Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cupcakes in Colombia

I have groups of students at my school.  They are called courses but that's kind of confusing.  Anyhow, two of the courses are 5th grade and two of the courses are 6th grade.  Each period the courses compete with the other course in their grade to earn the most points from Kate's Top Ten.  Kate's Top Ten is a list of things that I want my classes to do everyday.  Honestly, I kind of threw it together at the last minute in the beginning of the school year and there are some things that seem a bit redundant, but the students have complained and it seems to motivate them.  The winning 6th grade course won a class block off, in order to watch a movie in the library (we all hung out on the floor with pillows and watched Stand & Deliver).  The winning 5th grader course (because I see them only 90 minutes each week) won cupcakes.

I thought that would be easy...I was wrong.  Generally, I think in Colombia people make things from scratch - frosting, cake batter, things that in the U.S. we buy pre-made or in a manner in which they only require adding one or two additional ingredients.  After searching high and low I was able to find cake batter, chocolate frosting, AND sprinkles....thank you Betty Crocker!  I was not able to find the cupcake paper cups (I think there is a word for them...but sadly my English seems to be escaping more and more and possibly at a greater rate than my Spanish is improving.  Yes, I may be in trouble.)  Anyhow, my host mom assured me that we could just grease up the cupcake tins and we'd have no problem.  Oops. Wrong.

What was supposed to be a quick, 24 cupcakes in the oven became an emergency rescue mission.  Mission:  Create a presentable treat for 5th graders with the cupcake pieces that did not stick to the insides of the tins.  Thank God for Colombian ingenuity and the fact that my host mom is the craftiest woman on the planet.  Without even hesitating, my simple cupcake-making project became her baby.  She jumped right in grabbed as much as should could of one cupcake out of the tin, rolled it up into a ball and I just stood by and watched the magic happen.  Olga melted chocolate, covered cupcake balls in chocolate, then in sprinkles, and created the most delicious chocolate covered cupcake ball I have ever had.  We proceeded to make enough for my class, laughing (I had tears in my eyes the whole situation was so ridiculous), and doing our best to uphold a conversation in Spanish.

Needless to say, the cupcake balls were a hit.  The students were so impressed that "I" made them...and one fifth grade, who's a little crazy but also crazy smart said, "Kate, these are so delicious because they are made with love".  Augh! Too cute!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Informes - A New Approach to Grading

This week students did not come to school.  It was the end of the first term and so they had a break while the teachers spent the week completing grades.  For some people this post might be SUPER boring, but I thought others might be interested in the unique way grades are done at my school here in Colombia.

At Gimnasio La MontaƱa (GLM) students do not receive a letter grade or a number grade.  There is no such thing as an A or an F, an 85 or a 65.  At GLM, the report cards that students and parents receive are very detailed.  Students are still given a rating of Superior, High, Basic, or Low but these ratings are much more subjective.  For every course the student takes, the report lists the large objectives or learning goals and the individual indicators or skills.  For every student, for every indicator, teachers have to determine at what level the student is able to perform the skill and then provide feedback explaining the strengths and weaknesses the student is demonstrating for each overall objective.  Additionally, as teachers we then provide general feedback about each student's behavior and socialization in the class.  It is a LOT of work but after completing reports on each of my 113 students,
I have a very clear understanding of each my students and their needs for this next term.  It is truly amazing.

In addition to the valuable information that these reports provide to students, parents, and teachers, there is great bonding that takes place among teachers during this week.  All our desks are in one large room.  Normally we are all coming and going, following our individual teaching schedules and there is limited socialization between the teachers during the work week.  During this week of grading we are all in it together.  For 8 hours a day, for 5 days, we are all plugging away at this important task, and while it is an arduous, time-consuming activity, we know that we are not alone.  On Friday, we celebrated our work by having a pot-luck breakfast with fruit salad, meats, cheeses, breads, marmalade, and more.  For the first hour of the day, we all just sat around a table and told jokes and laughed and relaxed.

Overall, I've learned more clearly the value of objective tracking on a new level.  It is something that we talked about all the time in the United States but it was always at a very numerical, black and white, objective level.  Here the performance of each student, for each objective is know at a deeper level.  The reports are descriptive and provide suggestions for how the student can improve.  This is something that "80% mastery of objectives" or an A in the class simply does not offer.  Awesome learning experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bucket much to do!

So I've mentioned my Bucket List in this blog before but I've never shared it publicly.  It's a work in progress and some things I've already done (they are crossed out).  There are also things I feel tempted to add and cross out because I have done them and I want to feel like I'm making progress...but that's kind of beside the point.  The typed version of my Bucket List was finally created around April or May of this year as I was preparing for graduation and thinking about my next steps.  Until then it was written in bits and pieces in my journal.  I'm including it here for a few reasons:

  1. I was just reading it tonight and thinking about how much I want to do while I'm here in Colombia... it's exciting but also overwhelming but it helps me set goals.
  2. Accountability.  There is a lot I'd like to do while I'm in Colombia and the time is flying.  The "visit all countries in South America" goal is already looking like it's probably not going to happen in the next two years - there's so much to do in Colombia itself!
  3. For suggestions.  What very cool and important things am I forgetting?  There are lots of places that I'd like to visit that I have yet to add.  But please send places, activities, important milestones my way for consideration.
  4. For company and/or assistance.  If there are things on this list that you'd like to do as well, let me know and we'll start planning it. :) If there are things on this list you can help me with, let me know that as well.

Again, I'm always looking for new experiences and adventures, so this list is by no means getting in the way of my spontaneity or openness but it also ensures that I'm not sitting around twiddling my thumbs and it keeps me going on those tough days when I'm feeling lonely or defeated.

Some of the things are more serious than others...and again, its a work in progress.  I'm a bit nervous sharing this...but you're supposed to one thing every day that you're afraid of, right?
And so, without further ado, my bucket list:
  1. Become fluent in Spanish   My Spanish will never be perfect but I can work and live in Spanish, so we're going to say "fluent".
  2. Learn to drive a stick shift.
  3. Visit all 7 continents.
  4.  Live alone.
  5.   Live in another country for at least a year.
  6. Have an article/paper published in a journal or magazine.
  7. Visit these major sites:
    • a. The Great Pyramids
    • b.   Great Wall of China
    • c.   Taj Mahal
  8. Float in the Dead Sea
  9. Take a road trip across the United States (focusing on the northwest national parks)
    • Grand Canyon
    • Grand Tetons
    • Yellowstone
    • Redwood Forest
    • Lake Tahoe
    • Rocky Mountains
    • Drive the California coast
    • Visit New Mexico
  10. Run a marathon (Glad I can say I did it but…yuck.)
  11. Run a half marathon in another country (I’ve already done the marathon – and HATED IT…but I love running and 13.1 miles is pain free!)
  12. Achieve debt freedom!
  13. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
  14. Visit Jerusalem
  15. Visit all 50 states
  16.  Learn to knit
  17. Go on a meditation/yoga retreat in India
  18. Present at an international conference
  19. Take my parents on a vacation
  20. Skype monthly with my brother…not doing so well with this one Bub
  21. E-mail my grandparents monthly
  22. Sell my artwork
  23. Learn to sail
  24. Get PADI certified (scuba diving)
  25. Swim with sharks…to get over my fear
  26. Go running in a sports bra - no shirt (and feel comfortable doing it!)
  27. Plant a vegetable garden that can feed me and my family
  28. Learn to surf
  29. Complete a New York Times crossword puzzle
  30. Meet my Texas B’s for a vacation (aka Double Wide #?) in another country
  31. Milk a cow
  32. Get to a point where I can donate 10% of my earnings to others in need 
  33. Buy a house                         
While in DC for the summer…
  1. COMPLETE a crossword from the Express during my morning commute to
  2. Go on a 6-mile long run each weekend      
  3. Volunteer while I’m there
  4. Attend the Quaker meeting house on a Sunday
  5. Go to the Phillips Museum in DC
  6. Organize Thirsty Thursday for my 10 weeks there
  7. Visit the library of Congress
  8. Shop at Eastern Market
  9. Shop at a Farmers’ Market
  10. Visit Peggy and Jack
  11. Dim Sum in Chinatown
  12. Spend a Saturday or Sunday at Busboys and Poets perusing their amazing bookstore, sipping coffee, writing/sketching, and reading;
  13. Eat a cupcake from Cake Love
  14. Visit the H-Street Corridor
  15. Visit Columbia Heights
While living in Colombia…
  1. Visit all the countries in South America
    1. a.  Peru (Machu Picchu, Lima, etc.)
    2. b.   Equador (Quito, Galapagos, etc.)
    3. c.   Visit The Guyanas all at once (everyone tells me there’s no point…but I need to decide that for myself)
    4. d.   Buenos Aires, Montevideo
    5. e.   Brazil
    6. f.   Venezuela
    7. g.   Chile/Patagonia
    8. h.   Paraguay
    9. i.    Bolivia
  2. Dance salsa in Cali (with the full realization that I will be terrible in comparison to everyone else)
  3. Take a class (cooking, art, etc.) taught in Spanish OR take Spanish classes
  4. Draw/paint again
  5. Maintain a blog to document my experience
  6. Give a presentation in Spanish
  7. Date a Colombian (come on!  I had to include this!)
  8. Plan a program/activity/lesson between U.S. students and Colombian students (connected students in Colombia and Rwanda instead...I'm letting it count)
  9. Visit Villa de Leyva
  10. Go rock climbing in Suesca
  11. Hike around Guatavita Lake
  12. Buy a bike and use it to explore the city on Sundays
  13. Sleep in a hammock
  14. Visit La Ciudad Perdida
  15. Learn how to use the Transmilenio
  16. Finish 100 Years of Solitude … I’ve tried several times but then got disrupted for a few weeks…this time I will FINISH it!
  17. Attend a professional soccer match in Colombia
  18. Visit Medellin
  1. Participate in a Tough Mudder

Alright folks, what do I HAVE to add... think BIG! :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 5: Back to Bogota

A great city but nothing is as good as being outdoors and watching young people surpass the expectations they had for themselves.  Perhaps working with kids outdoors is what I should be doing.... :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 4: Coffee plantation and rafting

We had a chance to sleep until about 6:30am today (woo hoo!) and then began another fun but busy day.

First we visited a coffee plantation.  The weather was perfect.  We had the chance to pick coffee beans and then see the entire process of how they turn it into a product ready sell.  The students had fun and Nata (another teacher and my partner in crime for the week) and I got to enjoy some excellent "tinto"(coffee).
After lunch we went rafting.  This was not as crazy as rafting in the Nile in Uganda but perfect for sixth graders.  It was about an hour and half trip and we got to swim in the river...VERY enjoyable for all.

We returned to our hotel and had a chance to explore the town of Barichara with a game of "Amazing Race".  The students were in groups and had a packet of questions to answer by asking people in the town.  Barichara is recognized as the most beautiful town in Colombia and is a national monument.  Because of this they work hard to maintain the original architecture.  My favorite part of the city was that there was honeysuckle everywhere.  There it is called "caballero de la noche".  Honeysuckle is quite possibly my favorite smell, to me the town smelled of heaven - absolutely intoxicating.  Warning:  I might move here and never leave.

We ended the game at the top of the hill where we all had a chance to reflect on the trip.  The students talked about how beautiful their country is and they hope the school would invite other foreigners to come work and see Colombia so that they could truly understand what Colombia has to offer.  (If you're interested in teaching, let me know!)  I couldn't agree more.  I know Colombia has a bad reputation but the people are loving and welcoming and the country itself is like something out of a picture book or a movie.  I feel so lucky to be here and to know that this is just the beginning.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 3: Leaving Chicamocha

Bridge out of Jordan
After a less than comfortable night's sleep, we woke up at 6:00am for a breakfast of cereal, milk, banana and juice.  We stretched and the began our assent out of the canyon.  The distance was less but the sun was out after raining all night so it was very hot and very humid.  There was quite a bit more complaining, some vomit and some tears (not from me though!) but again beautiful views, an incredible level of camaraderie and support among the students and int he end we all survived and made it to the top where lunch was quickly made and inhaled. 

We had a 3-hour drive back to our hotel (all were completely passed out in the bus) because we had to drive around the canyon this time.  The hot shower was very much needed.  We had dinner, played some games and made it an early night.
We hiked down that mountain in the background yesterday!  Seems crazy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 2: Chicamocha

 So cute!  Chicitica!
They're ready!
Tuesday was the beginning of a 2-day hike into (and out of) what the students kept calling Colombia's Grand Canyon - Chicamocha.  This hike was an absolutely incredible experience.  The climate in Santander is hot and humid and the hike was with 60 12-year-olds and still it was a great success.  The first day was into the canyon - all downhill.  Tough on the feet and knees but GORGEOUS.  When we began I had no idea what to expect but around every bend was a view more spectacular than the last.

