Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 trip: day 1

Once again, arriving here feels like arriving home!

Our trip down was mega-smooth.  We met the bus at 1:30 am after a rousing 4 hours of sleep, which is more than most of the kids we were with.  A smooth bus ride - and a driver with good taste in music, except for that brief half-hour of country (?) and we arrived at 4:30.  Someone from Delta must have thought we looked like an interesting group and pulled us over and checked us in. The flights were easy except for the brief roller-coaster turbulence!

I've been messaging with Kamanda and Nicole trying to schedule this weird hodgepodge group full of new and unusual projects.  It was SO AWESOME seeing Kamanda and Jeff at the airport! And meeting Braegan - 

We arrived to a new phrase - "Critical water shortage".  If you have been here before, it is easy to get reacquainted with "don't drink the tap water" and not flushing toilet paper, but no water from the faucets means the bucket in your room is your water to "shower" with.  It's been interesting.  We have drinking water, but a lot of people from town came to the school to fill containers.  The school seems to have water, although we don't know if it's filled tanks or that it's downhill, so whatever water is in the system flows there.  There isn't really a great way for information to flow (like local news), so I've heard that the city shut it off and that a main broke.  We'll see!  

Also, a new rooster seems to have been introduced to the neighborhood.  Hello 3:38 am!

Monday was our first teacher workshop day at CCED. 

We had 60-65 teachers who heard about learning styles, then dove into some fun, active learning building towers of straws (phenomenally led by Tyler B.), rotational equilibrium (awesomely led by David R. & Stacy M.) and building a structure of cards (wonderfully led by Heather S.)  The teachers had a great time, but the best part for me is watching my students (and in Stacy's case, one grown-up) teach in a different country to a group of very enthusiastic students (teachers at CCED) through an interpreter. I can't tell you how rewarding that is.

Next:  The story of Tuesday.  We installed a printer (normally easy, but not always).  We cleaned and fixed a solar water heater system, and Dan & James built some shelving.  We are pretty sure we can dampen the sound from the generator too - in a new activity we call "engineering projects" or "engineering stuff"!  We visited Amaury's school where students are learning English and talked to them (which involved at least one duet of a song by One Direction).  The torrential downpour gave us a flooded street, and a team ventured into trying to unclog the city drain.  More on that later -

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Best decision of my life" - after the trip

"I want more blogs"  - OK... here is the official ONU Teacher Workshop blog address -  Check it out!

And now... on with today's entry...

We've been back in the U.S. for a while now and most of us have settled into our more typical routine.  Is this sad?  In a way - our experiences in the Dominican generally consisted of hard work, being in a group of people who were almost always having a good time, reflecting, observing and/or planning...  If you had to get somewhere and it was going to rain, but your seat was the back of the pickup, you climbed in.  Pancakes for breakfast? You ate pancakes and loved them.

(Who am I kidding?  Everyone loves pancakes... bad example)

You were usually hot and covered with bug spray, your clothes were often damp and everyone was happy and got along great.  It was incredible to see a really diverse group of students working and hanging together - many of whom didn't know each other before this trip.  We had civil, mechanical and engineering education, nursing, pre-dent, accounting, biology and pharmacy majors and "grown-ups" from engineering, education, nursing and administration.

The whole group (pictures borrowed from Laurie's facebook pics)

The grown-ups at dinner (Deb, Robin, Dede, Jenny, me, Laurie - with Earl & Rita from Southern Utah).  Yes, we snuck away from pizza the first night.  "What is this?  Not sure - let's order it!"  Unfortunately, Jenny & I ordered adventurously hoping for something cool  (like the potatoes in the mortar here) and got fries with cheese sauce.  Oh well!

I love my life here as well, but it's different.  Anyone living in the U.S. understands the differences.  Which is better?  Personally, I love them both.

How did it go?
I've had a chance to talk to quite a few of our travelers in the airport on the way back and since the trip and have a LOT of great info for the future AND a lot of great feedback.  A few comments stand out:

How was the trip overall?

  • "Best decision I've ever made - best decision of my life!"  :-)
  • "Like Dan said one morning - if we bring a lot of technology down, do we start to take away the work ethic?"  This quote was one of my favorites because they were referring to a devotional one morning about a week before, so the concepts were still in our thoughts.
  • "I'm going to start saving now so I can go back!"
  • "I'd rather skip the resort and do another day of work" - OK, our resort stay on the way out of the country was a little gross this time (picture taking your sheets out of the washer and making the bed without drying them).  But the comment was more about the opportunity to have another work day more than agasint the resort stay, and that is great.

Observations - in no particular order

- The food all week is great!  I love a peanut butter & banana sandwich, and the bananas are infinitely better in the DR than in the US.  The breakfast syrup is some secret recipe with a ton of sugar. Moro (rice & beans) is perfect with some Dominican hot sauce.

- The folks from Solid Rock are awesome - Dan & Kari, Nicole, Laura, Bieva and Amaury (sorry if I forgot anyone) make everything run smoothly and love what they do.  They are true friends.

- We have to figure out how to make this thing sustainable and make a big difference.  We've done 2 different types of workshops and have outstanding feedback - "When can you come back?"  Great question!  When indeed?  How?  What will it take?  Our conversations since we've been back have been so encouraging that I'm sure we'll make it happen!

- I still can't believe Jenny & I have been there 5 times.  I said I would never need a passport, and now I could see spending months there, with Jenny working in a school while I worked on projects.  What a change!

Let's wrap this up:

2 more thoughts:

In Atlanta, we bought two lattes, each for about $5.  We spent $10 on lattes (or $400 Dominican), which is almost the daily wage for a teacher in the Dominican and more then many people we saw will make in a week or more.  I thought this was a real illustration of the stark difference living in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Maybe not, but it really painted a picture for me.

Some of us have talked a lot about the big picture / university level vs. college level vs. small groups of individuals doing projects.  I won't delve into details here, but I will say: I love having a vision and ability to work at any of these levels and cohorts who share the vision and ability.  I am amazed at the group I get the privilege of working with - the individual members can change (which is also good) but there are some people and pieces that are continuing as part of our big picture and part of our vision.  There will soon be Kamanda & Jeff working with schools and construction in the D.R., which will help us make a much bigger difference, much faster.  There are internal things that should change as we continue to "reinvent the wheel".  For those who don't know what I'm talking about, no need to worry - so many opportunities, so many experiences and such great success is headed our way with our teacher-workshop-education projects, construction projects and new project we'll propose (the green building).  If you have ever thought "I should go...", yes you should!

I'll try for one more post that is picture-heavy soon... to those who have supported our work, thank you!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Last day of workshops - rotational equilibrium

Thursday was our last day for teacher workshops in the Liceo Pedro Henrique Urena, San Juan's public high school.  Rotational equilibrium is basically a lesson we led the group through where you make a mobile and calculate where strings should be placed to balance.  It had a few unique features:  it's a bit more math heavy and it's not as creative and exciting as the last two.  We were a little worried - after all, you want to leave on a high note, right?  Plus, we had Stacy & David leading the activity.  Stacy, a veteran of international teaching (meaning that she led a segment last year) and David, who just wrapped up his freshman year.

We kicked it off with a little review.  Yesterday's "robot arm" plan had a few questions at the end of the lesson, so we did a little Q&A.  We quickly turned it over to David.

David & Stacy became a lecturing duo - explanation, demo, repeat...  We were pleasantly surprised to see the teachers (mostly) followed the math and in the end, seemed to enjoy the activity!  We felt we ended it on a high note.

The best part of the day was the sincere appreciation.  One teacher explained (it took a little while for us to get the Spanish) that she remembered Jenny from church Sunday night.  One group grabbed a camera and took group pictures, and the group grew and grew.  So many thank-you's, so heart-felt.  One of my favorite teachers said she should apologize because they sometimes got so loud and it was hard to get the group back - exactly like students.  We said this was one of our favorite parts of the day!

Reflecting for a moment: we do these workshops for teachers and college students in the U.S. all the time, and the reaction is usually along the lines of a "Cool." to mild applause.  On a scale of 1 (boo!) to 10 (hoopla), the U.S. group gives you a 6 or so.  Our teachers here were a 10.  On each activity.  Success or not-quite-success.  I should say success or failure - one observation I had is that we tend to try to avoid saying things like someone didn't try, didn't succeed, etc., but the teachers we worked with didn't have the same fear of saying the wrong thing.  If someone did something that didn't work, they said "that won't work" and all was well!

At the end, we passed out door prizes and took a group picture.  The group picture was such a wonderful moment.  I wish the students who had helped each day could have been in the pic as well, but the few minutes of taking this pic and the sincere thank you's at the end of the day were so touching, so rewarding and so awesome.  Thanks to the teachers and everyone who made the workshops possible!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Robot arm - always a favorite

Let me start by talking about Amaury, our interpreter, but so much more.  Amaury is studying languages here in San Juan and knows at least English and French, and is learning Japanese and Arabic.  We had a great conversation with him about learning styles (he teaches as well), and decided to kick things off with that for day 2. I can't imagine a more perfect partner to work with for these workshops!  Gracias!

Some of the big surprises for day 2 included, first, attendance.  We had 38 for day 1 and wondered what word o mouth would bring - today, we had 43.  There are about 70 teachers here, and they can either attend our workshop or go home, so I think the turnout is awesome.

Second, they asked if they could start the day by giving us feedback from day 1.  Educators - you know how you walk into the classroom each morning and your students enthusiastically say they would like o go to the board and summarize yesterday's work?  Yeah - right.  They walked to our engineering design process and told us we forgot a few steps - you have to inspire the children before they define the problem, for example.  Later, one of my favorite teachers said "This would work for those students who really need to see the material presented in a different way."  I said that it was such a perfect transition you would have thought we asked for that comment, and we took off from there.

We covered learning styles, then day 2 featured the "build a better robot arm" activity that all of my students know so well.  You get 7 strips of cardboard and a pile of stuff like tape, paper clips, clothespins, etc., and have to build an arm to lit a water bottle as you stand behind a table.  The rules clearly state that your hands can't go over the table, a rule we quickly abandoned again this year.  For example,

The enthusiasm was absolutely wild!  A few pics -

Juan (aka: John) helping out

Normally students ask if they can use the scissors, but today, scissors, the roll of tape - anything goes!

 Amaury tried to top last year's design, but no, last year's had articulated fingers...

Deb taught the 'thumbs-up' technique to gain control of the classroom, and it worked ... sometimes.

With the feedback to kick things off and the wild enthusiasm, this was a great day!  

In the evening, we headed to Bievanedas for a Dominican restaurant meal, delicious as always.  Next up: day 3 and "rotational equilibrium".

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First workshop in the public school - most enthusiastic Tower of Straws ever

Today was the first workshop at the huge public high school.  A slight transportation glitch let us walk to the school, although fortunately, our bags of supplies (and Jenny & Amaury) got to ride.  It’s hot, but the walk wasn’t so bad at all.  I think we’re almost to the point where we can find our way through town – it’s not such a big city anymore.

There are a lot of smaller primary schools everywhere, but this one is the single high school.

We arrived and sort of wandered through the halls for a bit.  I was slightly blown away when Kari said “This poster is for your workshops” and showed us a poster plastered all over the high school saying that professors from Ohio Northern were coming to do exciting, hands-on workshops!  So cool…   Bieva arrived and – of course – knew EXACTLY where we were supposed to go.  We headed to the library which was really nice – and slightly air conditioned!  Ahhhhh…..

Teachers trickled in.  Would we have 70? 20?  We heard that we had 35 signed up, which was a perfect number.  Teachers were giving the government tests this morning, so they were done when the lkids were done, and could go home or attend our workshop.  Our start time of 10:30 came and went and when asked if we should start, Bienva said “Remember – it’s 10:30 Dominican time, so really more like 11:00.”  J

We kicked it off at 11.  The looks on the faces said “Maybe I should have gone home.”  We asked what engineering is and got answers that, dare I say, were better than those from the U.S.:

Engineering is the application of math and art
Engineering is the use of science and design to build and create things

We talked about towers, and any they had seen, and like our last experience, it was no problem getting volunteers!  Ask a question and hands go in the air! 

