The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

September 24, 2010

The Power of Pineapple

"What can I do to motivate my students?" I think to myself one morning, as I hastily pack my things before heading to school. "They talk in class, they fail my tests, and even if I broke down and started caning them like the other teachers, they still wouldn't give a flying fuck about physics."

Then suddenly, a revelation: "I'll tempt them with food!"

Bag packed and sandals strapped on, I leave my house and walk over to the roadside produce stands across the street. I pick out a juicy, medium-size pineapple and get the woman selling it to peel and quarter the pineapple for me. At 25 cents, it seems like a relatively small price to pay for classroom cooperation.

I arrive at school, pineapple in hand. My Senior Two (S2) physics class sees me coming. Of course, whoever was supposed to teach the 8:00 - 9:20 block never showed up, giving the kids free reign to screw around outside. But playtime's over. It's 9:20 on the dot, which means every pair of cheeks in a khaki green skirt or trousers—the S2 uniform—should be seated at a desk for physics class. I walk towards the students hovering outside the S2 classroom at a relaxed pace, a nonchalant lion approaching what looks like easy prey. My prey glance at the pineapple. Their mouths begin to water. But then they look at the lion that's carrying the pineapple. And they know it's time to run. Luckily for the lion, they run straight into the classroom. No chasing required this time.

I enter the classroom and wait until everyone's seated. Then, without a word, I take out one of the pineapple quarters and bite into it slowly. A little juice dribbles out of the corner of my mouth. I let out a long, deliberate "Mmmmmmmmmm" as I take my time enjoying the perfection of this fruit. My S2s gaze longingly at the dripping pineapple.

"Master, is it sweet?" one asks.

Before I answer the girl, I finish the slice, making sure to lick its juicy remains off of each finger to emphasize just how much she's missing out on.

"Yes," I say. "It's very sweet."

I then address the entire class. I explain that there are 3 slices of pineapple remaining. Coincidentally, there are 3 students seated at each desk. I'm sure there's at least one desk that's worthy of pineapple. But I'm not sure which desk it is.

"So," I say, "we'll have ourselves a little contest. Remember last time when we talked about swimming? About how your ears hurt when you dive deep underwater?" I get a few nods. The rest probably haven't ever gone swimming. "Well, that pain you feel is the water pressure acting on your eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane. If too much pressure acts on it, the eardrum can rupture, or tear. And then you wouldn't be able to hear anything."

All very well and good, they're thinking, but what does this have to do with pineapple? "Scientists," I continue, "have found that the eardrum will almost certainly rupture if exposed to 100 kilopascals of pressure. For the rest of this pineapple, calculate how deep you would have to dive to rupture your eardrum. The density of water is 1 g cm^-3 and gravitational acceleration is about 10 m s^-2. First desk with the right answer gets the pineapple. Go!"

At that moment, hell freezes over. My students are actually working! I pace the room like I usually do when I give in-class problems. Only this time, I don't need to play disciplinarian. Hands shoot up as I walk by, offering answers to my question. I look at the answers. I dismiss several lacking units of length. Some people are off by a factor of 1000. Others have copied numbers from a previous, unrelated problem (I fear there are some lost causes in my class). But finally, a group of boys gives me the correct response of 10 meters. We have a winner! I present the boys the pineapple and return to the front of the class to put the solution on the board.

"But master, you give me that pineapple," a girl pleads, Bambi-eyed, head cocked to the side with her hands out like some beggar-child.

"No. You didn't answer my question correctly. However, there's more pineapple where that came from..." I turn to the class and grin, "...if you answer some more questions."

September 11, 2010

Where to Look

Sandra: a cute little nightmare of a next-door neighbor.
One of many faces in my new web album.
So I've gotten a little backlogged lately. I have several half-finished posts on the back burner, but lack of time and motivation to finish them right now. What can I say? I'm a slow and easily distracted writer. Wordsmithing takes me some time.

Something that doesn't take me a lot of time, however, is snapping pictures. Click. Done. Up until now I've had a tendency to put maybe one or two pictures of some relevance in each post, or else do an occasional post dedicated entirely to pictures. But my posts haven't been keeping up with my pictures, so readers are getting neither verbal nor visual snapshots of my life.

My solution to this problem was to create a Picasa web album. While in Kampala for medical reasons this weekend, I took advantage of the fast internet speeds to upload some choice photos to it. The photos are in chronological order and span the duration of my time here thus far. Maybe I'll get around to captioning them or tagging people or transferring them to Facebook, maybe not. Some may eventually end up on the blog when I finish those back burner posts. In any case, I plan to continue using Picasa as a visual complement to my largely verbal blog. So now you get words and pictures, hooray!

Links for future picture viewing delight: