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Hot Tips from a Hot Country

I’m currently writing from the international terminal in São Paolo and it seems a little surreal that in just a little while I’ll be back in the land of donuts and snow.  It’s a little bittersweet to be catching some English mixed in with the Portuguese, and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to pack away my shorts for a down jacket, but I do know that I’m so grateful for this opportunity to be immersed in the colourful Brazilian culture, and I’m honestly excited to bring back the learning (and the clothes haha) that I have accumulated in my time here.

For my last post, I’d like to share some of my best tips about Brazil to entice future TABers to come to this beautiful country.

First of all, don’t be afraid to look foolish in your language learning. From my experience, most Brazilians are only ever intrigued and excited when you try your Portuguese with them.  They are just as nervous (if not more!) to practise English with you, so jump into that space and laugh and learn together. As a future teacher, it gave me a lot of joy to see our Goianese friends improve in their English as they worked with us.  Language exchange is such a beautiful opportunity, and one of the ways that we, as Canadians, can risk but also give back in our host countries. Be bold and begin practising as soon as possible. If I was to have any regrets, it would be that I didn’t start speaking my (baby) Portuguese sooner. Don’t be afraid of looking silly. You’ll only gain friends and vocabulary!

Our final goodbye with the PUC Intercambio (Exchange) crew. We love our PUC friends!

And speaking of our Goianese friends, we truly could not have done this experience without them.   They took us to schools, arranged for us to join them on beautiful weekend trips, encouraged us in our Portuguese, and helped us with so many everyday tasks. Don’t be afraid to dive in with the university students. They were our happiest hellos, and our saddest goodbyes here, and we know that we have made some lifelong friends. Plus, you’ll feel like a celebrity because you’ll get so many new Instagram followers.

Third, arrange to travel while you’re here!  Brazil is a giant country with some truly beautiful parks and cities, and while the language barrier can be a little intimidating, it is well worth the effort to muddle through some google translate and see some new places. We found that driving outside of the city was not too scary, and even rented cars to visit the nearby towns of Pirenópolis and Goias Velho. I’d also recommend the state of Bahia where you can stay in the beautiful city of Salvador and visit surrounding places such as Chapada Diamantina and Praia do Forte. I LOVED Bahia. So go exploring! Even in Goiania there are many different parks (where you can see monkeys!!), restaurants, and malls that are really fun to visit.  We barely scratched the surface.

The stunning Poço Azul (Blue Pool) in Chapada Diamantina Park in the state of Bahia.  The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom, 50 feet down.

Finally, give yourself time and space to reflect on the process and recognize your different patterns of learning.  I found that what we were exploring in our online courses coincided a lot with what I was experiencing and working through in my day-to-day experiences in Goiania.  I was honestly surprised by how many connections I kept finding between my “academic” learning and “life” learning, but I came out of this experience truly convinced that this is how learning is meant to occur. We are the sum of all our experiences, and we are in charge of how we choose to pursue growth within that.

Anyways! All this to say, come stay in Goiania! Who wouldn’t want to extend summer for 2 more months? I’ve loved my time here, and I know that it has informed my teaching (and life) practise in truly beautiful and transformative ways.

Muito obrigada por tudos Brasil (Thank you so much for everything Brazil)! Tchau!

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Teaching and Learning in Spain

In preparing for Teaching Across Borders, I think I often only thought of myself as one who would occupy the role of teacher. What I have learned, however, is that I am just as much, if not more, a student. Class sizes are fairly large at IES Leonardo DaVinci, with anywhere from 22 – 29 students. I have had the honor and pleasure of being able to be in 9 different classes, which means I have been interacting with over 180 students. These students have taught me more about Spanish and Catalonian culture, language, and themselves than I think I have taught them English skills.

The relaxed, welcoming school and classroom culture lends itself for many opportunities to have small group and one-on-one conversations with students. One heart-warming experience is when students asked me if I would like to learn Catalan. Of course, I said yes! One student told me she would teach me how to say “my name is Carrie” in Catalan:

El meu nom és Carrie. 

Although it looks easy enough to pronounce in writing, it definitely was not. Not only did I need to ask the student to repeat herself many, many times, but I also needed her to write down the words so I could visually see what I was attempting to say. The students eagerly listened to me trying to say this phrase, and would giggle when I was not pronouncing it correctly. It is little interactions like this that have made my time thus far in Spain so rewarding and enjoyable. It is hard to believe that I only have a handful of days remaining at the school.

 Aside from teaching, one of the best things about being in Spain is the ease of being able to travel not only within Barcelona, but also to other neighbouring cities and countries in Europe. A person can access many options of public transport: local busses, metro, FGC trains, trams, AVE (high speed trains), and taxis. It is also convenient that a person can either obtain a bus/metro pass or pay cash upon boarding transportation. Booking a flight to other countries is another option for travel. Europe has many national airlines so finding a flight to another destination is easy and inexpensive as compared to flights across Canada.

 I have been able to take advantage of the travel options in Spain as I have taken day trips to neighbouring communities as well as weekend trips to other countries. Over the past several weeks I have visited Paris, France, Brussels, Belgium, and Girona, Spain. These trips have provided me with an incredible amount of opportunities for site seeing and cultural learning.

