Second Grade’s Seussical Showcase – My Last Student Teaching Project

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I am so proud to say that I made all of the decorations for our Showcase! Coming from someone with crafting anxiety, this is a big deal!Image

After presenting a biography of Dr. Seuss (and quizzing their parents!) my kiddos did a Reader’s Theatre (a type of play) of Oh The Places You’ll Go. They did AMAZING! It takes a lot of guts for a non-native speaker to ACT OUT Dr. Seuss’s complex rhymes. Their practice paid off. They also acted out The Sneetches – with a  homemade Star Off Machine.

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This was the presentation I was most proud of because I spent the most time prepping for it. In science, we have been learning about the different types of matter. After reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck, we made Oobleck in class! My students did the experiment with their parents today and taught them all about the special qualities of this non-Newtonian fluid. I was so impressed!

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My cooperating teacher, Wara, and I made our students Dr. Seuss Goodie bags as a surprise. They were filled with Truffala trees pencils, Dr. Seuss bookmarks, and Lorax mustaches. Between those fun things and the Seuss snacks the parents made, we had a party after the show!

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All in all, I fell in love with these kids. Seeing them interact with their parents and families today helped me to see them in a whole new light. I have adored watching them learn and I am so grateful to have been a part of their special Showcase today. It was truly an unforgettable and unique experience to have been working toward. I am much sadder about saying goodbye tomorrow than I thought I would be. Who would have guessed I would get THIS attached in only one month?

Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once, never wonder what they’re worth.

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This past weekend, I fell in love. There have been several places that have stolen my heart before but Mindo just might top the list. I can’t get over what a beautiful place it was and how serene it made me feel.

Saturday afternoon, after a two hour bus ride (that I slept through), we arrived in Mindo. Mindo is known as the Cloud Forest and is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Since we only had a little over 24 hours before we had to catch the bus home Sunday night, we knew we had to make the most of our time. We got settled in our hostel which was called Casa de Cecilia. We never met Cecilia, although we asked every employee if that was their name. We settled on believing that one of the stray dogs meandering around the hostel HAD to be Cecilia. Casa de Cecilia was, in all reality, a tree house. It was much more rustic than hostel.com made it out to be, but we came to love it – mosquito nets, unstable water temperature and all.

Within an hour of being in Mindo, I somehow found myself in a pickup truck, being driven to go Canopy (zipline)! I can’t believe I actually crossed that off my bucket list – in the RAIN FOREST – THREE TIMES. After a slight freakout on the first pedestal, in which I almost chickened out, I actually LOVED it. I would zipline again in a heartbeat. After ziplining, we booked out adventures for the next day with a sweet woman who cut us a deal on a butterfly garden tour, an orchid garden tour and a truck ride to the top of a canyon so we could hike through waterfalls!

We were so excited for the next day’s adventures but we also had an exciting Saturday night lined up. We caught the last tour of a Chocolate Factory (conveniently located about twenty steps from our hotel.) It was so interesting getting to tour and sample different types of chocolate all grown on the farm. The farm also produced lots of vegetables and fruit that they used for the restaurant associated with the factory. Of course we decided to eat there Saturday night. My chocolate margarita and chicken with chocolate sauce was definitely…interesting.  After dinner we literally followed the sounds of drums to an impromptu performance by some musicians. We still aren’t quite sure how it happened but somehow we ended up playing drums and maracas and singing with them! It was one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of and I honestly can’t explain the feeling we had participating in such a unique experience. 10277021_10203309558115419_1765755608684210531_n 10342507_10203309574675833_5992554425140009197_n 1959325_10203309538834937_7872422146208067629_n 10308229_10203309522874538_4021592069822697143_n

Our Sunday was just as lovely as we hoped it would be. We relaxed in the Hammocks de Cecilia for a while in the morning and then connected with our truck driver to head to the butterfly garden. We were able to watch butterflies hatch from their cocoons, feed and hold them at a very cool butterfly sanctuary that was breeding and releasing exotic butterflies. Later that day we also toured an orchid garden. Inbetween, we got in touch with our inner Glamazons and hiked to a waterfall. We had to take a suspended basket across the canyon but thanks to Banos we weren’t scared! Once we got over, it was about a 15 minute walk downhill to the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen! I was in love and had the best time exploring the cove around it. Our 15 minute walk down turned into about a 30 minute walk back up though – altitude makes it HARD to hike here! (Especially for those of us that don’t REALLY like hiking that much to begin with….) We were so glad we did it though!

