Almost home!

30 Mar



Road Trip!

26 Mar

On Saturday, I traveled to the Akosombo Dam on Lake Volta with Grace and Pam, the other two TGC teachers stationed in Accra.  It was a 2-ish hour drive, and the change of scenery was welcome after nearly a week in the city.  The forests and hills were beautiful, but the highlight of the drive were the baboons we saw feeding on side of the road!  As mentioned in the intermission, Lake Volta is the largest man made lake in the world, and the dam produces 70% of Ghana’s electricity.  Lower water levels have resulted in a reduced electrical output, however, and power outages are frequent.  The problem, our guide explains, is that there is not enough power to go around.  So if you want the lights on in Accra, they go out in Kumasi.  Additional power sources are being investigated and developed, including a gas pipeline from Nigeria, and Ghanaians are hopeful that the newly discovered oil reserves in their country will help to resolve this problem as well.  We joined a field trip of junior secondary students, and learned all sorts of fun facts.  I could bore you with all sorts of numbers and statistics, but it is late and I don’t know how much longer the internet will hang with me.  Here are a bunch of photos instead!

IMG_20130323_093829     IMG_20130323_113528

PANO_20130323_122901        IMG_20130323_113648     IMG_20130323_122721   IMG_20130323_122605     IMG_20130323_123421  IMG_20130323_123657     IMG_20130323_102402

After we finished our tour, we traveled downriver a little ways to eat lunch at the Afrikiko resort and restaurant.  Again, enjoy the photos!

IMG_20130323_125409     IMG_20130323_125621   IMG_20130323_125846     IMG_20130323_125933  IMG_20130323_125702     IMG_20130323_142521


And now for the weather…

26 Mar

A few weeks ago, while helping Sara with a lesson on weather, I learned that humidity is the measurement of water vapor in the air as a percentage of the amount the air could potentially hold.  When it is hot, the body’s natural cooling mechanism is to perspire, but it is the evaporation of the perspiration that actually makes the body feel cooler.  When it is humid and the air is already saturated with water vapor, your sweat does not evaporate quickly, and it is hard for the body to cool off. 

Our visit to Ghana has seen temperatures in the 90s nearly every day with humidity in the 90-100% range.  This puts the “feels like” temperature in triple digits.  Those of you who know my well understand what this means: I’ve been a walking puddle since I arrived. How’s the weather?  Hot. Very hot.

More Reading…

26 Mar

For those of you as frustrated as I in the length of time between posts, I want to share with you some links to blogs of other teachers in my program.  All will be interesting, especially considering our host schools are scattered about the country.  Enjoy!


Odorgonno Senior Secondary School: Friday

26 Mar


Friday morning, Susanna, one of the directors of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, joined me at Odorgonno.  As on Thursday, we were enthusiastically met by Emmanuel, who escorted us to the assembly hall.  Already, students had started to gather and more continued to flood the large room.  After a few announcements, Susanna and I were introduced and each stood to give some remarks.  In short, I commended them for the self motivation I saw the day before, encouraged them to maintain their focus, and thanked them for the opportunity to share time in their school.


The hall was dismissed, and we made our way to the headmistress’ office.  Again she insisted we have breakfast.  Porridge this time.  It was grey, spicy, and had the consistency of thin yogurt.  Maybe next time I’ll visit her in the afternoon. J Emmanuel organized one of his math classes, third year students, to meet with me in a Q&A session about school and life in Ghana and abroad.  It was awesome, my favorite part of the experience so far.  We discussed many topics: school, sports, music, television, pets, family, etc.  They thought it fascinating that high school students in the U.S. change classrooms and the teacher stays in one room while in Ghana, high school teachers change classrooms and the students stay in one room.  For me, most interesting was the reaction to the latest change in structure.


Let me explain:  for years, Ghanaian students went through four years of senior secondary school.  Within the last few years, it was announced that students will take three years of senior secondary instead of four.  This year, there are two separate graduating classes: the last traditional form four students (think seniors) and the first class to finish after form three (the juniors).  The class that Emmanuel had assembled for me was part of this first class of students to graduate in three years instead of four.  Many were not happy.  I learned that it was only last year, the beginning of their second year, that they learned of the change.  It meant that their second and third years would move much faster, contain more material, and require extra classes.  Several students explained that they felt their first year was a waste of time.  The courses and content were more laid back, and time during this year could have been used to learn more material required for the exam.  Nonetheless, the majority of students said they felt prepared.

 IMG_20130322_101638      IMG_20130322_101757

Term exams for each subject consists of two parts.  For the core classes, there is an objective part (multiple choice) and a writing part (even in math!).  For elective classes (and in the science classes I’m told as well), there are still objective and writing parts, but there is also what they call a practical part.  In a foods class, you will have to cook.  In an art class, you produce a piece of art.  And in clothing and textiles, you need to design, dye, and print on fabric.  Above are some student practical exam products.


After meeting with the students, we were given a more complete tour of the campus.  The athletic fields, including the soccer field and volleyball, basketball, and handball courts; the dining hall and pantry; the computer lab, nicer than Laney’s…  A word on this, before I continue.  The building that houses the computers is unremarkable, except that you might notice it has glass windows and air conditioning.  Inside took my breath away.  Rows of tables held dozens of computers, and each computer had a large office chair at its place.  I also scoped out the dining hall, and was able to meet some of the dining staff, who were hard at work sorting pebbles from soybeans and preparing kenkey for dinner.

IMG_20130322_102520         IMG_20130322_102558

And now I’m only two days behind!

Odorgonno Senior Secondary School: Thursday

26 Mar

On Thursday and Friday, I visited Odorgonno, my host school.  Emmanuel Kwarko, my host teacher and one of the nicest man I have ever met, welcomed me in the parking lot each morning as my taxi dropped me off.  Each day was very busy, but my lack of internet necessitates a condensation of my experience here.  I will focus primarily on the activities, filling in the appropriate “teacher talk,” where necessary, but I’m afraid the ins and outs of the school and system will need to wait for another post.  I can hear your sigh of relief across the world…


Odorgonno Senior Secondary School is a public high school of nearly 3,000 students.  Of these students, a little more than half of the students board (live on campus) and the others are day students (travel to and from school daily).  With the teacher strike going on, it is typical for the day students to arrive at school only to turn around when they learn that teachers are not holding classes.  As it is, however, the students are amidst their term exams and the final year students preparing for their exit exams.  With only the encouragement of a few dedicated staff on hand and their own self determination, hundreds of students were about on campus studying and working together in small groups to prepare for the end of the term.


Upon my arrival, Emmanuel brought me to the main office to meet Madam Headmistress.  The school was much larger than Katapor Junior Secondary School.  The campus was an enormous sprawl with many buildings:  an assembly hall, office, dining hall, dormitories for the boarding students, and several buildings with classrooms.  We met outside one of the classrooms for the morning assembly which, you may remember, was cause for distress earlier this week.  I was introduced, spoke about 4 sentences, and received a warm welcome from the student body.  Thank you all for your support, but in the end, I feel silly for my earlier anxiety.


After the assembly, I met the headmistress.  A soft spoken woman, the headmistress was very kind and patient.  I got the impression that she was well respected among students and staff alike.  Although she was very busy, she allowed my barrage of questions and responded thoroughly to each of them, but not before serving breakfast.  Without giving too many details so as to avoid a tangent, I made a fool of myself in front of her housekeeper when I poured milk onto my bread, thinking it was syrup.  Afterward, I rejoined Emmanuel in the chemistry lab, which was surprisingly well stocked after the picture I had painted in my head after Katapor.  We sorted copies for hundreds of exams and prepared to administer them.


The first year students were scheduled to take their English language exam, and without their teacher present, Emmanuel and I volunteered to proctor.  The testing atmosphere in Ghana is much like the testing atmosphere in the U.S. with the exception that there are fewer desks than students and the room is hotter.  Much hotter.  After the exam, we left to submit the student answer sheets, and I was surprised to see other first and second year students taking their exams in other classrooms.  Why, you ask?  Because they were not led by an instructor.  Instead, upperclassmen assumed the role of proctor to ensure testing continued as scheduled.  Not only were students self motivated in their preparation, they were taking responsibility for the testing itself!  Just like in the United States, am I right?




