Saturday, 27 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 9 - Last full day

So this will be my penultimate post as when I get home I will have had a chance to reflect on the trip and want to write up my new experiences and also the things that I have taken from the trip.

Today was Rhett's birthday, but we all needed a well-deserved rest after a full on couple of days this week. So we relaxed for the morning and just caught up with some paperwork that needed doing desperately.

Being a birthday wouldn't be the same if I wasn't making a cake, so I decided that this was a sensible
thing to do especially as they had experienced one of my cakes for Hattie when they were over in June. Now as any half serious cake maker will tell you, making a cake in a different kitchen can always be a little bit more challenging. I think I underestimated the challenge as my recipe that I always use has everything measured in grams and in the US they use cups to measure things. Hmm, not a good start I thought so I grabbed one of Shelley's recipes and set about making that one with the cups. As you can see from the picture they are all in fractions, so I thought I can manage this. Well, it all started off really well, I got all of the ingredients and then was presented with a mixer that Shelley's mum had used.
Still totally undeterred I carried on. At this point I should have taken stock and realised that I was doing something with a completely different recipe, using a mixer and oven that I had never used before measuring ingredients in a way I had never done before either! All the mixture came together and was looking and tasting great so into the tins it went. Oh, and the tins were covered with spray oil.

Thirty minutes later the oven pings and the cakes come out looking done. I was now feeling smug
about my creation. All I had left to do was to make some buttercream and spread it with the jam to finish the cake. That's when it all started to go wrong. The buttercream wasn't thickening up so I put it in the fridge and took the cakes out of the tins to finish cooling. This was when it all went wrong. The cake didn't come out of the tin quite as expected which I thought ok I will cover that one up with the filling and be more careful with the other one. Slightly more successful in getting the second one out but still looking a bit of a mess. I left them both on plates to cool whilst I went back to the buttercream which by now was slightly thicker than it was before but still had the constancy of milk!

By this time I knew that this wasn't going to be the best looking cake in the world but then I tried to construct the cake. The worse of the two layers was covered with jam and then the runny buttercream, ready for the other layer to go on the top, which by now had welded itself to the plate and when I flipped it over it was just as bad as the other one. The final straw cake when trying to stick the candles in the top it just started to self-destruct but we managed to keep it together long enough for Rhett to blow out the candles!

This has to be the first time that I have had a bowl of cake rather than a slice. Despite all of these issues it tasted so light and delicious that we all went back for more! The moral of this story is don't make cakes in a different country where everything is different!

The last part of the day was another trip up to St Louis. This time to go to the Symphony to hear Chris Botti play the trumpet. This was an amazing show with so many talented musicians in an incredible
venue. The mixture of styles and additional guest made the evening magnificent.

One last stop of the day in Bailey's Chocolate bar where they serve chocolate martini's and cocktails and I ask to have something slightly different to the menu. The result was an incredibly alcoholic cocktail that was both totally delicious and also burning at the same time!

This evening was a real treat and would not have been possible without some local knowledge of the area. Whilst most people travel to one of the coasts when they visit the USA I am really keen to come back to Missouri and spend some more time finding more of these hidden gems in this amazingly vast country.

Friday, 26 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 8 - Half day in school

Another morning at school as Ste Gen is having their annual Parent-teacher conference and closes early for this. This happens once a year with the whole school going to see their teachers at the end of the first quarter. At first reading, this seems a bit crazy, but then this needs really putting into context. In the UK there is no way I'd be able to see all of the students that I see at one sitting. Teaching nearly 300 students if they all came that would take somewhere near 15 hours! However, here the teacher teaches about 120 students, so this is an easier process although there isn't the opportunity for everyone to get through this does make the process a simpler one.

As this is our last morning in school we took the opportunity to get all of the students together and take a group photo with our respected flags, UK, USA and the flag of the town of Ste Genevieve. This made me think does Billingshurst have a flag? On initial research, it would seem that is doesn't!

In the morning I got a chance to visit a couple of high school Maths, yes I am sticking with the English spelling, classes. The first group were doing Algebra II and this single year course covers a whole mixture of topics and the kids were working on indices and dividing polynomials, don't worry if you are not a maths teacher, and was interesting to see the notation difference.
In both the USA and Europe they use the dot product for multiplication rather than the x that we use. When I said to the class they immediately replied with how does that work with algebra so I had to show the curly x and the x are different. The other interesting thing was that my students in year 10 were covering a similar topic but a year or two earlier than these high school students were. Interestingly, I asked the students what they used their Chromebooks for in Maths and I was surprised to hear that they were just hosting the digital copy of the textbook. Having only got a set in maths a year ago and a second set this year I would argue that we are using them a whole lot more than our USA counterparts. 

The students had to hand in homework at the start of the lesson and I caught a student finishing it off with the help of another student and I had to ask her if that was a regular occurrence. I wasn't trying to catch her out and didn't embarrass her in front of her teacher but I often see our students sitting in our canteen finishing homework either with someone else's work or help being given every morning back in the UK. She said it wasn't a regular thing but gave me a rye smile which made me conclude otherwise. I really do question the validity of homework and in Ste Gen, it counts approx 40% towards their final grade whereas in the UK it doesn't count for any part of their formal grade! I know along with most things in education depending on what bit of research you read you get polar opposites of the validity of homework, and I guess in an ideal world it would be an ideal opportunity to give students an additional time to consolidate or learn something new but there are so many barriers to this being a completed by all students. If students are not in a routine to complete at home then it becomes an issue that can take a lot of time and energy to resolve by which time the objective of the learning has been lost and the topic has moved on.

I also discovered on this trip that some of the UK students use picture maths to get through their homework. What a complete waste of everyone's time and energy and certainly any feedback delivered to them is wasted as it doesn't address any of the issues that the students have. We assume learning has taken place and actually there is nothing to show this.

Anyway back to the lesson, and while the students were completing their test I helped one of my own students with their homework and whilst explaining surds, don't worry if you have no idea what these are, to her the USA teacher came over and saw my explanation and said that he does it a similar way too. It is kinda funny that this is a method that people use on different sides of the planet despite me never seeing it printed in a textbook anywhere! Whilst the students were doing their test they were allowed to ask for assistance to help them get through the questions. I jumped in and did my usual trick of not giving answers but asking more questions that lead them to the right place. This is my whole mantra in my room that the answer is not the important part but actually the solution and method is far more important.

The teacher teaches 6 periods a day with a prep hour every day. He has two different courses that he teaches so his prep time is used to prepare and assess his students each and every day. Would I switch places with this timetable? In a heartbeat, having the opportunity to really focus on a section of the curriculum and produce an outstanding lesson each and every time, would only make every outcome better!  

Midway through the second hour, there was an assembly for the high school. This is part of their red ribbon week which is a statewide initiative to educate students about the dangers of drugs and trying to make them think about some of the dangers of drugs. Today's assembly was a complete smack in the face assembly from a guy who lost his son to a drugs overdose when he was 20 years old. This really hard-hitting talk that made a lot of the students shed a tear at times!  The speaker did say at the start that he would not be sugar coating anything during his talk and he really didn't. He had lots of scary statistics that were impossible to ignore and I hope that he has made an impression on any of the vulnerable students in the packed out performing arts centre that morning. Interestingly I had recently given a talk to my own tutor group about stress and anxiety and last year spent some time working with my year 11 class, the ones that sit their first set of national exams, kids that were struggling with the anxiety of school. I had a chat with a member of the leadership team in Ste Gen about this, this morning, and he said that he feels that sometimes they push the sports agenda too much on their kids.
The promotion of success can cause some anxiety with the players etc, but when I asked if there were students not coming into school because of these anxieties he said no. Unlike the situation in the UK!

Whilst having this conversation we also chatted about the location of our trophy cabinet in the UK. We asked our students where was our trophy cabinet and none of them guessed it correctly! What does this say about how we celebrate our achievements and I am not talking about just our sporting ones as there are various awards in our cabinet in the UK?

A trip to Park Hills high school was in order for the next part of the day as we had met up with another teacher that I have collaborated with in the past and met at the weekend and we are exploring a possibility of running an exchange in 2 years time with them as an interim of the Ste Gen exchange. The school also shares in the passion for promoting success in its sporting triumphs and has an amazing indoor arena for sports and an almost as impressive football field too. We had a tour of the school and again found facilities far better than our own again. Education in the USA has better ways of getting access to funds. They run events far more successfully than we do including charging spectators for coming to games, running concession stands that generate income. Our school is adverse to actively find ways to generate income despite having some opportunity. I understand that there are implications for renting our school buildings in ensuring that it doesn't come as a detriment to the academic side, but as a school in a really poorly funded county surely it is our moral obligation to find ways to improve our facilities by doing more than just applying for money as and when grants come along? How can we join the protests and not actually try and do something about the problem ourselves? We teach our kids to be solution focused, or in the words of Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them', and I know we didn't create the problem but we have a problem and we need to actively find our own way out of it.

After leaving Park Hills we went off for lunch and whilst sitting in an Italian restaurant and ordering drinks, you could have heard a pin drop. The restaurant wasn't busy, but the rest of the diners heard my accent and stopped talking for a brief moment and then the quiet whispers as they sat there discussing this Brit sitting in their restaurant. This has been a recurring theme everywhere we have been whether it be in a classroom or out and about. This was also true when our American students came over to visit the UK and school was completely mesmerised by it.

The evening was a chance for everyone to come together and enjoy our twins birthday party. It was great to see all of the kids together just being kids and there not being any sense of division between them. It was also really great to speak to some of the parents that were there and talk to them about the experience of having a Brit staying with them. Our students have all been fantastic on the trip and I
know that the airport drop off will be really difficult on Saturday and there will be tears all around. This is what this trip is all about. The comments and messages from parents of both sides have been amazing and neither group of students want this to come to an end. This isn't really the end, Rhett and I have put this together so that it is a start and hopefully a life-changing experience for all of the students involved. Families have been merged, students have become friends with people that they would have never met before. What I am really excited to see is what will actually happen next, but I don't mean next week, I will be really interested to see how this develops over the next year or so.

USA Exchange - Day 6 & 7 - St Louis & Memphis

Another day another really early start. I decided to stop trying to get into the correct timezone now as with only a few days to go I would probably be better off in just managing without retraining my sleep pattern I would just utilise the early mornings by doing things that I can do quietly without disturbing the rest of the house.

Having not got to bed too late yesterday from the banquet at Jefferson city I was up really early for one of Rhett's international video calls that he had set up with Greece. The timezones here don't really help Rhett or his students out as they came into school for 6 am to get a chance to talk to their Greek friends face to face. Rhett schedules these calls throughout the year with different countries as they pop up during the world history course that he teaches. So we arrive at school just before 6. It is completely pitch black and yet there are already students in cars with their parents waiting for this chance to meet and chat with these students. As Rhett says, think of the best lesson you have ever taught and then ask yourself would your kids come into class at 6 am for it? The classroom was completely packed and he had about 45 students in there. As with all of these things, there was a slight glitch with the video feed coming from Greece which meant that they could hear and see us but we couldn't see them. The students did the best they could and it was a good experience for all of the students.

So then I finally got to drive in the USA. The things that I was most concerned about was losing Rhett on the drive or failing to stop at one of the many stop signs coming out of Ste Gen. Almost on every junction they have stop signs and instructions on how many ways it applies to. Then it works as first dibs depending on when you got to the junction. Only at major junctions in town are there traffic lights but roundabouts are unheard of.

Once out of Ste Gen, the drive straight up the interstate was really stress-free and easy. The students in my car enjoyed a spirited sing song along the way and we soon arrived at St Louis, the nearest city to Ste Gen. The city is home to the brewer that produces Budweiser along with other beers and is titled the gateway to the west. Once parked we walked to the Arch. he arch is a prime example of a mathematically engineered structure. It is a deceptive design as it is a tool that is white what are looking at it it seems an awful lot wider than it is tall. After going up the arch we had a chance to buy souvenirs and look at the new museum that has recently been opened for the Arch or go to the Cafe. The students mainly went to the cafe to get some food and drink. It really surprises me that students favour the food over the other two with the retail coming second. I guess this comes back to the idea that students need some instant gratification or at least will aim for it when given an option. The museum itself would have been far more work and not been as rewarding. Students were really good asking questions about the arch and later in the day when there wasn't the option of something else.

Not being much of a historian I didn't really know what the arch was for or there to represent. The Arch is the tallest man-made monument in the USA was there to commemorate the city being a gateway to the west as people flocked to the west in search of gold. The memorial is probably the only memorial in the world that is a dedication to people leaving the city!

After the arch and another photo opportunity, we went on the boat trip up the Mississippi river. The boat was an imitation paddle steamer but was a good copy despite its paddle broken and not turning properly at the back. The tour of the Missippi was a nice relaxing experience that really highlighted the stark contrast between the two sides of the river. The dividing line between the states is the river and I guess that this divide has prevented the city from expanding both sides of the river. Lunch at the Ballpark village which backs right onto the Cardinals playing field. We could see the stadium and on match days I imagine the village is packed to the rafters. After lunch, we made a quick stop at the old courthouse. We weren't sure how much our students would be interested in this but actually when they were told about the case that was tried here with the outcome that slaves were property and not people really shook them.

All of our students were really gripped and started to ask some really intelligent questions and really being interested in history. It is really interesting to see how a student's own viewpoint or sense of social injustice in the current world makes this part of history more engaging. I don't believe for a second that the students were intending to come and learn about slavery as part of our trip or even the day but when they have an emotive response to what they can see and hear and in a sense feel the history. To stand where the case was heard sparked this interest and an emotive interest. I believe that we need to try and spark these emotive responses regularly in order to maintain students interest in any subject!

The roads in the USA are broad roads that go for miles without lots of turns and vehicles are able to cover large distances as the whole road is moving at a high speed. There isn't much we can do about this in the UK as we are such a densely populated country that the regular junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights.

I took another self-indulgent moment on the trip and went with Shelley to her churches choir practise. I was interested to have a play on the organ which was made by the same company that made the one at my own church in the UK! The hymns and songs sung in church were largely the same as in the UK. I am not sure if I was really expecting a difference or not but I guess I was surprised to see they were similar. 7 members of the choir arrived and went through the next couple of weeks music so the commitment here is less of a disruption to the rest of people's lives. I joined in as best as I could singing and really enjoyed it and am now thinking about trying to get back to my own church more regularly when I get home. Sunday morning sports with the boys makes this difficult but I will see what we can squeeze in.

Next morning and driving again but this time on far more of an epic adventure driving to Memphis. A slightly delayed start but soon we are pounding the interstate down to Memphis. The 200ish mile journey takes us about 3 hours with a pit stop which is amazing going. At times the road was so straight and long you could see for miles as though the road would never end!

Our first stop was the legendary Sun Records and the studio tour. I was slightly concerned that our students may not be as interested as the era of the music is a bit before their time but actually the ambience of the place and the amazing job the tour guide did to get everyone enthusiastic gripped everyone. The recording studio is brilliant and the stories of the artists that have been through since 'Elvis had left the building' is really astonishing.

