For Our Kids
July 17th, 2011

I had a free day yesterday to rest and enjoy the island, and I spent the afternoon with the Ihara family circling Pohnpei and admiring its sites and learning about its culture, language, and history.

The highlight of the tour was the trek to see the Nan Madol ruins, which are on many “wonders of the world” lists, and one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Legend has it that it was built by magic, and I believe it. How else could thousands of rocks, each one weighing thousands of pounds, be moved across the island and stacked one on top of the other to form a massive “house for the King?”

As we drove around the island, I saw a young boy cracking open a coconut and I instantly thought of Noel, a fifth grade student that I had six years ago. Noel was from Micronesia and had one of the biggest hearts of any student I’d ever known. I spent all year trying to acclimate him to school in Hawaii and immerse him in English, and I wish now that I spent more time asking him about the coconut trees that he climbed from the age he was 3. He told me about it once, when we were on a bus and passed a coconut tree. He said that he missed climbing the coconut trees and cracking them open, because that’s what he used to do every day in Micronesia. There weren’t enough coconut trees to climb in Hawaii, he told me. I wish that I had found him a coconut, asked him to crack it in front of the whole class, asked him to teach us something, made him our hero for the day.

When we passed a shop selling handicrafts, I thought about Jackson, a fourth grader that was in my class two years ago who always made me smile with his bright, bigger than life personality. His family was also from Micronesia, and they presented me with a beautifully handcrafted woven lei as a Christmas gift. Though I appreciated the lei and hung it in our classroom, I wish that I had invited Jackson’s parents into our classroom, had them demonstrate the weaving, shown them how much I valued and appreciated their culture and all of the experiences they had and we didn’t. The lei that the Wajar family made me is at home now, but I’m going to take it back to school and hang it as a powerful reminder to slow down and take the time to not only teach, but learn from my children and their families. It’s a reminder to show all of my children that each one of them have gifts to share with one another. I hope to help them open their eyes, their minds, and their worlds the way that mine have opened in the past few days here in Pohnpei.

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July 16th, 2011

I spent yesterday island hopping, and woke up today, Sunday (I lost a day), in peaceful Pohnpei. I’m here representing Hawaii (and presenting a lesson) at the Pacific Educational Conference, held once every two years. A special thank you to PREL (the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning) and Continental Airlines for sponsoring me and providing me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

I am meeting the other Pacific Teachers of the Year on Monday, and the official conference begins on Tuesday. I am so excited to talk and share experiences, culture, and educational information with teachers from across the Pacific. Many teachers from Micronesia have already arrived, and I can’t help but think about the sweet and eager Micronesian students that I’ve had in the past. I know that I’ll learn so much here that will help me further connect with my future Pacific Island students.

I thought I’d share a few photos from my long journey here.

After a 4 hour and a half hour flight, we landed in Majuro, where I got out to stretch and take a few photos.

Our next stop was the island of Kwajalein, but we were not allowed to deplane or take photos there (military regulations). I did get out at our next stop, Kosrae, for a few minutes!

And finally, Pohnpei! I was greeted with haku lei and lots of friendly faces.

The view from my room in Pohnpei (I’m heading to the restaurant shown here in a few minutes for breakfast)

What a small world! The Ihara family (residents of Pohnpei) is related to a friend of my uncle, and treated me to a special Chinese dinner last night (at the only Chinese restaurant on the island). They’ll be taking me on a tour of the island this afternoon

More photos and sharing to come!

July 14th, 2011

One of my teacher friends asked me today for information I had about creating a class website, and I thought I'd share my thoughts here. I've kept a class website (that I update weekly) for the past 4 years and it has been one of the primary and most effective ways of keeping my parents informed and involved in their child's learning. At Noelani, we're fortunate to be able to house our class websites on a school server, and most of us use iWeb (a fantastic Mac program). I've also experimented with Google Sites and love that it's easy to set up, use, and maintain (not to mention, FREE!). Google Sites is also great because you can access it from any computer.

As far as the essential information to include on a class website, here's what I have found most valuable:
* An introduction/welcome sharing your teaching philosophy
* Photos of students learning (images can be so powerful! Just remember to get parent permission- there's a school form for this)
* Updates/Reflections of learning/Upcoming events (I do this through a blog page)
* Links for parents/students that you find useful
* Student work/media projects

I also update homework daily (using Google Sites), which has been very helpful for students and parents. I've uploaded student podcasts, Keynote presentations, pdfs of exemplary student work, and my grade level partners and I update our website daily for parents with photos and student reflections while we our on our annual Big Island trip.

Teachers- do you have any tips about creating/maintaining class websites to share?
Parents- what would you like to see on your child's class website?

Here's the class website I created/updated last year. It'll only be up for another week or so, as I'm working on this year's website! Here's our Big Island site, which my grade level partner, Jeff, designed!

P.S: I'm off to Pohnpei (in Micronesia) for an education conference tomorrow (I have to be at the airport at 4am!), and I will try to blog from there about my experiences!

June 29th, 2011

In an article titled, "Summer Reading Loss: If they don't use it, they may lose it," published last week on, Julie McKown shares tips for parents on how to encourage reading and writing throughout the summer. Check out the article for some creative ideas, geared for children in the younger elementary grades.

Reading the article made me start thinking about what I really want my own students (both the ones I had last year and the ones I'll have this coming school year) to do when I write on their end-of-the-year report cards to "continue reading and writing in the summer." I would love for my students to be reading for at least 30 minutes a day. When I first began teaching 4th grade, I had the fortune of teaching with Mrs. Watanabe, a veteran teacher who I consider a great friend and mentor. She was adamant that reading be a daily activity, often telling the students that they need to read every day like they eat every day. Reading is nourishment for our minds. Like Mrs. Watanabe, I also enforce the importance of students talking about their reading and how they're making meaning of the reading. When school's in session, I have my students do a weekly reading response of their independent reading that their parents sign. I ask my parents to take this opportunity to discuss how the reading is going and ask their children to summarize the reading, make predictions and connections, and share their feelings. I hope that they would continue this through the summer, perhaps also taking advantage of the fantastic summer reading programs that many of our community libraries and bookstores are offering.

Letter writing and keeping a journal are some ideas for summer writing, along with joining our Kids Writing Club, of course! Even something as simple as writing a list of things that inspire them as writers throughout the summer would be great! I'm always thrilled when students come back to school bursting with new writing ideas, or when I hear about a summer writing project that they did with their families. I remember one student a few years back saying that he had gone on a "virtual trip" this summer. His mom had spun a globe one day, and with his eyes closed, his finger "picked" a place for them to go. For weeks, he researched the country and some of the attractions and activities they could do there, and he created brochures and advertisements, and then postcards to friends about his virtual experiences. They celebrated along the way with field trips to sites on our island so that he could compare and contrast the environments, and eating snacks that highlighted foods from the country he chose. How great!

Here are a few photos of the fun my one year old son Daniel, who already LOVES to read (okay, he doesn't actually read yet! But looking through books and being read to are his favorite activities) is having this summer!

Library reading time with Famous Wally Amos

Daniel reading one of his favorite books, "Song of Night," by Katie Nakamura (who happens to be my friend and colleague at Noelani)

Parents, what are some of the things you've done to extend learning at home through the summer? I'm going to need your ideas for Daniel in a few years!

June 27th, 2011

I have been reading Debbie Miller's book, Teaching with Intention, to give me fresh ideas for the upcoming school year. Summer is the time when I reflect on my practice, recharge, and rethink what works and what needs improvement. I am currently obsessed with creating a new (physical) classroom environment worthy of the renovations that just took place this summer. I CAN'T WAIT to get back into my classroom (hopefully I'll be cleared to go in this week), unpack those 97 boxes I stuffed and stacked a month ago, and arrange our classroom.

Chapter 3 of Miller's book is titled, "Environment, Environment, Environment." Miller writes that it's important to create a classroom environment that reflects your beliefs, and suggests asking a colleague to step inside your classroom, look around, and answer the following questions:

* What do you know I value?
* What do you know about what I believe about teaching and learning? What's the evidence?
* What do you know about the kids in this room?

I will certainly keep this in mind as I set up the room, and will be taking photos to share with you! Here are some things I've been thinking about and would love your feedback on:
* How do you set up your desks to encourage collaboration but also to maintain focus during class discussions and independent work times?
* Where do the students' bags go?
* How do you create a "warm and cozy" environment?
* How do you organize your classroom library?

My classroom on May 29, 2011, right before renovations. Stay tuned for updated photos!