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.

International Dot Day; the day after

I meant to take a lot of pictures.  I actually even told my students that I would make a slide show after, but that didn’t happen.  I took one picture.  I was so involved in each activity! As each activity finished, I was like oh shoot, I forgot to take pictures.  But this is what did happen..

We started off the day being scientists and examining dots (drops of water).  We learned we needed to read the directions carefully or we could ruin the experiment for others!  We put drops of water onto a penny.  Did you know that over 20 drops can fit on a penny?  We learned that when dots of water are close together on wax paper, they attract each other and slide together.  Wait, we had to learn what wax paper was! We watched as we added one drop of food coloring to a glass full of water.  While we predicted that the whole glass would turn color, the drop actually made some pretty cool designs.  We learned that scientists slow down and observe.

Mystery Skype was next.  We guessed our friends state of New Hampshire.  During this activity, we learned to be careful listeners and how to ask questions that made sense to what we had already learned.  This is hard for third graders because we barely know
where we live, let alone any other state.  This is what we learned.  New Hampshire is not in the Midwest.  It borders Canada.  It is in the Northeast and it borders Maine.

After that, we created dots that we made three dimensional with an app called Quiver.  Very cool!  We ended our day with watching live (with thousands of children around the world) a Kidlit tv show about Dot Day.  We got to see Peter Reynolds, the mayor of Boston and several illustrations with new books coming out soon.  Several of which my students want me to buy.

It was a very full day with lots of learning, creating and fun. My plans of going to the gym after school were traded in for my pajamas, my dog and the couch.



International Dot Day

September 15ish is International Dot Day.  What is exactly is that?  It is a day set aside to honor the amazing book the Dot by Peter Reynolds.  If you haven’t read it, you can watch it here The Dot  The Dot is a story about a Vashi who feels she cannot draw.  The message is to “Make a mark and see where it takes you.”  I am a big fan of Peter Reynolds’ books.  They are all fabulous with a great message in each.  While they are picture books, the lessons in each book apply to humans of all ages. The illustrations are just as amazing. Read just one and you will love them as much as I do.

International Dot Day was the first Global Project that I participated in (5 years ago) and it hooked me in a big way.  Over a million people participate in over 169 countries.  This whole day was the brainchild of teacher Terry Shay in 2009 and has grown to a wonderful day of creativity and exploration.  We have already read and discussed the book.  We marked down some of the countries that are participating on individual maps and looked how far they are from us on a globe.

On Friday, we will also be making our own mark by decorating a dot and using an app called Quiver to make it 3D.  We will be doing science activities with water dots (drops). We will be playing math games with dots (dice). We will also be having our first Mystery Skype of the year.  Finally, we will cap off our day by watching a live stream of Dot Day with Terry Shay and Peter Reynolds.  Isn’t technology fabulous?!

I love this day.  The Dot and Ish (another gem of Peter Reynolds) are wonderful books for adding to our growth mindset work we have been doing.  I am excited and I know I will be rocking dots on Friday.  What about you? IMG_0016.PNG

South African Adventure

Many of you know that my daughter Kelsey is a master’s candidate at the University of Connecticut.  UCONN is a 5 year masters/certification program for elementary education.   In May, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree and two days later she jetted off for 8 weeks in Costa Rica.  During that time, she blogged about her adventures.  Less than a week ago, she left for South Africa for a whole four months to teach and attend classes.  She really wanted to blog, but is finding the internet very spotty.  She can text, so I will do the best I can to blog for her.

There are 11 master degree education candidates in her cohort.  All of them live in the same house.  Kelsey shares her room with a music major.  UCONN has put together an amazing orientation.  Before even leaving, she had to read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and Trevor Noah’s (a comedian) autobiography as well.  She had two full days at UCONN to prepare.  The students have been assigned a coordinator named Vernon.  He is a South African native who takes great pride in showing them around and teaching them.

This is really quite the experience for her!  I will do my best to bring it to life on the blog.

This is Boulders Penguin Reservation.  I am not sure if you can tell, but those are penguins. Here is some more information about it:

The mountains behind this ocean is the 12 Apolstles Mountain Range.  You can count the ridges.

Today, the crew had to go to church where their volunteer coordinator is a minister. It is a baptist church but it was in Xhosa which is one of the South Africa languages.

Tonight she is going to a jazz dinner.  Their days are definitely filled.  We are doing our best to communicate.  South Africa is 6 hours ahead of us, so I am finding that when I wake up is the best time to “chat”.  However, she will soon be in school during that time.