You Talked to Who????

Wow have things changed since I started teaching! I often take for granted the advances that have made my life more enjoyable in the classroom. Yesterday, I was hit full force with just awe. When I started my career, we had no computers at all. I think the secretary may have had one. Now, I carry everything I need either on my phone or my iPad. It would not be unusual to see me working on three devices at once. I did not have a phone in my classroom. I used to have to go to the office and wait for a line out (of which we had two). I didn’t think about it was just the way it was.

Yesterday, we Skyped Alaska. I am in Connecticut. Actually, we didn’t Skype. Because they are so remote, they facebook video chatted with us (thank goodness for the young teacher in Alaska who could walk me through that). Can you imagine?! Children from Alaska and children from Connecticut looking at each other and talking. Asking questions and finding out about each other. It was awesome!

We learned that yesterday in Alaska it was 7 degrees outside. Many of the children were wearing hats in the classroom. The coldest it has gotten in 50 degrees below zero. We also learned that they can get a foot of snow a day and they go to school no matter what. They laughed at us that we miss school if there is too much snow. There are 20 children in the third grade class and that was their entire town of grade three students. What hit my class was that it was 12:40 in CT and our new friends in Alaska had just gotten to school because it was 8:40 am there. Their students also asked in anyone hunted or trapped animals. They said their houses are usually made by hand and out of wood and trees.

I don’t know if my class totally understood how amazing this was. For them, Skyping has become something that we do. We definitely discussed it after. We talked about how their lives are different than ours and how wonderful is that that we get to see that first hand. We can read all about these states, but to actually talk to children from there..priceless!

I will forever be grateful for the technology that brings these fabulous programs to my students. My 21 year old, first year teacher self, could never have imagine in my wildest dreams what happened yesterday! So, I think my not 21 year old self is going to sit back and enjoy this moment..(until I find the next cool thing)


Push Even Harder

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Connecticut Reading Association’s Fall Conference.  It had an all star line up.  Dave Burgess, Jen Seravallo, Gravity Goldberg, and Nancy Boyles to name a few.  It was beyond difficult to even decide who to see as each presenter is rockstar.  My teaching buddy and I decided that we would watch Dave Burgess as the keynote and then go see another presenter to increase and diversify our learning.  For those of you who don’t know, Dave Burgess is single handedly revolutionizing professional development for teachers.  He is the writer of an amazing book called Teach Like a Pirate. But he didn’t stop there. He created his own publishing company where current teachers and adminstrators write books that are timely and practical.  All of the books are amazing (and I personally own about 10 of them).  They are written for teachers by teachers.  They are practical and doable.  They are on the cutting edge of what is best for kids.  I read Dave’s book a few years back and since then have been a loyal follower of anything that has Dave Burgess Publication on it.

Anyways, back to the conference.  We saw Dave walking around the conference, so I just had to meet him face to face.  After all, I had created the  Iwanicki Book Awards because of him! (Also see Here)  He was just as kind in person as I expected him to be and allowed me to gush and get a selfie.  (I am such a nerd) So, we went to the keynote. It was honestly nothing I had ever seen before.  He was dressed in a pirate outfit, ran around the room and talked a hundred miles a minute.  I was completely hooked! (Pardon the pun).  I started to take notes, but quickly put them away to be in the moment and just listen.  Dave’s keynote was about engaging kids, being creative and pushing limits.  He wasn’t just another presenter lecturing us on what to do.  He has talked the talk and walked the walk.  The hooks he discussed, he used in his classroom.   He pushed us as teachers to think outside the box and do our very best to engage kids.

We knew then that we had to hear more.  We had to get to his break out session.  However, I am a rule follower.  I don’t break the rules.  I think I had a mini heart attack even thinking about it!  But we did!  (My heart is still racing thinking about it). I kept looking around afraid that there wasn’t going to be enough chairs and the PD police would come in and take me away.  You laugh, but this is true story.  It is so hard living in my brain. However, I don’t regret it for a minute, even if I felt like one of those hippy protestors. (Seriously, what is wrong with me?)

His message is clear.  We need to engage kids.  We need to be creative.  We need to push ourselves.  This is not just another person telling us what to do.  In my mind he has street cred because it is what he does.  He would give us small little problems and then 90 seconds to come up with something creative.  It is amazing what you can do in 90 seconds. He also said what I believe is true, teaching this way smashes the core standards.  It also makes kids want to come to school and want to work.

I walked away from that energize and yet completely exhausted.  My brain was on fire and yet it was telling me to stop.  But, at lunch, my buddy and I came up with a better way to end the Global Read Aloud than we had originally planned.  I dropped a hook in my class the next day as teaser.  Then during lunch recess, I said to the kids, “I have a crazy idea, anyone want to stay in and see what happens?” I had about 9/16 kids stay in.

So, here is to keep improving, keep getting better, not sleeping through the night but engaging kids and showing them the magic of learning.

Draw a picture

The assignment in one of the many education groups I belong in was to have each student draw a picture of you and them. The thought being that you would learn a lot about their perception of the classroom. Hmm…I was game. I would try it that day. Friday, as it turns out, was not a stellar day in my classroom. Any teacher that has taught the week before Halloween knows what I mean. Add to that, indoor recess due to bear (yes, bear) sightings, my teaching assistant being out, an early release this week and honestly, not my best teaching day and we have a mixture for who knows what they will draw. Me, with bug angry eyes, fangs coming out of my mouth? I quite frankly was nervous what the little humans would draw. We all know that they can’t remember past 5 minutes, so I was afraid. But, I still decided to give it a go. Most of the pictures looked like this:

Then I got this:

In these two, I am clearly a teacher at the front of the room and the children are in their seat.  I didn’t think that was how I ran my classroom, but it is their preception.  The bottom one gives me pause with how little the child is and and how big I am!

Many students only drew them and me, so I had them draw them in the classroom where I usually am and where they usually are and I got this..

These are examples of me reading and the students on the carpet.

But then I also got this..

I am not sure I am small in this?  I think the keep working was from the Gonoodle video. :). Gonoodle is a brain break video.  I like how I am so small in this pic and the child is so big!

The one gave me a laugh. It came from a student who had difficulty listening yesterday.

The last one was probably my favorite..when asked to draw where Mrs. I is in the classroom, I got this.. (name scribbled out)

I liked this activity. It definitely gave me pause after a trying day.  It will keep me humble and fill my heart at the same time.

Bringing the World To Us

I have seen many changes in education in the past 30 years.  Some good, some not so good.  Over all the changes I have seen, the best one, the one I feel has impacted learning the most has been technology.  When I first started, there were no computers.  Hard to imagine that!


Yesterday was one of those amazing days. That you look back and are glad that you were apart of it.  It started with my daughter Kelsey FaceTiming in to our class from South Africa.  She spends Thursdays at University of Cape Town and uses their WiFi to connect.  The students were able to ask “in person” their questions about her bungee jumping, lion meeting and other adventures.  She showed them her university and then turned the camera around and showed them the mountains.  You know she has been making a difference when one student said, “Oh, I see Table Mountain.”

The second exciting thing to happen was because of Wonder .  We have been reading the chapter book and I stumbled across a Facebook Group of teachers reading it.  Through that group, Megan Brown contacted me and said she was willing to Skype from Washington with my class to discuss her life as someone who has craniofacial issues.  D5AC6B69-904C-408F-BC71-ABF2EB88DCD7Megan presented to my class for about 15 minutes about her life and then my students asked her questions.

Also part of the day, which I didn’t think about until after because it is becoming so common place (which is crazy) is we checked Twitter. On Twitter our friend Carl DeStefano from Australia had tweeted pictures of his alpaca at us.  I then told the kids a story that Carl was tell me that morning in a twitter chat and we tweet back to him.  We have been corresponding with Carl all year, but how crazy is that?! My students saw alpaca pics from Australia?!

In one day, my students traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, Washington State and Australia.  Wow!  Just Wow!

Maybe because 30 years ago I could never imagine even talking on the phone during the day to South Africa or Washington let alone Skype and FaceTime, but yesterday was one of those magical, special days. It is one of those days that make me feel lucky to be able to do what I do and keeps my faith that I have the greatest job in the world.

Third Grade Questions for South Africa

Why did you go to South Africa?  How long are you going to stay there?

I went to South Africa to study abroad. That means during a period of time during college, you live in a different country and take classes at their school. I could choose between Cape Town or London, but chose Cape Town because when else will I be in Africa?

I arrived at the end of August and will be leaving December 10th! But I won’t be back in the United States until December 11 because the flight takes so long.

What does your school look like?  What is it made out of?  Is there Chrome books?  Why is there so many kids in a class?

The school looks different than yours because there aren’t any hallways! To get from one classroom to another, you walk outside. Besides that, the classrooms look the same, with desks and chairs, posters, papers and pens. There’s a lot of bricks.

The technology that they use aren’t Chrome books, instead they have desktop computers (like the one my mom uses). There’s just the computer lab, not laptops that travel around. I don’t think they have computers in the classroom either.

There are so many kids in a class because there aren’t that many teachers and SO many kids. Compared to other classes that have 50 or more students, 30 isn’t that many!


Is South Africa near the equator?

It’s actually not. South Africa, specifically Cape Town, is the southern-most country in Africa. Here’s a map. South Africa is green! The bottom most coast is where I live (on the left-hand side).

Why is there poor and not poor sections?

In South Africa, there’s a history called “apartheid,” when people were separated by the color of their skin. The white people in charge were very mean to the black people and forced them to move out of their homes into a poor area called the “Cape Flats.” The black families only had a few hours to get as many of their things as they could before they had to move to those small houses I showed you before. Even though this period of time has ended, there are still poor and wealthy sections.

Why didn’t the tigers and monkeys attack?  Where they trained?  What about the elephants?  Are they trained?  Why were their tusks small?  Were they not grown or had someone cut it?

These tigers and monkeys were rescued by humans and have spent the majority of their lives in the sanctuary, so they are used to people walking by their cages and also the workers coming into their cages to feed them. So they were never actually trained but “domesticated,” meaning that they’re used to being around people.

