Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Book review: D-Day

I regret not being able to find the time to read as much as I'd like to these days. When I do, it is a sleepy ten minutes in the bath - often reading the same dog-eared pages again.

Having said that, I do know a considerable number of kids' books by heart now. Ask me anything about "The Kiss that Missed" or "Penelope goes to School"!

Late last year I finally got my teeth into "D-Day. The Battle for Normandy". I was always under the impression that D-Day was never really in doubt as a success, and once the beaches were taken, plain sailing to Berlin. Right?

It's a bloody good job I read this book then. It is absolutely riveting. It delivers the whole D-Day + events of 1944 in Northern France in absorbing detail; awesome vignettes of the action without ever losing the reader from the broader picture unfolding across Normandy.

I was particularly struck by the inanely childish, petty & arrogant behaviour of the British commander (Montgomery), and how poorly he misread, misrepresented, and mis-directed his theatre. With air support, a break in the weather, more trust from Hitler, the German forces could very well have withstood the invasion to liberate Europe.

I never realized how touch and go this entire part of WWII was. The movies of old (The Longest Day) have an air of inevitability about the final outcome after some aggro getting off the beaches. The first scenes of Saving Private Ryan re-wrote that particular misnomer.

Antony Beevor's book spells it out blow by blow; platoon up to division scale; village by river by hillside by bridge by bocage. And from every angle - Allied yes but certainly not always on the same page. Given what the Germans had, the resistance they produced is staggering.

This book is superbly well written. Better then his previous works on The Fall of Berlin (another battle I knew not enough about) & Stalingrad, which is saying a lot.

I couldn't put this book down (not just because I was in the bath). It is a stand out book on any bookshelf. Come borrow!

A little Valentine's Party

 A romantic way to make up for missing out on a Christmas Party :)

We feel bad about having to cancel Santa last year. So we have put our thinking caps on and come up with a new day of events to get in the mood for LOVE!

It is fancy dress, but you do not have to bring anything.
NB This is the kids' party!

Be here, or be left desperate & dateless.

Feb 13th, 1 -3 pm

Monday, 24 January 2011

Speed reading

This is a game I first saw Aileen Scouler play many moons ago, as a way to get her kids to respond a bit more quickly. Very simple, nicely competitive,

and rewards the careful listener/accurate reader as much as the swift of reflex.

Simply, the teacher reads (or plays the CD) of a book. We love our OUP Story Tree series at Luna. Whenever you pause, whoever thinks they can read the next word, dings a bell or something, and has a go. One point if they are 'close enough' for you - shake your head if someone else should try.

Obviously the teacher can be as soft or as picky as they want to be. Personally, I like to be a bit picky after children have listened to the story (at home, for homework). Immediately shows who has been a good student....and teacher can pick on the 'new' words or the oft tricky ones.

With a new book, the opposite works nicely; pause at known words, and children will be happy not to be challenged on the unknown ones - but be keenly motivated to listen up for pronunciation...good grades readers have a healthy habit of recycling words, don't they?!

So, lovely little task to get readers focused, and a nice incidental way for teacher to target vocab. Thanks Aileen!

On the hoof - best of British!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Access our resources on and offline

In pre-school we are often using new flashcards, and sometimes mummies don't know what they are! We are going to share our materials through Edmodo this year, with each class having its own 'room'. All our classes will have exclusive access to the materials, songs, pictures, recordings, drawings, board work they have used in their class, every week.

We are making 2011 our year to share more of our materials with our students. One way we do this is through the site called quizlet. Check out the flashcards we used today with our pre-schoolers for the sound /b/ here. Notice you can hear the word if you click on the speaker icon next to the picture.

Try /d/ with this:

Try this for the /g/ sound:

If you want to see what else you can play with, search for sets made by "lunateacher" or "LunaJim".
If you have a smart phone, you should be able to download them to your device and play with them offline.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

See me in the Shinmai - every Saturday

Did anybody notice my debut as a 'writer' for the Shinmai newspaper? No, me neither!

I was asked to contribute no more than 50 words about topics relating to Nagano. The text is aimed at JHS age kids - so it has to be simple but interesting. It has to be accurate, and suitable for teachers to use in class.

I would like to be a bit creative in this adventure, but  there is no wriggle space whatsoever, and there is a lot of to & fro with the editors & translators...and they want to cut it back to 40 words already! Loose the stupid graphics or something instead!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Crash barrier - repaired

Another fantastic use of a heavy blackboard is to prevent over-genki (great Japanese word, add enthusiastic with energetic, excited & extrovert...and any other adjectives beginning with 'e'?) boys from going through the wall.

