I’ve been in Kuwait about a month now. When I last wrote, I was struggling with the new environment, very aware of the garbage around my neighborhood and the lack of trees here. Teaching four subjects and having the same students in my classroom all day was stressful and new.
Things have gotten easier at school, I’ve made some friends, explored Kuwait, and I’m really enjoying my new home.
Three weekends of cleaning out my classroom resulted in a less cluttered environment. I rearranged the desks into table groups so the kids can work collaboratively and there is more room to walk around. While this initially resulted in a louder room, the kids are really starting to understand classroom procedures and learning is happening!
Exploration and helpful friends led me to bookstores around Kuwait, where I purchased some new novels for my students, stickers for “A tests,” and an abundance of Post-its. The kids LOVE graphic novels and are devouring the series Amulet. I had to be careful selecting books, because the Ministry of Education here keeps a watchful eye over the literature that students read. Censorship is alive and well here in Kuwait. Here’s a letter from the Ministry about which books we aren’t allowed to have in the schools here. I wore my “I Read Banned Books” pin during banned books week and encouraged my students to think about what censorship means and whether or not it is a good practice. My principal glanced at the “Happy Banned Books Week” announcement that I wrote in red dry erase marker on my tiled walls and I wondered if I would be asked to remove it, but he made no comment.
Initially, my language arts lessons weren’t very successful, which was frustrating. Language Arts is supposed to be my thing! I was teaching content that was over the kids’ heads and hard for my ESL kids (most of them) to grasp. Using pictures, letting them act things out, and letting them work together is helping. I also think that these kids are pretty used to rote memorization and I’m going to have to push them to think critically, to analyze and synthesize. I don’t want to relax my standards, I just need to continue to find different ways to teach.
I love teaching science and math. We use whiteboards and manipulatives in math. The kids also like coming up to the front of the room to teach their classmates how to solve problems. An 8th grade science teacher gave me a microscope that she wasn’t using and the kids get so excited looking through it. It’s like magic to them.
We just finished learning about the difference between plant and animal cells and made plant cell models using jello and different types of candy. Out of all 29 kids, only one experienced a “cytoplasm explosion,” so a successful activity in my book.
I’m really enjoying my students and their parents too. I had parent-teacher conferences last week. Since I’m coming from a middle school where I’ve only had team conferences, it was essentially my first time having these conferences one-on-one with parents. They went really well. My favorite moment of conferences was when a dad encouraged his daughter who came along to speak up more in class and work diligently in science and math so she can grow up to be an engineer like him.
The kids found out it was my birthday last week so a few wrote me cards and gave me gifts. A parent even sent in a chocolate chip cookie-cake that I was able to share with the other middle school teachers. I feel so welcomed and appreciated.
Outside of school, I’ve been getting to know the other teachers, have been exploring Kuwait, and joined a church. My church meets in a converted villa in Salwa, a 10 minute taxi ride from Hawally. There are a lot of westerners there and many are teachers that are around my age. I started going to a small group with some of them and I look forward to it every week. I sang in church this week because the usual worship band was all traveling. It’s not something I would normally volunteer for, but I’m glad that I did it. That’s what this whole experience is about… trying new things, pushing myself to grow, et. etc. (insert travel blog cliche here). ;)
Another highlight of the past month was Skyping with my students who are now 7th graders at Mills Park Middle School in North Carolina. Last year we read American Born Chinese and Shadow Hero by Gene Yang. He came to the school in September to tell the kids about his new book and the lovely people I used to work with were kind enough to let me attend from my living room in Kuwait. After Mr. Yang talked to the students, they had the chance to ask me questions and I got to see them all. I miss them and my old school, but I'm really glad that I'm over here doing something new.
The last step in my residency process was going to the ministry of health to have a chest x-ray and bloodwork done. The school sent me with a group of other teachers to get this done about two weeks ago, so hopefully I’ll get my Civil ID soon and can start planning my Christmas trip. Until then, we don't have any other long weekends, so it's going to be a long stretch.
Until next time, my friends, maʿ al-salāmah.
My first weekend here in Kuwait I volunteered with the school’s Green Ambassadors Club to clean up a beach. It was great to hang out with the high school students in a relaxed environment. They reminded me of western students. They listened to rap, played on their phones, gossiped about classmates and teachers, and discussed the American boy who was suspended from his school in Texas for making a clock. That sure wasn't a great image, America. They were great to talk with and had good advice on restaurants to try and things to do here.
The beach cleanup itself was tough. It was about 110 degrees, the sun was bright, and it’s Kuwait, so we had to cover up and not show too much skin. Continually bending over to pick up trash in that heat made me lightheaded. Someone from the American Embassy took pity on me and gave me some sunscreen (I haven’t found it here yet) and I guzzled some water before realizing that there aren’t a whole lot of public restrooms in this country… uh oh. There were none on the beach. I survived (in part thanks to the driver taking pity on me and letting me hide in the school bus for a 15 minute break in the AC) and, in the end, was glad I went.
I love nature and being outdoors, but can't claim that I was a fierce advocate for the environment in the US. It seems more important here. People litter regularly in this country. It’s not weird to see people just drop trash on the ground in plain sight. Though there are technically laws against this, they’re just not enforced.
Grocery stores use thick plastic bags and wrap smaller items in plastic before putting them in bigger bags. Many people use plastic water bottles and keep buying new ones instead of reusing them. Gas is extremely cheap here, for obvious reasons. A teacher at my school mentioned paying 2KD (about $7) to completely fill up her tank. So there isn’t much of an incentive to carpool to save on gas money. All of this makes me wonder, if I go back to that beach in a few weeks or months, will it be just as dirty as it was before we started cleaning?
I’m interested to learn more about environmental education here, about desertification, the impact of the war on the environment, and public awareness of these issues. I hope to spend more time with the Green Ambassadors Club once I get my feet under me with everything else that’s going on at school.
Experiencing the beach clean-up, and walking around Hawally my first week here was discouraging. The heat, sand, garbage, the abundance of electronics stores (Hawally is the technology district of Kuwait) are a depressing contrast to green, mountainous North Carolina. I found myself pining for Umstead State Park, where I used to go hiking with my brother.
Two things saved me from homesickness this week. First, a second-grade teacher confessed that she felt the same way when she moved here years ago. She challenged me to go out with a camera and find something beautiful each day.
Second, my assistant principal took me to her fitness club on the gulf and I felt truly comfortable for the first time in Kuwait. There was actually grass there! The trees, beach, and facility were gorgeous. Once inside the club, I could dress like I would in the states, a sleeveless top to workout in, a suit at the pool. I took a cardio hip-hop class and danced like a fool to American music with other expats.
So all in all, the landscape in my neighborhood is a bit depressing, but I'm finding beauty here, and I know I've only seen a small part of Kuwait, and of this part of the world, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else is here.
A week ago around this time I arrived in Kuwait to start my job teaching at the Universal American School in Hawally. The middle school principal and a few teachers picked me up from the airport late at night and brought me to my apartment in a tall, chalky blue building near the school.
My new home is a good-sized one bedroom with Ikea furniture, beach-inspired coral tile in the kitchen, and a flowery fleece on my bed. It’s eclectic, and sure, a little garish, but it’s a step up from where I was living last year with two roommates near campus, desperately saving for grad school.
Speaking of which, look what finally came in the mail!
Call me Master Zappia. That’s a thing, right? A title change comes with a Master’s? ; ) Teaching full time last year and working on my Master’s was really challenging, but it undoubtedly made me a better, more passionate educator and I’m so glad that had that experience.
Back to Kuwait. My principal said that I could take the week to transition into my classroom to take over for the teacher who had been covering for me. “Make it into school at some point tomorrow, whenever you wake up,” he said.
My response: “When does school start? Seven? Okay, see you then.” Like I’m going to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs (okay, sleep, go shopping, settle in, etc.) when someone else is teaching my students! Pssshhh.