23 Mar

Apologies for the break in correspondence.. internet connectivity has been very spotty these last few days. Since I posted last, I have been in Odorgonno Senior Secondary School for two days, and have much to report! Unfortunately, I am catching a car to the Akosombo Dam on Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world! Pictures to follow.

In the classrooms: First Impressions

20 Mar

Today was the first day I had to visit a Ghanaian middle school.  Currently, the teachers of Ghana are on strike, but we were lucky enough for a handful to return to the school to meet and speak with us.  I was surprised to see students at the school, since there are no classes due to the strike and found out that every student walks to school.  If they arrive and there is no teacher, they are obviously welcome to leave, but many stay anyway and teach each other or study in the library.  After all, these kids had to walk to get to school, in some cases more than 5 km, along the road pictured below.  Might as well get the most of it.

from phone 150 from phone 189

The school was Katapor Junior High School, a rural school on the outskirts of Accra.  Along the way, we passed several students in uniform, purchasing their breakfasts from vendors in the streets and walking along the road to school.  The school compound actually had four different buildings:  one that had rooms for the first and second year kindergarten students, two for the primary grades (elementary school, 1-6), and another for the junior secondary grades (middle school, 7-9).  After passing an exit exam following form 3 (what we would call 9th grade), they would continue for three more years in senior secondary school (high school, 10-12).  High schools are very competitive, especially the good ones, and students are assigned to their choice of school depending on their scores on their junior secondary exam.  Katapor was pleased to report last year’s pass rate of 100%.  Below are pictures of one of the primary buildings and the junior secondary classrooms.

from phone 178 from phone 185

Even without teachers, students began their morning in worship, their regularly scheduled school activity.  Let by two of the prefects (just like in the Harry Potter books), worship was a celebration of song, drums, and dance.  Not a single student resisted, everyone participated.  Afterwards, the headmistress, Auntie Florence, greeted the students and spoke briefly on the subject of character, and prayed, although the school does not consider itself religious.  I was interested to hear also that behavior and moral education is a class taken at each middle school level.  Below are the students in worship and listening attentively (notice students at 2 or three to a desk – nary a complaint).

from phone 164 from phone 171

Before I go, I wanted to share some other sights from this school, just to give you some perspective.

The classroom and student desks, accommodating more than 50 students (53 were in attendance for worship):

from phone 159

The chalkboard, actually a piece of wood painted black:

from phone 160

The library, usually better organized, but in the middle of renovations to add electric lighting:

from phone 175

The lunchroom:

from phone 182

Slash playground:

from phone 187

And last but certainly not least, the washrooms.  Staff to the right, students to the left:

from phone 183

I’m on my way to a meeting, but will certainly be posting again this evening.  Thanks, all, talk soon.

To Mrs. Kesler’s 5th Grade Class:

19 Mar

It has come to my attention that there are some questions that need answers in a 5th grade research project at Snipes Academy.  This post is dedicated to you, and while I may not have all the answers you are looking for, I hope that you will find these helpful.  Thank you all for following me!

