, I sat talking with Rachel, Michelle, Yamaleni, and other friends, as the children sat perched in a tree and the marimbistas played.

And under the Pochote aqueducts, to see "Grease" for the dance and music cinema festival, but what I heard was my friends Art and Laurencita singing all the words to "We Go Together" and it made me cry.

We're headed away from Oaxaca for vacation, but I feel desperate for it to stay with me. Will the striking teachers really occupy the Guelaguetza auditorium and stop the festival? Will PRI steal the election (again)? Will our roof get repaired? How could I possibly miss the art opening of the giant-sized alebrijes, or the movie about the Pixies, or my favorite organic applesauce lady returning to the market on Rayon?

This is the Oaxaca pull, how it gets under your skin, because all the little things matter so much. Leaving, at least temporarily, is good in this way, giving me perspective on the place I've grown to call home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Triangle drive

I'm staring down the face of a too busy summer, wondering how I got here again. Every time I catch my breath I tell myself "stay here, don't start adding," but there's always something, something. On Thursday, we depart for al norte, the 7-day drive to California. In Cali, it's Max's birthday at Santa Cruz boardwalk, a trip to Fairyland (and meet up with friends and family there, hopefully), tennis camp for the kids, pool parties at a couple friends' houses, Steve's book signing and concert, visit with my Mom, meet my Dad for Chinese food, and maybe do some work?

Then we drive across country, eventually ending up in Boulder to visit more family and friends. From there, Steve flies with the kids to Boston while I continue driving until I see them there! I've never driven across country alone and, while I love being alone and love going long distances, I feel nervous. I hardly drive in Oaxaca, due to completely not being able to figure it out and fear, so maybe I feel out of practice.

On the east coast side, we will hang with Steve's family before heading south toward Mexico, stopping in Philly to stay at my aunt's apartment and maybe stopping at various Native American sites on the way down so Max gets his fourth grade social studies curriculum in one trip.

I was busy at work on an article about summer activities for children when I remembered the golden activity, the thing that erases all fighting and woe. Water. A sprinkler, a bucket, a baby pool, a beach visit--water in all its forms blisses out our whole family, especially if cloud cover or shade is in the equation.

Somewhere in there, I also want to find time to dance barefoot, read a New Yorker, watch a movie, see a play, hike Point Reyes, scour a used bookstore, score cheap art supplies for our new school, and have dim sum and Indian food. It's starting to feel like New Year's resolutions all over again.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Birthday surprise

My dear friend Liz organized a gathering for me yesterday, a super-early birthday celebration. She filled the table with friends Oaxacan, Australian, US and chilango, and the conversation flowed into Spanish, English, and Spanglish. I felt so grateful for these kind, opinionated, creative women who love to talk about art and complain about homework, compare favorite markets and order their favorite dishes at Itanoni, our traditional meeting place.

Tina talked about insulating her house with Tetrapack, which is made from flattened milk cartons. Her mother-in-law spoke about her beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacan, in DF. Humberto had paintings to work on and people to meet, while Heather spoke of returning to Oaxaca someday, as she's leaving at the end of the month.

The morning was cool and rainy, and the Oaxacan women were bundled up in near-Winter looking clothes, while the expats wore their lightweight blouses and t-shirts. Our contrasts were telling, but the surreal timelessness of the morning, as if we had always been there and would always be there, made our coming together seem like destiny. Here's to Oaxaca friendships!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Oaxaca Waldorf back-to-school physics unit

As I'm researching alternative and Waldorf schools online and planning for the first weeks of our Oaxaca Waldorf school and constructivist curriculum, it occurs to me that others may benefit from the fruits of my research. I've planned a physics unit for our back-to-school curriculum, and thought I would post it here.


Days 1-2:
Introduce materials: balls of different sizes, objects to measure distance, marbles, marble run materials
SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 1: Ask a question.
How do we make objects move at different speeds?
Draw/write predictions in science and nature notebooks.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 2: Do background research.
Children explore materials.
Discuss observations.
Write and draw children's observations for them to elaborate upon in their notebooks.
Introduce vocabulary of force and motion.
Ask children for examples demonstrating force and motion.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 3: Construct a hypothesis.
Pose questions for the next experiments.
How to increase force? How to decrease force?
How to increase motion? How to decrease motion?
Students can draw/write their hypotheses in their notebooks.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 4: Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment.
Children brainstorm ways to test their hypotheses.
Children discuss the results.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 5: Analyze data and draw a conclusion.
If children did not measure their results, introduce the concept of analyzing how to quantify the level of force or the level of movement to illustrate their findings. They may suggest timing how long it take a ball or marble to travel a distance, using objects to measure how far something rolls, or another method. Give them time to explore systems of measurement and methods for ensuring accurate measurement.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD Step 6: Communicate results.
Discuss/write/draw results of measuring force and motion.
Students can show the results on a graph or chart if they wish.

Day 3:
Repeat same experiments using the variable of friction.

Spark the students' imagination by asking methods for slowing down marbles on a marble run, or for stopping them. Ask what outside substances or elements can accomplish this feat. Test these elements and chart results to compare with the previous days' results.

Day 4:
Go on a walk and look for evidence of force and motion. Children may notice the wind blowing, birds flying, someone bicycling, etc. Prompt students for examples of how friction can slow down these examples, or how increased force can affect the motion. Student can take notes or draw sketches in notebooks to remember these examples.
Writing connection:
Return to classroom.
Have students use the notes from the walk to create a story or poem based on force and motion. The story may be a literal description of the walk, or it may use elements of the walk as inspiration for a story about the wind, a roller coaster, wheels, or other things that evoke the theme. Students can practice reading their stories with the teacher or each other before reading it with a preschool buddy.

Day 5:
Field trip activity:
Bike riding, scootering, skateboarding and force and motion. Use or design ramps or hills to affect motion.

Day 6:
Write about the field trip activity as a group or individually.
Apply the learning about force and motion to discuss and write about how you would design a roller coaster.
Storytelling: Share stories about amusement park rides or other fun activities using force and motion.

Day 7:
Read about machines that involve force and motion.
Brainstorm a list of machines and inventions that integrate force and motion.
Select a simple machine to sketch, design, and build. (Some easy possibilities include a pulley, a lever-based machine, a balance, a pinwheel, or a ramp).
Make a list of materials and scavenge what you can from outside and inside. Circle the remaining items for the teacher to bring in the next day.
Draw a few sketches of the simple machine.

Day 8:
Refer to sketches and build a simple machine.
Test the capability of the machine and refine its design.
Share the results with the class, teacher, and preschool group.

Day 9:
Draw a comic strip showing the sequence of how you made the simple machine.
Extension: Read other stories about simple machines.

Day 10:
Drama, music, and dance connection:
Create a movement-based piece about force and motion. It might involve miming walking against the wind, pretending to be on a roller coaster, or pulling a heaving load.
Perform the piece for the preschool class.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Critical mass

Since I posted about our opening a new Waldorf-inspired primary school and preschool in Oaxaca, I've received many inquiries and positive comments, and it buoys me for the work ahead. Many thanks to everyone for your interest and offers to teach and visit and support the school! I find it so fascinating how a blog can help create community.

Max asked me yesterday, "Will I be able to ride my bike at recess at the new school?" I told him how I had been planning a science unit on force and motion for the first month of school, integrating homemade marble runs (and using them to explore roller coaster design), creating simple machines, and testing different skateboard and bicycle ramps. His jaw dropped. It's wonderful how liberating designing constructivist/alternative/Waldorf curriculum feels compared to how planning and implementing traditional curriculum felt.

Next week we visit the Huayapan site for the school and set up the beginnings of a garden so that plants, vines, and flowers will begin to grow during rainy season and welcome the children back to school at the end of August. Thanks again to all of you who have shared your experiences and energy for this project.

Monday, June 07, 2010

On Opening a Waldorf-Inspired School in Oaxaca

The plans have been brewing! When I spotted the perfect, simple country house in Huayapan, just a small leap from where we live (and, significantly, the birthplace of my favorite beverage, tejate), I saw a school bloom there. The large, black rock in the front yard, the fruit trees in the overgrown backyard, the long roofed terrace for art and music classes, the green space opposite the house, it all inspired me.

And, luckily, it inspired others in my group, too. We're moving an established Waldorf (and Montessori and Freinet) preschool, along with its brilliant teacher, to a country location, and adding a primary program.

I'll teach there two days a week, a gardening/cooking bilingual mom will teach there two days a week, and Steve will take the group on field trips most Fridays, with additional Fridays dedicated to project presentations, performances, or potluck meals with families and children.

An alternative Waldorf school in Oaxaca!

Here is what we're using so far for the Waldorf program at the Oaxaca school: gardening, cooking, music, drama, storytelling, natural materials, handicrafts (but using Oaxaca textile art, taught by an expert Oaxaquena), nature, movement, foreign language (Spanish/English, naturally), song, poetry, and community projects.

We're swapping out some of the more Eurocentric main lesson curriculum for Oaxacan and Mexican legends, archeology, folklore, art, and such, plus having students pick a project focus with which we'll integrate instruction in reading, writing, science, math, language, social studies, and more.

The school opens August 29th, and will have a low tuition. If you are interested in the project and the school, please feel free to be in touch. Here is the daily schedule:

9:30-10:30: Cooking, gardening, physical education (to take advantage of cooler morning hours)
11-12:00: Main lesson, with projects integrating reading, writing, language, storytelling, art, social studies, science, and math.
12:00-12:30: Math/science extension or supplement if the project doesn't naturally incorporate it.
1:00-1:15: Silent reading, journaling, or drawing.
1:15-1:55: Drama, art, music, song.
1:55-2:00: Goal-setting for the next day's projects