This spelling race (source book was open at the near-side of the room) was a revelation. T won. He's the sporty one who actually hates English, and doesn't get much support at home; thinks he can't spell and is his own worst enemy reading, wildly guessing when he can do better. Problem with that is the other kids are already laughing before he can actually concentrate & work it out. He's a proud lad and not as thick-skinned (yet) as he wants to be. Y didn't mind 'losing', because he didn't want to keep checking the book (cheating if you like), he wanted to see what he could remember from homework. I love that ethic (with some of that myself I might have learnt a bit more Japanese).

K? Infectious laugh, just like his older sisters, but a deal more competitive. An odd thing works with these guys; if I imitate their dull & dreary spoken production, it's hilarious, and they immediately change gears & totally ham it up. Which for me points out how they are being taught in school/expected to produce. Dull & dreary. Challenged to actually 'be normal', or better, wildly foreign, their intonation, pronunciation and engagement really rocks!

Full size avatars & beginner electricians

Apprentice electricians
 I was digging in boxes this morning before pre-school - you do that a lot when you've moved - looking for something or other, and instead found a cool bit of kit that I've never used. It's kind of hollow, neon spaghetti...with various kinds of connections to make interesting shapes with. I wondered if this might entice S away from mummy more easily this morning - worked a treat! He was so engrossed in it, mummy leaving was an inconvenience to his great tubing connecting plan! Boo hoo mummy!

Where's Morph?!
After a good night's sleep I knew I wanted to exploit the board some more (addicted!) - and this brilliant picture has me laughing still. Any fans of Tony Hart will recognise a "Morph" aspect to this shot. Classic moment, though I do say so myself. S was so thrilled with his life-size avatar he demanded a set, which he called his older & younger brothers. Naomi-sensei & I looked like slugs, and H drew two goats (not sure why!). On paper, S will not engage. Standing up & face on to his medium, imagination run riot :)

Wonderwall - A to Z at head height
Because we often have exams at the school, I don't want to plaster the walls with posters which we'll have to take down (and damage my fab paint job). While we were having lunch I realised I could probably just about squeeze our very nice A-Z flashcards across the wall, if they were on hooks. I was about half a centimetre short, but Y and Z are usually very close together, who will notice? I don't like big cards on the floor because if a kid jumps on one, they can squirt out from underneath and cause a nasty crash. They also get tatty very quickly. Head height is a very nice angle to work at.
H checks a vowel sound

The game we played? Matching initial vowel sounds of other words we know (and some new ones) with the samples left hanging up. Next time we mix up the order.

Chalkface - not my job!

One of my favourite things in my new, rather large classroom is the blackboard (actually, it's green!)

It was intrusively ugly as the room was originally configured - hanging in front of the south-side windows killing any warmth in the room & obviously belonging to 'the teacher'.

Now this board is no puppy - it's a good four metres wide, and over a metre tall. Quite an asset, in the right place...and with 'fat' chalk it is quickly becoming a useful non-table focus point, shifting heads away from textbooks. It is set on the floor, and accessible to all - great for races or team work; a whole new & fun working interface which the students own.

Today, it had the unexpected bonus of taking me out of the 'teaching' role. One of my lads still has problems making his letters (because he's a southpaw?) and what should be quick writing tasks end up waiting for him to finish (tons of rubbing out doesn't help). His study buddy today could see what he was doing (we were taking turns to write new vocabulary on the board & dictating spelling if we couldn't remember). He took it upon himself to help edit his mate's writing, being a lot more critical than I could be but as a peer (and in Japanese) it went in better! He drew horizontal guide lines (as I like good homework books at their level to have) & insisted they were kept to - tough teacher!

So, I like my knew technology! Big time bonus is that it's also magnetic. A plethora of new board/card games in the offing!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Recycling & re-using

What do you have left after moving? Lots of cardboard boxes. Burn or recycle/re-use?

Well, since we started classes a week ago, we now know where the drafts come from - and this last week has been very cold (Kevin & I have both been sporting beanies). We figured if cardboard boxes are good enough for hobos, they're good enough for us. We sealed off a north-facing window and the gaping hole between our bookcases and the ceiling.

We have also pushed 90 metres of insulating tape into to window frames...which should make a difference! We have a lot of window space - south facing doesn't mean much when it's below zero & windy! Important not to fall out of said windows when wiggling into tight top corners!

Next job is to clean & decorate our blinds, and re-hang them. Will feel like less of a fish bowl then as well.

Meanwhile, at NHK we also set about recycling Masa's European travel story. He came back from a 3-week trip with loads of photos but was so excited most of his recounting came out in Japanese.

Now, he had one hell of a trip - seven countries I counted (but my Japanese is rubbish!) and conveniently we have reached the stage where we need to put theory into practice & pens to paper; making a story interesting with a variety of narrative tenses, and applying some useful writing tips. Stay tuned for a team effort!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

 Over the holidays we managed to move everything we have collected over the last seven years from our home in the MK Building to our new home, which is still disguised as a bakery. (Our banners finally came off 'old' Luna yesterday - it will take a us a few days to figure out how to attach them to our new place.)

