Saturday, December 4, 2010

Math Myths

During this visit to an ECCD center about 5 hours travel from my village, the focus was on math - as the teacher had requested. Initially, his plan was to teach whole numbers 1-10 on Monday followed by addition and subtraction during the rest of the week. When we discussed the schedule, I showed him some new examples of concrete manipulatives and ways to make the lesson more constructivist and student centered.

Within the hour he had taken over guiding his students to understand the concepts of quantity, increasing quantity, and the corresponding digit symbols that represent this. We had revised his schema so that digits 1-5 would be the focus this week, and depending on how the students demonstrated understanding there might be a group that moved on to 5-10 next week.

This was an extraordinary lesson to me in how flexible, eager, and enthusiastic ECCD teachers can be to develop their understanding, and thus their students understanding, in math. This ECCD center has requested a number of workshops in the coming year and has agreed to host and lead regional workshops in the Spring as a classroom lab/model center.

These manipulatives are made out of cardboard boxes and matchboxes. All are designed to help the students move from concrete to abstract understanding. In some, the children have to demonstrate understanding of one to one correspondence. In others, the children have to pair or match the quantities with the digit symbols.

The matchbox activity allows the teacher to select digits [not shown here - they are stored in the larger matchbox with the label 1-10] and place them on the white mat space below the box, then the child has to place the appropriate number of small stones in the box to demonstrate understanding of the symbol. This can move through digits 1-10 sequentially, demonstrate odd or even numbers, or be randomized to assess full understanding.

Most importantly, these are materials that are accessible, familiar, easy to assemble or make into math materials, and easy to replace. The teachers will now make multiple replications of these samples so that many children will have the opportunity to use them in the 'Math Center' during indoor activity/center time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

ECCD Round III - Daily Program

This was the third and final ECCD Workshop before the end of the 'school year'. Another volunteer, an ECCD teacher from Mokhotlong, came to help and inspire us. The Mashai ECCD teacher requested a workshop on how to schedule the daily program and use curricular themes. We chose the topic of 'Myself', then looked at how this could be thematically addressed throughout the day. Using mirrors, singing songs, and reading books, we all had fun and agreed next year we have a lot of work to continue together! A special thanks and much love to M & B in Oregon for the materials that made this workshop possible.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To everything, turn turn turn...

I’ve come back from the library at early dusk, as I promised Ntate. I want to know whether we should water today.

Several weeks ago I gave my Ntate seeds for kale, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, even pumpkins seeds gifted from the Sisters after I excitedly told them about my new gardening career. He set to work preparing the plots, and hoeing [I tried to help but my hoeing ended up preparing the plots for his hoeing.].

We planted together in the face of a menacing thunderstorm.
"You must put one, one, one," he had demonstrated expertly with the seeds. I watched them fall from his fingers in to their new homes - like a stork delivering babies. He assured me that we had time for one more plot even as I felt the first raindrops. He was right though – the downpour began only as I opened the door to my rondavel with dirt caked fingernails.

But the intervening time refused another drop to our fields, the dirt has begun to crack and the seeds sizzle in their ovens. In the morning, Ntate said that we should water tonight - "Let the water cradle the seeds all night!" he said, so that the morning sun would seem again full of promise.

Here I am to meet him, to water seeds and wish them good night. Ntate meets me with different ideas though. He is wobbling with beer breath, and he holds up a cigarette.

“My baby, borrow me a match!”

“Ntate, you are going to smoke?” I fold my arms across my chest.

“Yes, I am going to smoke.” He is momentarily confused that I need clarity about this.

"Ntate, I will not help you to hurt yourself." I shake my head and look away with a small smile, but genuine disappointment.

He laughs. After a moment, he understands why I've asked. "Yes. I will decrease it little by little."

"Ntate, don't you see you are the grandfather for so many children? They come to you, all of them. You must keep yourself strong for them. You are a grandfather for the whole village. They must see how long life can be."

The last month, every weekend hosted the burial of a woman or man in their 20's. On a recent Saturday, my Ntate had asked me, "Are you going?" He had a joint between his fingers then too, and the smoke curled up and dissipated like released fireflies.

