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Follow NC teacher as he logs his India experiences

July 30, 2017

I am back at the Meridian Hotel in Bangalore. I have just survived my first day in India. I say survived, but I did much more enjoying than I did surviving. We covered quite a bit today, but it was all so wonderful, that I’m not sure I can put it into words. Let’s try though.

Today started with me waking up later than anticipated. I had set timer on my phone but left my phone on silent, so it didn’t go off. That was ok though. I needed some rest. I didn’t end up going to bed until around 3am the night before. I had been paranoid about jet lag in the days leading up to the trip, but I have adjusted surprisingly well. Let’s hope the transition back is as easy.

Ryan and I got up and started getting dressed. I went to the bathroom and started brushing my teeth. About 15 seconds later I realized that I had used the faucet water and immediately grabbed a towel and started drying out my mouth. We aren’t supposed to ingest any of the water (unless bottled) else risk getting very sick. That includes water from brushing teeth or facing the shower. Getting sick has been another paranoia of mine. I rinsed with mouthwash and took some charcoal pills. I ended up fine.

After getting dressed and getting our day packs together, Ryan and I went downstairs and joined the rest of the group for breakfast. The breakfast here was strange. Most of the food served was what I would have considered “lunch” food. Salad was available. cheeses and meats (like a chacuterie board) was available. Fortunately, they also had some eggs, and small sausage links (which were incredibly spicy) as well as fruits and yogurts.

After I had come close to finishing, a server asked me if I wanted to try a lentil pancake. I said yes, because I can’t turn down a chance to try new food. These pancakes were not like what you may think of as a pancake. This was closer to a breakfast burrito (filled with eggs, veggies, and some sort of cheese) and served with hummus. It was definitely different than I had expected, but I’ll be having another at breakfast tomorrow!

“There are many different Indias”

By the time we had finished breakfast, It was time to go. We were headed to another hotel, Vivanta (located on MG Road) to have a meeting among ourselves as well as with Revathi Kasturi. I have already said this on Twitter, but this lady is a BOSS. Seriously. I could have sat and listened to her talk about the work she is doing for hours. Here is a little bit of information about her from her bio that we were given:

“Revathi Kasturi is an Entrepreneur, heading LAQSH Job Skills Academy. LAQSH is focussed on employability skills…. Revathi received her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay in 1980… She was awarded the Woman of the year by Business Today for the year 2001. She is on the board of NASSCOM as an Executive Council Member. She is also a charter member of TIE Bangalore and is actively working on Fostering Entrepreneurship Amongst Women through TIE for Women.”

Woman of the year? That seemed cool. After talking with her, I can see why. This woman graduated in 1980 with an engineering degree from a highly regarded tech school in 1980. Do you know what that looked like? Well, it looked like 64 males and her (the only female) walking across the stage to receive a degree. No fear. She said that when surveying technology and engineering companies, that only about 25% of those students graduating with an engineering degree were employable. Why? Because they lack soft skills. They lack hard skills as well. They can’t do basic arithmetic or algebra without technology. Hmm. These are the same problems that we face in the US, and that I have already mentioned in an earlier post. So what did Ms. Kasturi do about it? She started LAQSH, which assists with skills programs in over 400 schools across India. She seemed to imply that many of the students that she encountered were just being passed on. Here is what she had to say about what she encountered: 

“Education has become about filtering, instead of asking what they are learning. We feel pretty damn proud [about graduation], but it’s just a stamp! What can you do!? What have you learned?” 

For those of us in education, especially grading on outcomes based assessment, this hits pretty close to home. How are kids getting through without having some base skills? What can we do better? I don’t think starting a company to implement these skills into schools is the answer, but something definitely needs to be done. Ms. Kasturi isn’t just talk when it comes to education either. She doesn’t just know some vocabulary words and runs with it. She understands what we do. She understands the way kids think. She cares about good curriculum, resources and pedagogy.

