Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The middle and high school timetables

It's time for some info about the teaching logistics in Wasu. I never got around to posting this. It should've gone up during the first week last year, but it didn't. Here's the schedule my two schools follow:
Time Allotment
Middle School
High School
09:00~09:45 (45min.)
08:20~09:10 (50min.)
09:55~10:40 (45min.)
09:20~10:10 (50min.)
10:50~11:35 (45min.)
10:20~11:10 (50min.)
11:45~12:30 (45min.)
11:20~12:10 (50min.)
13:20~14:05 (45min.)
12:20~13:10 (50min.)
14:15~15:00 (45min.)
14:00~14:50 (50min.)
15:20~16:05 (45min.)
15:00~15:50 (50min.)
16:15~17:00 (45min.)
16:10~17:00 (50min.)

Middle school lunch: 12:30-13:20
High school lunch: 13:10-14:00
Middle school cleaning time: 15:00-15:20
High school cleaning time 15:50-16:10

*The middle school has some early classes that I don't know the times of. They're in session at around 8 or 8:30am.

* High school 9th class - 5:10-6:00
High school dinner/break time - 6:00-7:00
There are also some night classes. I'm not sure of their exact times. I taught the 9:10-10:00pm 1st grade class for a few weeks last semester and while it went fairly well, those kids were well beyond tired. It's amazing how they could stay awake and focus for that long.

For the sake of contrast: I went to high school from 7:20am to 2:45pm and did 0-75 minutes of homework every night.

Much has been said about Korea's high achieving students and about how the US needs to catch up. And as much as I support Korea's drive for education, all of its scholastic achievements come at a price. The students put in long hours and live in a nearly constant state of stress over the next exam. I'll be expanding on the students and their working hours in the near future.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Teaching tip: a quick hit on wait times

When teaching, give the students time to think about the questions you ask before expecting answers. Most students will not have the answer as soon as you finish asking the question. Wait about 5-10 seconds and then ask about who has an answer. Call on a student if need be.

This was one of the 5 biggest things I took away from my teaching classes. it was true in the States and it's even more true now in Korea. The students need time to translate the question and form a response in their heads. Most Korean students worry too much about speaking with perfect grammar, so be sure to let 10 seconds go by. Unlike native English speakers, most of my kids need to have their sentence formed in their head before they speak it. They will not "think out loud" and finesse their response once they get started. Some of my high level kids do this, but most do not.

Good luck.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching tip on venue changes: be ready to adjust things

It's been nearly a week since I've posted. There's been some busy but good days here. Yesterday we middle and high school teachers were in Dongsong for Matt's open class and the ensuing discussion and dinner. It was a good time. I'll probably write something about how Matt used Battleship in class. It can work well for practicing new expressions.

I hadn't planned on writing anything today, but sometimes stuff comes up that demands writing about...

Today went quite well for a change. Tuesdays are usually my longest and hardest days because I've five
classes and two of them are the most difficult ones of the week. This post is about my two difficult middle school grade 2 classes.

The lesson: Reflexive, intensive, and object pronouns
*Lesson based on their current chapter in their course textbook.
Materials: whiteboard, two handouts from learnenglishfeelgood.com with example sentences, PPT of vocabulary and examples, PPT Jeopardy game.

The venue change: English zone to regular classroom.

It didn't start off on the greatest note: the projector in the middle school English zone went out for some reason, which rendered the classroom unusable. My esteemed co-teacher suggest we move to the students' regular classroom and plug his laptop into the big TV in there, so we quickly told the students and away we went. I was worried that changing the venue and starting class late would doom the lesson, because doing so threatens the very consistency so needed to run an orderly classroom.* My worries dissipated as soon as we got the PowerPoints up and running, for the students were back in more familiar territory and weren't as tempted to talk. And a good thing that was, because they were better able to focus on the lesson. Having to change meant losing precious time, but losing a couple of minutes is better than no class at all. It may have even helped the students shake off their early morning energy a bit.

Like Murphy's Law goes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong eventually and teachers need to be ready to make emergency adjustments at any time. Changing classrooms didn't affect the lesson in any significant way; only the seating arrangements and the size of the room changed. I did lose the Smartboard, but I still had a computer and a projector to work with. The students picked up on the material right away--they had sentences like "The dog itself chased the cat" and "They call themselves B1A4" down by the end of the class.

