Reading Life Part 1

Winter evenings…..time for reading….. and that Reading Challenge on Goodreads!  One year I reached a goal of 24 books, but last year, well, I did not even get close. To remedy this underachievement I set this year’s goal at a measly 15 books. Yes, I admit I did that. However I am on a roll this year.

A little over one month into the year I’m delighted to have read 5 books. Each one has taken me on a journey to another time and place.

The Naturalist by Alisssa York

The Naturalist by Alissa York, took me back first to Philadelphia 150 years ago, and then to Para, Brazil, and into the Amazon Jungle. It made me long to visit this green and living forest during a time when fewer people inhabited this space or traveled its winding rivers. Of the three main characters, Rachel is the true naturalist passionaltely observing the rivers, the forest, and the creatures that inhabit the land. Iris the artist, records the beauty and striking features of the creeping, crawling, hopping, flying and slithering life they discover. However it is Paul whose journey reveals and opens to him his early childhood in jungle before he was brought to America. Vivid pictures filled my mind as read this novel.

“Orange – a bed of it, a pool, hot as flame against the bone-white sand. It’s not until they are in the monetaria, yards from the shore, that its meaning becomes clear.  …….. Butterflies. Hundreds, thousands of them, packed tight, holding their bright wings erect. ……. The flock stays long enough for Iris to complete a handful of studies and one watercolor sketch. Lift off begins with a flicker. A ripple along the margins and the whole mass rises, peeling away from the beach.  Iris and Rachel stand to watch it float out over the river, where it unravels in a trailing cloud.”   Page 179 Chapter 24 

Raj by Gita Mehta

 

Raj, by Gita Mehta, was fittingly purchased in a cluttered bookstore in Jaipur, India. India had captured my imagination in every way. Who lived in the ornate rooms of the forts and palaces we explored? Who were the women hidden behind the purdah screens? My brain was abuzz with the mystery and mystique of ancient kingdoms in this exotic land. Raj, written from the perspective of Jaya Singh, born to the Maharajah of Balmer a fictional kingdom, gave me the insight I longed for.  Through Jaya’s life I learned about the wealth of royal India, the impact of colonialism, Indian soldiers fighting bravely as part of the British Empire, and the bitter struggle for independence.

So there you have it, the beginning of my 2017 Reading Challenge.

 

 

Travel Journal – Stories Everywhere

Every place has a story, sometimes the story is ancient and tied to the land.  When we arrived at our mountain mansion we knew little of the far reaching history of Tateyama and the mountain.

Omachi ShrineTuesday morning we stepped out the door, ready to explore, and our attention was captured by another beautiful shrine. Before us were towering ceders, serene green spaces, and dai-doro stone lanterns lining the path; it’s no wonder we are attracted to these spaces!

Next we came upon the Tateyama Toyama Museum. You may think we had our fill of places like this. Well almost, but we naively thought there was not much else to see in this location, so in we went.  This turned out to be a brilliant move because the museum gave us a framework for understanding more of what we saw the rest of this day and the next.

The first exhibits gave us the usual explanation of the geology of the area, showing how volcanoes occur, and telling that Tateyama is a volcanic mountain. It was after this, that things got interesting, and puzzling too.  We viewed displays with short captions in English and detailed explanations in Japanese. We tried to make sense of the exhibits that explained the faith that had grown and developed around this volcano, a Buddhist faith that included the concepts of heaven and hell. Both concepts were tied to the activity of the mountain, the beautiful green heights on one side of the valley and the sulphurous springs and odors so prominent on the other side.

One gratuitous photograph.*

One gratuitous photograph.*

This painting on silk, striking in its color and detail, is actually a frightening picture, showing people burning in flames trying to get away. And other people or beings in the sky above, whether they had escaped or were there to rescue the others I am not sure.

A carefully constructed diorama of the mountains, the valley, the shrines, and a beautiful red bridge caught our attention and next to it was a video showing a present day ceremony showing women sitting, listening meditativly to a priest performing ceremonies. Then the women dressed in white gowns, with their hands tied together were blindfolded, and walked together at a steady pace over a beautiful red bridge following priests or monks in deep blue gowns. The women were walking 3 by 3 on white cloths that guided them down the hill from the shrine over a red bridge. I found the imagery disturbing, mostly because the women were completely vulnerable and because of  my own lack of understanding about what all this meant.  (A Google search helped: Tateyama UNESCO Ceremony)

imageAfter the museum we continued walking down the forested road when unexpectedly we came upon the very red bridge we viewed in the video and in the diorama! “This is it, the red bridge!”, we exclaimed. All the places we had visited today helped us understand a little more of the faith expression that developed as a result of the volcano and the local religion. This beautiful bridge, over a deep gorge surrounded by green forest, was also part of the religious significance of this area. We were beginning to grasp the story around Mount Tateyama and the surrounding area. Little did we know there was more to discover the next day.

 

*Photography is not allowed in the museum, when I snapped this image I was told – no pictures! I offered to delete the photo but was told that I could keep it, soI felt free to share it here. 

 

 

Travel Journal – Mansion in the Mountains

Posting to Facebook to record events of our trip has its limitations. I have so many thoughts and reflections, more than would fit in a Facebook post. And I risk boring family and friends with events that may only be important to me.

We have been in Japan for one week traveling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara.  We have visited temples, shrines, and Japanese gardens.  However the August heat, amplified by pavement and buildings, is overwhelming. So yesterday we decided to head to the mountains.  This is certainly an advantage of having a JR Rail Pass, making impromptu decisions to travel. We took two trains – the Thunderbird (Yes, real name), and the Shinkensen to get to Toyama.

