Sunday, September 8, 2013

Roman Ruins in Vienna, Austria

When we think about Roman ruins we think just that, they are in Rome and they are ruined.  The reality is that there are Roman ruins throughout Europe and North Africa and they vary in completeness.  

For me one of the interesting things about the Roman ruins in Vienna, Austria is that they are located in the middle of the old part of the city inside the Ringstrasse, the road that follows the line of historic city walls.  They are not out in the fields or along the river but in the old part of the city.  Then of course it hits, this is the old part of the city, the part that has been inhabited the longest.  Originally it was a Celtic settlement and then the Romans took over calling it Vindobona.  Vindobona was used as a military outpost to protect Rome from the various Germanic tribes. Romans lived in the area from around 54 - 430 CE. 

The wall is where the ruins are located.
So imagine walking past the this huge complex, the Hofburg, which was the palace for the ruling family and is now a series of museums and government offices.  You walk along the buildings, watching the cars, and horse carriages go buy then into a narrow covered walkway connecting two buildings through which cars and carriages are still traveling and in front you see the traffic part around this barrier.  Welcome to one of the Roman excavations.  It is right in the middle of a busy city street.  You can walk over to it and look down into what they are working on.  Imagine working below street level in basically a pit with random tourists watching and numerous cars going by.  

The other Roman ruin inside the Ringstrasse is the Roman Museum in the Hoher Market.  It is a narrow building with several floors.  There are exhibits where you can put together pottery pieces and look at the clothing of about 2,000 years. There are numerous artifacts and displays describing the daily life. There was a tremendous blending of cultures with numerous ethnic groups and belief systems interacting.  The size of the empire is evident in the amount of goods from the empire that were traded and consumed.  

 But for me the best part are the ruins in the basement.  After going downstairs you actually go under the current street and you are walking around the officers houses.  They actually had heating underneath their floors and in their walls.  These were not simple fireplaces but engineered heating systems to keep homes warm in the cold Vienna winters.  Imagine walking around and on top of homes that were inhabited almost 2,000 years ago. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Last Day: Travel and the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal
 I don't think that words or even pictures can do the Taj Mahal justice.  My World History book has a picture of the Taj Mahal on the cover and I always thought emm, big white building.  But it is truly awe inspiring.  It isn't merely white, it is full of color.

We unloaded our bags of food, pens, and gum before we went to buy our tickets.  We were all given bottles of water and shoe coverings to wear in the Taj Mahal.  We then board electric buses that take us closer to the entrance gate.  We are searched not only for weapons but pens and food that could damage the building.  As I left security I looked up and there were monkeys running around on the roof of the building.

As we walked up the path we stop at one of the gates.  I could have stayed at the gate looking at it for some time but then we walked through and you are in front of the Taj Mahal.  It is so perfect that when you look at it from a distance it doesn't look real.  I kept looking at it almost afraid to go any closer because I thought that it would vanish or it would look horrible close up.

I then looked at the surrounding gardens.  Like all Muslem architecture and gardens they were perfectly symmetrical.  I kept wondering how in the world did they get the gardens that perfect.  As I walked through the gardens I kept getting closer to the Taj and the beauty didn't diminish. It only got stronger because the closer that I got the more colors and designs I could see.

Floral inlay 
As you approach the steps leading up to the Taj Mahal you have two choices either remove your shoes or put the shoe coverings over your shoes.  Many of the locals stored their shoes in the shoe racks to the side.  As I balanced trying to slide the shoe coverings over my sandals I debated whether or not to go barefoot.  I thought even though it was still morning, this is white marble out in the hot sun and it is well over 90 F.  I thought that I might fry my feet if I went barefoot so I opted to wear the shoe coverings which were extremely hot.

This building, according to the stories, was built as a monument of love for the death of a beloved wife. The cynic also might say that it was a way to show off the wealth and talents of an empire.  The reality is probably somewhere between those extremes or a combination of the two.

Calligraphy, inlays, and carvings around the window
The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child.  He imported workers from all over his empire to create the building and grounds. It took more than twenty years to build and Shah Jahan never got to see his creation up close.  His youngest son killed his older sons and imprisoned Shah Jahan.

There are floral inlays and calligraphy panel covering the surfaces.  They are made by cutting out pieces of marble and inlaying different types of precious and semi-precious stones.  As beautiful as they are on the outside, this work is even more intricate inside the Taj Mahal.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

The descendants of the workers who created the inlays still live and work in Agra.  They do repair work on the inlayed stones of the Taj Mahal and they create tables and other works of art.  We got to see them carving the marble and cutting the stones that would create the different patterns.  The more elaborate the design, the more expensive the price.  I did not buy anything because my budget cannot afford my taste.

