Monday, April 13, 2009

ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave

For this excursion, I was unsure what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that going through the cave the water level could be from ankle high to the point of swimming. It also was known to have tight squeezes and some little rock climbing. Yet, included a lot of history.

In order to get through the cave entrance we had a hour twenty minute drive, and a forty minute hike. Once at the cave entrance we geared up with our hard hat helmet and a head lamp. The first part of the cave entrance we had to swim through. The water was cold, but clear.

(Dr. Kubasko, John, Kristen, Allison, Will and myself the entrance of the ATM cave)

We began through the cave walking through a lot of water. It was really neat to see as we saw bats, fish, scorpion spiders (not very pretty), and other interesting looking insects. We get to the part of having to climb up some rocks to the fifth level of the cave. This is where the history began. The guide was telling about the pottery remains as well as the skeletal remains. He was explaining to group about how some of the Mayan people would put boards to their foreheads to try and make them more flat. The reason for this was people of status within the community. The people with more flat foreheads were the one that had a higher status. The majority of the bone remains were calcified over, but we were still able to make out some of the bones. The pottery within the cave was unbelivable. It was interesting to see the time the Manyans took to add detail to all of the pots, and the sizes of some of the pots were significally big.

The guide then led us to climb a ladder to the seventh level of the cave. There we saw the remains of a female body who died around the age of 40. Archaelogist do not feel that she was sacrificed at all, but rather died to a lack of iron. This is the last remain in the area of a Mayan that is considered to be in 'one-piece.' It was breathtaking to see this. This excursion was well worth it, even though at times I was a little apprehensive about it.

(This is a picture of the female remains on the 7th level of the ATM cave.)

San Ignacio Bound - Visit to Xunantunich

After staying at Cave's Branch for a night, we took the bus to San Ignacio. This is a small town located in the hills of Belize, close to the jungle. We stayed at Cahal Pech in San Ignacio for about 4 days.
The Mayan history is commonly studied on the mainland as there are many ruins that still exist. The common Mayan people were shorter who believed in sacrifices (either auto or not) as a way to give their bodies to the Gods. The Mayans were very interesting people to learn about. One of the more popular Mayan Ruin site is called Xunantunich. This is one of the highest ruin still standing. We went to the ruin and climbed to the top. Even though it was a long hike up to the ruin, the view was worth it. Once I climbed to the top, I was able to see the country border between Belize and Guatemala. The jungle was beautiful from the top, and it was neat to see the different villages from a distance.

(On my right side is Guatemala, on my left is Belize. This is standing at the top of Xunantunich)
We later came to learn Mayans often played games, similar to basketball. The captain for the winning team would be decapitated, and therefore their body would be given to the Gods. I also learned that a lot of ceremonial practices took place, for really anything they felt would better their position with the Gods.
I really enjoyed visiting this Mayan Ruin. It definitely is a must see when in San Ignacio.

Cave's Branch - Repelling 300 feet

The Easter Break has begun and the group was headed to the mainland to do some excursions. Our first stop was at a place called Cave's Branch. It was located right outside of Belmopan (the capital). Cave's Branch was like a camping resort. We were placed into cabanas with no electricity, therefore we used lanterns and had open air as our AC. I personally really enjoyed Cave's Branch. This is my type of thing, we even had outdoor showers and a hammock on the porch. I really enjoyed reading my book while laying in the hammock. I would recommend Cave's Branch to anyone who is travelling through Belize. It is awesome! Absolutely Beautiful!