Above: My view from the rooftop of my apartment building before the first day of school.
Below: Universal American School,"You know, that big blue building in Hawally" is what you say to taxi drivers.
The first two days were really rough. I hardly slept at all because I was pretty jet lagged, was ferried off one day to try to get my Civil ID, and I foolheartedly jumped right into teaching. At one point the school sent me with a driver to go shopping for food and my driver pushed my cart around for me! I even hosted parents during Open House my second night here. I managed to put together a presentation and really enjoyed meeting the parents of my students.
The kids are very talkative; I’ve been told it’s part of the culture, but I think it’s also just part of being a fifth-grader. I moved my desks from rows into table groups so my students can work collaboratively and talk (when I’m not talking, that is, we’re still working on that). They love helping each other and it’s a better use of the space in the classroom than all of the room the rows were taking up. Here’s a “during picture” from when I was rearranging this weekend. (I am a bad photographer. I forgot to secure the before and after shots.)
I’m teaching a self-contained fifth grade classroom, so that’s also a lot to get used to. I teach all four subjects (math, science, language arts and Kuwaiti social studies) and have my 29 students all day save specials, lunch, and Arabic class. Last year when I taught 6th grade in North Carolina I taught the same lesson (or sometimes two different lessons) in four, one-hour-long periods. That’s going to be a big challenge for me this year.
There’s so much more that I’d love to write, but those are the basics for now. I'll leave you with the Arabic Word of the Week:
Some of you have probably been expecting an update on my teaching adventure in Kuwait, rooftop views of the cityscape, a picture of my new classroom, descriptions of authentic Middle-Eastern dishes I’ve tried. Don’t worry, those pictures will come, and I still plan to write about my experience teaching overseas, I’m just a few weeks behind. Though I was scheduled to start my new job a few weeks ago, I’ve been stuck in the States waiting on my VISA.
(If you didn’t realize I’m teaching in Kuwait and want to know why, read my initial post on this decision here.)
A Kuwait VISA requires an FBI background check, several medical tests, a letter from a doctor, authentication of your degree(s) and background check from the Secretary of State in your home state, authentication of documents through the US Department of State, final authentication from Kuwait’s embassy, and, in my case, basically becoming the customer-of-the-month at the local Fed-Ex.
Although I began the VISA process in early June, something went gone wrong almost every step of the way. Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I understand better how to navigate the red tape and I feel like I could accomplish this task in a much shorter amount of time, but I made many mistakes along the way in order to get to that place, like sending my fingerprints to the state federal bureau of investigation instead of the “real deal” FBI, or looking over the fact that even though my degree was notarized, it also needed an apostille from the Secretary of State in NC before the US State Department would authenticate it, or even things that were out of my control, like my medical forms “not looking official enough.” In the end, I learned that one can pay a private organization ten times the money to accomplish in two weeks what the government will do in three months.
It’s been tough missing orientation and the beginning of the year, and I know it will be a challenge to jump in and start teaching students who have had a sub for two weeks, but I’m ready to get over there and dig in. As of this morning, I have all the necessary paperwork to get over there and will fly out tomorrow! Wish me luck.
Entering middle school is stressful for many students. They suddenly have six teachers instead of only one or two. They are suddenly surrounded by a huge group of kids (there are over 600 sixth-graders in the school I'm coming from) they have to handle class-changes, lockers, more homework, letter-grades rather than standards-based number grades. Many students join after-school clubs, or are involved in sports teams, music lessons, dance class, or faith-based classes. They're also starting to deal with pressure to fit it, changes in peer groups and relationships, and changing hormones. It's a lot to handle, and it's easy to see how this could quickly overwhelm the most confident of 6th grader.
Fortunately, the 6th grade health curriculum addresses stress right off the bat and gives students strategies to manage their stress. Below you will find a 6th grade health lesson that integrates technology to teach students the causes and effects of stress and how they can become empowered and not let stress overwhelm them.