As my time in Spain is quickly coming to an end, my goal is to immerse myself in as much Spanish culture as I possibly can!

 

 

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2 Weeks in Hamburg

Hallo again from Germany! 

Let me just begin by saying how much I LOVE Hamburg. This city is so fun, vibrant, diverse, and beautiful! They call Hamburg the 'Venice of the North' and it is not hard to see why. There is water everywhere. You can easily spend the day cruising around the Alster, smaller canals, or smaller lakes around the city. Although I have only been living here for 2 weeks, I feel very settled into my new 'home'. My buddy from the University of Hamburg has been so helpful and has helped me feel like a local by showing me around the city, taking me to local spots, introducing me to her friends, and inviting me to events such as an outdoor movie on the Alster.

It has also been wonderful observing and reflecting on the similarities and differences between Canadian and German

high schools. I have noticed a lot of big differences such as bilingual learning, and interdisciplinary subject content. Some examples are how students in the Bilingual program are instructed in English, but are often asked to translate what they have learned into German, make English-German vocabulary lists, and the use of textbooks and resources which are primarily English, but also use German mini-texts, vocabulary, and occasional instructional boxes. I believe this kind of bilingual learning is very beneficial to the students because as they are learning in English and expanding their academic English vocabulary, they are also learning in German at the same time. I have also noticed that the English classes are very interdisciplinary, and not at all similar to what I have experienced taking language electives in Canadian high schools. For example, the students are not only studying grammar and vocabulary, but rather the English classes look more similar to a humanities class where they study literature, global issues, economics, and politics (while also studying grammar and learning vocabulary). It is very interesting to observe this, as the students learn so much vocabulary because of the topics that they are studying. In one class I have been observing, the students are doing a unit on 'figure and famine'. Here they study eating disorders and why someone might develop an eating disorder, the differences in diet across various countries, and industralizion and importing/exporting. Here, the students were learning vocabulary related to all of these topics, but also discussed deeper topics which made their learning more meaningful and relevant to them. Another thing I LOVE about the school is how it is surrounded by trees and all of the classrooms have windows for walls. It is so refreshing to look around and feel surrounded by treetops!

 

 

 I have also enjoyed using my spare time to travel! Below are some photos from my recent trips to Bremen, Germany and Gdansk, Poland! Tschüss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hallo! 
 
What an incredible opportunity this is to be writing to you from Hamburg, Germany! I am very excited to be here for many reasons, both personal and professional.
 
While I am in Germany I hope that my understanding of the various ways that education can look and function will be expanded, and that my teaching practice will be improved by this new understanding. I hope that travelling and experiencing a new school system will enable me to broaden my perspective and begin to think about and conceptualize education and teaching in a new way, based on new methods, values, and procedures. I believe that looking for and reflecting on these differences will be of great benefit to me as I complete my last year as a pre-service teacher. 
 
I am a very strong advocate for experiential learning, and I applied to this program with the intentions of learning as much as possible professionally through observation, experience, and reflection. I hope that immersing myself into a new culture will help me grow personally as well. 
 
While I am abroad I can't wait to travel, try new food, and connect with local people to help me understand how life is different in Germany. 
 
Finally, I hope that I will learn new strategies to teach English language learners, since the students that I will be working with are all in the English bilingual program. 
 
I am so excited to begin this journey, and can't wait to update you all on what I have learned! 
 
Tschüss!
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Japan Fall 2018

Travelling internationally and independently is a big step out of your comfort zone. This was mine entirely. But, there are so many benefits that I hope to achieve from going on TAB. Primarily, I want to increase my confidence in taking new challenges out of my comfort zone that will allow me to also learn about myself, and grow as an individual. Travelling is perfect for me to achieve this confidence and learning. I have always wanted to travel somewhere far and by myself to try new things and stay open minded. With my previous experiences in travelling and the love for travel, I have progressively, over the years, grown an itch to keep going. And now here I am in Japan to embark on this journey!

Going to Japan has always been a bucket list country of mine to visit. Their culture is different from Canada's in many ways, and I wanted to immerse myself in their country and learn about them. By doing so, I hope to learn about Japan’s fascinating culture, people, values, and language. It would be interesting to see the relationship, according to similarities and differences, compared to our own. Maybe I will be able to pick up certain traits and values that are meaningful to me to hold on to, or need to learn and improve on about myself. 

Not only this, but it would also be a great experience to witness the classroom setting, the curriculum that is being taught and the school culture itself of Japan, such as what can we learn and strengthen in our classroom. I hope to learn the various teaching methods of Japan that will allow me to integrate new knowledge and skills into my own teaching career. Since Canada is a multicultural country, it would be beneficial for future teachers, such as myself, to be able to expand their teaching techniques that align with a diverse range of students.

Currently being in Japan already, there is so much to experience and learn. I am grateful for this opportunity to visit Japan and I will keep you all posted in the next few blogs!

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Obrigada for eveything Brazil

 Now that the TAB experience is over, I'm looking ahead to my practicum. I am so excited to take what I have learned and experienced in Brazil and share my new perspective and realizations in my teaching. I have been making connections between my experiences in Brazil and what I have learned in Interdisciplinary and Indigenous classes and I am excited to put it all into practice with my partner teacher in my kindergarten classes. Stories, indigenous perspectives, building relationships and being able to relate to ELL students are just some of my main takeaways from my combined online courses/TAB experience. Brazil has more than one story or narrative and I was able to experience many different parts of Brazil – the flashy tourist beaches of Rio, everyday life in Goiania, homeless villages in Sao Paulo and many parts in between. Brazil has a very negative stigma attached to it because people tell one story, instead I am coming home with many stories of Brazil – some bad, but more so good. I met amazing people, traveled to different towns/cities, and learned some of the history. I learned about how the education system is working for the students and in the ways that it doesn’t. There is always room for improvement, even in Canada.

I came home with exactly what I set out to get – a new and different perspective to teaching and life in general.

As much as I miss Brazil, it is good to be home. Even with the snow and cold.

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Home Sweet Home

Finally back in Calgary...

Still kind of adjusting to the time difference... and the snow. I have woken up at 4:00am every day since I got back to Calgary, for those of you who don't know me, you won't know that I am NOT a morning person so this is extremely odd for me and I am not sure I like it. However, it will make getting ready for practicum a whole lot easier next week since I wake up wide awake at 4:00am! I am definitely not a fan of the snow, nor was I ready for it... Hamburg rains a lot, and it got to me sometimes, I got a bit down when the weather was bad for a long time and I didn't think I would actually miss the rain, but the rain was definitely much more manageable than snow already. Obviously this is something I will just have to get used to, since I chose to live in Alberta on my own accord! 

As I think back to the last 12 weeks I spent abroad I honestly cannot believe it is already over. Besides missing an entire season in Calgary, nothing has changed! I don't know exactly what I was expecting to change, but I definitely thought I'd come home to a new Calgary for some reason. But I didn't its home sweet home! My dog was super excited to see me, I think she thought my Fiance had gotten rid of me for good, she kept looking at him and the look on his face was "oh my goodness I can't believe you brought her back" as she would run back and forth between the two of us not sure if she was more excited to see me or thankful he allowed me to come home.

Now that I've been home for a few days I have had some time to reflect on my time abroad. I learned a lot in a variety of ways, I learned how to work more with ELL students, I learned from some amazing teachers how to engage students in great lessons, I learned a lot about being independent and living and traveling on my own, I learned a tiny bit of German and so many other amazing things. This opportunity taught me a lot about being in the classroom, and I have a lot of new valuable skills I wouldn't have gained any other way. I am really looking forward to using these new skills on the classroom next week and in the future.

To finish off my time abroad I went to Scotland, this was amazing! Edinburgh has a rich history and I learned a lot about the cities past, the royal family, different battled against England and much more. The time in Edinburgh was yet another reminder of how much one can learn while abroad and solidified to me the importance of learning and traveling. As a teacher I think it is so important to be a life long learner and what better way to learn about the history of a nation or a new culture than fully immersing yourself into one?

Everyone keeps asking me to tell them about my time away, or what my favourite part was and honestly, it is so hard to even begin telling them! I don't know where to start... the beginning of my time abroad feels like so long ago, but also feels like it was only yesterday. Instead of telling you my favourite parts I will share with you some of my favourite photos of my most impactful moments.

Thanks for following me through my adventures! I hope you enjoyed tagging along for my journey :)

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Algumas semanas em Goiânia!

Bom dia! Tudo bem?!

This is now the start of our fifth week here in Goiânia, Brazil. Now that we are more comfortable and confident moving around in the city and coming and going from place to place, I think I’ve really hit my stride here. The weather has been a blessing, the friends we’ve made have been amazing, and even most strangers we meet have been welcoming and kind. Once you venture out of a big tourist city into a more off the beaten path type of place, I think you really get to see what a country is made of and it’s heart and soul. So far, I think Brazil is made of kind, fast-talking people, beautiful food and drinks, gorgeous scenery, and breathe taking heat (which I happen to quite enjoy!). Also, now that I’ve spent more time here, I’ve really gotten a feel for the education system, how it works and what it’s motivating factors are; at the university level and the secondary and primary levels. I am by no means an expert, but I certainly am more comfortable in talking about it.

The view of Goiânia from the window of our Portuguese class.

Does it get any better than this?!

