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Day 11: Enjoying my time in Ligao City

Angelo and I started the day teaching four consecutive one-hour classes on American culture. We taught each of the seventh grade's four sections, giving every student in the grade the opportunity to ask questions. Our classes were abbreviated versions of the cultural presentations we gave to the twelfth grade the day prior, you can find the details in yesterday's post here. By the end of four consecutive sessions, I had practically memorized Angelo's presentation and he had practically memorized mine. We probably could have swapped, pretending I'm from Pearl City and he's from Boston for the last class and none of the students would have known. Angelo has been a great travel partner and you should check out his blog Aloha from Ligao here.

One interesting thing I noticed: each class had an audible reaction when footage of Westwood High School's library appeared in one of the video clips I showed. The students were surprised to see how large our library was compared to theirs. I decided to address their reaction after the video played, explaining each time that while their school was built around a central courtyard/green space, complete with tables and stools for students to congregate and have snack/lunch/socialize, the weather and climate makes a similar layout impractical in Massachusetts. Instead, our school is built around the library. So the larger library is required as the library does double duty as both a gathering place and a research place. This seemed to make a lot of sense to the students, especially after I showed them pictures of Boston in the snow and of skiing. (My photo of fall foliage also drew audible gasps, I'm not sure students had seen such a thing before.)

Another interesting trend: Angelo and I have presented this session five times now, and four times we have been asked the following question: "Do you have bullying at your school?" That we've been asked this so consistently makes me think that bullying is a significant issue in the Philippines. And I remember seeing a pair of anti-bullying posters prominently displayed at one of the schools we visited in Manila. But when I ask the students at Bicol Regional Science High School if bullying is an issue in their school, they say no. It's possible that they are too shy or to nervous to say that there is a problem. Or it could be that the department of education here is pushing an anti-bullying agenda that might be relevant for some schools but not for BRSHS, making it seem to BRSHS students that the problem is widespread elsewhere. Or it could be an impression they have of schools in the United States, formed from watching media depictions of American high schools. Or something else?

After a quick lunch break I was asked to judge a series of dramatic performances put on my a 9th grade "enhanced science" class. The performances were the "outputs" of their study on the perils and health effects of smoking, drinking, poor nutrition, and drug use. The performances were very creative. Students were very resourceful; they made fake cigarettes out of rolled up paper filled with baby power to puff out as smoke, a student pantomimed driving an ambulance while a cellphone playing a siren sound effect on speakerphone blared out of his front pocket, and one group made overscale cardboard mockups of various vices to ensure audience visibility:

This group took top honors on the back of some very strong acting:

This girl died of heart disease:

Following the performances the school conducted an earthquake drill. It turns out that the drill we had seen a few days prior was actually instruction and practice for the real drill today. Today's drill was much more elaborate. I was most interested in the different student teams with various responsibilities. As the first alarm bell rang, the majority of students took cover in their classrooms, while one group reported to the front gate where I was observing. They explained to me that they were in charge of organizing their fellow students into lines as they exited the school grounds. Another team of boys also assembled. They were tasked with carrying wounded students out of the buildings, if necessary. Here they are practicing with one student playing the role of the injured:

Here are the rest of the students evacuating the school grounds:

I wish that, where I teach, earthquake drills were necessary rather than lockdown drills.

Next I sat in on some research proposals that Noemi's 9th grade class were presenting. Students at BRSHS need to conduct an in-depth, year long research assignment. This early in the year, students are still refining their proposals. These proposals were all studying the potential beneficial effects of plant extracts. One group sought to determine if Holy Basil extract could reduce fat in lab mice. Another project was focused on preserving tilapia with pulverized garlic. All of the groups needed a bit more revision, but it was clear that they were well on their way towards executing an interesting and rigorous project. I was really impressed.

The class I saw was the "1st section" of grade nine. At BRSHS all classes are heterogeneous. For those of you who are in the teaching business, that means that the top 25% of students get placed in the 1st section, the next highest achieving 25% get placed in the 2nd section, and so on. So if you are in the top section your classmates--for all subjects--will be your fellow high-achievers. Likewise for the bottom 25%. There are both strengths and weaknesses to this approach, just as there are to homogenous grouping. I asked and was told that most schools in the Philippines structure their classes heterogeneously.

From 3:00 to 4:00 I interviewed a math teacher about her career. I focused my questions mainly on teacher training and development, teacher certification, and society's attitudes towards teachers in the Philippines. I conducted this interview in service of one of my two guiding questions, "What are the best practices of training and retaining teachers in the Philippines?" I'll reflect on and summarize my findings in a later post.

At 4:00 we headed back to the Department of Education offices in central Ligao City to meet with the district's Assistant Superintendent. The most efficient of the limited travel options is via trike, a motorcycle with a covered, bolted-on sidecar. Due to safety concerns, the Department of State strongly discourages travel by trike. So here is two other large dudes wedged into a trike:

We spent some time talking with the Assistant Superintendent about the nationwide transition to a K-12 system (this is the first year that grade 12 is offered, last year was the first that grade 11 was offered.) I also asked a few questions about hiring processes and the challenges he faces as a supervisor. It was an informative visit that will help with answering my guiding question.

Angelo and I have been doing our blogging in the cafe by our hotel. It has surprisingly robust wifi. Here were are, just minutes ago, working on our posts and waiting for our dinner. See you all tomorrow!

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