Topic: Mental/Emotional Health
Grade Level: Sixth Grade
Using what they learned from the class discussions and teacher presentations, the students will work together in groups to help their classmates come up with productive ways to deal with stressors using the C.O.P.E. strategy. Students will usePadlet for this activity.
Now that the students have collaborated to come up with solutions to their classmates' stressors, have them reflect again on what stressors are currently affecting them. Using what they learned about stress in health class, the students should write a letter to themselves using Lettrs.com. The students should use the "Got Butterflies" Game and the Tools to Deal with Stress article to help them with this task.
Here's another unit designed to integrate technology into a content area subject. This time around, I was asked to create a social studies lesson. Wanting to create materials that I can use when I'm teaching 5th grade next year, I looked over the 5th grade standards provided by UAS, the school where I'll be teaching in Kuwait. One of the focuses of social studies in the 5th grade curriculum is the five themes of geography. This also happens to be the topic covered by the 6th grade social studies teachers at my current school.
Deciding to kill two birds with one stone (1. Create something that I can use. 2. Share technology integration ideas and that will help my current colleagues), I found some technology-light materials that my colleagues use now and gave their lesson a make-over. The powerpoint below is adapted from a presentation created by the 6th grade social studies teachers at Mills Park Middle (Allison Vroome, Cheri Pederson, Karen Varney, Greg Cretin, and Anne Axburg). The multimedia poster I describe below is inspired from a hand-drawn one-pager about a student's favorite place that these teachers designed.
Introduce the 5 Themes of Geography with this Powerpoint Presentation
Here are a few materials that I created (Quizlet) or found (International Pizza Delivery Game, Kahoot) to help the students review the vocabulary and concepts discussed in the 5 Themes of Geography presentation.
Investigate and Create
After introducing the students to the 5 Themes of Geography and reviewing them, have the students deepen their learning as they research a place of their choosing.
Introduce students to tools that will help them gather information for their "Places of Importance" projects.
Ideas for Extensions
Pinterest's new mapping option would be a cool extension for this project. With 5th grade students, I would likely be curating my students' work myself, but older students could collaborate to create a board. Anyway, I would pin my students' posters to a board with the students' project location as markers on the map. This could be a great tool for the students to explore and to use with future projects (like the folktale project that I described in an earlier post).
Connecting to the Curriculum
I took Spanish class middle school through college, but I've forgotten much of what I learned since I graduated. So when designing my "Integrating a World Language and Technology" Lesson, I walked over to the curriculum library in Poe Hall and found the teacher edition of Exploring Spanish, Third Edition from EMC Publishing to get a little extra help. Unit ten in Exploring Spanish is about artists who have contributed to the culture of Spanish-speaking countries and provided some helpful information that became the framework for my lesson.
I read the unit introduction and created Quizlet flashcards to help students remember the important contributions of artists from Spanish-speaking countries. Then, I found galleries featuring the artists' works on Google Cultural Institute. I provided links so students can view these pieces of art and can further research their artists.
Students will then create a short screencast (In Spanish!) about a particular artist or piece of art. Google Translate can help students with words and phrases they don't yet know how to translate. Each student will print a trigger image and link his or her video to the trigger image using an App called Aurasma. Students can then hang the trigger images in the hallway like an art gallery and travel around with mobile devices, scan the trigger images and view the screencasts with augmented reality. If you're interested in learning more about the specifics, read on.
Introduction to Artists from Spanish-speaking Countries
1. Read pages 123-127 of Exploring Spanish, Third Edition (EMC Publishing). Review famous latin artists and art movements with these Quizlet flashcards.
Digging Deeper: Research an Artist or Painting
Use these links to the Google Cultural Institute to view paintings from the following artists. Use NC Wise Owl for further research on your artist.
Screencast a 1-2 Minute Presentation about your Artist.
Students will use Google Slides to create a simple presentation about their artists. Here's an example.