This was the perfect end to the trip.  It is amazing how much history and culture I learned that I can share with my classes.  I have also created new friendships.  The more I think about this trip, the more that I realize that I have learned not just about India but about my own understanding of the world and how things are interconnected.

Day 12: The Road to Agra

The last day in Delhi.  Our group is working on the debriefing and sharing our experiences of teaching and working in different schools throughout India.  The rest of the group shared some of their stories over supper last night; but I was so exhausted that I ordered room service and then slept.

It has been hard to stay focused on work when my mind keeps drifting to the fact that I will be at the Taj Mahal in the morning.  Even though I am in India and I have seen so many wonderful things my excitement is almost unbearable.

Our group has been sharing what we experienced at our schools.  I have been working on my definition of global education.  It sounds simple enough but it is so much more than I teach World History, so I am a global teacher.  I kept coming back to the work that we did in our online classes as well as what I experienced.  What I saw in all of the classes that I observed, was teachers asking questions that caused students to think deeper and look for relationships between different causes, countries, or time periods. As I reflected on the lesson plan that I had submitted with the online class I looked at it to see if the questions I asked caused my students to think about relating what they learned in history to modern topics or problems.

Just one of the many different types of transportation.
We finally finished our work and board the bus that will take us to Agra.  Afternoon traffic in Delhi was even more hectic than I could imagine.  Then traffic gets interesting.  On the road to Agra I saw many strange, to Americans, things.  I saw more people than I could ever imagine squeezed into various vehicles.  I saw all sorts of animals out the windows.  Then there were trucks that would stop for traffic and all of a sudden herds of people would stream from the side of the road, climb onto the back of the truck and ride down the road. The funniest was the flatbed of farm equipment.  There were people sitting on the seats and all through the machinery.

We arrive in Agra in time to see the light show at Agra Fort.  After we weaved through the numerous people selling items we begin the climb up to the fort.  This was one of the most imposing sites that I have ever seen.  There were no lights illuminating the path so all I could see were huge shadows from the walls and gates.  I had to stay focused and pay attention to where I was walking because of the limited light.  The gates were massive and I kept trying to think what would it have been like to walk through them hundreds of years ago.

The show begins with different colored flashing lights and sound effects as the history of the fort and the emperors is told.  I will admit my knowledge of the time period was limited and I struggled to pay attention to the story that was being told.  I kept trying to look and see exactly how big was the fort and how tall were the walls.  I wish that there was more time for me to explore the fort and see if it is as scary in the day as it is at night.

After we arrived back at the hotel I pulled the books I had on both the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal to learn more information on each. In my research, I found out that the fort's surrounding moat was once filled with crocodiles.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 11: Lotus Temple

This was the day that our group was supposed to travel and regroup in Delhi, India.  So my travel day was a cab ride across town to a new hotel.  So none of my normal airport adventures.

Well, the hotel room was nice and now for some shopping and sight seeing before the rest of the group meets up.  I still do not have the nuances of haggling down.  I miss wandering through a store, taking my time, and knowing exactly how much something will cost.

When we ask for a cab the front desk wants to know if we want air conditioning.  We quickly answer air please. Not counting humidity, heat index, etc.  the air temperature has been well over 100 F.  What it felt like was hot beyond belief.

First for the day is a trip to the Lotus Temple.  As we leave the car park to cross the road, I notice two important things.  First there is the Kinley Water truck, which I try to get a picture of and second there is never a break in traffic.  Basically as long as there is not a bus or a really big truck you cross and people swerve around you.  Forget about looking both ways and for a cross walk.  People just go.

The Lotus Temple
After I enter the grounds, I see that there are acres of landscaped gardens.  It is so green and pretty it is hard to imagine that we are actually close to a desert.  I could spend hours wandering through the grounds. But I keep seeing the fences and barricades to keep you on the pathways.  Ok, I did crash into a few of them. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. So I decided that in my own best interest I should just go to the temple.  And then I round the corner and see the temple.  It really does look like a flower.

As we get close to the steps leading up to the temple we reach the place where we are supposed to remove our shoes.  I take them off and put them into my bag and climb the steps to the temple.  It is even more amazing up close.  There are pools of water surrounding it and there are doors on all sides.  It is full of interesting angles.  As we approach the doors they have us line up and explain things in several different languages.

Looking down to the Information Center
We enter the temple and it is quiet and peaceful,  a huge change from the busy road.  I am not sure what to expect in a Baha'i Temple.  There are some prayers sung and some chanted and they sound like they are from different languages and then someone starts saying the Lord's Prayer in English.  After the prayers are concluded some people leave and others stay in the quiet.  We leave the temple and go across the grounds to the information center to learn more about the religion.  I am still unclear on all of the beliefs work together.  But the overall theme is peace and harmony in which all religions and races are supposed to unite together.

