Posts Tagged ‘global education’

Borneo Day 6: Wednesday, July 26

Physics class

The physics class at SMAN 1 Mandastana. I gave all the students a MAVEN postcard. I taught two astronomy activities on this day. The teacher is standing next to me with the NASA sticker.

Today Craig and I taught lessons in our subject areas. He taught the spaghetti tower engineering project and the DaVinci helicopter activity. I taught two astronomy lessons: the human orrery and the parallax activity.

Martapura River at dawn

The Martapura River at dawn, taken from the entrance to our hotel.

We had worked out what we would be teaching with the physics teacher the day before. When we first met the teachers on Monday, I noticed that she was the only female teacher not wearing a hijab, for whatever reason, and that she didn’t seem as carried away in the general hoopla about having us here. I could see that I needed to convince her that this would be a good experience for her students, so I asked Nazar if we could meet with her and discuss what we wanted to do. She warmed to the idea of teaching engineering and astronomy, and that we would trade off with another class so that both would get the lessons. We decided on the details and were good to go.

Laying down planets

Laying out the planet rings for the human orrery activity.

I set up in her classroom this morning, preparing the materials I had brought with me all the way from America in my blue suitcase. I had the string orbits and space probe for the orrery and the materials for making sextants. I also had my final presents for students, the remaining NASA stickers, postcards, and bookmarks. My suitcase will be much lighter after today.

As the first class started, I introduced the idea of the planets and how they were called the Wanderers by the Greeks. I asked them for the Indonesian words: Earth is Bumi and the other planets are essentially the same words as English and Latin. Then I asked for the name of the sun and this one surprised me: it is Mata Hari. I asked if it was the same name as the infamous World War I spy that lived in Paris, and they said yes. She was a Dutch woman who had lived in Indonesia with her husband and studied dance here when her marriage fell apart. She took the name of the Sun as her stage name.

Space ship arrives at Mars

The spaceship arrives at Mars after a six month journey. Now it has to wait there until Earth comes back around, and then a six month return voyage. We simulated all of this through our human orrery.

I described how Ptolemy worked out the motions of the solar system based on a geocentric model with deferent and epicycle circles like a spirograph. They understood the translations given by Nazar, but no one has seen a spirograph before. No matter. I plunged onward. I explained that Ptolemy had been brilliant but wrong, and that Arabic astronomers had gotten better observations and that Copernicus created a heliocentric model based on them. I certainly put Nazar to the test. I asked for volunteers to be the planets and Mata Hari, and then we went outside into the courtyard.

We laid out the string orbits in as circular a pattern as possible, then I ran the simulation calling out “Two weeks.” They certainly know what that means now. I pointed out how Mercury is fastest and Mars slowest. Then I showed how a space probe or human mission would take 6-8 months to reach Mars, starting when Earth is 90° from Mars and overtaking it, then arriving at Mars on the opposite side of the Sun. Astronauts would have to wait until Earth came back around to the same position before starting back, a 30 month round trip. At the end, I had students stand around the circles as zodiac constellations and demonstrated how retrograde motion works as Earth overtakes Mars.

Measuring stars

Students at SMAN 1 Mandastana measuring the angles from planets to stars in our parallax activity.

It was a hot activity out in the sun in the courtyard and we were all grateful to get back inside, even if the classroom isn’t air conditioned. I handed out Mars MAVEN postcards (I still had quite a stack) and the students insisted that I sign them as an autograph. That took a few minutes. Then we took photos again.

Mata Hari in 2010

Mata Hari in 2010. She was born from Dutch parents but moved with her husband to Indonesia, where she learned Javanese dancing. After divorcing and moving to France, she started a career as an exotic dancer and took her stage name from the Bahasa Indonesia word for sun, literally “eye in the sky.” She was accused of being a German spy and was executed in 1917 by the French.

After we traded classrooms, I was in a math teacher’s class and I taught a second astronomy lesson, this one a bit more challenging. This is the lesson I developed on how we calculate the distance to nearby stars using trigonometric parallax. I introduced the idea of using the tangent function to find the distance to the star based on the parallax angle created by the star’s apparent wiggling back and forth compared to the background stars because of the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. I had to ask the Indonesian word for star, which is bintang. There is a beer in Indonesia (popular on Bali but not so much elsewhere, because Muslims don’t drink alcohol) called Bintang or Star Beer.

Measuring stars 2

Helping students measure the angles to simulated stars in our parallax activity.

I divided the students into groups and handed out the wooden dowels, protractors, tape, string, and beads I had brought. The built the sextants, and then they drew up stars and planets on the cardstock with the markers I brought. Then we headed outside to the courtyard again. I used two meter sticks we had borrowed from the physics teacher (kept in the teacher’s lounge because they are very valuable and she doesn’t want them broken) and laid out and measured the planets on one line and the stars on another perpendicular line. I explained how to measure the angles with the sextants, and the math teacher helped her students figure out the process. The girls jumped in a lot more willingly than the boys (no surprise there), who were more willing to stand in as stars. Once we had at least two measurements from each planet to each star, even though not all groups had all measurements, we headed back inside as we were all getting heat stroke. I hadn’t thought of the problem with the heat, and the poor girls were roasting in their hijabs.

Measuring stars 3

Measuring the angles to stars from simulated planets using a sextant. It was a hot day, so once we got a few measures for each planet to each star, we headed back inside to do the calculations.

The students pulled out calculators (I hadn’t needed to bring the ones I had) and set to work on the tangent calculations once I had explained the formula. They seemed to all understand it, and had obviously worked with trig functions before. I drew up a table on the white board and we added their measurements, then their calculations. They results were exactly as expected, fitting the pattern much better than any class I’ve ever tried this with. The further out the planet, the better the results compared with the actual answers. The further out the star, the less accurate the results. We talked about why and how the tangent function reaches infinity the closer you get to 90°, so being off by even a degree for the further stars means great differences in the tangent function.

