Week 6: Torbay School, Auckland New Zealand

December 23rd, 2013

I am typing this blog from my home in New Mexico. I got back just in time for Christmas, with only one day to spare catching up on sleep after my 14 hour flight home. As happy as I am to be home with my family I am already missing the gorgeous New Zealand summer and all of the amazing people I met while I was there. My last week at school felt very surreal. Since it also happened to be the end of their school year everything was winding down. Although I took my small group for the first few days of the week, we were mostly working holiday cards and craft projects. All the students made Christmas decorations for the room, wrote cards to their parents, letters to Santa, and did Christmas counting activities.
During the week I got to go and observe Vanessa’s year 5 and 6 class. It was great to see the way this system, that I have gotten to know so well at the lower level, works for older kids. The difference was immense. When I was observing Vanessa’s class the first thing I noticed was the independence that these students had. I should have expected kids who were ten and eleven years old to be more independent but after so many weeks with five year olds I had almost forgotten that there were more independent students. When I was there the students were working on making clothes for teddy bears they had made out of paper mache. When Vanessa first told me about their bear project I thought it sounded a little bit…strange. However, after seeing the project in action I understood the excitement and multi-dimensional learning opportunity it provided. The students not only created and clothed their bears(each with their own theme) but they wrote a story about their bear, and created a video game about their bear. All the students were buzzing with excitement as they each worked on completing their bears, stories, and games. It was great to see so many kids excited about writing and it gave me a great look at what older students can do with a bit of creative teaching.
The end of the week was filled with performances and assemblies. The day after my visit to Vanessa’s class they held an impromptu fashion show with their completed teddy bears. Two of the students volunteered to write a script and all the students dressed up in costumes to match their bears. I went to see it with my class and they all loved it. On Thursday the school had their final assembly of the year. It was a beautiful community-building experience. The whole school came and watched as a few of the students who had won the school talent show the previous week, performed. After that some of the students and teachers were given awards for academic excellence. After the students and teacher awards the principal called me up and gave me a card from the staff and traditional Kiwi necklace. It was such a beautiful and a touching moment to be recognized by the school. I was fighting off tears through the entire assembly.
I thought that I couldn’t get more emotional than I was at the assembly but my last day of school was definitely more difficult. I had a hard time saying goodbye to the students I was teaching in the States but this was 100 times worse because I knew that it would be a long time (if ever) before I would see these children or some of my colleagues again. In the afternoon we had a party where the students, my mentor teacher, and I exchanged gifts. When the end of the day rolled around I was pretty emotional to say the least. I probably gave out more hugs in those last fifteen minutes of the day than in the rest of the 2013 combined.
The very next day I left for a trip to the South Island, where I stayed in gorgeous Queenstown. I have never been to a place so stunning before. In addition to spending five days soaking up the scenery I was able to meet people from all over the world, through the hostel I was staying in. My first night there I was in a room with a teacher from Singapore and two girls from Holland. I had some great and eye opening conversations with the teacher about Singapore’s education system. Later on I had a conversation with the girls from Holland about the education system they grew up with. It was amazing to see the differences and similarities between the U.S system and some of these other countries.
I got back from the South Island with just enough time to celebrate Jacob’s birthday and spend some quality time with Vanessa and all of her family members who I have gotten to know. I left on Sunday after a very emotional goodbye to Vanessa and Jacob. This experience has been truly life-changing. I have met so many wonderful people and fallen in love with the breathtaking country of New Zealand. Additionally, I have learned so much about their education system, and different methods of teaching. I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity. It has helped me grow as a person and as an educator. I can’t wait to come back to Cornell and share all of the experiences and knowledge that I have received from this fellowship.

My host-family, Vanessa and Jacob, the day that i was leaving.

My host-family, Vanessa and Jacob, the day that i was leaving.

New Zealand countryside

New Zealand countryside

A shell and tiny starfish that one of the students found during Waterwise.

A shell and tiny starfish that one of the students found during Waterwise.

This is the corridor outside of the classroom where a lot of my small-group teaching took place.

This is the corridor outside of the classroom where a lot of my small-group teaching took place.

