Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 24- Hasta Luego!

I am currently on the plane home back to the United States! I think three weeks was the perfect amount of time to spend immersed in the culture of Costa Rica and looking back, time flew by! We were able to do so much while we were here and learn so much about everything. From plants, insects, animals, education, Spanish, etc. there was so much learning that took place and so many memories created. I am so thankful for this opportunity and it has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I learned a lot about myself personally, myself as a teacher, and different cultures. I am sad to leave this beautiful and happy country, but I am ready to get back home and get back to reality. It has been such a learning experience, but I had a lot of fun at the same time!

Above are pictures of my host family dropping me off to head to the airport and my little hermano tico (brother) helping me pack!

Day 22- Last Day at CPI

Today was our final day at CPI and taking Spanish classes. We had the morning free to go to the bank to pay our exit tax to leave the country and then had class together to discuss everything that we have learned and experienced on this trip. I have learned so much being here in Costa Rica and it is hard to write it all! Being immersed in the culture was a huge learning experience for me and I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to live with host families. I think I learned the most from conversing with them and seeing the way in which their culture thinks through their eyes. I learned a lot about my future classroom and ways in which I can help not only my ELL learn, but also all the students that enter my class. I have learned to celebrate struggles and how to overcome them with a positive attitude. A lot of the time, we were going to the Elementary schools expecting to teach one lesson, but had to adapt and change right on the spot to what the teacher in the classroom wanted to be done. I loved observing the classrooms and seeing the similarities and differences between the United States and Costa Rican education system. Throughout this experience, I have had the opportunity to put myself in the shoes of an ELL student by coming to the country with little Spanish knowledge and leaving having learned so much. Many times throughout the trip, I became frustrated not begin able to say what I wanted to say to my family because I didn't know enough Spanish. By the end of the trip, I was able to understand almost everything that my mama tica told me, but still had a hard time responding with detail. I learned that it is easier to understand people speaking a different language than to actually speak it. I have grown to appreciate nature and how I can practice different tools that I saw in the schools in my own future classroom. One of the best things that I learned was to have high expectations for all my students. No matter what the background of the student, all students are capable of learning so much and it is not fair to the students who come from "not the typical American family" to have lower expectations from their teacher. These children are our future and it is our job as teachers to provide them with as much experience, knowledge, and resources as possible so they can live a successful live and pass on their knowledge to others.

We had our final Spanish class today and then had a small "graduation ceremony" together and get a certificate for completing the full 60 hours of Spanish instruction. We also were presented with a slideshow of pictures from our entire three weeks here and remember all the memories that we made while being here. Today is CPI's 20th anniversary so there is a fiesta tonight with live music, dancing with everyone that has made CPI such a success. Our host families, staff, groups, and even bus drivers are invited and it will be a great send off to our final day here in Monteverde!

Above are pictures of my spanish class, my graduation certificate, and my host parents at the fiesta!

Day 21- Zip Lining Through the Rainforest

Today we went zip-lining through the rainforest of Costa Rica! This morning we woke up early and were blessed with a beautiful day with lots of sunshine! We drove to the zip lines, got on all of our gear, and with brief instructions and one practice round of how to ride the zip lines, we were headed off in the tram to the very top of the rainforest! I was very nervous to say the least, but I overcame my fears and made it through! After the first zip line, my legs were shaking and felt like jello, but there was no way I was going to miss out on this once in a lifetime experience! There were 9 zip lines in total and it took me until about the 4th one to actually enjoy the view but it was a huge adrenaline rush and a great experience!

We had class when we got back to the CPI, we had a brief class with Dr. Powell before heading to Spanish class. Today's Spanish class was very hard for me because the material we were being taught was very difficult. We were learning 'por' and 'para' which both mean "for" but they you use them for different contexts. Today's class felt like it went on forever, especially after having so much fun this morning, it was hard to sit and learn something really difficult. This reminded me of when students go on field trips for part of the day and come back and have to switch their brains back to learning. It is always hard for the teachers to get the students back on track and pay attention to the material being taught. With this being said, it made me think of things teachers can do when they get back from a field trip and still have material that they need to teach. One of the things that I though of was that they could plan activities that had to do with the field trip they just went on so the students are still able to talk and reflect on their day while learning at the same time. By making the material relevant to what is happening in the students' lives is very important for teachers to do.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted but I stopped and got pizza to bring to my family for dinner. They were very excited about this and seemed to enjoy it a lot because all of the pizza was gone by the end of the night!

Day 20- Education Importance

Today has been a vary productive day and we have done a lot! We started off our day visiting a local coffee co-op in which we learned a lot about how the farm is run and the products that the farm grew. The man who owns part of the farm came to introduce to us all about his farm and the thought that goes into developing a successful operation. He was very excited that all of us in the group were aspiring teachers and gave us a short lecture on the importance of education in Costa Rica. In this country, there is no military, but instead, they gave all the money that they would spend on military to the education system. Education is so important to their culture and is one of the top four things that they focus on the most. He showed us a map of the farm and where everything is planted on their land. He was asking us questions as to why certain areas were used for growing different crops and the importance of having pastures along with the growing areas. When he was asking us questions like why they grew certain crops and not others, we all gave him economic answers like how it would make more money and produce more goods. It was interesting to see his reaction to our answers because the reason for growing crops in certain areas was not solely based on money like our American brains are trained to think. There are more reasons like the cows walk on the land in a certain area so the soil is more compact making it hard for water to get further into the ground. It was very interesting to see his way of thinking and the way of thinking of most Costa Ricans. We then went and collected white avocado seeds that come from a certain tree in their land that we can replant to reforest the area. We picked the seeds and planted them in little bags so they can grow and be replanted into the land. We then took some of the plants that had been growing for awhile and planted them in an area that they were about to change from pasture to crop area. We all got to plant our own personal tree and put our name next to it! This was a great experience and I loved the educational talk that he gave to us because it provided me with a new way of looking at things and how everything does not always have to be about money.

From the farm, we had lunch at a local restaurant while discussing how difficult it is to teach language. This was a very interesting conversation in which we discussed the difficulties of how to pronounce words and decode words. Dr. Powell told us that there are 11 different ways to pronounce the 'sh' sound in our English language and how each different part of the United States has their own dialect that is taught in schools. This made me realize the difficulties that all students face with learning languages and how we as teachers need to help our students learn by multiple examples and uses throughout the day.

Day 19- Escuela Creativa

Today we were fortunate enough to visit the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde or the "escuela creativa" (creative school). This is a special school very different than any other school I've ever been to. This is a private school where students attend from Pre-K until 11th grade. There are 180 students in the entire school with each class size not exceeding 20 students. There is only one class per grade level and the most unique thing about this campus is that they have 106 acres of land! They are literally located in the middle of the rainforest with trails through the forest right behind their classrooms. The school is pushing to be a bilingual school, with most of the teachers teaching instruction in English. Many of the teachers are from the United States and usually only stay about 1-2 years at the school. There is a high turnover rate which has its pluses and minuses. The school relies a lot on volunteers and various groups to help them keep their community growing. Almost all students have financial aid, so not many students have to pay the full price for this private school.

One of the unique things about this school is their high focus on environmental education. With the amount of land that their school has, they are able to do a lot outside of the classroom to further apply their learning and make it more meaningful. In one section of the school, they have a school garden in which every class has a row of fruits and vegetables that they plant and then once they grow, they are able to bring them home to their families so their families can also have a little extra form of food source. One of the school's focuses is reforestation and allowing the forest to not be depleted. The students are constantly planting trees, vegetables, fruits, and many other plants to help the rainforest grow. Next to each plant that they plant, they put their name next to it so they can go back and see the progress. This allows the students to take ownership of their learning and actually see real results. The teachers incorporate all subject areas into the environment and the students really make a huge effort to take care of their land. On our tour of the school, it was so neat to hear how proud the students are of their school and the amount of care they provide to the land.

For me personally, I think this way of learning is certainly beneficial for all ages of students. When students are able to apply what they learn in class into the real world, it makes learning so much more personal and engaging. The students are having fun while learning and able to take ownership for what they are learning. I can apply what I learned from this school into my own classroom by making a little garden outside in a courtyard or back of the school. Here, students can physically see plants growing, measure the plants, study them, and do many other various activities with the garden. I also loved the emphasis on volunteers and groups that come to the Cloud Forest School. Before I start a unit in my classroom, I can send home a letter to my students' parents explaining what we will be learning and ask if they have any outside resources that could contribute to our learning. Guest speakers and other artifacts that I can bring into my classroom will make learning so much more engaging and real to my students. The "escuela creativa" is very big on allowing students to make innovations and be creative thinkers. Allowing my students to make their own discoveries will be more beneficial in my classroom and students will be more willing to learn when coming to school. I definitely am excited that I had the opportunity to visit this school and I will be using some of the things I gained on the tour of the school in my classroom.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 17- Reflections So Far

It is 5 a.m. and here I sit, outside my little cottage looking at this gorgeous and huge volcano placed right in front of my eyes. I can hear birds singing, frogs croaking, and a faint wind blowing. Here, I am reminded of all of the countless blessings I have been given from God. There is no way you couldn't be happy when you are sitting at the base of a volcano. This morning, I am given the chance to reflect on everything that I have learned, seen, and witnessed while I have been here.