As you can imagine, this lesson took a bit longer than 90 minutes, but the teachers said to go ahead and continue because the students were really getting into it. I don’t know how many hands-on physics activities they normally do – I didn’t get to see the Fisika lab room or any equipment, but if they only have two worn out meter sticks, it can’t be that well equipped. Considering that astronomy isn’t regularly taught in high school, they seemed to have a pretty good grasp of basic astronomy, which leads me to think it is taught in junior high or elementary school. I saw some mechanical orreries in one of the elementary classrooms we visited in Jakarta, so it must be taught at some point.

Calculating answers

Students calculating the tangent function to find the distances to the simulated stars.

It was audacious of me to try to teach these lessons, which are hard to teach even in America. That they were so successful was beyond anything I could have hoped for. I saw some real comprehension in the students’ eyes; I actually taught them something new. I knew the language barrier would be a challenge, but Nazar’s English is good and we managed to communicate. It helped that I learned a few Indonesian words, enough to show my desire to reach them. The students reciprocated by listening and following instructions well, and they seemed to truly appreciate seeing how trigonometry really can be useful, or how simulations and kinesthetic activities can help to demonstrate science concepts.

Calculating star distances

Students calculating the distances to stars using the tangent function for the parallax activity. Their answers were the best I’ve ever seen in this activity, and showed the expected pattern that the more distant a planet, the more accurate the answer. The more distant the star, the less accurate the answer.

It also helped that science really is a universal language. Its concepts remain the same throughout the world; only the specific words change, but because many of them are based on Latin, they are fairly easy to understand and interpret across our two cultures. I have great gratitude to Nazar and the other English teacher for helping to translate the words, and to the science and math teachers for having already laid the foundation of math and science concepts. None of this would have worked otherwise.

Calculating star distances 2

Finding the distances to simulated stars using trigonometric parallax. These students at SMAN 1 Mandastana in Borneo did a great job with the parallax activity. It was a great honor to teach one of my own lesson plans here.

Craig’s engineering exercises also went well, although he did not see the level of creativity and divergent thinking one might expect of American students. Whether or not these types of activities will be used by the science teachers remains to be seen. One day of demonstration is not enough to overcome a lifetime of teaching habits. We won’t be here long enough to follow through, but at least we provided lessons that were unforgettable and truly lived up to our hype as master teachers.

Craig and David with teachers

Craig Hendrick and David Black with teachers at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

I don’t consider myself to be a great educator compared to many teachers I have met, but there are moments when I do well and this was one of them. As my message came through across barriers of culture and language, using concepts that are hard for even English native speakers to understand, I realized that I can be an excellent teacher, after all. We all rose to the challenge, partly because we dared to do what should have been impossible. At least at that moment, I felt deserving of the accolades and respect I have been shown here.

Physics class 2

The second class of the day. I did the parallax activity with them, and they did a fantastic job. I’ve decided that science is truly the universal language.


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Borneo Day 5: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Country lane near school

The country road leading to SMAN 1 Mandastana.

On our second day at SMAN 1 Mandastana, I was faced with a bit of a challenge. During my presentation yesterday on my school (American Academy of Innovation) I showed slides of my students doing chemistry demonstrations, including the well-known flame test demo, where nichrome wires are dipping into solutions of potassium, lithium, sodium, calcium, barium, strontium, and copper salts, then heated in a Bunsen burner flame. These elements have fairly simple quantum structures (one or two electrons in an outer shell) and emit very definite colors. As the electrons are heated up, they absorb energy from the flame and jump to specific higher quantum levels. They then emit the same wavelengths of light as they fall back down to their ground states.

Doing flame test lab

Doing the flame test lab with chemistry students at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin in Southern Borneo.

The students asked, through Nazar, if they could do the same lab. My response was, “I don’t know – let’s look and see what you have and maybe we can.” I didn’t want to commit the chemistry teacher to do a lab, but she seemed willing, so we looked through her supply of chemicals after the class and found cupric sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and barium sulfate. No lithium or strontium, which give off the best colors, but at least these four will work. Then we looked at her equipment. She has a lab assistant, and we unlocked the cabinets in her storage room. They have one nichrome wire, alcohol burners, and a good supply of beakers. So we could make this work.

So this morning I went to the chemistry classroom first thing, about 45 minutes before the students were to come in. The teacher got out the chemicals, and I discovered something interesting: none of the chemicals had been opened, not even the sodium chloride. The equipment also appeared to be unused – not brand new, as the storage cabinet had some dust on it, but sitting there for I don’t know how long. No stains on the beakers, and the alcohol burners had never been lit. We had to scrounge around to find a cigarette lighter. At least the container of alcohol for the burners appeared to have been used – about 1/3 of it was gone.

Flame test 2

David Black helping students with the flame test lab at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin in Southern Kalimantan.

Now I know this is not the norm throughout Indonesia, as I had seen the Assistant Principal at the elementary school we visited do the Priestley Experiment, the chemistry equipment at the SMAN 8 Jakarta school was well-used, and I found out later that other teachers saw science experiments being done at their host schools. So I don’t know why the equipment and chemicals have not been used here. The teacher certainly knows her stuff, as I saw from the class the previous day when the students were taking notes on mole fractions. And she is very willing to do this lab. So it seems to me that she either hasn’t had the training/professional development of how to conduct labs and use her equipment or she is unwilling to use up her supplies.

It also appears to me that the chemicals and supplies were part of a package provided by the central government, with a set list of materials. As chemistry classes go, she was fairly well supplied, but the chemicals were stored inside the fume hood as well as underneath, and the hood looked as if it might not function or be hooked up properly. The school is 20 years old and all the sinks in the chemistry lab were rusted out and nonfunctional, so that I had to get water for my solutions from a container on the counter. It was not possible for me to inquire further to see if this condition is general throughout Kalimantan Selatan or other provinces, but I guess that this might be a common problem in rural schools in Indonesia. After all, it is a common enough problem in the United States. Many teachers in both countries do not do the types of inquiry labs that students need to understand the practical side of chemistry.

David with chemistry teachers

David Black posing with the chemistry teachers (left) and English teachers (right) of SMAN 1 Mandastana. I really need to get my name tag straightened out . . .

