Monday, December 17, 2007

Final Farewell

Today was the last day for me at Swanson school and it definitely was one that was filled with mixed emotions. Many of the same students who gave me the hardest time were asking me to stay another day and to come back and visit.

Over the weekend Jan, Cory, and I went to "Christmas at the Zoo." It was mainly for kids with face painting and Santa, but they also had bands and a parade...not to mention seeing all the animals.

Today was the "Leavers Assembly" for the Year 7/8's. It was great to see all the students who were recognized for their achievements this year. Getting ready for it during the day also lent itself to allow me to spend some last moments talking to the students in my class. As one of the teachers said when she saw me jumping rope with all the students at recess yesterday...I really have come along way...from the struggle of getting the students to listen to getting to know them and befriending them such that I'm out playing with them. I guess it was just bittersweet. I hope that many do keep in contact as promised because I would like to know how they turned out in high school next year and beyond.

At the same time as my adventure at Swanson Primary comes to a conclusion... a new adventure starts tomorrow. I'm excited for the activities ahead. We are going to an island off Auckland for a wine tour this week, blackwater rafting at Wiatoma caves...and then my tour also starts this week. I'll be backpacking down to Queenstown (15 day tour). Then I fly to Sydney in Jan. and get to spend the week taking in the sights and hanging out with Brian before coming back home to the reality of job hunting. If I get time I'll try to post some pics from the tours...otherwise, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you all in 2008!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Another great week!

Well the past weekend turned out to be a good one. Friday night was the staff Christmas party in Auckland. It was at this nice restaurant called "Wildfire." I think I did too much chatting though...because suddenly all the food was being brought back to the kitchen and I realized I hadn't had much of anything...but my dessert was delicious :). It was also a great opportunity to talk to some staff members I hadn't really met yet.

Me and Jane (one of the other Year 7/8 teachers)

Saturday was a full day...headed to the gym in the morning and Jan picked me up after my two hour sweat session. Then it was straight to the Lion Brewery tour. The tour was actually quite interesting as it went into to a brief history of beer and ended with this brewery and how it is the largest in New Zealand. It also talked about prohibition in New Zealand (pubs used to close at 6pm!-so they had a big problem as the people got off work at 5pm and had an hour in which they crammed as much alcohol into their bodies as they could) and showed some of their advertising. Very interesting and the free samples at the end were great too!

Slapping the bum on this statue was supposed to bring you good luck!

Afterwards, we took a short drive over to One Tree Hill. It was this hill in Auckland in which they had a tree planted, but someone chopped it down about 10 years ago (I called it None Tree Hill). They do have a monument there though and a great view of the city. Here's a blurb on it:

The remaining tree was later attacked twice with chainsaws by Māori protesters (partly because it was not a native New Zealand species and thus considered an insult). The first attack happened on 28 October 1994, the anniversary of the 1835 Declaration of Independence.[6] A second attack on the 5th of October 2000[7] left the tree unable to recover and so it was removed due to the risk of it dying and falling down. The chainsaw used in the first attack was placed on sale on popular New Zealand auction site, TradeMe in 2007[8] but later withdrawn by the website after complaints and a poll of users. It was later listed on eBay.[9]

Sunday was spent getting into the Christmas spirit with cookie making and tree decorating. Though in typical 6year old fashion, Cory split on the Christmas cookies after one sheet...but I still had fun rolling and making all the cut-outs. I still am having problems getting used to rain outside instead of snow in December though... He brought the cookies in for his class and they thanked me by all making me cards. I'm heading in their classroom today to thank them for taking the time to make those and also answering any questions they may have about life in America.

This school week has also whizzed by and it is hard to think as I write this I only have three more days in the classroom. We are still working to finish up all our units and this week we had a guy come from Family Planning. It was good to see the students finally acting more mature on the subject and also how much they had learned the previous week from our teaching. On Thursday we also had a Christmas concert at the school. All the classroom performed different songs and they school was selling sausages, snow cones, and drinks. It had quite a turn out. I was there for two reasons- to support my classroom and also to watch Cory perform in his class. It was funny to remember age 6 again-he spent half his performance turned around watching what was going on behind him.

Above: Students from my classroom

Below: Cory and his classroom (Year 1)

Outside of school, on Wednesday night, Jan, Sonya, Robb, and I went into Auckland to see Rhy Darby perform stand up comedy. For those of you whom that name doesn't ring a bell, he is the manager in the show, "Flight of the Concords." He was hysterical and I walked out of there with my cheeks hurting from laughing so hard. I've been watching the show here weekly and so during his break I had to get my picture taken with him. He was really nice about it (I'm sure in his head he thought, "nice stalker"...but I got my photo!!)

This week has also been an exciting time as Brian flew down to Australia on Thursday/Friday. I'm definately getting excited to start my backpacking trip next weekend. But it is bittersweet because I seemed to finally be getting in the swing of things here and enjoying the classroom and my routine here. It sunk in when I said goodbye to Robb on Thursday as well. He was leaving for a 6 week trip to Europe so I said my first of many goodbyes in the upcoming week.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The school year is coming to an end...

Things have been very busy here at school, as we have only two weeks left and it seems are trying to quickly fit in everything. Today we took the students who help the school in some way (PE Monitors, Road Patrolers, Librarians, etc) to Rainbow's End. Rainbow's End is New Zealand's largest theme park. Many of the students in my class give up their time for these jobs, so Mrs. Thompson and I were able to also go. This was nice because we didn't have to chaperone, but were allowed to just wander from group to group. The theme park wasn't very big (about 1/3 the size of Great America), but we still were running from ride to ride and didn't get them all in.

During class, we are trying to quickly finish up all of our units. In English they were assigned their big advertising project and all the students in the class have taken off with it. They had to create a product and then two print ads and a radio advertisement for it-then they will present it to me next week. It really proved that when the students are able to do something of interest they will work. We've got Fergie perfume, muffins, the kid who normally sits and reads car magazines is now designing a car ad, and even the two boys who sit and graffiti their notebooks are now making ads for some product they designed that will make graffititing easier :). I'm hoping to still squeeze in looking at some commercials from Super Bowl next week and also looking at this Front Line video called "Merchants of Cool," which talks about how companies such as MTV and Sprite market to teens. I thought that would be an entertaining way to wrap up this unit. Also, I really lucked out here because we happen to also be teaching a new unit starting this week on none other than ....puberty. We have to do six lessons on it and one of the lessons is going to be on media stereotyping and effects on we will look once again at magazines and tie this and the "Merchants of Cool" together. Luckily, the difficult lessons on puberty (or the ones that result in all the giggling) are being conducted by a lady coming in from Family Planning-so I could wipe the sweat off my forehead on that one.

Finally, the students are taking questions they generated about different parts of the world and researching one question this week. Next week they will need to present their findings to the class. We also just started up a quick unit on fractions, decimals, and percents in math. Add into these plans singing practices for our Leaver's Assembly (this is for the Year 8's-a graduation for them as they leave to go to high school) and art, fitness, spelling, a Christmas concert, etc...and I don't know how we are going to get it all in. The students have also been helping take down the classroom and the last day of school will be spent moving Mrs. Thompson's things to her new classroom.

In life outside the classroom, I'm also trying to get in some last minute activities before my three weeks of backpacking begin and at the same time do some relaxing. Last weekend I spent relaxing as Jan and her boyfriend were away in Wellington seeing Beckham play. This weekend is looking like it will get me into the Christmas spirit (something that has been unusually hard and I think it is because I am still in shorts)-Friday we have the staff Christmas party in Auckland. Then Saturday I think Jan and I are doing some Christmas shopping and/or the Lion Brewery Tour, and Sunday Cory and I are planning on making Christmas cookies (he already told the class that we are making them all cookies!!). Overall, the time is just going to fly by these next two weeks!

Monday, November 26, 2007

A busy week and weekend...

This last week and weekend were very busy. Last week we had many things going on in school. First, on Tuesday night I got to try a new fruit- the Cherimoya. Jan calls it a custard apple. It is sweet and creamy and actually very good (excuse the picture-this was a post workout treat). Here's a blurb I found on it:

Origins: The cherimoya was originally grown by Inca farmers in Ecuador and Peru. Today it is grown in Chile, Argentina, Spain, California and New Zealand.Description: Sometimes called the custard fruit or custard apple, the cherimoya has a creamy flesh that tastes like a blend of banana, passion fruit, papaya and pineapple. It's best eaten straight, by cutting the fruit into wedges and spooning out the flesh (discard the black, inedible seeds). They can also be added to fruit salads and pureed as a mousse or pie filling.Lore: Mark Twain is said to have called the cherimoya "deliciousness itself."Key Nutrition Value: Cherimoya is a good source of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium.

Wednesday we had an athletics day. Each student in year 7/8 was divided into three groups based on age. Then they competed in different track and field events to see which students would be going to the Athletics Day versus other schools. It was a great sunny day for competing and a great chance for me to mingle with the students. This Thursday our school will be competing in Athletics Day and I’m lucky enough to go and experience that. Not sure whether we did anything like this in middle school- if we did, I definitely wouldn’t have been a student chosen to go. However, my classroom is filled with quite a lot of athletes and about half of them will be attending.

Thursday, my second lesson in advertising with the magazines was a success this time. I was worried that this lesson was not going to keep their attention, especially when competing with Britney Spears and other gossip magazines in front of them. So I made the lesson into a competition-we went through slides on different techniques advertisers use to persuade their audiences and then the students had to search their magazines to be the fist to find the technique. This worked so much better! But I guess the true test will come this week when they put these techniques to use in creating their own ad campaigns. I also enjoyed a great afternoon- my host family and her friends Sonya (she’s does the gardening at school) and her son Zaine, and Caitlin, a girl from Cory’s class, all went on a hike of the Cascades. We followed that up with a nice picnic and it was a very enjoyable Thanksgiving for me. The night was topped off with another lovely bouquet of flowers from Brian when we got home- a Thanksgiving surprise for me (am I spoiled or what!).

Friday was a reward day for the students. Students at Swanson don’t receive homework on a daily basis. At the beginning of each week the students are given a Homework sheet which has a number of tasks for them to complete in the different subject areas. They have all week to complete it and turn it in to be graded on Fridays. The students receive points for completing their homework with quality and accuracy and they are able to save and spend these points. This biggest reward is a fun day planned by the teachers. Friday was one of these days-we had a movie, the students were able to order McDonald’s for lunch, and they had video games and board games. I was amazed by the games too. They had "Eye Toy"...where there was this camera which filmed them in the video game.... and the Monopoly game was even advanced for me--no more paper money everywhere. Each player had a credit card and they swiped it in this machine to buy propertys and get more money. No more cheating at Monopoly!!

This day turned out to be perfect timing for me because I went to the doctor the day before for my week long headache and was definitely not in the right mind that day….but enjoyed relaxing, watching Night at the Museum, and hanging out with the students. The more I’m able to chat with them and get to know them, the better they seem to behave while I’m teaching so I really enjoy these days out of the normal routine. For example, the girls who weren’t listening to me had a “heart to heart” of sorts with me on athletic day where they informed me that the reason they weren’t listening to me is because A). they don’t know me and b.) I wasn’t letting them sit by their friends. But the day after this conversation, the very girl who gave me the most trouble in the beginning intervened when I was trying to get another guy to pay attention- I’m not sure throwing her dictionary at him and yelling, “listen to Miss Castleberry” is how I wanted to handle things, but I appreciated the gesture :).

Over the weekend, the fun continued as we (Jan, Cory, and I) headed up north to the Bay of Islands-you can see from the picture how it gets it name. We were staying in Russell, which is about a 4.5 hour drive from Swanson. On the way we stopped at many lookouts. We also stopped for a coffee in Kawakawa. It turned out to be more than a coffee stop because we had our drinks at an old train station that was turned into a café. They stilled had the old train running three times a day and since we happened to be there we took the 15 min. return journey on the train through the town.

Sunday we had all day to explore…we took the car ferry to Paihia and were able to go to a number of lookout views. The view was absolutely amazing. It is said that all the gorgeous pictures you see of New Zealand are taken in the Bay of Islands…and I definitely believe it. My pictures don’t do it the proper justice. We also took a short walk to Rainbow Falls…and had our indulgences, stopping at the Makana Chocolate factory for some tasting and also as the Cottle Hill Winery. Ironically the people who owned this winery were from California and had sailed here and opened this vineyard. We then spent some time on the beach and let Cory get out some energy at the playground. After lots of sun and a bit of walking, we were all tired and went back to the unit for some Toasted cheese and pineapple sandwiches and some relaxing.

My teacher was on release day (they get the day off for planning-twice a term) for planning Monday, so I was able to use the day to drive home. We had driven up the East coast to get to Russell and we took the extra time and drove back on the West Coast.

I’m glad we did. We stopped at a lookout point and were lucky enough to see some whales. They were swimming out of an inlet towards the ocean (and maybe Australia). Then we drove through the Waipoua Forest and saw one of the largest Kauri trees- Tane Mahuta. When we pulled over to see it and told Cory he asked, “who’s Tony Mahuta?” We died laughing and I guess from now on this tree will be known as “big Tony” to the three of us. Cory and I fell asleep after that and we arrived home about 5:30pm after a very scenic and fun weekend. Overall, an enjoyable week!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This week went by pretty fast even though I spent the last half of it nursing a nasty cold. I’m definitely adjusting better in the classroom…realizing where to pick my battles. We started looking at advertising in magazines this week, which was interesting. A teacher’s aid that was in the classroom in while I was teaching one lesson commented, “They seemed really into it.” That they did-trouble was I’m not sure whether they were in to looking at the ads or the articles—some were definitely more intrigued by pictures of Britney Spears picking a zit than cutting and pasting advertisements into different categories. I’m definitely going to rethink how I do part II of this lesson. In the middle of next week I’m assigning them their big advertising project so hopefully I can figure out a way for them to pay attention so they can use the information from the next time we look at ads(types of propaganda used) in their projects. The good news is that they did happily do some sharing this time around—I had them discuss different ads they found in their groups and share the one they thought was the best. From now on I think I will be having groups share instead of individuals because the teeth-pulling was at a minimum. Because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to compete with their talking, I revised our English lesson and took advantage of their NIE program. They get free newspapers for their school (I think they rotate which classroom gets them each week) and teachers were given a book of activities that can be used with them. I’m hoping to copy some of these activities because they would work great at almost all levels. I had the students do some activities that were in the book: one in which they had to write about an advertisement they found in the paper, one where they found an article about a place and answered questions, and a fun one where they looked through the paper and listed five gifts they would like to give someone and their total cost). The activities in this book were really great in that they could be adapted for any newspaper and were geared towards all different areas and intelligences. I chose activities that I thought corresponded with what we were doing in class (countries and advertising) as well as telling them the last one was to get ready for Christmas shopping –wish that activity was for real because I would have scored some great trips to Fiji!!
One of the students I’m very fond of also helped make my week special. From the first day he has been very curious about America (I think he watches too many movies because he is the one who asked me if Americans all sit outside on their porches all the time). Dragging myself to school sick one day wishing I was still in bed, he came in the classroom and immediately ran over to me and was like, “Miss Castleberry, I got you a present.” Of course, cynical Sarah was like, “is this a joke?” How cute…he went Christmas shopping and was handing out his presents the next day. So my sick day was brightened with my new doggie keychain (of course I’d been rambling about my puppies during one of our breaks). It was nice on that day to remember that not all 30 students are rolling their eyes at me.
Saturday we took advantage of the awesome weather and headed into Auckland. We went to Kelly Tarton’s Antarctic Encounter. It was pretty much an aquarium with an Antarctica theme. They had this ride that you go on where you look like you are getting into one of the machines they drive in Antarctica. Then you go around by the seals-it was cool how close you got to them this way and they seemed to come closer and be just as interested in you as you were of them. They had a lot of interesting exhibits about the explorers that have gone to Antarctica, but anyone who knows me and museums knows I didn’t spend too much time reading all the exhibits…though the pictures and displays were enjoyable.
After spending some time here we headed to one of the many beaches. Cory made some friends and played in the water while Jan and I just did some sunbathing…or sun-snoozing. Then we treated ourselves to ice cream and headed home.

