Author Archives: Mariah McKinnon

Only days left!

As our time in Northern Ireland is quickly coming to an end, I am realizing that my student teaching experience and my time as a Drake student are also coming to an end. It is so bittersweet to end my education at Drake University but it has given me so many opportunities to grow as a person. Student teaching abroad has taught me so much about myself as a person, myself as a teacher and education systems in general.

I really enjoyed the last two weeks of teaching at Gilnahirk primary school. I felt as if the students were really starting to respect me and enjoy my teaching. I also felt like I was an essential part of the classroom because I was involved in so many lessons. On Friday I made the mistake of messing with the students. I would tap them on the opposite shoulder so they would look the wrong way, stick a piece of paper in their ear or try to scare them. This got to be quite the game. They kept trying to get me back. During break and lunch they would be crawling on the floor trying to sneak up on me. They left on Friday promising that they would get me back before I left!

The weekend was spent with all of the other American students and international students. We are tried to make the most of our last weekend together. We also went to panto which is a school play put on by Stranmillis students. They performed Little Red Riding Hood and it was pretty cool! It was a little modern with the song selections so that was fun. On Sunday we went to St. George’s Market, which is basically a farmers market inside a big building. I spent a lot of money there for souvenirs and gifts. They also had some great food. I got a chorizo and egg crepe and a tropical smoothie.

It seems surreal that I am starting to pack to go home. It feels as if I just got here. With that being said I am excited to see my friends and family. It has been a great time here in Northern Ireland!

Another week, Mohre fun!

Monday we went on a tour to Youthlink and they showed us around the peace walls. I wrote my name and year on the peace walls. I got the day off Tuesday so I spent that day doing some lesson plans and working on my e-portfolio. Wednesday was a half day, which doesn’t involve much teaching because the students go swimming at 11 that day. Thursday I got observed and i taught my first math lesson here. They have been working on fractions so it wasn’t necessarily an easy topic. I tried using cubes to teach fractions. By the end of the lesson I wasn’t sure if I confused them more or helped them. They students were able to tell me the answer but when it came to showing me how they solved it with their cubes, they were very confused. Honestly, the lesson probably taught me more than it taught the students. It was also a great lesson for me to get observed for because it didn’t go as I planned so my supervisor got to see me deal with adversity and she had good things to say about that.

Friday Shealagh and I left for Dublin. We had Katie and Tunde (two other Americans) meet us later that night. We were so excited to be in a hotel instead of a hostel so we just sat in our hotel room and watched a movie. Saturday we decided to do a Paddywagon bus tour to The Cliffs of Moher. It was a long day but a good choice to do the tour. We drove from the East coast of Ireland to the West coast. We stopped at the Burren, which is a National park with a bunch of Limestone rock. It also had the “Baby cliffs”, which we got some good pictures with the sun out.

We stopped in a cute little fishing village called Doolan for lunch. Nest stop was the famous Mohre Cliffs. Sadly, it was very foggy but it cleared for about ten minutes. It was still breathtaking even if we couldn’t see all of the cliffs. I may have taken a year off of Shealagh’s life. We were about to take a selfie kind of close to the edge when I slipped and grabbed Shealagh’s backpack. She screamed and ran forward to get away from the cliff. Katie grabbed me so I wouldn’t fall of the edge. After everyone realized I wasn’t falling to my death, we all cracked up about Shealagh’s response. Once we got back to Dublin, we ate and went to bed after the long day.

Sunday morning, Shealagh and I went to the Guinness storehouse. I hadn’t tried Guinness until I got to Northern Ireland but I really like it now! It was a very cool experience to see the history, ingredients and advertisement. We also got to pour our perfect Guinness then take it up to the gravity bar and drink it while overlooking the city of Dublin. We also went a little crazy at the gift store. We walked to the bus station and were exhausted by the time we got back to Belfast. It was another good week! We have less than three weeks, which is hard to believe!

Only a month left?!

I am in full swing with teaching now. I am teaching 2 lessons a day which ends up being quite a bit of the day but still not as much as America. I have been teaching grammar, morning routines and volcano lessons. The Dynamic Earth is the topic they are currently studying so I have been doing a lot of lessons on volcanoes and I have really enjoyed it.

I got observed for the first time this week and I did a lesson plan about Mount Vesuvius. The lesson went well and Lois had some good feedback for me. Lois is my tutor and kind of like an advisor. I get observed by a different tutor this upcoming week.

During week nights I have been doing a lot of lesson planning and preparation for lesson plans. This weekend was very relaxed because we have two big weekends coming up. Next weekend we go to Dublin and Galway. The weekend after that is Barcelona. This Saturday we did the Black Taxi Tour and that was very interesting. Our tour guide was definitely Catholic so I would really be interested in taking the same tour with a Protestant tour guide to see the differences. After that we witnessed the Christmas lights get turned on in Belfast. It was really pretty and put me in the mood for Christmas!

Sunday, I had a lazy day which was actually very needed. I feel like I always find something to do with my downtime so it was nice to just lay around before the start of another week!


  • “Is that an American accent I hear? So….Trump.”
  • “Trump or Hillary?”
  • “So what do you think about your new election?”

These are the most common questions I get when anyone hears my American accent. Most of the time my response was, “It is what it is”, and I think they were expecting a more interesting response. I take a taxi to and from school every day so nearly the whole ride every day was spent talking about American politics. I am not someone who is particularly interested in politics so it got pretty old. A lot of the people are comparing it to Brexit and if they wanted to stay in or out. I am hoping the start of the new week will bring the start of new conversation.

This week, I started teaching. I had to teach one lesson a day. I got lucky enough that the topic they are studying right now is the dynamic Earth so I got to teach a couple of lessons about volcanoes. All of the lessons went pretty well and I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable and like a part of the class. I got lucky enough to teach volcano experiments on Friday. We did the baking soda and vinegar volcano explosion and Coke & Mentos experiment. The students really enjoyed this lesson and it was fun to watch all of their reactions. Next week, I start teaching to lessons a week so I will be pretty busy!

I have to write a full lesson plan and review for every lesson I teach so I am fining myself to be pretty busy working on lesson plans after school.

“Reading” Week

Absolutely no reading got done during reading week.

Shealagh and I took a week long trip around the UK. We flew from Belfast to Glasgow, Scotland. We bused from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Bused from Edinburgh to London, England (10 hours). Bused from London to Cardiff, Wales. Finally, flew from Cardiff back to Belfast.

We learned a lot about traveling, gained some confidence in ourselves and got to experience four different hostels. The hostels were a new experience for both of us. They aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be. They are a little awkward and sometimes you question the cleanliness of the sheets or the bathrooms but, you also have the opportunity to meet people your age from all around the world.

Glasgow was a nice city but there wasn’t a lot of site seeing to do. We visited the Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest house in Glasgow and walked down Buchanan Street, which had a bunch of shops. We also went to a building called the lighthouse and walked up a bunch of stairs so we could over look the city.

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral









Edinburgh was our next stop and quite possibly our favorite! Just the city itself was beautiful. The roads were cobblestone and the architecture was old and gorgeous. We got there on Halloween and they had the Samhuinn Fire Festival. It was an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the end of summer and beginning of winter. It was really cool but actually a little frightening with the very real costumes and actors. We visited the castle and walked around Calton Hill. Calton Hill had a lot of neat monuments and structures. Then for dinner that night we tried Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. This is a traditional Scottish dish. We did not google what it was until after we ate it just in case we didn’t like the description. It was actually really tasty and was good comfort food.

Samhurinn Fire Festival.

Samhurinn Fire Festival.


Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle.

Scottish Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

Scottish Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

Next stop was London! We definitely did not have enough time in London but we tried to make the most of it by doing a bus tour. The bus stopped at all of the main attractions so you could hop on and off at any time you wanted! We got to see the Royal Courts of Justice, Tower of London, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace and the Marble Arch. Often we would stop, take pictures, enjoy the view and hop back on the bus. Thursday night we were about to call it a night after dinner but we decided to stop at a theater and see how much a ticket would cost to Matilda the musical. We got 5 pound tickets and the musical was great! It was probably our best bargain of the trip.


Tower of London.

Big Ben!

Big Ben!


Matilda the musical.

Last stop, Cardiff, Wales. We happened to plan our trip to Cardiff on a really good weekend. We got there Friday night and the Wales vs. Australia rugby match was on Saturday. The city was very busy with a lot of red and green littering the crowd. We checked the ticket office to see how much the tickets were about 30 minutes before the game and they were still 60 pounds. We didn’t want to pay that much so we talked to a scalper and got two tickets for 30 pounds a piece. We had great seats and it was a great learning experience since it was our first rugby match.

Wales vs. Australia rugby match.

Wales vs. Australia rugby match.

Overall it was a great trip! We found that whenever we told anyone where we were from they would ask, “Trump or Hillary?”

The Calm Before the Storm

When I say the “storm” I mean it in a good way. This week was very relaxed. As usual we didn’t have placement on Monday but I could feel myself coming down with a sickness. I think the Mourne mountains got the best of me with the cool breeze blowing from the water. But the mountains were well worth the sickness.

