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Sunday, 27 October 2013

My Little Science Project

I posted about a month and a half ago that my boss had told me about the belief that if you water a plant with microwaved water then the plant will die.

I immediately decided to test the idea.

After a long period of watering, here are the results:

The plant on the left is the "microwave water" plant, and it is actually doing better than the tap water plant, which leads to the feeling that I'm glad I no longer drink the tap water here:)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Park in Ansan, Korea

A while back I posted some pics of a park in the Jungang area of Ansan.  Here are some pics of a different park in the same general area--quite nice for a leisurely stroll, especially as the sun is beginning to set.

The many high-rise apartment buildings suggest that the area is a commuter city.

(An added note: When I looked back at these pics after I had posted them, I immediately saw that there weren't any people in the pictures.  They kind of reminded me of the so-called Chinese "ghost towns".  However, and this is my point, that is absolutely not true.  Yes, there were not many people in the middle of the park, but when my friends and I were walking alongside the river there were both many pedestrians and many bicyclists (quite a few of the latter using bikes from the city's bike-share program, which was great to see).  The park is in a good location for citizens from the apartment buildings to get out and walk, ride, play badminton, in-line skate, etc.)

Lunch with Friends

Today I had lunch with some friends at an Italian restaurant in the Ansan area.  The restaurant's atmosphere and the food were both good, and outside there is a nature/garden area to walk around in, rather unusual

for Korea.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Famous American Short Story

Somehow in one of middle school classes last Tuesday I mentioned a famous American short story called "The Story of an Hour", written by the author Kate Chopin in 1894.

One of my students chose to find and read the story on her own, something that doesn't often happen as middle school students tend to be overworked here (in Korea).  Fortunately, I have two of the good students in the same class.

The student and I talked about the story--partly remarkable because it is only 2-3 pages long, but also because it focuses on early American feminist writing--and I tried to clarify some of the concepts of the story.

I repeat this here since I think it would be a good short story for everyone to read; you can find it on the internet, but read it first, please, before watching any film adaptations.  One place to read it is here:

When I was teaching college/university writing and literature in the U.S., I used the story as an introduction to symbolism, etc.

Standing vs. Sitting: Article

If you haven't already read this (while standing), you might want to:

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Article: Educational Spending in Asia

Here's an interesting article about educational spending in Asia:

Asian Pears

On my walk to work today I saw a man and a woman (probably people with a small farm) selling Asian pears off the back a small truck (didn't think to get a pic).  People often due that in my area: nuts, potatoes, or whatever fruit is in season.  Usually you can get a better deal than in the stores, even the small produce shops that I frequent.

I don't buy pears for my apt. often here for one reason: they're big.  It's difficult for a single person to eat one.  However, because I was going to work I bought some to share with staff and students. Seven for $5, a very good price.  (One got consumed before I thought to take a pic.)

They need to be peeled, but that's fairly easy as the skin is a bit leathery.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Fukushima, Japan: Hilarity in a Tragic World

Fukushima's mascot's name:

Teaching Students to Grade Quizzes

This semester--in a continually evolving process about how best to teach English to my students--I find myself doing many more vocabulary quizzes.

I say the word, and the students write the word in both English and Korean.

In order to check the quizzes (usually consisting of 6-12 words) the students exchange papers and check each others' spelling/writing.  Because of my limited Korean-language ability this is really the only option, and it usually works well.

However, sometimes--like today--the process can be very frustrating.  In this case it was a class of 2nd-3rd grade students who have not done this type of quiz process before.  They had a problem with grading the quizzes accurately, to the point where I had to keep changing some of the grades.

Then some of the students got into a disagreement about the correct Korean translation, so I had to take two tests and ask my director (Korean) which translation was correct.

Hopefully the process will become easier and faster, as it currently takes too much class time.

On the plus side, I am learning some Korean vocabulary, and I have found out that, for example, the English words "sweater" and "truck" are the same in Korean (but pronounced quite differently).

This kind of quiz and homework checking is something that our students need to learn how to do, but it does try my patience, especially when my correction tape runs out (as it did).

Monday, 14 October 2013

Buddhist Temple

A bit further up the narrow concrete road where my friend and I were walking in Gangwon-do, up above the group of houses but in the same general area where I took the pictures in the earlier posts, there if a small Buddist temple.  It makes for a nice walk; the way is fairly steep, yet not too challenging, and the temple is not all that far up, maybe a mile or so.  The road ends there.

Nobody was there when we visited, but there is an audio recording of a monk chanting, so the place doesn't feel lonely.  I can certainly understand why that location was chosen for a temple, as it's very peaceful.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Rural Korean Agriculture, or, What Do They Grow in the Mountains?

Above: rice drying outside

Peanuts drying

A persimmon tree, a big, old one . . . smaller ones are common in rural Korea

Sesame plants being dried to harvest the seeds (which are commonly added to foods or pressed for their oil)

A mountain rice field, which, I think, was partly hand-harvested to check its readiness.  The area's farmers were in the process of using a shared mechanical harvester to gather the rice from many small plots like this one

A cabbage/lettuce field between drying sesame plants

Peppers (gochu)--as you might think, the green ones are mild where as the red ones are usually hot/spicy (at least for a westerner like me).  These peppers are ever-present in Korean food--whenever you see red in food pics from Korea, this pepper is where that red comes from.  It is usually dried, ground, and used as a powder or is made into a paste/sauce

Korea: The Forested Mountains of the East Coast

It's a great time of year to visit the mountains in Gangwon-do province in eastern South Korea. The weather is great, everything is green--except for the yellowing rice crops, which are being harvested.  Beautiful, peaceful . . . a world away from the bustle of city life.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Short Sci-Fi (No Aliens)

I came across this very well-done sci-fi love story, 11 min. long:

Not for kids.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Checking Homework in ESL Classes

Do you remember when you did homework, turned it into the teacher for correction, and got it back with a grade (and maybe not too much red ink)?

That style of teacher-centered homework-checking is actually one of the reasons that I left my position as a university English instructor.  There were so many essays to grade, and so many corrections to make (and the time involved!), yet I felt as though, ultimately, I was not doing much to improve my students' skills.

What would you do if you received back an essay with a grade and a lot of corrections?  Look at the grade and ignore the corrections and most of the comments, right?

Our English academy is working to involve students in the homework checking process.  It's not a fine art, and always varies class-to-class, but the model shows great improvements upon the teacher-centered one.

We have been teaching students to use classroom language such as:

  "What is the answer for question number 1?"
  "The answer is What is he doing?  He is reading a book."

The students works in pairs.  They exchange workbooks (or notebooks, etc.), and talk to each other.  They use a colored pen or pencil to check each other's homework.  The teacher circulates to see that the students are not missing any significant details.

There seems to be so much more language use and practice happening with this student-centered model, and my students are happy to do it.  It is a more active and engaging process than lining up before the teacher's desk to have their homework checked (though I still sometimes do that too).

My vocabulary quizzes (I am doing many more this semester than before), out of necessity, have to be student-graded; I require them to write both the English word and the Korean word, and, since my Korean language skills are not up to checking the quizzes myself, the students change papers and do the checking while I manage the process.  If there is a dispute over an answer they talk to each other (one of the few times they are allowed to use Korean in the classroom), and if that isn't satisfactory then I bring in a Korean teacher/staff person.  It took me a long time (years) to become comfortable with this process, as I have to place a lot of trust in my students, but, well, fair is fair, they put a lot of trust in me also.

I have a ways to go with some classes, but the last one that I taught tonight completely gave me faith.  They had to check 3 different homework assignments.  I introduced each one, told them briefly how to check it with their partner, and then let them do it.  They were great!  (Oops!  I had intended to give them each a piece of candy as a reward, but I forgot.) Did I mention that I did very little work other than supervising?

One slight problem that I have encountered is that some students, when checking their partner's workbook, for example, will spend a minute or two drawing a cute picture with "Good Job!" attached to it.  I tell them the class is not an art class, and one star is enough, but if that is the biggest of my homework problems then I am willing to put up with it.

"Life-Like" Sculptures

Check out these life-like sculpture pictures . . . amazing!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Rare Exports Film

If you haven't ever seen this one (about the true nature of Santa) then you should watch it.

Not for kids.

I love the first few minutes, especially the narrator's voice-over . . .

New Film

Short (10 min.?):

Maybe B-grade, but maybe you don't know what's coming . . .

A Few Thoughts on Writing Practice in EFL Classes

Years ago, one of the first English academies that I taught at stipulated that teachers should have their EFL students (students in countries where English is not the native language) spend 20 minutes out of 1 hour doing writing practice.

In my current school, an English academy that focuses on spoken communication skills, that is clearly too much time to spend on writing (plus we have 50 minute classes).

However, some writing practice is needed, since, I believe--and most teachers would agree--writing reinforces speech, and both skills are needed for effective communication.

