Teaching Science in the South Pacific and a Plea for Teaching Advice

Teaching science is a little weird for me here since all of the books we have are from the U.S. We can’t use the majority of the solar system unit because it focuses on the northern hemisphere. For instance, there are three detailed pages in our text about spotting constellations (Orion, the Big Dipper, etc) and how to find the North Star. Uh huh. Also, there aren’t any seasons really (well, there’s the rainy season, the dry season, and cyclone season, haha), but the textbook has an entire chapter devoted to the 4 seasons (and they are based on the seasons in the northern hemisphere).

I started our solar system unit by introducing the movement of shadows during the day. We made a sundial and were going to record the shadows and make predictions. Of course, their teacher told them that we’d be able to read the sundial just like a clock and make predictions about where the shadows would be at different times of day. Well, nuh-uh. Here’s our sundial:

Counter-clockwise sundial

I don’t know if you get the effect from the photo, but it’s counter-clockwise! Yea we can’t use that as a clock, haha. Maybe it’s because I’m just science-dumb, but I had no idea that was going to happen. I got pretty excited thinking about how the clocks would be different and what is clockwise now would be counter-clockwise if only someone from the southern hemisphere invented clocks first, but the awesomeness of that was lost on 2nd graders. haha.

Despite the differences in celestial studies, the equatorial pacific is just like home when it comes to cases of The Mondays. Oh boy. Mondays are always a lot of fun at school. I think my kids go home on Friday and completely empty their backpacks and their brains of anything we put in them during the week. It can be pretty frustrating. We spent all of last week talking about the solar system–really just defining and getting familiar with the vocab. They were supposed to have a quiz on Friday but I thought they needed more time, so I sent them home with their vocabulary worksheets and told them we’d have the quiz today.

All of our science units are the same. They begin with a vocabulary sheet with a word-bank at the top. They are supposed to fill in the blanks as we read in the text or as I explain the material. We go over the vocab every day (sometimes with games, sometimes with drills). And all of our vocabulary quizzes are just the vocab sheet arranged in a different order. There’s still a word bank at the top and all they have to do is read the sentence and fill in the blank. Right before the quiz, for review, I pretty much read the quiz to them and they got every question right. But when I actually gave it to them, and expected them to write the words, they just spaced out.

I know they know the material but something happens when they sit down and take the quiz. I mean, last week they even wrote songs and performed little skits to explain & demonstrate how the sun, moon, and Earth move! They know this stuff!! But the same students who raised their hands and knew every answer ended up missing every question on the quiz. I know it’s not the reading part: I’ve tried reading each question to them; I’ve tried walking around and having them read the questions to me. I’ve come to the conclusion that they just aren’t reading anything. They just write anything in the blanks (and they do NOT do this for the vocab sheet, so what is going on???) I mean, these are easy peasy quizzes.

These are real questions and real answers from today:
The Earth spins, or rotates, in space. The spinning of the Earth is called its Solor System.
The path that the Earth takes around the sun is called its Sun.
The moon is the star closest to Earth.
And for this one: The sun, Earth, and all the other planets make up our _________ ________. Since “Solar System” is the only two-word answer in the word bank, I felt like I was practically handing them points. Uh uh. But I did get two very creative answers: “orbit star” and “solar rotation.”

There was a bonus question that asked them to draw the Earth, sun, and moon and show how they move. Three kids drew the solar system.

So after the quiz I asked the SAME QUESTIONS and every single one of them got every answer right. It’s just so frustrating. I know they know the material, but I also think it’s important for them to be able to read a question, think about it, and answer correctly. It’s like they just dump information out of their brains and they don’t care where it lands on the page. I’m thinking about having them take the same quiz tomorrow to “practice” taking a quiz and thinking about our answers before we write them down. This is the third unit in science and it’s always the same for every quiz. What am I doing wrong?!?

Anyway, if you’re a teacher and you have any advice for me, please share! I know they understand the material–should I just move on and assess in other ways? Or should I spend time teaching/practicing quiz and test taking skills? Help me!


Since I haven’t shown you any in a while, here are some photos from today. Mel & Lionel are a young married couple who own the store next to my school. I go there almost every day. Stores here are usually little houses attached to or right beside the larger house. This store has a bedroom inside but they use the main house for the kitchen and living room. You can buy soda, snacks, slippers (flip flops), etc here; it’s kind of like any gas-station convenience store in any small town. Lionel and Mel have two super cute kids; the little girl is called Foga (fo-nguh) and she’s absolutely perfect. Just wait til you see their son (later).

About Cat Q.

For three years, I lived on a tiny little island in the South Pacific called Ta'u, where I taught elementary and high school English. Much of this blog is a chronicle of my time there, and of the travels we were able to do while we were on that side of the world. Now, I'm doing a different kind of travelling in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and two children.
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2 Responses to Teaching Science in the South Pacific and a Plea for Teaching Advice

  1. Karen Fleming says:

    Has most of their English education been verbal? They may just be having trouble recalling the right words in written format. Seeing the word written while it is spoken may help some. There are also memory aids such as tactile stimulation. I first learned of this in a school for dyslexic students. They had pieces of Masonite for each student. The students wrote their vocabulary words with their fingers on the rough side of the Masonite. I’ve since heard much more about tactile stimulation and other thing for all students of all ages. Masonite may not be practical, but ti leaves or sand boxes or what ever may be available could be substituted.

  2. Jess says:

    I’m not a teacher so I have no advice there. All I have to say, really, is “world’s most beautiful baby?” Hmmm…we’ll see about that.

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