Impact of Caring: Post 7 – Tinny and Vernice

This is the final post in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School
Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika Falconer
Impact of Caring: Post 5 – Desiree
Impact of Caring: Post 6 – Phuti

When I think about teachers who give their hearts to teaching, these ladies are at the front of the line. Tinny (left) and Vernice (right) teach at Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo Province. Tinny and Vernice began the Reading Club there and we have been connecting ever since. We  send their students books and then we  Skype and their students talk about their reading. These are some photos of our calls through the years.


After I visited their school in 2015, I knew I would have to come again. Unfortunately with my schedule on this trip, I was only able to come for a few hours. We did see each other at Phuti’s Community Reading Club Project launch party so we were able to re-connect before I got up to their school.

Tinny teaches 6th grade and believes with her heart and soul in the saying Readers are Leaders.

She also knows how to make a person feel special.  When I arrived on campus, I saw some drum majorettes practicing in front of the school. I thought they were practicing for a competition. No, they weren’t. The Drum Majorettes greeted me and led me into the school where the student body was waiting for a special ceremony.

The students were in charge complete with a ceremony leader and a schedule of events.




From beginning to end, I was touched and overwhelmed with emotion. My students and I send this school books, but the kids at Pula Madibogo are the superstars because they are using the books to improve their reading. Yet they were treating me like I was the superstar as they shared their gratitude.

All morning long, the students impressed me with their passion for reading and school. I have been able to live a life where education was something I expected and I have at various times taken it for granted. By many standards, I have lived a life of privilege. From my small town in rural Massachusetts to California, Oregon and Washington, I have been able to live and teach in areas with quality public school districts.

The ability to have access to a quality education is not always possible and certainly not in rural Limpopo Province. Yet at this school where the women still cook in an outside cook shelter using traditional cooking pots, the teachers are determined to make things different for this next generation of learners.


Women like Tinny and Vernice, as well as the other teachers at Pula Madibogo do everything in their power to bring the best out in their students. I felt honored to spend time with them and share teaching ideas. I loved hearing the students read passages from books, sing songs,  or tell fun stories. They have passion for learning.

In the classroom Tinny’s students continued the presentation with story-telling, posters, a lovely embroidered towel and a heart-felt plea for more books. Honestly as I looked at the books they were holding, I realized they had worn them out from reading love! They even had a book that I had sent at least three years ago.






As I walked around campus after the presentation, students came up to say hello. One girl I recognized immediately from when I was at her school in 2015. I had a selfie with her then, and we did it again!

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Photo from 2017

Another boy, Nathaniel and I had a longer conversation. He is now in 7th grade, which is a critical grade in South Africa. Very often children do not have the opportunity to move on to secondary school. He remembered my previous visit and really wanted to assure me that he is taking his studies seriously.

 

I shared my card with Nathaniel and sincerely hope he stays in contact with me. He has the drive to go far in life. I just hope his dreams don’t fade with age and the hardships of life.

I will be boxing up some books this month and sending them so they have some new choices before the end of their school year. I can’t forget these teachers and students and their needs for materials. The thing is, we can’t do it alone.

This is the last post in the series and I hope that other teachers and students will consider joining our program or starting their own. Anyone who is interested can contact me through the Books to Africa Partnership website. Books can change lives. I’ve seen it come true and so can you.

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Skyping with an Arctic Explorer

Drawings of polar bears and maps of the Arctic region decorating the hallways signal the arrival of March at our school. So when I read the announcement that teachers could sign up to Skype with one of the polar explorers at the UK Arctic Research Station in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, the most northerly permanent settlement in the world, I registered immediately. I am a teacher-librarian and know from many previous Skype sessions that an experience like this would be an inspiring launch activity for the first grade study of the Arctic habitat. The first grade teachers when our application was accepted.

To prepare the students we told them that they would be speaking with a polar explorer who would tell them what it’s like to work in such an extreme location. The students prepared questions they wanted to ask Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, the Director of the Digital Explorer program. The questions needed to be ones that weren’t readily answered on the internet.

On the day of the call, my students learned a lesson about time zones that they didn’t expect. When you Skype in the morning from the west coast of the US with a person who lives nine hours away, you can’t see anything outside because it’s already the early evening. While the students were disappointed that they couldn’t see the landscape, they were thrilled about the question and answer experience.

