UNESCO World Heritage sites I have been to so far

A few years ago I started keeping track of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that I have visited.

  1. Mesa Verde, USA
  2. Yellowstone, USA
  3. Grand Canyon, USA
  4. Redwoods, USA
  5. Pueblo de Taos, USA
  6. Changdeokgung Palace Complex, South Korea
  7. City of Cuzco, Peru
  8. Machu Picchu, Peru
  9. Lima, Peru city center
  10. City of Quito, Ecuador
  11. Chichen-Itza, Mexico
  12. Banff & Jasper in Canada
  13. Great Wall, China
  14. Imperial Palace, China
  15. Temple of Heaven, China
  16. Longmen Grottoes, China
  17. Angkor, Cambodia
  18. Historic Center of Prague, Czech Republic
  19. Antigua, Guatemala
  20. Tikal, Guatemala
  21. Historic Center of Rome
  22. Holy See, Vatican City
  23. Copan Ruins, Honduras
  24. Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
  25. Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, Mongolia
  26. Victoria Falls, Zambia
  27. Lake Baikal, Russia
  28. White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Russia
  29. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow, Russia
  30. Saint Petersburg historic sites, Russia
  31. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
  32. Dambulla, Sri Lanka
  33. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
  34. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
  35. Kandy, Sri Lanka
  36. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  37. Galle, Sri Lanka
  38. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, India
  39. Taj Mahal, India
  40. Red Fort, India
  41. Humayun’s Tomb, India
  42. Agra Fort, India
  43. Qutb Minar, India
  44. Westminster Palace and Abbey, London
  45. Tower of London
  46. Churches of Moldavia, Romania
  47. Historic Centre of Sighișoara, Romania
  48. Medieval fortified churches of Transylvania.
  49. Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand
  50. Historic Town of Sukhothai, Thailand

As expected, still lots of blog posts that need to come up to bring this list even close to up to date.

Jacob has been with us for two years

Writing the names on the invitations to Jacob’s two-year (anniversary with the family) party made me realize what an inclusive community he has joined.  Sure, there are three that sound like they are from the US, UK or Australia, one Italian, and then there is the Malaysian, Indian and two Koreans that help me realize that he is accepted even though he’s the only full-blooded Chinese kid at the school.  Though ask him and he’s every bit a full-blooded American.  …and he’s right.

I heard the sister of one of the boys ask her mom the other day “Why does Jacob walk that way?” which was the same question a girl in his class asked me almost two years ago. “He was born that way” is about all I can manage to say when kids ask.

He’s behind almost all of his classmates academically.  He struggles with reading and writing.  He’s improving.  Two years ago he couldn’t add together single digit numbers.  He has a loose grasp of multiplication, fractions and division now.  Somehow I don’t worry about his opportunities in the world.  If you’ve ever interacted with him you know that he’s full of positivity and energy.


He’s fitting in really well.

He has now been to 11 countries.  Aside from the US and China he has been to…

Great Britain
Sri Lanka

Feedback from students

I have really disliked evaluations.

In my first career they were done once a year, and I usually fared just fine in them.

Consider this example from February 2011, my last few months on the job.  I scored lowest as “satisfactory” for my reliability.  In every other category of work I scored “very good” with comments like this.


And at the best I was ranked as outstanding with this comment…


Certainly the introspective me would have issues with being told I’m “outstanding” with dealing with other people.  After all, I felt like punching the guy in the throat that butted in front of me to board a plane a day ago.

But let’s ramp it up.  Let’s turn it to 11.

Now all students evaluate me, as a teacher, twice a year.  This is enough to make me imagine my 9th grade CAD drawing teacher’s handlebar moustache twitch uncontrollably.  But I feel like I’m in comfortable company.  After six months on the job above I asked all my employees to evaluate me.  I met with the employee that gave me the worst marks to see where she was coming from.

I remember like it was yesterday.  Athena was a lifeguard and gave me some poor marks.  In the comments she said I would never be as good a supervisor as my predecessor.  She told me how the lady that worked the job for just six months before quitting had been at every early morning water aerobics class to greet participants.  How she had also attended the evening gymnastics classes and chatted with parents.

I was dismayed.  I couldn’t be at the pool at 6:30 in the morning and the gym at 6 in the evening and retain any semblance of the marriage that would later self destruct without even needing to have 12 + hour workdays.

Here are some of the statistically relevant results from my student feedback…

Here is a baseline.  Plenty of strongly agree and agree with a few does not apply.


To this I compared many of my results.  I assume that students will rate me as either Agree or Strongly Agree with a few Does Not Apply.  As a PE teacher, the generic nature of the questions is that they don’t favor subjects like mine.  Questions where more than one person deviated from this (more than one person disagreed or strongly disagreed) are below.

Before listing them I feel it is important to realize that this semester I am teaching two sections of Health, a PE1 for grade 9 students, Racquet and Batting Sports, and Adventure Activities.

  • I am encouraged to continually improve, revise or refine my work.

I agree that it seems that there may not be opportunities to revise work.  In most of my classes there isn’t much for opportunities to re-do a performance based assessment.   I’m thinking of how to go about this practically.

  • I use a variety of materials and resources (e.g. books, simulations, digital media, computer, internet, word processing, spreadsheet) for my learning.

This is entirely applicable (and I feel I do it well) in my Health classes.  But most of the other classes use these infrequently if ever.  I don’t foresee this changing across all of my classes but some it might be beneficial to use a variety more often.

  • I receive helpful feedback (written and verbal) from my teacher about my performance in this class.

I agree that providing better feedback would be a good improvement for my teaching.  I’ve already made efforts to do so verbally or on assignments.

  • In this class I have challenged myself to learn as much as I can.

I provide opportunities for students to challenge themselves.  Some do not pursue the challenge.  Can I do something to improve the adoption of harder work?

  • I feel good about what I am learning in this class.

This one hurt.  Though only a few students marked that they disagree, I still like to think that everyone is enjoying what they learn.  I know there are some students that just don’t like PE so it could be that factor, or it could be students that are resentful that they have to take a health elective instead of PE.

  • I am taught to organize ideas, information and experiences, and to apply them creatively.

Again, this seems one that might apply most to the health class and not so much to the more traditional PE classes.  That said, I don’t teach those things even in health.

  • My teacher helps me try to be successful in this class.

I’m most concerned by this one.  Even just having two of my students say that I don’t try to help them be successful means I’m missing an opportunity.  I will do a better job of reaching out to all students to seek their success.

  • My teacher challenges me appropriately and motivates me to do my best work.

I feel like I don’t challenge the higher performing students — especially in the more physically active classes.  If I have a student that was on the SAISA Badminton team in my Racquet and Batting Sports class then they will definitely be under-challenged in some of the units.

  • My teacher uses Moodle consistently to post assignments and help support my learning.

Guilty as charged.  Over the past year, Holly and I have been experimenting with the use of Google Classroom.  I’ll write a separate blog post about that.

  • My teacher keeps up with the Skyward gradebook so that I feel informed on my assignments and grades.

I’m also guilty of this.  Since receiving the feedback I have made a greater effort to be more timely with my grade book.  I also have started to put in the formative assessments with a simple check mark to indicate if students have completed the work.  I need to figure out a good way to make this a habit — perhaps using time in the morning of each day to make sure my grade book is up to date.

  • My teacher uses a variety of digital tools and resources to help me learn.

Yeah, I don’t use enough in my PE classes.  I’ll say it again (I did during my interview for the job).  Sometimes I feel like part of my job should be getting kids to disconnect from technology and interact with each other face to face.

I will try and sit down and collect the data from this and my previous student feedback to be able to see if there is any trend in the direction of my feedback.  I feel like I have been improving as a teacher.  I hope the data shows that.

Finally, I find extreme value in the things that students actually take the time to write.  Here are some of those comments.

Describe ways that your teacher could help you more with your learning.

Come up a with a clear grading curriculum so students can know what they must do to get the best out of class.

I don’t think that using Google Classroom is helpful for us, as students. This is because we have to be organized in two different platforms, and that just increases confusion for us when we’re doing homework.

he could move faster because sometimes he talks about one thing for 20 mins which gets boring maybe not go into detail as we get the idea

What does your teacher do that helps you to learn best?