Week 5: Torbay School, Auckland New Zealand

December 16th, 2013

Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education

I cannot believe that it is nearing the last week of my student teaching experience. This week everything has begun to wind down, which feels strange since it is December, but in New Zealand their summer break begins in mid December. I’ve continued teaching my small group, we’ve expanded the number line hope to include counting down from twenty. The students have also started working on identifying words that rhyme. We use the Treasure Chest of Junk at the beginning of each lesson to give them lots of practice with rhyming words and by the end of the week they could all write a sentence that rhymed. This helped them demonstrate their handwriting growth as well as their understanding of rhyme.
One of my favorite teaching moments from this week happened unexpectedly (as I’ve heard the best learning opportunities often do). We had just finished playing the number line hop game and were getting ready to walk down the outdoor corridor to go to our usual space in the library for handwriting practice. One of the students looked at the number line we had just finished hopping on and said, “I wish we could make a number line all the way to library”. And suddenly there was an eruption of excitement in my small group as they all thought about the possibility of hopping down a massive number line. While the thirty minutes of group time wasn’t long enough to actually create such a large number line the idea had me excited as well. Another one of the students’ learning objectives is to learn to count up by ones and I saw this as a simple opportunity to help them continue to achieve that.
I suggested that rather than drawing a number line all the way to the library we should count our steps and see how many it would take us to get there. This seemingly simple idea had all of my students wriggling with excitement and whispering numbers to themselves all the way to the library. It was by far the most productive, and quietest walk we have had yet. This moment really stuck out to me because it reminded me to apply one of the most important lessons I learned from my teaching classes at Cornell, to seek out teaching moments everywhere. As a teacher it is so meaningful to listen to students’ ideas and show enthusiasm for every lesson I’m teaching so that even something as simple as counting your steps can become a learning moment.

Week 4: Torbay School, Auckland New Zealand

December 9th, 2013

Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education

This week I began teaching my small group. I take the newest eight students (who moved into this class the same day I did) out for an hour each morning. When I talked to my cooperating teacher about what I should focus on in my group she told me it was mostly up to me. She gave me some general guidelines for some of the end of the year goals but left the majority of the planning to me. This was an extreme contrast to the freedom I was allowed when planning in the States. Due to the statewide standardization of curriculum in Iowa I had a fairly strict day by day plan for what I should be accomplishing with the students. This left only a small amount of wriggle room for me to develop lessons that were completely my own. Therefore, this new freedom was initially quite intimidating. However, I’ve found that I really love being able to design my own lessons and working with a small group has been a really nice way to ease into doing this effectively.
With my small group this week I have been working math support by helping the students learn to count down from twenty. To do that we have been doing a game called Number Line Hop. I draw a number line on the sidewalk outside of our classroom and the students have to hop down the numbers on the line while saying them out loud. I hope that including the motion of hopping and the verbal confirmation of saying the numbers will help students commit it to memory. In addition to this math game we have been using the Treasure Chest of Junk to help students think about words with similar initial sounds. Lastly we have been working on handwriting. For handwriting students are taught to practice the simple shapes that make up most letters and then as the week goes on we start practicing writing the letters themselves.
For topic the students are still learning about different holidays. To continue with that theme I taught a whole group lesson about Hanukkah, since it started later this week. Most students had never heard of Hanukkah and were very interested in learning about the traditional Hanukkah game called Dreidel. They were especially intrigued when I told them that the winner of the game often gets handfuls of chocolate coins. While a small group of students were playing Dreidel with me the others were working on decorating their own Dreidels (similar to tops) that now hang on our wall.
My week wrapped up with another trip down to the beach with the Waterwise program. This time I helped with a science lesson on animals living in the rock pools. This was an incredible example of true hands on learning as students were given buckets and told to go find wildlife in the rock pools to study. Once they found some they showed them to the other teacher or I so that we could look in our key to find out what sort of animal they found and some information about that animal. Some of the amazing creatures they found included jellyfish, crabs, two different kinds of starfish, shrimp, and fish. I think that I was even more excited about all of their discoveries that the children were because I have never seen many of those animals in the wild before. However, the students’ were still abuzz with eagerness with each new animal they found.

