Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

The Other Students

I realized I hadn't posted images of my original students, before I got the new ones- all excepting Marine Bio of course. Naturally not those four. So here they are. Firstly Physical Science.

But Biology today was the cat dissection, so most of the images I have are linked to that. We started with skinning, then looking in the gastric cavity and then the thorasic cavity, and spending some brief time on the urogenital tract. After that I had them in an extra credit period after school (to which almost everyone came) take a look at the muscles of the legs, principle bones, and even saw into the head to get at the brain. Great fun!

Actually, besides my regular lectures today, and the cat dissection, there were a few other items. Practice for the musical Oliver, going up on Friday and Saturday. Then the extra dissection. Then straight over for more practice, because the play is coming right up. Then a bit of grading and a break watching another episode of Season 4, 24. Then preparing for the kids to come to Starry Night.

Every night, it's baseball under the lights at the school. A huge amount of light pollution rises up from the new American school, in the middle of the countryside. I mean, these lights are really bright, and I've heard many teachers who live on campus wish that they were nonexistant, as they shine right into their living rooms. Tonight, we got special and generous permission to turn a good portion of those lights off so that we could observe the stars. Not enough to see the Milky Way, but enough to observe a lot more. And everything to the West of the school was a non-issue, due to the lights of Dar Baida-Casablanca. But we could see a fair bit to the North out to sea, as well as the South and the East.
It was pretty exciting. The kids came out, 11 at a time for an hour at a piece, and saw the moon's craters up close, and how pitted a planetary body can be without an atmosphere. Then we swung over to the brightest light in the Southern sky at the moment, Jupiter, and would you believe it, all 4 moons were visible- Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa! Just at the right time, with no occlusion, at least for the first hour. For the kids, this was the first time they'd seen an other moon but Luna through their own eyes. And then, a special treat for me, we swung over to a yellowish light just below the moon, for my first glimpse of Saturn through a telescope. At first I thought the telescope was jiggling, because the image was so oval. But then I realized I was looking at Saturn's rings! If you had good eyes, you could even see the darkness between the rings and Saturn. I did not know our telescope was powerful enough to see the rings. We had hit on a time when all 4 moons of Jupiter were visible, and the rings were not edge on but perpendicular to Earth, and so visible. And it was great to hear the shouts of jubilation from the kids upon seeing those objects for the first time.

Sadly, as I've been really busy this past week and this day, my roommate is packing up. I got home to find him gone. It's sad because he's about one of the best roommates one could ever dream of. I feel very sorry for some woman out there, as she has so far been missing out on all the joy she will experience when one day she is Collin's wife. A parting gift to me? He discovered why Moroccans put a piece of stone or a weighted Sidi Ali water bottle over their toilet (when they have a toilet you squat over, such as I have). Such a generous gift. He discovered it when he came into our bathroom the night before he left to find a very large rat staring at him, which then dived back down into the sewer.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

An Evening at the Industrial Ballet

I don't actually enjoy the ballet much. I went simply because two of my theatre students, Harriett Law and Julia, the aforementioned winner of the Science Fair, were both in this production- and only a week before our performance of Oliver! (Julia plays Mrs. Sowerberry, Bet, and a number of singing/dancing roles; Harriett is Oliver. It's a nearly all female cast.) I was however pleasantly suprised, for the entire evening was super keen. The ballet was pretty amazing, very professionally done. We kept on looking for the two students, and occasionally could spot them, for of course they were dressed to all look exactly alike, and we were pretty far in the back. And then the modern dance began, and that was just astounding. I can hardly believe that these students have learned all this, and can do such a good job at it. The whole evening was only high-school students or younger, but I thought I was watching a professional troupe.

Most of the time the women came out they were smileless, dancing in the center and then running to very set marks and freezing in place stage left and stage right, downstage, while other dances came and took their places Center Stage. Then they would switch off, milling all around together. Sometimes they looked like models doing their turns on the catwalk. Sometimes they turned and intertwined so quickly it was hard to follow.

And then the best part came, the modern dance. I would describe it as avante garde industrial. These women have such power! They could hold another woman on their back as they both walked across the stage looking like crabs. The 2nd half began with a large gaggle of women clothed in black, poorly lit, upstage. Directly in front of them were two women in blue, in one piece of cloth, connected as if a membrane were stretched over them. And then the three of them danced- the two women and the cloth, as if it were a third partner between them, stretching and shrinking, coming off and returning, at one time only on a hand of one partner, and the next moment covering them entirely.

This was followed by a very cool bit with large oil drums and what Harriett described as "biker outfits"- I'd say something more like tankinis with blade crash pads. The directors certainly knew what they were doing. I envied them the sure knowledge of their kids' abilities, as well of course the curtian they had that actually went up and down with just a pull of a string. These directors even had the artists sitting down at a table with their backs to the audience, playing musical chairs as they simply moved around the chairs to the music- and they made that look good!