To start our time in Goiânia, we’ve visited 4 different public schools, and I can say with confidence that they are all very different from each other. We visited three elementary schools and one high school. Similarly to in Canada, the academic rigor, appearance and overall success rate of the school has a lot to do with where the school is located within the city. However, the economic differences between sectors within the city are much more exaggerated than it is in Canada. Walking into an elementary level school in Brazil, you would think you were walking into an elementary school in Canada. They are warm, colorful, loud and vibrant places with lost of busy kids running around playing, socializing and learning. The classroom walls are lined with student art work, and two of them even had a room and teacher dedicated to those students who require a little bit of extra help. The teachers are all trained and passionate teachers who, like in Canada, don’t get into teaching for the money, but rather for the love of education and kids. The high school we visited however was starkly different from a high school back home, once you peel a few layers back. Teachers at the high school level are not trained teachers, they are instead trained in different fields such as history, geography, English language, Portuguese language, math, etc. then are simply hired by the school board. Since teachers at this level aren’t trained teachers, they often lack skills surrounding classroom management, assessment, etc. High school teachers are also paid significantly less than primary school teachers, so much so that most of whom we’ve met have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, there is a lot of teacher turn over at the high school level. Additionally, at this level, there is a relatively high threat of violence, particularly against male teachers. With all that being said, we did meet some absolutely fantastic teachers who really had a passion for education and who took the time to get to know their students and connect with them. Even though there are a lot of negatives about the job, there are still teachers who are working hard everyday to ensure that students leave high school with the best chance at success they can be offered. In a way, it was inspiring to see. Despite all the odds stacked against them, they still try and push on and offer success to their students as best they can. Unfortunately we did not get to see how things are different in a private school versus a public school. We do know that privates schools are incredibly expensive and many of the do not offer scholarships or financial assistance to lower income students. Many private schools claim to offer an “American” curriculum or “Canadian” curriculum, and I think it would have been useful to see what exactly that means, but unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to do so.

The high school students were very interested in the kind of music we listened to. They suggested we should listen to Brazilian Funk music. 

As we move through our education here in Brazil, we will continue to participate in Portuguese language classes as well as being observers and teachers in the PUC Language and Extension Center. The language classes we have been apart of have been so helpful, and even though our progress has been slow, we are still making progress! We can ask and respond to most basic introductory questions, and now we tackle pronunciation and more complex conversational skills. Pretty good progress for only having one class a week if you ask me! I’m most excited to be able to (hopefully) teach a few lessons at the PUC Language and Extension Center. This is a place where students of all ages take extra curricular language classes. This sort of class is almost exclusively offered to students who have wealthier families, as these classes are quite expensive. Regardless, it is really great to be able to see students learning English with many of the ESL teaching strategies I’ve seen in schools back home. I have three different classes, one class with teens (ages 11-13), one with juniors (ages 7-10) and one pre-intermediate (ages 16-55). We will be in these classes for the rest of our time here in Goiânia. I look forward to being able to build a bond with the students and the teacher, a hopefully teach a lesson or two!

When Anthony Bourdain says "If you're ever in Brazil, you need to eat Acarajé", you immediately search every street market you can find until you find it.

Once we found it, it was definitely worth venturing out in the heat to find! 

Apart from education related things, we’ve been exploring our community, making friends, eating our body weight at least once a week and laughing the whole entire time. While we haven’t yet ventured too far outside of Goiânia, we’ve been too busy soaking up all the fun and exciting things to do in town. These last few weeks we have here, we plan to venture outside the city limits and visit all the untamed and wild nature that surrounds us. Did you know they have waterfalls here?! GUYS… WATERFALLS! I don’t know if I can really explain to you all reading this how excited I am for waterfalls, camping and hiking in the next few weeks. I can honestly say that I truly feel thankful to have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country with Meghan and Courtney. I couldn’t have asked for better adventures buddies! #blessed  

 

Até logo!!

 

P.S. The most useful Portuguese phrase we’ve learned since we got here is “Tocar o seu cachorro?” or “Passar a mão no seu cachorros?” Which both mean, “Can I pet your dog?” 

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Boa tarde,

The first three weeks here in Goiânia have sure flown by! So far, my first impressions of Goiânia are: it’s hot (but we are acclimatizing well I think – mainly getting used to the sweat haha), the people here are very friendly (even if we have very little idea of what they are saying to us – we are getting use to the hugs/kisses hello’s and goodbyes), and the traffic and driving here are crazy (the pedestrians have little to no right of way so looking both ways twice is crucial!).

Our time here in Goiânia has been filled with school visits, Portuguese classes, parties with some of the exchange students, formal meetings with the President and other officials of the partner university, PUC, and day to day adventures of getting groceries, doing laundry, and exploring our neighbourhood (in the daylight of course).

We have now visited four different schools, all public and all very different. We have had a different tutor/student from the education program come along with us each time and therefore different explanations of how the school system works and it seems to be slightly different for each school. We visited three elementary schools and one high school. In Brazil, the primary schools are the responsibility of the city, the high schools are the responsibility of the state and universities are federal. Most directors (principals) are elected into their positions. Teachers are not paid very well, although high school teachers are paid slightly better, and teaching is not seen as a good job. At most schools, the students are fed at least lunch and sometimes breakfast and a snack and for some of the students it may be their only meal of the day. After all our visits and chats with different people my very basic understanding is that education is very political. The day to day at the schools seems to be very similar to Canada – students are split into cycles instead of grades, there are about 25 students in a class, and they have a break to play and run around outside. The average length of a school day seems to vary school to school and depends are what cycle. After our visit at the first school, we sat with the director and asked her questions. She told us to one thing to takeaway from our visit to her school was that education was for the individual student not the masses – this reminded me of one of the mandates for Alberta Education being for the individual student and making sure learning was personalized. I am not sure how much personalized instruction happens overall in Brazil, but at this one school it was a focus and that was good to see.

Overall, I really enjoyed visiting different schools, we were able to get a taste of what education looks like here and with the help of our tutors/interpreters were able to answer questions for the students and ask some of our own. Children are children you go and I loved their enthusiasm, curiosity and wonder about us and Canada. I do wish our Portuguese was a bit better but hopefully that will come. We have been attending Portuguese class once a week and our instructor Pedro has us counting to at least 200, introducing ourselves and others including name, age, nationality, and profession. We also practice as much as we can when we go out and mostly when we visit Francesca, the friendly lady at the store below our apartment.

This week we also started at the PUC language center where we will rotate through three classes and eventually help teach a few lessons. Our first visit we just observed how they teach their lessons. I observed two classes, a per-intermediate 3 (adults) and a teen 6. There are three age groups and then up to 6 levels within each age group. The lessons seem to be based on three main methods: a workbook with activities, group conversation exercises and listening to a CD. I m excited to get to know the students and the teachers better over the next few weeks.

Everyone we have met so far from the tutors, teachers, students, exchange students, professors and the university president have been so welcoming and friendly. The time is going by so fast and I hope to make the most the remaining time we have here in this fabulous city. We are looking forward to exploring some more of the culture, food, nightlife and outdoor activities the city and state have to offer.

 

Tchau!

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Dream On...

It’s hard to believe that the program is coming to an end. I will surely miss all my new friends that I made in Hakodate, Sapporo and Siriuchi here in Japan.  It truly sometimes feels like a dream. All the time spent here in Japan for more than two months seems so surreal yet highly productive.  There is so much I learned and experienced through this program. It is not just different culture and teaching practise that I have experienced, but I have also learned about my own self.  I learned about my areas of improvement that I need to make as I progress along my career, and most importantly that I enjoy being in front of the class and learning about new things together with the students.

I believe that one of the most fascinating things about doing Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program is that it makes you become flexible and strong in adapting to constantly changing environment and situations. I personally had to change and improve my teaching style, communication methods, and even lifestyle or doing the things in a certain way.  TAB program is also a perfect opportunity for developing necessary attributes like self-efficacy and resilience that are highly regarded for becoming an efficient teacher. These kinds of qualities and traits are developed through the field experiences and hands-on classroom experiences that TAB program provides to students like me.   

I want to finish this final blog post by talking briefly about my experiences that I had in a Junior High School in Hakodate for the final one and a half week of the program. My partner teacher was kind and very amusing person. His approach in blending humor along with course content was unique and I found it to be highly effective in engaging students for language learning. I liked the approach that the teachers were using in the Junior High School of review, practice and repeat along with the teacher. There were a lot of ‘speak-out’ loud activities and games in the classrooms. I also liked the method of translating English words into Japanese words for the students to help better understand difficult vocabulary. My role in the school was to help students practice English grammar and correct them wherever applicable. I also assisted the teacher with pronunciation and sentence structure.  The more practice activities I did in class with the students, the more comfortable and ‘popular’ I felt in the class.

I was talking to a High School English teacher who was visiting as a guest in the Junior High School and I was given the following information by him that I found it interesting to share. In this particular high school in Hakodate, scaffolding techniques are highly emphasized for students in language learning. In the first-year, students converse with each other in English. Then in the second-year, students start to think logically in English and come up with problem-solving techniques on a given topic, such as transportation and work on a presentation. In the third-year, more technical writing in English is used.  I even got to observe one of the grade 9 Math classes where I felt very welcomed by the students. I even ended up helping students in their geometrical problems. At the last day of the placement, the vice principal and the partner teacher took me to see the opera performance in the city hall, where third year Junior High School students were also performing. It was fascinating to watch the orchestra and school opera at play.

I highly enjoyed my TAB experience in Japan!

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Mario and Luigi's Squid Dance

Hakodate is famous for its squid. Combine this with the popular Japanese video game Super Mario and you get an unique version of the 'Squid Dance’. This was the performance that was part of the school festival at an elementary school in Hakodate. It is mandatory for students in Japan to participate and perform in such festivals or events at the school. The students performing ‘the Squid Dance’ were dressed up as Mario with Red Hats and Luigi with Green Hats. I even got to participate in the school rehearsals. If you are or were ever a Super Mario fan, the performance at the school was definitely worth the watch.  

Biotechnology Lab visit and more squid related science-y stuff

At the university in Hakodate, I had an opportunity to meet with a professor of Biotechnology from whom I got to learn a bit about science and technology, and also about Atomic Force Microscopy and Cryo-Electron Microscopy. What was so interesting about this lab tour was to learn about the applications of squid ink in pharmaceuticals. Since, the ink is safe to ingest and has a wide spectrum to absorb light, it also has high molecular shape uniformity. It is used in labelling pharmaceutical drugs.

View from the top of Mount Hakodate. To the left of the city is Sea of Japan and to the right side is the Pacific Ocean.

