Friday, August 31, 2012

School in Scotland

Today I got to go to Cara’s school, Commercial Primary, for a “Fun Finish Friday”. All parents are invited into the classrooms the last 30 minutes of the school day for their children to share what they’ve been working on so far in the school year. There were 5 table groups, each with a station set up. They have been studying Vikings since the beginning of the year, and one of the tables we wrote in the Viking language “Runes”. Cara also showed me the 500 piece puzzle that was set up on a table & still needed some finishing. At the end of the day, the teacher draws a student’s name out of a jar to get to take home the class pet, Shadow. Shadow is a plastic dragon fortunately! Today Cara’s name was drawn, so we have a visitor this weekend. Cara will be writing what Shadow got to do this weekend & sharing it with the class on Monday.

Cara only goes to one special, music, her classroom teacher incorporates the rest, although they do have one day for PE, when her teacher takes the whole class either outside or to an inside gym.

Carter has a really interesting schedule at his school, Dunfermline High School. In Scotland, high school goes from 6th or 7th grade through about 11th. This year he is studying the following classes: English, Maths (yes, it’s called MATHS here), Physical Science, Drama, Home Economics, Physical Education, Geography, Design Technology (kind of like woodworking & design), Spanish, RMPS – religious, moral, and philosophical studies, Social Education and Technology. Some classes he has 4 days a week, some for 2 and some for just one. He doesn’t have any class every day other than registration which is like homeroom.
One interesting thing in both schools is that students have about a 50 minute lunch break. Most kids stay at school and have some of that time for lunch and some for recess, but students are allowed to leave school to go home for lunch. In high school, some students walk into town for lunch! Often, Carter plays “football”/soccer during part of his lunch break.

Another interesting thing is that the majority of students walk to school. If you live within 2 miles of the school, no bus service is provided. So almost every morning, we bundle up and walk to school. Cara’s school is only about 9 minutes away, but it takes at least 30 minutes to get to Carter’s school! We often have rain, so we keep umbrellas and rain jackets handy. Today it was about 49 degrees Fahrenheit on our walk this morning, on the last day of August!!

Oh yeah, did you know that here you have to wear a uniform EVERY day? And both girls and boys wear ties as part of their uniform?!

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about our school experience so far. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A fun weekend

The last few days have been pretty fun. We’ve been to Glasgow and the Bruce Festival in Dunfermline.

It was a long drive to Glasgow, but eventually we got there.

In Glasgow we went to the transportation museum. Inside they had a skateboarding exhibit, a test crash vehicle with a video you could play and speed up or slow motion and a subway display. Next we went onto the Tall Ship in Glasgow Harbor. A tall ship has really tall masts. This one had three of them. There were four different decks, each of them telling about what life was like living on the ship. My favorite parts were probably climbing the riggings, ringing the bell and using the cargo system.

Later we went to Pollok Park where we got to play at a playground. We also got to see the highland cattle there. I rode my scooter around the grounds.

On Sunday we went to the Bruce Festival. There was archery, falconry and also a battle re-enactment.

We went to McDonalds for the first time in Scotland because many other places weren’t open.  The McDonalds here isn’t that much different from the ones back in the US, however I did have fish sticks instead of chicken nuggets.

Today, school is closed for me because the water isn’t working. We were already out the door, walking to school and mom got a text saying that my school was closed. This meant we didn’t have to walk the 30 minutes to school in the rain!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Busy weekend

Friday – After dropping the kids off at school, I met up with Gillian, the Scottish Teacher Exchange President, and she took me on a tour of Culross (cure – ross). It is a quaint historic town on the Firth of Forth (the bay). We walked through a bit of a garden and then up a hill to the abbey. It was quite small but in good condition.
Culross Abbey
We ate lunch at a tea room in town and then had to head back so I could pick up Cara from school. While riding along in the car, I took the opportunity to ask lots of road sign questions!

Saturday – Today we decided just to go for a drive and head east along the coast. I got to navigate and after a few wandering turns, we ended up in the town of Aberdour right around lunch time. We found a parking spot just next to the train station, which was quite photogenic. Lunch ended up being sausage roll, steak bridie and a macaroni & cheese pie from a local bakery. While eating, we wandered down the road to Aberdour Castle and gardens.
Aberdour Castle
Thistle - symbol of Scotland
We met the nicest lady working in the gift shop who gave Jim an on the spot history lesson! Although the castle was a ruin, two interesting features were a huge part of tower that had fallen onto the ruins and a dovecot. Carter enjoyed climbing a bit of the fallen tower. The dovecot was beehive shaped with places built inside for birds to nest.
Dovecot behind Jim
After leaving the castle and gardens, we walked toward the water with a stop for the kids to play at a playground. Playgrounds in Scotland are amazing! There are such unusual play features that you would never find in the US because of liability and lawsuits. We found a blue flag beach (award winning) with lots of shells and kelp and a few rocks to skip.  Any time we can find some water and sand, we have happy kids.

Stirling Castle
Sunday – To top off our weekend, we decided to head to Stirling. Once again I was navigating (with two different maps and the GPS/Sat Nav all at once). This time the wrong directions were not my fault. The GPS, which wasn’t the newest, wanted to take us on road that no longer existed on the way to the M9 (which is like interstate highway), however we had planned to take more back roads to get a better view of the land and towns. The views of Stirling on approach were really amazing because the castle is up on a hill, so we could see it from quite a ways away.

We got to the castle and had a wonderful visit. We found a kids castle quiz, so after answering a few questions we had our picnic lunch and then joined up with a kids guided tour looking for the mystery of Douglas’ bones.

Cara following clues to Douglas' bones

The guide was really good with the kids & quite funny. Right at the end of the kids’ tour, we saw a group of musicians gathering. It turns out that a group from Canada who had been performing at the Tattoo in Edinburgh was doing a special performance at the castle!

Once we were inside the actual castle, it was quite nicely restored. The colors were bright and the paintings on the ceilings looked almost new. There were people in historic costumes explaining each of the rooms. In one room Carter came upon a leather soccer type of ball that was discovered in the rafters when renovations were being done.
According to the interpreter, it was the oldest known soccer ball in existence. There was a section of interactive kids activity rooms where you could dress up, play old musical instruments, etc.

The audio tour that was part of the admission was also helpful. As our tour was winding down, we were able to view a sword/knife fighting demonstration.
We finished up our tour of Stirling by walking in to explore the town – Jim and Cara got into a little bit of trouble – maybe they were trying to steal something from “Carter’s Toy Store”!? Joking!!
Carter's Toy Store on the shop behind him

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First week of School

This past week Cara, Carter, and myself all started school.  I led things off on Monday with a couple of inset days (teacher workdays).  My head was swimming with the different acronyms and also trying to wrap my head around my timetable (schedule).  High school in Scotland differs from high school in the US in several ways.  First of which is the actual grade levels of students.  My school, Kirkcaldy High School, is a secondary school with grades S1 through S6, which is essentially grades 6 through 11 in the US.  With the exception of a few 5th and 6th year classes, students will only be with their own grade levels.  Students also do not attend the same classes every day.  As a maths teacher (yes, math is plural in the UK), I see some classes 4 times a week, or 5 times a week, and I even have a couple of 2nd year numeracy classes which meet only once a week.  The class that I teach 5 times a week (Intermediate 2 which is a 5th & 6th year class) actually meets for an additional maths period with another teacher, so those students have maths 6 times during a week.  I do have a planning period every day of the week and on Wednesdays I have two.  However, my planning changes from day to day as well as the times in which my classes meet.  Needless to say, after three days of teaching, I am still very confused as to what class I am seeing. The actual mathematics is still very much the same, but I miss knowing the pre-requisite skills that the students come to the class with since maths is more of an integrated curriculum in Scotland.

Cara had her first day of school on Tuesday at Commercial Primary, where she is enrolled as a P3 which is equivalent to 2nd grade in NC.  Her teacher is Ms. Ross and Cara is very excited about going to school.  The night before the first day of school, she packed her lunch and laid out her school uniform so she could be ready for it.  Stacy walked her to school and the principal introduced Cara to the class announcing that “Cara is a very special student coming from America”.  She has been to school four days and is still very excited about it.

Carter got to wait until Thursday for his first day of school and he began school in Scotland as an S1 meaning he is in his 1st year of high school.  His school, Dunfermline High School, just opened a new campus, so the schools’ teachers got an extra workday as well as a limited beginning as to the year level of students.  The S5’s and S6’s started on Wednesday and the S1’s started Thursday and the other classes will be added each day.  The upper classmen started on the first day so they could know their way around school and be able to later show the younger students around campus and teach them how things are done at the school.  At my school the upper classmen walked the new students to class and showed them how to deal with the cafeteria and were even matched up as buddies.  Carter has enjoyed school and is excited to take many different classes.  He found out that in PE class, if he remembers to bring his PE clothes and dress out every time he has PE, then he will get to go to a football match (soccer game for the uneducated) at the end of the year.  Last year it was Premier League match so Carter is very excited about that possibility.

Stacy has been getting her exercise walking Cara and Carter to school.   Cara’ school is relatively close by, only a 9 minute walk or about ½ mile.  Carter’s school is over 1.5 miles and is probably closer to 2 miles since they have to walk around the demolition of the old school.  So Stacy gets at least a 3 mile walk in the morning and another one in the afternoon, and sometimes she takes a detour into the town center of Dunfermline so that adds even more distance.   Very few parents drive their kids to school and even if Stacy wants to, it is difficult since I usually have the only car and am driving to my school which is about 13 miles away.  I plan on carpooling some as things settle down for me at school but so far Stacy is surviving on foot.  We’ll see how it goes later as the weather turns to more rain, more wind, and colder temperatures.

All in all, the Pielow’s had a great 1st week of school and we look forward to many more.  However, we really look forward to the weekends, term breaks, and holidays so we can see the sites of Scotland, the rest of Great Britain, as well as Europe.

So far

So, Scotland is pretty good so far. We’ve been to St. Andrews and played golf, it’s rained a bazillion times, and we’ve seen the military tattoo in Edinburgh. We played and watched football matches, my dad and I walked just a half mile up the street from our house to watch a football match between Scotland and Belgium – U21s. We also have played on a recreational team on Friday.

 School has been pretty good, I’ve made a few friends, have pretty good classes, and there’s a lot of other fun stuff. Some of the classes I’ve been to so far are IT – technology, DET – woodworks & design, GG – Geography, and SP – Spanish.

 I can’t wait to go on trips to Ireland, Germany, Italy, France, and other places in Europe. Oh, and I’ve watched Mr. Bean (no idea what he says) on tv, there is a cartoon series and a comedy series that he is in. The accent really hasn’t been that hard – I haven’t had any problems at school understanding my teachers or classmates.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

St. Andrew's driving trip

Today we had a fun day driving up to St. Andrews. On the way, we stopped in Cupar at Cairnie fruit farm. Besides all kinds of fruit that you can pick (strawberries, raspberries, etc.), they also have a huge play area. The best part were trampolines built into the ground that you could jump on – FUN even for grown ups!!!
at Cairnie Fruit Farm
go-kart racers
Entrance to the Maze - notice the Olympic theme
There were also had pedal powered go karts, slides, a huge hay bale play area, and a giant corn maze. We didn’t bring any baskets, but bought some fresh berries in their gift shop - Scottish raspberries are delicious!!

Next we headed the rest of the way to St. Andrews. We ate at a pub recommended by Graeme, walked through a street fair, and made our way to the cathedral. The cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation, but quite interesting to walk through. Then we made our way out to the end of a pier with views of the North Sea.
St. Andrew's Cathedral
Afterwards, the girls went back to town to browse some shops, while Jim and Carter went to the “mini-golf” at St. Andrews, right next to the Old Course. Mini golf was actually a miniature course of real grass, hills and holes.
This one's for you, Hunter!
mini-golf course
It was another wonderful day out enjoyed by the entire family!!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Edinburgh & the Tattoo

Yesterday we ventured in to Edinburgh via train. We had purchased a friends and family railcard and got a fabulous discounted price on the train tickets! The kids really enjoyed seeing everything from the windows on our ride south. The little harbor villages we saw on the south side of the firth were quaint & adorable.

Once we arrived in Edinburgh, we got tickets for a hop on-hop off bus tours. We sat on the upper deck, which was quite comfortable (not too cold), and enjoyed the views & amazing architecture.
Carter's friend the bagpipe player
We brought a picnic lunch & ate in Princes Park. Carter & Cara played tag in Princes Park & chased the seagulls & swung from a tree.
View of Edinburgh from the Castle

Cara with the One o'clock Gun
Part of Edinburgh Castle
We toured Edinburgh Castle and eventually found a pub for dinner to rest our weary feet. After dinner and another round of playing in the park, we rode the bus (which was almost deserted) and took another tour of the city with a different guide.
Great seats in section 2!
Finally at 9 pm, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo began. It is a display of military bands from all over the world. I believe we saw bands from different parts of the UK, Australia, USA (based in Italy), Switzerland, Norway and more. Several of them did some serious music & then a totally different and sometimes funny segment.

Top Secret Band
At the Tattoo, Carter liked the bicycle guys that were supposed to represent Dennis the Menace. One of the Australian bands was dancing crazy, came up in the stands & gave Carter & Jim a high 5!!