Wonderful!  We covered the (well an) engineering design process.  Much like the U.S., some were bored, some taking notes.  We said we were going to have them design a tower using straws, pipe cleaners and paper clips.  Team up and begin a design on paper.

When we passed out the material, the room became alive!  The noise level, the activity level shot through the roof.  One group built a very sturdy tower using the pipe cleaners to bundle the straws, and guarded their design by surrounding it and using a big sheet of cardboard.  Other teams worked furiously, building huge sections or small models.  One team allegedly used extra materials.

When we called ‘time’, groups cheered, some groups kept going to the cheers of others saying “time is up!”  We sent our students to measure and the winning team cheered and danced.  We’ll post a video when we can get it uploaded, but the celebration was awesome!  The reward: the winning team got to visit the row of prizes and take theirs first.  Then we tried to send people back by table… and everyone headed back.  There was no hope in any order or line.  Some took 3, some took one, but everyone seemed pretty happy.

The feedback was probably the best part.  “How can you use this in your classroom?”  Hands shot up, and anyone who was called on spoke for quite a while – and everyone wanted to tell us.  Math and science teachers gave great answers.  The dance teacher talked about using it to build teams, because so much in dance requires people to work together.  The nursing teacher said the tower represented their work to build up the individual, represented by the ball on top.  Everything had to work for that person to stay on top.  Wow.

We promised more fun tomorrow – we’ll see how many teachers we have!

Reflecting on this, I've really learned that these teachers, whether private school or public school, get to experience that ‘light bulb’ moment and seem to love it.  Our feedback and reaction to the activity has been phenomenal.  Their description of how they’ll use it has been eye opening to me and continues to give me hope that these will take off, even more than in the States.  I plan to look back and reflect a little more after today, when we see today’s response.  So far, this is great.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 1 - arriving, unpacking, seeing friends

First, a quick introduction: we're here in the Dominican with Solid Rock International (  I teach engineering at Ohio Northern University ( and about 2 months before our first trip here, said "I don't need a passport - especially to go somewhere where they don't speak English."

Fast forward:  on the flight here, someone asked how many times we've been here, and we couldn't remember.  We since figured it out (it's 5), but I was reminded of a man I met at work who said he didn't know how many times he'd been to Haiti (How can you not remember something so big?)

This trip promises something brand new (again).  We're scheduled to do 3 days of teacher workshops in a local (?) public school.  Original plans were: 2 days expecting about 30 teachers.  Then, they might strike (apparently pretty common here), so Plan B was developing.  Then, they love the idea, can you do 3 days or all of the teachers?  2 days of 30 has become 3 days of 70.  If' I've learned one thing, expect the plans to change!

--Day 1--

A few of us sponsor children in Elias Piña (yes, to type "piña", I open google translate and type 'pineapple').  We saw tons of the cutest kids you could ever see.  It has to be disruptive for a group of Americanos to come to school and be swarmed by kids, posing for pictures, group hugs, etc.

We visited two schools from last year's workshop and had wonderful, fantastic meetings.  The first, CCED, had a few teachers that did the 'color brick' (assembly line) project, although more of a way to introduce some fun into 'who am I' projects rather than to look at how an assembly line works.

Our second meeting at Lucille Rupp school was awesome.  We talked for over an hour.  They LOVE the robot arm project and cannot wait to see more / other projects.  "When can you come back?  This week?  July?  January?" We asked what we could help with and the answer was "Spanish, math and natural sciences" to which we had to laugh and say "OK, math and science!"

There seems to be one thing that really opens your eyes on each trip.  My favorite question was "Can you tie the projects to the salvation of the kids?  To their spirituality?"  Being an educator in the U.S., this isn't a question I've really ever heard outside of a church context before - and I love it.  Can we?  Certainly!

We rounded things off by seeing more friends - it's great to see Olvis again - and watching Morgan teach David how to salsa dance.  Oh, and actually planning for today's workshop ("Let's just wing it!")

OK - this is short, but it's time to drink the last of this coffee and get ready to attack the day.  More to follow!