Once I had the solutions made, I lit an alcohol lamp and saw that its flame was orange, not the blue I’m used to in Bunsen burners or with methanol. But with repeated dipping and heating, the colors were visible except for the barium, which is always the hardest one to see. We were able to find or make five wires, and divided the students into five groups. They traded off the four solutions. I told them what the five chemicals were and what colors to expect. I found that most of the elements are named the same in Bahasa Indonesia, except that the ones with Latin symbols are also pronounced with their Latin names. For example, sodium is called natrium in Indonesia and potassium is kalium. The only chemical I had to learn was copper, which is common enough that an Indonesian word exists for it: tembago. I labeled the solutions A, B, C, and D and told the students that they would have to observe the colors in the flame, then make their best guess as to which chemical each solution was. It took some doing and many dips. The copper kept contaminating the results for subsequent chemicals, but the potassium was good and the sodium simply made the orange flame oranger.

Flame test lab

Students in the chemistry class at SMAN 1 Mandastana conducting a flame test lab. I had to improvise for materials and chemicals, but the lab turned our fairly well. It was a true challenge in global education!

When we finished, I had the students shout out which solution they thought each was, and they got it right. I understood the names of the elements in Bahasa Indonesia by this time, so I didn’t need as much translation. Barium had to be guessed by a process of elimination. Given the challenges of the materials and the alcohol lamps, which simply didn’t get hot enough to really see the colors well, this lab turned out quite well. I will never forget this experience of teaching a science lab in a foreign language using scrounged materials.

As I observed the chemistry teacher the day before, and as I taught this class, I was struck by how impossible this would have been if this had been any subject except science. Yes, Nazar helped translate, but I was able to use Indonesian words for the elements and explain a few things where he didn’t know the words, since he is an English teacher and not a science teacher. Where Nazar couldn’t translate and I didn’t know how to explain, the chemistry teacher and her assistant were able to. Science is truly a universal language, but I have never put it to the test like this before. I was even able to do some explanation of quantum leaps and color emission, which the students seemed to understand. I don’t know if they have studied this before, but I saw comprehension on their faces despite some fumbling with the translations, more so than I usually see in American students’ faces.

Flame test

Looking for the blue flame of copper (tembago) sulfate.

Nazar said we could treat him to American food today, so we drove back to the city. We passed a large mosque at a roundabout that we had stopped at on Sunday in order to say prayers and use the restroom, but now there was a protest going on in front of the mosque in the traffic circle itself. The signs said this was a protest in favor of Palestinians in Israel. We didn’t stop, as we had been told not to get to close to protests as the mood of the crowd can turn ugly fast. This protest seemed pretty peaceful, with a few banners and people chanting but nothing else.

PE class with Nazar and Craig

Before the chemistry class, we went out with some of the students during their PE class to visit the junior high school next door and to see the area. Notice that the students are walking (and running) on a rough road surface in bare feet. The girls wear PE hijabs which seem very hot to me to wear in this heat.

We found a Kentucky Fried Chicken place near the Duta Mall in Banjarmasin. It was fairly standard KFC, except for the steamed rice they served. You can’t get away from that. But I think I’ve had about enough fried chicken for a while. I was running short of money, so we found a currency exchange place not far from the hotel and I exchanged the rest of my U.S. dollars (about $60) into rupiah, which was quite a pile.

Interesting name for a store

We passed this store on our way to the school, and I got a photo of it this morning. It is the old logo of my college alma mater, a strange thing to see in Borneo.

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Borneo Day 4: Monday, July 24, 2017

Taking notes in chemistry

The chemistry (kimia) class at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

Today we got to do what we came all this way for: to teach at a school in Borneo.

All schools in Indonesia start Mondays with an early morning flag ceremony, so we had to leave the hotel early to make it. After breakfast, Nazar picked us up in the lobby at 7:00. We drove across the Sangai Martapura and onto the road leading north out of the city that we had used the day before. We turned onto Jalan Ahmad Yani and headed toward the Barito River Bridge, but before getting that far we turned north onto a narrow country lane. This traveled straight through rice fields and past scattered houses to a wooden bridge across a canal, then turned west. I could see the school to our north, a blue building next to a grass field.

Country road

Jalan Achmed Yani, or the Trans Kalimantan Highway. We drove on this out of Banjarmasin to the northwest, then took a smaller country road to the school.

I recognized it from looking up their website and talking about it to my students. This is SMAN 1 Mandastana, the school where Nazar and his wife teach. We passed the school and immediately turned back north onto a somewhat worn cement road leading to the front entrance.

Ride paddie

The school is north of Banjarmasin about 15 km and is in the middle of rice fields. This is the view on the way to the school.

Nazar drove up to the entrance and we saw a sign hanging up welcoming Craig and I by name. We walked in through a breezeway into the school’s main office area and put our bags in the headmaster’s office (except my camera bag), then walked out into the main courtyard. The students and teachers were already assembled in ranks, waiting for our arrival. Our big moment had arrived!

SMAN 1 Mandastana from road

SMA Negeri 1 in Mandastana, near Banjarmasin. This is the school the Craig Hendrick and I taught at for a week in Borneo.

It is hard to express how I felt. I was being given the honors of a master teacher, an education ambassador who had traveled all this way from America to teach at this school. It was difficult for my mind to accept that I deserved this level of respect. Yes, I had come from America to teach here, but although I have multiple award plaques and certificates attesting that I am a master teacher, I have never really believed it in my heart. I know I have so many ways to improve as a teacher, even after 26 years of doing it. I’ve known so many teachers who were more deserving than me, who should be here instead of me.

Welcome sign

Our welcome sign at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

I wanted to shout out that they had the wrong guy, that the name on the banner must be some other David Black and not me. Yet here I was – half way around the world, about to attempt to teach in a place I’d never heard of before to a people I knew very little about. How very presumptuous of me. Yet buried under all that uncertainty was a part of me that knew I had finally arrived, that all my hard work at being an education professional and presenting at all those conferences was finally paying off. That I deserved all of this. I wanted to bask in the attention. I wanted to run away. I was thrilled to be there. I was scared to death.

Students in ranks

Students at SMAN 1 Mandastana standing at attention during their Monday morning flag ceremony.

