Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Siamese Robot Cat Scans

I've written in the past about some of the challenges I face teaching English to 7th graders. My Thai language skills are still not what they will be, so often times I face tough barriers in communication. This is most pronounced, ironically, in the Gifted Education Program class I teach three times a week. These boys are supposed to be the really smart ones, and consequently, the curriculum I am given is quite tough for both them and for myself in having to convey instructions to students who understand almost none of what I am saying.

We've just gone through a unit where we had a very simple reading about volcanoes. With the help of my my Thai co-teacher I drilled into them some vocabulary, created my own worksheets about volcanoes in Thailand (there two extinct ones here) and gave them a diagram of a volcano with the important bits labeled using lines and arrows. This concept of a labeled diagram in English was also part of this unit. They spent half of one class copying this diagram.

Now, I know that they love to draw, and so I thought drawing something as cool as a volcano would engage them and catch their interest.

It didn't, at least, not really. Their volcano diagrams were half-heartedly scribbled.

Well, let's give something even more interesting to diagram.

They kind of sat there staring at me uncomprehendingly (which they do a lot) while I explained that I wanted them to dram me a diagram of a robot cat. This cat could look like whatever they wanted, but it needed to have at least three elements which they needed to label:

  • Rocket paws
  • dog sensor
  • mouse catcher

Of course, they were free to add more features to their robot cat, but I needed to see at least those three. My thai co-teacher explained as well in their language, but they still didn't believe that I was asking them to spend a whole class drawing a picture of a robot cat. Has Teacher Joko lost his mind?

No, not at all. If getting them drawing gets them also writing and thinking of other things in English, then it's a perfectly valid lesson.

Even if I expected it would also gave me a whole lotta laughs when they turned in their final products.

I made sure they all had paper and told them to get to work. Still, they weren't getting it. I turned on the overhead projector and drew a quick example of what I was looking for. Here's Teacher Joko's 30 second robot cat...

Aha! Now they got it and they ran with it. Here's a sampling of their work. 

Some of it is whimsical with varying degrees of getting the idea of the lesson and including the three Robot Cat elements I was looking for...

 It's kind of funny how a made up term like 'rocket paws' can be interpreted differently.  See, I imagined the robot cat as using rocket-powered paws to get around, but wings on the cats was a common theme and they had rockets that they could shoot on their paws. 

 The kid who drew this next one rarely follows instructions, but he made a badass robot cat.  
Some of their designs were quite detailed. 
Some of the cats were a little scary...

Of course, not every kid was an artist.  Hey, at least he tried, and it did have all three elements! 

I suppose I didn't set too good of an example when I added 'batteries' to the cat's butt in the sample diagram.  This kid's cat comes complete with... see lower left corner.

Unfortunately, I did get quite a few kids who just gave me a picture of a cat.  Nicely drawn, sure, but I didn't sufficiently explain the English lesson part of it.  This last one was unique in that the cat is saying something in Thai, and the kid at least translated their very different alphabet into something that I could read.  Now, I have to find out what Gumai Dreak Pala means.  


  1. Just caught up on your last four posts. For some reason they did not show up on my home page reading list which I use to read blogs on the ipad. They do show up on the side bar of my blog which Dad reads on the laptop. Not sure why, but anyway they were all very interesting. I am looking forward to hearing about your plans for the next six months! Good luck in finding a new adventure, or finding more adventure in what you are doing there. The cats were fun!

  2. "Gu Mai Dreak Pala" (I don't eat fermented fish) is a thing a snotty city kid would say whilst imitating a country bumpkin from Isaan.

    1. They said the same thing about Bugs Bunny, and look how famous he got!


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