And believe it or not, but a lion did actually charge at the fence when we were watching him! Our tour guide thought it was because we were near him while he was eating and thought we were going to steal his food!

The elephants are actually trained. They take about two years to be fully trained. They use treats, just like dogs. They look like bunny pellets. I got to feed my elephant, Jabu, a handful (or trunkful) of them! Elephants also love pumpkin, we fed them that too! One of the elephants, Tante, never grew her trunks. This is because of poachers, or bad people who kill elephants for their ivory trunks. So in order to stay alive, the elephants changed the way they grow so a very small percentage don’t even grow their tusks. The other two elephants, Jabu and Marula, don’t have their full trunks. The elephant trainers aren’t really sure why they’re like that, but they think it’s because another thing elephants can get killed for are strong trunks!




I have been waiting for this book since I first knew of its existence.  I watched in envy as people with advanced copies tweeted and posted about its magic.  I even preordered it from Amazon Prime, which is not something I do often with books.  Katherine Applegate is a writing genius.  Her books are amazing.  The One and Only Ivan is a must read aloud every year for me. It is brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a gorilla who is in a shopping mall zoo and the trials and tribulations that come with it.  It was the first book that I had a student so invested in the book that she broke down and cried at one part.

As I sit here on a chilly end of September morning wrapped in a blanket, I devour the whole book in one sitting. I wanted to slow down and savior its deliciousness, but my brain need to absorb every word and find out how/if the story worked out. Once I finished, I felt I should go to the gym, but I must write about this work of art. Beautiful.  That is how I describe this book.  Just beautiful. My favorite line of the whole story is, “I wanted to tell them that friendship doesn’t have to be hard.  That sometimes we let the world make it hard.”  I reread that line again and again.  I find myself still mulling that line over.

This book is meant to be shared, talked about and lingered over.  The central character is Red an oak tree. Red and the other animals help the reader to see a different perspective than we usually see.  This book is about friendship, kindness of strangers, prejudice and so much more.  This book takes us back to look forward.

I cannot wait to share this work of art with my students.  They will love it!




Update from CT (Cape Town, not Connecticut)

As of yesterday, I have been in Cape Town for 3 weeks. Time is flying by. We spent the first two weeks getting oriented to the city and country and have just started our internships last week. I want to take this post to update my status here. 🙂

Orientation was incredible. My instagram (@kelseyiwanicki) has reflected beautiful sites, mountains, ocean, heights, blue & white where the sky and ocean meet. We have been fortunate enough to climb two of the three major peaks in Cape Town, including Table Mountain which is one of the seven new wonders of nature in the world. We spent a day venturing around Cape Town, eventually making our way to Cape of Good Hope, the southern most tip of Africa and close to where the two oceans meet. We saw penguins at the largest penguin reserve in South Africa.

However, our volunteer coordinator, Vernon, has also made sure we have been exposed to the community. He took us to a church in a township, where the sermon was primarily in Xhosa (a language that is extremely different than either Spanish or English). We spent a whole day touring the townships and seeing informal housing. It is hard to describe how important it is to see this poverty and what an impact it had on me. He made sure we went to these areas including Langa, Kayalitcha, Mitchell’s Plain, and Guguletu (just to name a few), to give us a sense of where our students are coming from. These areas of extreme poverty (where government services mostly don’t venture) are literally just across a highway from an area of well-to-do homes. As much as we have been able to be tourists, we are also getting the realistic, eye-opening version of Cape Town, which I am eternally grateful for as I get a better understanding of my students and their home life.

Speaking of my students, I am placed at Christel House, a school that services students from many townships and seeks to educate the poorest of the poor. My placement until the end of the term (end of September) is in the library. To be honest, at first I was completely disappointed because I was expecting to be in a classroom. However, I have grown to love the library and librarians. I have been able to meet almost all of the class Grade R (kindergarten) to Grade 6 and walking through the school I am greeted with multiple smiles and hugs, which makes it all worth it. My day consists of a variety of doing librarian duties (organizing books, checking them out [my job is the stamper – haven’t been upgraded to the computer…yet], administering reading tests, marking those tests, supervising lessons [with Grade R!], plastic wrapping books, labeling books, & generally anything else that needs to be done).


This is one of the breath-taking views I was talking about. Two weeks ago we climbed to the top of Lion’s Head, this was the view.


Not the best picture I’ve ever taken, but this is one of the townships. If you look closely, you can see the tin slabs that construct homes. There is no running water in the home and residents must walk to the “outhouses” that serve the whole township.


This was at the artist collective in Langa, a township. The efforts are providing beauty in a place that was haphazardly constructed. Everything in the pottery studio is handmade.




A picture from the District 6 Museum. District 6 was originally a primarily black area until the whites in power decided they wanted it as the land was close to downtown Cape Town. Thus, those black families had to be relocated to the outskirts of the city although the whites never developed the land of District 6. The tapestry is embroidered with messages from families and people who were original District 6 inhabitants.


Last but not least, the man himself, Vernon! Our volunteer coordinator (and my fellow UConn sweatshirt twin!!). This trip wouldn’t be anything without his team. Much thanks to them all.