Tuesday, April 3, 2012

UWC Accessible!

Hi lovely people reading my blog,

I'm trying to start a project to make the UWC movement more accessible to young people with disabilities.

The idea is to make a blog with stories, experiences and opinions on disabilities and school/living communities from as many different perspectives as possible.

Have a look at this website for more information.

If you can contribute in any way or know someone who can, please contact me on ulf911@gmail.com.

Obviously, I will be writing on this as the project progresses! :)

Thank you!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hello... Hello... Can you hear me now?

I think that is how I have started every single Skype conversation with my parents since coming to RCN: "Hello... Hello... Can you hear me now? Sorry, the Internet is a bitch up in here!" Never the less, I must give some credit to Janus Friis - A Dane by the way. Skype has definitely made international communication a lot easier. Exactly that has been at the time-consuming center of a project that I have been involved with over the last month: Global Concerns.

Global Concerns is a conference that is held once per term here at RCN. Students choose a topic and organize a day of activities, debate and workshops. Everyone must participate in organizing one Global Concern in their two years here, and this term it my time. The first thing that needed to be done was to find a theme. We had quite a bit of debate about what to do but ended up with a somewhat special model. Our theme was "Discrimination" with the four subtopics "ethnic minorities", "womens rights", "disabilities" and "religion". Each subtopic had 3-4 workshops. We decided to go for a somewhat provocative approach and made workshops with names like "Don't marry the Jew", "Don't worry, I only ran into a door" and "They see me rolin', they hatin'". We also divided all the students into different areas of the cafeteria depending on things like hair color, relationship status and whether or not they had gotten into a university yet. I actually think it worked the way we wanted. People got just a little offended, and than launched them out of their seats to take part in the debate on discrimination.

Most of my work was in a different area though. Because another thing that was special about the Global Concerns conference was that we worked together with another UWC school - In Swaziland! From the very beginning it was on our agenda that we wanted to cooperate with another school and produce something. Since I have a bit of experience with IT, I was put in charge of that part. We ended up working with UWC Waterford Kamhlaba and basically synchronizing our programs. They used our topic and subtopics and created a theme day with their own workshops, ten thousand kilometers away. All the workshops here and in Swaziland then produced material and this was uploaded to THIS BLOG by the end of the day. Working with young people like me on the other side of the planet was a lot of fun, but it was also a challenge. There are a lot of interesting things to learn about communicating and organizing projects over the internet. You can also read more about the project on the website of TALK TOGETHER, from whom we received a lot of help with exactly that.

I also had a personal project that I used the Global Concerns conference as a starting engine for. I have been puzzling for a long time with how I could do a project to make the UWC more disability friendly and that idea finally came to me when we were organizing the conference. I went to a combined school for disabled and non-disabled students a few years back and there I got to experience a lot of different perspectives on disabilities and live-study communities like the UWC schools. Now, 3 years later that gave me the idea of creating Accesibility@UWC. Accessibility @ UWC is a writing project to promote accessibility for disabled students at the United World College schools and all other live-study communities. The idea is to create a collection of articles on the issue. These articles should come from as many perspectives and have as many formats as possible. In this way, Accessibility @ UWC can be used as a database of stories and experiences from people with different lives, different roles and different opinions regarding how to create live-study communities that are accessible to disabled students. From the subtopic of disabilities, I got a lot of interesting material - Including a video of my room mate Feng from China answering the very question I am asking with the project: "What can WE do to help someone who has a disability?". You can read more about the project HERE.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

x0sin(tω+O), if the weather allows it!

Last week was PBL week, and I taught a First Aid Cause. It was tons of fun, but also a little exhausting. So what is the best way to spend a relaxing weekend, when it is -10o and snowing in Flekke? Surfing of cause! After grading papers on the difference between hypo and hyperglycemia this Friday, I had about 20 minutes to run back and get my backpack ready. This weekend was devoted to concurring the waves together with my physics teacher Chris and three of my co-years. Here is a summery if you are busy: Five guys, five surfboards, five hours of driving, two giant boxes of food and one person who actually knew how to surf.

I must admit that when I noticed the snow on the mountain side and saw the temperature on Chris' smart phone, I had one of those: Why-the-hell-did-I-sign-up-for-this moments. But in comically tight and thick wet suits, it is actually possible to stay in the (almost) freezing North Sea for hours on end! So that is what we did. We had two full days of surfing, and it was just what I needed. On the first day, the water was almost scary. There is not exactly much you can do, when you are paddling out into the water on your surfboard and then encounter a friendly little wave breaking 3 feet above your head. The result is usually a splash, followed by about 20 seconds of spinning around in the water and thinking "Please don't hit me in the head, Mr Surfboard!" Never the less, we carried on and tried our best to get on a wave for about four hours, before we went back to the cabin. The second day featured smaller waves and less wind. By the end, I actually managed to catch quite a few waves. I kid you not!

Oh and guess what we are studying in physics at the moment: Waves. There really is no escaping from school at this place! Chris has been a physics teacher for many years and actually wrote the Pearson IB Physics Book. I wonder if that was why I could spend most of my time splashing around next to my surf board, while watching him glide smoothly towards the beach. If he did bring a calculator to predict where the waves would break, he managed to hide it quite well! The real physics behind the waves in an ocean is extremely complicated. But IB physics can actually give quite a bit of input to our watery observations. For example: As a wavefront progresses towards the beach, its medium changes because the water becomes more and more shallow. This means that the waves travel slower and thus squeeze together. This increases the hight of the wave, until it eventually tips over and throws me off my surfboard. Hence, it is nice to know where there are big rocks and other objects lying on the seabed, because it can be used to predict when the wave breaks. No GDC calculator required! I have actually noticed a tendency that teachers often seem to see a lot of things through the lens of their subject. I guess that academics do not only aid your understanding of the world, but also change your perspective. Let that be an addition to the fake Nielson Mandela quote below.

And then there was all the other stuff: We had plenty of time in the cabin to watch (non-Swedish) movies and just hang out. We also had a lot of assorted food, which did not seem to follow any meal plan or logic. I think we were just given a random selection from the storage room. It was abundant never the less. We also walked a bit around in the nature and found a great, big rubber sausage to jump on. That made for a good physics blog post. In general it was just nice to get off campus for a while. Even though we are a tiny community of 200 students, it can sometimes seem hard to find an opportunity to just hang out and do nothing in the middle of all the fuss. Getting up early for a long breakfast works quite well, but it is not nearly as relaxing as a weekend away. I got back on campus, finished my extended essay, caught the flu, got all better, worked on a project with UWCs in Swaziland and Canada, had an economics test, watched a scary movie, filed a load of papers for college, skyped my mom and now it's weekend again. The great times are rolling, but they're roiling towards the shore!

Links: Chris Hamper's Blog & Physics Site

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Learn before you teach" - Nielson Mandela

Okay, so a few weeks ago, I got in a huge argument with my Swedish co-year Stella, because she told me "You must learn before you can teach!" I proposed that this was a load male bovine of excrements, and in her defense she said that it was so smart that it actually sounded like Nielson Mandela could have said it. This heated discussion went on for about half an hour. Interestingly, it was not going to be long before I would have the chance to test her hypothesis in real life. This week was Project Based Learning Week and I have been teaching all those lively little first years in the annual 12-hour first aid course.

The 12-hour course is an expanded version of the standard Norwegian course from the Red Cross. I did the curse last year and then went on to join first aid team for higher qualifications. Our team splits into two main groups during the course: the group leaders and the workshop instructors. Group leaders give the basic training and then follow group around as they progress through 10 different workshops. Workshop instructors instruct workshops. I went for the latter, which meant that I would be assisting a group leader on the first day and then having a workshop on a specific topic. The workshop that I requested was not a classically popular one amongst instructors: Diabetes - not enough screaming and blood, I guess. But to me it seemed like an interesting challenge to convey something that can be quite theoretical and dry in a practical and interesting way.

My workshop lasted for 25 minutes and had three goals: To teach the participants to understand what diabetes is, to teach them to recognize when a diabetic is having problems and to teach them what to do in order to help. That is not so little, and my presentation was quite high pace. However, I was extremely impressed by the first years and their ability to pay attention and absorb during the information packed lesson. I first explained a bit about why learning about diabetes is important (because you may end up saving the life of a friend - 5% of the world population suffers from some form of diabetes) and then I taught the role of insulin in the body; type I and type II diabetes; hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia with causes, symptoms and how to help; and in the end I showed how to use testers an insulin pens. The most important lesson about the last thing is that you are never - NEVER - allowed to inject someone with insulin. However, you can assist quite a lot if you recognize how to use all the stuff.

Teaching is a learning experience (except in Russia, where there is just one word for the two). I learned a lot of new stuff about diabetes, and I think that I am even more prepared to deal with hyper/hypoglycemia now than I was before. But I also learned a lot about the process of teaching in general. I taught my workshop to more than a hounded people during a day and then graded exams the next. I discovered that teaching requires a great amount of energy. I had to constantly keep my energy up to not loose the hard earned attention of my students, which is probably why I drank five cups of coffee that day. Saying sharp is crucial, even when you teach the same material again and again. New questions will arise, so you constantly have to think about what you are saying. Even if you thank that you know it all by heart. With that in mind, I think it is time that I propose my own fake quote: "You must teach before you can learn... Take that Stella!" - Nielson Mandela

By the way, you should all learn how to do CPR:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oliver, the Arab

Every once in a while at Red Cross Nordic, we all drop everything we have in our busy hands and do a PBL. I generally try to avoid the use of Cryptic acronyms here on my blog, but I think this one requires an explanation. A PBL (or Project Based Learning) week is when we all stop what we are doing (yes, that includes homework) and spend a week doing some project. Any project. Actually, our PBLs span all the way from climbing over learning guitar and geopolitical debates to horseback riding in Dream Vally. I did a glacier trip, an MUN and a first aid course last year, so now I figured that it was time for a more cultural approach. Hence, Arabic PBL.

Our two volunteers from Western Sahara had the task of teaching us how to live, speak and eat like proper Arabs in just one week. They did a great job! I especially liked the big dinner on the last night, where we all dressed up for a classical Saharawi feast. I think the most challenging thing about Arabic culture for me was eating with my fingers. Not that I am particularly hysterical about hygiene, but eating with my hands is something that I connect with pizza and a movie; and not with eating a rice stew in a dangerously white Saharawi national dress. Never the less, I overcame.

The PBL also contained an introduction to the Arabic language. While taking a break from calculus, Camus and Cepheid variables, sitting in a circle and singing the alphabet song was quite a nice contrast. By the end of the week, I put together a song of the various phrases that I had learned. Not exactly Shakespeare, it went something in the lines of: "Hello. How are you? How much is the butter? You are very pretty." I call it my One Week of Arabic Arab Love Song.

Another very important part of the weak was learning about the situation in Western Sahara. Both of the girls who conducted the week are Saharawis living in the Algerian refugee camps. It was an amazing experience to hear them telling the stories of their lives and their country. It is worth your time. Learning about the Arab world in general is actually something that is worth anyone's time. Especially now when so much is happening in a part of the world that so many of us know so little about. In fact, I think everyone needs to be an Arab from time to time, even if it is only for a week.