From Sun records we went to Beale street. Lunch in one of the many bbq restaurants was in order and we entered this diner with live music. This guy was sitting there with a guitar and a large array of

pedals and was playing a mixture of blues and rock and was utterly amazing. We had a photo with Chris Gales, the guitar player, and enjoyed some bbq food. Then, of course, we had to take a walk in Memphis and looked in some of the retail outlets before taking a brief drive to the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. We didn't have time to take in the tour but our students again took the time to read the information boards and also the video screens that were outside. Again they had a number of questions that were sensible and they were interested in hearing the story behind the events and what happened to James Earl Ray afterwards.

From the Lorraine Motel, a short drive took us to Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley. The tour of the legendary musician's home started in a small film studio to see a montage of Elvis' music
and then a bus ride through the gates of Graceland up to the main house itself. The home has been preserved with the original decor. The audio tour gives a good insight into the tour. We were really lucky that the weather was nice and also that it wasn't busy. We had plenty of time and space to walk around the house and grounds. I was really surprised by the decoration in some of the party rooms but I guess at the time Elvis could pretty much do exactly as he pleased. I will save you from the photos in this blog and I would want to spoil it if you haven't been yet!

With the tour completed, we travelled back to Ste Gen. One last stop on route to Lambert's diner. The home of the thrown roll! This diner was completely full of character and the waiting staff kept coming round with sides that you could add to your meal including rolls, that would be thrown either really high or really fast at you. Some of the time these weren't caught but sent flying across the room. Almost every inch of the wooden walls is covered in a mixture of signs, license plates and other memorabilia collected from who knows where! This is a really characterful restaurant and a definite place to revisit in the future.

What an amazing couple of days with some amazing sights that I have only dreamed of visiting. The students really enjoyed themselves which is always a risk of planning some day trips where it is sightseeing as not everything will appeal to everyone but I think the mixture of monuments, history and music was a perfect combination together with some restaurants with quirks that made the days a real treat for the kids.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 5 - Ste Gen Tour

Monday Morning and back with the kids. They were all looking a little tired which is fantastic to see. They have all been doing so much with their host families and had an amazing time. Our plans for the day were to have the first hour in lessons followed by seeing some of the history of Ste Genevieve.
I wanted to go and see the PAC, Performing Arts Centre as Ted had said that it was amazing and with my background in the West End I was keen to go and have a look. On the way, we had a little tour of other areas including the Auto Workshop where Shelley's son was working and it was a really fully equipped car workshop. We also saw another example of celebrating success in the school. The boys' football teams players names showcased at the side of the road and the girls' volleyball names on the other. These boards so that they are held in really high regard and well celebrated in school.

When I reached the 'PAC' I couldn't believe my eyes. It was an amazing building, with huge classrooms for their band, and choirs on opposite sides of the main auditorium. There were over 100 students in the band practise room with space for instruments to be stored and rehearsals to take place. I imagine you could get a whole symphony in there at once. The opposite side had a large class of singers learning a new song as part of the choir. The main auditorium was incredible. Permanent seating for over 1000 people a full-size stage and plenty of space in the wings for set and scenery. A large green room is also part of this amazing setup including a fully functional technical area too. This put some of the West End theatres in London to shame with how amazing this building is.

On from the 'PAC' is the school's football field with bleachers on both sides, a running track around it and the main surface is astroturf allowing use in all weathers. I loved this field and was again in awe of what the school has. I can only imagine what a game is like on this field with the band, cheerleaders, and most of the school community coming out to watch and support their team.

The historical tour of Ste Gen started at the Cemetary in town. Our tour guide Mickey was there dressed in traditional 19th Century wear. She started off talking about the cemetery and I was concerned with how our students would respond to a tour of the cemetery. However, our tour guide was brilliant, the amount of history that she shared was exceptional and the town has worked really hard to confirm it's history by getting some ground penetrating radar in to confirm locations of graves in the grounds. The story that stuck with me the most was about Senator Linn and his wife that had been buried in the cemetery and there had been a reason to move him and his wife to the new cemetery he had to been moved and then the town put a fence around the outside of the old cemetery they were moved back. What made me the most amused about this story is that having been buried in a lead coffin so he had been mummified and then the town decided to parade the local school children round so that they could see him, this before he was reburied for the third time, this time by the Catholic church back into his original grave. Not bad for a man that was a Baptist! My students were unimpressed with my laughter at this story but with all the things that happened to him after death, it was definitely not a rest in peace!