Jamie started off our Skype call explaining that the polar scientists were researching how glaciers are changing over a melt season and how they might change in the future and the impacts that might have for sea animals in the area.

Then we started our question and answer segment. One boy about the thickness of the sea ice we were surprised by the answer. There is no sea ice at all around the island at all. In fact the temperatures are so warm this year that their most difficult problem is not bone-chilling cold, but rather rain.  The rain, fog, wind storms and murky days are affecting the equipment and causing a completely different set of problems.

Jamie answered numerous other questions about how they protect themselves from polar bears, working in the extreme cold, and their recycling and composting procedures during our twenty-five minute Skype call.

When one boy asked if they put ice in their drinks there, we learned some fun facts about iceberg ice. Jamie’s answer got lots of giggles from the crowd. Apparently iceberg chunks make a fun hissing sound when the ice melts in water and the air is released after being trapped for thousands of years.

For many children, that single ice chunk story will be the one the children remember from the experience and that’s okay. These conversations with scientists thousands of miles away highlight the impact of virtual field trips. The likelihood of any of us actually traveling to the Arctic is slim at best. However, through Skype virtual field trips, students can have the next best thing. They can virtually be in Svalbard, talk to the experts in the field, and experience science as it’s happening in the moment.

We ended our call with cheers and claps. Comments like “That was awesome!” “It was fun!” “The best day ever!’ “I loved it because he (Jamie) can explain things to us.” let us all know the impact of the experience.

Indeed, the lessons from this virtual Skype field trip extend beyond the call. The Digital Explorers have created frozen ocean resources which teachers can download and use in their classrooms. When our students started studying  polar glaciers in class this week, they were able to view a 360 view of a scientist rappelling into a glacier from the UK Arctic Research Station in Ny-Ålesund. As One little boy told me, “It was fun because we actually saw him and didn’t just see it in a book.” Skype in in the Classroom can bring learning to life!

This post was cross published on the Skype in the Classroom Blog.

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World Read Aloud Day 2017

Read Aloud. Change the World.

That’s the message of World Read Aloud Day. Today we celebrated the joy of reading — the joy of listening to a book and the joy of talking to authors.  We were so fortunate and we took action on behalf of the 758 million people who cannot read.

If you have visited my blog before, you know I’m passionate about spreading the love of reading throughout the world in events like this and through my Books to Africa Partnership. Today we Skyped with two authors- Dan Gemeinhart and Robin Yardi.

Dan Gemeinhart is the author of the middle grade novels, The Honest Truth, Some Kind of Courage and Scar Island.

Dan spoke to us from his home in Washington state and shared his reading and writing story to an audience of 4th and 5th graders. Nearly everyone in the room had read at least one of his books and they were completely enthralled with his presentation. Dan shared how he moved a lot when he was young, and while that was difficult, he found that he always had one thing no matter where he was….BOOKS!

Nobody could take away the stories from him and he always had a book in hand. In fact, like many authors and readers, he got in trouble for reading TOO much. Only readers know how painful it is to hear parents beg them to go outside and get stop reading. By second grade, he knew he wanted to be an author, but he didn’t do anything to make that dream come true until much later as an adult. His message that you have to make your dreams come true – that they don’t come true magically on their own was especially powerful. Even more powerful when that message is coupled with the fact that he had a very hard time getting published.

Dan was very candid about the fact that he wrote for 8 years and tried to publish 5 and I quote – “terrible” books, but was rejected 99 times! Then letter #100 came back with a big YES, and The Honest Truth came to life. Now there’s The Honest Truth, Some Kind of Courage and Scar Island with two more books in the works.

As soon as our call ended, there was a mad dash of students trying to be first to nab one of his books. You know it’s a successful author visit when you have to figure out a way to safely hand out books! thank you Dan for so generously sharing your story with our readers for World Read Aloud Day.

In the afternoon, we hosted Robin Yardi, author of The Midnight War of Mario Martinez and They Just Know: Animal Instincts.

Robin read They Just Know Animal Instincts to my Thursday 1st and 2nd grade classes in an interactive presentation. The students let Robin know when they saw silly and real illustrations as they read the story together.

Afterward she shared photos of cool animals like the pygmy seahorse and a species of bats. They learned the words adaptation and echolocation. she shared some of her new favorite books with us as well before we had to end our call. The children loved being to talk to an author almost in person. They were super excited to checkout their own book and bring it home. I am so grateful to the Microsoft in Education Skype in the Classroom program for our Skype visit with Robin.

World Read Aloud Day 17 is nearly over, but the message remains the same. We can all take action on any day to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. We can all dream  and imagine a world where everyone can read. As Dan said in our call, dreams take work, and we can all make a difference.

Since I began celebrating in 2012, I’ve noticed the numbers of illiterate people advertised in the handout literature are going down. The handouts in 2012, stated there were 793 million illiterate people in the world.  The 2017 materials have 758 million people. That’s a reduction of 35 million in 5 years! We are making this dream come true for millions of people. Keep advocating locally and globally!

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Travel the world and Never Leave Home

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My students and I  traveled around 30,000 miles today and we never had to get on an airplane thanks to Skype and the 2016 Skype-a-Thon!

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This is year two of Skype-a-Thon and by the end of day one, not thousands, but 3 million miles were traveled by students and teachers across the globe.

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My day started at 5:15 in the morning with fellow librarian Karey Killian and a group of 3rd graders asking questions about our Books to Africa program. She tried to have our partner teacher Thejane Malakane in Lesotho Skype with us,but he unfortunately had internet issues.

cybypx0usaeea2wThis call was followed by a quick connection with fellow MIE Phuti Ragophala in Polokwane, South Africa. When you see friends online, it’s almost as good as being there in person!

cybxypbviaazxiOnce school began, we had calls throughout the day. We tried to call Phuti again, and reached her, but again, couldn’t hold that call. So, almost as good, we left a video message asking her some questions.

Then it was a Mystery Skype session with a group of 5th graders and Sarah Loomis. The students played Mystery Skype and had to ask her through a series of yes or no questions where she was located. After hearing her American accent, they launched a series of USA oriented questions, but we had a trick up our sleeve. While she is American, Bryce figured out she was actually calling us from the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany!

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After that I had a chance to play Mystery Skype by myself with Melanie LeJeune’s high school students in Louisiana. We worked hard to figure out the state, city and school where we were both calling from!

cydk8wjvqaepwcjWith some lunch to refuel, we were at it again all afternoon! My 3rd graders Skyped with Tammy Dunbar’s students in California. Tammy knows how to spark lots of fun into a Skype session.

tammyFor the very first time for both my second grade students and myself, we played Mystery Number. Using a 100’s chart, the students had to guess each other’s special number.

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Talk about developing critical thinking skills! My first class narrowed the number down in SIX questions –Wow! Thank you to Karina Bailey in Georgia and Hillary Chandler in Washington for playing with us.

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img_22091The first graders ended our day with a fun game of Mystery Animal with Ipec Tunca, a special visitor from Microsoft in California.

img_22161The children loved guessing her Mystery Animal was the turkey, not because of Thanksgiving, but because she was born in the country of Turkey!

By 3:00 we had logged a bit more than 35,000 miles in one day. That does not count the terrific Author Skype call we had yesterday with Tara Lazar. She and her special assistant read The Monstore to us. We found out being an author can mean you get to go to work in your home and wear your PJs.

img_21621The week isn’t even over, and we have connected three continents, and many children across the globe.

A few days ago we also Skyped with Blair Smith and his students in Australia for our first international mystery Skype. Because of the time differences, we played after school in Washington while it was morning in Australia.

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With more sessions later in the week, I know this won’t be a week we will soon forget. Learning about geography, math, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, digital citizenship, keyword searches and research ins ENGAGING and FUN with Skype in the Classroom!

Want to learn more? Visit the microsoft in education website and see how you can join in on the fun for FREE! Connect your students with the world and never leave your classroom. https://education.microsoft.com

 

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Flattening the Walls with Skype

I love Skype so much that earlier this year I submitted this Sway to apply for the Skype Master Teacher Program.

