Thursday, November 1, 2007

Comparing Education Systems

There was a great article in The Economist magazine a couple of weeks ago that really reinforced some of our conclusions from our Singapore trip. The article discusses a report made by a consultancy group that made an international comparison of educational systems. Why do some countries consistently do so well? Is it about money or culture?
The article suggests that a lot of success is due to the kinds of people that become teachers. Do we take our best and brightest and make them teachers in the US? View Post

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

This is just a quick post to let folks know that we made it back home. We ate some Mexican food, and we're ready for some much-needed sleep.

We still have a couple of more posts to write in reflection. View Post

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

Our travel plans included a layover in Tokyo, so we decided to explore a bit. We visited Kamakura, a little town with a lot of history and religious sites. Beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines abound. They were mostly built in the 13th century. They say that in Japan people are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist.

It's been fun to compare the city of Tokyo to Singapore. They are both large, Asian, and relatively wealthy, but quite different. The Japanese have got a culture that is totally unique. Their history is mind boggling and the culture fascinating. The spectrum is broad--anywhere from traditional to extreme. Cute, Hello-Kitty-type or anime characters bombard the senses and along with young folks in wild get-ups. Tokyo definitely also has all of the bright lights and tightly packed trains that you would expect, right next to timeless and pristine scenes taken straight from the traditional block prints. Take a look at our Tokyo photos to see for yourself.

-Morgan View Post

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Beaches, Cities, People, Food--so much to love!

Truly the land of many smiles, it is easy to do just that. The fellowship from Fund for Teachers allowed for a few days in Thailand, but we decided to stay for longer on our own(not a hard choice). We explored the famous beaches (but only the West side) and the mellow South in Trang which is famous for waterfalls and caves. Currently, we are in Bangkok enjoying the city and the bustle again while fostering dreams of living here. We fear there is no time for the North on this trip, but there is always next time.

Our greatest boon was finding a connection to a sea gypsy village and school, hopefully we can start a relationship between Oak Forest in Houston and the kids on Ko Libon. The culture and people are so warm and friendly and the kids really want to talk to "farangs" or foreigners. Our students will love it and can explore and ancient and evolving way of life.

There's been so much to share, so check out just a few of our pictures and adventures. For extra fun, view the pictures as a slideshow!

--Marie View Post

Education & Culture

We are lucky enough to have spent good time in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand on this trip, and get a flavor of the culture in each place. Coming into this trip we knew that culture plays in a big role in education, but we had a pretty stereotypical and general view of southeast Asian culture. These three countries share the same peninsula, but there are great differences in religion, attitude, hospitality, wealth, and organization. Singapore is a small place and has a culture all its own. After seeing more of Asia, we can better see why Singapore is so special.

Singapore has a top-notch educational system, but it would be a mistake to just say that it's Asian culture and those Asian kids just work harder. We don't want to take anything from the great work that Singapore teachers do, the excellent organization of the schools, the design of the curriculum, the challenging textbooks, or their math problem solving method. There is, however, a different culture and attitude in Singapore that is certainly responsible for much of its success.

this picture is not legal tenderThe country of Singapore is an island, about the same size as Houston. It's not blessed with oil reserves, fertile farmland, or much natural resources at all. The strongest resource in Singapore is its people. The nation understands that education is vital to its wealth and development. The Singaporean 2-dollar bill (which is used more often than our 2-dollar bill) has a picture of some kids at school with the caption "education." The 100-dollar bill is for youth. The government, of course, supports education beyond slogans and money. The back of the money is indicative of the attitude toward education that one can see all over Singapore.

We saw many things in Singapore that we expected from Asian schools. Students, as well as strangers that we met, have great respect for teachers. There is much more time spent on homework or supplemental instruction after school. Parents motivate their students, are involved in school, and spend lots of money on extra books or programs to make sure that their children do well in school. In the end, Singapore students exit school speaking English and some other language(usually Chinese) with a first-class education and a good work ethic prepared to work and succeed in a global workforce.

There are many things that Marie and I learned in Singapore that we can copy at home, but unfortunately culture is not of those. This great attitude toward education is evident in all parts of Singaporean society. We hope that in our role as teachers and sharing our story from Singapore we can affect some small change back home in Houston and the United States.

I feel like I want to do my next post on why math is important; thinking about Singapore gets me pumped up about school.
-Morgan View Post

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On our way to Bangkok

We're in Trang at the moment checking e-mail and waiting for our train to Bangkok. We hope to have time and internet in Bangkok to post more pictures and share our trip to Thailand's southern beaches.

-Morgan View Post

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Island Time

We're taking things much slower in Thailand, and that includes internet. We have lots of great stories and photos to share, but those will have to wait for some faster internet. We've enjoyed great beaches, snorkeling, kayaking, caves, food, monkeys, and people. We helped our freind Andrew from Burma set up a website, and shared teaching stories with Lawrence, a former professor in Bangkok.

We should be in Bangkok in another few days and should be able to get some better internet.

