Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest

Banana Splits

Banana Splits

Zipline

Zipline

Bilingual Classroom

Bilingual Classroom

Bilingual School with its Own Windmill

Bilingual School with its Own Windmill

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica National Curriculum

Costa Rica National Curriculum
Honoring United Nations Agreement

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning
One of Many School Gardens

Coffee Plantation

Coffee Plantation
Coffee Picker

La Carpio

La Carpio
Home

La Carpio

La Carpio
Home

Energy Savings

Energy Savings
Which number is today?

FAITH

FAITH
Resiliency

LOVE

LOVE
Scarlet Macaws

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Professional, Casual, Beach-Will it all Fit?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pura Vida! Final Blog

The past three weeks have been intense weeks of learning. Dr. Powell often referred o Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning and shared that tension exists when learning occurs. Many of my learning experiences in Costa Rica provided tension including: living in the homes of strangers, becoming acquainted with instead of fearful of new night sounds, experiencing frustration with communication skills in order to support my needs for food and transportation, dealing with time management—schedules—academic assignments, no computer and limited internet café access, dealing with weather conditions (muchas juvia!), missing friends and relatives at home, and experiencing the grief at saying goodbye to new Tico friends. Did I experience tension only because I was in a new situation or because I was learning?

For my final blog, I decided to use Cambourne’s Conditions for Learning as a benchmark for the course. Did I experience learning, and if I did, what did I learn? I remember the conditions for learning as immersion, engagement, demonstration, use, feedback, expectations, approximation, and trust.

IMMERSION—By design of the course, travelling to a native Spanish speaking country, living with Spanish speaking host families, and enrolling in a Spanish immersion language school created an immersion learning experience. I know if I had stayed in English speaking hotels, I would not have learned as much Spanish or as much about the culture of Ticos. If the Spanish immersion schoolwere not part of my daily routine, I would not have spent as much time studying Spanish. Did I learn Spanish as a result? Yes! I can now read and write Spanish MUCH better than I can pronunciate it. In three weeks time, I have learned enough to feel confident about enrolling in a Spanish I class!

ENGAGEMENT—My reason for taking this Costa Rica trip/course were to learn Spanish for professional and personal reasons. There are many Spanish speaking within my immediate community and certainly within our country at large. I want to be able to communicate with them and understand their culture while sharing mine with them as well. Time and Time again, we discussed strategies we might use in our classrooms to benefit all students, but especially ESL students. Our experiences in Costa Rica were opening our minds and hearts to the challenges of second language learners first hand.

USE- Again, by design of the course, the course work provided a demanding schedule of school visits for observation and participation, professional development workshops, four hours of daily Spanish classroom instruction plus nightly homework, an academic research project that required research in Costa Rica, maintaining a reflective blog, relating to Spanish speaking families— their personalities--their schedules, communicating with local merchants to purchase supplies, toiletries, transportation, food, souvenirs, learn new vocabulary and language skills, participate in field trips to rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, coffee plantations, participate in two service projects addressing the needs of Nicaraguan immigrant children and families and planting coffee in the fields of a local coffee co-op. Were we engaged using new information? By all means—academically, professionally, personally, and emotionally.

Demonstration—When we visited two primary schools, we read with them in English and Spanish. It was definitely a time of demonstration based on our Spanish language development as well as the literacy discussions provided by Dr. Powell. She demonstrated a whole language experience to provide strategies for our classroom visits. This prepared us for the reading and writing assignments we prepared and delivered during our classroom visits. Dr. Huber demonstrated several AIMS experiments that aided our successful science classroom experiences as well. Additionally, Dr. Huber was instrumental in explaining the cloud forest environment that we found ourselves living in Monteverde. Dr. Powell’s and Dr. Huber’s demonstrations served us well based on the motivation students displayed when we taught the classes, collected their work, and evaluated their participation. Surely the lessons we learned from Dr. Powell and Dr. Huber will serve each us long into the future.

Feedback—Feedback for our progress in this course came from many sources including taxi drivers, merchants, Spanish instructors, UNCW professors, host families, peers, our real families, children in the Costa Rica schools, and our tour guides. On any given day, feedback was available by a minimum of four sources. It was always constructive and proved the motivation when I was tired or challenged and felt like giving up –especially when my language skills were deficient in meeting my needs.

Expectations—Before leaving Wilmington, Dr. Powell arranged class meetings and provided informative emails and handouts outlining the course description and expectations including the written and technology objectives. She and Dr. Huber provided clear expectations about responsibilities regarding schedules and arriving promptly for scheduled tour events. Our host families had expectations for us for living in their homes, sharing their meals, and for joining their social engagements. Our families and friends at home had expectations for us to make wise choices that would promote our safety in a foreign country where we did not know the language. Our Spanish instructors had expectations about our learning commitment, participation, and homework. Our tour guides had expectations for us to meet promptly, to engage in the activities, and to inform them of our needs. My peers had expectations of one another with some of our shared assignments. Lastly, I certainly had expectations for myself as a learner.

Approximation—I have certainly made efforts to learn and use Spanish as well as to understand living in a country, community, and school where my native language was not spoken at all times. Was this experience always a successful experience for me? No, but every experience was a stepping stone towards the best experience. I have chosen to look at each experience a positive move forward.

Responsibility—Dr. Powell, Dr. Huber, our Spanish instructors, our tour guides, our host families have all shared in the responsibilities of supporting us and holding us accountable during this creative learning environment and experience. In their own styles, they have provided the support needed for us as students to shift from passive learning to active engagement and success learning.

Trust—Is it possible to develop trust with strangers in three weeks? Consider--new professors, new people with different roles in our daily lives, new peers, and a challenge to develop a new trust within ourselves to embrace these moments—could I do this in three weeks? I believe trust develops at different rates for different people for different reasons. On this trip, I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by genuine people whose being have made it easy to trust them thereby creating a a foundation for my positive, engaging successful learning experience. Thanks to Dr. Powell and CPI Costa Rica for their diligent efforts at making wise choices for the high standards and safety for our learning experience!

In conclusion, assuming Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning are a valid measure, then yes, this course has been a successful learning experience for me. I feel this trip has met my academic needs for learning how it feels to walk in the shoes f a second language learner in a new country. Equally important, it has made me a better person since I am able to understand and appreciate Costa Rica, its people, and it’s incredible sense of responsibility for the environment. Some respected news sources write that many of the world’s happiest people are Costa Ricans. I personally believe that folks who understand and respect their ‘natural world are ones who are more understand ‘human nature’ and are comfortable with themselves and how they fit in the world at large. Ticos, in my opinion, understand and live it. Thank you, mis amigos, for sharing your beautiful country and friendships. Pura Vida!

Friday, June 4, 2010

How Sweet it Is!

When one is harnessed and launched on a sky canopy zipline at 320 feet in the air or speeds along a zipline at 46 mph, one learns to focus and to trust. It was my first time on a zipline. I do not enjoy heights, but I do appreciate opportunities to grow as an individual. For me to be successful on the zipline, I needed to focus on one objective—reaching the next platform and that included an equal opportunity to trust not only myself but those involved with my experience. I’ve been thinking about how this relates to the classroom. Teachers need to feel a sense of trust with their administrators in their building and on the district level. When teachers and students trust each other, the exchange is authentic and powerful. When either loses the trust and confidence in another, then less than the best learning environment exists. I felt great trust in the zipline company or else I might have changed my mind after reaching the top of the first platform given my fear of heights. Each time I launched a new ride, I asked the instructor to repeat the full instructions. To build my confidence with this new experience, I needed multiple opportunities to build my confidence. Is this the case for some students in the classroom?

In my Spanish class, the teacher brought in a song for us to translate then sing along with the tape. What a different experience to use a different modality for part of the class. I was interested, engaged, and more successful with some of my pronunciation. The power of tapping into multiple intelligences is one that should be exercised by teachers all the time, in my opinion.

My host family experience for language and learning is one that has grown with more language exchanges. I think the warm and caring environment prompts us all to try to make the language less of a barrier and more of an opportunity to enjoy one another. Since Monday was Memorial Day, I tried to explain how we celebrate this “holiday” in the United States and offered to cook hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. The next night when my dinner was served, I had an additional plate with a tamale beautifully wrapped in a cooked banana leaf—a custom often reserved for Christmas holidays and the celebration of baby Jesus. So I asked about this. “We wanted to honor your “holy” day that you shared with us yesterday,” was the warm reply. Oh how we chuckled once we all were on the same page…It is easier to trust people who are active listeners and who share a respect for what is important to one. Does that always happen in the classroom?

On one of our school visits, we learned that the seniors in this bilingual school do not typically do well on the end of the year math tests. We learned also that the math is taught in their second language. That gave way to a discussion about learning conceptually in one’s native language first then practicing that new knowledge in the second language. There lies an opportunity to use EBSCO when I return home and see what the research states. When I think of myself in the Spanish classroom as a beginner in my new language, I know I do better if the objective and task are taught in my native language first.

Based on my personal experiences in this language immersion program and our class discussions, I would employ the following strategies for all my students. My objectives are: A) to promote bilingual conversations with Spanish and English speaking students and B) to provide immediate support for the second language learner C) to provide the optimum learning environment for all students.

· Label important tools, items, and info in English and Spanish (and/or other languages). Examples: Pencil Sharpener, flag, bathroom pass, dictionaries (including bilingual dictionaries)

· Additionally, I would create posters with frequently used phrases and place on the wall. Examples: Get out your books, Open your books to page, Get out your homework, Write a sentence, Write a paragraph, List, Raise your hand, etc. I would also make this available in a handout to be placed in the student´s notebook.

· Plan lessons that create shared learning experiences—Shair/Pair, Cooperative Learning Group, Field Trips

· Plan lessons that were inquiry based as opposed to passive learning at all times.

· Provide more than one form of evaluation. Typically, evaluations rely heavily on linguistic assessments.

· Plan second language review meetings—before or after school or during lunch. This time would be content specific and would include learning strategies for the content.

· Provide a bilingual vocabulary list of the MAIN ideas and concepts at the beginning of each unit. Additionally, I would provide a “blueprint” for how the unit fits into the bigger picture (the entire course).

· Arrange seating in the classroom that allows immediate support for second language learners.

· Send or mail letters home on a regular basis that reports success and needs. The letter would be translated into the native language. I would try to learn whether the parents could read, and I would try to learn if the student´s neighborhood received any community support for parenting school aged children and learning about the school/home connection and responsibilities.

· Develop professional relationships with the ESL instructor and student´s guidance counselor.

· Plan and implement activities where written and oral language are not the main tools for participation. Ex. Standing on either side of the room depending on whether you agree or disagree, hands-on projects including art and music projects.

· Learn whether my students had any special interests or hobbies then try find a school outlet for those with hopes that student would become more acclimated to the new school environment.

· Make it a point EVERY day to find a reason to praise the entire class in an effort to build community. I would implement student activities that would promote the strengths in one another and as a group.

· Acknowledge that students learn at different rates and provide support and appropriate strategies and course content at each level.

· Approach the other content area teachers to ask if opportunities existed where we might work together on any assignments. EX. A language arts/English teacher could choose to assign a writing or research paper that was science or history based or an expository piece that explained a mathematical formula or equation.

· Try to open and end each class with either a cartoon or quote. Humor can go a long way and quotes are great for centering on motivation, attitude, and ambition. I wouldry to share my empathy for the demands of academic work, but at the same time, I would share my confidence in the students´ abilities to succeed. My goal would be to build trust between the student and teacher.


Tonight is my last night with my host family then it's on to San Jose and eventually back to Wilmington. My family and I are going to celebrate our friendship with delicious Costa Rican grown bananas and mountains of ice cream and chocolate. How sweet the entire experience has been!! :)



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

¨No Mechanica¨

Today I worked alongside a new friend on a coffee plantation digging holes and planting 12 inch coffee plants. The weather was hot, the hillside was steep, and the work eventually bécame tiring. At the same time, the surrounding mountains, the rising clouds, the variety of bird calls, and the sound of the nearby rushing stream were incredibly enjoyable. My new friend shared that when one´s family brings a big lunch after a long morning, it is fantástico!

All is well with the world when you listen to many Tico conversations. It is a choice to appreciate cold showers, to hang wet laundry all over the house instead of using a dryer, to flush the toilet seldom because it is a way of practicing a responsible lifestyle that respects the environment. The missión statement of one prívate school we visited states that they will ¨…encourage a new generation of ecologically aware, bilingual individuals with the skills and motivation to make environmentally and socially conscious decisions on a local, national, and global scale.¨ The national curriculum for public schools here includes environmental education for all grades and is taught weekly and often daily. The results of these efforts are a genuine love and respect for one´s natural surroundings and earnest endeavors to conserve and protect those surroundings. There is a true understanding that what one person does affects others in the immediate community and the global community. So when I see less than beautiful homes, observe fewer modern conveniences, learn about $500 monthly salaries, eat beans and rice three times a day, I become aware that this is not poverty but this is a lifestyle of consciousness. My reactions to my initial experiences here were based on my perspective of what is necessary to live comfortably in the United States. Here, it appears that the definition of comfort seems to include more than what is comfortable for one´s self.

We have seen tiny schools throughout our our travels of very rural areas. We have seen homes that are hardly big enough for two people. So what are the resiliency factors for the folks who are challenged here? Are they different from the resiliency factors of anyone who is challenged in the United States? The conversations I´ve shared reveal that the family´s loyalty and devotion to one another sustain them. It is a beautiful and refreshing experience to see extended families enjoying one another often-sometimes weekly or daily.

Observations about ¨how one learns¨ this week include: engagement promotes motivation and there is a difference between strategies and activities. At the prívate school some of the science included a grey wáter study, a cloud monitoring station with reports to NASA, and a windmill and solar panel project that allowed the school a zero grid practice. Students engaged with meaningful projects tend to be motivated to comprehend the concepts and procedures. They then accelerate their learning to the next step. In my Spanish class, the teacher has sëveral ¨activities¨ for us, but they are all based on the strategy of memorization. As a learner, I have found that I am not always engaged in the activities. One might ask at what point is it the student´s responsibility to progress with learning instead of the teacher´s responsibility to engage, prod, coax, instill, or motívate the learner. Good teachers know that teaching is an art. It requires skills to master strategies that engage the student in learning activities. The student must feel safe to take risks and trust must exist between the teacher and student.

If more engaging strategies were used in my Spanish class, I might not feel so resistant to tackling my challenge of pronunciating my new language. However, taking turns at rote memorization responses does nothing to boost my confidence and nothing to motívate my joy of learning or my need to know the content. The ¨formula¨ questions only require formula answers so there is no need for or evaluation of conceptual knowledge.

¨No mechanica¨ was the phrase used by our salsa dance instructor and how true that rings for the lifestyles lived here in the Cloud Forest and for my personal classroom experience. I respect the individual choices of the Tico lifestyles here. And I want my classroom learning experiences to be rich with exciting and engaging steps of learning just like a spicy salsa dance. "NO MECHANICA!"

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday, May 30th

Hopefully, my friends who are science aficionados, will forgive me for saying that I have never really found fascination with the formation and dynamics of volcanoes…until this weekend. WOW! Imagine sitting in the dark (and I mean real darkness where there are no city lights) on a starry, moonlit night and watching red lava tumble down the side of a gigantic volcano in front of you. Absolutely AWESOME! This past weekend, we very fortunate to experience two clear, blue sky days while visiting La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. On Saturday night, our guide took us to a spot out in the country where all the locals gathered to watch the volcano on a clear night and brought along blankets, foods, coolers, kids—much like us preparing to watch the 4th of July fireworks. Whenever the volcano percolated and sent forth a few puffs, the ooo’s and chants of “LAVA, LAVA, LAVA” began followed by echoes of “AAAHH’s” Spectacular! Nature provided us an unforgetable Memorial Day weekend.

Along the way to La Fortuna we saw windmills that supply energy to 60,000 people here in Costa Rica. They were quiet and looked spectacular perched atop a mountain.

Our visits to the local public primary school continue to touch our hearts. The children are so responsive to our presence yet so shy about using the English they are learning. We coax them and they coax us along with our Spanish. When we go on our weekend trips, it is amazing to see tiny buildings that are schools, and they look very poor. However, every classroom we have observed is clean and there are textbooks.

My langauage experience with my host family centers primarily around food, extended family, the weather, the tv news, and my homework. It has been a pleasure to meet their two preschool neices who have made me feel succussful at my language attempts. It is much easier to communicate in short simple sentences when beginning a new language.

I have experienced some success practicing my language skills in town. It helps when the town you live in is a tourist town and many merchants are bilingual. Their added support motivates me to use the language because I feel confident they will help me when I ask questions. I understand their motivation is different than the classroom experience, but the support builds confidence.

My classroom experience at learning Spanish is still not a pleasant experience for me. I do not fault the teacher. I am reminded often that the program requires the teacher to make us speak and listen to Spanish all the time. So that is what we do. When a person experiences an allergy, he learns not to repeat the experience that caused the problem. By the same token, when a student does not respond to one method that a teacher utilizes over and over, then why can´t the method be changed to see if a different student response would occur?

My experience as a language arts teacher gives me a few tools to use as I learn Spanish. It helps to understand the parts of speech, plural and singular forms of nouns, first, second, and third person, and subject/verb agreement. There are times where knowing the formula can create the answer without knowing the vocabulary content.

I believe field trips, like our trip to Arenal Volcano, enrich our vocabularies and boost our mojo for learning. Field trips allow one to experience learning in different modalities. All students and schools should be allowed at least one field trip opportunity every year. It may be the one experience that ignites the spark to learn instead of repeated classroom methodology that sometimes builds frustration within that leads to an eruption of tardies, excuses, absences, and withdrawal.


This week experiences of excited adventurers, reluctant learners, and great past ESL students prompted ¨Please Don´t Call On Me¨.


Please Don´t Call On Me

Please don´t call on me in class

because I never pronunciate your language correctly.

Please don´t call on me in class

because my answer will not be the one you expect.

Please don´t call on me in class

because my homewok is not always complete because of my other responsibilities.

Please don´t call on me in class

because the other students will need to practice patience while you correct me over and

over again.

Please don´t call on me in class

because you never give me credit for what is in my head.

Please don´t call on me in class

because there is no room in your class for answers like mine.

Please don´t call on me in class to practice vocabulary about family

because my family is a split family and those words are not on your vocabulary list.

Please do not call on me in class to practice vocabulary about my parents´ professions

because my parents have no jobs.

Please do not call on me in class and ask me what my favorite foods are

because I do not know your foods.

Please do not call on me twice in class

because I have learned that if I nod favorably, quote, ¨Si,¨ and smile pleasantly, you will

pass over me.

Please do not call on me in class

because the sound of the letters in my name are not sounds in your language. I do

not exist in your language.

Please do not call on me in class.

Please let the bell ring

because my head hurts, my heart aches, and I want to go home.



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