I finally decided that even if I didn’t know whether or not I was a master teacher, it didn’t matter. All I had to worry about was that I should be a teacher, nothing more. If the students will let me, I can find the common ground that will allow me to be what I know how to be.

Craig with teachers

Craig Hendrick standing with the teachers at SMAN 1 Mandastana for the Monday morning flag ceremony.

We were asked to stand with the other teachers, who were wearing khaki uniforms. The students were in white shirts and blouses, white hijabs, and gray pants or dresses. They stood with their backs to the morning sun, but it was directly in our faces and already blazing hot. As the ceremony progressed, I stepped out of line a few times ostensibly to take photos but also to turn away from the sun for a few moments, as it was making my eyes water and I was beginning to sweat.

Raising the flag

Raising the Indonesian flag at the Monday morning flag ceremony of SMAN 1 Mandastana.

A squad of students marched in practiced formation to the flagpole and unfurled the red and white Indonesian flag. A group of girls sang the national anthem, and the squad attached the flag and slowly raised it until it reached the top as the anthem ended. A teacher recited the five Pancasila principles from a microphone on a podium while the students repeated. Then we were introduced and each made a few remarks while Nazar translated. The ceremony ended and we took some photos of us with the entire school.

Craig and David with students

David Black and Craig Hendrick posing with the students of SMAN 1 Mandastana after the Monday morning flag ceremony.

As the students moved to their first period classes, we went into the headmaster’s office for a few minutes. He offered us some snacks and we answered his questions through Nazar. We were then ready to meet the students.

David with headmaster

Meeting the Headmaster (Principal) of SMAN 1 Mandastana.

There are two English teachers at this school. I went with Nazar and Craig went with the other teacher, whose English is also fairly good. The school is built in an almost enclosed letter C shape around a central courtyard, with the offices at the bottom of the C, the computer and language lab on the small right leg with the kanteen or cafeteria at the end and a separate wing almost completing the open part of the C. A new classroom was being built at the far end. On the left side, the longest side of the C, is classrooms with a tile walkway in front and a wooden walkway beyond along the inside edge. The front area of the courtyard is cemented and used for the flag ceremonies and for volleyball, basketball, and soccer. There is a small grassy area behind that, along with a greenhouse that is being built for the biology classes. The grass becomes more swampy as it goes further back, along the top curve of the C. The entire school is built up on stilts to prevent it sinking.

English class

Nazar’s English class at SMAN 1 Mandastana. This is the class that I first presented to, showing a slide show about my home, school, and family.

I walked with Nazar on the left side of the horseshoe. Racks of plants and flowers are growing across the tile walkway, causing us to step down onto the wooden walkway next to the swampy area. I wheeled my blue suitcase around these obstacles as best I could, until we could step up onto the tiles walkway for the top section of the C, where Nazar’s first class is located.

David with English class

Posing with the English class after our lesson. They like to take photos and selfies. They will pose seriously, then do a “freestyle” pose such as this one.

Since Indonesian students stay put in one classroom (except for PE or for classes that require specialized labs, such as Kimia or Fisika), the teachers are the ones to travel. Nazar’s morning English class was in the north wing. The students were excited to see me as I wheeled my stuff in and set up my computer. Nazar had grabbed a portable projector, as the one mounted on the ceiling in the room didn’t seem to be working. I had remembered to bring the power converter with me, so I was able to plug my computer into an extension power strip. I had remembered to bring a VGA cord and my conversion dongle, knowing that HDMI probably wouldn’t be available (but I had an HDMI cord, too, just in case – this is why my carry ons are so heavy). Fortunately everything worked, and I was able to project onto a light blue wall at the front of the class.

David iwith chemistry class

Posing with the girls in one of the chemistry classes at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

I had prepared two slide shows, one the night before about American Academy of Innovation and a second show with harder English about the trip my family made to the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona at the end of June. This one was more about geography and geology.

David with chemistry boys

Posing with the boys in the chemistry class. They wanted a separate photo from the girls. There were more girls than boys in the class. I don’t know if this is the case for all science classes or not.

I showed the first slide show during the first block of the period (45 minutes). Nazar translated for me. The students watched carefully, and exclaimed when they saw the photo of my school on a snowy day. They have never seen snow in their lives. After, I asked if they had questions but they were reluctant to speak, probably because they were afraid their English wasn’t good enough. A couple of students were able to ask a few questions.

When the bell rang, it sounded exactly like the tones played in the Hunger Games movies to announce that a contestant had died. Craig and I both found this a bit unnerving.

Going to class

The inner courtyard of SMAN 1 Mandastana. Since there isn’t snow or cold weather, there are not internal hallways, similar to schools in California. The students wear gray pants/skirts and white shirts/blouses with hajibs and/or hats on Mondays.

During the second block of the 90-minute class, I showed my higher-level slide show on the geography and geology of the western U.S. They were interested in the comparison slide I had made between Borneo and Utah and the other four corner states, that Borneo is 3.38 times larger than Utah and just barely smaller than all four states. But as I showed the various national parks (Taman Nasional) and our route, I could tell that the English was too hard for them. They had fewer questions than I had hoped. I picked things up by opening up my blue case and handing out flyers, brochures, and other materials I had been given at the Utah Valley Visitors Bureau the day before I left Utah. They were excited to get them and have something to practice on.

Happy birthday

A birthday cake for a student in the Language Lab room.

At the end of the class, all the students came up and insisted on taking group and individual photos, including many selfies. They wanted photos in normal pose and what they call “freestyle” which is to pose in a less formal fashion. As I was leaving the classroom, all the students came up and did something they had told us about, but which still came as a surprise. Each student took my hand and placed it against their forehead or cheek or kissed it. This is a normal sign of respect for teachers in Indonesia.

Craig with class

Craig Hendrick teaching in the Language Lab room to students at SMAN 1 Mandastana in Borneo.