I think he really takes the time to teach every little thing there is to teach about the subject. I think that he teaches by doing and I believe that is the only way a teacher should teach, so I like that.

He makes the classes fun and very interactive with a lot of hands on activities which is engaging and helps me learn.

In everything we learn, he never fails to relate it to how we can use it in the future. He is incredibly understanding and kind to everybody. He empathizes with students and always makes sure we are comfortable in class. His teaching methods are extremely effective and he makes the class super fun and awesome. I LOVE THIS CLASS

Please add any other comments that would help your teacher provide better learning experiences for you.

You are and have been my favorite teacher in this school since 9th grade keep up the good work. I truly look up to you and respect/appreciate the person you are. Don’t change and let anyone tell you different!

On dental care and sexual abuse

Jacob had his very first sleepover a few weeks ago.  There were two Korean boys that came over.  I promised to let them stay up late.  When 10:30 rolled around, I got them off to brushing their teeth.  I think it took them 15 minutes even though they brushed for less than two.  They spent a lot of time getting this ready, rinsing their mouths, getting cups, asking about the water… Right afterward, one of the kids said “I think I need to take  a bath.”  Without a thought I shot out “No.”

After almost another hour of battling with kids to get them to bed or to stop getting out of bed, I was asleep.  In the morning I took a shower and wondered about waking them up early enough for them all to take showers.  That’s when the barrage of news stories of teachers accused of abusing children hit my consciousness.

Pepper was in Malaysia for a MUN conference.  I was the only adult in the house.  Having a couple of someone else’s 9 year olds naked in the house is not the right start to any news story.

I have a take on this that I have begun to articulate over the past few years.  As my news feed has been populated by instances of female teachers having sexual relationships with male students and male coaches taking advantage of boys they coach, I have almost felt like it is about time that everyone adhere to the same standards that are expected of a male teacher and a female student.  I am very conscious of being sure that I’m not in the PE equipment room with one female student and nobody else.  But having a single male student in there doesn’t cause me to think the same way.

Because of my cereal habit in the 80s and 90s, I know that children of all ethnicities are  abducted.  The milk cartons had today’s equivalent of an amber alert posted on them.  But today it seems that the only children that are abducted according to the news are attractive white girls.  Perhaps that’s because an attractive white girl being abducted sells air time.  I’m pretty sure my mom bought milk because of the contents, not because of the ethnicity of the missing child on the packaging.  Sure selling milk with free PSAs on the packaging is different than selling advertising on TV.  So I wonder if the news feeds I have that seem to cover things like the former Speaker of the House’s abuse of athletes that he coached or when a young female teacher has a sexual relationship with a student generates more viewers and thus better ad sales.  Because there seems to be a lack of stories (by comparison) of male teachers abusing female students.

Ultimately I never want any students abused (that includes mutually consensual relationships) but the problem is that predators are attracted to careers like teaching youth.  I think of this often as the coordinator of programs that put students and teachers in settings that abusers would find advantageous.

Plenty of schools have entirely ended programs to eliminate the opportunity for predators to act.  I hope to figure out ways to prevent that from being the best option.

The 11 hour work day

For quite a few months our family has been spending about 11 hours at the school.  For at least three or four days of the week.  On top of those long hours at work, we often do work at home.  Of course, we still take time to do things we want to do and as a result our sleep is often not very long.  According to my FitBit, once every ten days or so I get about three hours of sleep.  Only twice in the last month did I get more than 9 hours.sleep…and we were on a vacation for our spring break for a week of the previous month!

I like my job.  A lot.  I might be willing to say that I love it more than any other job I have had.  Though I certainly have enjoyed parts of a lot of my other jobs.  This one is a little different.  I really feel like the work I do, nearly all of it, is both valuable, and also valued.  That is, I recognize that it is valuable and some others recognize the value as well.

I feel supported by my superiors, appreciated by my peers, and with few exceptions, feel surrounded by others with similar work ethic.

I have previous jobs where I worked long hours like this.  From when I was 14 until my early 20s I worked at scout camps for the summer.  Those days started early and often ran until the campfires were ash.  I college I worked as a student guide and would lead overnight camping and kayaking trips with no clock to punch out when my shift was done.  And my first “real” job, which I held for 12 years, involved often long hours or being called in to work on weekends and nights or working through holiday weekends.

That job was a salaried position and at one point time clocks were suggested, even for salaried employees.  So I started keeping track of my hours.  After two months of keeping track, the only week that I got 40 hours of work (all of the rest were higher) was when I took the week off and my time sheet showed the default 8 hours.

Sure, right now Pepper and I are getting a stipend to cover our extra work as coaches.  But the money is a token amount considering the number of hours put in.  That’s not a complaint though.  We’d probably do it for half as much (In fact, we’ve done it for less in the past.)

So the hours are long.  My sleep is poor.  What is my heart doing?  Well, here is some data over the past month…

heart rate

It is interesting to note that I can identify stressors that caused some of the peaks in my resting heart rate.  The first peak (the highest point in the chart at 69) was while I was hosting a two day symposium and was suffering from a staph infection with open boils in multiple parts of my body.  One of them was so bad (both in severity and location) that I couldn’t walk right.

The other peak that I know the cause of is to the far right (where the line rises above 64).  That was early in our vacation — right about when we were dealing with trying to fix a problem with Jordan’s visa and having the fear of him not being permitted back in India hanging over our heads.

There are definitely things I could do that would make it so I didn’t end up working such long hours.  (Aside from not coaching.)

This brings be back to a discussion that happened on the very first day that I was in Chennai.  We were asked to have a table discussion about “What professionalism looks like” and during my group’s discussion the first thing that was raised was that professionals don’t stay at work later than their contracted hours.  I stammered a bit in response and asked why staying late at work would be seen as unprofessional.  She said that if you have to stay at work then you must not have been using your time during the day wisely.  That leaving work “on time” signaled efficiency and thus professionalism.  Since this was happening in my first few hours on the job I didn’t counter.  But since the others at the table concurred, I quickly chalked up their interpretation as a cultural difference.

I don’t know what to make of it all.  Overall my health has’t been negatively impacted by the long hours and I don’t think that by working longer than the 8 to 4 that I’m sending a message of inept use of time at my job.

Reflecting on reflections

I’m beginning to think that we’re doing too many reflections.  Not me, as an adult, reflecting on my work, but we as educators asking students to constantly reflect. As educators we seem to want our students to reflect on every experience.  Is that going to be bad at some point?

We’ve replaced doing “community service” with “service learning” which I was hesitant to buy into at first.  Ultimately it makes a lot of sense.  Service should be done so that it is mutually beneficial — not just so that the person contributing service feels good about themselves.  This is a bit of a deviation from my scouting practice where things like “do a good turn daily” and “For he who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows, greatest” were mantras I followed.

Time to turn on the humblebrag.  I was awarded the Order of the Arrow’s (a service organization within the boy scouts) Founder’s Award which is for unselfish service above and beyond their normal duties.  Then was given the national Distinguished Service Award also for the Order of the Arrow.  Both were awarded based on things I did before I was 21.  If I had to fill out a form showing 10 hours of community service as a high school graduation requirement I could probably have completed the form for every month and not just every year.    I confess to having scoffed at student lists of service activities on their National Honor Society applications.  I did all that without sitting down and writing down reflections.  I learned plenty.  I became compassionate and hard working.  I served for the sake of service.

So when I see a proposal for a Discover India trip that has multiple written reflection sessions in the same day I have a bit of a revulsion reaction.  When I look at the plan we made for our school Discovery groups and it seems like we’ve created a twice-a-month writing group I have regrets.  When I hear students balk at the word “reflect” it makes me want to reflect more on this whole idea of reflection.

We have students writing blog posts to reflect on their experiences in the Discovery program.  I don’t think that’s the right tool for the job.  To understand why we should look at what a blog is.  The word “blog” is a shortened version of “web log” — that is, a public (or limited audience) online diary or journal.  If the audience is limited to the teacher, then publishing a blog post (not publishing a blog — a blog contains posts) isn’t the right platform.  Just write it on a document to then share with the teacher.  I think that in some situations a student would be much more reflective if it is perceived to be more private than public.  The nature of blogs is that they seem public.  You press a “publish” button when done, a very public sounding word, not a button with a word that insinuates privacy.