One of the biggest things that I will take away from this trip is the language barrier that presents itself every single day that I have been here. From the time we flew into Costa Rica, until now, everyday has been such a challenge learning and speaking Spanish. When I decided to come on this trip, I thought that I knew enough Spanish to at least get me around while I was here, but from the moment we hit customs, I knew that I was not as equipped as I thought I was. The first few days, we did more tourist-y type of things so I did not need to use Spanish too much, but once we arrived at CPI (our school where we are taught Spanish), I needed to switch on my brain to Spanish mode. I remember the first day of Spanish class and after about 1 hour of instruction, my brain completely shut off and I became very frustrated learning from a teacher who hardly knew any English. This instantly made a connection in my mind to the ESL students who come to school in the United States and are expected to sit though school all day not having a clue as to what the teacher is saying. I understand now why these students pull their hoods up over their head and lay their head on their desk and shut down for the rest of the day. Learning another language is very hard work and it takes a very special teacher to realize the difficulty of the situation and spend quality time working with the ESL students. As the week of Spanish instruction went on, I became less frustrated because our instructor made the material very engaging and we began learning through games and conversation of our everyday lives. It also helped that our teacher would ask us how to say a few words in English too so it made us feel proud that she was attempting to show interest in our language too. It was very hard for me to be interested at all in class when I was sick this past week. My head was already pounding and the last thing I wanted to do was sit in class and try to learn something that was very difficult for me. I quickly came to realize that I need to teach my students that it is okay to struggle and not everything in life is going to come easy. We, as teachers, need to celebrate those struggles and help our students get through them. I finally had a breakthrough one night with my family when I was at home talking to my mama tica and I was able to put about 5 sentences together quickly without hardly thinking about it too much and she was able to understand everything that I was saying! I know that I was not grammatically correct on everything, but for me to spit out 5 detailed sentences was awesome for me! If I only take one thing away from this experience, it would be how I can relate and help any ESL student that comes into my future classroom. By not pushing them to the side to work on something else while the rest of the students are learning, I will be able help them through their struggles and have just as high expectations for them as I do with my other students. I think a lot of times, people have lower expectations for students who come from a lower socio-economic status, but in my opinion and from what we have discussed in our classes here, it should almost be the opposite and we should show the lower SES (socio-economic status) that they can do just as much with what they have as the students who come from a higher socio-economic status. Money does not hinder learning and that is one thing that I have really gained from this experience. Many people living in Costa Rica are not as well off as the United States, but that does not mean on any level that they are not as smart or they can't learn the same things that the students in the United States are learning.

I am so grateful for this experience I have had so far being here. I have learned a lot about myself and students in classrooms. It has opened my eyes to thing that I had never thought about before and because of that, I think that it will make me a more effective teacher. We still have one more week left and still a lot of learning to do! I am looking forward to what is to come in this next week and then applying my learning to the classrooms when I get back!

Day 16- Volcano and Hot Springs

I started off my day today by having a bologna sandwich with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, ketchup, and mayonnaise for breakfast that my mama tica made for me. The breakfast was topped off with carrot, radish, and lime juice (all mixed together). I was kind of glad this morning that I couldn't taste very well since I am still sick. This is not a typical breakfast you would eat at 6 in the morning in the United States, but here, it was either that or nothing at all! Today we headed towards La Fortuna, which is about 4 hours away from where our homes are. We stopped for a little shopping and lunch before heading to our hotel. When we got to the hotel, our rooms were actually like little cottages with a view of the huge Arenal Volcano right outside our window! It was a little cloudy so we couldn't see much of the top, but it is a gorgeous view and takes your breath away! We had some free time at the pool which is 100% natural and heated by the volcano. The water is between 93-104 degrees Fahrenheit. It was pretty much like swimming in a hot tub the size of a pool! We then were able to relax some more by going to the Eco-Termales Hot Water Springs for a few hours which was awesome! We had dinner there as well and just relaxed for the rest of the night. It was a much needed break from working so hard for two weeks. It also was nice to be somewhere where everyone spoke English and my brain didn't have to think as hard! Sometimes we all need those mental breaks!