Trish’s Wedding

For those of you who followed my Costa Rica blog, you will remember my best friend Trish just married our Costa Rican friend Albin Contreras Mata in December. Here’s a photo of Trish and all the ladies (L to R: Kate, Sarah, Amy, Melissa, Trish, Hannah, Brittany, Rachel) in Cincinnati on a freezing cold, windy day… We’re a lot colder than we look : ). The only unfortunate thing about the photo is that you can’t see our sparkly gold platform heels… not kidding, we really wore them. Trish, do you have any group photos with our shoes showing?

And for anyone interested in reading more about Costa Rica, Trish started a new blog that you can read here. Sarah (pictured above, second from the left) also just moved to Costa Rica and you can read her blog here.


Big Deal Blogging

Okay, so this is a BIG DEAL, thus the need for capital letters : ). In our district, we have district coaches for math and reading instruction. Last week, the district math coach, Deb Devine, was facilitating a professional development course in my school’s computer lab after school. Deb asked if she could use my computer and printer during the afternoon to prepare, so she was half-listening to our math lesson and mostly-focused on what she needed to accomplish.

At the end of the lesson, Deb asked if I would take a photo of my whiteboard and send it to her so she could put it on her blog. (My jaw nearly hit the floor in surprise… Excuse me? You mean I’m a first year teacher in the district and you’re going to use my strategies to teach others?? Wow, what an honor!!)

So here’s the link to my debut on Deb’s blog. Maybe there will be more in the future : ).

Concept Mapping

During my Masters class Reading and Writing to Learn, we have done a lot of reflection about how students learn best. One idea that was new for me was that of ”making learning visible,” that is, allowing students to see how much they are learning.

In order to help students visualize their learning, one tool is the concept map. I explained to students that as we learn new information, our brain makes connections between what we have learned before and what we are learning now (There’s literally tons of brain research out there on how we form schema throughout our lifetime.) As a class, we discussed several different options for organization (thanks to Google Images) before beginning our Ancient Rome concept map (pictured above). As we learn more about life in Ancient Rome, we add to our learning map. It has been a great tool for student discussion as we can refer back to the map to help us recall what we have learned.

Another use of the concept map is to scaffold student learning as they independently read nonfiction texts. Of course, before students are ready for using the concept map on their own, the teacher must model multiple times. As we read a very basic nonfiction book titled A Nest Full of Eggs, I modeled how I was thinking about organizing my concept maps while students also worked on their individual concept maps at their desks.

A teacher-modeled concept map

A student’s individual concept map

I have found that the use of concept maps when students are reading independently gives students a boost of confidence as we share after our daily Read to Self time. Before using concept maps, students would come to sharing time with very little to say about what they learned. Now, students can say, “Look at everything I learned!!” and have lots of connections to share with the class.

My Spanish Teachers

Introducing… my Spanish teachers! These women meet every other Friday for Bible study and I join in for the Bible and for the Spanish : ). They are so patient with my Spanish, and I feel like a celebrity with all the kids because they’re like, ”You’re the bilingual teacher!?” and then they want to tell me every detail of their school accomplishments : ). I love every moment of it! 

Left to Right: Maria Carmen holding Josefina, Marti, Marta holding Jeremy, Raquel standing on tip toe behind Marta, Ashley (in front of me), Suzi, and Suzi’s son.

Several are missing from the photo as they had already left or were not able to make it this evening.

Field Trip Photos!

Thanks to a co-worker, I have a couple photos to share from our field trip last week! I ventured to the Museum of Science and Industry with my eight 6th graders. Here’s Miss Siscoe in her element:

Front Left to Right: Tomas, Luis

Back Left to Right: Yessenia, Sofía, Gabriel, Christina, Miss Siscoe, Mario, Josúe

Left to Right: Josúe, Mario, Tomas, Yessenia, Luis

Back to Being Gringa

Alright, alright, I have to admit it. Even though I have always been a gringa (a white girl), I have had my moments of trying to be not-so-gringa…

Like the long process of perfecting (almost : )) that tico (Costa Rican) accent of saying “y” and “ll” like a “j” (example: tortilla = tortiJa) and making more of a “sh” sound for the “rr” (example: correr = cossshhhher). Now I am caught between whether to continue in my tico accent ways or if I should adapt more of the mexicano accent that is prevalent here in Elgin. (By the way, gringa is Costa Rican and guerra is Mexican Spanish… It’s not just different accents — it’s also different vocabularies!)

Or like the time I dyed my hair dark brown in an attempt to blend in better as I walked the San José city streets between bus stops. Unfortunately, the reflection-white skin and the blue eyes still gave me away and I was still called machita (blondie) by the masses.