In the midst of the most beautiful weekend of my life, I was continually overwhelmed by God’s creation. Between the sunset, the waterfall, the butterflies, the flowers and the glorious rain forest, I was awestruck. I was also, of course, reminded of my best friend Pocahontas. I had a great time painting with the colors of the wind this weekend, but for the rest of my trip I want to focus more on another line of my favorite Disney song. “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once, never wonder what they’re worth.” Here’s to being a little less focused on getting the perfect picture and a lot more focused on enjoying the perfect moment. That has been a HUGE takeaway for me this trip.

 

Preparing for My First Ecuadorian Academic Showcase (Or: How I am Learning to Overcome My Fear of Independent Art Projects and Climbing Ladders.)

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The day before I arrived in Ecuador, my host teacher emailed me and told me to bring my ideas for a “Dr.Seuss themed Showcase.” I got about 7.5 times more excited for the trip after reading this. Despite the fact that I didn’t know what a “Showcase” was, I knew I loved good old Dr. Seuss.

At our school, the second week of May is dedicated to the Academic Showcase, in which every class comes up with an interactive presentation to show parents what students are learning in class. Each grade is given a different theme (second grade was “authors” this year) to guide their presentations. What this equates to is 22 sets of successful, Ecuadorian parents coming to inspect what their children are learning and to be Wow-ed by their talents. (Thankfully we have a very expressive, talented class!) 

We have already been working hard on our Seuss Showcase which is during the second week of May. I am so blessed with a cooperating teacher who wants and values my ideas. I have had FUN planning this! Today I started decorating the room and hallway with giant Dr. Seuss scenes. I used a projector to put the images I wanted on the board, then traced the pictures onto bulletin board paper. I painted and outlined the images and cut them out to display in the hallways. I can’t wait to post pictures of the finished products. 

For the Showcase, our students will be teaching their parents all about the life and works of Dr. Seuss. We will begin with performing a Reader’s Theater production of “Oh the Places You’ll Go” that makes me tear up every time my students practice! After that, parents will be divided into three groups to travel to three stations. At each station the students will be TEACHING their parents. One station is another Reader’s Theater on “The Sneetches” in which my students will be performing the book and then discussing with their parents what equality and fairness means through an interactive activity. They will also be hosting a science station where they will help their parents make Oobleck form “Bartholomew and the Ooblek.” Through an experiment the students will lead, parents will have to determine if the Oobleck is a solid, liquid or gas. Parents will also get to listen to their children present a biography of Dr. Seuss that they have created on mobiles and posters. This will be presented in Spanish AND English! Lastly, each child is bringing in a Dr. Seuss themed snack to share with the class. We decided to give the leftover snacks to the Special Area teachers and the Custodial Staff for all they do to help the school prepare for the Showcase! I was touched by the fact my students wanted to do this.

Ironically, one of the things I wrote in my final reflection for student teaching stateside, was that I wanted more experience communicating learning and school activities with families, outside of report cards. Little did I know God had this Showcase/Total Learning Experience waiting for me a few thousand miles away. Doing a Showcase is such a great way to get parents involved with what the students are learning! It is something I want to do with my own classes in the future. I am so grateful to be here during such a fun time at school!

A Staycation is still a Vacation Here – Weekend #2

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Coming to you live from Cumbaya, (appropriately translated to “sweet dreams”) is this Weekend’s Update. While it isn’t nearly as popular as SNL’s Weekend Update, I can try to be about 1/4 as funny.

After our adventure filled weekend at Banos, we unanimously decided to have a more relaxing weekend this time around in our new “hometown.”  Cumbaya didn’t let us down!