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Discipline in Singapore

We still have more to share about teaching in Singapore. I thought that we might make a mention about classroom management. We thought before we left that teachers in Singapore kept the kids in line by using corporal punishment.
They are definitely serious about punishing naughty boys and girls. Some people might remember the American kid who got caned in Singapore a while back. Drug traffickers are frequently hanged as well. There are fines for eating on the subway, smoking in prohibited places, littering, and many others in the "fine" city of Singapore.
Students who mess around and cause trouble in class can get caned. Surprisingly, teachers told us that they very rarely hit children. We got the feeling that it never really happens in the schools that we visited.
So how do they keep the kids in line? Certainly, some of the credit can go to a culture that has different respect for teachers and education. Culture, however, can't be the only explanation. Teachers have excellent support from the administration. We were very impressed by the student and teacher counselors in the schools. It seems like teachers really try to work with the student even before they have to call the parents in for a conference.

-Morgan View Post

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Taking it Easy in Thailand

We've been in Thailand for the past couple of days. It's absolute paradise. We have beautiful white sand beaches, clear water, limestone cliffs, good snorkeling and lots of shady hammocks. At the moment we're staying in a little beach bungalow on Phi Phi Island. We're far off from the nearest town, and we only have electricity for a few hours at night. It's been a total adventure. Yesterday we swam and scrambled through a tunnel to get to an amzaing beach surrounded by cliffs.

I don't know the next time we will have internet access, but we still have more to post about the schools in Singapore and pictures to share from Thailand. This picture is one I got from the internet of Maya Beach. It's where the filmed the movie The Beach. We didn't see the movie, but we like the beach.


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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Teachers In Singapore

We learned a lot about math in Singapore and we have a lot to share. Teachers make a bigger difference than books or buildings, and teachers are big part of Singapore's success. The teachers in Singapore are very well trained and prepared to teach. They are expected to complete 100 hours of professional development compared to 40 hours for Texas teachers. All teachers, even for the youngest grades, have many more hours of college credit for math. US education degrees are usually pretty light on the math requirement.
In all of the schools that we visited, the teachers seemed very committed to the students. Most stayed late after school for tutorials or extra-curricular activities. We didn't talk to anyone that felt burned out by teaching like we often notice at home.

All of the teachers, except for 1st or maybe 2nd grade, are departmentalized, so each teacher teaches one subject to several different classes. The students are grouped in classes by ability level, but all teachers will teach to the high and low students. There are no teachers just for GT or regular kids. I believe this builds a stringer sense of unity on the campus, as teachers work to help all of the kids, not just "my class."
The Singaporean teachers move from class to class to teach while the kids stay put. The teachers, therefore, don't have their own classroom. Instead, they have a staff area with office-style cubicles. I think this is a great idea, because it helps teachers work together and collaborate. It's much harder to work with a teacher on the other side of the school, but so much easier if your desk is right next to the other 6th grade math teachers.
The teachers have excellent resources and textbooks to work from, but they create many tests and lessons collaboratively. For example, end-of-term exams are written by the teachers as a team. Those tests get approved by the head math teacher and principal.
There also seems to be more accountability and review of teachers. Teachers get the usual observations by the principal, but they also participate in peer observations every year. The head math teacher and principal will also check the students activity and work books to make sure that everybody is doing the work that they're supposed to be doing. There is also a teacher counselor for teachers that are having trouble with students.
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Selamat Datang to Kuala Lumpur

Today, we hit our KL groove and had a blast! We visited a Hindu temple in Batu Caves, explored Lake Gardens, visited the National Mosque, and got "in the know" about Malaysian food. See the pictures from Batu Caves!

Kuala Lumpur literally means "muddy bank" as it was founded at the confluence of two rivers. Most of the originals Chinese prospectors succumbed to malaria and the like, but the city is alive and well. It is home to around 2 million people in about 240 square kilometers (150 miles). It has come a long way since it was ceded by the sultan of Selangor in 1974.

Again, we've been extremely impressed with the diversity and peaceful melding of so may different religions and ethnicities. The residents of Malaysia are typically at LEAST trilingual, if not more. We stopped at an Indian restaurant by the temple for a drink (there were a lot of steps!) and a group of Chinese tourists came in. The servers all starting conversing like crazy with them--it was really neat. The Malay people are notoriously warm and friendly. We had a blast sining John Denver songs with our cab driver, Haji. There has been a lot to see. Morgan's stellar navigational skills have seen us through as we took in some of the sights.

Only 13 KM north of the city is Batu Caves, discovered only 120 years ago by an American naturalist. 272 steps scale the monkey-ridden cliffs up to Temple Cave and are adorned with a humongous statue of Muruga, or Lord Subramaniam, to whom the caves are dedicated.

Then we trekked through Lake Gardens to take a peek at the National Mosque. On our way was the old bus station, another great example of Islamic influence on architecture old and new.

Our cab driver took us to a dynamite Malay place for lunch and let us in on how to order vegetarian food. We topped off the day with a final jaunt through Chinatown and back to our hotel. Not without a stop to try the shisha, or sultan's pipe after supper. The cooled and flavored tobacco isn't so bad. You only live once!
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Friday, July 13, 2007

Bright Lights, Big City

Some of our entries were getting a little too long on the blog. Be sure to click the view post link at the bottom to read the whole entry.

We enjoy the comments! It let's me know that I'm not just writing this for myself. Although, anyone who knows me knows that I love to journal on vacation.

We have some more posts coming about the schools in Singapore.

-Morgan View Post