"To the funeral?" I'm sure it is what he has asked, but I say it anyway to fill the lost time.


"No," I say. I look away.

"You are busy." He looks at me, pulls me back into his gaze.

"The DTEP students should be coming to the library to work on their assignments with me." I say it weakly, self conscious of my avoidance and distance.

"Oh." He is disappointed in me.

"There are so many funerals, Ntate. So many funerals."

He looks sharply at me. "People are dying, Aussi." He is finished with my weakness.


"She was young," he continues. "I think 22 or 25. Her mother died in August."

He finished one last pull on the dagga and flicked it away under the tree. Then we both walked away, returning to our separate realities.

And then within a few days a mother and her young daughter appeared on the stoop of the house of my Ntate. The young woman, emaciated, sat with bony arms and legs folded around each other and her feet swabbed in clothing - too swollen to imprison themselves in shoes. Her cheek bones boast forward like a sculpture, her large eyes are bright with pain.

Her daughter, not more than 10, stares at me with her mother's eyes, her small body swimming in a t-shirt and bright pink sweat pants. The pair now stays with us, the daughter asks daily 'Borrow me a skipping rope?' and joins me at the library to try to recover the hours that she is not attending school.

The mother wastes away watching her beautiful daughter play and laugh in the last moments they will share together, and I project her imaginings of the small girl's adolescence and young adulthood with only a distant memory of mothering...

This evening, it is my turn to be disappointed in Ntate. I want him to see himself as I see him, a rare survivor who holds the history of the village and the memories of a full lifetime.

I see now that Ntate has turned back to me with brightened eyes and a dawning smile. He has recognized himself in the mirror I've spoken - Grandfather of the Village seems to be a title he likes.

"Yeah..." he nods, unblinking, one hand on his hip and the other casually beginning to gesture as if ready for his welcoming remarks.

"You must keep yourself well. I will not help you to hurt yourself," I conclude with a more stern reproach, now that I have his attention and his ego. I smile, inviting him to reconsider his original request.

He joins me, and chuckles. "Ok, Aussi." He turns, drops his hands, and begins to walk away. "I'm going to make my tea!" he loudly remarks over his shoulder, his hands nearly shooing me away with backward waving.

Perhaps there is a new seed planted...

Thank You Biblionef SA!

Biblionef SA donated over 100 books, most in Sesotho, to the Resource Library. After the purchase of a new bookshelf, our library is becoming more and more official... Thank you so very much for the profound impact this donation has made on the next generation... a generation of readers, learners, and who's to know what will come :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Live Oak School made this workshop possible by sending a fantastic package of phonics workbooks and lesson materials. This is the second monthly workshop organized by the local ECCD / Preschool teacher. The group is now creating a 'lesson activities booklet' that will collect new ideas for literacy and maths lessons [in several of the pictures you can see teachers referring to it or looking at it].

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ordination of a Priest

I was invited by the Sisters of St. Theresa Mission to attend an Ordination in Mokhotlong. These images show the ceremony. We attended one ceremony in Mokhotlong, then another celebration in the village where the priest had grown up.

A large white tent was set up in the yard of the St. Joseph's primary and secondary school compound. Seats surrounded the tent. This photo shows the priest walking down to the large tent.

This is the choir, complete with two choir directors and a set of drums [Rubber stretched across a container, with a wire attached threading through hundreds of bottle caps to become the 'cymbals'. Amazing.]

This traditional stick with cow hair attached rhythmically punches at the air to celebrate during singing and dancing.

Some attendants dressed up as a way to celebrate the event - women dressed as men, young women dressed as old women, one couple - pretending - dressed as a bride and groom.

The ceremony begins.

The priest spends nearly 15 minutes in 'private' prayer shown here.

Two boys watch together. It is common here for boys and men to hug and to hold hands, this moment between the boys seemed so beautiful.

The celebration begins!

From the pockets of some of the most desperately poor, these baskets became full with bills and coins.

Guests brought forward gifts for the priest. Note the corn, ram, and kindling.


The village ceremony and celebration.