We do a little shopping.  For me, it is window shopping.  The amount of stuff and the attention that customers get in a store is overwhelming.  If I spend a few seconds looking at something all of a sudden twenty different variations of that item are thrust at me with comments about how wonderful it is.

There is an afternoon tea at the Fulbright House where we meet Indian teachers who have studied or taught in the United States through different State Department Programs.  As we shared stories, what I kept noticing were the commonalities that we had.  Our students do the same things.  We struggle with planning our lessons and meeting the needs of our students as well as keeping our subject matter relevant and important to our students.

So often teachers are isolated.  We teach our subjects in our classroom without lots of interaction with other teachers throughout our day.  From reports and findings that are constantly being published we hear how much more students do in other countries.  After working with both the students and the teachers I see that we are dealing with many of the same issues and problems.

Day 10: Last Teaching Day

My last day at Vasant Valley.  There wasn't a morning assembly because of the rain.  I am used to morning announcement over the intercom into my classroom but here all of the students gather in the courtyard to hear the days announcements.

I have a light day because of meetings, I will only be participating in five classes.  That just sounds strange.  My normal day is three teaching periods with one planning period.  It is also hard to adjust to class only being forty minutes long.  I feel like I blink and class is over.

One of the many things that I found interesting is that the principal teaches several classes a week.
I still don't fully understand the schedule but teachers do not teach the same subject at the same time every day.  I kept studying the posted schedules and I understand them in theory, but I have the feeling that I would get things confused.

I went with one of the classes to the computer lab.  This was one of my favorite rooms this week.  No it isn't because I love the computers but rather it had one very important thing - air conditioning.  The students were working on designing websites for their World War II projects.  Just like at home students were interested in looking at things on youtube and finding cute pictures.  But eventually they settled into their research areas and were searching for information that tied to specific research areas.
Students working on their World War II projects in the computer lab.

I was starving by the time lunch rolled around at 1:33 in the afternoon.  I had been sniffing the air to try and figure out what was for lunch and I kept thinking that it smelled familiar.  I got my lunch and was told it was a veggie burger.  My heart sank because I thought of all the tasteless veggie burgers I had ever eaten.  Well, I took a bite and was very pleasantly surprised, it was an aloo tikki burger or what is basically a potato cake sandwich.  It was beyond yummy.  If I thought that I could convince my own school cafeteria to serve them I would be very happy.

The McDonald's version of my favorite sandwich. It would be under 50 American cents, from the exchange rate, when I traveled.  
My day ended with the social science teachers taking us out to tea.  For Americans, this is out for a small bite to eat or a snack.  We went to the local mall, something that I have done many times.  In India  there is an added layer of security that I was not expecting, before we pulled into the parking garage the car was searched underneath and in the trunk and under the hood.  Then before we entered the elevators to go into the mall we were all searched as well.  The mall itself, looked like any other shopping mall, there were many stores that I recognized, big budget Hollywood movies playing and plenty of Western style food.  Much as I like seeing familiar things it is a little upsetting to see how widespread American foods, fashion, and music are.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 9: Still Teaching

My second day of teaching in India.  I had an early free period so I headed to the library to catch up on my own notes. Then my solitude was broken when a class came in to choose books and read.
What struck me about the library, other than the no air conditioning (I know, spoiled American), was that the bulk of the books that I looked at were in English.  Many of the books were the same titles that are in my own school’s library.  As I watched, one of the middle school aged classes came in and selected books, ranging from graphic novels to large chapter books.  What struck me were the similarities between American and Indian students. What I noticed most were the students behaviors. There was one table of girls diligently reading beside the table of boys holding the books up over their faces so that they could talk (thinking that their teacher couldn’t see or hear them).  I tried not to giggle, because I have seen the same thing from my own classes.
In talking with my host teacher, I knew that I would be observing several classes but that I would be teaching World History. Yesterday, the department head asked me to explain American elections to her political science classes.  It had been years since I had taught government and even though I know the topic I was afraid that I had forgotten everything.  I spent the night before brushing up on the electoral college, and outlining a very brief overview of the United States political system.  
It shocked me how interested the students were in a foreign governments election process.  It is one thing to understand that you live in a globally powerful country but another to know it. Students wanted to know how things worked in the United States not just because many of them had visited but because politicians impact extends well beyond their own countries borders. Both the length of the political campaigns as well as the primary elections were interesting to the students.
Students were also interested in the voter registration process and the fact that we can easily change political party affiliation.  They asked questions about the voting process and I shared my own experiences voting as on an absentee ballot, in a polling place, and early voting.  
Tomorrows assignment World History as well as observations. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 8: Actually Teaching

OK, even though I have been a teacher for more years than I like to recall, I still get a little nervous on the first day of school. It isn’t the nerves of will they like me, I am not concerned about that, but more of how will these personalities mesh with each other.  I know my content and I know how to teach but the interactions of each class differ because of the student dynamics.  This means that I have to alter my presentations and manner of instruction to best fit the make-up of the class.

