Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sweaty Betty

Slowly but surely, I am checking items off of my “to see” list in Puerto Rico.  Yesterday, Amanda and Josh and I took a hike through the Guanica Dry Forest—one of the places I had not yet explored. 

Surprisingly (for us), we didn’t get lost once all day.
What we did get was sweaty.  Oh man, did we get sweaty.

When I checked the weather before we left home, it said there was a heat index of 105 in Guanica.  Awesome.  Stepping out of the car when we got there was like stepping into an oven.  No…ovens are dry.  You’d think the dry forest might have dryer air than the rest of PR…but it’s just as humid there as elsewhere. 
Let me tell you—I’ve gotten used to sweating here.  But yesterday was pretty gross.  Sweat should not form puddles on your clavicle, or drip off of your chin.  Ew. 

On the plus side, it was a nice hike!  It was greener than I expected.  But as Josh pointed out—it was the green of weeds, not vibrant foliage.  Also, there were more trees.  I guess I’m not sure what I WAS expecting—cactuses that looked like trees, maybe?  Trees with no leaves?  I did know it was a forest, after all.  We did see some cactuses, however.  With the booklet we’d picked up at the ranger station, we found out some of them had rather interesting names…

Melon Cactus

Spanish Dildo Cactus

Our path 

At the midpoint of our hike, we came to Playa Tamarindo, a pretty beach where we stopped to have lunch and enjoy the view (and the breeze coming off the water). 

Playa Tamarindo, Guanica 

Then it was back on the path for another sweaty walk uphill to the car. 
So—Guanica Dry Forest: check.  2 hour hike in extremely hot weather: check.  A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon!  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Teacher's Research Rant

Time for a teacherly rant. 
I hate teaching research.  Hate it, hate it, hate it. 
It’s taken me only a year of experience to come to this realization.

Let me back-track.  When I started teaching, writing a research paper was one of the things I was most excited to teach.  When I was in school, I loved finding information, organizing it in a different way, putting my own spin in it, and spitting out a research paper.  In my opinion, writing a research paper is simply a process—and one which requires very little deep thought, especially when you’re in middle or grade school and aren’t really expected to add any ideas to the research of others.

Here’s what I’m learning: writing a research paper DOES take extensive critical thinking skills, and it’s not as easy for everyone as it is for me. 

My Saturday.  

Step 1: Find scholarly sources of information for your topic.  Check.  This is pretty easy for my students, after I guide them about how to identify sources they can trust.

Step 2: Highlight the important information from the source, and then take notes on notecards.  One paraphrased fact goes on each notecard. 
This is currently the step we’re on in class, and it’s a beast.  No matter how much we practice paraphrasing similar articles in class, many of them either don’t get it, or get lazy when it comes to taking their own notes.  To prevent unintentional plagiarism, I’m going through each of the students’ notecards and checking them with their sources.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written, “This is a quote, not a paraphrase!  Re-word.” 
The problem is that much of the time, my students don’t really understand what they’re reading.  They see words they don’t know, and rather than looking them up, they just write down the sentence—assuming it must be important.  This results in two problems.  One is obvious; they’re quoting rather than paraphrasing.  The second has to do the actual information they end up taking notes on.  Because they don’t understand the whole article, they miss the most important parts!  I’ve read notes on Anne Frank that never mention she was in hiding for two years, and notes on other Holocaust survivors that never explain what happened to the person during the actual Holocaust. 

Step 3: Organize your notecards by subtopic, and then put them in a logical order.  When I write a research paper, this is the fun part for me.  I love combining information from multiple sources in a way that makes sense, and the notecard method makes it so easy to chop up the info. and re-compile it.  It’s harder for students to grasp.  All their notecards are labeled by source.  Mixing up information from each source is sometimes hard for them to do.  Also, going back to the fact that they don’t understand what they’re taking notes on, sometimes their organization is severely lacking.

Step 4: Write an outline.  This should be easy, because all the facts are there already, in order, organized by subtopic (which is essentially organized by body paragraphs).  And yet it takes them forever.

Step 5: Write a rough draft.  We’re not there yet.  I can’t comment on this year’s difficulties.  Last year I had a lot of plagiarism because students didn’t understand paraphrasing, though.  I’m hoping they take my comments on their notecards to heart and it’s not such an issue this year.

Step 6: Peer-edit.  Always a borderline waste of time…students aren’t the best at catching each other’s errors and leaving constructive criticism.  They’re pretty good at complimenting each other, which is a good thing, though. 

Step 7: Revise and edit and complete a final draft. 

Step 8: Revise again and turn in a 2nd time to get a better grade on the final draft.  I believe in letting students do this, because the point should be that they’re creating quality work, not that they’re getting it right by the deadline, or on the first try.  Of course it makes for more grading for me, though.  That’s the trade-off.

Second semester’s poetry unit can’t come quickly enough. 
This unit is worth it, and I hope they each take something from it and remember how to write a solid research paper in the future.  I will probably teach a research unit every single year that I am a teacher. I will continue to hate it, unless I eventually discover the magical way to present the information so everyone “gets it” right away.  But I know it’s a skill my students need to have—especially if they have any desire to go to college one day. 
So, I plod along.  Giving up my Saturday in favor of banging my head on the table at the misquoted and mis-paraphrased information on student notecards. 
Cheers to the weekend!  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Culebra From the Back of a Golf Cart

If you’ve been reading any of these blog posts, you may have noticed there are several recurring themes in many of them, such as:
        -The kindness of strangers
        -Lucky finds
        -Getting lost
        -Lots of fun and friends
        -Adventures in beautiful places
This weekend’s trip to Culebra encompassed almost all of the themes above—making it one of the best mini-vacations I’ve had in a long time.

sunrise on the way to Fajardo

Friday morning (no school—Columbus Day holiday), we stood in line to buy ferry tickets for the 9am ferry at 7am.  The ticket window wasn’t open yet, but the line wound down the sidewalk.  By 8:30, ticket selling now in progress, we had inched our way closer to the window an were one group away from buying our tickets.  And then, a sign went up in the window, and the announcement came on over the loudspeaker: tickets for the 9am ferry to Culebra were sold out. 

Nooooo!  We’d been SO CLOSE!  The next ferry didn’t leave until 3pm.  Quite the wait in Fajardo.

And then—the kindness of strangers.

A guy in line ahead of us told us he had 3 tickets he didn’t need, which we could have if we wanted.  Great!!  Except that there were 4 of us.  We resolved (since we were next in line) to at least ask if they had just one more ticket.  Reading the sign on the window, I remarked it was a shame we weren’t residents of Culebra with proper identification—because they were still selling tickets to them

And then—the kindness of strangers!

The guy just ahead of us must have been a Culebra resident, and he must have been listening.  He turned around and handed us the 1 ticket we needed.  He’d just bought it for us! 

Josh sprinted to find the guy with 3 spare tickets (he’d wandered off), and we made it onto the 9am ferry!

Those guys at the window behind us are part of
the group that shared tickets with us.  

On the boat, we got seats on the top level inside the air conditioned part.  We questioned the intelligence of this move, though, when the boat started moving.  It was by far the rockiest ride I’ve ever been on.  It felt like a roller coaster—one of those old wooden ones with lots of little dips that make your stomach flip.  It was quite an exciting ride—complete with whoops and laughter from other passengers as the ferry dipped repeatedly.  It was a ton of fun—for about ten minutes.  Then it got a bit old.  Miraculously, I didn’t get sick.  (Though the girls behind us did!  Twice.)  But by the time the 45 minute ride was done, I was ready to get off and get some fresh air. 

We stepped off the ferry, and saw our hotel.  They weren’t kidding when they said it was right at the ferry dock!  Josh went to pick up the golf cart we rented for the day to get us around, and the other 3 of us checked to see whether we could leave a few things at the hotel until we could check in at 3pm.  Inside, we had another stroke of luck; the room was already ready!  So we checked in—and saw that our room was huge and awesome.  We had 2 bedrooms (with beds for 6), a full kitchen, a sitting area, and our own patio.

our hotel

Our room at Hotel Kokomo, Culebra

When Josh returned with our sweet ride, we piled in and set off to explore.

After getting a little lost (recurring theme—check), we met up with Robert and Sonja, who’d flown over to join us for the day.  They rented a scooter, and the six of us set off for Playa Flamenco, Culebra’s most well known beach.

The playa lived up to expectations.  Soft, powdery sand, and teal water the color of taffy greeted us.  Despite just a few rain drops, we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.  

Playa Flamenco, Culebra 

After about 4 hours, we set off for our next beach—Playa Tamarindo.

Back into the golf cart—with our driver beeping merrily and calling out the warning “Dip!  Dip.” for the passengers in the back who couldn't see them coming—we made our way to Tamarindo.

This beach was much quieter.  There was no sand—just rocks (beware of sea urchins in the water! We were warned by a passing stranger).  It’s a great snorkeling spot, and Robert saw something like 6 seat turtles feeding in the sea grass.  Sitting on the beach and listening to the waves brush up onto the pebbles (a sound like rain), we made a new friend.  The chicken enjoyed sitting under Amanda’s chair—while she was in it.  Ha!      

As we left the beach, we had some fun in the golf cart on our way to the next stop.  As election time nears in Puerto Rico, the streets are often filled with political caravans—parades of cars honking their horns and waving flags supporting one candidate or another.  In our golf cart, we pretended to be our own political rally—honking our way down the street and waving at every person who was outside with huge grins on our faces.  I love my friends.

Riding in the back of the golf cart.

Our driver 

Pretty scenery 

After a tasty dinner at Heather’s Pizza, we ended up at the Dinghy Dock for the remainder of the night.  We were the rowdy table of Americans playing cards and laughing much too loudly as Josh and Scott kept up a comedic routine involving Chinese accents throughout the entire game.

Dinghy Dock--complete with a dinghy at the dock

comedic entertainment.  

When we left the Dock, we weren’t quite ready for bed, so we took the golf cart for a joy ride.  We flew down to Flamenco—stopping on the way for Amanda to hop off and dance, and for me to go down the slide on a playground.  We raced Robert and Sonja—and lost; the golf cart was no match for the scooter.  We found a place called Susie’s (photo op!) and explored a new part of the island.  And then it was time for bed.

Saturday morning, we were up and off to find breakfast and Zoni Beach.  We didn’t have a ton of time, because we had to return the golf cart by 10:30am.  After the 20 minute ride to the hidden oasis (absolutely breathtaking!) we had just enough time to take a 15 minute walk along the shore, and then back in our sweet cart for one last ride.

Zoni Beach, Culebra 

We returned the cart on the minute at 10:30, then checked out of our hotel, bought our ferry tickets, and spent our last 2 hours on the beach right next to the ferry dock.  A perfect end to the trip—the water was as clear and smooth as glass, and immensely refreshing.

Our ride back to Guayama was peaceful.  We stopped along the way in Humacao for Subway and some Maggie Moo’s (my favorite combo!).  By Maunabo, we came upon a political caravan that stretched for miles.  Thank goodness we were going in the opposite direction and didn’t get stuck in it! 

What a fantastic weekend.  It’s adventures like these that make me love living on the island.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Feeling at Home

I feel as though I haven't written as much or as often this school year, and I apologize for that.  I think the reason why is that this year, being in Puerto Rico feels more like home.  I have a life here now.  I have more friends from the area than I did last year, and I know my way around a bit better.  This means that the weekends are less about heading off to find the next adventure, and more about decompressing from the week and spending time with friends--like a normal person. 

Last weekend, on Friday, Kelsey and I had a joint birthday party for each other at her apartment.  The night was a complete success, with lots of food and drink and great company.  We ended up with enough leftovers to throw two or three more parties.  :) 

Saturday, we headed to Playa Caribe (a local beach) for a full day of relaxing in the sunshine.  I came home with a slight sunburn--proof I was at the beach which I haven't had much of so far this year. 

And Sunday, I spent at home, cleaning and grading and relaxing.  Kezia came over in the evening, and we watched a movie together. 

So you see?  It's just life.  No big adventures, no exciting stories.  And yet, that's the way I like it.  I am enjoying this year as much, if not even more, than last year. 

In other updates: I currently have a non-functional computer.  It's my own, fault, of course.  The computer may have, err...fallen off a table.  In the process, the charger was damaged at the point where it plugs into the computer.  After several hours (days?) of panic as to what I would do when eventually the computer would no longer recognize the charger, and my battery would die, I did come to my senses and save all documents necessary for day-to-day life onto a flashdrive.  My computer is now dead, but I can use the school computer during the day, and in the evening, my phone's internet connection has been a blessing, allowing me to stay connected to the all-important facebook world.  I ordered the new charger, and it should be here soon(ish).  Fingers crossed that that's the only problem with the computer. 

I got the brakes fixed on my car last week as well.  Now I only have 2...maybe 3 or 4...issues left to fix on it (ranging in importance, of course, from big to small). 

And of course, the other big news from last week was my birthday.  I completed my "peseta"--my quarter.  I'm 1/4 of the way to 100 years old!  Thankfully, there's no quarter-life-crisis for me.  I'm quite pleased with the way I'm living my life.