We talked at length during our lunch with her after her talk. She was very knowledgeable, and very willing to show what she was working on. She had just finished putting together a catalog of instructional videos organized by subject for her teachers to have as resources for their students. The Math 1 teachers at Owen just finished a project almost identical to this. We talked about it and showed each other how we had organized it, and how we would use it. She cautioned me against using the videos as remediation, because “they will no longer be sexy. Technology should be a reward and enrichment!” I don’t know if I will take her advice, but maybe I should be using videos more in class? It’s something to certainly think about. She was using them to wrap the day up, and had students interacting with the videos via quizzes at the end that she used as formative assessment. It might be worth a shot. 

Either way, it was an unbelievable honor to get to talk with someone so knowledgeable and successful in the setting that I did. This will be the first of many opportunities I hope. 

“We are crossing that? Well, OK then.”

We left the hotel with our bellies full of a fun lunch buffet where we tried numerous different Indian dishes and takes on street food. The food was wonderful and certainly provided some insight into the culture. So much of the food is so filling, but light. There are a variety of  dishes like pani puri (hollow fried dough balls with veggie and sauce filling) seem like quick, healthy, and on the go type food while things like masala and curries offer a warm and home feel. I think the tandoori paneer (fried version of Indian cottage cheese) was my favorite thing that I ate at lunch. All was so good, and so far nothing seemed to be bothering my stomach. Bring it on! 

After lunch we did a little sightseeing. We got to see the parliament building in Bangalore. This was an absolutely beautiful building that was built after Russian diplomats made a comment to Indian officials that all of the buildings there were British-built. 

We also visited a Hindu temple. This particular temple had a large gate outside, and a large, monolithic granite bull on the inside. The temple was much smaller than I had expected, but had some really beautiful art and was being used as we walked through. 

We then went downtown to the markets. The markets had all kinds of beautiful, colorful vegetables, both familiar and unfamiliar. There were also tons of flowers for sale, the colors of which popped against the tan walls and sidewalks of the city.
 
People were everywhere. Our guide said that this was a fairly slow day (it is Sunday), and that Monday to Friday there would be about 10 times the amount of people.
 
The traffic was insane. Not just the sheer amount of people, but the way that they drove. There were seemingly very relaxed traffic laws (if any). The traffic consisted of half cars and half moped or motorcycle. The two wheelers would weave in and out of traffic. Horns are heard constantly and from what I can tell, mean one of two things: “Hey! I’m coming through there” or “Hey, I’m about to stop.” How drivers differentiate I’ll never know. As we were about to walk to one of the shops, we had to cross the street. Here is a quick video of the four lane we eventually walked across.
 

 

After all of the shopping we headed back to the hotel for dinner. I chose a spicy chicken dish served with rice. The food came to the table strongly smelling of sharp stingy black pepper and the earthy sauce that covered it. It wasn’t nearly as hot as I had feared, but certainly something that warmed you inside out. It was great, but I really wish I could have it again on a wet and snowy day in January.
 
Everyone was pretty tired at this point. Matt and I decided to venture out a bit to the hotel next to us. We were a little worried about walking after dark, but we were really looking forward to sitting down to a cold drink and relaxing a bit. As  we walked, we saw very little people, a couple stray dogs, and the unfortunate failing infrastructure and crumbling buildings. A pile of trash lay on the sidewalk that we were on. We talked about how we couldn’t understand why this sort of thing could happen. We walked into a different world when we got to the other hotel. This place was immaculate, and provided wonderful service despite us not being guests. It was amazing that some place so extraordinary was surrounded by what looked like ruin.  On our way back we talked about the fact that what we were seeing was the prime example of deregulation. This is what happens when enough people are not held accountable. Matt said: “people complain about their tax dollars going to animal shelters, but we don’t have wild dogs running around our city (like Bangalore).” He’s right. Sometimes we think we want less regulation and less money out of our pocket, but sometimes it seems a small price to pay when looking at the alternatives. I just hate to see parts of the city left to shambles just because people have cut corners and not picked up after themselves.
 
