It was toasty warm with the heater on when I woke up at 3:45 am (I’m counting on the fact that if I keep waking and sleeping at the wrong times I can’t possibly be jet-lagged when I get back to work on Friday but am not quite sure of the science or logic behind this). The Saturday morning weather forecast was still predicting record-breaking temperatures (low ones) when I first switched on the television but shortly after dawn, out of my bedroom window it looked beautifully sunny. Being short has its advantages – when I sit at the desk in the corner of my room, all I can see out of the window is blue sky and a beautiful tree line. It’s only when I stand up that I realise my room overlooks a train line and car park. The colours of the autumn leaves are absolutely fabulous at the moment. I resolved to take fewer leaf photos today, but forgave myself for yesterday’s excessive numbers of tree pictures because I had clearly missed deciduous trees more than I had realised since emigrating to Perth. The plan is to upload some photos over the next 24 hours, if I can get the IT working. Perhaps every school tour should involve an IT expert travelling with the party!
We ate breakfast together at 7 o’clock and the junior team set off with Mr Bacon on the shuttle bus at 7:30 for their opening ceremony and scavenger’s hunt. The senior team didn’t have to make the trip in to Yale until lunchtime, so they planned to spend the morning studying for this afternoon’s challenge (an apparently gruelling set of 60 multiple choice questions completed in two hours), collaborative writing task and team debates. Even the discussion over breakfast proved to be good preparation for the academic nature of today’s competition as the boys educated me about recent years of Australian politics and we indulged in some excellent political discussion regarding same-sex marriage, Mrs Thatcher and Brexit. They knew a lot and I was impressed. Other teams seemed to be focusing more on factual recall and rote learning; ours seemed to be emphasising the need to think and argue points backed up by evidence. I have no idea which strategy will be more successful in the competition, but I know which type of learning will serve them well in later life and I was proud that GGS has contributed to these boys being so well-informed and able to argue a case. The boys had a couple of hours of study ahead of them – they were using Quizlet and various other resources they had brought with them. When I asked how I could help with the study, they politely made it clear that they’d actually quite like to be left to get on with it, so I retired to clear up my own room and sort out some more school emails. I did wonder exactly how many more people would email me because they wanted to change the subjects they’d chosen for next year and I decided that I would sort all the queries and requests out when I’m back at my desk and have all the right paperwork in front of me, rather than worrying about it now.
The shuttle bus for the senior team was booked for 11:30 am and after further wrangling and failed attempts (nobody here seems capable of keeping a valid, up to date list of who has booked what for when, and today’s added complication was that the shuttle bus driver is also apparently the handyman and was required to fix something on the second floor before resuming his driving duties) we set off for lunch at Harkness Hall. The triple goose down jacket I’d borrowed from a friend recently returned from Canada was put to good use. Along with all my thermals, scarf and gloves, I felt that I might actually survive the day’s weather. The boys looked resplendent in their winter uniform and were looked at approvingly by a number of people on the way out, which I don’t think they noticed.
Lunch consisted of rather delicious wood-fired pizza eaten on the street (I wasn’t convinced by the mashed potato and cheese pizza, but the other flavours were fabulous) and preceded dropping the boys off at the medical school for their first two tasks – the multiple choice assessment and the writing challenge. Teachers weren’t allowed in for these tasks, so I took the opportunity to visit the Yale Museum of British Art and enjoyed a guided tour of some impressive artworks. The museum had recently been renovated using a strange mixture of materials (NZ wool carpets, travertine floors, concrete walls, some walls lined with Belgian linen and others with local white oak wood) and also had some innovative ways of displaying the artworks, including a long gallery which had huge numbers of paintings all hung together as a sort of collage. The tour guide was a Yale student and very enthusiastic about four paintings which she asked us to observe and then drew out various themes based on our answers. For a teacher, her enquiry approach was a fascinating process and I thoroughly enjoyed the hour off. [https://britishart.yale.edu/exhibitions/britain-world] I wondered whether I would be able to persuade the boys to come and visit the Yale Art Museum opposite during their morning off tomorrow (but didn’t count on my powers of persuasion being influential enough for this).
I raced back to the medical school to meet the team, only to discover that the competition was running about an hour late. We were starting to expect this! A happy power nap for me in the nicely heated lobby ended when the kids ended their session and came out to wake me up. The team seemed relatively happy with their efforts and resolved to not do too much of a post-mortem on who had written what. It was a swift walk of about 20 minutes to the next venue, in which the three team debates took place. I had pictured an auditorium with a vast audience (this was the only competition section today where teachers were allowed to observe the proceedings provided they didn’t attempt to help in any way) but I was the only audience in all three debates, which felt a bit weird. It was good to have the chance to listen to the boys debate. The first one started slightly late (on top of the hour we were already behind schedule) as one of the opposition’s team members had got lost on the way and the poor thing arrived looking very flustered and upset. I provided him with tissues to help him sort himself out, but I didn’t imagine the proposed motion would have helped him feel any better – the students had to debate that “Under dog stories should not be romanticised”. Ten minutes was not long to prepare for this sort of thing. And although devices were used to look up some things, I was heartened to watch our boys construct their arguments on palm cards and bits of paper. We lost the first debate. Strange – I had assumed we’d won, because I felt the other team ranted and spoke so quickly they were barely comprehensible, but I’m not a debating judge, so I shouldn’t question (and I’m biased, because I obviously wanted our team to win!). The second debate was that “We should plan for the worst” and we won convincingly; the third we lost, arguing that “Scientific discoveries are more valuable when they are unlikely”. The boys did well and I was pleased with their efforts, which we talked about all the way to the Shake Shack where we had a very late (and well-deserved) dinner before travelling back to the hotel for bed.
For a change today, the junior team arrived ‘home’ a very long time before we did, and were already in bed when we got back. So I’ll report on their day when we’ve met up tomorrow. I must take some more photographs, too – because it was below zero for much of the day, getting my hands out of gloves was very unappealing, so apologies for that.
The boys did some room swapping before bed – the plan was that by the end of the trip, everyone has spent time with each of the other students in their team and nobody has felt left out. It would have been ideal to have a bedroom with three beds for each team, but the hotel couldn’t provide that, so we’ll switch around. It will have the added (hidden) advantage of meaning that every couple of days there is a bit of a tidy up, too.
I learnt many things today. You can get ‘fries with cheese’ which means chips with pink melted gloop on them. They look disgusting but taste quite nice. I (re)learnt that when your hands get really, really cold, they hurt and they need exceptionally thick hand cream to repair the damage. I learnt that it helps you understand art works if you have an expert guiding your thinking and encouraging you to observe a painting really carefully and spot the bits that you otherwise would never have seen. But most importantly, I learnt that the way our students behave away from home and the GGS campus is fantastic. The way they compete with sportsmanship, congratulating other teams and being pleased with their wins without being over the top and arrogant; the way they work together to support each other through disappointment and anxiety; the way they respectfully open doors and thank people for their service - all of these reflect the values of teamwork, compassion and respect that we work so hard to encourage in GGS students. There are clearly a lot of things we get right at Guildford.
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