Doorsteps decorated for Pongal

This is a long weekend because of the Tamil festival of Pongal — the winter harvest festival.  Friday morning (Boghi) people burned their old and unwanted items which creates quite a heavy amount of smoke throughout the area.  On our drive in to the school we could see the smoldering remains of the fires people lit early in the morning.

Considering that the air in Chennai is generally very good we’re fine with dealing with a half day of bad air pollution.

Here is a video of part of our drive in that morning while an appropriate song played on our stereo.

On Saturday people decorated their doorsteps with elaborate kolams to celebrate Pongal.  These were a few from my neighborhood.

UNESCO World Heritage sites through the end of 2016

A few years ago I started keeping track of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that I have visited.  Here they are through the end of 2016.  (I moved Yellowstone down the list to reflect re-visiting it.)

  1. Mesa Verde, USA
  2. Grand Canyon, USA
  3. Redwoods, USA
  4. Pueblo de Taos, USA
  5. Changdeokgung Palace Complex, South Korea
  6. City of Cuzco, Peru
  7. Machu Picchu, Peru
  8. Lima, Peru city center
  9. City of Quito, Ecuador
  10. Chichen-Itza, Mexico
  11. Banff & Jasper in Canada
  12. Great Wall, China
  13. Imperial Palace, China
  14. Temple of Heaven, China
  15. Longmen Grottoes, China
  16. Angkor, Cambodia
  17. Historic Center of Prague, Czech Republic
  18. Antigua, Guatemala
  19. Tikal, Guatemala
  20. Historic Center of Rome
  21. Holy See, Vatican City
  22. Copan Ruins, Honduras
  23. Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
  24. Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, Mongolia
  25. Victoria Falls, Zambia
  26. Lake Baikal, Russia
  27. White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Russia
  28. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow, Russia
  29. Saint Petersburg historic sites, Russia
  30. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
  31. Dambulla, Sri Lanka
  32. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
  33. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
  34. Kandy, Sri Lanka
  35. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  36. Galle, Sri Lanka
  37. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, India
  38. Taj Mahal, India
  39. Red Fort, India
  40. Humayun’s Tomb, India
  41. Agra Fort, India
  42. Qutb Minar, India
  43. Westminster Palace and Abbey, London
  44. Tower of London
  45. Churches of Moldavia, Romania
  46. Historic Centre of Sighișoara, Romania
  47. Medieval fortified churches of Transylvania.
  48. Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand
  49. Historic Town of Sukhothai, Thailand
  50. Banks of the Seine, Paris, France
  51. Yellowstone, USA
  52. Olympic National Park, USA
  53. Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland
  54. Saint-Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine
  55. Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine
  56. Historic Centre of Tallinn, Estonia
  57. San Antonio Missions, USA (added to the list in 2015)

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

Lego Minifigure Shelf

In August we made shelves for our collection of Lego Minifigures.  Not all of them – just the ones from the collectible series.  I wrote the project up on Instructables here.

Next we’ll make some shelves for holding Jacob’s extensive collection of cars and perhaps one for Jordan’s collection of castles!

New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2017

As in the past few years, the New York Times has published a list of places to go in 2017.  I have written blog posts from the lists from 2016, 20152014, 2013 and 2012 in the past.

Here is their list with places in bold that I have been to along with links to my relevant blog posts for sites I have been to the exact place on the list.  I start out pretty strong on their list and then fizzle out!

  1. Canada
  2. Atacama Desert, Chile
  3. Agra, India [Agra Fort, Taj Mahal]
  4. Zermatt, Switzerland
  5. Botswana [Safari]
  6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Tijuana, Mexico
  9. Detroit, Michigan
  10. Hamburg, Germany
  11. Marrakesh, Morocco
  12. Greenville, South Carolina
  13. Pedregal, Ecuador
  14. Penzance, England
  15. Osaka, Japan
  16. Stockholm, Sweden
  17. Sikkim, India
  18. Île de Porquerolles, France
  19. Madagascar
  20. Sanya, China
  21. Cyprus
  22. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  23. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  24. Kingston, Jamaica
  25. Comporta, Portugal
  26. Kazakhstan
  27. Gabon
  28. Athens, Greece
  29. Northwest Puerto Rico
  30. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  31. Napa Valley, California
  32. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
  33. Sedona, Arizona
  34. Madrid
  35. Ketchum, Idaho
  36. Maldives
  37. Calabria, Italy
  38. Antequera, Spain
  39. Lofoten Islands, Norway
  40. Iberá Wetlands, Argentina
  41. Istria, Croatia
  42. Placencia, Belize
  43. Langtang Region, Nepal
  44. Bozcaada, Turkey
  45. Birmingham, Alabama
  46. Sacred Valley, Peru [Sacred Valley, Chicha, Machu Picchu]
  47. Laikipia, Kenya
  48. Busan, South Korea
  49. Portland, Oregon
  50. Budapest, Hungary
  51. South Bronx, New York
  52. Ryukyu Islands, Japan

Yesterday was one of those “best days”

School starts back up tomorrow after our three week winter break.  So on Saturday I set out to try and have a really great day knowing Sunday would have a lot of things going on that I had to do instead of wanted to do.  Sunday wasn’t all bad though…


  1.  Slept in
  2. Watered my plants and did some repotting and pruning
  3. Went on a walk and did some beach combing and came back with two handfulls of treasures
  4. Ate pancakes, sausages and muffins that Pepper cooked.
  5. Got cash!  (See: India demonetization.)
  6. Picked up totes (actually Indian milk crates) to use to sort Lego.  (For a future project.)  Spent more than an hour with the boys scrubbing them clean.  Then went about filling them with Lego.
  7. Worked on a video from our summer travels.
  8. Went to a friend’s for dinner and drinks and to catch up on their travel during the break.


  1. Woke earlier
  2. Went on a walk and beach combed again.  Saw one dead sea turtle.  This time brought home two small grocery bags of treasures including a dolphin skull.  Yes, a dolphin skull.  (Perhaps a porpoise?)  I’m sure that it will excite our biology teacher as much as it did me!
  3. Cooked potatoes, bacon and eggs for brunch.
  4. The family got haircuts.
  5. Went to Amadora for ice cream.
  6. Wrote up a project on Instructables and entered it in an appropriate contest.

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.

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