(Cabana at Cave's Branch)
The next day, Kristen Trotter and I were set up to go repelling. I did not exactly know what I was getting myself into, but it sounded like a good time. At the beginning of the hike up to the black hole (you should google it, because my pictures do not do justice for the beauty... and the drop we did) the guides warned us about the botfly. For those who are unfamiliar of what it is, the botfly is (obviously) a fly that has its larva's carried through mosquitoes. If a mosquitoes lands on someone, it could plant a botlfy larva into your skin. The larva will then begin to eat a person's flesh and grow under the skin. This clearly did not sound appetizing to me, so I made sure to lather (literally lather) my body in bug repellent. Then we began our ascend into the jungle.
The hike to get to the Black Hole was pretty extreme as at times Kristen and myself were on our hands and knees climbing rocks. We finally get to the point to where we can see where we will be dropping but still had to hike to get there. Until I got to the top and strapped in, I did not realize how far down 300 feet was. Although I knew now there was no turning back. As I was repelling, I realized that I was in total control of how fast I wanted to go. The view going down was beautiful. I stopped a couple of times to try and take pictures descending into the Black Hole. FINALLY... I made it to the bottom! I am so happy I decided to take this tour. It was amazing!

Then in order to get ourselves out of the black hole we had to climb a ladder. Climbing a ladder was more scary then repelling into the Black Hole. Overall, it was a great experience!

(repelling into the Black Hole, about 50 feet left to bottom)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Week Before Easter Break

This past week (March 31st) I was placed into a different classroom. I was placed with the Infant I class, the students are all five years old. There were fifteen students in the class. The first day I observed my teacher, and would get involved throughout the day. The next three days, it was my turn to develop some lessons. Prior to moving to this class, I was very limited with constructivism activities. In fact I was asked to follow all lessons from a book. Not this week! The teacher gave me permission to teach lessons the way I would like, given the limited supplies provided. I was very excited about this, and ready for the students to be more involved throughout the lessons. I began each day with some songs. We would sing a 'good morning' song to each other every morning and then songs about the days of the week and months of the year. I had to play the songs from my laptop because we did not have a CD player in the classroom, but the students really seemed to enjoy the songs! I had them out of their seats doing hand gestures and movements, this was something completely new to them.

Throughout the week we used paint to paint different shapes on paper, scissors (which was new to them) to cut out shapes, markers to help draw a story, and they even were able view information about dinosaurs on my laptop. This was really exciting for all the students, and I was happy to see how successful the lessons were going. At first we had to go over how to use the paint, scissors and computers because they had new had experience with it. It was clear by the facial expressions, they were all very excited!

In the US we really stress reading and writing onto children. In fact some of the writing the students practice is imaginative or written from a prompt given by the teacher. I really like to give students a writing prompt and have them develop a story about it. So I decided to try this with the Infant I class. The prompt was 'When I grow up I want to be...' I began the lesson by brainstorming with the students some ideas about what people are when they grow up. The common answers I received were teacher, nurse, police officer, doctor and fisherman. I pretended I wanted to be a nurse. So I told them they needed to draw a picture first with lots of details of what they wanted to be. On the board, I drew a picture of an ambulance, nurse, and hospital. I made sure to show the students how I added a lot of detail (clothes, hair, eyes, stethoscope, red cross, etc). Then after the picture was completed, I began to write the sentences. I explained that the students needed to have a minimum of three sentences. The students helped me develop my sentences on the board. After the demonstration was completed, I gave each student a piece of paper and told them they could begin drawing their pictures. Once the pictures were completed they could begin to write their three sentences. The students had the most difficult time doing this. I quickly discovered the students do not ever write from prompts or imagination. Everything they write is given to them on the board. Once it is on the board they are expected to copy exactly word for word. I found this very interesting, because at home I did a lot of prompt writing with the students. After the lesson, I sat with the teacher and we discussed the students writing ability. She really liked the idea and I helped her build some lessons she could use in the future using prompts. I feel this is very important to incorporate in any classroom because it allows the students to think on their own. They are allowed to respond freely to the question as long as they answer the prompt.

Overall, it was a very successful week! I really enjoyed incorporating some hands-on activities with the students, and I think they enjoyed them as well!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour

Saturday, March 28th was the annual world-wide Earth Hour. From 8:30pm - 9:30pm everyone is supposed to turn off all the electricity to fight the stop against global warming. Everyone was asked to wear a black or dark blue shirt during this time of night.

Isla Bonita and the other schools on the island met at the center park to begin a parade through the town. The parade went through the town and ended at a bonfire on the north side of the island. All the students were excited to participate in the parade whether they were playing the drums or marching. When the hour began, it got extremely dark but most every one brought a flashlight or some sort of torch. I found it really interesting at the large crowd that showed. It was neat to see the town (or majority) of the island come together to protest against global-warning.