Or how every time I would go to the beach, I would try and try and try to get that perfect golden tan, hoping that would be the key to becoming a latina look-alike. I think I achieved the perfect tan a grand total of twice in my three years in CR… I overdid the sun intake and just got burnt crimson red instead of browned.

So now I’m back living in gringolandia, as any white community of people is jokingly called by Costa Ricans. I have come to terms again with admitting, “Yes, I am one of the gringos”… It took a while as I had to pass through the normal stages of criticizing the degree of international ignorance and being overwhelmed by the materialism and convenience. These arguments still echo in my mind as I go about my daily life, but thankfully, they seem to be at a much quieter volume than they were when I first came back stateside.

Alright, so to solidify this announcement that I am officially a gringa again (haha, as if any of you are surprised), here’s a recent realization that brought on this post:

I need to explain that in Costa Rica, the usual temperature was in the 70s. When the “Christmas winds” would blow from the north in December, the ticos would all get out their parkas, scarves, gloves, hats, and boots. Because the temperature was a mere 50ºF, we gringos would laugh, wear flip flops, and say, “You think this is cold??!” as the ticos wrapped their babies in seven blankets to walk next door. By the third year of being in CR, I too agreed that the Christmas winds were cold… so there I was, wrapping myself up for the “cold” with multiple layers of socks and scarves, although I never was desperate enough to get a parka, lol. 

Okay, so here’s my I-am-a-gringa moment. The winter has been fairly mild here, according to many co-workers and friends. While it may be mild for them, this has been the longest period of time I have interacted with below-freezing temperatures since 2008. Needless to say, I have been very cold. Today hit a high of 47ºF, and I was driving my car with the windows open and I shed my winter coat as the afternoon warmed up. As I was walking from the grocery store back out to my car, I looked down at my outfit: flats, socks, jeans, t-shirt, cardigan. It hit me all of a sudden: I used to think 47ºF was cold when those Christmas winds would blow through… and now I think 47ºF is warm. I think my Costa Rican friend Judit (who is now rocking life in Shanghai working for an Italian architecture firm) would shake her head, pat my shoulder, and say, “Es cierto. Eres una gringa de corazón.”

Welcome back to a temperate climate, Kate. Glad you finally realized you are a machita and yes, a gringa.

Spanish Speaking Pride

A few classroom moments from this week that are must-shares:

1. The bilingual secretary uses the intercom to ask me questions frequently… you know, like, ”Did you turn in your attendance?” (I seem to forget daily so she reminds me daily :)). BUT you know how speaking over the intercom is usually a bit garbled? Like how it sounds almost as if the person is chewing food with their mouth open? Yeah, then add speaking in Spanish on top of that…

So the secretary calls down the other day (in Spanish) during my math class (about 75% Spanish speaking students) and she tells me she has reviewed my translation, that it’s ready, would I like copies made? Now she speaks really fast and I tend to break out in sweat when she calls on the intercom because there’s some serious pressure on the line here… I have a very alert audience, a.k.a. latino students. I say, ”Sip, por favor!!” She says, ”How many would you like?” and I say, ”13!” The intercom beeps off. I turn back to my class. 25% of the students are looking at me like, huh? and the other 75% break out into applause and cheers. I hold up my ”attention hand” (you know, teacher’s signal for ”be quiet right now or else I will get out the referral slips” lol) and the room hushes. I ask, ”What was that for?” and several of the Spanish speakers say in unison, ”Español!!!!

2. I signed my 13 students up for after-school math club (They know they love me for it!). Now those same 13 students who love me for thinking about their after-school activities try to sneak out of this math club whenever possible. As soon as I realized this, I began attending math club as well, just to take attendance. I was doing my attendance duties on Monday afternoon, and Yessenia says to me in español, ”How long do I have to stay for?” and I say in español, ”Until 3 just like every other day.” Another student who is not in our class overheard us and whispers really loud (trying to be subtle??), ”You speak Spanish??? But you look so white!!” Then she clamped her hand over her mouth and her eyes bugged out when she realized how disrespectful that sounded so I said, ”Tranquila. I know I’m white but white girls can speak Spanish too, right?” Yessenia asks again, this time in a different tone of voice, ”¿Por cuánto tiempo quedo, maestra?” I am confused  as to why she is asking me again, and I again answer her, ”¿Hasta a las 3, no?” Yessenia smiles and whispers to me, ”I just wanted to show her again” (Y nods toward the eavesdropper) ”that you could speak Spanish.” Yessenia smiles as I smile my understanding of the code language:

I think my students are proud that their white-girl-teacher speaks the español. ¡Esooooo!