Previously we had looked for a hotel or AirBnB accommodation but did not have luck finding something suitable and in our price range, except for one post on AirBnB that looked like a hostel for 8 people in an out of the way place.  There are disadvantages to traveling with an open itinary and this can be one of them – finding suitable accommodation. To get to this particular spot we needed to take one more train from Toyama on a small railway the Chitetsu-Tateyama line to Chigaki Station, however the lodging was several kilometers from the station. We emailed the owner and he offered to pick us up! So we stopped in Toyma to get groceries… Buying grocieries in Japan when you are not a Japanese speaker is a challenge and it is fun!

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Success meant coming out of the store with 3 bags of grocieries, beer and a bottle of wine.

We were met at Chigaki station by Mitsuru who had 3 umbrellas in hand to save us from getting drenched as we loaded up his car with our luggage and groceries.

Mitsuru and his wife welcomed us warmly as they showed us around our ‘cabin’. The best part was that our son, Jonathan, used Google translate to communicate with him.  We chuckled and shared jokes. Now that we are out of the usual tourist spots Google Translate is just what we needed.

As we were getting settled, Mitsuru came by with spices, soya sauce for cooking and best of all, coffee beans which he ground on the spot for us using this coffee grinder.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Such kindness and consideration. We feel so very blessed by our experiences here.

Whenever we travel I have a mixture of eager anticipation and mild apprehension as we near our accommodation. After all, you never know if the lodging will meet your expectations. Well this time I am sure we have booked ourselves a mansion in the mountains.  It’s even more amazing to think that this is in Japan, a country of 127 million who live and work in compact spaces.

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

December 2014, Travels to India.

The bridge was a parade of life in Haridwar, Hindu pilgrims, who came to wash in the holy water of the Ganges, priests, holy men, families, and school children. School boys flew kites from the bridge in the cool breezes. They skillfully competed to send the other’s kites into the fast flowing Ganges. Their laughter and enthusiasm filled the air. Younger kids, likely five years old, made their way across the bridge wearing tidy school uniforms, red sweaters, navy pants or skirts with enormous backpacks hanging low on their backs.

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We were not the only observers on the bridge that December afternoon.  We were carefully scrutinized by this little person.

Child on bridge

We wandered the streets for awhile, surprised that the stalls which had been open and busy the night before were closed now. We were pleased at our ability to find our hotel once again, a 100 year old home once owned by a wealthy Indian. His portraits line the walls. The central courtyard has a temple and each morning and afternoon a Hindu priest comes to conduct payers to Vishnu. This hotel also has a Private Ghat or bathing area where anyone can go to bathe in the river Ganges. Haridwar means the footprint of God, or heavens gate. And this will explain the sacred ceremonies performed each day at dusk.  There is more to tell….

View from Haridwar bridge.

View from the Haridwar bridge. December 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother and ‘The Number Talk’

My brother nodded in agreement and chuckled, “Yes our mother was great with numbers.”  She had the ability to use numbers fluently, a skill we we both easily acknowledged.

How well I remember standing next to my mother in a grocery store or bank as she quickly and easily calculated totals.  I would line up the digits mentally in my head, carry or borrow if needed, and try to remember the numbers as I worked.  What a cumbersome procedure!  She, on the other hand, already had the answer and cheerfully let the clerk know the amount required.  I recognized her skill and longed to have it.  It wasn’t speed I wanted, it was the ease with which she worked. Why couldn’t I do that?

Was it the education my mother received during the 1920’s in the Netherlands?  Or was it as a young, single woman when she worked for Unilever that she developed proficient number sense? It was not until later in my mathematical life that I learned her secret. Perhaps I would have benefited from a motherly ‘Number Talk‘.

A Number Talk?   Yes, the kind of talks I plan to use with students this year.  Parents certainly can engage their children in number talks. They’re fun!  And teachers of math will find them a best practice for developing number sense in students.

I observed a number talk as part of my summer math course. Here are my observations.

How Number Talks Work

The instructor sets the students up for the number talk telling them they are to figure out a math question.

1.The question is written on the board and students are asked to solve it. No pencils, no paper, they are to calculate their answers mentally. No comment is given on how to approach the problem.

2. Students are given lots of thinking time and respond with a thumbs up once they have the solution. A low key way to respond so that everyone can take the time they need.

3. Students then share their answers and explain how they arrived at the solution.

4. Through the discussion students are led to see the interesting variety of approaches used to solve the question.

Open ended questions such as these spur the discussion on.

“Anyone try something different?”, “Anyone else do that?” These questions give everyone a chance to explain their process.

“I think I heard you say.” or “How did you know you should have…..” These statements give the student opportunity to clarify thinking and communication. The teacher does not add to the student’s explanation she only repeats what she hears. The onus is on the student to ensure that the explanation is clear.

“Where do you think your mistake came from?” Helps the student clarify logic and identify the error. Mistakes are part of the solution process both acceptable and interesting as part of the learning.

 5. The process students use to solve the problem is written on the board so that it is easy for everyone to follow. This is important. Everyone needs to understand how the numbers are manipulated.

6. All solutions are represented on the board and students are asked to draw a picture of their solution and someone else’s solution. Another important step as it makes the learning more concrete and helps students see how they can work flexibly with numbers.

Screen shot from XEDUC115N How to Learn Math

Screen shot from XEDUC115N How to Learn Math

Number talks are one way to help students develop insight, ability and willingness to to break numbers apart and regroup them as they observe and discuss different ways to solve math problems.

Yes, the answer is important but it is not the most interesting part of a mathematical question.  As we show students that problems can be solved in different ways we teach them the very, very important building block of number sense, a skill that is foundational for the rest of math.

Ahhh yes,  a number talk would  have given me insight into the skillful mind of my mathematician mother but I think I am on to her secret now.