Sunday Jan and I went to a cafe to listen to a was very relaxing and great way to end the weekend!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A relaxing weekend after a long week...

Well today I have a planning day at school. Every few weeks the teachers are given a day where they are able to plan and a substitute teacher comes in for the students. I wasn't made aware of this till Friday though and already had almost all my planning done for the rest of the time I'm here ...besides Math which I'm still hesitant to jump into. So today was a great day to go through all my teachers resources and decide what I want to take home...and catch up on here last week.

Well the last week has been a very trying one. I took over the morning block and some activities in the afternoon as well. I'm pretty much in charge all day except for reading and when we do things with the other two classrooms in our grade/years. That has proven to have it's ups and downs. I've taken over the persuasion unit and we started talking about persuasive texts. I'm definitely finding that the students will do only those things that interest them, namely something that can be done on Microsoft Publisher and allows them to go to the computer lab. But they don't like it so much when I tell them they have to show me work before I will let them go (they forgot I was a very observant the first two weeks and know that must spent their time on U-Tube).

While I feel at times like a drill sergeant because I'm constantly on them to stay on task and work (things seem to be much more laid back here, but I like to see some productivity going on), I definitely learned the hard way that getting these students to share their work is an entirely different thing. I had a lesson the middle of last week talking about emotive words used in persuasion while my teacher was doing reading testing. The focus in lessons here is definitely less teacher talk and more student-centered work and activities. Anymore than 5 minutes of teacher speaking would lose their attention. So I went over examples ("would you rather buy a car advertised as an "automobile
" or a "heap, ""would you rather go to a party that was called a "gathering" or a "rager") and then passed out different words. The idea was for them to define and use the word and then we'd share them and put them up to use later in the persuasive texts we will be creating. When it got time for sharing you would have thought I asked them to open up so I could remove teeth. The girls in the back were talking so I asked to start and we had to wait a few minutes before they realized I wasn't taking their "no" as an answer. Then one of the girls threw a mini-tantrum when I asked her to read her sentence and hadn't made her friend read it (I've been having problems getting this group of girls to warm up to me). The whole time this is going on the rest of the class wasn't even listening. It's bad enough they talk while I'm talking, but they don't even respect each other! I had to ask them numerous time to listen to each other, though I'm pretty positive that no one heard each other. Needless to say, after that one I spent some time in the girl's room composing myself and rethinking strategies and more importantly, how I was going to get the class, and most importantly those girls, to recognize that I was in charge. For now, I'm going to focus on more "doing" and less "sharing." I was told by a teacher here that the Maori culture is one of teamwork instead of individuality so sharing may embarrass some of the students. I still am thinking it has more to do with challenging me...but I am going to keep it in mind in the future.