Cara liked the Edinburgh castle & looking at the Crown Jewels. At the Tattoo, Cara liked all the Ceilidh dancers & the images that were projected on the castle walls.

One of the bands did a segment of James Bond music – Jim kept looking in the sky for parachutes, but his favorite part was the opening with all the bagpipers playing.
Bagpipes at the beginning of the Tattoo
We made it back to our train and were home shortly before midnight, a loooooooooooooonnnnggg day, but definitely fun and worthwhile!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 2 - no we are not going to continue with daily posts...

Woke this morning feeling better, enjoyed a light breakfast & then the unpacking started… I felt exhausted half way through unpacking from jet lag (or was that just an excuse to take a break), but got all of the clothing put away. The kids did a fantastic job finding spaces to put all their things – since they put them away themselves, hopefully they’ll remember where to find everything.

We were delightfully surprised this morning with a visit from Gillian Armstrong, a former Fulbrighter, who lives in Dunfermline not too far away. She offered to take us around Dunfermline a little as well as the grocery store. We first hit a shop to pick up a carseat for Cara and then on to a grocery store, Asda, which is owned by Wal-Mart. I’m so glad we had Gillian along, as the selection was quite overwhelming (I could have spent several hours just looking at all the choices)! We were invited to join her another day for a better tour of the town and dinner as well.

After lunch and naps, we headed out for an afternoon walk. It was an overcast day with rain off and on, but other than a light mist at the beginning, the rain held off. On a late-afternoon Sunday it seems much is closed already. We tried a couple of places, but they had closed at 5 pm. I found a Costa Coffee shop on the high street and a little caffeine helped the headache I’ve had.
Colorful Cara in snow/rain boots

I'm guessing this is a cross-walk? I didn't see the zebras!

View up High Street/Main Street

beautiful church doors

There were little snails on many walls that Carter was fascinated by

I think Carter's jealous that his sister got a ride

This evening we cooked a couple of pizzas – adventures with a gas oven & how to operate it!! We also used the heated shower & figured it out as well. Overall we are feeling quite comfortable and better rested.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Perfect Beginning

Scotland – Day 1 - We arrived in the Scotland yesterday and were treated to perfect weather!!!!!
We left Baltimore at 9:20 for our flight to Edinburgh via London Heathrow.  As we are boarding the plane, my ticket beeps strangely as she is checking the family in.  I was then told there was a problem with the individual TV’s at our seats and they had to give us an upgrade.  We still got to sit together but the seats were larger and we got a few more perks.  The kids were impressed with the packet of things we got such as the face sleeping mask, socks, and toothbrush.  I did not sleep much on the flight, but I think Stacy, Carter, and Cara got a couple of hours in. 
We arrived in Heathrow around 9:30 and went through customs.  Due to some Fulbright flight requirements, Stacy and the kids were on a separate flight than I was to Edinburgh.  While waiting in terminal 5, we are looking for our next connections.  It was at this time that I realized that my flight was not listed on the board and I asked an attendant why.  I was told that I was at the wrong terminal.  So I was moved through a security section and bussed over to my terminal.  Anyway, we all made it to Edinburgh Scotland and were met at the airport by Alastair Cromb (Graeme’s father).  He was very helpful to Stacy and the kids as they had to collect their bags and wait on me for about 40 minutes.  We went to the car and as Mr. Cromb went to pay for the parking, the family all loaded into the car.  I went to sit in the front left passenger seat and at that point I completely realized I was in Scotland because I saw a steering wheel. 
We drove to Dunfermline and shown into Graeme’s house or our house as we will think of it for the next year.  Mr. Cromb showed us around a bit and realizing that we were all rather tired, left us alone.  He was very nice and we look forward to having dinner and visiting with him in the coming days.  We all took about a 2 hour nap from 4:00 until 6:00 and then walked into the town center looking for dinner and found J D Wetherspoons pub.  They were out of fish and chips so Stacy and I got bangers and mash while the kids got chicken nuggets.  I also had to get a pint of the Abbot Ale which is a cask beer.
I really enjoyed walking around Dunfermline and could not have asked for better weather.  I do not know what the temperature was, but the sun was shining and the temperature was nowhere near the 90° temperatures that we were having in NC and DC.   I don’t think we could have asked for a more perfect day to arrive in Dunfermline Scotland and I look forward to the good weather (and rainy weather) to come as we continue our bonny year abroad.