Now we move on to the school placement experiences in Siriuchi town…

The school placements were unique. I got to attend High school, Junior High School, and Elementary Schools during my time in Siriuchi for about a week. There is only one high school in the small town.  Our visit in the school comprised of lesson activities and one grade 11 science class took an inquiry-based approach and I got to participate in it. The lab was about making a design experiment related to the physics concepts. Students in small groups would design their model that they built in the lab under a within the period of time set by the teacher and then test it out in the real time. After getting the results, the teacher would review and go over the concepts and relevant formulas with students. Then a second trial was carried out, where students got to improve and test out their design model again. I found this approach of learning science highly engaging, challenging, and creative.  

The hospitality of staff and people in Siriuchi was immensely kind and accommodating. Our accommodation and meals were covered by the university. This made the process of staying in a small town a lot smoother.  During our stay, I got an opportunity to visit a small historical museum, a Japanese Onsen (hot spring), and a Natural Park viewpoint.

                                                                                                     Hakodate has a lot of temples and churches to explore!

Elementary School Placements in Siriuchi

I also had an opportunity to visit couple of elementary schools in and around Siriuchi area. The first elementary school had less than 5o students, and the school size was a really big for such less number of students. There were a lot of games I participated in that involved music, sounds, visuals, and most importantly ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ (Jan- Ken-Pon) which seems highly famous with students here in Japan.  Students in Japanese schools wear assigned school uniforms and they greet and thank their teacher every class. Other Japanese games that elementary school students play involving verbal, kinesthetic and visual language learning is: Kendama, Koma, Karuta, and Babanuki card game.  Many of the schools in Siriuchi are located next to mountains and Tsugaru Strait, so the view from the classrooms was not only well lighted, but breathtaking as well. This particular elementary school had a video and sound podcast recording room as well. So, the emphasis on technology and multimedia was given a priority in this education facility.

The next elementary school had more than 100 students and was a big school. The students welcomed us in a ceremony at the school gym. There were a lot of games, speeches, and music. I felt like a “rockstar” as some students asked me for an autograph. This has never happened to me before, so it was quite an enthralling experience. The kindness and enthusiasm of the students was a big highlight of the school placements. They were eager to learn from us, and most importantly the students in Japanese schools were much disciplined.  I did a lot of language learning activities with them such as playing the game of Evolution and role playing games, and even work and communicate with them either individually and/or in small groups. The Elementary school students seemed to be doing inquiry based experiments for a science class in the lab. I even got to help and assist students with their design experiments which was enjoyable. This Junior High School was relatively new. It had fashion and food classrooms that had all the equipment like laundry machine, sewing machine, stove tope, etc. for students to make something creative and challenging. The main gym stage area had a retractable music classroom wall which would converge into one giant staging area. It was a cool concept with retracting classroom walls to have more open space for students to perform or work in.

                                                              Japanese Calligraphy attempted in an Arts Classroom. "Vikrum" and "Yamato" ("Japan" of old age) written on the rice paper. 

Junior High School Visit in Siriuchi

I was welcomed by Junior High School students in a small opening ceremony and then at the end there was also a small closing ceremony.  During the school lunch, where I ate with grade 8 students in their respective classrooms, I found it interesting and amusing that the school played Canadian Pop Songs, such as Justin Bieber over the PA system. I found that some of the students spoke and understood English well while conversing with them during the lunch and in the classes in general. It was indeed a good opportunity for students to practise their English-speaking skills with non-Japanese speaking guests. In the Language learning lab, I repeated some English words for the whole class as per the teacher’s instructions, and then the level of difficulty was slowly and gradually increased throughout the class. Words become sentences and sentences become mini paragraphs for students to practice and learn in English. The lectures were always supplemented with visuals, text, sounds, and/or music. It was highly engaged classroom, and the teacher seemed to have great working relationship with students. Humour was often used by the teacher. I talked to students about topics like - Anime, Manga, sports, hobby, food, Canada, Japanese culture, etc. This helped with built great working relationship with students. I even got to play Judo with students (Japanese Martial Arts), and later in an Arts Classroom I got to try Shuji (Japanese Calligraphy).

So far, I am having memorable and productive school placement experiences where I am learning a lot in terms of teaching and communicating with students. It is hard to believe that only less than a week is left here in Japan with so much still to do…

                                                                         Convenience Stores or Konbini are everywhere in Hakodate. Your student life will never feel hungry!

 

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Tōtaru Rikōru

An overview of Japanese School Systems

This blog post is named “Total Recall”, and not after the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, but because the school visits and volunteer teaching were a recall from the past practicums that I completed back in Canada. Although learning and teaching varies from school to school, here are some of the obvious differences and similarities I noticed between Japanese and Canadian schools during my placements in Japan.