The pictures are from the parade and the students marching towards the bonfire.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I just keep learning...

The majority of the people here really want to learn from us. I am constantly asked questions about America and how we teach at home. As much as I like to tell, I also enjoy observing lessons and the daily routine in the classroom. I find there are similarities in the classrooms between America and Belize as well as differences. In American schools, I find we focus more on detail. For example, how to write letters, numbers, sounding out words, etc. Whereas in the class I am teaching in, as long as the letter or number looks similar to the ‘correct’ way than it is acceptable. The lessons are taught more on a surface level. I was surprised to learn how the Infant II (kindergarten) class is writing in cursive and print as well as in English and Spanish. The Belizean students are taught that when they want to speak they raise their hand. Once they are called on, the get out of their chair and stand up to respond. I found this interesting, but this is one way they show respect toward the teacher.

Reading is something we put a big emphasis on, but not necessarily true in Belize. The teacher does not read to her students, in fact we do not have books in the classroom. The students have their workbooks but no Dr. Seuss, Patricia Polacco or children books. Yet, the students still seem to read at an adequate level.

Funny story. Today I was asking my students about what they knew about United States. One girl raised her hand and said she knows there is a queen that stands in the water holding a torch. I replied to tell her that queen is called the statue of liberty and she insisted that it was not, but rather the queen. I love to hear what the students think about the United States because they have never visited there.

I am really learning about the Belizean culture and am enjoying it. The students are teaching me a lot. I realize how fortunate the majority of American students are when I tell the Belizean students I will bring them new pencils. It was the best present because now they will not have to share pencils or erasers. So tomorrow I will be bringing a new pencil for each of my 12 students.

Johnny Cakes

The people here are amazing, every one is treated as if family. The locals are beginning to recognize us as the teachers and have been very welcoming. In fact, one of the teachers at the high school, Mr. Kelly, invited us to visit his home for dinner. Mr. Kelly is a high school science teacher and his wife Odelia is the principal at Ambergris Caye Elementary. For dinner they made us Johnny Cakes that were stuffed with ham and cheese, as well as beans. The Johnny Cakes reminded me of pancakes, they were a sweet biscuit and were very delicious. It was nice to see where the 'average' Belizean lives and their life style. It is really wonderful to see how they treat us like one of their own.

I think we all enjoyed our Johnny Cake dinner!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hello Ms. Cantwell's CBES Kindergarten Class

How is everyone doing? I have to admit I really miss being in the classroom with you and teaching you. Have you received any special phone calls in the hallway during bathroom break?

I wanted to let you know I made it safe to San Pedro, Belize. We had to take 3 different planes to get here. The last one was really small, it only had ten seats on it. I was a little scared, but it was cool. While flying in the small plane, the pilot took us over the ocean and I saw manatees, sting rays and nurse sharks. The sting rays were my favorite to watch swim.

The school I am teaching at is called 'Isla Bonita Elementary'. Can you say that? Isla Bonita means 'pretty island.' That is a cool name for an school, huh? Guess what? I only have 9 students in my class. It is really small but the classroom is not very big. The students only have desks to sit in. No carpet for calendar and no cubes or shapes to play with. Do you think school would be the same if you only had a notebook and pencil? That would be different, right? You know how Ms. Cantwell and Mrs. Kuffel always tell you how important writing is? Well at the Isla Bonita school that is all the students do all day. That is a lot of writing.

For lunch time the students are served rice and beans. They are really yummy. And they are given popsicles... with soda in it! I bet everyone would really like those, especially Jadon and Hailey.

Well, I thought I would stop in and say hello. If you any of you have questions, write them down and I will try and answer them for you. I also added some pictures from the last day.

Thank you again for everything. I will be in touch. Miss you guys... keep up those green cards!