The bell rang again (another dead contestant!) and Craig and I traded classrooms. The other English teacher was teaching in the chemistry classroom and we waited a few minutes while the chemistry teacher finished up her lesson. This was the second week of school, and she was reviewing mole fractions (mol fraksi), a subject I don’t often teach until deep into second semester. Even though she was speaking and writing in Indonesian, I was able to follow most of what she was doing as the language of science is fairly universal. Indonesians use Arabic numerals just as we do, and with many words transliterated from Latin in a phonetic alphabet, I was able to follow much of what was written. The teacher was lecturing and writing on the board while students took notes. I walked around and noticed that the students’ handwriting was extremely neat, better than any writing I’ve seen in America (including my own).

Mole fraction notes

Student notes on mole fractions (mol fractsi). Notice the neat handwriting.

Once the lesson was over, I set up the projector again and went through my slide shows. When I came to showing some of the activities my students have done, I had a slide showing two students doing a version of the flame test lab as a demonstration, a lab I’ve done many times. One of the students asked if they could do the lab (through the English teacher) and I looked at the chemistry teacher, who was still in the room, and said we’d have to see what materials she had.


The library at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

After the second slide show was done, I handed out more tourism brochures to these students. We took group photos and selfies again, and as they were leaving to go to mosque, they bowed their heads and kissed my hand as had the other class. This gets to the heart of my basic doubts about myself – that I don’t deserve the great respect they are showing me. Certainly I’ve never seen anything like it before. I wanted to bow back to them, but was told by Nazar later that I don’t have to do that.

Periodic table in Indonesian

Indonesian periodic table. Most of the element names are based on the Latin root words, such as Kalium for potassium (K). Some of the elements, such as Tembago for Copper, must be Indonesian words that predate the introduction of western science.

After the class was over and the students left, we looked through the chemistry supplies and discovered enough materials to make the flame test work. We’ll try the lab tomorrow. While looking through the classroom, I took photos of the periodic table hanging up at the back of the room. I could recognize most of the elemental names, based on the original Latin names, such as kalium for potassium and natrium for sodium. Only a few elements, such as tembago (copper) or beso (iron), were unfamiliar. These must be names that predate chemistry as a science in Indonesia.

Banjar houses craft

Student crafts, including a traditional Bajarese house, on display in the library.

As I walked back to the teachers lounge, I thought of how things had gone and my impressions of it. All of my teaching career I’ve wanted to make a difference in the world, which I have done. There is a part of me that would like to be well known if not famous, perhaps even remembered by history. Whether or not this ever happens, I can at least say that for this week, I was shown the greatest respect I’ve ever known as a teacher.

Teachers room

Teachers’ Preparation Room at SMAN 1 Mandastana. Overall, this school had a lot more light and seemed more airy than schools in Jakarta. There was no air conditioning, so ceiling fans and open windows were the only ventilation. Teachers wear khaki uniforms on Mondays.

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Jakarta Day 5: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

David by SMAN 8 sign

David Black standing by the sign for SMAN 8 Jakarta (Jakarta Public High School # 8).

We had traveled through narrow, winding streets and across railroad tracks to get here, but once we arrived at SMAN 8 Jakarta, it was in a quiet neighborhood. This public high school is in a low-lying area of the city, and I was immediately impressed by the nice mosque that stood at the entrance to the school.

Although it is a regular public school, most schools in Indonesia have religious facilities such as a mosque or mushollah (prayer room) for students to use during prayer times and as part of their Islamic or Character studies classes. The United States places a strong value on separation of church and state, brought on by the persecutions of the Church of England or Lutherans against many religious groups (such as the Pilgrims, Quakers, and Puritans) who then came to America seeking religious freedom. It was built into the original Bill of Rights. But other countries don’t have such a value, and they establish state approved religions. Indonesia recognizes five religions officially, and in theory all are allowed to create religious facilities at school and hold religious classes. In some places, such as Bali and the Maluku Islands, Muslims are the minority. But in most of Indonesia, they form the majority religion with about 87-90% of the total population, such as in Jakarta. So there is a beautiful mosque with golden domes at the entrance to this public high school, and classes are arranged so that students can attend the noontime call to prayer.

Mosque with bougainvillea

Bougainvillea and school mosque at SMAN 8 Jakarta.

This might seem strange to some Americans, who tend to think that the way we do things must be the only way to do things, but its not unusual in many countries. Being from Utah it is not strange to me. We have LDS Seminary available to Utah students; although the seminary buildings must not be on school property, they are usually adjacent or nearby the schools, and students are allowed to have “released time” periods to attend seminary classes. This time doesn’t count toward graduation requirements, so seminary students have less periods with which to meet those needs, but with only 22 credit hours required, it’s not hard.

School mosque

The school mosque at SMAN 8 Jakarta. Indonesia does not have the value of separation of church and state that Americans have. Religious education is a required part of their school curriculum.

This school is considered a model high school in Jakarta and we could tell that they are much more accustomed to having visitors. There wasn’t a sign welcoming us, nor any great fuss about us. We were shown to an auditorium room and given snacks and water against the heat and waited awhile for the assistant principal to arrive. A teacher there who has been an ILEP alumnus greeted us and answered some questions while we waited. They had a nice Promethean board in the room, with a fancy computer control station to run it, and all the male teachers were looking it over as the female teachers discussed the dress code and daily operations of the female teachers who were there.

At SMAN 8 Jakarta

In the auditorium room at SMAN 8 Jakarta.

We were shown around the school, and went in to some of the classes. They had nicely colored bougainvillea growing in planters along the inner railing, and many trophy cases showing excellence in academic competitions, such as Science Olympiad. They have had students win all the way to the international competition, which is an amazing accomplishment. We watched a group of students presenting in a biology class, and other students asking excellent questions.

Biology presenters

Students presenting in a biology class at SMAN 8 Jakarta.

We saw a math class that Mike was especially interested in, since he is a calculus teacher. We talked with students in an English class, and I walked into the Kimia (chemistry) lab and saw the standard supply kit – alcohol lamp, a few beakers, a test tube rack, and a few test tubes. Not much, but at least here the equipment was well used. The biology lab room was well stocked with microscopes, models of various body parts, and even preserved specimens in jars. The computer lab was well equipped. We were shown the teacher preparation room, with more trophies, and I discovered that the word for teacher in Bahasa Indonesia is “guru.” Next to the Guru Room was the Guru Toilet. I had to take a photo. I think maybe I should insist that my students call me Guru.