1.  In primary schools in Ghana do students have the opportunity to use computers in their classrooms?  Does the teacher even have Internet access or do they just use school books?
Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to see a Ghanaian classroom.  Tomorrow morning, however, I will be traveling to a local primary school and can have more definitive answers.  From what I have heard about senior secondary schools (high schools), access to technology is very limited.  One school like mine, with thousands of students, may only have one projector that teachers must share.  I’ve been told that even the police stations are without computers, so I imagine that if a teacher wants to use one, they must bring their own.  Most students never have the chance to use a computer in school before they go to college.
2.  Do you know if people over there keep pets?
I asked my friend Jane about this one, she lives in Accra.  She has a dog and has said that typically, people keep dogs and cats as pets.  She also said that even though they are expensive, parrots are also fairly common pets.  I’ve also noticed chickens roaming around, but I don’t know if you would call them pets…
3.  Any interesting facts about sports?  Video games?
As you might guess, soccer is by far the most popular sport in Ghana.  More than once today, I saw children and young adults playing in the streets.  In my hotel, I only have a few channels, but the sports station is always showing soccer.  I know that fairly recently (last World Cup, perhaps), Ghana knocked the USA out of the tournament.  My sport buff students can verify or correct for me.  I also know that they are known as the Ghana Black Stars, and that I was urged to purchase a jersey (or several) from some aggressive vendors in a market today.  As far as video games, they are not as common as I would have thought.  While smart phones are abundant, you don’t typically see people using them for games, and I haven’t seen anything like a DS yet.  Obviously, I don’t know how many people have a system at home, but perhaps I can ask around tomorrow.
4.  Have you seen much fast food in the capital city?
Before I arrived, I read in my guidebook that Chinese takeout places are common, and found it to be true.  I’ve been searching high and low for familiar chains, and while there have been several Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn, and a single KFC, I haven’t noticed much by way of fast food.  There are also a lot of street vendors, which we don’t have in NC, who sell cheap food quickly to people on the go — kind of like our fast food places.  I’ll keep an eye out for interesting names, my sister, Kristen, has challenged me to find some good ones as well.
5.  What kind of money do they use in Ghana?
The monetary unit in Ghana is the cedi, and it is roughly equivalent to 50 cents.  To estimate the cost of something I pay for, I divide price by two and that gives me a pretty good estimate.  Their money comes in bills and coins, but I haven’t dealt much with the coins.  The highest bill they have is 50 cedi, then 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1.  People mostly deal with the smaller bills, and it is not unusual if a business cannot make change for even 20 cedi.

Locked Up Abroad: Ghana edition

18 Mar

Before I left the country, I told my students to check my blog frequently and let me know if it sounded like I was going to do anything stupid or get in trouble.  Where were you today, folks?

Before we begin, mostly so my wife, mom, or principal do not have a panic attack before the end of this post, I want to ensure everyone that I am completely fine, not at all in jail, and still set to return to NC in time for my summative evaluation.  I will say, however, that the Ghanaian police now have a picture of me on file…  After an impressive presentation on the government and politics of Ghana and a lunch of Banku at a nearby hotel, we left for the U.S. Embassy.  As we pull up, I notice the signs on the walls surrounding the embassy – “NO PHOTOS ALLOWED.”  Naturally I thought it was an excellent photo op, and snapped a picture.  (Like I said, where were you when I needed you!?)  As we pulled up to the front to be dropped off, the van stopped immediately in front of the U.S. Embassy sign – another perfect chance for a photo.  Before I could do so much as pass the blame, our van was rushed by security officials, who demanded I surrender my phone and walked me to the entrance.  The men demanded that I show them the photos, then took my phone and passport into a back room while I filled out a statement on the incident.  They must not have been impressed by my photography, because shortly after, they returned and watched me as I deleted them.  I must have sounded ridiculous, admitting I had seen the sign, and proceeded to take pictures anyway, but truthfully, I was certain the sign only applied to inside the embassy.  Thankfully, they did not wipe my phone completely or worse, keep it for good.  I have since been told the rule and excessive security is not a Ghanaian thing, but an American one.  Truthfully, not another embassy in town has a sign prohibiting photographs.  Moral of the story:  follow the rules.  ESPECIALLY abroad.

Inside the embassy, we met a panel of Ghanaian teachers who had formerly taught in the United States through similar programs or exchanges who spoke of their experiences and identified the main differences between classrooms in both countries.  I’m going to save their comments until I can witness them for myself, but I wanted to mention the experience because I met my host teacher for the first time!  Kwarko Emmanuel is a math teacher at Odorgonno (oh-DOOR-gun-no) Senior High School.  He assured me that, although students will be amidst their semester exams, they have prepared an assembly for which to introduce myself to the student body.  Of three THOUSAND students.  While I have made a career of public speaking, it absolutely horrifies me, and this will be the largest audience I have ever had.  What do I say?  How do I begin??  It has also been arranged for me to teach a lesson, and while the mathematics curriculum here is highly structured, because they are reviewing for exams, I have my choice of topic to choose from.  How do I prepare?  How can I make it relevant?  Oh, did I mention I’ll be working with 40-50 students in a class?

Needless to say, today has been a little stressful, between my legal trouble (ha!) and the reality of my placement here truly sinking in.  Although still very excited, there is a certain amount of anxiety beginning to set in.  Any ideas for my 3,000 student assembly or lesson ideas are welcome.