We were lucky enough to have a cloudy day (not as good for the pictures but good for survival!) that kept the heat level down.  In fact, it was a bit chilly when we started our trek.  We all had packs with food, water, our sleeping pads, a sheet, and our clothes for the next day.  Additionally the guides from Off Bound Adventures had extra supplies (food, water, and medical kit) as needed. 

On my way into the canyon
Taking a break with students
We took many breaks along the way

I had several students with me throughout the hike.  We practiced Spanish and English, sang songs, and the students were so strong and positive - encouragin each other along the way.  Adorable. 

We had lunch around 2pm along a river with our feet in the water...ahhhhhh.  About a half hour after lunch, we arrived to the town of Jordan, population 25.  We were welcomed by the school there - students come from all over the canyon.  They had a presentation prepared for us and then the students paired up and got to know each other a bit.  After that they worked together for about 45-minutes to help with the restoration of one of the walls in the town's center.
Lunch along the river
Dance performance by the school
Painting the wall in the town square

At this point everyone was thoroughly exhausted and famished but we also were all craving a shower.   The boys and girls stayed in separate buildings.  In the courtyard of the girls' building there was a giant tub of water.  To bath, each girl put on a bathing suit and then a teacher would slowly dump a bucket of water over them as the quickly scrubbed away all the sweat, smell and dirt.  It was certainly a bonding experience and we all felt a bit better afterwards.

Dinner was meat, potato, plantains, arepa (like a grits patty) and agua de panella (kind of like iced tea or lemonade sweetened with panella which comes from sugar cane and is similar in taste to molasses) served on a banana leaf.  No utensils.  Delicious.  We all devoured the food.

To end the day the students came together to reflect on the highlights and what they learned.  It was great to hear from them.  Some of their reflections included their surprise at their own strength and how thankful they were for all they have.  One student pointed out how she felt ridiculous for some of the stuff she has complained about in the past after meeting the students at the school and Jordan and realizing just how much she has.  Hearing these reflections emphasized the power of this trip.

Was exhausted but wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Beautiful view of the canyon
After lunch on our way to Jordan

Monday, October 3, 2011

5-day excursion to Santander

This week I had the opportunity to go on a week-long excursion with my sixth graders.

The trip was five days long through three departamentos (like states) - Cundinamarca, Boyaca, and Santander  - and we traveled by bus.  Overall, it was an incredible introduction to the country and it has made me want to travel more.  The following entries will provide some of the details/highlights from the week.

Day 1: Monday, October 3, 2011
Up at 4:45am in order to be to the school by 6:15am.  Most of the first day was spent in the bus heading to our home base for the week - Barichara, Santander.  The students were as excited as I was and they were great in the bus - playing music and games, talking and SLEEPING.  Along the way we made a few stops.  First for breakfast and then we stopped to visit an historical site (a bridge) where the Colombians won their independence from the Spaniards.  After that we stopped for lunch and then in Socorro,  a colonial town, to visit a museum that explained some of the cultural history of the country.  It was pretty difficult for me to understand but still interesting.  Finally we arrived to our hotel, had dinner, and hit they hay.

And we're off!
Rolling down the hill at the monume
Relaxing at the monument
Breakfast time!
With Mariana, the students call her my twin
Lunch time

At the Casa de Cultura in Socorro

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Una vaina loca

I cannot believe two weeks have passed since I last made an entry!  The pace of life here in Bogota is picking up and when I have not been working or out with friends I've been doped up on Nyquil and the likes in an attempt to rid myself of a cold that has lasted for nearly two weeks! (The late nights are probably not helping)
At Crepes & Waffles with friends from school

This weekend was packed full of fun times - lots of dancing which I love and meeting new people.  Friday night was the birthday of a friend from school.  We took her for a late lunch at Crepes and Waffles and then we went to a bar called BIG.  Folks here don't called it that, their name for it sounds something more like "P and G"...but maybe they're saying "B...I...G".  I have no idea.  But it was lots of fun and I got to see another side of the teachers I work with.  At school they are all very serious, but this not was full of silliness and nonsense.  Simply wonderful.

Aguardiente or Guardo is the drink of choice.  
It tastes like black liquorice. YUM! 

 Saturday night I went to a club called "Full 80's" where, as would be expected, they place 80's music all night long with the videos playing as well.  I am not very well versed in Spanish 80's music but we had a blast!  The DJ would play about 5 Spanish songs and then 5 English songs.  By the end of the night I was a sweaty mess.  Best case.
Whoa! Livin' on a prayer!!!!