Chem equipment

Lab station kit for the chemistry lab. Notice the well-used test tubes and alcohol burner. They don’t have much, but they use it to good advantage.

We walked to the principal’s office and were shown a plaque designating this school as one of the top schools in the country, an accomplishment that they were very proud of.

School philosophy

Five areas of intelligence according to the faculty of SMAN 8 Jakarta, an award-winning school in the city.

The assistant principal spoke to us about the school’s philosophy. SMAN 8 considers and builds its programs around five aspects of intelligence: Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), Spiritual Intelligence (SQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Creativity Intelligence (CQ), and Adversity Intelligence (AQ) – what we are calling “grit” at American Academy of Innovation, or the ability to learn from failure and be persistent. Most schools in Indonesia consider only the first three, but this school believes that creativity and persistence are important things to teach to students. He said this is the main key to this school’s success.

Explaining school

We might not agree with how spirituality is one of the central values of Indonesian education, because we are so conditioned to see religion as completely separate from school. And yet it is not separate in the lives of our students or of the teachers in our school; it just isn’t talked about much. Back when I taught World Civilizations in California, I would teach about Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and other religions as part of the culture and history of different civilizations and no one batted an eye. Yet when I talked about Christianity as an important aspect of western civilization, the students would start to protest that I shouldn’t be teaching religion in school. I had to point out that I had already been teaching about religions all year, and that you can’t understand the central motivations of a civilization without knowing about religions or the spiritual beliefs of its peoples.

Rest Makes Rusty

Indonesian schools all have signs hanging up with mottos and sayings in English and Indonesian. This one is at SMAN 8 Jakarta.

My own school, although it hasn’t put its values in exactly these terms, also believes that creativity and grit are important for our school. We are supposed to be reading Grit by Angela Duckworth over the summer, but I haven’t been able to find a copy in my local library yet. We’re also reading Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson, which I read last summer. His thesis is that the factory model of education that is so prevalent in most American schools is literally crushing the creativity out of students at a time when it is so needed in our country.


Just a few of the many awards and trophies at SMAN 8 Jakarta, and award-winning school in Indonesia.

If this is true, and SMAN 8 Jakarta is any indication of where Indonesian schools are headed, then we have much to worry about as we will soon be out competed by this rising country, the fourth largest country in the world.

Guru toilet

Gurus need toilets, too.

We walked out into the central courtyard and took some photos by the school sign, then walked to our pariwisata (tourist) bus, which was waiting for us.


Bougainvillea growing around the courtyard at SMAN 8 Jakarta.

Headmaster with group

Headmaster of SMAN 8 Jakarta with the Teachers for Global Classrooms group.

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Jakarta Day 3: Monday, July 17, 2017

Leko restaurant

The restaurant we ate at in the Grand Mall.

In the evening on my third day in Jakarta, Indonesia, we traveled back to the Grand Mall of Jakarta to eat supper at an Indonesian restaurant called Léko. Dewi, our in-country representative, knew the owners (a former student of hers, I believe) and ordered a variety of Indonesian dishes and drinks for us to try. They ranged from savory beef ribs to extremely spicy chicken with a hot sambal sauce. One of my favorites was a grilled fish – it wasn’t too spicy and was very tasty, especially the skin.

Waiting for bus by hotel

Our group, waiting for the bus outside the hotel.

I asked Dewi if the durian fruit smoothie was good and she said I had to try it, as did two other teachers sitting with me. Durian is considered the “king of fruits” in southeast Asia, and grows up to 30 cm long and can weigh up to 3 kg. Its name derives from the spiky protuberances that grow on the husk.


Inside the durian fruit

What I didn’t know is that people have differing reactions to the smell and taste of the fruit. Some people find it has a pleasant aroma. Others find that it smells of rotten onions, body odor, or other worse things. It is known to attract flies. It is banned from some hotels and businesses. I tried it and found it interesting at first, then it got stronger and more unpleasant the further down I sipped. It tasted to me like three-week old unwashed repeatedly used gym socks. Not that I’ve ever tasted gym socks, but you know what I mean.

I tried another teacher’s cendol, which was OK – kind of a sweet green been mixed with coconut milk. The lychee smoothie (sometimes spelled litchie or lici in Bahasa Indonesia) was good but sweet. But I couldn’t finish the durian fruit smoothie, and after the meal, the taste lingered; every time I burped or hiccupped, there it was again.

Durian fruit

Es durian, or ice durian. Not something I’m going to try.  It even smells bad just to walk past it. Now, if it was passion fruit slush, I’d be all over it, sketchy ice or not.

I’m not here to eat only American foods and drink American drinks. I’m here to experience Indonesian culture and to learn. An adventure of this sort requires the willingness to try new things, knowing that sometimes the result can be unpleasant. I know I won’t like everything I try. But so far I’ve enjoyed the food and loved the drinks. Now I know I’m one of those people that have a bad reaction to durian fruit. Sometimes knowledge comes at a price.

After dinner we had an hour for shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, unless it’s for souvenirs or gifts, and all the shops I saw here were decidedly Western. Even the posters and mannequins were of Americans or Europeans and the prices expensive. So I watched the people, trying to see if I could understand why this mall was so popular. I noticed that not many Indonesians had bags for purchases – oh, some had smaller items they had bought, but nothing really big or expensive. The downstairs grocery stores selling western food items and the restaurants seemed busy, but there didn’t seem to be as much purchasing as one would see in an American mall.

Group at Leko

The group of us at the Leko restaurant.

So do the Indonesians come here to be seen and hang out? Certainly to an extent – they were dressed much more nicely than most Americans would be at a shopping mall. But to my eyes there was something more than merely hanging out. What could be the purpose of building such a monument to Western styles and products?


