Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This is Why I Teach Middle School

Though this year has been challenging in many ways, typical of starting a school, there are, of course, tremendously positive things that have happened as well. I have seen students who could not read well, complete entire books in English and feel proud; students who could barely say hello in English can now struggle through a conversation and read simple books; students are doing homework, writing essays, passing math tests, learning to edit their own writing, and discussing literature!

We are studying the Middle Ages in humanities right now. I asked the students to write about what it was like to live during the Middle Ages. One 7th grade student, whose first language is not English, wrote, "Many people usually died during the Middle Ages."

Yesterday, we were talking in that same class about whether students would have wanted to live during that time (no one did), and then we talked about why that was. The conversation moved to how people 500-1000 years from now might view this current time period in which we are living, and students pondered how this country and the world might function without oil. They thought that maybe laptops and iPods would be so obsolete. Finally, we talked about changes that they have seen just in their short 13 years. One boy said, "My parents still have those huge CDs that you have to play with a needle." (Record albums) I told them that in my lifetime, TV has gone from being five or six channels during a limited time of day to what my students experience now - hundreds of stations on at all hours. It was a fascinating conversation, and I realized how much they are able to think and discuss ideas.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Arts at KAUST

At first, the practices were informal, modest, the May concert slated to be for another small gathering made up mostly of friends and colleagues. Then a fellow violinist's brother, a seasoned cellist, arrived from Germany, in part to help us through our Vivaldi solos and the concert, to have been advertised by word of mouth and taken place in a small venue, was switched to the large cinema cum campus theater. A concert poster began making the campus rounds, and the few students I'd invited grew into the much larger number encouraged to attend by our school's music instructors, one of whom is our string bassist, with his wife the conductor of the community choir, which would nicely fill the second half of the evening's bill.
By 7 pm, concert time, the auditorium was packed, with people waiting in the wings for an available seat and we ten nervously warming up in the back room, hoping we'd get through the five pieces on the program we'd not quite gotten through sans hitch yet. Thousands of miles from where each of us had originally fallen in love with classical music, here we were, about to play to members of an audience, many of whom had never been to a classical concert before let alone attended an evening event where men and women were able to sit freely together.
Again, the orchestral and choral offerings had to be sandwiched between the two evening prayer times, leaving us a bit less than 90 minutes to perform everything, with a stage change added in for good measure.
In the end, I tried not to look beyond the bright lights of the stage to the large audience beyond and instead just focused, like my musical peers, on creating good music that those assembled might enjoy. Personally, it was a bit of an epiphany. I'd never been much of a soloist in younger years (having always been surrounded by other musicians, many much more gifted than I, especially during Interlochen summers). Yet here I was, playing beautifully composed music with new friends and trying to stay reasonably poised, especially through a couple of solos, in a hall that had never held a music concert and on land that could not have anticipated the huge changes about to come to it just five years ago.
By all accounts, the evening was a wonderful success, and further indication that the arts are alive and well at KAUST and that there is enough of a number among the provosts, researchers, professors, graduate and high school students, teachers, accompanying spouses, and even visiting family members who not only like to make music together but apparently even like performing in public on occasion, especially if it brings the community together, which this evening most certainly did.
After our first-half gig, we ten got to sit back and relax together and enjoy the impressive performance of our community choir, which sang songs in French, English, Swahili, Japanese, and Spanish and was accompanied ably in one of their songs by two brand-new percussionists who happen to be two Arabic-speaking high school boys from our school. Sensational!
Two nights later, the four Evanses attended the first KAUST Talent Show, again awed by the wide-ranging abilities of many on campus. Original poetry in English and Arabic, Tai Chi, fashion, classical and pop music, dance, comedy, classical Indian violin - it would be hard to beat the diversity of talents we were happily exposed to on Wednesday!
So, KAUST continues to define itself each month in ways new and inspiring. Those hours of violin practicing as a kid are having certainly unanticipated outcomes, that's for sure. Given that this week has also included Mother's Day, I hope it's not too late to thank my mother for making me practice after school each day after school in elementary and junior high. I may have given up the violin for running at 14, but music, rather like riding a bike, once embedded in the heart never leaves you. Thank goodness since I like to do both, though not generally together!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beach Day

This weekend was been glorious, as usual! Logan and Jennifer enjoyed time at the pool on Thursday, David and Hayden went to the cinema to see "The Blind Side" (great film!), and we all benefited from homemade pizza at friends' house. Some friends brought a carpet salesman from Afghanistan to their home on Wednesday night; he and his son took time to explain the various carpets, styles, and colors to the many KAUST residents who were curious and/or wanted to purchase. The Afghan carpets are truly rich in color and fine in their wool textures. We chose a small one in deep reds which we both loved. There was a waterpark set up Thursday afternoon, with bouncy houses and water slides. Friday we went to the beach where we swam, kayaked, and played some football. The beach water is getting warmer, not surprisingly, and the Red Sea is crystal clear blue.

The beach is so nice. It's been all cleaned up, and barges of sand from somewhere along the coast south of Jeddah have been brought in to create a beautiful sandy beach. We can swim, windsurf, kayak, and enjoy the sunshine. It's quite lovely. I was excited that Hayden wanted to try kayaking and was enjoying the easy maneuverability of the single kayak. Although Hayden is learning golf and badminton, kayaking might the best option for when we ultimately return to Seattle.

School for the kids ends on June 16, but we have meetings and work for the week following that. We have hired a lovely Filipina woman, named Princess (!), to look after Logan after school and to be with both boys during that third week in June when we will be working yet they don't have school. We are all starting to get excited about the end of school. Only five weeks of classes to go. Students and teachers alike are feeling that itch of 'the end of the school year.' The students will have to give up their school-issued laptops, which for some will feel like a huge void in their free-time/game-playing. Some kids have really benefited from the laptop program, but many have been increasingly pulled into time-wasting (in my opinion) games and YouTube sites. It would not be so frustrating except for the kids who are most playing games are often the same ones who repeatedly don't complete homework and who truthfully NEVER read! You gotta wonder ...

More soon. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

KAUST Activities

Greetings all,
Please excuse our lapse in blog entries. School, work, and life takes over, and we find that we are out of time at the end of the day to write about our lives. We have been busy with school - teaching, planning,
assessing, tutoring, planning, teaching, meeting ... you get the idea.

A week ago we were fortunate to attend Hayden's and Logan's student-led conferences. Hayden showed us many writing pieces he has done and read two pieces to us aloud - one was a story about a day with friends in Seattle and one was imagining himself on an Olympic bobsled team with a teammate named Britt. He showed us his skills on his class laptop, showed us an online math game that he uses frequently, reflected maturely and proudly on his achievements and where he is heading, and talked confidently about his progress. He was clearly so well-prepared to share his work with us.

Logan showed us all of his work, too. Equally well-prepared and confident, he talked about his many art pieces, what techniques he had used, what he had tried to make, and what he had learned. He also seemed so proud of his work and efforts. In my earlier days of teaching (before I had children), I had not understood the value really of student-led conferences, but after experiencing our kids' talking about their learning and growth, I realized how empowering it can be when the kids are prepared well. Thank you to our kids' teachers!

We recently bought a ping-pong table and have it set up in our garage so that kids can come and play together. Hayden has been enjoying it quite a lot.

We have been asked about photos of our campus, so we will post some here. The main campus mosque is truly stunningly beautiful! One photo is our house with the garage door up. Our house is a three bedroom-townhouse between two others. Our neighbors on both sides have kids Logan's age, plus one family has a toddler son who adores Hayden, and the other family has a son just a year younger than Hayden.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer