Friday, August 7, 2009

On charting a curriculum

For these four weeks we spent our afternoons teaching. I, along with one other Duke student and two Vietnamese students, were responsible for teaching health/p.e.. That was at times challenging, for the school yard was not ideal for playing typical outdoor games, and the whole first two weeks it rained practically everyday. Another interesting challenge was that we first had to explain our game to the vietnamese roommates who then had to convey the game to the children. Futhermore, sometimes the children were less than enthused about typical american games. Yet, we slowly began to get a better sense of the types of games the children enjoyed. They even sometimes just had fun playing catch with a small soccer ball that we brought everyday.

The health portion of our curriculum was a bit more of a challenge. We generally turned to health when it was raining outside. We attempted to teach about energy, the environment, nutrition, and aids. For the environment lesson we had the children pick up trash in the schoolyard. It is very disconcerting to me, for when the children eat food outside they will simply throw their wrapper on the ground. This is a common practice that is not unique to this one school. Of course there are many explanations for this behavior, one of which is that there simply are very few trash cans around, and that there is no system of trash disposal (at the school we renovated they simply dump the trash in a giant whole--their version of a landfill). So, we talked to the children about picking up trash, the environment, etc. They seemed to have a pretty good understanding on an academic level of the correct trash practices. Then we went outside and had the children pick up trash. The slight hitch in this plan was that as we were picking up trash a bunch of reporters descended upon us, clearly seeing a photo op in "vietnamese children and american volunteers clean up school yard" (a bit wordy of a title, but doesn't it just tug on your heart strings). This was a bit frustrating, especially since I wasn't entirely sure if it was creating the best impression of us all.

Another one of our lessons involved nutrition. We taught the children the food pyramid and had them chart out what categories their daily meals fell into. This doubled as an english lesson, for we taught them how to pronounce the foods and categories in english. They had little knowledge of the food pyramid (actually our vietnamese roommates also seemed unaware of it) ie many of the students thought rice was categorized as a vegetable. As I reflected upon this lesson, I began to doubt whether it was the best choice. For one, it is difficult for many of these students to obtain the foods recommended by the food pyramid ie whole grains and dairy. This is partially a cost factor and partially an availability factor. Furthermore, what can be gained by informing them that white rice, the staple of their diet, has very little nutritional value, especially when it's not within their means to switch to a healthier alternative? Yet, upon discussing this issue with several of the americans, I came to the conclusion that teaching them some of the basics of the food pyramid would at least create a sense of food awareness that could have a positive impact.

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