I asked Dewi and was expecting something profound, something that would give me insight into the Indonesian soul. But I found it was for the same reason many Americans go to a mall: they like to window shop. In other words, they like to see the products and imagine what it would be like to have them; they visualize a future time when they can afford them. They’re just like us in this respect. Although I’ve never understood the attraction of shopping without buying (since I’m of the “I came, I saw, I bought, I left” – mentality – a real Veni, Vidi, Vici type of person), it speaks to my central research question that there is fundamentally no difference between the types of aspirations Indonesians and Americans have, and how the shopping mall is an expression of an ideal of what our lives can be like. The Western dominated media seen around the world has imposed our vision of the good life on Indonesians as well as Americans. I just hope that Indonesia doesn’t lose what is uniquely good about itself in the quest to become like the rest of the world.

Ancient and modern

A western Sumatran style of architecture. Notice the many tangled electric lines. It’s like this throughout the city.

As a final note to the day, I thought about how some societies have built walls to keep others out, be they the Great Wall of China or the border patrols of the United States or the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea or unspoken rules that keep some types of people out of sight. Some walls, such as immigration restrictions and tariffs, are social instead of physical. Some are based on the fear of others and their “foreign ways.” This shopping mall represents the opposite; a kind of homogeneity of styles and cultures. There were many women dressed in western fashions, others wearing hijabs or even full burkhas, but all acting and shopping and laughing just like any crowd in a shopping mall in the United States. We can build walls of fashion or laws or customs and try to hide away from others, or hide others away from us, but we are more alike than not, more similar in beliefs and aspirations than we realize. I do not feel like a stranger or a foreigner here. I may not yet speak the language well, but I am learning and I feel a part of a common humanity in this city half way around the world.

Feed a man a fish

Feed a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

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Trans-Pacifica Part V: Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sydney international terminal

The International Terminal in Sydney Airport.

The final leg of our journey to Indonesia began in Sydney, Australia. The Garuda flight wasn’t in any hurry to board, probably because the plane got in a bit late. I walked over to the gate and asked if it was time to get our official boarding passes and they told me yes, but it took some time as the attendant wanted to know a complete, detailed description of my baggage, despite the customer service person in San Francisco going through the same details. As it turned out, I’m glad she did. Once the boarding began, they didn’t call out groups as in most boarding procedures except that they boarded business class first, then everyone else in a kind of mob. But we got onto the plane eventually, taxied out, and took off.

Sydney departure board-relax

The departure board at Sydney International Airport. I like their advice for waiting: Relax! It’s also interesting to see departures to places like Ho Chi Minh City that you can’t get to from the United States.

This is wintertime in Sydney, but its latitude gives it a climate something like Southern California. The bays and inlets of Sydney Harbor shone invitingly from the air. I could see the downtown area, but never spied the famous opera house. No little clown fish or blue tang in the water, either. But it looks beautiful. I must return sometime. I don’t think staying in the airport without feet actually on the ground counts as having visited a place.


International currencies in a donation box at Sydney airport.

We flew south, then turned west and flew over the center of Australia. There wasn’t much to see, and I spent most of the time talking with my seatmate. His name was Paul and he was originally from Germany, working in Australia among other places, and on his way home to visit his wife and children in Jakarta. He had served for many years in the German Army as part of UN Peacekeeping forces around the world. He had five brothers, and all had been in the German military. Two brothers had died in the line of duty, one while rescuing hostages in Mogadishu, Somalia (I tried to find more information on this, but haven’t been successful). Paul had lost his left eye and been wounded in the left arm and leg when a land mine exploded, which he was tried to disarm in the former Yugoslavia. After this accident, he was put on Embassy duty, eventually winding up in Indonesia. Lost in the streets of Jakarta, a kind man took him home and fed him. He met the man’s daughter, became friends with the family, and married the daughter. Now semi-retired, he runs a security firm on the side.

Coast near Sydney

The coastline of Australia near Sydney Harbor as seen from our flight to Indonesia.

We crossed over Alice Springs – not much to see below, just flat desert with some meandering watercourses. At the northwest coast there were many ridges and islands, evidence of submerged valleys from the rise of oceans after the last ice age. Our flight attendants were very attentive (I guess that’s what their job title implies) and kept us well fed and watered. I learned a few Indonesian words, such as kamar kecil (restroom) and keluar (exit) from reading the signs on the airplane. After Australia a large stretch of ocean appeared with occasional rings of atolls below. I tried to sleep without much success. Finally, after six hours of flying, we saw the coast of a large island made visible by the stacks of clouds above it, clustered around a central volcanic peak. I took a few photos out the window. I’m not sure which volcano it was, but it was definitely a composite cone. Let’s hope I get to see a few of these up close! If one of them ever erupted while I was nearby, I would be like Pliny the Elder, last seen running toward Mt. Vesuvius as it erupted.

Sydney Harbor

Sydney Harbor as seen from our plane’s window. I was using an iPad camera here with low resolution and I am zoomed in quite a bit, so the image isn’t very good. Plus, it’s taken out of an airplane window, after all. The white blob at center left may be the Opera House. Hard to tell.

We crossed Java and turned for Jakarta as more clouds appeared below in ordered puffs over the sea. We landed about 30 minutes late and deplaned. We walked through embarkation (I got my passport stamped) and were met by representatives with a sign. Both Mike and Alicia had been told as they boarded the airplane that their luggage had not been transferred to the flight, so they had to fill out claims in the luggage department. Alicia had a change of clothes in her carry-on, but Mike was forced to wear the same clothes for three more days until his bags finally arrived at the hotel. My bags were on the flight, thank heavens, so I got a trolley and walked through customs (basically a hand-wave as the representatives just handed our forms to the officials and we walked on through). We had a car waiting for us outside the terminal. As we walked outside, I could feel the humidity soak into my clothes. I’m back in the tropics again. It’s been a long time – over 36 years.

Volcano from air

A volcano on Java as seen from our Garuda Indonesia flight to Jakarta.

We drove into Jakarta and it was a bit disconcerting to have the driver on the right side of the car – I kept thinking the driver was missing or that we were in an automatic car. Maybe in 10 years this will be true, although I don’t see it being successful in Jakarta’s heavy traffic. It took some time to get to the Le Meridién Hotel, as Jakarta is a huge, sprawling city. But we did arrive finally, put our bags through the security scanner at the front door, and got our rooms. Sarah Sever met us in the lobby and was visibly relieved to see us, after missing our connection through Narita with the rest of the group. She will be our mother hen for the next three weeks. We arrived at the hotel at 5:30 and our welcome dinner departs at 6:15. I had just enough time to go to my room (620) and shower and change, which felt wonderful after two days of flying in the same underwear and compression socks. My right leg is not happy.

Garuda flight from Sydney

Our Garuda International flight before leaving Sydney.

I am here at last. My adventure in Indonesia can finally begin!

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Salt Lake skyline

The Salt Lake City skyline as seen from the airport, July 13, 2017.

Here I go on another adventure – I’m heading west, then south, on my way to Jakarta, Indonesia. I’ve been chosen for the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program sponsored by the U. S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. About 75 teachers out of 500 applicants were selected to travel to six countries: Indonesia, Senegal, Morocco, India, Columbia, and the Philippines. It is a teacher exchange program, in that teachers from developing countries are chosen to study English and education theory at colleges in the U.S. for up to one semester or five months, then return to their own schools to act as hosts for two American teachers.

I will be working with Muhammad Nazaruddin, who teaches English at SMA Negeri 1 Mandastana, or Mandastana Public High School # 1. This school is located in southern Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, near the city of Banjarmasin. I am also working with Craig Hendricks of Indianapolis who teaches six grade STEM classes. We’ll be observing classes, teaching of American culture and STEM related lessons, and conducting a professional development session on technology integration for teachers from throughout southern Borneo. While in Kalimantan, we’ll get to see batik making, visit an actual diamond mine (wohoo!), see an island sanctuary for proboscis monkeys, visit the famous floating markets, and get to know a part of the world I never dreamed I would ever see. Me? This guy from a Podunk town in western Utah get to visit the rain forest and wilds of Borneo? No way! Yet, here I go.

I’ve been preparing for this for over a year now, what with taking an online course, having medical exams, attending a symposium in Washington, D.C., packing and repacking, getting a passport renewal and visa, etc. Yesterday (Wednesday, July 12, 2017) I spent at the gym to work my legs out, as they tend to swell up when I travel. I took Jonathan and William to swimming lessons, got some brochures from the Utah Valley Visitors Bureau down at the convention center to give to students in Mandastana, bought last minute supplies, packed, cooked baked ziti for supper and egg/sausage muffins for breakfast, watched the Season 10 premiere of Smallville with Becca, sent the receipts for the STEM Action Center grant, charged up all my devices, got the Kindle up and running, gassed up the car, dropped off The Year of Living Dangerously  and an Indonesia travel video at the library, and prepared in every way I could think of. I am as ready for this as I can be.

I got to bed at 2:30 and had to get up this morning at 4:15 to make my flight. We got the boys up and into the car in their pajamas and left home at 5:30. Becca drove me to the airport as a pink to orange sunrise lightened over the Wasatch Mountains. She dropped me off at United Airlines at Terminal 1. I waited through the lines and got my bags checked and my boarding passes. Security was busy but fast, although they had to pat me down and look over my laptop thoroughly. Given the recent ban on laptops coming in to the Unites States, I’m relieved that I made it through so easily.

I arrived at Gate B9 with an hour to spare before boarding, so I worked on cleaning up photos of our recent trip to Four Corners for my presentation in Borneo, until I realized that I was late boarding the plane – but they hadn’t started to board yet. So I looked at the status board above the gate counter and it said the flight was delayed for “air traffic control” issues in San Francisco. It was supposed to depart at 8:15 but was delayed until 9:38. I had a three-hour layover so I was still good. I went back to cleaning up photos. Then I saw that the board now read that our departure would be at 10:05. I asked the gate agent if there would be a problem and she said I should still be fine, because the international terminal was “just around the corner” from our incoming gate, and I’ll have about 45 minutes to reach my flight to Narita, Japan, before it departs. She said they would look after me, but this is United Airlines and I’ve had problems with them before (I will eventually post about my trip to Omaha). I would have chosen a different airline, perhaps Singapore Air, to take me to Jakarta. But since this is a U. S. State Department program, we have to fly under the regulations of the Fly America Act and use an American carrier.

Boarding flight from SLC

Boarding our flight to San Francisco.

At about 9:00 it was announced that we had a window of opportunity to reach SFO through a lull in air control, so we quickly boarded the plane and got our seats for a 9:25 departure. I’m all for seizing an opportunity when we get it. We taxied out and took off, and I hoped to myself this would be the only glitch in my journey. If only. Little did I know that worse was yet to come.

I sat by Stan Jensen from Castledale. He’s traveling to the Bay Area to see his grandson in a baseball tournament. He knows Duane Merrill well – they even coached little league baseball together. This world keeps getting smaller. While boarding the plane, I spoke with two different families who were Chinese and was surprised that my Mandarin was understandable at all. One family was from the mainland and heading back to BeiJing. The other was from Taipei in Taiwan who now live and work in America. They are on a vacation to ShangHai. Things have changed in the 36 years since I lived in southern Taiwan, when there were no relations between the mainland and Taiwan and no one traveled between them. Now relations are almost normalized.

I took some time on the flight to start my notebook/journal from which I have taken these notes. As I thought of the title for this post, it occurred to me that I’ve been fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had as a science teacher. I’ve kept my ears open to hear about these programs, and I’ve been even more fortunate to be selected for quite a few of them. Other opportunities will come, if I can only open up the windows to find them.

When other teachers ask how I’ve managed to do all of these things, I’ve responded, “Because I applied for them.” That seams to be a flippant answer, but what I mean from it is that I’ve looked for opportunities consistently and opened the windows by applying and re-applying if necessary. I’ve made my own fortune, so to speak, and haven’t given up if something is important enough. It took applying four times, once per year, to finally get accepted as the Educator Facilitator for the NASA Explorer Schools program, and so many other opportunities have come because I refused to let that particular window close. Success breeds success, and participating in the TGC program will undoubtedly lead to further opportunities later on. So as I finish the first leg of a grand adventure, I know great things still lie ahead, in Indonesia and beyond, even if I don’t yet know what they will be.

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