After almost two full weeks of teaching, I feel like I’ve finally made a breakthrough with the kids. I’ve been struggling to motivate and push the students, and have been feeling like it’s my fault, but I think I’m finally getting used to teaching.
In the first class of fourth graders, I’ve been working with a girl named Jade. She always seems frustrated, and a couple times while teaching, I’ve worried that she’ll break out into tears. I haven’t been able to figure out why she gets so upset; she seems to understand the material perfectly fine. Today, I realized what was bothering her. I offered to draw her picture for her. Once Jade realized she could program without having to worry about the drawing, her eyes lit up with excitement. For the rest of class, she was literally singing with happiness, and kept asking me “What else can I do?” It was amazing to see that kind of passion in a student who always seemed so dejected.
In the second class, I’ve been working with two students who just don’t care about school. They’re always unmotivated, and for most of the trip, have just wanted to goof off and do as little work as possible. For the first week, the students saw our Scratch projects as school work, so they didn’t want to work with me at all. As we’ve made progress in their plant projects, though, they’ve stopped seeing Scratch as homework. They’ve realized that programming is not boring, but actually cool, and maybe even fun.
It gives me so much joy to see all of my students so excited in their work. After feeling like I’ve been spinning my wheels for a week, we’re finally making progress because the kids are passionate and excited about their work. I feel ready to take on whatever challenges the next two days will provide.
The days are all running together for me. Don’t misunderstand, we all know full well we have two teaching days left, but knowing which day certain things happened are starting to mix up in my head.
In general, the teaching keeps getting better and better. We have two main projects going on for the four grades. The fourth graders are all doing a project that has to do with plants. Because this ties in with what they just finished studying, the teachers said they will be looking at the projects, so the students are particularly attentive. It’s not just “play” anymore, part of their grade will depend on their work. The projects range from simple slide shows (“sunlight touches the leaves of the plant. The plant turns the sunlight into energy. The roots collect water and together with the sunlight’s energy and the water, the plant grows.”) to more complicated ones (the user might control a bee that flies around collecting pollen. When the pollen is collected the flower turns to fruit. Or, a bird eats some fruit and drops a seed in a new place where the seed spouts.). There has been enough time that the simple ones can become more complex. Our students are getting good at answering the “I’m done” statement. They now say things like “why don’t you add this, or that?” It’s fun to watch both the CSG students as well as the JESS students grow in their understanding of Scratch, as well as their understanding of one another.
Because the 4th grade project is so open-ended, making it challenging for the CSG girls, we had the 5th, 7th, and 8th graders all working on a similar project. They draw a maze, then program a “sprite” to navigate the maze using the arrow keys on the computer. When the sprite reaches the goal, they get some sort of reward. This is the basics, but this particular project has many add-ons, allowing for kids to work at different paces. Some add a timer, some add a consequence if you touch a wall, some add coins that you collect for a score at the end. All of these are programmed into Scratch using increasingly complex concepts. It works very well.
Interestingly enough, the 7th grade are the least interested in what we’re doing at this point in our stay. There is some speculation that the 8th graders are getting more serious because they are looking ahead to high school, but for whatever the reason, that grade – both classes – are the most challenging for us. For these last two days, we are going to give them the option to work on some of the Hour of Code activities. That way they can look at a variety of ready-made guided activities and still do something productive. Together with some time for photos and good-byes, we should be find filling these last two days for those kids.
The afternoons continue to be beautiful. Different beaches and activities, including naps and reading books. The breeze keeps us cool and the bugs are mostly at bay.
Today was the first day back at school after a long, adventurous weekend. Us teachers and the students at school all had fun-- some of us went hiking around the island, while some of the kids went to the beach with friends or took trips to St. Thomas, as they told me enthusiastically! Getting a break to relax and explore was welcome, but I felt happy to go back to school. We had some issues with an absent substitute teacher and second round of missing classroom keys, so our first 4th-grade class was somewhat hectic. However, the day went well overall! Groups got reshuffled in the second 4th-grade so that I got to work with a different kid than before, one whom I had helped just briefly on the first day of class. On that first day, she was almost silent and not at all self-motivated or expressive, but today she made a lot of progress on her plant project and we talked freely about what we had done over the weekend. It just goes to show that first impressions are not always accurate, and that all of these kids have much more to them than what we see on any given day. Ryan, for example, learned that a girl she was working with had missed multiple classes because she has sickle-cell anemia. Many of the kids we work with likely have problems big and small, but when they show up to class, they are ready to learn and so happy to see us despite that. I had definitely run out of steam by the end of this longer day, and I had to work hard to keep all the kids' projects straight in my head. But it is immensely rewarding to see the joy they get out of brainstorming and seeing their projects work, and to see how they grow as people over these few days.
Today was our sixth day teaching at the J.E.S.S. School. The juniors woke up this morning and had breakfast. We then went to the laud road and ate at the cafe next to there. After that we taught both fourth grade classes and continued to work on their plant projects. Some of us then worked with the fifth graders and others worked with the seventh graders. After that we tried out the pizza place Ronnies, famous for their amazing brownies and pizza. After that we relaxed before dinner, met as a group and went to bed.