Friday night we decided to pamper ourselves and reward our sweet feet for all the walking they’ve been doing. We went to a salon called Karisma that our host mom recommended. For a small price of $20 we got a manicure and pedicure with Shellac so it will last the rest of our trip! We also checked out one of the huge malls in Cumbaya.  Although our host mom suggested we try “this cute, delicious little place in the Square” (Read: TGI Friday’s), we decided to go to this neat Pizza Wagon place in downtown Cumbaya. The trendy atmosphere reminded us of places we’d been in Nashville!

Saturday we decided to take a “field trip” and our host mom won the award for Best Ecuadoran Mom Ever. Raquel drove us to Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) and took our pictures doing cheesy tourist poses with the large monument to mark the Equator line. (Contrary to my mom’s belief, for a short time, I WAS the center of the world!) It was so surreal to be standing in such a unique place. Raquel also took us to the bus stop, helped us buy our tickets and deposited us onto a bus taking us to “Old Town” Quito. Amazingly, we managed to get off at the right bus stop and spent about an hour eating lunch, window shopping and exploring the historic part of Quito where the government buildings are. It was beautiful even in the gloomy weather. However, it was much more dangerous than our sweet Cumbaya. There was a protest going on outside one of the government buildings that was a little unsettling. We were warned not to take out our phones or money at any point and had heard a few too many horror stories about the city. Although I’m sure, in reality, we were safe, our guts got the best of us and we took a taxi home pretty soon after we got there. On our way home it started POURING rain, so we took relaxing naps and then headed back out for dinner. After (another, but equally delicious) pizza dinner, Rachel went back home. Mackenzie and I decided to check out some of the nightlife in the downtown square. We went to two of the hot spots and got to listen to two really great life music performances! We loved the laid back atmosphere and the quality of the bands. It was definitely a great way to spend our night.

And now, today, we have had another relaxing day. After sleeping in, we decided to take advantage of a sunny afternoon. We walked to the market to buy the cornbread we have all fallen in love with and then walked along the nature trail behind our school. Apparently it leads all the way up to the mountains and many people run it each day but because I hate running more than anything in the world of the high altitude making exercise harder here, we decided to leisurely stroll. The view was beautiful! All I could think about was how much my Nana would love the flowers. It was just another piece of paradise hiding here.

We are napping, reading, and lounging our way through a rainy evening before we start another school week tomorrow. Thursday we have the day off because of a holiday and plan to go to an Arts and Crafts market we have heard great things about. I am excited to start buying souvenirs!

As we near the “halfway” point of this trip, I can only imagine what great stories I still have to tell!

Mi Primer Día en Solitario

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My first “Solo” Day in Ecuador was today. The best way I can describe my submersion in a foreign classroom environment is by comparing it to learning how to swim by getting thrown into a ocean.

My teacher had Parent/Teacher Conferences today, which are very different than those in the United States. Instead of staying before or after school, teachers have their assistants substitute for the day and then spend the entire school day in an office. Each teacher in the grade has their own Conference day so that they don’t overlap and the assistants can cover the classes.

I thought that while my teacher met with parents, I would just be helping the assistant teach the class but continuing to teach the math unit I planned on my own. I didn’t get to float down the Lazy River though! The assistant wanted me to teach the whole day! In the U.S., I wouldn’t have been phased by this development. Here, though, it was a little startling. I’m still getting used to the very different routine and the stark changes between a school in the States and Collegio Menor.

Overall, the day went VERY well. I got to teach an awesome creative writing lesson today that I loved! I also got to spend more time one-on-one with my students. I definitely had some obstacles, though. For Mackenzie, Rachel and I, the biggest challenge has been getting to used to the way students behave in class. By no means am I a strong disciplinarian in the States.  I rarely expect students to work in silence and often allow them to socialize, to an extent, while they work.  But, at Collegio Menor, students aren’t ever expected to sit quietly and work. Socialization is valued and emphasized at our school. Sometimes it’s hard for them to follow the rules in school! Bless their sweet little souls, they are loud and rowdy all the time. They have amazing spirits that are just overflowing sometimes.