So, how much writing should we, as teachers, ask students to do in class?

1.  Enough so that we can see and correct patterns of error.

For example, I now have two classes that are using the English Time 4 textbook, and I teach the classes back-to-back.  The first class is new to me--9 students I started teaching about a month ago.  We are now working on past tense verbs, both regular and irregular, and I noticed that in the last class the new students had a medium amount of errors after they completed a writing exercise.

The second class, 9 old students, studying the same book, had fewer errors after completing the same exercise.

I am not blowing my own horn here, but simply noting that the class that I know has consistently done approximately 8 minutes of writing per class over a "long" period of time has shown better performance (note: I would have liked to have seen the reverse result, so that I could spend less class time on writing).

In either case, I need to see the students' writing so that I can view, as a whole class, how they are doing with respect to understanding the target language.  Call it a test, because that is how I view it; I don't do the book tests, because I think that time is better spent on daily writing exercises (and that is arguable; I would do both (tests and exercises) if I had more class time; in this case we are talking about Tuesday/Thursday classes, or two 50-minute classes per week with me, so I need all the time I can get).

(Note: I also stopped doing book tests because I started doing more vocabulary tests, which--when paired with writing exercises--I believe are more effective than book tests by themselves. I don't have enough class time to do all of the above.)

2. Enough so students understand the importance of writing.

We need to set the foundation early, so that students learn about neatness, punctuation, grammar, spacing, and all of the other things that are involved with correct writing.  Seemingly simple things like capital letters, periods, spacing, and so on are a consistent problem with my Korean students, and they need to be addressed consistently.

Students need to understand that writing can make them look strong or weak, that writing can open doors for creativity (I also practice story writing), and that listening and writing are connected (enter "dictation" and "gap fill" exercises).

Students need to also understand that writing is part of the classroom learning environment, and shouldn't be viewed in a negative manner.  A few other classes that I have not taught before have moaned and groaned a bit when I have told them to take out their notebooks, and I have actually reduced the writing time somewhat because I am worried about turning them off from English study before they get "acclimatized".

However, a class on a similar level that I have taught for a while understands that we practice speaking and listening, and we practice writing, and then, if we have time, we will do a vocabulary game or some other activity for variety and interest.  I may sound like a boring and strict teacher, but when I first asked them to do dictation in pairs, in the first grade--when I thought they weren't ready for it but I wanted to check--the students surprised me with their ability and their use of classroom language:

   *Can you repeat that?     *How do you spell  _____?       *One more time please?

They get right into the exercise, and some of them hurriedly exchange notebooks and check each other's writing and spelling.


I also like to have students write on the whiteboard frequently, in part so I can (kindly but effectively) critique their handwriting, grammar, etc.  Peer pressure can be an amazing thing.

3. Be flexible.  Adjust.  Maintain a certain level.

I want my students to write every class, and to write for one of their homework activities.  Yet, of course, I don't want them to get burnt out.

However, sometimes it is a fine line, I think, because one day of no writing activity can have students complaining the next class.

I thought about that today as I was preparing for tomorrow's classes.  How much is too much? What will the students think?  How will they react?

20 minutes per class?  No--there is no minute marker.  As teachers, we all know that every class can be different in mood and character, and time spent on activities--such as writing--has to be adjusted.  However, a little writing is better than none, and if I can manage a consistent amount of time spent on writing then (time has shown) my students are better adjusted, learn more, and remember more.

Just some thoughts to share:)

Hotmail: Am I Really Back In?

Hotmail, after threatening me with a cutoff if I didn't provide them with my mobile phone number, actually did cut me off after I refused to do so (failed to comply with their directive).  I was denied access to my account.

However, today I checked the log-in process and I was able to log into the same account in the normal manner, with just my password.

Does this mean it was all a bluff?

Or did someone take action against them due to their threats?

I'm curious.

I will continue to use them as my backup email account for now.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Common Sights

Delivery bikes for restaurants; food delivery is very common and cheap here.  I've seen soups delivered still boiling.  The food is usually delivered in metal, plastic, or ceramic dishes that the drivers later return to collect.  The minimum price for delivery is often only $10-15, and the fee is very small, maybe less than $1 per individual order.  (I honestly don't know how they make a living, other than many of the delivery places are family-run restaurants.)

Where I live cell phone shops used to be the most common; these days that top spot has been replaced by coffee shops (I would guess that within 5 minutes walking of where I live I could go to 15 different coffee shops).  As you can see, this cell phone place has resorted to offering a chance to win prizes (CD players!  Bikes!).

