Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Way Things Work

Some things are just a little different on this side of the world.


Many things are very different on this side of the world.  One of the most interesting adjustments is the lack of standards.  I'm not talking about standards of quality here, though that is another discussion.  I'm talking about the assembly line and interchangeable parts and all those other 2nd Industrial Revolution developments of 100+ years ago.

Everything is done custom.  Sounds expensive, huh?  In fact, it's quite cheap here.  Underpaid laborers are much cheaper than automating factories with machines.  Again, another story.

We've been looking to purchase a new drying rack.  What was wrong with the old drying rack?  Almost nothing.  It worked just fine.  It was a little small.  Though it could hold 150 papers or something, it was best with A4 paper or a little larger (perhaps 12x16).  My 38cm x 52cm paper hung over the sides by about 15cm.  In the picture, most of the papers are half-size.  Half-size (26cm x 38cm fits quite nicely).

Still, the main problem was one drying rack---two art classes.  Separated by a flight of stairs.  Really, it was my drying rack.  The secondary students and teacher never used it.

So we budgeted to buy another drying rack.  From the states.

Seems silly for a wire rack that ships partially or fully ASSEMBLED.  At $150-$300 per rack, plus shipping across the Pacific Ocean...yeah, that's a beast.

Enter Shine Hou.  She makes our school run.  As "Assistant to the Facilities Manager," I firmly believe she is the reason our buildings don't fall down and our electricity works each day!  Today was her last day before her maternity leave.  I will miss her dearly.

Shine decided such a simple metal structure should be easy to get welded in China.  Shine did her undergraduate studies in Industrial Design, and has great English!  She put her workers on the task and next thing I knew, the maintenance men were asking for drawings of the structure.

At this point in time, my colleague decided she would just as well take my drying rack and let me custom design what I wanted for the classroom.  What a joy!

I looked at a number of designs online.  I decided I needed it to function in two main ways---to hold paper that is approximately A4 or slightly larger and to hold my 38cm x 52cm paper (a staple in my room for painting projects).  While the rolling paper rack certainly has its advantages, and I'd just trained all the students this year to carefully put their own paintings on the rack, I decided to make use of my countertop space.

It seems like countertop space should be sacred.  It is certainly a finite resource.  Yet one of my biggest skills is the ability to collect clutter on any flat surface.  Just check my office desk, my bedroom floor, or my classroom countertops for proof.  If I committed countertop space to the drying racks, it would at least be organized!  Bingo.  That's my theme for the year.

So I set down to design the perfect drying racks.  The drying racks would have an identical footprint, 40cm x 60cm, and be 50-some cm tall.  One drying rack would be single sided and open to the front, to hold the infamous 38cm x 52cm paper.  The other drying rack would be double sided, like the rolling version, to hold twice as many small pieces. 

The price was set at RMB 2400.  About $350.  It was higher than I anticipated, higher than I wanted, but it was two racks, and no shipping cost.  Plus it was less than we budgeted for buying and shipping one from the states.  And it would fit my paper and my countertop perfectly.


If only the welder had used the correct dimensions.

After three or more weeks of waiting, a fabulous 40cm x 40 cm x 50-something cm drying rack arrived in my classroom.  In Shine's wisdom, she had suggested we only agree to one rack and check the quality.  The construction was fine, the paint job was fine (a key issue since we don't want the metal to rust), but the dimensions were not fine.

My paper didn't fit. 

I don't know how the welder got confused.  The Chinese read 0123456789.  And the diagram was clearly not a square design.

Despite the awkward, almost unusable size (they also added too many support pieces which makes it difficult to slide in a paper), I still love looking at my countertop and seeing the brand-new, custom-made drying rack.  We negotiated a reduced-rate for the erronious rack.  We've also taken the risk of ordering the two correct racks.  I think we've gone over the diagrams enough times to make it clear for this second try.  If not, I can always give the three awkward racks to the new art teacher next year and hold onto my rolling rack...

Did you notice the lamp structures in front of the drying rack?  How could you miss them!  Fourth grade is designing paper lamp shades again to coincide with their science unit on electricity.  We glued the first paper shades on today!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taste the Rainbow

I've been without a camera for most of this school year. Sadness. My digital camera started acting up in the fall. I keep meaning to get it fixed. Though it might be cheaper in the states, or at least more cost-effective in the long run, to buy a new camera, labor is incredibly cheap here. Our tech guy suggested I see about getting it fixed. Easier said than done. I know a few camera stores in the states. I know no camera stores in China. And if I were to find the location of one (I'm certain there are dozens in my city), well then I'd still need to communicate with the employee. Alas, I am determined to attempt this feat before I go back to the states for the summer.

That all to say, I had a camera in my hands on Friday and couldn't stop taking pictures of my room. It started by trying to document the color in my life. I have rainbows throughout my classroom. I went to write about this today, but as I discovered, I haven't written about the renovations to my classroom. Most were cosmetic. Other differences from last year are about my desire to increase my systematic organization. With a year under my belt, I decided it was a good time to address how I used the space last year and how I could better use it this year. Plus, I found lots of great ideas online and a new year was the best time to introduce new systems to the kids.

So here's a taste of the rainbows in my classroom.

Can you see it?  It's subtle.  This is both rainbow AND organization.  Last year, my TA randomly selected colors for the covers of the students' sketchbook.  Some were pastel shades.  Some were bright shades.  5th grade was pastel pink.  What 5th grade boy wants a pastel pink sketchbook?

This year, I was very specific about the colors. 

For 1st through 5th grade, I teach two sections.  Five colors there, one per grade.  If I lump the 1 class of PreK and the 1 class of K together, that gives me a "6th" grade---or six colors.  RAINBOW.  Let's stick with the bright colors please...

I also nabbed a great shelving unit from my colleague's classroom.  She had some new cabinetry made to replace her largely inadequate storage.  In the process, she got rid of these two pieces.  Ten shelves, not very high each, are much better for storing student projects than the 8 shelves of last year.  1 class per shelf, 1st through 5th grade.  PreK and K go in another part of the classroom.  The left shelf holds the sketchbooks and some projects in process.  The right shelf (twice as long) holds other projects for that class.

The colors continue into these pockets, lining the bottom of my white board.  I stole this system from another art teacher who blogs about her classroom.  At the beginning of the year, the students made name cards.  All the laminated cards go in the left "Need a Job" pocket.  After students have a job, their card goes in the "Had a Job" pocket.  Once all the cards are in the "Had a Job" pocket, they get moved back to the "Need a Job" pocket.  What are the jobs, you ask?

Try not to laugh too hard.  I don't have chairs in my classroom.  While the other teacher had a "Chair Inspector," I needed to change the term to more accurately reflect my classroom, thus the "Stool Inspector." 

The name cards get displayed just to the right of the job using magnets.  This little display is on the very left of my whiteboard.

Below are some signs from last year.  My TA made the color wheel signs, along with most of the signs in my classroom.  I prefer her handwriting any day...the color wheel signs are in English, Chinese Characters, and Pinyin (alphabetical spelling of Mandarin).  Ignoring my ability to collect things on the top of my shelves (most of those items are 4th grade animal sculptures), notice the cork board walls!  And if you look closely, you'll notice the new hooks in the hallway.  Just a few of the changes since August 2008...

For you enjoyment, a few more rainbow spottings...

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