Week 3: Torbay School, Auckland New Zealand

November 29th, 2013

Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education

This week I continued to have some incredible experiences with the children in my class, along with some of the children from other classes. I got to see some really interesting and innovative teaching techniques that I will be using when I teach a small group next week. One of these techniques is with teaching reading. The students are learning about rhyme and distinguishing the different sounds in a word, along with being exposed to plenty of literature. My mentor teacher uses an engaging technique for teaching students about rhyme and syllables, called the Treasure Chest of Junk. This treasure chest is, as it’s name suggests, filled with “junk” or different items or toys that can be used to help students develop their phonemic awareness. I have seen it used for students to find items with the same or different beginning sounds and ending sounds.
In addition to using the Treasure Chest of Junk and many other reading or sight word puzzles, students do daily reading groups. This week I have started taking out a reading group during this time and it’s amazing to see what a tremendous difference this small group experience can make. The students love getting to read their level-appropriate books together. These books are attainable for the students to read because they have lots of pictures, as well as repetition in the storyline. This helps students build their confidence as readers while developing their skills at recognizing a good sentence and a well-developed story.
This week I also got to teach a lesson on Thanksgiving, since it is coming up soon. The students have been learning about holidays from around the world so my lesson fit well into their curriculum. For my lesson I decided to keep it simple and hands-on. I shared a silly Story of Thanksgiving video as told by hand turkeys and then the students drew their hand turkeys and completed the sentence “I am thankful for…” The result was completely adorable and heartwarming.
On Friday, I got to chaperone some of the older classes trip to a cultural festival called Onepoto. This was a massive gathering of all of the Kapa Haka and Pacifica cultural groups from the primary and intermediate schools around the area. There was traditional Maori food and incredible dance performances. Jacob was performing in both of Torbay’s performances so I made sure to take my group to them. Both performances included a beautiful, flowing dance done by the girls, which was occasionally punctuated by war cries from the boys. Then as the girls’ dance was ending the boys stomped forward doing the fierce and powerful Kapa Haka chant. The whole performance was amazing and moving to watch.

Week 2: Torbay School, Auckland New Zealand

November 22nd, 2013

Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education

This week I have started in the classroom I will be based in for the rest of the term. This is a class full of lively 5 year-olds, most of whom have been in school for quite some time. It has been so amazing getting to see the different teaching strategies and curriculum at this stage of a child’s education. One of the most notable differences between American Kindergarten and Kiwi Year Zero is the PMP program. PMP, which stands for Perceptual Motor Program. This program gives students in the lower grades the chance to improve their balance, fine motor, and hand/eye coordination skills, all of which are essential in learning to write and developing problem solving skills. The students spend about 45 minutes a day three days a week, doing various PMP obstacle courses using jumping, throwing, tumbling, and core strength activities. It has been wonderful to see students having tons of fun while developing skills that help them succeed in the classroom. Another difference I noticed is the involvement of Maori culture into the schools. The children sing a good morning song in Maori and the language is incorporated into lessons throughout the day. I love that the I am learning some Maori from the curriculum as well as directly from the children.

On Friday I was allowed to tag along for Waterwise, which is a weekly trip to the beach that all Year 5 and 6 students go on. It was a gorgeous sunny day as I helped chaperon all the children on the short walk to the beach. Once there I judged a sand castle competition and helped outfit many of the students in life-jackets. Other students were doing sketches of the beach, creating sculptures of sun safety, and swimming. The  highlight of my day was learning to kayak. I felt very proud that I kayaked back and forth for an hour and didn’t even tip over! I still can’t believe how close I am living to the ocean right now. It feels unreal!

Week 1: Torbay Primary School, Auckland New Zealand

November 18th, 2013

Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education

This first week at Torbay School has been such an incredible learning experience for me. I arrived early on Thursday morning, which gave me a few days to settle in and experience some amazing opportunities. My first day here I met my immediate host-family, which consists of Vanessa, a hilarious teacher with some incredible baking skills and her equally hilarious and energetic nine-year-old son, Jacob. Shortly after they picked me up from the airport we dropped Jacob at school, which gave me a chance to see the classroom I would be working in and meet some of my colleagues. The rest of that day was spent trying to adjust to the time difference using loads of coffee and one long nap. Since it was Halloween I went out Trick-or-Treating with Vanessa’s sister-in-law and nieces. It turns out the only people in New Zealand who like Halloween are the children and the candy companies, so we were met with a lot of “NO TRICK-OR-TREATERS” signs. The rest of my weekend was spent exploring Auckland with Vanessa’s parents, and going on an overnight boat trip with the deputy principal and her family

My first week of teaching was amazing! I am in a Kindergarten (or year zero) class. Students in New Zealand start school on their fifth birthday, regardless of what time of year it is so the class I am in this week is the first class they come to. Eight of the children from this class have been in school long enough to move up to the next class and I will be moving with them. One of the first things that struck me about the New Zealand school systems is the relaxed atmosphere with plenty of down time. Students are in school from 9-3 and they get a “morning tea” break along with an hour for lunch. I was happily surprised that teachers are encouraged to sit down and drink tea together during this time as well. Despite the relaxed atmosphere being in a class of new-to-school five year olds requires a lot of energy. I credit my discussions in Cornell classes and also my prior student teaching experience for reminding me of the importance of being flexible and always being able to  think on my feet. These two skills have been used more than ever in my short time here.

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