Not only will I have my normal first day with my three classes when school starts back in August; I had my first day in India with nine classes.  That is right, nine classes and the school day is 7:25 - 3:15.  So my day with students begins earlier and ends later than I am used to (I know I am normally never there that early but I stay later and I don’t have students late in the afternoon).
The day begins with me walking to the gate of the complex to be picked up by one of the other teachers, if that hadn’t worked out I could have walked or taken my new favorite form of transportation, the auto-rickshaw.  We quickly get to school and navigate through the throngs of parents and drivers dropping off students for their first day back after summer holidays. 
I meet one of the teachers that I am going to teach with and walk to her classroom.  She has the students lined up to report for the whole school assembly. She teaches grade 9 and I walk with her as she lines the students up on their step of the amphitheater and then I notice it; the boys are shoving and poking and thumping each other.  I wasn’t sure how the students were going to act; this was one of the elite private schools in New Delhi and there are the 9th grade boys shoving each other, gee that looks familiar.  Their teacher kept separating them and standing close to them and guess what, I was doing the same thing.  Imagine, the teacher death stare is the same in other countries.  After a while the boys settled down and the assembly began.  Announcements were made and the national anthem was sung and then the students went back to their classrooms.
I spent the first two periods of the day learning the layout of the school with my host teacher, Mona.  We saw the upper school, grades 6-12 on the one side of the amphitheater and the lower school, elementary aged on the other side.  Since neither of us teaches elementary age students, it was a quick tour through their facilities.
If I haven’t expressed it before, New Delhi is hot.  Students had already gotten an extended summer break because of the intense heat.  The temperature is well into the 90’s before noon with oppressive humidity.  I know ever year I threaten to spend my summers somewhere cooler than North Carolina and where do I do someplace with weather even hotter.  Oh and if I forgot to mention it, the classrooms do not have air conditioning.
So I have just climbed to the third floor, to teach ninth graders world history in a classroom lacking air conditioning and I feel like I am going to melt into a puddle and die.  I present the information about my school and the only real question I got was “Is your school air conditioned”  and when I answered “yes” you should have seen the glares directed at the teacher.  Even though I had seen the morning behaviors I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I think that I was expecting perfection, little student robots quietly doing everything asked of them without any comment or protest.  What I saw was quite different, I saw students begging for a smaller homework assignment, getting chastised for not taking notes or paying attention.  In general, the students acted like a normal class of American students.
In all of the classes that I was in, I presented a little about North Carolina and the school where I teach, Starmount High.  The students were interested in the fact that my students, if they had their license could drive to school (they cannot), there are no uniforms (they have them), we have air conditioned classrooms, and students can have cell phones (they are not allowed at school).
Partial schedule of one classroom.  You can see how the subject order switches.
What I found interesting was that the class stays together and the teacher comes to them, with the exceptions of PE, arts, and lab classes.  They also did not have the same schedule every day.  In all of the classes the weeks schedule was posted and their classes alternated class periods and some classes were double lessons.  There was also a private study build into the day,  a study hall in which every student was provided one class period to work on homework at school and they could get a teacher’s help during that time.  The homework schedule was also posted, as to which classes would have official homework assignments that would be due the next day.  There were at most three classes of assigned homework a night, with maths and sciences having the most days of assigned homework.  But, before my students get to happy, I was told that the average was two hours of homework a night.

I taught two different history lessons, I taught the between the war years German history or the rise of Hitler, and Roman history and culture.  These were to the grade 9 and 11 classes.  I also observed other social science classes throughout the day.  The students were willing to participate in discussion and asked good questions.
The lessons that I taught were all before lunch, which is at 1:33 and the whole school has 25 minutes to eat their lunch.  Before you ask, “How big is the cafeteria?”; there isn’t one.  The meals are brought outside of the classrooms and students get their lunch and take it to the stairs, hallways, or classrooms and eat.  There is only one choice and all students are provided the same meal.  The meal choice is also vegetarian.  Some students also brought snacks to eat during the morning breaks.
Students during lunch period.
As for me by the end of the day I was exhausted.  I am always a little wiped out the first student day after summer break but this was different.  I have never taught in a day that long or in such intense heat.