 This tiny shop, usually called a "mart" (as in Wal-mart and K-mart), has a sign out front saying "super", as in "supermarket".  It is a very small convenience store.  Convenience stores maybe rival cell phone stores for the #2 spot (yes, 7-eleven is here).

Lotteria is a popular version of fast food, aka the Korean McDonalds, but, personally, I think much of their food is not good (I'm being nice).  That's due in part because they make a lot of the hamburgers ahead of time and stack them up on a shelf.  They do have decent chicken strips (cooked on-the-spot) and fries (if you can get them hot).

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Oh The Wierdness!

Wierdness = "of a strikingly odd or unusual character, strange" (Free Online Dictionary)

So there I was, in a 2nd grade class, taking attendance and about to start the homework check, when I noticed that one of the two young girls sitting at their desks in front of my teacher's table had something in her mouth, a pen cap or something.

"Helen," I said, looking at her and motioning with my hand, "Please take that out of your mouth.  It's dangerous."

Probably she didn't know the word "dangerous", but she knew what I was talking about, for she spit out the pen cap into her hand.

Helen is nice, I like her, but she is a bit strange, in part because she is one of those students I get every so often who make noises instead of speaking.  She likes to entertain herself and her partner by making sounds, and it can be entertaining for a short time, but it is worrisome from a teacher's perspective because her English skills will fall behind if she keeps it up.

When I looked at her next, however, that was the least of my worries.

Perhaps because of some push-back, or perhaps for additional entertainment--but probably a mix of the two--she moved to the next level: her pencil case.

She pulled a pen out of the case and proceeded to lick it.

Then on to the next pen or pencil.  And so on through the entire contents of the pencil case.

I was mute, rendered speechless, for I have never, ever had a student do such a thing, disgustingly dirty yet also funny in a strange sort of way, largely because she seemed to be enjoying the behavior and the attention that it might attract.

"Helen," I asked, pointing at the floor, "Do you lick that?"

She shook her head "No."

"No," I said, "it's dirty.  Your pen is dirty.  Your pencils are dirty.  Don't do that . . ."

I think she got the message.

And some people think that all I do is teach English.

I like variety in my classes, but that kind I can do without.

Hotmail Is My Nemesis

Following up from the post below, in which I noted that Hotmail is now requiring users to submit a mobile phone number in order to access their account (at least where I am living) . . .

My 1 week 'grace period' expired, and Hotmail has denied me access to my personal email account because I will not give them my mobile number.

What's the term for it?  Oh--"attempted extortion".

I thought that was illegal.

Guess I was wrong.

Fortunately my Hotmail account is my backup email, so nothing really important is lost.  That is why I can stick to my principles and silently tell Hotmail to go take a flying @$$!@!

But I wonder what those users who have vital information on their accounts will do.  Probably they will have to cave in and supply Hotmail with their private information.

I contacted NPR and CNN in the hopes that they will run a story on this and expose Hotmail's evil ways.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Entertaining Film

Give this short a watch . . . it's a rather unique comedy (primarily for an adult audience):

It's 16 minutes in length.

Phone Number Pressure

The last few times that I have logged into Hotmail and Google, I have been asked to provide my mobile number "for security purposes".

Ha!  Give me a break!

In this day and age of NSA, hacking, international governmental thefts, etc., what bit of information on the internet is truly safe?

Hotmail seemed to threaten me with denial of services if I do not provide my mobile number; I have one week (well, less than that now) to give them that personal information, or else--?

I will not do so, for 2 main reasons:

     1) I do not believe that they can keep my personal information safe

     2) I believe they will use it (or sell it) for purposes other than that which they have told me

Google and Hotmail: I will not give you my mobile phone number, so stop asking.  Stop making me jump through hoops to reach my accounts, stop threatening me.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

I Love Salads!

Salads are great.  Not only do you get the healthy vitamins and minerals, but they taste great.  I usually make a salad to take to work every day, though sometimes I don't want to put the time into it.  I need tomatoes in my salad, and usually olives too.  Cucumbers are good, but I occasionally do without them.  I've been trying to eat more avocados in my salad, as they are supposed to be good for men's health.  I used to really like those gunky dressings, but these days

I go for olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

A Scary Teacher

When I was walking towards the front desk in between my first and second class today, I saw a young girl with tears pouring down her face.

