Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What I Continued To Do On My Swine Flu Vacation

Sara Picks Up Computers

We just completed our second week of unexpected Swine Flu Holiday. On Monday, 3 August, I looked out the window and saw some students arriving at the school. I desperately wanted to have class with my Year 13 students who have a CAT (common assessment task) worth 30% of their grade on 18 August. My students were not even remotely prepared. After missing a week of classes due to no water, a week of classes due to the swine flu, generally being behind schedule and having most of the students absent in the previous weeks, they were about three weeks behind my scheduled yearly plan. This meant I had not even covered one of the most important topics they need for the CAT, writing database queries in Design View.

The CAT is supposed to test the students’ abilities in database, spreadsheets and word-processing. However, the CAT is strangely database heavy. The students have to answer about 10 questions on the database table they are provided; questions that require them to write several queries; a skill I had not taught them yet.

When I saw the students arriving at the school, I went over and talked to the vice-principal. Would it be possible for me to have classes with my Year 13 computer students this week? Sure. He told the students who had come that day that the ones in Year 13 computers had class every day at 9 am. Unfortunately, I had to rely on word of mouth to spread this information to the Year 13 students who hadn’t come to school on Monday.

Monday I only had four students, but Tuesday and Wednesday I was up to about ten. Unfortunately, those numbers dropped off again on Thursday and Friday. Monday I went over Design View and the students completed assignments writing queries. Tuesday I went over the CAT format and the students did two practise database assignments that were identical to the questions that were asked in the previous two years’ CATs. I also had to try to bring up to speed the students who hadn’t been there on Monday on how to do Design View queries and the student who hadn’t been in school the last week we had school and didn’t know how to write SQL statements.

Wednesday I showed the students how to do the spreadsheet and word-processing portion of the CAT and they did practise assignments from the previous two years’ CATs. I also had to try to bring up to speed the students who came that had not been there on Monday or Tuesday and I had to figure out what to do about the student who had shown up for class for the first time in more than a month and didn’t know anything about databases.

Swine Flu Vacation School

Also, during these three days I had students not working on CAT practise, because in addition to their CAT on 18 August, all their other IAs for all their other classes were still due (even though school was cancelled). So they would stop doing computer work to type up Geography and Economics IAs and ask me to print them out. I felt bad for the students who are honestly trying and honestly want to do a good job and here they are getting screwed over by the flu.

By Thursday all my students were at different places and I couldn’t teach a class anymore. Instead, I just ran around the room helping. One student was totally finished with all the CAT practise, so I gave her a complete CAT to practise. She was able to complete that and she is the one student that I know for a fact that can probably pass the CAT in a week. Other students were still learning Design View queries or had gotten up to practicing the database questions or were working on the practise assignments from the previous CATs. There was the one student who was more than a month behind. I am not sure what I can do about her at this point.

Throughout the day on Thursday I tried to call MESC to ask about the CAT. I wanted to confirm that it was still scheduled for 18 August. Also, the calendar says that CAT was to be delivered to schools on 31 July, which was a week ago. As it turned out the woman at MESC had emailed the schools on Tuesday to say they could pick up their CATs. Unfortunately, schools weren’t getting the message since they weren’t in session. My school secretary was at school all week, but she didn’t get the email because she cannot get on the internet. Her new computer is full, FULL, of viruses. One or more of these viruses disabled the anti-virus software on the computer and won’t let me install new software. One or more of these viruses will not let her connect to the internet. So there was no way for her to check the school emails. This problem has been going on for a while and I have told the Board they must call CSL (the company that sold them the computer) to come out and clean the computer of viruses. So far, nothing has happened.

Also on Thursday we finally brought my computers over from Cale’s computer lab. I started to set them up after my class ended at 12 pm, but then the power went out and I decided to call it a day.

Friday I had many fewer students. By the end of the day I felt like I had maybe three or four students who can successfully complete the CAT. Three or four out of more than 30. Things are not looking good right now.

Thank You Basket

Friday was also the day that Blakey delivered a thank-you fruit basket from her school. The school secretary put it together and it was really nice of her. Cale pointed out that this is the first time that someone from one of the schools (other than the Peace Corps volunteers, obviously) has offered any thank you for the computers. I plan on asking everyone to send pictures and put together some sort of thank you for Brian once school starts again.

Girls of Group 79 Dinner Girls of Group 79 Dinner

Girls of Group 79 Dinner Girls of Group 79 Dinner

Friday I went into town for the Girls of Group 79 dinner with Rosie, Lissa and Hanna. Cale played darts with Erik at Heni’s. After dinner I went over to Erik’s with Cale. We ended up crashing at his place. Erik has a real honest to goodness mattress (not just foam) and we got to sleep on it. It was truly amazing. Sleeping on a real mattress is a rare event to be savored.

Saturday we were very tired and after a breakfast at McDonalds we went home and vegged for the rest of the day.

At Erik's

Sunday found us back in town. I still didn’t have a copy of the CAT and Jordan had left it for me on the hard drive in the office. So I went to pick it up. We were also going to get some groceries. We ran into several people in the office and ended up joining Erik, Casey and Casey’s brother Ryan at the Transformers. What a terrible movie. Erik actually walked out. We held on to the horrible, horrible, bitter end and then went back to Erik’s where we were joined by Matt for dinner.

Sunday was also Samoan Fathers’ Day, which meant Monday was a holiday as well. Cale and I headed back to our computer labs to finally finish setting up the computers. We did Cale’s lab before brunch, came home for some eggs and toast, and then went to my lab to finish plugging all the computers in. When Cale left me in my downstairs lab where I was preparing some practise exercises for the CAT, we had 20 of his 33 computers working and networked (the remainder wait for a second computer lab that is in the planning stages…plans that involve a sludge hammer). I had 20 of my 25 working (the remainder wait on the removal of a wooden chalk ledge below a useless chalkboard in the back of the room…the desks built for the computers are actually too shallow to fit a monitor and keyboard comfortably and this chalk ledge pushes the monitors out even further, making it impossible to put the keyboard under the monitor). Anyway, two happy computer labs filled with working computers. The day would not end this way.

I came back from my school upset after discovering that the database sent to us to use in the CAT was created using a version of Microsoft Access that is too new for the computers running Office 2000 in my school to open. When Cale came home from his lab where he was installing a new version of iTalc, an open-sources classroom-management program, I complained to him. Considering what he had to say next, he was surprisingly sympathetic of my plight.

Cale was in his lab, working on his server when he heard the first pop. Smoke poured out of the back of one of his computers and the electricity in the room started to do crazy things. When he pulled the plug on the smoking computer it caused other computers to turn on or off. Around the room he heard POP, POP, POP. He rushed to the breakers and shut down electricity to the room. Then he came home to distance himself from what could be a lab full of fried computers.

He has had problems with the electricity in his lab since day one. He has asked repeatedly that it be fixed. His air-conditioner was continually breaking because the electricity powering it was unstable. Now this.

After a settling down period, Cale and I returned to his lab. He opened his door.

“Do you smell that?” he asked.

We tried the power bits at a time, starting with lights and moving to the air-con. The air-con made a horrible noise and put out no air. Looks like it is fried again. Cale opted against testing any power on the computers until it has been looked at. Instead, he took apart the computer that had started the chain reaction. We found scorch marks on the inside of the case. He opened up the power supply.

“See that area there that’s all burny? It’s not supposed to look like that.”

With nothing to be done we returned to the house. Cale will have to confront the electricity problem tomorrow — when rumor has it his principal might be returning from New Zealand.

— Sara


Barb Carusillo said...

Sounds like enough to test the patience of a saint....even good old St. Teresa, the Little Flower, would probably want to pop someone with a tire iron. Keep the faith you guys, you are trying your best. The 4 or 5 you get to pass the CAT (or more) will be a lot more than would have passed without your intervention. The computers that work after the frying will still be more than they had before all your work.
If you could just get a qualified electrician!!!!We need to send your Uncle Jim over there!

Barb Carusillo said...

By the way, that picture of you at the top of this picture is so cute. Who could not resist sending that girl a flash drive?!