Thursday, March 19, 2015

Friday Night Family Time

Morena (good morning in Maori)!

One of my favorite Friday nights in NZ was when I had a very traditional kiwi dinner with my host family and we ate fish and chips on the beach. It was scrumptious and so relaxing (although I did get slightly nervous when Paige started feeding some very aggressive seagulls our leftover chips!). Afterwards we played in a park playground overlooking the beach, enjoying the nice weather and being silly. It was my ideal Friday night!

Lachie splashing in the beautiful beach at Cockle Bay! Him and Paige enjoyed a nice afternoon swim.

Enjoying fish and chips on the beach with my little buddies :).

And they started feeding and attracting some very aggressive seagulls and I started getting nervous!

We even attracted ducks! Eventually I just gave into the craziness and started feeding them, too. Truth be told, it was really fun!

Taking the scenic route to the park with Paige!

Taking a break to climb a tree!

It was such a fun night, not unlike many nights with the McKechnies! I have so loved being an adopted member of this lovely family. :)

Lots of Love,


Fun Fact: The pohutukawa tree is known as New Zealand's "Christmas tree" as its beautiful red flowers red flowers only bloom in December. Despite missing the blooming season, I have still loved seeing the beauty of the pohutukawas!

Class Aquarium Sleepover

Kia Ora!

During the fifth week of school year 5 headed to Kelly Tarlton's sea life aquarium in Auckland for an overnight visit! The kids we so excited although many of them were a little nervous because it was their first time sleeping away from home. However, once we got there it was a magical experience for them and thoughts of home were quickly forgotten!

We had an educational and fun time receiving special tours with the aquarium all to ourselves! Highlights included walking through a simulation of an arctic tundra, feeding stingrays and other fish, a special penguin viewing ( too cute!), and sleeping under a shark tunnel. It was also so much fun to see my students in a setting outside of school and it was a real bonding experience as we had lots of laughs and explored the aquarium together.

Girls from my class looking on in awe at the stingray feeding!

The stingrays were huge!

Shark tunnel poses!

Ahhh, run!

Adorable penguins!

My only challenge was getting my students to sleep when they were so excited! I was particularly grumpy when a few boys from my area of the shark tunnel woke up at 3 in the morning thinking it was 7 am and beginning to pack up. Me: "Boys, what is that ruckus?! Back to bed this instant!" Boys: "Miss Lauricella, we have to hurry because we have to meet the bus!" Me: "IT'S 3 AM urgggggh!" We laughed about it the next day, but in the moment I was not pleased.

Look at all of these ecstatic faces! Sleep? Yeah right!

The shark tunnel that we slept under!

Super sleepy selfie the next morning!

The aquarium cafe was at sea level and made us feel like we were in the ocean! So cool!

The next day was also an adventure as we headed to a Marae, a Maori sacred meeting place, in Howick. The students enjoyed taking part in Maori ceremonies, learning about the history of the Marae, and going on  nature walk. It was also a neat experience because our school had worked alongside the community to re-open the Marae in recent years, so students felt a personal connection to it.

Group shot in front of the Marae!

The trip was not only an excellent opportunity to spend time with students outside of school hours, but also demonstrated the importance of providing experience-based educational activities for children. Students left with more knowledge of the world and can use this knowledge across subject matter. They've already written some impressive creative writing pieces about the trip and made text-to-self connections in guided reading groups due to the trip. Plus, it was an opportunity for students to grow in their independence by taking a trip away from their parents and learning to be responsible for themselves and their belongings. this is done purposefully in year 5 to prepare students for the year 6 camp they will attend (more on that to come!)..

Thanks for reading as I try to post as much as possible before I return to the U.S. soon! It is so much fun to re-live these incredible experiences through blogging.

Lots of Love,


Fun Fact: In preparation for our trip to the Marae our students drew koru patterns. These are widely used and extremely important in Maori culture as they represent a new unfurling silver fern and symbolize new life, growth, and strength. I somehow managed to teach this art lesson with success :).

Koru pattern.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Kia Ora, everyone! (Maori for hello, translating directly to "be well/healthy")

This post is about our weekend journey to Rotorua, an area known for its geothermal activity and geysers. Like our other weekend travels we discovered many beautiful sights and had tons of random and thrilling adventures! We started our expedition on a Friday night and rented a car in order to have the freedom to travel to different sights throughout the area. It was the way to go in order to see all that we wanted and Yara led the way as our fearless driver, getting us to our destination safe and sound!

I must admit, our first impression of Rotorua when we arrived late on Friday night was not very positive due to several factors. First off, as we drove towards the neighborhood of our hostel we witnessed an arrest of rather dubious looking individuals--not a great start! Secondly, the smell hit us like a ton of bricks. We were all warned that Rotorua, nicknamed the Sulphur City, has hydrogen sulphide emissions that cause the city to smell like "rotten eggs." However, we were not quite prepared for just how potent the smell was and it took us awhile to adjust. We also were taken aback by our hostel. While our previous hostel in the Bay of Islands was lively and located in the heart of the city, this hostel (The Four Canoes) was eerily quiet and located in a dark area on the outskirts of the city. Plus our hostel contained some creepy, crawly friends....

Despite this first impression, we managed to get a good night's sleep and woke up the next morning ready to explore. Things quickly turned around as we headed to the beautiful Wai-O-Tapu known as the "Thermal Wonderland." We started off seeing the daily eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser which was very impressive! Then, we explored the breathtaking geothermal area with mud pools and colorful volcanic features over 1,000 years in the making. We were absolutely blown away by the sights! I could not believe the bright colors and volcanic material that we were witnessing. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Brianna, Eric, Yara, and I in front of the erupting Lady Knox Geyser!

The sights were unreal and with the rich history of the area felt somewhat mystical.

Volcanic craters and hot springs on every turn!

Mud pools and springs!

There was no wandering off the path unless you aimed to burn yourself to death!

Particularly blown away by the amazing green of this pool! 

After we finished our incredible morning at Wai-O-Tapu we decided to switch things up and do rather extreme physical activities at Skyline Rotorua. Here we journeyed up the 900 meter gondola to the high point of Rotorua. It was a great vantage point to see the area's sights. Honestly, that was enough to thrill me, but the fun didn't stop there. We went on the luge which was part go-cart, part toboggan. We raced through the track, seeing lots of beautiful outdoor landscapes. 

Heading up on the gondola!

Racing on the luge!

Posing in a luge cart!

Then, we got even more extreme, heading to the sky swing. When we first heard about the "swing" in the ticket area we thought it would be fun and relaxing. Little did we know, it was basically a seated bungee jump! Eric and Brianna went first, while Yara and I watched below in horror and begged for a refund (no joke!). Since we could not convince them to give us a refund despite our best efforts, we forced ourselves to take the plunge. It propelled us over 50 meters above ground level, up in the trees and then we free-fell reaching speeds of 120 kilometers per hour. We bounced back and forth like rag dolls in the swing and I lost my voice from screaming so much! 

I do not have any pictures of the sky swing, but I do have this hilarious video with Eric narrating as we prepared for our descent. If you listen closely you can hear my screams of horror from afar! Thank goodness for me it cut off before the release :).

Next we headed to the Tamaki Village for a 3-hour Maori experience. This was an excellent way to learn about Maori culture and we had such a blast. On the bus ride into the village with the other tour members Eric was declared the Chief of our waka (Maori word for canoe)! He had to take part in the welcome ceremony and received special treatment throughout the night. We felt special by association. The only challenge was that he could not smile during the ceremony...a hard task for someone who never stops smiling and laughing!

Eric taking part in the welcome ceremony known as the Powhiri!

The welcome ceremony!

Once in the village we saw and participated in various cultural demonstrations! Yara played a stick game (and was runner up!), Brianna and Eric did a warrior agility test, Eric learned the Haka (war dance) and I learned a traditional Maori dance for women. We also saw displays of weaving, pottery making, and tattoo explanations. We also saw performances of traditional songs and dances.

Yara mastering the stick game!

Eric and Brianna about to do the agility test!

Eric learning the Haka dance!

Me (the girl with no rhythm or coordination) attempting to learn the dance while twirling a feather bow. 
Not an easy task!

The best part of the evening for me was the traditional hangi feast. This Maori method for cooking food involves placing baskets of food underground on top of heated stones and cooking it for hours. I was so interested in this method and loved seeing them unearth the food. It included chicken, lamb, fish, potatoes, carrots, and kumara (sweet potatoes) was scrumptious! It was tender and the juices from the meats and vegetables blended for an amazing taste. Plus we had tasty rewana bread and delicious desserts including pavlova (although not quite  as good as Erin's!).

The unearthing of the hangi food!

Eric was in a state of euphoria because he loved the rewana bread so much and he even gave an
 impassioned speech about it on the bus ride home!

After returning from the village we were not quite ready to call it a night, so we decided to explore the city of Rotorua more and found the center of town where it was lively and there were tons of restaurants, bars, and shops. Much better than our shady hostel! In a very lucky move we also happened to stumble upon an incredible public concert and fireworks show in a park. There were thousands of people who came for the concert since it was such a huge deal and we just happened to come across the spectacle. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Unfortunately my phone died at this point so I have no pictures to remember this moment.

With such a jam-packed Saturday we decided to center Sunday upon relaxation. Yara and I ventured to the Polynesian Spa to take advantage of their world renowned mineral hot springs and mud massages. The mineral water and famous Rotorua mud felt awesome on my skin and we were definitely feeling relaxed afterwards!

The hot spring mineral pools at the spa!

View from the springs!

Afterwards we met Brianna and Eric back in town for a lunch on "Eat Street" which was filled with restaurants. We went to a great spot that featured craft beer, coffee, and great food. And afterwards of course we had to make a stop for ice cream (my sweet tooth cravings were seriously out of control). Our final stop was to Warehouse which is similar to Walmart to buy cheap CDs for the car ride home since the radio in our rental car was broken! 

Excellent craft brew and coffee restaurant on "Eat Street."

Cute and delicious ice cream shop! Some smart guy to me on the way in: "Why don't you actually go in and eat the ice cream instead of taking a picture outside?" My feisty Italian girl response: "Um, please, I'm about to do both, crazypants." 

Our CD selections! Eric and I pushed for the musicals.

On the way home I had one last thrill and drove on the opposite side of the rode for the first time! It was a little strange and unnatural at first, but I got used to it and drove safely for about an hour and a half. Yara was kind enough to relieve me of driving duty so that I could sing and dance along to the musicals CD to my heart's desire (with Mamma Mia and Hairspray how could I not?!). 

Lots of Love,


Fun Fact: In ta mako, the traditional  Maori body and face tattoo, one side of the tattoo represents the maternal heritage of the individual while the other side of the tattoo represents the paternal heritage. It was very neat to hear the meaning and cultural significance behind Maori tattoos, but I will opt for the wash-off. :)

Full Classroom Takeover and Fun with Shapes

Hi everyone,

Apologies for my lack of blogging lately! Between traveling all over NZ on the weekends and being very busy at school, I have not had a ton of time to update. I also ran into a bit of a technology issue when my hard drive decided to misbehave 2 weeks ago. I just got my laptop back last week (thanks to help from Erin and Scott) and was frantically trying to complete a grad assignment! I hope that this and the following posts make up for my absence. :)

One of the reasons that I have been so busy at school is because I have been in full control of the classroom! It was a very gradual process up to this point. I started off slowly, picking up more and more lessons as well as team teaching with my cooperating teacher. However, for the past 2 weeks I have been the main classroom teacher. It is definitely challenging and exhausting to be in full control of the classroom, but also very valuable practice. One of the most time-consuming aspects is planning, although I am lucky because we plan closely with other team teachers and I have a lot of guidance and ideas from excellent teachers. I am also excited that I have a bunch of new unit and lesson plans to add to my repertoire as well as practice with planning classroom logistics.

I work especially closely with the other team teachers when planning for maths since that is structured in a modern learning environment (MLE) where our class combines with 2 other classes. I have been working with 13 students from years 5 and 6 who are at similar ability levels. We are on geometry and I am teaching them about 2D and 3D shapes and their attributes.

A glimpse of our 3D shapes work!

I also used this group for a graduate project called the "Teacher Work Sample." This project involved issuing a pre-assessment, lesson planning based on pre-assessment results, and then post-assessing to measure student gains. This project was useful practice with data analysis and setting goals, but took a lot of hard work (especially since I was without my laptop while completing much of it!) and sometimes I felt slightly confused when trying to translate the MLE structure and NZ curriculum to the assignment. However, I think that I learned a lot from the assignment and it was a relief to hand it in this morning! I also had a ton of fun teaching my group and planning creative lessons. One of my favorites included a 3D shapes guessing game where students had to describe 3D shapes based on their attributes and have classmates figure out the answer. The students really enjoyed the game (they got slightly competitive in good fun!) and it was encouraging to see them truly grasping 3D shapes and mathematical language.

A page from my group's math modeling book. The group took turns 
identifying faces, edges, and corners of 3D shapes.

I have also enjoyed planning creative lessons for other subjects, particularly writing. More on that to come!

Lots of Love,


Fun Fact: In New Zealand upper primary  homework is encouraged but optional. The idea is that students should not burn themselves out after a long day at school and should instead spend quality time with their families. However, many students will choose to do a weekly homework assignment (like a mini project) assigned at the beginning of the week. Teachers will try to motivate students by applauding those who complete the HW. A positive of this philosophy is that encourages students to be self-motivated instead of forced to do homework. It also nice for parents who don't have to chase their children down to do homework :)! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Bay of Islands

Hi, all!

This post is dedicated to our travel expedition to the Bay of Islands. This weekend can only be described in one word: epic! We packed in so many amazing experiences and encountered some thrilling surprises along the way.

We embarked on Friday afternoon right from school. Yara and I met our other student teacher friends, Brianna and Eric, at Half Moon Bay to take the ferry into Auckland City. We  even had a blast on the ferry! Once in Auckland City we hopped on a bus for a 4-hour ride northward to the Bay of Islands.

Yara, Eric, and Brianna on the ferry! This was the first time we all hung out. At the time this picture was taken I don't think we could have anticipated just how many laughs we would have together. :)

On the ferry with Rangitoto (volcanic island) in the background!

We arrived at our hostel in Paihia around 9 pm. It was located on a row of streets with other hostels and motels. The street was relatively quiet....except for our hostel! There was a restaurant/bar that drew quite the crowd and it was booming when we pulled up. We all exchanged skeptical glances as it was our first time staying in a hostel. It was definitely an experience! We met some characters including our quirky roommate, Cynthia, who was stuck with all of us. However, we wound up having a lot of fun and it was definitely cost effective. 

That night we also received a shocking surprise and one of the highlights of the weekend: Yara's husband, Mazen, showed up all the way from Bethesda, MD to surprise her for Valentine's Day! As he located us, Yara was absolutely floored and kept repeating, "Am I dreaming?"! It was probably the most romantic gesture I have ever seen and Mazen was a great addition to the group, fitting right in with the rest of us! Plus, everyone who worked in the hostel loved us for the rest of the weekend because they thought the story was so sweet since Mazen contacted them beforehand. Brownie points!

The next morning we woke up bright and early to catch a dolphin cruise. It was a lovely way to spend the morning with gorgeous views of the Bay of Islands! We made a stop-off at a nice, little island to relax. We also paused on the water to view the "Hole in the Rock," a famous landmark where Maori canoes were believed to have passed through. Plus, we spotted a ton of dolphins on the cruise and at one point were standing at the tip of the boat as they swam in front of us!

Breathtaking cruise views!

The Hole in the Rock!

Yara and Eric on the island stop-over. 

Cruising with dolphins!

My dolphin video!

The cruise ended at Russell, a quaint town directly across the water from Paihia, where we were staying. Russell was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in NZ. The town had many historical homes and museums. We enjoyed walking around and grabbing a tasty lunch. We then discovered Long Beach, or what we have deemed "the best beach ever." It was a far cry from Long Beach Island in NJ where I spent my summers growing up (although I do love LBI in its own way!). NZ Long Beach had smooth sand, clear and warm water, and there were beautiful sights of other islands and mountains in the background. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beach with drinks and snacks. And luckily this time I had appropriate sun lotion!

The dock at Russell.

Russell's beach and boardwalk with shops and restaurants behind.

Spending an amazing afternoon at the best beach ever!

Every view was spectacular. We had to force ourselves to finally leave!

The next day we decided to take advantage of Mazen's rental car and we drove a few hours to the northernmost point of NZ, Cape Reigna! It is very sacred ground in Maori culture and it felt very serene. It was also had spectacular views and it was neat to see where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean met!

 Views from Cape Reigna!

 We hiked a very scenic route along Cape Reigna.

 Our views!

The meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean! You can spot where the currents clash (the white waves in the water).

 The Cape Reigna lighthouse!

 The northernmost tip of NZ!!

A neat sign showing where we were in relation to other major cities around the world.

After a peaceful walk around Cape Reigna, we decided to be daring and go sand boarding at the Giant Te Paki sand dunes. Boogie boarding down sand...sounds like fun, right? Well I was not expecting the dunes to be quite so large and steep! After bombarding the surfer dude manning the station with a ton of questions, watching the others go down smoothly several times, and freaking out with Yara, I finally pushed myself to slide down the dune. All went well until I got nervous and put one foot into the sand. This was a huge mistake as it caused me to spin out of control, flip over, and disappear into a dramatic cloud into the dune! When I finally reappeared every inch of me was covered in sand; I was literally blowing sand out of my nose. Only me! While everyone at the bottom was laughing uncontrollably, poor Yara was still at the top watching my accident in horror. She luckily still managed to go down, but went at a snail's pace. 

 Look at how steep those dunes are! Walking up them was no picnic either. 

I felt like I was in the middle of a dessert!

When I started spinning out of control! (Photo credit: Brianna)

My mysterious disappearance into a sand dune! Or "Sand Monster!" (Photo credit: Brianna)

As we left the sand dune area we encountered another surprise, and one that we had all been waiting for since arriving to NZ: a herd of sheep! They were all over the place and blocked the road in front of us completely. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to get a good shot to portray the magnitude of the sheep, but I did get a video as they dispersed to make way for us (I felt the need to tell them that they had "good manners" for doing this...always in teacher mode!).

Sheep video!

Afterwards we decided to end our adventurous streak with a visit to Ninety Mile Beach on the western coast of the North Island! What is neat about this beach, apart from its length, is that you can drive your car right up onto the sand. Mazen took full advantage of this and we had lots of fun; it was thrilling to be right against the water in a car as the sun was setting!

 The car right up to the water; it was like a commercial!

Yara posing in front of the car!

I hope that everyone back in the U.S. is excellent and managing to stay warm! Sending you all sunshine through my computer screen!

Lots of Love,


Fun Fact: In Maori culture, Cape Reigna is believed to be the place where the spirits of the deceased leave NZ and begin their final journey to their homeland of Hawaiki. I have to admit, it did feel a bit eerie up there!