Because I’m still getting used to this difference, I was more strict today with my Ecuadorian angel babies than I have been with other students. When I talked to my teacher after the day was over (and after I stayed an extra 30 minutes to tutor kids for their spelling test tomorrow) she said that it was a GOOD thing I was hard on them. According to her, they were testing me and seeing how much respect I would expect. Because I did push them to work hard and to learn, while still loving them, hugging them, and encouraging them, they did respect me at the end of the day. As I sent them home, each child hugged and kisses me goodbye today.

Today was a learning experience for this soon-to-be-teacher. You have to adjust to the climate in your classroom, and that isn’t always easy. You do have to meet your students diverse needs, in every way. Teaching is about meeting your kids where they are, and helping them grow. In a way, my students are doing that for me, as well.

 

Weekend of Wonders

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Tomorrow marks one week in Ecuador but what is even more amazing than that is the weekend we just finished! It was by far the most adventurous three days I’ve ever had.

Our original plan was to leave for Banos (a three hour bus ride…often rounded up to five hour bus ride, due to traffic) right after school on Thursday to stay in a glorious hotel we found a great deal on. However, the following things happened: 1) Our hotel was a false listing on Expedia and ended up not having vacancies. But, our fantastic host mom called several hostels until she found us an opening. We got a great deal on a 4 person room for $7 a night! Although it wasn’t the hotel we had originally wanted, we were thankful – and hoping our fourth roommate wouldn’t be a serial killer. 2) After an taxi hour ride to the bus station, we found out THE MAIN ROAD TO BANOS WAS CLOSED FOR AN EASTER PARADE. (Full disclosure: It might not have been a parade. My Spanish is rusty. But regardless, it was closed and we were stuck.) We took a sad taxi ride back home but were comforted by the fact a 6am bus to Banos was scheduled for the next day.

We we got to Banos (after 5.5 hours on a tour bus) we checked into our hostel and were glad to find that our roommate was not a killer, just a German tourist. We threw our bags down and immediately started looking for our adventures. We walked about 20 feet before we found one: horseback riding up the mountain side to waterfalls and an active volcano. We were sold. What part of that doesn’t sound amazing? The active volcano, you say? Turns out watching it erupt black smoke (as it did on our way back down the mountain) was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. While were on the mountain side we got to take a few volcanic rock souvenirs and also wade, sip and wash our faces in mineral water from one of the glorious waterfalls. After spending two and a half hours on a horse in the jungle, we were pretty tired, sore and dirty, so we decided to check out one of the spa deals on the tourist strip. We found a great deal that included a spa jacuzzi bath, a sauna room and a steam treatment (sitting in a wooden box full of steam with your head sticking out is a legit toxin remover, right spa goers?) all for $10! It definitely was a relaxing end to our Friday.

Our Saturday was anything but relaxing! We got up early to take a taxi ride to La Oscilación en el Fin Del Mundo (The Swing at the End of the World) in Casa del Arbol (The Treehouse) which was an adventure on my bucket list! I was surprisingly brave and swung on the suspended wooden swing over the edge of a giant cliff. It was by far the best and most unique thing I’ve done. I highly recommend it to any of you readers thinking about joining me here in South America! After the Swing, we wanted to take a Chiva tour. A Chiva bus turned out to be a party bus that rivals that of the Purple Line and Safe Ride at WKU. A rainbow bus blasting Spanish music took us all around Banos and stopped at several attractions – all of which we did! We got to see and touch The Face of Jesus in a natural rock formation, wade through waterfalls, ride a suspended basket across a canyon AND hike to Puente de Diablo (Devil’s Bridge.) The wooden, swaying bridge over a rushing waterfall and forest of trees, was TERRIFYING. Without the kindness of the sweet Ecuadorian man stuck behind me and his everlasting pep talk, I would not have made it across. I am so glad/proud that I did, however – twice! Once we got cleaned up from our adventurous day, we started our adventurous night. We ran into two guys from our hostel, one an English teacher from Australia and the other a chiropracter from California – both living in Quito, at dinner who invited us to The Leprechaun, a popular three story club in Banos. We took them up on their offer and had a great night dancing and bonfire viewing! We got home very late that night but were excited to start our day on Sunday.