This certainly didn’t change my view of the city, I found almost everywhere we went very beautiful, new or old. All of the food we had was wonderful, and everyone we met was extremely accommodating and wanted to tell us about their culture, So far, from what I have seen, I dig it.  I am excited to have a little more business-oriented day tomorrow. I think it will really help me understand why the Indian economy is currently thriving. What approaches they are taking that seem to be solving the “unpreparedness epidemic” that we both are currently experiencing? Hopefully I’ll have a more clear answer on their plan after our meeting.  I’ll update on how it goes tomorrow!

July 29, 2017

Finally, we made it to India. It is quite a relief to have showered and laying down in a hotel bed, rather than on a plane. It is late (2:30 am) so I’m going to keep this post brief. 

We started off in Charlotte with a quick ride down to Atlanta. Here is the WNC crew waiting to board!

That was my first flight ever! It was certainly an experience, but I had to get comfortable with it, because we had another 18 hours of plane riding to go!

We took Air France for the remainder of the trip, which provided great service and fairly comfortable seating. This plane was huge, with lots of room to move around and nice TV screens to watch movies and TV, The flight to Paris was fairly uneventful, but I did manage to snag a picture of French countryside before we landed! I would love to go see that in person!

We had a three-hour layover in Paris. Paris-CDG is a cool airport, with lots of different cultures intermingling. So many people waiting to depart on their next adventure, or be brought home from a previous one. We tried to walk around as much as possible and then hopped on a smaller plane for our 10 hour flight to Bangalore. It certainly was not a fun part of the trip, but we flew over the Alps and over the Middle East, so I got a couple of great views.

Finally we landed, got through customs and, and after a 50 minute bus ride got checked into the hotel! We were all very relieved and are happy to take a break from traveling. We start exploring tomorrow morning, so stay tuned!

July 24, 2017

We are getting close! In less than a week I will be traveling to India (no big deal). I have to say, I’m pretty nervous. I have never traveled out of country or even by plane before, so I am trying to get prepared. I’m also working my tail off trying to get everything installed defensively  for football (I serve as the varsity defensive coordinator) so that it can be worked on while I’m gone. I hate that will be missing the first week of official practice, but I couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity. For this post I wanted to record what is going through my head and what I am doing to prepare for the trip.

“What the heck is there in India?”

I’ve been asked by just about everyone that I’ve talked to “Why would you want to go to India?” I honestly have no idea what’s in store for us there, but I think there are lots of opportunities to learn some new things. 

I’m really excited about seeing both public and private schools in India, and how mathematics is approached. I’m not sure that I’ll get the full view from just a day or two of observation, but I really hope that I can bring back some useful insight. We also will hearing from Professor Ambar Habib, who is the head of the Department of Mathematics at the School of Natural Sciences as well as the Director of Institute for Innovations and Inventions with Mathematics and I.T. at Shiv Nadar University. I think that through those experiences, I should be able to get a good snapshot of what is being taught, and how that curriculum is implemented. With so much talk and controversy over our implementation of Common Core State Standards in North Carolina, I am really interested to see how they have chosen to deliver material and what kind of results they have had. 

The Asheville area has a much larger manufacturing presence than I realized. For the past couple of years, I have participated in site visits to Linamar, Nypro, AVL Technologies and several others. I absolutely love going, because we often meet with human resource representatives there who talk about the hard and soft skills students need to be successful as an incoming employee. This has led to some really eye-opening conversations with my seniors.

We will have the opportunity to visit some big name tech and business firms in India like Infosys. I am curious to hear what skills they look for in an employee. How does that differ from the sites I have visited in the NC? Are there issues that branch the two? What are they (and the schools) doing to address these issues, and could I be doing more in my classroom to address the issues at home? 

During our meeting in May with some of the folks heading up our trip, we saw some of the experiences of the Alumni of last years trip (Singapore). An amazing opportunity that one teacher took was to take photos while riding the Singapore Flyer, one of the largest ferris wheels in the world. She then used the photos to design a rate of change lesson (if I remember correctly) where students used estimated distances and angles along with known facts about the ride to solve problems. I would absolutely love to find something that I could bring back to use in Math 1 that would bring a little more global awareness to my classroom. It may take a little creative story telling to make something fit, but I’m sure I will figure out something. 