We then went on to look at one of the older properties in the town. The ghost stories about the house and its former occupants got under the skin of our students. This together with the fur pelts that were on show to explain the trade of the day the students were completely glued. I was really impressed with the amount of history in the town despite its relatively short history. There is far more to this town then I realised and I am really keen to come back and learn more.

After our lunch in the Anvil restaurant, we had time for one more of the historical properties to look at. Again we weren't disappointed with this and the explanation about the vertical log construction of houses and how the whole of the roof structure had been made without a single metal nail!

After the tour of Ste Gen and a catch up with the students, we were off to Jefferson City. Rhett was a finalist in the state teacher of the year competition after winning his region, and the evening was a banquet in their honour. This was an interesting evening as we surrounded by educators and those connected to education. The whole evening was a lavish banquet in a large hotel and I wondered where this would fit in the UK. I know the event had corporate sponsorship and these sponsors supported the event and also education in the state which we really don't have in the UK at all and I was left wondering if such events do occur and if they do would they be as lavish as these? This fits into my own little paradox from this trip, as I want to celebrate success, but in education, at least in the UK, money is so tight that I'd rather it was saved and spent on frontline teaching. I guess I'll have to ponder this some more to work out exactly what I will be completely happy with here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 3 & 4 - Weekend without the kids

This is my first time on a school trip where I have spent a day without seeing the students that I have travelled with. This is the stark difference between an exchange trip and a school visit to a country or city, our students are going to spend the weekend with their host families doing a whole range of activities and I can't wait to hear what they are doing.

My day started early, our plan was to visit a sports bar in St Louis, an hours drive away so that we could watch the English Premier League football matches. The first game of the day started at 6 am local time so the bar would be open and the fans were in drinking beer. They had obviously been in since the game had started and they were enjoying the football both inside the bar and out in the beer garden. We arrived at 8 am to watch the last few minutes of Man Utd v Chelsea game that ended in a draw.

The next group of matches got underway and in the bar, you could watch any of the 4 games that were on the screens. Something that is impossible to do in the UK as only a few games are televised live. There was an electric atmosphere in the bar with supporters of all the teams sitting next to each other enjoying the games and a beer and there wasn't the angry rivalry between supporters at all. I sat there enjoying watching Man City take Burnley to the cleaners and I sat there feeling sorry for Burnley's goalkeeper who had spent so long playing at Man City this was not a visit to his former home that he would have enjoyed.

The two thoughts that I left there with were could this work in the UK? Would the stadiums really suffer if the games were televised?

The next part of our day was a visit to Das Bevo a restaurant in the heart of St Louis that had an oversized windmill as part of the exterior. The owners have made it look like a Bavarian-themed dining hall with dark wood panelling on the walls and dee head mounted to the wall with a pipe. There are gnomes on the bottom of each wooden arch as the original builder had a particular fondness for them. The food was good and there were setting a reality tv show being filmed in the restaurant but I’m glad they hadn’t started filming before we left!

Next stop was pudding and we were treated to a mini concrete at Ted Drewes ice cream parlour. On arrival, there were loads of high school kids that had been to an athletics meet at one of the parks in the city and they had all come to get ice-cream before going back to their own part of the city. The ice-cream is delicious and has flavours that are available in most good ice cream shops back home. We had mini’s which were a standard size pot back in the UK. There are 4 sizes which get very large very quickly. With so many schools here I took the opportunity to take a self-indulgent moment and get a photo on a yellow school bus. The lovely bus driver was very accommodating in letting me on her bus.