I understand the value of reflection.   I want to prevent reflective overdose and think that formalizing some types of reflection could help.  Some things certainly deserve taking quality time for some private reflection.  Maybe there is a need for a better range of reflections.

Certainly just giving something a thumbs up or thumbs down is a process of reflection.  Sitting together and verbally debriefing an experience provides opportunity for reflection and collaboration.  Sometimes I feel like the reflection we’re asking kids to do is seeking the “right answer” for the activity.  There are certainly kids that get it.  And there will always be others that don’t get it until they hear someone else explain it — perhaps in a way that they understand.  So reflecting privately, while sometimes completely appropriate, might not be the best way to really got through to students.

Sorry.  Just reflecting.

Chennai floods 2015

The cyclone that hit Chennai, India in November saturated the ground and filled area reservoirs.  It continued to rain through the month, nearly beating a record set over 100 years ago.  Then on December 2nd, Chennai got more rain in 24 hours than it normally gets in the entire month of December.

Our home was alright.  We actually had power more often during the four days that our school was closed than we had during a break in early November.   We had no internet service but hadn’t had any for a month anyway.  (In fact, we’re now going on three full months without wired internet access at home.)  A matter of poor timing, the pump that supplies water to our rooftop cistern that is used for showers, toilets and sinks was being repaired.  We had a full cistern but no way to refill it and didn’t know how long we’d be without it.

Our generator had plenty of fuel (though the gas stations were rationing sales) and the local grocery store let us buy food on an IOU since credit card machines wouldn’t work and ATMs were out of cash.  But we had plenty of movies, crafts, games, LEGO and puzzles to hole up for as long as needed.

We took in a friend and her newborn for a few days.  We also had a family move their boxed up things into our home while they transitioned from the hotel into their new home.  Their apartment ended up with about two feet of water inside so they had to relocate.

We got out bike riding and running a little too…

My 42nd birthday gifts

It is still more than a week away, but I have to work all of my birthday weekend so Pepper and the kids decided to give me my birthday presents early.

First was a Wallet Ninja which is a credit-card-sized tool made out of a single piece of metal. It has screwdrivers in the corners, wrench cutouts, a can opener, bottle opener, and ruler. It’s gimmicky but I’ll probably use the screwdrivers (especially the eyeglass one) and openers as long as I remember that I have it in my wallet!


The other gift was a Fitbit Surge exercise tracker. I’ve been intermittently using a Fitbit Flex for two and a half years. But I have had increasing difficulty with getting it to charge. Also, in the line of work I’m in, I really need a stopwatch function and also really need to have the time available. So in time came the right watch. Well, almost right. There are a few features I’d still like to see, but I’ll write about that last.


Here is what it offers… Time and date for the default screen. Tracking of steps, distance and floors climbed. It also monitors my heart rate and even has a GPS for tracking runs. It is supposed to also interface with my phone by being able to control music or notify of incoming calls or text messages. I have not played with those functions yet.

Having worn it for just a day I can say that it is very comfortable. I found that my resting heart rate when I woke up was about 50 BPM and I slept for 6 hours and 36 minutes. Today I walked 6.23 miles in 13,377 steps. The tracker says I climbed 20 floors – which I think is about right. Though it says I had 113 active minutes and I’m pretty sure that’s not quite right. According to the tracker I have burned 3,727 calories.

I’m hoping this helps me stay motivated to climb a few extra flights of stairs, walk a bit more and track my runs and bike rides.

Video logging as an expat

In the first few days of our vacation we decided we shouldn’t just be taking photos of our trips. We really should be shooting more video. Then we also realized that there must be people that would be more interested in watching a few minutes of expat life instead of reading about it. So we’re going to try and do a bit of both. Here is our first “episode” about the things we drank on our winter break trip to Serbia and Romania.

Ryan McFarland's travel, thoughts, projects and more.