Classrooms

I found the classrooms in Canada to be more collaborative in nature. Even though there is a lot of collaborative work involved in Japanese classrooms, there is still traditional setting present in the structural layout of the classrooms. Just like in Canada, Japanese classrooms have a lot of students’ work, relevant artwork decorated inside the classroom and in the hallways. School décor have themes like – Halloween, etc.  Teachers have blackboards, computers and television in the classrooms to show multimedia content to the students, similar to Canada.  Unlike Canada, in Japanese schools, students are expecting to clean the classrooms and schools. Everyone at school has lunch in the classrooms, and student take turns to serve lunch to their peers. The school lunch is highly important element of Japanese School traditions.  It brings the students together and they also learn about time management skills because everyone has to start and finish the lunch at the same time. The library in some schools (that I visited) in Japan is now replaced by learning commons, where students can work on computers and have meetings with fewer books around and more technologically focused study and work areas.  Teacher usually comes into the classrooms for each grade.  The classrooms have storage places at the back of the classrooms for Randoseru (Japanese Backpacks) used mainly by elementary students.  Schools have science labs, music rooms, gyms, food and fashion classrooms, art workrooms and wood workshops, and even nurse’s office.  Just like in Canadian schools. One of the schools had an engineering work room, where students could make model trains and work on other engineering and technology based projects.  Overall, I found the classrooms in Japan to be similar to that of Canadian ones with few differences here and there.

Learning Commons area in Japanese Schools

Pedagogical Relationship

Scaffolding and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) concepts are noticeable in both Canadian and Japanese classrooms. Most importantly, I found that some students in a group had much stronger English speaking skills than their peers, and were helping them operate within the zone of proximal development. Advanced English speaking students were helping their less advanced English speaking students to get better in conversing and writing in English.  Teachers show students visual images, sounds, and videos (both on blackboard and on projector), and a lot of repetition is involved in the classroom learning. In the end of the class period, the teacher summarizes the concepts and lessons learned in the class with the students. Again, a lot of visuals and textual presentations are involved in the Japanese classroom lessons.   Students get small break in between class periods, where they can read, interact with teachers and peers, or play games or do some activities with other students. It is very active during the break period. This reminds me of elementary schools back in Canada and how they include Body Break activities in the classrooms.

Assessment

From my experience so far, I found that Japanese classrooms use both formative and summative type of assessments. Though, summative feedback seems to be commonly used, formative like students telling teachers about what they understand so far was noticed.  I found that a lot of elementary school tests in Japan (from what I observed), are highly visual and colorful in nature compared to that in the Canadian schools. This means that a lot of favorite characters and games are put in the tests, so that they are less intimidating and more engaging. For example, in a math test, students have to play a mini game which includes a favourite anime character in each step, to find the answer.  It can be a game of ladders or a simple arithmetic game. I found this concept of summative assessment very interesting. However, this may vary within schools and grade levels.  In Japan, when a student finishes the test early, they have to keep their test with them, but they read a graphic novel or some similar book while they wait for their test to finish.

Ninja Amazement Park

Student Expectations

All students are expected to participate in school activities, such as festivals, sports day, etc. It is compulsory and students spend after school hours to prepare for an event such as school festival. It can take up to a month to prepare for such events, that involve a lot of music, drama, costumes, etc. However, in Canada students can take Drama and Music classes as an option and they are not considered compulsory subjects like in Japan.  A lot of students in Japan also take tutoring classes in swimming, piano lessons, and Shuji (Japanese Calligraphy).  Depending on parents (and schools), students are expected to perform high academically, which can sometimes be overwhelming for some students.  I will find out more about how schools in Japan deal with such student stress issues, and report it in the next blog post. However, we asked about this issue, and schools say they are aware of it and try to provide as much support to the student as possible, though I like to find more about the kind of support available to the students.  

Temaki Zushi (Hand Rolled Sushi)

Teacher Training

My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) involves conversing with students, and teach them pronunciation and grammar. I am learning to use a lot of activities and visual images and short videos with students to further engage them. For example, in order for students to practice English word, we would throw in a fun activity, where whole class dances, sings or participates while repeating English words. It’s really fun and engaging.  One thing I noticed so far is that not a lot of students or even the classroom teacher spoke much English, even if I tried to converse with them. I had to use some Japanese or take guidance of the student tutors to interact with the students and even the teacher.  I feel like it’s highly important for students to interact in English in order to practice and improve, but learning some Japanese and learning more about Japanese culture from them was surely a treat.  In my second practicum in Calgary, I learned from my partner teacher to add less content in my presentation, engage students with interest questions, and use whiteboards more often. I try to use these methods where ever possible in my role as ALT in Japanese schools. 

The next blog post will be called “Mario and Luigi’s Squid Dance!” and it will encompass more about my experiences in Hakodate and Siriuchi town.  