To repeat: be ready to deal with problems with they arise. You don't have to have a contingency plan for everything, but don't let last minute changes get to you. They can happen anywhere and at any time.

Stand by for more about this lesson. I'll be writing more about the lesson itself and about how knowing your students' interests can pay dividends helping them understand new concepts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yangyang pt 2: "How We Encourage Our Students To Speak Primarily in English”

"How We Encourage Our Students To Speak Primarily in English”

These are the revised journal notes from EPIK teacher Stephen F. and his co-teacher Ho-jin’s excellent talk. Their presentation from last year’s conference was rock solid and I was glad that they came back for another round.

In class

Teach primarily in English

For those of us who teach alone or with minimal assistance from a co-teacher, this is stating the obvious. You're teaching in English because you have to: it's probably the only language you can use.

I do the majority of my high school classes alone, so this happens by default and it works because the kids know enough English that they'll get 90% of what I say the first time around. If anyone has any trouble, either me or a higher-level student will re-explain whatever it was with easy English words. As is the case below, the students usually can translate things for themselves. 

Middle school's another story. I'll get into it in another blog post, but it's more closer to 60/40 for English to Korean.

Move around!

Certified teachers know this as "proximity control" and everyone else knows the layman's translation: move around. Moving around keeps the students on task because it isn’t as easy for them to talk or go off task if you’re standing next to them. Besides, standing at the front of the class all hour is boring. It gives the students in the back too many opportunities to tune out.

Who are you again? Learn their names

This is easier said than done because I have over 150 students. Some EPIK teachers have over 400. I still know less than 50% of everyone’s names at a year and nearly two months in. Learning that many foreign names borders on impossible. Nonetheless, here are some shortcuts:

Make a seating chart
  • Your co-teacher may already have one. He or she can help you make one as well. Having a chart can also help for clearing up any disputes about who sits where
  • Carry it around when you're teaching. I did this a lot in the States, but I don’t do it as much as I should here.
  • Read the students' names off their worksheets/textbooks.
  • Also, some female students have necklaces with their names written in English. Watch out, though: some have names of boys they like instead of their own names.
  • Do the obvious thing and ask students for their names. Sometimes they will get annoyed that you don't know, but that's fine. Nobody’s perfect.
Get the students involved in the lesson by talking to everyone

It doesn't always have to be in front of the whole class. It could be one on one during work time. Many students who get nervous when speaking in front of a large group because they fear making mistakes do fine one on one or in small groups. Use this to your advantage. I’ve found that in every class, there’s always 2-4 students who will always answer questions and a few students who will talk when prompted. The rest will only speak when they’re not speaking to the entire class. Try to draw more and more of the shy students in by talking to them one on one.

Out of class

Talk to the kids in English

I do this all the time. When passing time (the time between classes) comes, I love wandering around and talking to the students. I'm always saying hi. We talk about anything and everything. With some of the lower level students, we discuss easy topics like the weather, but with others, it's music, movies, or sports. Many of the kids will go out of their way to say hello and have a quick chat. Doing this does three things: it bolsters the students' speaking skills; it shows interest in the students’ school lives; and it gets noticed by the Korean teachers. They like it that I’m fostering a positive school environment, to the point where my principal’s said as much himself.

Talking to the kids in English also means they can't fall back to Korean like they would do with their Korean English teachers. Though my Korean's okay--and the kids know that,  it's best to go for English over Korean because we can talk and I can teach them at the same time. I use easy English to explain most things and use Korean (either from memory or via a fellow teacher) only when necessary. Moreover, the students know more English than they think. They may not know the right word or expression right away, but they'll get it right 9 times out of 10. 

Chat culture

There is no classroom door

No, there isn’t, especially for those of us in Cheorwon-gun.* We see our kids everywhere in town. I’m guaranteed to see at least one student every time I leave my apartment. The same probably happens for the 9 other teachers here, too. We can talk our students at nearly all hours of the day, so opportunities abound for quick conversations. They’re usually simple exchanges of “Hi!” and “Where are you going?” but every bit of conversation helps here. Again, many students will go out of their way to say hello or ask where I’m going.
This represents a great aspect of living here: sharing the same world as the students. I get to know them in school and outside of school because the rural area means we can’t simply escape each other.