The beginning of our final week has arrived. It is already a shortened week due to the long holiday weekend, thus amplifying the feeling that we are nearly done with our work here. The girls had another successful day in the classrooms, and what's more important, the kids here seem really motivated to work every session we have with them. I can't emphasize enough how much of an impact our girls have made here- and vice versa! For some of these island students, the eighth grade will be as far as they go in their education. For others, they will go to another island or possibly the mainland to complete high school. For most, college isn't even a consideration, let alone an option.
When that fact sinks in, I know that I am not alone in having a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation for the education that the girls have back in Bexley, Ohio.
Monday, Memorial Day
Today was our 9th day in St. John. It was a very low key day. My cabin slept in and had breakfast around 9:30. The night before we found a tarantula in our cabin and stayed up really late freaking out about it. Everyone was pretty tired so we all took naps until about 1 and then decided to go into town get lunch and shop around. We got lunch at this cute little deli and then all bought souvenirs for ourselves and family. After shopping we came back and took another nap and then had dinner where we planned what we would be teaching for Tuesday.
Monday - Memorial Day
Hi! On this lovely Memorial Day Monday, we experienced quite an adventure. We started our morning with pancakes and scrambled eggs and tried to decide what we wanted to do with our day. The juniors planned on taking a relaxing shopping spree, and the sophomores and I were stuck between a spa day and a dare-taking hike. You would think we’d choose the blissful spa, but in fact, we decided to take the risk of possible heat stroke and severe dehydration and go to Ram’s Head. I have to say, I could not be happier with our decision. The five of us and Ms. Murakami drove for about half an hour and hiked 2 miles up to a cliff in the pounding heat. Once we reached the top and looked over the breathtaking view of the island, every drop of sweat was worth it. We were proud to say we successfully accomplished such a rigorous activity. Afterward, we stopped by for well-deserved scoops of homemade ice cream and cups of fresh fruit smoothies. Tired and wanting to rest, we came back to our cabins and lounged on the beach. Toward the evening, we went on a quick grocery run and stopped to walk around Mongoose Junction. The little shops and restaurants were adorable. After purchasing souvenirs, we came back in time for dinner. We then gathered to plan our next day of teaching. Sadly, there aren’t many school days left; only four to be exact. Our weekend came to an end and I know the next of couple of days will fly by.
Monday, Memorial Day
Today was another day of play. The sophomores decided as a group to go on a hike to Ram Head, which is the south eastern most point of the island. I did this hike years ago, and told them what I remember, which is really hot, but a spectacular view at the top. They were intrepid enough to go for it. And, my memory was correct. A really hot, unprotected hike, rewarded by what I think is one of the most beautiful views on the island. And on an island with so many beautiful views, that’s saying a lot. See the pictures and you’ll know what I mean. 200 foot cliffs down to the ocean, looking out to only blue. (All the islands seem to be to the north of us, so looking south, we see nothing but ocean.)
A smoothie/ice-cream stop on the way home, then relaxing on the beach followed by a quick trip to town for some fresh fruit and a bit of shopping rounded out our day.
Tomorrow we finish our last week teaching the kids. I am hopeful that we can continue from Friday’s high, and finish the week on a positive note.
It is Memorial Day weekend. It's been busy here at the campgrounds due to the holiday weekend. Apparently St. Thomas natives come here to vacation! We had a lovely weekend, beginning with a beautiful sailboat ride yesterday, followed by a snorkeling adventure.
Today we squeezed in a nice tour of the Historic Annaberg sugar mill ruins in between beach time. It's hard to imagine, but back in the 18th & 19th century, the Danish had possession of these islands, and sugar factories such as this one populated the islands and was the primary source of industry throughout the island for over 150 years. What remains standing today are stone remnants of the mill, surrounding walls, ovens, and boiling room.
Walking through the ruins amid the still heat of the afternoon, one can't help but think of the history of such a place. I'm filled with questions about the people who inhabited these islands during that time. There is much to absorb, and not a lot of time to do it in. I will definitely be reading more on the history of these islands in the near future.
Today was our eighth day in St. John, with six more to go until we go home. Since it is a Sunday, we didn’t have school so we spent the day traipsing around the island. We got to sleep in until the super duper late time of 8:30, and after breakfast, we decided to go to Jumbie beach. According to one of the kids, a Jumbie is one of those men on stilts that you see at carnivals. After that, we traveled to Coral Bay for lunch at a restaurant surrounded by little tourist shops. The restaurant was extremely colorful, and decorated with paraphernalia from various sports teams. We even saw an OSU banner! After that, we tried to go paddle boarding, but it was too windy so we just spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach at Cinnamon Bay. Thankfully, we haven’t seen too many big bugs in the past few days, and I think we’re all hoping that these bug free conditions hold until the end of the trip!