I recognized her as one of my new students, 2nd or 3rd grade elementary school, and I saw my director standing next to her.

"What's wrong?" I asked my director.

My director's answer was the most improbable, and broke my heart: "She's scared of you."

"What?" I replied.

I will admit that I have come down hard on some middle school students who do not do their homework, but even in those cases--in every case--I do not want students to be scared of me.

I realize that I am this tall foreign man, and--for those students who have perhaps never seen a foreigner before--this can be strange, but I go out of my way to try and make kids feel comfortable.

"Amy," I said, using her English name, "it's ok."

She calmed down, and her class was fine; she seemed happy as usual.  There have never been any problems in that class (a new one for me),and she had completed all of her homework (sometimes a stress factor for kids).

My director told me that this was the girl who, last semester, has cried a lot, when her other foreign teacher (a woman) had taught her.

I didn't feel much better.

I really don't like to hear students say that they are "scared" of me.

Kind of a wake-up call, I guess, to remind me that students' perceptions and my perceptions are not always the same.

I like teaching because, in part, I have to be flexible, because things are always changing, but I obviously don't like it when those variations make me, or my students, sad.

Short Films

Here are two that are not really stories but rather mediums (media?) for showcasing technology:

Also, a girl-saving-dragon animation:

You'll have to decide on the "kids' appropriate?" question for these, as they kind of straddle the border . . .

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Science Experiment

I was recently told by a trusted person that she had read that if you watered a plant with microwaved water (to the boiling point), then that plant would die.  Apparently it has something to do with the microwaves changing the molecular structure of the water.

My first thought was, "No way!"

Second thought: I can test this!

Third thought: I should test this.

The third thought came from the conversation that prompted my friend's recalled news.  I had stated that in the summer months I do not use my gas burners (my stove top) because it is too hot to do any real cooking.

Instead, I said, I use my microwave oven to steam vegetables and to cook potatoes, eggs, etc.

Her comment about the potential harmfulness of microwaves inspired me to pursue a mini-project.

I was thinking about buying a single plant and watering it with microwaved water, yet that plan changed when I spoke with my dad, a retired scientist.  He told me that I would need four plants, two for the experiment and two for the "control" part.

So here is what I have: two plants (one basil and one rosemary) to be watered with microwaved water (cooled), and two (of the same) to be watered with tap water.

The plants were first watered yesterday (9-14), and I will update the pictures weekly or perhaps more often.

(btw, the tube in the picture behind the plants is for the air conditioner.)

Korean Thanksgiving Time

Next week is the Korean equivalent of the American Thanksgiving holiday, when most people return to their grandparents' homes; in part, this means a huge exodus of people (and cars) from Seoul (traffic jams are a nightmare).

It also means that everyone is buying presents, mostly pre-packaged gift sets from stores.  Here are two pics of the offerings:

Busy Pedestrian Area

In my city there is a pedestrian area filled with restaurants, coffee shops, cell phone shops, etc. Most of the day and into the night it is packed with people, many of whom live in the high rise apartments that surround the area (this is not a big city, so it's easy to gravitate to the middle):

Chicken in a Cup

One popular take-away food in Korea is chicken-in-a-cup.  It's like chicken nuggets, only better.  Most people get the sauced version (a bit spicy), but I like mine plain, fried.

small cup = $2
regular cup = $3
box = $12

Here are two pics from a

popular place next to the subway station where I live:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Short Animation

I showed my middle school students "The Legend of the Scarecrow" tonight to continue our practice with writing summaries:

It's a production from Spain, so you can find the original in Spanish; there's also a version with spoken Spanish and written English subtitles (maybe that's the original--?) . . . here:

The content might be a bit spooky for young kids, but I like the film a lot.  It's sad, but well-made. The film tells the story of why crows are black.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Tired of Negative News

The websites that I usually tap into (a variety because of their different perspectives):

BBC (first and foremost)
Guardian (a close second0
CBS News

Well, what can I say, they all mostly go for the sensationalistic stories . . .

Whereas others, such as


Tend to be in the middle category.

When I want news that is not about deaths or killings or bombings, I look at or (also a middle ground, but not sensationalist, usually) or national geographic magazine.

But that's just me . . .

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Jungang Park

After my friend and I had lunch, we strolled around a park.  The day was quite warm but nice; there were quite a few people camping in the park and/or just spending the day there hanging out in the shade of the pine trees.

Across from the park there is a soccer stadium, and I was told that in the basement of the stadium there is a full department store (Lotte).