Once a teacher, always a teacher, even on the beach

This evening we decided to walk to the gelato store and then take a stroll on the beach to watch the sunset. It is a very busy beach in Stone Town on a Saturday night, with many local Zanzibaris enjoying swimming, sand, and strolling. Keith and I were strolling and stopped occasionally for him to take different pictures of the sunset, people, and the different activities. As we were walking, two boys came up to us and explained that they were students and trying to learn English and wanted to talk to us in English to practice and to get advice on what to do to better learn English. We explained that we were both working at the university and Keith would be teaching English and had taught English in Tanzania in the past. We had an interesting conversation for about 20 minutes. During the conversation, Keith mentioned that I spoke Swahili and the boys asked me what was hard about learning Swahili and what I did to improve. We talked about listening to the news and reading English and speaking in English even when speaking in Swahili was easier. At the end of the conversation, they asked me to show them my Swahili and explained what I did and taught and the types of children and teachers I work with in Swahili. I think they were impressed.



Keith caught this photo of me speaking to our group that grew throughout the conversation.

Finding Nemo, Dory, and their friends and family

Yes, I did see Nemo and Marlin and Dory and lots of their friends and relatives. And, yes, I successfully completed my Open Water Dive certification. My course was divided into three sections: 1) e-learning, 2) the pool sessions, and 3) 4 open water dives. I would highly recommend this method to people who have good internet or tablet access and like to learn on your own with self-quizzing. I was able to do the initial studying on my tablet and then connected to the internet to take the quizzes and final exam. In fact, I did some of the reading before I left and then more on the plane. After settling in here in Zanzibar, I spent three days finishing the practical side. I practiced skills in the pool for several hours on day one here and then spent the final two days doing my open water dives in the beautiful Indian Ocean off the coast of Zanzibar.

Our boat for scuba diving and snorkeling

On both days in the ocean, we were a mixed group of divers and snorkelers. I met about 20 new people over the two days from all over the world including Kenya, South Africa, Australia, France, Norway, the US, and other countries I do not remember. As I said yesterday, I had a fantastic experience with my instructor and the dive shop.

A group of excited divers and snorkelers

A group of excited divers and snorkelers

On both days, we went to the same two sites, Bawe Island and The Great Northern. Both have reefs and at Great Northern there are remains of a shipwreck from about 150 years ago.

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Image Courtesy of One Ocean Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Here are the boat coordinates at The Great Northern when we stopped to dive.


Between dives, we relaxed on the boat.


I was really happy to finish my first dive, because it was the dive of the day where I had to show that I could do my final set of skills. The first skill required me to simulate a controlled ascent from 6 meters (20 feet) or less when I had run out of air. In this case, you do a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA). In this situation, you ascend in a slow controlled manner on a single exhale. I was ecstatic that I was relaxed enough to complete the skill successfully on my first try. The other tricky skill for me was using a compass to navigate. Luckily I didn’t have to go very far and it was in a straight line and back straight to my starting point.

Stone Town in the distance while relaxing at the Great Northern dive site.

Stone Town in the distance while relaxing at the Great Northern dive site.

Anyone who knows me knows that directions and navigation are not my strengths. The final skill was taking my mask off completely and replacing it and clearing it, which is uncomfortable because the salt water stings my contacts, but a skill I can do well.

The beautiful water by the Great Northern site

The beautiful water by the Great Northern site

I got to see so many cool underwater fish and creatures such as angel fish as big as a plate, sea cucumbers, clams, moray eels, baby clown fish swimming in and out of the anemone, lion fish, trigger fish, pipefish, and many more.

Here is a little video of the boat in motion on the way to Bawe Island.

The Sunset and walking advertisements

We have been enjoying ourselves in Stone Town and found out today that this Friday, I will go to the government offices to do the final processing for my research permit. We are making progress and this is very exciting.

Most days, we eat out at lunch, but are home around dinner time. It is very popular here as a tourist to sit and watch the sun set and enjoy drinks and dinner. The picture below I took last summer when I was here.

A Stone Town sunset

A Stone Town sunset

Because so many people want to take a picture of the sunset, it can be difficult at times to get the picture and see the sunset.