On the drive back from St Louis we stopped at one of the most iconic parts of American culture, Wallmart! This gigantic store sold everything from groceries right through to Guns! We popped in to get a couple of bits of shopping and the most interesting part of the store was the teller. He was definitely on a mission to get Employee of the Month. He was so enthusiastic in a monotonic kind of way and was really trying to push the Wallmart brand and their store card. He was so keen for us to do the customer satisfaction survey online.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent relaxing back home. Having taken plenty of flack about my BBQ from Rhett when he was over it was great to see him cooking out on his bbq for dinner. Everyone has their own way of cooking a bbq and Rhett seasons the meat before cooking it on the bbq and then adds a good smothering of bbq sauce at the end. The result was delicious, being someone who prefers meat over veg I was definitely looked after.

Sunday, for me, was a visit to the local Catholic church. Shelley plays the organ for mass and there is a congregation of about 100 that come each Sunday. Fr Jim, who is in his late 70s, welcomed us to the parish. Fr Jim then introduced to the congregation by welcoming us and showing the congregation what English people look like. It was a really nice tongue in cheek introduction to the Parish. The Mass was very familiar and we were able to join in exactly the same way as we would in an English Catholic church. What was different was the Bulletin, the weekly newsletter has all of the regular information that you would expect to find in a church but the back page was covered in adverts. They were all Catholic-related in some way shape or form but it seemed really alien to us. One of the adverts was for a Catholic online dating site, which whilst alarmed me at first then made me think that actually in keeping the church growing with all Catholic families.

After mass, we were then treated to the American version of brunch. I cooked scrambled eggs the way I make them in the UK and Rhett had fried eggs, and cinnamon rolls were backed in the over,
pretty standard thus far. Then the last part of the menu was biscuits with sausage gravy! We had had a discussion about what a biscuit was and we even got to the roots of what the word biscuit meant and these were definitely not what we would consider being a biscuit. It turns out they are plain scones in fact. So now for the sausage gravy that went with it. This was more like a creamy peppercorn sauce in consistency then what we would call gravy and had lumps of sausage meat in it. This isn’t the normal topping I’d have on a scone but actually, I really enjoyed it. I know this is starting to make me seem like a carnivore rather than much of an omnivore and I guess that wouldn’t be too far from the truth really.

The afternoon was then spent visiting a couple of local wineries and enjoying sampling some American wine. As with all vineyards, the blending of grapes with other flavours gives these small vineyards
a variety of wines and flavours. Some of these were not to my palet but others were simply delicious.

We met up with another teacher that I had collaborated with in the past and her husband and we had a lovely time chatting about classroom practice, technology use oh and the 51,000 something, unread emails that she has in her inbox!

We finished up in another winery that had an amazing restaurant that made a delicious Gumbo soup for starters. The rest of the meal was delicious and this was amazing. After dinner was a chance to just unwind and relax.

I checked in with the students again when I got home and they have all had an amazing time doing a whole manner of things. They all seemed to be something completely different and all having an amazing time. How valuable is it for students to be given time to socialise with locals and be completely immersed in family life?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 2 - In School

Today was our first experience in an American school. Our first drive to school in Rhett's half electric car, whose interior looks like some of spaceship's flight deck rather than a small car!
School's School, everywhere in the world school consist of pupils and teachers and there are so many similarities, but for me, it isn't the similarities that are of much interest but actually the differences. We arrived in school nice and early and was immediately greeted by staff members, teachers, students and members of their leadership team.

The school is through Elementary, Middle, and High school all joined together, with a total student population of about 1800 students. This is from Kindergarten through to year 12. The school day here is very different from our own as they have 7, 55 minute lessons a day, an advisory, which is equivalent to our form time for 25 minutes, and a split lunch system where different sections of the school go at different times and the high school is a 3 way split too. We were lucky to be in on a Friday as the normal morning notices given to the middle school include the singing of the school song. The notices are read out by students and the song is lead by the students with the teachers singing along with the students.
The other really big difference for the school day is this particular's school timetable where students and teachers have the same classes each and everyday all year. So Rhett's period 1 class is the same group of kids each day all year. Rhett also gets one lesson off every day! Could you imagine that in the UK? I spent some of the time in Rhett's unusual classroom. I can't say I had ever been into a room that has the following in it. 4 normal desks with power sockets on them, a high round table that you'd normally find in a bar, a fridge door, 4 reclining lazy boy chairs, a rocking chair, a wing-backed chair, and an Amazon Echo! This eclectic mix of furniture and the decorations all around on the room keep the kids engaged and interested in coming to his lessons.