In September when I received this email I was thrilled by the news!

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So what does Skype do for my library classroom? It flattens the walls. In the past, classrooms have been limited by the literal space where you teach or opened by neighboring classrooms within your school. Teachers taught with the doors closed from the beginning of the day to the end. Occasionally a guest might come into class or the group would go on a yearly field trip. However, for the most part, the education of that room of students was essentially closed.

For any teachers who use Skype (or other connection capabilities GoogleHangouts, Seesaw, Edmodo, etc) have seen those walls crumble and the outside world come in. My first experience in 2011 was with Mrs. Linda Yollis’ class in Southern California. We played Mystery Skype – a game where each group of students tries to guess where the other classroom is located through a series of yes or no questions.

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The game requires students to use critical thinking skills, map reading skills, problem-solving skills, cooperative learning and communication skills as well as practicing proper digital citizenship and etiquette. The lessons are powerful and fun. Students who are experienced and know how to carefully craft their questions, can generally guess where the other classroom is out of all 50 states in less than 10 questions. Sometimes they can do it in only 5 questions!

In the years since we have Skyped with paleontologists, scuba divers, authors, and students in Africa, Europe, all over the US. As a Skype Master teacher my goal this year is to give every one of my classes the opportunity to Skype at least once during the school year. We have played Mystery Skype twice already. We have Tara Lazar scheduled for a Halloween author Skype visit. I also have some international experiences planned!

This week, for GlobalMakeDay on October 25th, we Skyped with Karey Killian’s class in Pennsylvania. We tried something completely new and my students taught her students how to fold an origami dog by explaining the directions via Skype. It wasn’t easy to just have a small camera as the only way to communicate, but it worked!

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However, my biggest point is that anyone can use Skype to flatten the walls of their library or classroom. Teachers can join for FREE the Microsoft Educator Community where they have access to Skype in the Community, an online community that enables thousands of teachers to inspire the next generation of global citizens through transformative learning over Skype.

Teachers can bring the world of Skype into their rooms with lessons, mystery skype, virtual field trips and guest speakers. There are numerous lessons available and if you are an expert in your field, ways to share your expertise with others via Skype.

With the youngest students you can play mystery animal or mystery number and guess which special animal the other class has been studying. Really, age doesn’t matter when it comes to these games. there is literally something for everyone from grades 5-12!

If you have never used Skype before and have no idea how to get started, the introduction video will make each step easier than you ever realized.

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So, in the days of dwindling budgets, you don’t have to lament the fact that you can no longer afford to bring guest authors inside your classroom or take your students on those beloved field trips. Take them to Mt Everest instead or talk to a favorite author on the computer. It might not be the same as what you’ve always done in the past, but it very likely might be much better!

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Learning without Borders

This has been a very special couple of weeks for our books to Africa program.Our international reading project was featured in the first issue of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator magazine last week. This magazine is filled with stories, tips and helpful information from teachers. Our article is on page 35 and showcases the impact this project has had on  the teachers and students receiving these books.

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Technology really works wonders with tearing down the classroom walls and bringing the world inside our classrooms. Last week we Skyped with some of the students at Pula Madibogo Primary School. We shared facts, we had an impromptu recorder mini-concert and students shared poetry they had written.
Seeing the faces of the students 10,000 miles away made the connection personal and real for the students on both sides of the world. Suddenly they understood how relevant our project is and how we both benefit from it.

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Next week we are Skyping with Thejane Malakane in Maseru, Lesotho using his mobile phone. He doesn’t have internet at his school, but he doesn’t let that inconvenience stop him. A phone with a camera can bring us together as well. In a few days 300 more books will arrive at Thejane’s school where the students will use them for lessons and free reading. It would be quite the miracle if they arrived in time for us to  see his students open these boxes.

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I sent off 4 boxes on April 30th.   As you can see below, the box went from Issaquah, to Kent, to New York, then Dubai, Johannesburg and hopefully to Maseru for its final stop. The tracking information is so helpful because I can see where the boxes are, if they are together and when they arrived at the destination. Sometimes communication between the post office and the schools needs a boost, so I try to let teachers know when the books are there.

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tracking a package

Whether they get there in time for our call or not, we are having a great time packing up and sending off the boxes. We raised about $1500 and roughly speaking that means we will be able to send about 1500 books this year. Since our program started I estimate we have sent about 6,000 books to Africa. We are changing lives one book at a time!

 

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A Cross Continent Learning Round Up

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What do you get when you combine 120 students in two classrooms in two different continents to share their research? A cross continent learning round up of course!

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This morning (7:30 am Seattle) and afternoon (5:30pm Durban) our two schools – Cougar Ridge Elementary in Bellevue, Washington, USA and Highbury Preparatory School in Hillcrest, South Africa made the world a little smaller via Skype.

Our students walked into the library with breakfast and the boys at Highbury were looking forward to a South African “braai” which is similar to our barbeque. Their head master (principal) was cooking a special kind of sausages for all the 5th grade boys.

The head master of Highbury cooks boerewors (sausages) while the boys Skyped with us.

The head master of Highbury cooks boerewors (sausages) while the boys Skyped with us.

These students broke down the physical classroom walls and connected virtually for nearly an hour. Their conversations crossed two continents and 13,000 miles. It’s a perfect diagonal line between our schools from the northwest corner of the US to the southeast corner of Africa!

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What did they talk about? Fun topics that kids are interested in like what does your school look like, what kind of classes do you take, what can you play on outside during recess and breaks, what sports do you play, what are your favorite books or where do you go to get some fast food?

This student dressed for the part as he did a quick explanation of American football and our Seattle Seahawks.

When the librarian Louise MacLeod, technologist Desiree Dunstone and I spoke at Highbury in July, we agreed that our goal was for our students to get to know each other as peers and therefore, the topics they would research and share needed to be kid-friendly. We divided up our 5th grade classes into groups, assigned topics, and the students got busy. For the past 5-6 weeks, the teams have been collaborating and collecting information to share with their counterpart classrooms. Today was celebration and share day!

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Topic by topic team representatives spoke via Skype sharing pieces of their cultures with one another. With only an hour  and 22 topics, we couldn’t go in depth on camera. Each team was only able to share a sentence or two of the highlights of the research. However, with OneDrive, we are able to share the complete research projects with each other and will use class time to view the student work in our respective schools.

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“We like going to Starbucks and MacDonalds.”

It turns out we both enjoy going to MacDonalds and KFC! Starbucks isn’t in Durban yet, but we both have Burger King. One group also helped us understand what the Durban “bunnychow” is (a bread and curry sandwich).

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KFC is popular in Durban.

 

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A camera, computer, Skype and a great internet connection brings students from different cultures together.

We learned about the Big 5 animals and how there is a serious poaching problem of white rhinos in South Africa. The rhinos are killed for their tusks which are then sold to people in other countries who believe the tusks have medicinal qualities. This group in the video explains that the African elephants have ears shaped like the continent of Africa.

I’ve never taken on a Skype experience on this scale before, but I can say it was worth every second of preparation time. I have listened to the excitement build for weeks and then to see students connecting with each other today was priceless. This morning we were all a little nervous and a lot excited before our call began. Yet, the nerves melted away as everyone discovered we are all the same – just separated by continent. These virtual connections make the world a smaller place and bring the learning inside – without borders. It was hard to say goodbye and I know this is the first of many learning opportunities our students will make.

"Thank you Highbury Prep!"

“Thank you Highbury Prep!”

If you want to learn more about how you can use Skype in the Classroom, visit the website. Join the Skype-a-Thon on December 3-4, 2015 and be part of a global movement to celebrate learning without borders. If you would like to learn more about our connection with Highbury Prep and Books to Africa program, here is a post about my trip to South Africa, a video , and a recap of three years of friendship.

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What dog is in Sovenga?

Where is Dogzilla?

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I think the book Dogzilla is in Sovenga, South Africa! Yes, the hilarious book by Dav Pilkey was one of the books we sent to Mrs. Phuti Ragophala at Pula Madibogo Primary School, in the Limpopo Province.

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One of the boys read the book Dogzilla to me on Skype last night. Dav Pilkey, who wrote Dogzilla, is also the author of the Captain Underpants series. His books have been making children laugh for years!

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 Last evening at 11:15 pm, I skyped with Phuti, two of her teachers, Mohlake and Molepo, plus a classroom of students! They were so excited about the boxes of books we sent that they wanted to talk to us live on Skype. Here is are some photos from their classroom during our Skype visit.

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Four or five of the students read portions of one of their favorite books. Just being able to read aloud on Skype was a huge motivation to practice reading for these children. We are calling this project “TechnoReading!”

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In South Africa, the teachers call their students by a different term.They call the children learners. I like that word better than students. It just seems to say what we all do – we LEARN! I hope to Skype again this summer and then once school starts we will arrange for a call and a time when our students can participate. We will have to write a sing a song for our friends. They sent me a video on Facebook, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how to download it and post it on the blog. If we get the technology worked out, I will post it here.

The teachers have already asked for more books! I was sad to say that we have to wait until we raise more money for postage in the fall. Now I can’t wait for school to start again. Look at all the books on this cart that are waiting for new homes.

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Even Jett, Mrs.Daly’s dog helped out when she came up to the library to add to our book donation cart. Are you wondering where this school is located and where some of these books will go in the fall? Here is the general area where the school is located in South Africa.

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In case you were wondering also, how I could know someone 10,000 miles away from our school, I have the answer. Mrs. Ragophala and I met in March at the Microsoft Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain. We started talking about our projects, and she was very interested to hear that we send books to schools in South Africa. Before you know it, we added another school to our Books to Africa project!

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She was selected to attend for her project “Planting seeds” Changing lives! This project is about the different stages on how food is produced, technological tools that were used to enhance teaching and learning & how the lesson impacted learners and community members. She has been teaching for 27 years at Pula Madibogo Primary School, of which nine years being a principal.

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I hope you are as motivated to read as the students at Pula Madibogo Primary School. Who has already read 5 books this summer? Let me a comment and let me know!

Happy Reading! Mrs. Hembree

 

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Scuba Diver Skype

Do you love the ocean?

Our first graders have been learning about the oceans and sea life in their science unit. It’s magical to watch their excitement as they learn about the amazing animals that live in the sea. Luckily for us in the Seattle area, we have lots of opportunities to see sealife in the Puget Sound.

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The students will be visiting the Seattle Aquarium on Monday. To get them even more interested in sea life in the oceans, we skyped last week with Karen Zammitti and her father, Sal Zammitti, scuba diver and owner of BambooReef Enterprises, Inc in San Francisco, California. He and his wife Lou have been diving since the 1960’s. They can even read underwater!

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I knew the Zammitti family when I lived in the San Francisco area of California as a teenager. In fact, Karen and I went to high school together! I spent many, many hours at the Zammitti house. That’s why I knew he would be the perfect expert for the first grade ocean unit.

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Mr. Zammitti is a very experienced scuba diver has over the last 50+ years been instrumental in certifying over 10,000 people how to scuba dive. In 2011, he was awarded the California Scuba Service Award for his significant and long lasting contributions to the California diving community. He has been on several episodes of Mythbusters, including the Jaws episode. 

Mr. Zammitti talked to us via Skype from his main store in San Francisco. He told us about diving all over the world and showed us some of the equipment he uses on his dives. The students asked him if he ever sees sharks in the ocean and they were shocked to hear that he takes divers on shark divers! The divers go inside a large metal cage to keep them safe and the cage is lowered into the ocean. He said he loves sharks, even great white sharks! He does a lot of underwater photography and showed us the large waterproof case he uses to place is camera inside.

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Our students are still too young to scuba dive yet, but they are the perfect age to learn how to swim and snorkel in the wonderful lakes in our area. There are great dive shops in the Puget Sound, and if you are ever in San Francisco, stop by Bamboo Reef Enterprises and say hello to Mr. Zammitti and his daughter Karen! Here is a video he created when he dove in Raja Ampat in Indonesia.

Can you identify any of the sealife in the video? Here is a link to coral reef books available at the Kirkland and Kingsgate branches of the King County libraries. Take a trip there this summer and check them out! Coral Reef Books

 If you would like to learn more about BambooReef they can be found on Twitter @bambooreefscuba or on Facebook Bamboo Reef Diving Centers

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