  • Cheorwon-gun means the county of our towns of Dongsong, Wasu-ri, and Sincheorwon. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Yangyang pt 1

I mentioned Yangyang previously. The Gangwon-do Office of Education hosts two two-day conferences and workshops every year here for Korean English teachers and us Guest English Teachers. This conference took at the KORAIL building on the shoreline for the second year in a row. It's an excellent setup because of its modern facilities and generous condo accommodations.

The trip almost didn't happen this year because my school didn't apply to go until the last minute. I had assumed we were going because we went last year, but it didn't go that way this year. Thankfully, JB the co-teacher was keen on going, so he made the necessary phone calls and got us in. Good for him, because we ended up carpooling with Matt, Nina, and Nina's co-teacher. We met them in Munhye and got on the road. Our drive took us through the pretty, twisting mountain roads to Chuncheon and even prettier, curlier mountain roads of Mt Seorak National Park. The leaves have started changing color and it's something to see here.

The conference went down quite well. Unlike last year, a much smaller group of us attended it, but we all had a great time meeting old friends and making new ones. I was thrilled to see old Orientation buddy Graham here because we hadn't seen each other since last year. We quickly caught up. When we were talking, he threw out a line that probably resonates more with seasoned conference attendees of all stripes: "This is good, but it'd be better if we were all having a beer. The real meeting is after the meeting." Indeed; while I thought all of the lecturers prepared well and delivered useful information, some of it seemed redundant. It is possible to have too much review and not enough new information.

Bonus pictures

We stopped along the road to take pictures of a mountain stream...

The backyard of the KORAIL building.

The Yangyang shoreline. Of all the places I've been on the east coast, Yangyang has the best waves.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Quick hit: We have a swing set at school.

Wasu Elementary School recently added sand to part of soccer field/school yard and put in a swing set! It's been kid-tested, and as you can see from the photo, kid-approved. I tried it out the other night and found it a quality piece of playground equipment.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick hit: The Hantan River Canyon

I am canyon man.

With Rochelle on a sandbar in the canyon. Photo courtesy of Gracie.

I've mentioned the Hantan River before, but we finally got to see it on a sunny day. The place looks good on any day, but the sun really brings out the serenity.

Gracie, Rochelle, and I went down to the canyon in the Goseokjeong area after our DMZ tour concluded.

 The full article about the tour will get posted by the end of the week.

I took a short break from writing these past few days to relax and play guitar. This week's an easy one: The middle school students have their exams on the same days I have classes with them and JB the co-teacher and I have the annual Gangwon teachers conference in coastal Yang Yang. Cheers

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


The plaza square in front of Busan Station at night.

Day one

Dwaeji gukbab돼지국밥

We started the day by going for a dish our friend Justin recommended: dwaeji gukbab (돼지국밥), or pork soup. As to dish is something of a Busan specialty, most restaurants have it. We found a place around the corner from of hotel and walked right in to order it. What arrived at our table looked quite like the pork version of seolleongtang, or beef brisket soup. It even had the same broth and similar side dishes, but there was one key difference: our orders came with side dishes of that delectable red pepper paste we know and love so well: gochujang. You could work the pepper paste into into the meal in a couple ways; taking out the slices of pork and dipping them in the paste was one way and spooning the paste into the soup was the other. We opted for the dipping. It went down quite well. The pork tasted tender and the soup broth, bland as it was, got my approval because Korea's got enough spicy soup broths as it stands anyway. Get this soup when you get the chance! We paid a reasonable 6000won each.

The beaches and Centum City

Next up on the day's agenda: the beach. We'd been eager to make up for our rainy sojourn to Gangneung by getting in some quality beach time. Again, Justin recommended the lesser-known Gwangin Beach over Haeundae because he found it less crowded. We got there easily enough. Remnants of sea shells and stones peppered the coarse beach sand but it didn't bother us. I wrote the previous "Live from Gwangin Beach" post while sitting on the sand and drinking OB with R by my side.* We hung out there and watched the holiday beachgoers for a while before we took a stroll along the water. We didn't see anyone see anyone swimming in the water--actually, we saw less than 5 people with their feet in the water.

