Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Have I Been Doing?

One of the problems that I am discovering with keeping a blog is that it takes a lot of time to write and edit posts. Another thing that bothers me is that I have no idea how many people read this blog so I have no idea if anyone at all has missed seeing new entries for the past couple of weeks. (If you do read this blog sometimes, please leave a message just so I know you exist out there in cyberspace.)

When I could not find time to write for the past two weeks it was almost always work related--or least related to exhaustion caused by work related activities.

Way back on November 8, I spent the entire day taking advantage of a unique opportunity offered to educators lucky enough to live in the Ann Arbor area. I was one of 50 or so people, including four others from the school, who spent the day learning about the Arab-American community in and around Detroit. Thanks to the University Musical Society (UMS) and their education programs, we all spent 12 hours immersed in Arab culture. Ask me about the day which included a visit to an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, some basic Arabic language lessons (plus some children's songs), talks about being a Christian in the Arab World and and Arab Detroit, a tour of the Arab American National Museum--a must see for anyone who has the chance to see its well-planned and informative displays, a lesson in calligraphy, a hands on mosaic project to share with students, some energetic dancing, a tour of a fabulous sweet shop where we tasted sweets straight off the grill, a trip to a market filled with Arabic foods and spices, and a tour of the Islamic Center of America Mosque. Don't forget the food! We ate so well--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think there are people who may soon start avoiding me because I can not seem to quit talking about all we did and saw and learned in that one very full day.

Yes, I was tired when I got home from that long day, but I was still eager for the next day. Sunday morning I was ready to go to the bookstore where we held our annual library fundraiser/book fair. One of my favorite pastimes is shopping for books, so I enjoyed the time searching for books to buy for the library, as well as a few for myself. However, the real fun began when people from the school community began to come to the store. There were familiar faces everywhere. Every year I look forward to this event, with the highlight always being the moment when I come upon a group of students discussing their favorite books and making recommendations to people from other classes, people of all ages who may have never talked together at any other time. Then there are the students and parents who come to me for reading ideas and I can get excited over and over again for a favorite title that I read long ago or one I have just discovered. It was a wonderful evening, even if the year's first snow made it hard to go outside in the cold when the last books had been paid for and boxed for delivery to school on Monday morning.

The fun didn't end then. On Wednesday, the library played host to math man and author Greg Tang. A wonderful melding of luck and research brought Mr. Tang to our school where he talked to students in every grade and then came back for a parent presentation in the evening. Mr. Tang probably started thinking about math long before he completed degrees in economics at Harvard, but his books came out of thinking about how people use basic skills for working with numbers and working with young math users. He looks for ways to make math fun and easy. He taught the students (and the adults) some fun games to play and tricks to make adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division easier and faster while making the principles behind his ideas make sense. In short, he was great. Don't believe me? Ask the students of all ages who are still playing his games, testing each other on how to multiply any number by 11, and telling me that things are making more sense every day. Read more about Greg Tang and his books at his website. If you are like me, you will be seeing math in a new light.

One more exciting opportunity for learning came just yesterday when I attended another UMS sponsored event. (Check out their site to learn about other offerings that those of you who do not live in the area will surely envy.) This was a "book club" to discuss a fascinating book by Sandy Tolan called The Lemon Tree. The book is the true and well-researched story of two people who have lived in the same house and picked lemons from the same back yard tree. One is a man who was born in the house in a town in Palestine and forced to move out with his family when the state of Israel was created. The other is the woman whose Jewish family left Bulgaria right after the Second World War to seek a safe homeland and settled in the same house in a city now called Ramle, Israel. Through their two stories, the book gives a balanced and insightful look into the continuing conflict. The book club began with a slide show about the book that you can view here and perhaps get inspired to read the book yourself. The panel for the discussion included several women from Zeitouna which is a group of women from the Ann Arbor area who have been meeting for about six years to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict. They are a special group in many ways, but primarily for their ability to make their differences into strengths. You see, half of the women have close ties to Palestine and half are Jewish women, many of whom have lived in Israel. They do not try to make changes in the world, only to understand the stories that they each have to tell. Learn about the Zeitouna mission and their film Refusing to Be Enemies and you will probably be as interested and impressed with them as I am.

So, it has been a busy couple of week. I promise to do better in the coming weeks--just as soon as I finish cataloging all the books we got from the book fair, writing thank you notes to the generous people who donated so many books to the library, and thinking on the many things that I have been learning recently.

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