Aurasma is an augmented reality app. The students will print a picture of an piece of art from the artist they researched and use it as a trigger image. Watch the video below to learn about how Aurasma works. All students will walk around with a personal device and headphones to scan images and view presentations.
Give students a quiz on Google Forms
Here's a quiz from the Exploring Spanish Teacher Edition. I used Google Forms to make it an electronic quiz. Teachers can put a link to the quiz on a class website, or even project a QR Code up on the board for the students to scan on their personal devices.
Use Flubaroo to Grade the Quiz!
If you haven't used Google Forms and Flubaroo before to grade a multiple choice test or quiz, you have to try it. It's incredibly easy to set up and use. Flubaroo grades for you in less than a minute. Students can also submit extended responses through Google Forms although you would have to grade those manually.
In 6th grade language arts we read folk stories at the end of the year. The kids love the magic, romance and danger found in fairytales, folk tales, legends, myths, and tall tales. Humans love stories and folk tales are a true testament to that. These stories have been passed down from generation to generation mostly told aloud, only to be recorded on paper relatively recently. It's great seeing students discovering universal themes, archetypal characters, and similar plots as we read stories from around the world. It helps us realize that even though we humans are different, we are also the same.
I realize that it seems cliche to tie in global awareness with a folk tale unit, and if it is the only time in the year that this is done, it is not enough, but it definitely makes sense to explore the questions
With that in mind, here's a lesson for 6th grade language arts in which students research, write a folk story, and share their work on a website. The students used personal devices to access Culture Grams and research the climate, geography, history, religion, government, diet, and population of a country. I modeled this process during a writing workshop using Kuwait as an example as I am going to be moving there to teach next year.
I shared my notes with my students and together we brainstormed ways to integrate these details into a folk story. Perhaps I could write a myth about how sandstorms came to be or why it is so hot in the summer. Students suggested mentioning traditional foods and spices, a few words or phrases in Arabic, descriptions of traditional clothing in order to add local customs to the story. This got the kids thinking about the countries that they chose and they started picking out details from their research to use in their stories.
Unfortunately, this year the district dragged its feet on rolling out Google Apps for the students, but in the past I have used Google Docs for the purpose of peer review and revision. It is a great tool for the students to work simultaneously on projects, to get and give authentic, specific feedback, and for me to track the students' changes.
After finishing peer editing and revision, the students would work together to create a weebly site to house their group's stories. Groups can be chosen to represent each of the continents or even create a website containing several different stories from one country or region. Here is a site that I created with an AG class last year. It contains a Google map (also below), and the students' stories organized by country or region. If I could do this project over again, I would add a multimedia component in which students should create something to accompany their stories.
Some ideas include
Click on the pins!
NC Common Core Standards
W 6.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences. (Especially relevant is sub-standard D: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.)
W 6.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grade 6 on page 53.)
W 6.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.
Standard 2: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. (Especially substandard A: Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.)
(Additional Tech Tool of the Student's Choosing. Options include Storybird, Animoto, Voki, GoAminate, iMovie, Stopmotion, etc.)
Here are the instructions and a rubric for this project so you can use them with your own students if you would like.
Last Fall I designed a 6th grade field trip for my Foundations of Middle School class. I planned a field trip to Umstead State Park and put together this website with info about the trip, curricular connections, supply lists, maps, etc. For my math and technology assignment, I showed how the math curriculum could be explored through experiential learning on this trip. The following unit explains how teachers can teach and reinforce multi-step word problems involving rate of speed and volume of geometric shapes with the integration of technology. It is also valuable to teach students that a walk in the woods is sometimes what the brain needs in order to have an a-ha moment. [Read The Nature of a Math "Eureka!" - Going on a hike helped a professor solve and explain fractal patterns.]
Grade Level: 6th
NC Common Core Standards:
4c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
2b. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
Student Objective: Enjoy the great outdoors, use mathematical equations to solve for the area and volume of objects in their real environment. Use formulas to solve rate and proportion problems.
Student Essential Question: How can math be used in the real world?