In preparation mode

As you can imagine, we are pretty restricted on packing. I need to keep my bag under 33 lbs (a restriction on the flight between Bangalore and Dehli), but still make sure to have enough to stay comfortable while in India. We will be in several meetings that require at least business casual dress, which means I will be in pants most of the trip. I’m kind of dreading that, but I’ll survive. I just need to get my stuff in my bag and get this thing going. I’m excited!

 
July 23, 2017
 

Hello All! My name is Nathan Arvey and I am a math teacher and football coach at Owen High School in Black Mountain, NC. I have taught for 6 years now, four years at TC Roberson High School and 2 years at Owen.

I was born in September of 1989 in Bryson City, North Carolina. When I was three we moved to Franklin, NC. I have quite a large family two brothers and three sisters. We were fortunate enough to have loving parents who had good jobs and were able to provide everything we needed growing up. 

I played football from 4th grade through high school. I had the fortune of playing under two great head coaches, Coach Fred Goldsmith and Coach Josh Brooks. I remember Coach Goldsmith telling me that if I ever wanted to come back and coach, that he would always have a job for me. This of course sparked my interest, and gave a bit of direction since I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do as my career. 
 
I graduated high school in 2007, having only applied to one college, the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I had been accepted and attended orientation, where I met with a mixture of department heads seeking help on what classes to register for should I choose their respective Majors. UNCA was quite a good fit for me, as my interests spanned from Graphic Design, Programming, Chemistry, and Engineering. I ended up really liking the idea of a Chemistry track, knowing that I could get a teaching licensure if I wanted, so I went with that (though fortunately UNCA is very much a liberal arts school, so I got to try all of my interests at some point!) 
 
During my first semester at UNCA, the chemistry advisor that I had spoken to signed me up for calculus. I was pretty nervous about it, since in high school I never liked math much. It just seemed like a lot of memorization and drilling with no purpose. Fortunately though, I had a wonderful professor, Patrick Bahls, that opened my eyes to the beauty of mathematics. After a few more classes with him, I declared my mathematics major and was on my way. I still had the idea of teaching and coaching in the back of my mind, and now I had the exciting (no I’m not being sarcastic) and challenging world of math to couple with it. Perfect. 
 
I finished my undergraduate career in 2011, after student teaching at T.C. Roberson High School. The summer showed little promise of a job, but mid July a position came open at Roberson, and I was offered in the interview. I cannot compare the excitement that I had in that moment to anything else.
 
I started helping with summer football workouts about two days after I was hired, and then started teaching in August. The workload was overwhelming, and I knew almost instantly that I was not nearly as proficient in either teaching nor coaching as I thought I was. I had a lot to learn. But fortunately I was surrounded by great co-workers who would help shape me into what I am today. It has been quite the roller coaster ride with some serious highs and lows (my entire third year teaching was an absolute nightmare that had me checking monster.com about twice a week).
 
I changed schools to Owen High School in 2014 when one of my good friends Nathan Padgett took the head football job there and took me with him. Owen was an absolute huge breath of fresh air, and now I honestly can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. 
 
I’m not really much of a writer, but I wanted to create this blog to record my upcoming trip to India hosted by EdNC and funded by the wonderful Burroughs Wellcome Scholarship that I received in college. I hope to be able to keep this updated while out of country, but I really would like to think that I will continue to post once I return, especially when we do something in class that relates to the trip.
 
I have never had the opportunity to travel outside of the US (in fact, I’ve never even flown anywhere), so this is going to be quite an experience for me. I am excited to go, and I am excited to have the opportunity to share my trip with you! I will also try to post some updates on Twitter, so please follow me there @coacharvey!
Nathan Arvey

Nathan Arvey is a math teacher and assistant football coach at Owen High School in Buncombe County.