From World History I was taken up to middle school Maths where the lovely teacher welcomed me in despite me being something of a distraction to the kids especially with my British accents. I loved winding the kids up telling them that I wasn't the one with an accent but they were! It is really funny to see that particular penny drop and for them to realise that we both have accents. The thing about this is they enjoy the change from the norm. Oh, I really like your accent, oh but I really like yours. It is this challenge to what we hold as normal that makes the situation more exciting and interesting. After all, what is an accent really and how would someone's life change just but the sound of their voice? The Maths room was a more traditional room with more normal size desks but the tables were white topped allowing the kids to write on them. Something I have seen before and really want in my own classroom. There were also desks for students that prefer to stand up and work in so students got a choice of what suits them.

Again there were also a couple of different styles of chair and stools for students to sit on so they had some choice and the kids were really engaged in the lesson.
The students in the school all have school-issued Chromebooks which they use in some but not all lessons and the most abstract way I saw them being used was standing on edge as a divider during a test.

Lunch in the canteen was funny with the segregated trays that students and staff used to put their food on. Breakfast and Lunch are provided by the school for the teachers as a nice little benefit for the teachers.
So down the corridors from the middle school and you are seamlessly transported to the high school. I had a chance to visit a Maths class and also a Biology classes and again I am made to feel like a bit of a celebrity and asked to say words that don't really have a difference in either language.
The feel in the classrooms is more relaxed our students really like the feeling in the classroom. The expectations in the school are high for the kids and the parents evening next week is a big deal as it is the only evening throughout the year when the parents and their teachers get a chance to formally sit down and chat. Rhett gets all of his kids to record a video to share with their parents giving them the basic information that they all need to know in their own words. He doesn't script it for them or get them to redo it before the evening he simple gets them to record for 30 - 60 seconds and then shows it straight to the parents. I wonder if I could even attempt to do this with my students? What would the parents think? What would my colleagues think too? Could I pick a class to try and do this with this year as an experiment?
The one thing that I took from the school today was their sense of pride about the things that they do outside of the actual learning that goes on. The school song is sung on a Friday morning, they say the pledge of allegiance in the mornings, their trophy cabinet is stuffed full of trophies out on display, when they play sports at home the whole community comes out and watches. These things are very different in our school when I am teaching and our teams are playing at home the rest of the school are still in lessons. Our teams may get a few supporters from the sixth form but it really isn't the community vibe that emanates from the school here in Missouri. Has our community, country become too reserved and insula that our schools success in sports. I know that we have our specific evening concerts and gym and dance displays but when our teams play home games or host other schools in tournaments we should try and support our teams and celebrate our success beyond that of the lightning mention in assembly. Do we do enough to celebrate our students' success in general?
I guess that there are a number of ways that we do but it just feels far more reserved then it does here in the USA.

The final part of my day was at the middle school principal's house where he had arranged for a gathering in his house so we had a chance to chat some more with the teachers and get to know them better. The difficult part of having a bunch of teachers in the room is trying to break away from work based conversations but we had a really enjoyable evening and have been introduced to a new game which is a similar to some of the rounds in mock the week so we will have to see if we can pick it before we travel home.

I have been really impressed with this school and I know that not all the things are common in all schools in the USA but I really like what I have seen here and I know our students have really enjoyed their day. The next two days are designated as time with families so I am looking forward to spending a couple of days with Rhett and Shelley and I know the kids will have an amazing weekend too.