Ms. Brenton

Isla Bonita Elementary School

Isla Bonita is a small school with approximately 100 students. The students who attend the school have to pay 250:00 Belizean ($125 American) a month. On Wednesday, March 18th when we arrived to San Pedro we went immediately to the school to meet the other teachers. All of the teachers were welcoming to us and Addy, the principal, was ready to get us to work. In fact, after the meeting she asked if I would be willing to begin teaching on Friday (Even though we weren't supposed to start until Monday). Without any hesitation I said that I would, but was nervous as I had no idea what the curriculum would be like.

8am Friday morning I showed up to the school. They begin every morning with the Lord's Prayer as well as singing the National Anthem. It was really neat to witness this as all the students are expected to sing along and participate. The classroom I will be working in is the Infant II class (5 & 6 year old). They were all very excited to have me. The reason Addy needed me to teach immediately is because one of her teachers in on maternity leave and she was stuck teaching. As I walked into the classroom I was given a book that contained the lessons and a wooden stick. I was given permission from Addy to use the stick if needed. I know that I will not be using it while teaching at the school, as I feel strongly to use positive reinforcement rather than punishment.

The students took well to me, although definitely were 'testing' my limits as any five or six year old would do. I quickly noticed everything is drill oriented. The students have 6 different notebooks that are each color coded to LA, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, Writing, and Math. I am given a dry-erase board and put notes on it and the students are expected to write the exact notes in their appropriate book. The writing and language arts is all repetition, they copy a sentence and write it for 2 pages in their book. This was an adjustment for me, as I tend to use more of a hands-on approach.

The schedule is very important to them. The students are expected to learn a new idea within the time allotted and if they did not understand, I was expected to continue moving forward. Again, this will take a little time to get used to as I pace my lessons based on the students progression through them.

I have 9 students in my class. They are all very cheerful and love having a new face in the classroom. I am really looking forward to trying and implementing some of my own ideas and beliefs. It seemed the students responded well to positive reinforcement, so I am really looking forward to using 'little ques' more often throughout the school day.

This will definitely be a learning experience, and I am looking forward to taking a lot away from the school, students, teachers and culture.

That is all for now. Check in soon!
*Teacher Kristen

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Impressions of Belize

Wow! What a long trip to get to Belize. After going through customs in Belize City, we were then going to get a '10 seater' puddle jumper plane. I was a bit nervous about this because it did not feel very safe to me. The flight from Belize City to San Pedro was only about a 15 minute ride with one stop at Caye Caulker. This ride was beautiful. We flew over the ocean and were able to see manatees, sting rays, and nurse sharks. It was gorgeous.

San Pedro. On the island there is a lot of construction going on as they are trying to develop more of the island. There are a ton of golf carts, in fact that is the main way of transportation. There are a some taxi vans that help commute people, and the streets are constantly busy with noise. There is only one paved (cobblestone) road in the city and the rest are dirt roads. Pedro's Inn (the hostel we are staying at) reminds me a lot of dormitory living. The accommodations work, although we had to improvise our bed situation. We have three beds in a small room and with no space we stacked them on top of each other. No complaints though as we all have our own bed to sleep in. We are all experiencing the culture life and developing stages of a third world country. There is trash accumulating on the sides of the roads, houses are not well taken care of and a good number of homeless dogs and cats. It really makes me realize how fortunate I have it in the states.

The FOOD. RICE and BEANS... for everything! It is pretty good, although you can only have it so many times in a day let alone a week. I was the first to test out the water. If I made it through the next day the other students were going to follow my lead. I fortunately did not get sick from the water and have continued to drink it. There are a lot of side vendors who sell fresh fruit. I had bought pineapple, bananas, tangerines and grapefruit from this lady. They were all very good. The bananas are huge, as well as the grapefruit ... but all very fresh. I am learning to bargain with these people on the prices, because we are Americans they immediately assume higher prices. Most of them will lower the price after you bargain with them. I have not gotten sick from any of the foods or water. Although I found myself being dehydrated from not drinking enough water. I learned my lesson real quick.

The ocean is beautiful and crystal clear. I have gone for a run on the beach and really tried to soak in all the mother nature. This weekend we are planning to do some excursions and explore the island a little more.

That is about it for now.