Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Arctic Ecosystems

This July I was fortunate to travel to and around the Svalbard region of Norway. This is a small archipelago located entirely north of the Arctic Circle; as a result, the area experiences 24-hour daylight in the summer months. The largest town, Longyearbyen (population of roughly 2,000), is located on the island of Spitsbergen at 78° north latitude, roughly halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Here, I boarded a ship that would be my home for the next 11 days. With plenty of warm clothes and a hopeful spirit, we set out to circumnavigate the islands and explore the unknown.

Over the duration of the trip, we hiked on glaciers and tundra, ventured into the pack ice in search of polar bears, witnessed a feeding frenzy with several fin whales and hundreds of kittiwakes, encountered walruses on land and at sea, and walked on pack ice. We also had excellent sightings of blue, sperm, and humpback whales, arctic foxes and reindeer, and sea birds such as puffins. Each day the naturalists on board offered lectures on the local flora and fauna, ice forms, and regional environmental pressures. These sessions were a wonderful chance for me to become a student again as I attempted to write down and soak up every bit of information our guides had to offer.

Although my time in the Arctic was limited, I am confident my memories will last a lifetime. I am deeply grateful for receiving a Holden Summer Study Grant to help me pursue this unforgettable experience. I look forward to sharing my photos, personal experiences, and new-found knowledge of this fragile ecosystem with my 7th grade life science classes.

Pulling our zodiac onto an ice floe.

Excited to see a polar bear up close!

A pod of walrus on a small ice floe.

Feeding frenzy with fin whales, white-beaked dolphins, and kittiwake sea birds.

Heading into the sea ice on a foggy morning.

A polar bear investigates our ship.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Presenting at the AATSP Conference in Panamá

Last summer, through the Joan Holden Fellowship, I had the great opportunity to present at a conference in Panama. This annual event, organized by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, gathers educators from all corners of Latin America. Thus, it is a wonderful venue to interchange ideas, network and learn from others.

I presented on an innovative instructional model I am developing together with my husband, a fellow passionate educator. It is called F.A.C.E.S, which stands for the five crucial elements we believe have to exist in order to engage students in the classroom. These elements are: FUN, AFFIRMATION, CHALLENGE, EXPRESSION, and SUCCESS. By experiencing these, students can see themselves as the center of the learning process and therefore, experience success.

This presentation allowed me to share my thoughts and experience with others. My ideas were welcomed and I received very good feedback. Once again, I start a new academic year inspired and eager to learn with my students. I am forever grateful to the St. Stephen´s and St. Agnes community for their support and trust. As a proud Saint, I feel blessed to work with wonderful human beings who believe in true and life-long education.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saints Visual Artist in Bali


Every artist is in search of new and creative material and experiences that will inform their own individual creative expression. This kind of exposure undoubtedly impacts classroom instruction.

This, my second APT summer travel grant experience (the first was ten years ago/2004 when I traveled to LaMerridana International Ceramics School in Certaldo, Italy) has taken me to Ubud-pronounced OooBooD, Bali the artist cultural capital of Indonesia.

For the past week I have attended a silversmithing class at Studio Perak-Courses in jewelry Making Fresh Design in Silver in the heart of Bali.

At Studio Perak (Perak means Silver) the owner Pak Ketut personally instructs each three-hour course for approximately six students working at individual stations each equipped with its own set of tools.

The workshop is designed to introduce the novice to traditional Balinese jewelry making techniques. The process requires the use of traditional hand tools (file, drill, pliers of varying sizes, and tweezers) to facilitate individual creative expression.

Two main silversmithing approaches are offered and vary between cutting directly into a silver slab of metal with a hand saw to wrapping silver wire, around a form. Each student is encouraged to create an original design or to use one of Ketut’s as a point of departure. Either way, everyone is afforded the option of enhancing their design by stamping or carving a surface texture into the metal or incorporating semi-precious stones to accentuate their creation.

Polishing and sanding the final piece of jewelry were the only required tasks that demanded electricity; otherwise, hard work and effort determined the outcome of each day. In all I created one ring, a pair of earrings, one pendants, a bracelet and a broach, not bad for a beginner as this is my very first experience making jewelry and working with silver.

This series of silver jewelry is taken from a design motif I created to use as a signature for my ceramic work. There are three major components: head, upper and lower torso. The beads symbolize hair and in totality represent a happy girl. I was challenged to work with plat or otherwise linear material that requires assemblage-torching with a blowpipe. I also had to figure out a way to encase the design for functionality.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Physical Science Tour of Copenhagen and Stockholm

Niels Bohr, Hans Christian Oersted, Svante Arrhenius, Alfred Nobel…..these are a few of the famous scientists I learned about on my trip to Scandinavia this summer.  After reading an article titled “Periodic Table Is New Touchstone of Geek Chic” and learning about the seven different elements discovered near Stockholm, I wanted to learn more about the history of chemistry and physics in Scandinavia.  Turns out there are many famous and not so famous scientists from this region.  Thanks to a grant from the APT, I was able to visit Copenhagen and Stockholm this summer and follow in the footsteps of some of these scientists.  I visited universities, birthplaces, gravesites, parks, courtyards and museums.  I have been teaching about them for years, but standing in Niels Bohr’s office or looking at the actual thermometer made by Celsius reminds me that these are not just names in a textbook but real people who accomplished amazing things.  It also reminds me how new and developing the science I teach is.  The modern atomic theory we take for granted in class is largely a development of the 20th century.  Looking at the incredible progress of science in that relatively short time makes me excited to see what discoveries the 21st century will bring.  I am very grateful to the APT for giving me this opportunity and hope that my experiences will help me teach my students how exciting science is.

Sarah Oakes by statue of chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in Stockholm

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Advanced iPad Classroom

In June, I attended a workshop for two days at UC Berkeley.  The workshop, appropriately named The Advanced iPad Classroom, was presented by instructors at EdTechTeacher.org, a leading organization focusing on the successful and efficient integration of technology into school curriculums.  The group of educators in my class included school administrators and teachers representing pre-kindergarten through twelfth grades.  The central focus of the workshop was to teach educators how to use the iPad as a powerful tool for creation and to enhance lessons by allowing students to be creators of their own content.  During the workshop, we spent time covering many apps, but we worked primarily with a core group of apps that should be used together to take lessons to new heights of greatness.  The activity is widely-known as App Smashing, or moving a lesson or piece of media back and forth between several different apps to enhance a project in a way the previous app could not.  The video above is an example of a simple app smash that my group worked on during the workshop.  We used a free stop-motion app called Koma Koma to produce a short 'How To' video (we decided on how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors).  Then we pulled the animation into the iMovie app to add audio effects.  We had twenty minutes to plan, produce and complete the project.  No pressure :)

Most of the workshop operated this way.  We would learn about an app, be given an assignment and a short window of time, then we had to produce something quickly.  The workshop was a fast-paced and hands-on approach to learning.  As attendees, we had to step outside our comfort zones and create in a very short period of time, but these "pressure" situations were very beneficial to the group.  We bonded quickly and became happy colleagues for two days.  We were all focused on producing the results we wanted and we helped each other to reach our goals.  The workshop was very well-structured and planned.  There were times we worked in small groups and times we flew solo.  Sometimes we shared our creations with the entire class and other times we partnered-up with one or two other people for peer-to-peer discussions.  Aside from App Smashing, we spent time focusing on App Fluency, The SAMR Model, The TPACK Framework, The Technology Integration Matrix, and a variety of ideas and iPad apps.

My experience was very inspirational and I am grateful to have attended the workshop.  I highly recommend everyone explore EdTechTeacher.org as you consider your upcoming professional development opportunities.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Democratic Republic of Congo

In June I spent a week in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in and around the cities of Goma and Bukavu along gorgeous Lake Kivu.  I traveled with a group from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to listen, learn, and support the work of the Anglican Church in the region. In addition, I was able to visit with friends I have made over the years as I have endeavored to learn about Congo’s complex history and to support the work of Congolese who are rebuilding their communities and working towards lasting peace.

My first full day in Congo was Pentecost Sunday.  We attended church in an area called Ngangi in Goma with Mount Nyiragongo not far in the distance.  This active volcano last erupted in 2002 and coated Ngangi and much of Goma with lava. Words cannot express the thrill I felt as I worshipped in a place so very far from home, so close to my heart, and prayed and danced on the cooled lava flow that formed the floor of the church.  

After the service, Fr. Moses showed us the school next door to the church.  During the middle school locker clean out at the end of the year, I collected unused school supplies knowing they would find a good home in Congo.  I carried a duffle bag full of notebooks, paper, pencils, pens, and colored pencils and gave them to Fr. Moses.  The items were laid on the altar and prayers of thanks were offered.

The joyous spirit of Pentecost that I felt my first day in Goma was just the beginning of what would be a heartbreakingly beautiful trip to a part of the world that is so misunderstood, so much in need, and so full of hope.  I am grateful for receiving a Holden Summer Study Grant that helped make this trip possible.   I look forward to sharing my experiences with my students as I strive to build empathy, to model faith in action for my students, and to be an authentic voice for social justice.

The path to the church and school in Ngangi with Mount Nyiragongo in the distance.

My new friend, Zawadi, a teenager at the church.  Her names means "gift" in Swahili.

The school run by the Anglican church in Ngangi.  Notice the huge rocks that form the floor.

Father Moses and his wife.  She and other women at the church prepared a feast for us after the service.

The Reading and Writing Project

This summer I was lucky enough to receive a grant to participate in a week long institute on teaching writing. The Reading and Writing Project was created and developed at Columbia University by the well-respected Lucy Calkins. Her Units of Study are used throughout the Lower School to guide teachers' curriculum. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic teachers. I learned so much that I plan on applying in my classroom and sharing with my colleagues. I attended the Beginners Institute and hope to attend the Advanced Institute in the future. I left feeling fulfilled and excited to start the year. I am so grateful to the APT and Administration for this experience.

Budding Yogis: Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Certification

This summer I participated in a 20-hour certification course for Kids Yoga and Mindfulness.  The benefits of both in a child's life are extremely valuable.

Mindfulness is simply the act of paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Practicing this helps children create a larger picture of who they are as a person and how they feel about themselves. This is particularly important in a society where children start to face the same demands on their time as adults.

Yoga is an excellent opportunity for children to be active without the stress of a competitive benchmark with their peers. With yoga, there is no being good at it or bad at it.  The kids just do it, and in doing it they gain confidence, fitness and have an abundant amount of fun.

I am so grateful to the APT and the Administration for this inspiring opportunity -- thank you very much. I plan to use what I am learning from this experience in my classroom, as well as in our after-school program at the Lower School.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Differentiating Mathematics in Genoa, Italy

I was extremely fortunate to receive a grant from SSSAS's APT this summer to attend a differentiating Mathematics conference in Genoa, Italy.  There were teachers from all over the world which led to great discussions about teaching math and how best to engage students.  I gained some terrific resources to share with my students at SSSAS.  We were able to spend an extra week traveling to Cinque Terre, Florence and Milan. It was an amazing experience!