Centum City came on a whim because it looked interesting when we'd read about it. The area's notable for the dueling Lotte and Shinsegae department stores that are built next door to each other. Neither one was open because Sunday was a national holiday, but the Shinsegae CGV movie theater was open. We went inside and took a look around for the hell of it. We stopped by the nearby Lotte Sunshine Park and looked at the Suyeong River for a bit. The park was large and inviting. We didn't stick round long enough to see much of it but getting away from the crowds felt good.

Haeundae Beach came next. We figured we might as well go there to compare it with Gwangin. Night had fallen by now and the weekend crowds were out in force. We plenty of foreigners out as well. There isn't much I can say about Haeundae Beach that others have surely said: it's famous for good reason. The said's fine, the shoreline's pleasant, and there's no shortage of hotels and restaurants nearby. The waves did come harder than Gwangin, though. I snapped this picture of the full moon and thought it turned out well.

Day one notes:

Haeundae to Busan Station via subway takes the better part of an hour.

*The wifi gods were smiling down on us that day because in addition to the live post, we called up my good friend Dick the Random Plebeian on Skype and got updates on what's happening in Wisconsin. That was good for a couple of reasons: we hadn't spoken in a while and I was overjoyed to have an Internet connection on the beach. Normally I'd scoff at playing with an iPad on the beach because it seems frivolous, but the novelty of making trans-Pacific calls for free won out.

***Busan travel lesson: the Busan subway system does not allow you to recharge T Money cards. You have to buy individual tickets, day passes, or use a Busan Metro card if you want to use the subway when your T-Money card runs out. The Busan subways will accept T-Money cards if they have money on them. This seemed strange because the T-Money cards have worked in Suwon, Chuncheon, and Daejeon in the past. I've been able to recharge the card there too. Busan shouldn't be different, but it is.***

Day two

Nampo and Yongdusan Park

We'd read that Nampo-dong (the area around the Nampo and the Jagalchi stations) was good for eating and shopping. It was. It looked like the Myeongdong areas of Seoul and Chuncheon: throngs of people, crowded shops, big and little stores, and cars inching their way along the streets. I can't figure out why the city planners allowed cars to drive on the streets because it doesn't do anyone any good. The drivers never get anywhere quickly and the pedestrians always have to deal with idiots in an Audi trying to move past them as if they own the road.* Nonetheless, Nampo and Yongdusan Park were fun places to visit.** The park offers some good views of the city and its series of staircases will give your legs a workout.

A side street in Nampo-dong (the district around the station)

View from the top of Yongdusan Park.

Rochelle in front of the big bell at the park


Rochelle's co-teacher told us about this place and we'd made it something of a mission to go because of its culture relevance. The bus stop for going to the Taejongdae Resort Park was outside of exit 6 at Nampo. Three routes will take you there: 8,30, and 88. We quickly saw that Taejongdae draws massive holiday crowds, for the roads were jammed with traffic on the small island. I took some pictures from the bus window on the way because of the sea views and narrow winding neighborhood streets when we got stopped at long lights.

We didn't stay too long at Taejongdae, but we did get down by the water. There's a small rocky beach at the launching point for the ferry boats and we rested there for a bit. The sun shone brightly and the ocean looked like glass. The pictures came out darker than they should have because it wasn't actually that dark. You'll get the idea of how the place looks. Check this out if you get the chance: the views are great and it's free to get in. All you need is the transportation fare to get there. The Korean families abide: we saw more families than couples or foreigners there, though Taejongdae does make for a good place for couples to go because of the romantic seaside location.***

Rochelle and I capped off the excursion by meeting a nice young family from Seoul who asked us for directions to Haeundae while we waited for the bus. The mother spoke excellent English and we explained how to get there. She thanked us and we bantered some more. But that's not all. What happened next explains why Koreans rank among the nicest, most generous people in the world: The mother and her son gave us two oranges as a present. We nearly fell over ourselves saying "Thank you." To think that we'd merely explained what subway to transfer at--wow. (If she ever comes across this page, thanks again. Those oranges tasted great!)

Filipino food near Busan Station

Our adventures in Busan concluded with dinner at a small Filipino restaurant named Kamusahan near our motel. I'd never had Filipino cuisine before. I'm glad I did. Like the recent African dishes, this was a quality culinary experience.

This is the kind of restaurant that's geared toward locals: it looked like it was a family business or a hangout for local Filipinos. The co-manager had to search for menus for us, though they were of little help because only gave prices and names of dishes. She showed us the pictures outside and offered brief explanations instead. Rochelle picked the self-explanatory fried tilapia and I went for caldereta, which is a chicken, potato, and vegetable stew. We also picked lumpia as an appetizer.

The food took some time to arrive, but we felt it was worth the wait. Portions were more than generous (our eyes overwhelmed our stomaches) and we found everything quite tasty. We both liked the caldereta--the yellow stew broth gave it a jab of flavor and I loved the hearty potatoes. The lumpia looked and tasted like fried mini tortillas with meat in them--good stuff!

This was our most expensive meal of the trip at 34,000won in case you're wondering. If you want to go, go the first side street near Busan Station's exit 7. It's on the corner.

Day two notes:

*Maybe those people just like feeling frustrated.

** Yongdusan also has a museum of world musical instruments.

*** We were, with the exception of one young white man and his Korean girlfriend, the only foreigners there that afternoon.

Day three: Goodbye Busan

We got up, paid the hotel bill*, and ate our go-to foodstuffs of kimbab and mandu at the Kimbab Cheonguk cafe in the station. It made for a good breakfast. The Americanos were weak but at least they woke us up. We shot upstairs, got our tickets in the massive open concourse, and went down the tracks. We arrived in Seoul five and a half hours later.

Slightly intriguing stuff dept: No one checked our tickets at any point on the return journey.

Final notes:

Hotel notes: We stayed at the Busan Inn. Small but comfortable rooms. Water coolers on every floor. Quiet rooms. The website wasn't lying: the rooms really are quiet. We never heard a thing. The computer in the room worked fine but we couldn't get any sound out of the speakers. This bothered us because we couldn't watch any videos, but considering that we paid a cheap 125,000won (~$111) for three nights, I suppose we can let that one pass.

Altogether, a great time.

Bonus pictures

Busan Station during the day. It's a major train and subway station because it serves the KTX and the Mugunghwa trains. Note the tasteful architecture. 

I took this shot on the way to Taejongdae because the road intersected a side street that directly connected to the roof (the green area) of an apartment building. Imagine walking up your roof and stepping onto a road. I've yet to see something like this anywhere else.

Sinsegae holds the Guinness World Record for World's Largest Department Store. Picture dedicated to Kara. 

For dear old Dad: I saw this and couldn't help snapping this pictue of a Miller Time pub across the street from Gwangin Beach. Miller beers aren't widely consumed here from what I've seen, but they are available in most convenience stores.

Busan to Seoul on the Mugunghwa Train

I got my daytime train ride today and am glad I did. The faster and more expensive KTX train had been avoided* solely to see the countryside at a fast-but-not-blinding clip and it paid off. There's something about the never ending mountains here: they're captivating. Maybe that's my flatland Midwestern upbringing talking, but even though the Korean landscape doesn't greatly vary much, all that greenery does look great. By now I've been to the northern, eastern, and western ends of the country and seen a few points in between.

The time's passing by quickly. The train's punctual and our car, save for the annoying bursts of "Kakao talk!" messages** for the first 30 minutes, was quiet but standing room only at times. More and more people got on as we got closer to Seoul. We discovered on the way to the lounge car that the train had gone standing room only everywhere. Going through the 3 cars each way proved, as Rochelle put it, "an adventure."

*this is partly true. We couldn't have gotten tickets on the KTX for the Seoul-Busan trip unless we'd gotten help. The return trip had more options for trains though.

**Kakao talk is a messaging program like AIM or Skype. Unless the user turns off the sound or puts the phone on vibrate, a verbal notification sounds every time a message gets received, so those who never turn their phone on silent subject everyone around them to an annoying small child's voice yelling "Kakao!" and "Kakao talk!" Bloody annoying stuff.

-- written en route to Seoul, 2 October 2012.