As you can see, the last month of our stay in Motomachi was very congested & confusing. Teachers couldn't find CDs or flashcards, and our students barely had enough room to sit down. Our mums had to wait in the corridor (until we could shift some stuff and get the Christmas tree up).

By the time our last classes said good night on December 22nd (and Kevin had managed to re-arrange his travel plans) it was a relief to know we had a few days without interruptions to get things done/pack coherently & think about priorities.

Obviously we could not move everything out until the place we were moving to was ready. In between classes and visits to the hospital (our son finally escaped on the 23rd - thank you for all your kind wishes) I was frantically cleaning a very cold & dirty room (to be "Kevin's room") before painting then carpeting it. Couldn't move any furniture before that, nor dump all our books.

As you will have read, I enjoyed listening to the cricket while doing this, so each room at new Luna has a special memory for me. One room is the Adelaide match, another the Melbourne game, and the staircase is Sydney!

On December 28th my friends Mark & Paul very generously helped us with the 'big move' - shifting as much as we possibly could in what eventually took 14 hours. Yukari's family also helped enormously (thank you Chiemi & Yusuke) and to Naomi - every bit of help was gratefully welcomed. Sorry we took all the heaters! I am certain everyone slept well that night - we moved an enormous amount of furniture and boxes up and down a lot of stairs. Fortunately, everything did squeeze through the small doors at our new location - just!

On December 29th Yukari & Sawa-kun helped me move the remaining stuff we couldn't manage the day before, which took ages...which meant our classrooms and office were all totally empty except for the carpet, which was the last (and heavy) thing to remove on the 30th, as the electicity was turned off. If you are ever thinking about joining a gym, don't bother. Go to the DIY store and buy a box of carpet tiles, then carry it up & down a flight of stairs til you drop!

So I locked the door for the last time, and said goodbye to a lot of excellent memories...and hello to a massive job at 'the bakery'. But that's a separate story.

Friday, 7 January 2011

On my knees - like an Aussie cricketer :)

The Ashes Urn
The Ashes - cricket's Holy Grail

While you were away holiday (or more accurately, while we were flitting over our Christmas & New Year break!), I have been listening to a lot of cricket; and not just any old cricket...The Ashes...

Obviously, living in a heathen, uncricketing, country like Japan (please bid for the World Cup?!) is a bit of a nuisance. Can't watch it on "Sky Perfect" which I guess is fair enough, given ice hockey, high school rugby, Giro Italia &GT300 are all much more popular sports (hint - I am being very sarcastic). Can't listen to the very traditional, & incomparable Test Match Special (TMS) from the BBC hosted these days by 'Aggers' (Jonathon Agnew), nor tune in to (ABC) Radio Australia's commentary with Jim Maxwell - because I do not live in either Australia for The ABC or The UK for The BBC. If I lived in one or the other I'd either be there or watching it on the telly 24/! This is about the most annoying thing about trying to watch or access 'my' sport these days - not living in the only place I wouldn't actually need a TV or PC or iPhone.
Test Match SpecialWikipedia image - TMS

  • If your PC is detected as being 'not in the UK' then you can't listen to live sports from the BBC.
  • Ditto that for any other sport from any other country from their national provider eg ABC in Australia.

Now, there is a way to watch events 'streaming', which is very hit & miss - I recommends myp2p
You will need to download & install certain 'players' - the software to put the jigsaw together (and I recommend more than one, 'just in case') - check out the software tab on the site?

Another way to enjoy your sport is to 'do the ostrich' - hide your head in the sand with your fingers in your ears and avoid the scores! Find a stream to the game you missed at Diwana (register - no tricks at all) but beware any spoiler who tells you the score before you can watch. iPhone users remember, you can save a video to your phone and watch eg on the train. If a friend calls you before you have watched a game, don't answer!

This winter, England's cricket team has been touring Australia. The two countries compete over 5 Test Matches (each match a five-day game) to win 'The Ashes'. It is cricket's Holy Grail - and in my lifetime it has usually been about as achievable - ie impossible. Australia have been a dominant team for so long. Twelve hours ago, England ripped the heart out of the Aussies winning the game at The Sydney Cricket Ground. Not just winning...stomping up & down on them ruthlessly as the Aussies capitulated pathetically. HA! Grin grin I am smiling so much my face hurts!

To be perfectly honest I got to work early this morning. New Luna, new parking places, new classrooms, let Naomi-sensei in, turn on the heaters (-5 when he arrived)....NO! So I could tune in and listen to Test Match Sofa and catch the moment, for the first time in 24 years, England WON the Ashes in Australia. Yes, the last time England did this I was three three!

Over the holidays I have been cleaning, painting, and carpeting our lovely new premises.