The rest of the week did get better though. Thursday I had them do an activity where they write down five things they dislike and reasons why. Then they switched with a partner and had to make a flyer or a paragraph convincing that person why they should like one of the things on their list. Some of the students had some really creative ideas! Starting tomorrow we are going to be looking at actual ads in magazines to talk about target audience, ads that appeal to emotion vs. the mind, and types of propaganda techniques that are used. This will have them doing a lot of hands on activities with magazines and will lead up to a project for them. This unit reminded me a lot of my high school Marketing class and it worked out great because a quick e-mail to Mr. Bichler(thanks Mr. B!!) and I'm having the students do the Retail Alphabet game. I had to alter and make my own since we don't have the same brands as New Zealand, but I think they are really going to like it. Try it for yourselves and see how you do:

I also found a great Webquest where they will be in groups as an advertising agency and will need to create an ad for a product and a 30 sec. radio advertisement. We will try sharing again at the end of this project and hopefully they will get more excited and willing in a group. They seem to be very motivated by group I may turn it into a competition where I pick that winning ad.

In inquiry we're finishing up our country boards and the students will start researching an area of the world this week or next week. I was also busy last Friday redecorating with some of their postcards...

After a long, emotional week in the classroom, I decided to relax over the weekend. I joined a gym on Saturday morning where I found the same aerobics classes as I take back home (this is a really big deal to me...for those who don't know my obsession). It's nice to have a bit of normalcy and an outlet to keep me sane when days in the classroom get rough. So Saturday I did a little Body Combat and then spent the day relaxing and reading a new book. Yesterday was gorgeous and warm...but spend the day shopping..just typical Sunday activities. It was kind of nice to do the things that I do back home..that is what makes it feel more like a home than always a tourist.

And today (Monday) has turned out to be an amazing one! On one level, the girl who had a tiff with me last week came to help me all morning, which is a definite step in the right direction, since she can be a pistol if she decides she wants to. Then, even better, Brian got the OK on travel dates and will be coming to visit me December 14th. I think I'm going to save Lord of the Rings for when he comes and can't wait! So things are off to a good start...

Here are some pictures from a scenic drive we took near our home one day last week...are you rolling your eyes at all the beautiful scenery and hills yet :)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Weekend in Rotorua

This weekend Megan and I went with my host family for a weekend in Rotorua. We left Saturday midday which was great because I had a lot of preparation work to do for Monday. So I spent Friday night doing school work. I did receive a wonderful surprise though..Brian managed to have flowers sent to me IN NEW ZEALAND! That made for a great start to the weekend.

Rotorua turned out to be a lot of fun. We stopped in Matamata on the way for some lunch. This is where we will be heading back next weekend for the Hobbiton tour-and it already looks like this town needed Lord of The Rings to place it on the map. When we got to Rotorua we went to the top of the mountain to get some good views of the city and lake in which the town surrounds. Unfortunately, a restaurant has capitalized on the view and was pretty stingy-fences and signs saying ‘customers only” and “surveillance cameras” were everywhere. So my only photos from the top have barbed wire and were taken in the car J.

On Saturday night Megan and I went to a Maori show and dinner. Maori are the native people of New Zealand. They picked us up from our cabin at 6pm. The show was interesting to watch and the food…well, that was amazing. They had traditional Maori “hangi” which is food that is cooked in the ground, as well as an array of seafood, salads, and desserts. Needless to say, I wasn’t hungry when we left.

Sunday Megan and I walked to the hot springs and mud pools in Rotorua. This is really what the town is famous for. All we really had to do was follow our nose because as you got closer the smell of rotten eggs (sulfur) was definitely present. After that, we got picked up and all went to the Luge. You take a gondola up the mountain and then ride these cars down three different tracks. That was really fun, even though I wasn’t too adventurous so my ride down was more of a “Sunday stroll” as I was permanently in the brake position. Oh well, as long as I had fun, right.

Then Megan and I decided to also try this contraption (think it was just called the “Swing”). You are harnessed in and then it pulls you very high up. It was kind of scary because there was nothing to hold on to and you are lifted until you are literally looking straight down at the ground. Then someone who is in the contraption with you (in this case I nominated Megan) has to pull the string that releases you. We were dying laughing because Megan couldn’t get it to release on the first pull. After some technical difficulties, we were launched at about 100 miles per hour out over the mountain. It was quite a thrill and contrary to the pictures, I had a lot of fun!! Overall, a very fun weekend that went by too fast!