The very last segment was superlative. Unfortunately, the only real improvement to the evening would have been if it hadn't started at 2100, and starting late at that, so by this time it was a bit past 2300 and I was tired, and struggling to stay awake after a long day of scheduling students for classes next year. This final segment had the curtian close and open again to reveal what looked like an entire set, built suddenly as if out of air (though I came to realize that it was the backstage with the rear curtain drawn back). It' s hard to describe this segment. There was so much going on you couldn't possibly follow everything- and the directors used this to their advantage. At one point there would be a lot of action upstage right, and women would move to in the other corner so they suddenly appeared where you least expected it. They were twining in and out of bars, dancing with a couch, and inching across the stage in reverse slow motion. They began with one woman spray painting an intricate image at the top of the set, up a set of stairs, while 3 other women spraypainted a chalk drawing you do for a dead body around three other artists. But these drawings were done vertically while the artists were frozen in place. Then with the music the three artists would run and change directions, joined by others in this dance.

The feeling of this 25 minute segment was decidedly religious. I felt like I was watching a post-modern ritual in the middle of an urban wasteland, where the women had taken over all aspects of religious cult. Every movement was purposeful, and symbolic, but of what, only the initiated could tell you. The dancers treated every step as holy, and their bodies as living extensions of an Inner Light, whose expression through their bodies was itself worship.

The final section was announced with the end of music, and a banging on metal pipes by one of the dancers. With that beat the rest of the dancers began to move backwards in time to their original positions. And slowly one ascended and began to erase the spraypaint at the top of the stairs, bit by bit, till at the end, all we saw was a smiley face, and the women frozen below.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

All For the Sake of Science

I was very impressed with my students this past week. We had our 2nd Annual Science Fair, and I'd say on average, the projects were even better than last year. They have learned a lot, and many have learned how to correctly apply science. We had only three students not show up- one because he was sick, and one because he didn't do anything all year long, even to the point of picking a topic. So that's a pretty good percentage- 33 projects to judge. Especially when you add in that one student who did show up came despite a car accident on the way.

It was a bit of a different experience for me than last year, as two classes- Chemistry and Foundations Physical Science- were not taught by me, so I found myself in the new position of not knowing what the project was ahead of time or everything about the particular science that the student was explaining. Which I appreciated- I'd like them to know more than me through this endeavor. Even the Foundations classes had excellent projects that in some cases surpassed those of the standard Physical Science classes.

I wish in some ways this went all day- then I could fully appreciate and enjoy the projects when presented. For I and 3 other science teachers (Lisa, Joe, & Cyndi) had to judge the proects too- and at 3-6 minutes per project, that took a full three hours. And I didn't feel like I could give full justice to most projects in that short amount of time. But we met from 5-8, and then present awards after 1/2 an hour of tabulating. We were looking for overall presentation, but mostly at science- Did the student include a hypothesis? A control? Multiple trials? Quantitative data as well as Qualitative data? More points given to experiments over research surveys. Did the students list any possible errors, as well as reasons why their results might be invalid? (Have they learned about the honesty that is expected by scientists in their reporting? And I'm pleased to say that most of my students had.) Did they give a good explanation of the implications of their results? If a research survey, is it copiously researched? Are their full source cited properly annotated, especially for the most common source, the www?

We had so many excellent projects, it was hard to choose from them all. There were some students who obviously put far less work into it than the 20 hours minimum, and some who put in more work into the presentation and very little into the science, but overall it looks like they worked pretty hard on their presentations.

We gave out three awards for most Artistic, in each of the three classes. This was an award to focus exclusively on presentation, as opposed to the pure science of it all. In Biology, it went to Hamza Naoume, who reported on the effects of pollution on fish. This project was exceptionally done scientifically as well, with good method and multiple trials, analyzing how fish do in various types of pollution and how long they survive. Ironically, the most artistic award here went to a student who gave a poster covered with trash he had personally collected from the Corniche, the beach near Casablanca.

In Chemistry Shenim Chugani and Sophia Nouira did a presentation on perfumes they had created, and it was very beautifully constructed. It was actually one of three that we would have given Best Smelling to if we could- along with Rachel Martin and Michelle Friesen's presentation on household cleaning products they had made and tested (they found their own cleaner was environmentally sound and a better cleaner as long as it had hot water), and Julia Smith's presentation involving various spices. Also well designed and well researched was Tsai-Ho Chiu's work on soap, where she experimented to see which type of soap (store bought and hand made) was the best cleaning, and then she even impressively hand carved the soap into various shapes.

Lastly, there was an amazing presentation in Physical Science by Kawtar Huda and Zineb Fouadi, with so many displays and diaramas, three dimensional and two dimensional, that they couldn't all be caught in one photo. It was on waves, both wind-driven and tsunamis, and how Tsunamis are caused by plate tectonics. Particularly impressive were their didactic demonstrations using multi-coloured sand to show the Earth's layers, demonstrating how convergent and divergent boundaries work. They learned something!

Then for the best in particularly sciences. We broke Physical Science down into it's various disciplines, and any Physical Science students who chose to do Chemistry then competed with the Chemistry students for the Chemistry award. Honors Marine Biology, AP Biology, and Biology were all competing for the same Biology award. (And in fairness to AP, it must be mentioned that they spent most of the year getting ready for their AP test, and had only the last few weeks to work on a project.)