Materials: 1 tape measure, 1 meter stick, 1 stopwatch, 1 mobile device w/ Planimeter App installed, Quizlet, Sketchcast.
Integrated Tech Tools
Quizlet Set courtesy of user 1000020725.
Perimeter: 1,386.15 yd
Area: 16.4 ac
Point 1: 35.837583, -78.745734
Point 2: 35.838217, -78.745480
Point 3: 35.838885, -78.744794
Point 4: 35.839202, -78.744625
Point 5: 35.840007, -78.745502
Point 6: 35.839887, -78.746125
Point 7: 35.839193, -78.746590
Point 8: 35.838336, -78.746505
Point 9: 35.837257, -78.746981
Point 10: 35.836769, -78.747372
Point 11: 35.836606, -78.747382
Point 12: 35.836195, -78.747139
Point 13: 35.835373, -78.746379
Point 14: 35.835852, -78.745480
Point 15: 35.836323, -78.744963
When asked to write an integrated technology for the arts, I immediately thought of this graphic motion piece by designer Esteban Diacono, which represents the song "Slowly" by composer Olafur Arnalds. It blends music, art and technology in a beautiful, emotional manner.
I came across this video when I was researching synesthesia, or the cross-wiring of the brain's senses. [A character in the book Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool has synesthesia. Another book with a synesthete as a main character is A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. ] Individuals with synesthesia might see color while hearing music, taste sound, or smell certain foods when hearing words.
Did you know that the artist Kandinsky was a synesthete? About art and music he said, "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."
While this video is not created by a synesthete, I like to think that it represents what a synesthete might see when listening to a piece of music, the motion designer bringing to life the theme of the music with different colors brushstrokes, and movements to hint at the deeper meaning behind the piece.
That deeper meaning, the message in a piece of music, art, or text, (THEME) is something that I always want my students to question. Theme can be deeply explored and expressed in the arts. This thought led me do develop an integrated lesson combining music, visual arts, and literacy. This is more of a mini-unit PBL rather than a one-day lesson.
Grade Level: 5th Grade
Subject: Collaborative Lesson between Music, Art, and Language Arts.
Objective: The learner will work collaboratively, compose music, create visual art, and write a story expressing a similar theme. She will create a multimedia presentation to convey that theme in an artistic way.
Students' Compelling Questions:
NC Essential Music Standards:
5.MR.1 Use improvisation to create short songs and instrumental pieces, using a variety of sound sources, including traditional and non-traditional sounds, body sounds, and sounds produced by electronic means.
5.ML.3.2 Create compositions and arrangements within specified guidelines.
5.ML.3 Create music using a variety of sound and notational sources.
5.ML.3.3 Create rhythmic compositions using notation for whole, dotted half, half, and quarter notes; whole, half and quarter rests; and beamed eighth notes in duple, triple, and common time and which are arranged using a variety of sound sources.
5.CR.1.2 Understand the relationships between music and concepts from other areas.
NC Essential Standards Visual Art
5.V.3.3 Create art using the processes of drawing, painting, weaving, printing, stitchery, collage, mixed media, sculpture, ceramics, and current technology.
5.CX.2.2 Exemplify how information and skills learned in art can be applied in other disciplines.
1b. Create original works as means of personal or group expression.
2a. Interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts or others employing a variety of digital environment and media.
2b. Communicate ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
Objective: The learner will work collaboratively, compose music, create visual art, and write a story expressing a similar theme. She will create a multimedia presentation to convey that theme in an artistic way.
Materials: Musical instruments or garage band, microphone, Pinterest, class website to house directions and resource links. iPads or BYOD, Field or similar sketching/ drawing apps, Google Docs, iMovie, microphone, strong internet connection.
CONSIDERATIONS: This lesson can easily be adapted to suit upper grades. I designed it with a "technology rich" school in mind in which students are already fairly fluent with digital literacy. Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold to fit the needs of your learners.
teacher, grad student, bibliophile
What's the time in Kuwait?