Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Cleaning

The spring season is finally here! After all that snow, the outside world is like a desert. Everybody loves the new growth of spring, however, people must take care of spring cleaning.

After getting back from China, we have been taking out the old and bringing in the new. One of those items that is falling apart is our old fort. It has become my job to dismantle the fort and chop it up into pieces.

Just this past week, I began by taking apart the slide and the monkey bars. I then continued this grueling but fun job by opening the roof and demolishing the fort even further. I have had to lift, carry, drop, saw, and unscrew pieces of wood.

So far, this project has been a good way for me to exercise and enjoy being outside in nature. All of the work has been enjoyable and I have been sharing it with Mom, who is working on her own spring project. (That's another story.) Though it is tiresome, I really like completing my task. It's great to be outside during the wonderful season of spring!

~Z

Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy China Arbor Day!

I'm sure you knew this already, but today, March 12, is tree planting day in China. (Actually, I only recently discovered this fact. I don't remember precisely where I was last March 12, but I can tell you that it never occurred to me to go out and plant a tree. Nor do I recall a day where there were massive amounts of trees being planted.)

Here are some fun facts about Arbor Day...

The day commemorates the passing of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, China's democratic revolution forerunner, who died on March 12, 1925. (What the connection is between Sun Yat-sen and planting trees, I haven't the foggiest.)

According to a 1981 NPC (National People's Congress, China's top legislature) resolution, all able-bodied Chinese citizens older than age 11 have an obligation to plant three to five trees every year. (Good thing this resolution doesn't apply to "foreign experts," or we'd have been in trouble!)

~Steve

PS: By the way, if that resolution were followed to the letter, that would be something like three to five billion trees a year planted by ordinary citizens.

PPS: Blow up the accompanying photo for a look at some reforestation that's been taking place out in Shanxi Province.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The New Jersey, New York Project

Raising two kids who were born in North Carolina and Maryland, and who have never lived in New Jersey, has led to some interesting developments in their world views. Here are two kids who have lived in Beijing for a year, who have hiked down into the Grand Canyon twice, and who know their way around Beale Street in Memphis. Yet ask them about New Jersey and New York, and their knowledge doesn't extend all that far beyond Bird Avenue and Fulton Street.

Now that lack of perspective is, in one sense, a good thing. Our primary reason for heading up to the land of our youth is so that we all can spend time with Grammy, Grampy, Grandma, and Grandpa, plus other relatives and close friends when we can fit it all in.

But now that the kids are teenagers, they are beginning to ask questions. "Why don't we ever go hang out in New York City?" "What are the famous landmarks in New Jersey?"

And so it was in that spirit that, a few weeks back, I handed Julie and Z a map of New Jersey and told them to figure out how to get to the Statue of Liberty from Rahway. Into the car we jumped and our little New Jersey adventure had begun.

Question: In what state is the Statue of Liberty located?

Along the way, there were discussions about the layout of the five boroughs of New York City, the ways in which one can get from Jersey into the city, and the direction that Glenn Mott lives relative to New York Harbor.

It was hopefully the start of a new Balla tradition...

~Steve

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sometimes They Actually Do Listen

One of the teaching techniques I often employ is to tell stories related to the subject matter my students are learning. This usually keeps my high schoolers' attention (which is a victory in itself since I'm not a TV, video game, or iPod) and is normally fun for me because I get to re-live experiences, albeit with a little bit of poetic license at times.

Yesterday, though, one of my stories wasn't of the pleasant sort. In an effort to encourage my students to come in for extra help on a concept that I knew a few were struggling with, I told the mildly painful one (well, not that painful except for the sporadic nightmares I still have) about my experiences with college Calc 2. Having struggled myself with this subject, and therefore in a great position to commiserate, I explained how I had unsuccessfully taken Calc 2 once and when going round two, found myself in the same spot. In an effort to not waste my parent's hard-earned cash, I decided to hop on the E bus and traipse to the campus where the TA's were having office hours. As I timidly walked down the hall, I explained to my classes, I spotted through the office window a man who very much reminded me of one of the twins in the Guinness Book of World Records but with a bit of a gruff look. His hair was tussled and he was unshaven. After almost turning around and heading out, I stopped and reconsidered. What exactly was I nervous about?

Long story short, I went in and spent just a few minutes with this guy. His method of explaining the concept was clear and concise. His manner was that of a teddy bear. A ten minute explanation was all it took to straighten out my lack of understanding and help me do well on the exam. Unbelievable.

I explained to my students how foolish I was not to get the help I needed from the start. I shared how ridiculous I felt then, as I do now, to have been put off by his appearance and the demeanor that I had observed through a pane of glass.

Fast forward to today...lunchtime in fact...when a young man (who almost never speaks in class) stopped by to ask me a few questions about a topic that we had just tested on. He felt compelled to come in and ask for help, albeit a little late, because, as he stated, "I heard what you said yesterday about Calculus 2 and decided that maybe I should just come in and ask you to explain this to me."

Wow. My lesson learned became his lesson learned.

Powerful teacher moment.

~Desi