The last thing we had planned for the weekend was a trip to a Monkey Sanctuary were monkeys were being rehabilitated after being rescued from deforestation. We were able to feed and hold the monkeys which was Mackenzie’s (our resident animal enthusiast) dream come true. Thankfully, we went early in the morning because she ended up getting very sick from the altitude we were in over the weekend. While a certain part of this experience (involving a concerned cow) will remain hilarious for Rachel and I and traumatizing for Mackenzie, I’ll spare her the embarrassment and not tell the story. I will say how grateful we were for our Host Mom who organized our pickup from the bus station and had chicken soup waiting for Mackenzie.

We had an amazing, adventurous weekend that was 100% out of my comfort zone, but I LOVED every minute of it. Similarily, teaching fractions (my worst subject) to my English Learners today was out of my comfort zone – and another thing I loved. I am really learning to open my mind and heart to trying new things and close it fear. I can’t wait to see what exciting things are going to come my way in the next three weeks!

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Day One: Another First Day of School!

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Today, I watched my second grade teacher kick a stray soccer ball back to a student, trade “World Cup” cards with another and call out bus riders for dismissal – all at the same time! I’m hoping that by the end of the next for weeks, I will radiate the spirit of an Ecuadorian teacher, too! For now, I’m working on a learning curve.

Mackenzie, Rachel and I arrived in Ecuador around 7pm last night. When we got off the plane, our “Mami” had a sign, hugs and kisses for us. Our host mom’s name is Raquel; she says she only speaks a little English but she seems very fluent to us! Unfortunately we aren’t as well spoken in Spanish. I made the mistake of saying I took a little Spanish in high school and now Raquel wants me to at least try to say everything in Spanish! I am determined to become more fluent so I can impress her! When we got to our house, Raquel gave us the tour and then made chicken empanadas for a late night snack. You guys know

I love snacks! Our house is absolutely beautiful. I am sharing a room with Mackenzie that overlooks what appears to be a cow farm. The rooster at 5am was an authentic touch!

Our school is only 2 blocks from where we are living (which is actually right outside Quito and called Cumbaya, pronounced like the song you sing around the campfire) so Raquel walked us there and back today. I can’t even describe how gorgeous our school is. You know the 80s movies with well dressed students lounging in courtyards and picnic areas that seem so unrealistic? ITS HAPPENING HERE. I got to teach science for an hour in one of the outdoor areas our school is built around.

The school is also ENORMOUS! I got lost twice today looking for the front office, which my teacher said happens everyone’s first week or so! Our school has students K-12 and they are very, very wealthy. Their parents are prominent in the business and entertainment world. One of my student’s mothers is actually Mrs. Ecuador and a local TV persona. Because of the wealth of the families, the school is very heavily guarded. Students have an ID card with pictures of people allowed to pick them up (parents, nannys and employed drivers.) They have to show this card to the guard outside the front desk before they can enter or leave. Students and teachers are bused directly to the school from their house and back at the end of the day.

Another huge difference is the school day itself. We start our school day at 8am but at 10am the students have a break for a snack and playtime outside (10 more points to Ecuador). When they return at the bell they have class until 11:40, at lunch time. The students actually have an hour to eat lunch and play outside in one of the many playgrounds and courtyards. After their one hour break, the students return for another 45 minutes of learning before a two hour Spanish class in the afternoon. Teachers use this time for additional planning and meetings. My teacher says she rarely takes work home! That’s crazy to me!

Overall, I am LOVING Ecuador. My second graders are so loving (I got more hugs than I count today.) My host mother is the sweetest. She cooked a huge meal to welcome us again tonight and was so excited to hear about our days. Right now we are trying to plan our trip to the Banos this weekend! Because it is Holy Week we found out our school week is actually cut short! Tomorrow is a half day and we have Friday off. I could get used to this!