A crowded shot

A crowded shot

Last night, we sat at this nice restaurant and ate fresh tuna and kingfish and enjoyed the view. The tables are on the beach and my toes were nestled in the sand. If you want to shop, there is no need to get up, the merchants come to you. Keith said that we have our passing advertisements as we eat.


We did experience a little bit of illness over the weekend, but we have recovered and I started my scuba open water course on Tuesday to be certified again. I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the amazing diving in Zanzibar when I found out that we were going to be living here. Twenty years ago when I was fortunate enough to live in Saudi Arabia with my parents, I was scuba certified and went on an amazing trip to the Red Sea for diving. But, since we left Saudi Arabia, I have only snorkeled and not participated in scuba. Given the length of time and changes in technology since I last did it, I wanted to do the course over again and am really glad that I did. I have had a wonderful instructor, Boko, at the One Ocean Dive Centre in Stone Town and the owner and staff have all been helpful and encouraging. Tomorrow or Friday I will post some pictures and information about my dive trips, but here is a teaser picture.

On the dive boat on the way to the first dive site

On the dive boat on the way to the first dive site

Work and Play…Specifically Monkey Business


Today, I had a fun filled day with both academic fun (for me) and personal fun. The State University of Zanzibar has several campuses. We live a few minutes’ walk from the Vuga campus. The campus I was on last year and will be teaching at is Tunguu and is 30-45 minutes by car from Stone Town. Keith will probably be teaching at a campus that is 10-15 minutes by car from Stone Town in the opposite direction, but not as far as where I will go. Luckily, we were at the Vuga campus, so it was an easy walk in the morning.

The faculty of the School of Education for SUZA are very hard working and got together on Saturday to work on the program of study and courses for the newly proposed Bachelor’s of Education in Early Childhood Education. The title of the degree is still under discussion, but they working on the structure, courses, and course titles. After several hours of discussion, the current list of courses were divided among the participants to develop draft syllabi for the next meeting. With the structure draft and syllabi drafts, they plan to consult local stakeholders for input. This was very informative for me to learn about how their program development process is similar and different from ours and to see some of the local and cultural considerations in designing the new degree. First and foremost, early childhood education as a formal teaching profession is relatively new, and formal education or even programs outside of family, friend, and neighbor care for children under 4 is also very new and limited at this time. But, their goal is to address international trends and the work is very aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Education and specifically providing SDG 4.2 to provide high quality early childhood education.


After a morning of work and some lunch, Keith and I headed out with our friend and colleague Umayra to see Jozani Forest. This was Keith’s first time in Jozani Forest and first time outside of Stone Town, since we arrived a week ago. His only other journey was the car ride in from the airport, but given that it was dark and 3am, I don’t think it gave him much of a picture of Zanzibar outside of Stone Town. We were a little late getting started for our journey to have lots of time in Jozani, but we knew we would be coming back both on our own and with different visitors we are expecting. Nevertheless, it was still really special. We got to see both the Red Colobus monkeys that only live on Zanzibar and then the Skye’s monkeys that live in various places in East Africa.


A baby colobus monkey

A baby colobus monkey

They were so close to us, within 4-5 feet both next to us and over our heads. We had a very nice guide who gave us lots of information about the two species of monkeys. I listened to the guide and asked questions and Keith took photos (check out his awesome photos from Jozani at www.kamacdonaldphoto.com). He focused on getting excellent photos and when we got home I told him all the information I could remember about monkeys.


Inside Jozani Forest

Inside Jozani Forest



A family of Sykes’ Monkeys


According to our guide, this monkey is six months old because it is still little, but has its red color on the back, which is not present for the first 3-4 months.

Remember, on the right you can subscribe to this blog, so you know when I post. You can also now subscribe to Keith’s blog with a box at the right on his, to keep seeing the great photos.


Teaching Problem Solving and Engineering in Dallas

This week I had the incredible pleasure of presenting at the Region 10 Now4Forever: Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead! Conference in Dallas, Texas. The conference was held across three days in two sites and I presented on two days: one day at the northern site and one day at the southern site. Having never visited North Texas before, I got to see Frisco, Richardson, Dallas, and Waxahachie, Texas. We traveled to Dallas a day early and also enjoyed visiting the Fort Worth Zoo, the #5 rated zoo in the country. After finishing at the conference on Thursday, we rounded out our Dallas fun with a Double-A minor league game at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco seeing the Frisco Roughriders take on the San Antonio Missions. It rained torrentially two days for about 30-45 minutes two days and we learned that was called a “gulley washer.”

We had incredible rain storms each day, but they were short.

We had incredible rain storms each day, but they were short.

I really enjoyed presenting at the conference and met some wonderful educators and administrators and was so well taken care of. They made everything easy and fun. I presented on the work of myself and my colleagues on using problem solving and critical thinking skills to teach STEM to children birth to five years old.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Alvarez

Photo courtesy of Nancy Alvarez

I know that Anne, Kristen, and MaryLu would have had fun working with these educators to expand thinking on how young children with and without disabilities can participate in engineering activities and improve their problem solving skills.

Photo courtesy of Daelynn Copeland

Photo courtesy of Daelynn Copeland

Based on the many engaging discussions with participants across the two days, we generated a list of resources that I wanted to share with the participants and other educators. Some of you may be familiar with these ideas, but if not, please use the links below to learn more.

Fun materials for the STEAM activity

Fun materials for the STEAM activity

I would like to thank Region 10 and especially Kelley Estes-Jones and Andrea Mitchell for inviting me to the conference and all the facilitators who helped me throughout the two days.

As always, please leave comments or email me for more information.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Early Childhood UDL Planning Sheet-Blank

Resources on Engineering and Robotics:

Writing with Symbols

Dycem Sticky Mats

Bristle Blocks

Time Timer

Wiki Stix

Intellikeys and Intellitools

If you want more information about the ideas problem solving skills and engineering design for children birth to five, please our book Engaging Young Engineers: Teaching Problem Solving Skills through STEM.



Fulbright in Zanzibar in my future (it is really soon)!

The State University of Zanzibar Tunguu Campus

Ever since I finished my doctorate, my goal had been to get a Fulbright grant for my first sabbatical after tenure and spend another year in Tanzania doing research and teaching. In Tanzania, US Scholar Fulbrights are teaching/research grants requiring grantees to do both teaching and research. For me, this was perfect, because I love both and I actively integrate my teaching and research. I was very honored to be awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant and am working on preparations to live in Zanzibar from September 2016 to July 2017 and teach and do research at State University of Zanzibar (SUZA).

I am so grateful for this opportunity and for the people and projects like the Toa Nafasi Project and the Irente Rainbow School who have been wonderful collaborators and helped me on my journey to this new partnership at SUZA. I have already met and worked with wonderful friends and colleagues at SUZA and look forward to this new adventure.

Here is an article about my upcoming experience published by my university: https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/fulbright_winning_umass_boston_professor_to_work_in_tanzania

A preschool in Zanzibar like the ones I will study over the next year

A preschool in Zanzibar like the ones I will study over the next year



Getting out of our comfort zone together

This past week I have been doing teacher training with the 12 teachers in the project. The main purpose of this trip this time is to do teacher training and then follow up with some coaching and mentoring. One of the benefits of the project for community members is that the project hires young women who have a high school education, but no formal teacher training to be teachers. Teachers learn on the job with support from more experienced teachers in the project and I come periodically to do professional development with the teachers to top up their skills. On this trip, based on experiences in the past and current literature on professional development. We know that one-time professional development or training is minimally effective when there are no additional support or follow-up. Workshops in conjunction with coaching will more likely to result in teachers using new ideas (Joyce & Showers, 2002). In addition, teacher practices are more likely to change when focused training is followed by on-site mentoring from a coach who provides feedback and support for effective implementation (Fox, Hemmeter, Snyder, Binder, & Clarke, 2011; Onchwari & Keengwe, 2008; Sheridan, Edwards, Marvin, & Knoche, 2009; Snyder & Wolfe, 2008).

Our head teacher addressing the teachers before the day's training.

Our head teacher addressing the teachers before the day’s training.

 On Monday, I trained teachers for about three hours on strategies to make the literacy instruction more interactive and to encourage child participation in the small group sessions. In addition, because all school have at least two teachers, I talked about various co-teaching methods and how to best utilize both teachers in the classroom to keep children active and engaged in learning. This is especially important because some of our “classrooms” are a collection of desks in a semi-circle on the veranda outside the main classrooms. Tanzanian classrooms, like many classrooms in East Africa, are very full and schools are very full, so there are rarely extra rooms for a classroom for our project. During instruction in the small groups, people are walking about, children may be playing, other children may be outside on recess, and cars are zooming by in the distance. Teachers need to work together through their content and enthusiasm to keep children focused. That being said, I was amazed at how focused most children were, particularly because these children were in our project because they have some type of learning delay or disability.


Our outdoor classroom at one school. (Faces blurred for adherence to IRB permissions)

Our outdoor classroom at one school. (Faces blurred for adherence to IRB permissions)

On Tuesday, I trained teachers on additional math strategies to work on counting, addition, subtraction, shapes and colors. In addition, we talked about a small change we made to the assessment that we give students and provided pointers for giving the assessment with the highest level of fidelity. The main concern in the assessment implementation is that teachers are helping the children too much or giving them too many chances to answer the question before moving on. I did watch two teachers give assessments to children when I arrived and they did well overall, but these pointers will be helpful. As a teacher, I can sympathize that I want to help the children too and want to see them do well, but we also need to know what the children can do on their own. Because we want to be confident that the children have learned skills and knowledge to be successful in the regular classroom, we need to know that they can perform these tasks independently because there will not be a teacher in the typical classroom ready to help or guide them, because there are usually 50-70 children with one or two teachers.

One of the teachers reading a story to the group.

One of the teachers reading a story to the group.

As I have mentioned here before too, we do not necessarily use the most interactive strategies, and some innovations you would find in certain US or European classrooms, because we want the students to be able to succeed in the classrooms that they are returning to that still use more rote instruction than inquiry-based learning. We get the children involved and check for understanding and use comprehension and critical thinking strategies, but the activities are not so far from the typical classroom. This was a hard decision for me to make, but I also saw early on that the teachers we were working with also were not familiar with strategies outside of didactic instruction. We have taken it slowly with teachers, introducing more interactive strategies gradually over the years and reducing the amount of straight choral response instruction in our classes.

One of the teachers calling a "student" to the board to write a word.

One of the teachers calling a “student” to the board to write a word.

In the training this week, I really asked the teachers to step outside their comfort zone and model teaching strategies for each other. First, I asked specific teachers to model a strategy that I had just shown them and use it with their “students” (the other teachers). Then, I asked them to plan a lesson and execute that lesson, using the combination of strategies as they might in a 20-30 minute lesson where the children had at least 2 whole group activities (6-10 children per group) and independent work time. While asking them to model single strategies was uncomfortable, planning a lesson and executing it as a group using co-teaching strategies was at first, literally incomprehensible. We had brought in a translator to help me, because my Swahili is not as polished at this time as I would like it to be and I thought the teachers would get more out of the training if my points could be reiterated in Swahili or better Swahili than mine. For me, using a translator was a bit uncomfortable also, because I wanted to believe that my Swahili was good enough, but I know that at the moment conversationally I am fine, but to explain the finer points of pedagogy and instructional strategies I needed help. I did an ego check and recognized that the most important goal was for the teachers to get the most out of the training, not for me to be able to do the training in Swahili. I am glad that I had support from two wonderful people who work with the project to translate and expand on my Swahili.


It took three explanations by the translator for the teachers to finally understand what I wanted them to do. After they started, I realized that because they had never been to teacher training college, they had never been asked to do mini-lessons or model full lessons in a classroom of their peers. I have visited enough teacher training colleges to know that micro-teaching is very much a part of teacher training around the world, but not necessarily something known to people who don’t participate in that world every day like I do. Despite the language hiccups, the lesson demonstrations were well done and it was clear that the teachers understood the key strategies and how to implement them.

The children using the new ten frame cards for addition and subtraction from the training.

The children using the new ten frame cards for addition and subtraction from the training.

Now it was time to observe them teaching children to see how they used the strategies there. To be continued in a few days…..


Cute little animals are everywhere

Friday and Saturday included two adventures in the car of different types with lots of animals, but not the normal East African safari animals, at least not for the most part.

Friday, we went to Arusha to run various errands such as picking up notebooks for the teachers for training and a whiteboard for one of the classrooms meeting out on the veranda of the school, because there are no extra classrooms. During lunch, we were joined on the edges of the garden by this vervet monkey.


On the way back from Arusha, we saw Mt. Kilimanjaro out from behind the clouds with its gleaming white snow on top. It is truly a beautiful site that I never get tired of seeing.


Saturday, we went into the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the Machame area to take Sarah’s kitten to the vet for his final rabies shot. He was very brave, but did not want to be contained during the ride.


The vet is a German man who runs this farm with his wife and helps to also rescue and rehabilitate wild animals.


Recently, they have had a cheetah and a baby elephant, but they were no longer there. Because we wanted to get back with Sarah’s cat, we didn’t do the full tour or hike, but here are a few photos of a baby monkey they are raising and a few older monkeys.

They also had two marabou storks we saw that were within five feet of us and scary.


The smaller, cuter creatures included these mongooses (who of course can be vicious) and rabbits.





There were many others, but I didn’t get any pictures, including porcupines who are nocturnal and were sleeping in their holes. I think it would be really fun to do the horseback safari sometime. The pictures on the farm’s site look amazing.

Mud, Glorious Mud!

This week, I very excitedly returned to Moshi to volunteer at the Toa Nafasi Project. In my role as an educational consultant, I am focused on fine-tuning the use of the assessment and teacher training on this trip. During my trip, I will conduct fidelity checks on the assessment that they use for the students and hold two half-day trainings to top up the teachers’ skills.  Following the training, teachers will have opportunities to practice their skills and receive coaching and mentoring during the remainder of my time to support their use of the strategies. I will also be working the head teacher of the group to support her in providing coaching and mentoring on the strategies to her teachers when I leave.

It has been two years since I have been back and I want to see how the teachers administer the assessment to ensure that they are administering it with fidelity. During the trainings, I will teach some new strategies for reading, writing, and math and reinforce the strategies the teachers are already using in the intervention.

For my new readers or to remind readers, the Toa Nafasi Project has several components, but the key component is the pull-out small groups conducted during the school day to teach and reinforce basic concepts children are learning in their grade 1 classroom in reading, writing, and math. Below is the model used in Toa Nafasi and the small groups represent a Tier 2 intervention for these students.

 RTI Toa Pic

Some things in the project have not changed in the last two years. The children are still eager to participate in the Toa Nafasi Project small groups and the teachers are still doing a wonderful job supporting the children.


But, the project has now expanded to a total of four schools. The growth has been phenomenal and has necessitated hiring more teachers for a total of 12. They are all wonderful and eager to support these young learners to be successful in the classroom. Two of the new schools are close to Msaranga, but one school is a bit of a walk, especially in the current muddy conditions. We are nearing the end of the rainy season, but yesterday it still rained and had rained all night, the night before. We walked the two miles to the school and back, slipping and sliding a bit. This map shows one way of our journey.


Sarah and I had dressed for muddy hiking, but our head teacher made the walk easily in her very professional skirt and flats. I was impressed. IMG_2739



On the way, we saw several examples of people who had given up on wheeled transport, including this gentleman with his bike.


The walk was very beautiful and took me into parts of the village that I had never seen.


I am certainly glad that I made my decision to bring my boots, but they will need a well-deserved bath.

Leaving on a jet plane ……. (jumping up and down with excitement)

I am so excited to be off on another Tanzanian adventure. I have been so fortunate that I will be in Tanzania and East Africa three times between May 2015 and May 2016.


Bags are checked and waiting for my first flight. I am going to do some fun teacher training with the teachers of the Toa Nafasi Project. I have the privilege of meeting and training several new teachers and seeing the work at two new schools, because the project is now in three schools.

While Toa Nafasi has focused their work on the three Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) or the three Ks in Swahili (Kusoma, Kuandika, na Kuhesabu), the Tanzanian education system has also shifted since January 2015 to focus only on these subjects in grades 1 and 2. Through an expensive USAID effort and several international NGO partners, many new materials including leveled story books in Swahili have been developed and were supposed to be distributed to the schools in the first half of 2016. I was lucky enough to see a few samples at the USAID office at the US Embassy in Dar in January, but I am looking forward to seeing them in the schools and how they use them. The training plan was a cascading plan using a train-the-trainer model. I am very interested to see if the materials and training have made it to Moshi.


If you look closely at the bag, the white strips are sentence strips. We going to be working the dialogic reading; sentence writing, construction, and deconstruction; and different number lines and hundreds charts to help provide children options for helping them with their counting and operations.

More to come through the next two weeks. See you all in Tanzania.