In Astronomy we had a project looking at Luna, our personally favorite moon, which Nada Touzani and Lina Joundy demonstrated very well.

Meteorology was won by Younes El Gameli and Aman Sharma, looking at that thing that's going to change everyone's lives, Global Warming- despite the claims by some of it's nonexistance. So glad no one died in that Hurricane in New Orleans.

In Geology Amit Nagrani & Anit Sharma learned a great deal about landslides and had some excellent displays on how landslides work.

In Physics, Abla Alami showed how a piece of metal could be heated to complete a circuit, allowing a light to turn on. She designed the apparatus herself.

Chemistry had a number of well done topics. Jeremiah Dias and Nathan Mills knew a lot about Halogens. Monisha Chugani and Salim Lahlou designed their own water purification kit. Rachel and Michelle presented excellent research on their household cleaning products. Nikhil Aswani looked at crystal growth as only a mad scientist can. The final award went to Meriem Benkirane and Issam Skalli for a project looking at various toothpastes, store-brought and homemade, and their effects on teeth, using similar substances to teeth, egg shells, and comparing the results to a control.

Biology was particularly difficult to judge, as there were so many excellent projects. Zineb Lebbar spent some time with Gelidium sesquipedal, a type of red algae, looking at it's abilities to grow in various degrees of salinity and temperature. Zouheir Akbary learned everything about anemones, and then did a short experiment looking for the presence of symbiotic photosynthetic zooxanthalle by putting the same species in dark areas and light areas and observing their colour changes. Hamza El Haouti put plants in various locations to observe how they respond to light. In a well-presented study, Taylor Ried and Gabe Luckey messed with their dog's mind by Pavloving it to come to a bell, using multiple trials on the same specimen. From this they discussed conditioned responses in general.

The final award went to Bobby Canner and James Johnson (for which two of the judges, being Bobby's parents, recused themselves from the decision). They looked at the effects of salinity on marine plants and animals, using 4 different species with a control in each case, 2 that were terrestrial plants and 2 that were estuary plants. Then they did one trial on a freshwater fish placed in marine water to observe the effects of being in a hypertonic environment. (The fish closes it's operculum to stop breathing, but continues living for about half an hour.)

I lied though, to say that the Best in Biology was the above. For the Best in Show award was also a Biology experiment (and therefore of course not win Best in Biology). The aforementioned Julia gave pure science, looking at natural barriers to Formicidae- ants. Not only was there a control, with many trials, and many different substances, ranging from cinnamon to papikra; not only did she honestly cite errors and reasons to invalidate her research; not only did she cite suprising results from her research and give excellent source citations- but she also was the only one to give hard, quantitative data, with specific numbers, ratios, and trends for which substances repelled ants the most.

I would love to say that that final presentation was the most impressive, but I think I must reserve that for the student who didn't come to the fair because he got sick at the last moment. Kamal Boulhimez's presentation on nuclear power was still brought in by his sister, who was also in the science fair- a very nice diarama of a nuclear power plant. And he had told his sister that when Mr. Abdul Muhib walks by, pour this substance into the funnel. Which she did. After which a decidedly noxious substance arose out of the funnel, and I'm still waiting to see what the long term health effects of it were. When confronted, Kamal assured me that there was no problem- it was only the ingredients to dynamite. My student, I am pleased to report, was not trying to poison me. He was just trying to blow me up.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

New Students

Well, we got some new students in recently. Haven't named any of them yet, except of course for Onan, for obvious reasons. He's the new Yellow Finch-looking bird I bought recently, as we begin talking about birds. Seems to have a broken tail.

Seems like all my animals are suffering. And I seem to have developed a reputation for taking in stray animals. Students brought in 3 miniature frogs who now live with Nightcrawler, the turtle- we used them for a frog observation lab. (Well, one just died.)

Then the maids called me over to deal with a strange specimen in their dustpan that they were frightened of- a large frog, what is sometimes referred to as a toad. He lives within a large tray of water, but I haven't yet gotten him to feed.

And then one of the guys who works on campus came in with a very amazing lizard, that I haven't yet been able to classify. Very beautiful, though it looks like his tail was cut off in the process of his being caught. Thankfully, though wild, he is willing to eat out of my hand- as long as it's alive. He tries to bite me too on occassion, but he lacks any discernable teeth.

Actually, today I discovered he'd also eat dead insects, after tasting them with his tongue, and then washing them and moistoning them up. Both he and the wild frog are prone to make escapes. The frog just tried it earlier this evening- he can get through a hole that even an octopus might find difficult.

Oh- and found out today something new. I used a balloon covered with dots to demonstrate the expanding universe, by blowing it up, showing how all the stars are getting further away from each other. But it was a cheap balloon, so I had to fill it with water to blow it up. I discovered that if you then leave the water balloon, filled as much as possible, on your desk, for about four hours, it will spontaneously burst, flooding your desk like an episode of Alias.