Saturday, 24 October 2009

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"arienai" ありえない which, at its most technical, means "couldn't exist" but the way it's used is more like "unbelievable" or "unfathomable".

This week's post comes a bit late because I've been busy at a high school in Richmond doing my 2-week practicum (Oct 19-30).  And while not at the extreme end of unbelievability, it really is quite eye-opening just how much work it is to be a teacher.  It's not that I never knew, I just didn't think it was nearly this much.  The interesting thing is that most of the teachers I work with make it seem easy. 

I used to feel that classroom management would easily be the hardest thing I'd have to deal with but it turns out that lesson planning is the most critical, not in the least because a well planned lesson takes care of many of the classroom management issues that might come up.  And starting out as a teacher means planning many things from scratch as well as having to consider all the possibilities (what might students ask, how might students act/react, what would I need to prepare).

But as time goes on and the same lesson comes up again, the amount of planning drops and just some tweaking might work for the day.  Then there are things like being aware of time and just generally how to run a class which, once I get a feel for, I'm sure I'll be less concerned about.

This is, of course, not to say it's boring.  It's great fun interacting with the students and taking part in a Pro-D Day meeting with the science department.  Next week I'll be teaching 4 classes and chaperoning the Halloween Dance.  =P

As for the unbelievability, how's this-

A Windows 7 Whopper from Burger King in Japan.  7 patties for 777yen.  All served up on 13cm "American-sized buns"....  whatever that means heh....

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Here's something not related to Japanese...

As you might have noticed, I've been getting into photography for the past 8 months and while I was in Hong Kong, I decided to try shooting an HDR image.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a method of taking the same picture multiple times, each at a different exposure.  In other words, some of them will turn out way too bright while others will turn out way too dark.  Normally cameras try to balance the light with the dark to get a decent image but when one area is too bright, the other parts show up too dark for the sake of balance.  This can be seen when taking a flash photo even in a decently lit restaurant; the people are really bright while the background may turn out darker than normal.

While the multiple shots are not that interesting on their own, each picture brings with it something special.  The overly bright one also manages to draw out the light in darker spots.  The overly dark one subdues all the bright lights so they don't overwhelm.  Combining them (along with a normal exposure where everything is more or less in balance) creates an image where the darkest of spots can still be seen without the brighter spots drowning out the rest of the photo.  Coupled with tone mapping, the result is an image with almost unbelievable detail.

I tried this back in Hong Kong with some pictures I took while going for a walk outside my hotel.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get the software to work properly on my computer and ended up with something that looked strange.  Luckily, on the eve before my practicum, I think I've figured it out...

All this stuff is still a work in progress, so feedback is welcome.

Also, I don't know why there's a huge dark spot in the crane photo...  it might just be how the software rendered the images...

And I've included the normal exposure versions of each picture so you can see the difference.  Note particularly how HDR is useful in shots with both bright and dark areas, so the final product shows both.


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"hajimaru" 始まる which means to start.  And indeed it begins because next week, for two weeks (Oct 19-30), I'll be doing my short practicum.

The point of this practicum is mainly for observation but I will get a chance to teach.  It might not be a full 75min period (certainly not in the first week) and it'll probably be something my sponsor teacher has planned out, but it'll be a great experience and I'm quite looking forward to interacting wtih the students.

One thing I'm quite ready to admit, however, is that I'm not looking for a walk in the park.  Obviously I'm not asking to run a gauntlet for two weeks but if nothing ever happened during my practicum, I'd be less ready when I do find a real job in the "real" world.  I really do think that some element of a challenge is necessary to get the most out of it.

Case in point-

This was one of the very first pictures I took when I went to Japan in 2007.  It was the third day of what ended up being a two year journey and while it wasn't easy (especially the first few months), that's what makes it rewarding.  Had I went there and been frolicking in the daisy fields, laughing as I glided through the two years, I wouldn't treasure what I got out of it nearly as much.

Which brings me neatly to one of the things I've been learning about, particularly in my social justice class among many others.  In dealing with students, especially those who underachieve, lowering the bar is never the answer.  More often than not, the successful way of dealing with them is maintain the expectation that they meet the high standard.  The difference, however, comes from the support structure (they used the term scaffolding) set in place for the students.  Simply expecting them to reach the standard is a recipe for failure but outlining goals along the way and then helping them reach each ledge on their way to the top not only provides a system for them to succeed, but also allows them to retrain their self-esteem in that they can look back and see that they did indeed reach the top.  The real top.

I learned that in Japan.  I'm hoping to learn that here too.

So check back next week to see if I'm eaten alive or if I'm still alive =P

Monday, 5 October 2009

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"isogashii" 忙しい which means "busy". Dragging out the last syllable also puts emphasis on the word, just like you would in English ("I'm so busyyyyyy") =P......

Anyway, I really wish I could write about more than just how school and karate are going but, really, nothing else much happens aside from that. So, seeing as I can't help it, I might as well keep on =P...

Right now school's about a 70/30 balance between practical, "let's examine how to properly conduct a class" lessons and more theoretical, "let's discuss some of the issues in the classroom" lectures. The former includes stuff like giving mini-lessons in front of the class (which are video taped) and the latter involves quite a lot of discussion.

One of these discussion classes is a course on social justice and focusses on the topic of discrimination and oppressiveness and how, as teachers, we could or would deal with them, both internally with our own views and externally with our students.

As one might imagine, a class that focusses solely on topics like racism, sexuality, or class often result in some rather heated discussions. But last week we had a guest speaker from Out In Schools, a registered charity and a branch of the Out In Film society (which organizes the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival) that attempts to educate students about the issues that surround homophobia and discrimination (and the wider theme of bullying, be it due to race, sex, class, etc.) through film.

It was a really interesting look at some of the resources available for victims of bullying as well as a great chance to see some eye openingly short films made by students. Some included a short made by some grade 5's about the still-common usage of the term "That's so gay" and another was about two students in a high school in a very conservative rural town in America who were the victims of bullying due to their sexual orientation.

It's particularly eye opening because not only are many of these issues not given enough exposure (I mean, sometimes you watch it and think "Seriously?? Do people still think like that??"), but that what we might deem as "modernized" or "globalized" thinking isn't nearly as inclusive as we imagine. Coupled with the fact that while many are perfectly happy to nod their head in agreement that certain social values need changing, few are truly comfortable discussing them at length.

Aboriginal issues suffer from the same, if not worse, stigma. The topic of residential schools came up and it's something that's extremely touchy to discuss. What's worse than the actual topic itself is how, in Canada, discussing Aboriginal issues has become such a conversational faux pas that the discussion never even gets off the ground. And how are we supposed to confront the topic if it's nearly impossible to comfortable bring it up in the first place??

So despite the required reading for the class, it's incredibly interesting to have that class foster a space where there is less fear of tackling the truly difficult issues. Of course, the trap is that many end up trying to think of ways to change the world when, in reality, we should be trying to think about these issues and how we interact with them. And, be it as teachers or citizens, move towards changing our daily spaces (work, home, etc.) to be conscious of how we're treating the people around us.

私の友達がブログに日本語の場合がほしかったと言ったけど、全部を翻訳できないかも。。。 =P 少なくとも日本語入ったね haha