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Home Away From Home

Having not lived the full university life back in Canada, that is typical residential (village) living conditions and lack of personal transportation, I feel like I am adapting well...as in I can still count on my fingers the number of bus and train times misread, have had to run for, or missed all together. Patients is key here, as we've learned that the Aussie way of life is severely relaxed. The nice thing though is that many people are overtly kind; help you read your maps, direct you to the right train platform, or just offer up a nice "how ya going?".Perth, like Calgary is very spread out so a great deal of time each day is spent on public transport and wearing down the souls of your shoes. It is a great way to slow down and enjoy what is around you.Days are spent venturing off Murdoch Campus into Fremantle with fellow villagers where you can enjoy a cup of coffee around any corner, stroll the Freo market full of food, buskers, and shops, or catch a movie. While this laid back life seems ever so enjoyable, it gets a little pricey: a movie ticket itself (student price)-$23; croissant sandwich-$10; and the luxury of ketchup-$2.Living on campus has become a great support system especially socially. We've enjoyed our first authentic Aussie BBQ at the uni where residents also gathered for beach volleyball, basketball, and the hit bubble soccer. Every day the village hosts some sort of small social gathering, offer tons of free food (who doesn't like free food?), and an overall enjoyable atmosphere.The similarities between Australia and Canada makes for a lack to write about in our everyday living, as nothing seems too notably different. We are however witnessing extreme ends of the educational spectrum. After visiting Kalgoorlie today we had our first day at an all boys private school, where we will only attend for five school days. After reading some of the other blogs I can't help but feel like we are missing out on actual teaching experience. Our roles here, since we will be spending relatively short amounts of time at each school, are less demanding. For example, my role this week will be small group or individual instruction, spending one on one time with a couple boys with scribing difficulties. Their assignments and work is very laid out for them and easy to follow, I will simply guide them keeping them on track. Although missing out in hands on aspects, with having only three days so far in schools I feel as though my mindset and perspective on different educational settings has been greatly impacted. Three schools, three completely different atmospheres and educational focuses, and I slowly but surely am becoming more aware of the school settings in which I can imagine myself working and thriving in and those that I would rather not commit myself to. The first day impression of this school is one in which I don't particularly envision myself being part of, but I am curious to see how the week plays out. It is a constant reminder dancing in my head that of what we see, at any moment or given day, of any individuals behaviours or actions is just that...a moment, a snap shot.
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Reaching the End of Another Chapter

 

 Sapporo, Japan - Outside The Elementary School

I remember my first days of entering the school that I was assigned to in Japan, about a month ago. There was a mixture of feelings that included anxiety, excitement, and nervousness. This is the same feeling that I get whenever I enter into any school for the first time, as a teacher, such as schools in Canada. However, there was the added challenge of a language barrier, and being immersed into a different culture. To be honest, I was scared. I was not sure of what it would be like to work with schools in another country, thousands of miles away from my friends and family. This feeling was quickly changed, because of the welcoming atmosphere the teachers and students brought to the school. Now that I am nearing the end of this experience, I start to think about how I am not ready to leave just yet, and that I will truly miss this place and the people around me.

Sapporo, Japan - Inside The Classroom

As I begin a new chapter of my life and teaching career on my return, I feel confident in knowing that I have taken away a lot from this journey. I learned many things about the Japanese culture from different perspectives. I also learned what it feels like to not fit in or not understand everything that is going on around me, in which I have placed myself in the position of an ELL student, learning the English language for the first time, for example. I found that communication plays such a huge role in our lives. Therefore, it is important for us to take time in creating understanding with other people, so that we can communicate effectively. Moreover, I learned how to change my teaching style in a variety of ways that will address different types of learners from diverse learning backgrounds, which included producing lessons that were engaging. In addition to these ideas, I know that I will take all that I have learned from this experience to help shape my teaching practice in my future years as a teacher.

I will truly miss everything from this experience. However, I know that I will keep in touch with the wonderful people that I have met, and hopefully get the chance to revisit this amazing place at another time.

Jerwin Ruzol

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Reflection

 

 

It has been almost 2 months since I came to Japan, and I feel like I learn something new about this country every single day. Reflecting on my experience here so far, I have enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture, through its history, language, and its people. A part of this journey has been how this type of learning shapes my identity as a teacher. I have been working with children in schools, where I have witnessed diverse learners who come from different academic backgrounds. This is where I have moulded my teaching style to fit the needs of my students, in a way that works for them, and is effective for their learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Otaru Canal - Hokkaido (Otaru, Japan)

 

Similarities & Differences

 

In comparison to classrooms in Canada, classrooms in Japan are not all that different. They are both environments where students learn and gain essential skills that they need in life. They are both places that foster individual growth in different aspects, as well as strives to create good citizens. In fact, even students in both countries are sometimes similar with regards to behaviour and how they learn. However, a difference that I have noticed is what goes on in the school. In Japan, students have school starting from April until March, with a month off during the summer (August), and a few days off around December. Therefore, students spend most of their time at school throughout their early years of education. Schools in Japan also hold many school festivals, where students are able to showcase their learning to a larger audience or is sometimes just simply a place to gather. Furthermore, students have school lunches within the school, in which the students serve the food, and the whole classroom eats together. Usually, after lunch, they also have classroom clean-ups where students are given roles in cleaning their own classroom, as well as other facilities in the school, since they do not usually have custodians to clean the school for them.

 

 

Photo: Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo, Japan)

Stepping Stones

 

 

 

Throughout this last phase of my experience in Japan, I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can about the culture within and outside of the classroom. I want this experience to become a stepping stone towards my journey as a teacher. I hope to gain essential life skills and enhance my pedagogical knowledge, which addresses diverse types of learners. Most importantly, I intend to make this experience as rich and fulfilling as possible, not only for myself, but also for the people around me.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo, Japan)

Jerwin Ruzol

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