Luckily, I only had half days at placement all week because they had parent-teacher conferences. I went to school Tuesday and did a PowerPoint presentation about me so the students knew more about me and where I come from. They had quite a few questions. I went to school on Wednesday but my cold was full blown at this point. I didn’t want to infect the kids with my sneezing, coughing, and constantly blowing my nose so I went to see the nurse Thursday morning instead of going to school. She advised me to also take Friday off of placement. This is another difference I have noticed about Northern Ireland; they are a lot more laid back about taking care of yourself first and school second. I kind of felt like I had to be on my death bed to miss a day of student teaching in America. But here they were pushing me to stay home an extra day to get better. I definitely wanted to be better by the end of the week because that is when the storm hit!

When I say storm, I mean me and Shealagh’s week long trip around the UK. In Northern Ireland they have a half term. The primary schools, post primary school and Universities all take a week off of school, which is called half term. So we are taking full advantage of this opportunity to travel. We fly out of Belfast Saturday night to go to Glasgow, Scotland. Then to Edinburgh, London and Cardiff. We are staying at each place for about 2 or 2 1/2 days. We are very excited for all of the new opportunities but also a little nervous. We have never stayed in hostels before so it should be very interesting! I’ll let you know how it all went next week!

This is what my week consisted of.

This is what my week consisted of (the middle medicine is really disgusting).

Getting Accustomed to Life in Belfast

This week I was at Gilnahirk Primary school Monday through Thursday. I am still observing but she has me grading papers, their daily maths and spelling. This week she also had me work with a boy on multiplying multi digit numbers and some tests he missed. He was gone for his grandfathers’ funeral but he picked up on the multiplication very quickly. I was shocked that they were already starting multiplying multi digit numbers because my students at my placement in Iowa were just getting introduced to multiplication. In Northern Ireland, they start introducing multiplication at P4 which is 7-8 years old.

Certain differences I notice during school:

  • They call math, maths.
  • Grading is called marking.
  • Their classroom management is very different because of the students’ behavior. The students are well behaved so a lot of times they don’t need a ton of classroom management.
  • The transitions are very smooth and I think it is because she has student jobs and the students know the procedures.
  • They talk about God freely. They just started learning about the Dynamic Earth and the first lesson was on the creation of the Earth.

This upcoming week I am starting c-teaching so I will be teaching a lesson a day. We have to create a lesson plan and review for every lesson plan we teach. This is a little different than my placement at home because we didn’t have to fill out a detailed lesson plan for every lesson we taught.

On Saturday we went to Derry, which is The Walled City. We learned a lot about the history and struggles. It took us about an hour to walk around the wall, we went to lunch and walked past the murals. We spent about four hours in the city and that was the perfect amount of time! We rode the bus there and back, which took around two hours each way.

On Sunday we made a last minute decision to go to Newcastle, Northern Ireland. We went with a girl named Kai from Providence College and three international girls from China. We rode the bus once again but the ride was about an hour and fifteen minutes. Newcastle is right on the coast so it was very windy and chilly. We walked along the coast to a trail. The trail went up the mountain. It was very steep and exhausted us all, but once we got to the top we quickly forgot about the hard hike. We took plenty of pictures and then headed back down the mountain, got ice cream and went back to Belfast. So far I have been loving it and I am getting used to life in Belfast!

Fall in Belfast!

Fall in Belfast!

The Walled City - Derry

The Walled City – Derry


Mourne Mountains



Week 1 at Stranmillis University College

Here begins our 10 week journey at Stranmillis University College!

When Shealagh and I arrived we met Ashley, our student advisor, who showed us around the city and had orientation with us. She took us to our flat which we each have our own en suite in. We got all of the necessities and unpacked everything! We met the other Americans from Providence College who are staying on the same flat as us. We forced ourselves to stay up until about 10 pm that night although Shealagh and I were both exhausted.

On Monday and Tuesday we had meetings to learn about the program, our placement and the college itself. We met the placement coordinators and education administrators. All of the people within the college have been so helpful and accommodating for us! One thing that kind of surprised me was our schedule in the school which is:

Monday: Morning activity, Northern Ireland Culture class 2-5

Tuesday: Full day at placement school

Wednesday: Half day at placement school

Thursday: Full day at placement school

Friday: Half day at placement school

It seems within their culture, they are very conscious of not being overworked. They set up the schedule like this because they knew we would be traveling and wanted to make sure we would have time on Fridays to travel and recovery time on Mondays after traveling.

On Wednesday and Thursday I went to my placement at Gilnahirk Primary School which is a 20-30 minute cab ride depending on the traffic. I am in a P6 classroom (4th grade) with Jane Pitts. The students here are the same age as the students at my first student teaching placement so it has been very interesting to compare. I have noticed how well behaved the students are here. Classroom management is very different because of their good behavior. I haven’t seen very many lessons yet but they do a lot of independent work and she basically tells them the task and they work quietly at their desks. I have also noticed that the students in Northern Ireland are farther ahead in their learning than my students in Des Moines. For example, they were able to write a full story about Vikings when my students in Des Moines needed a lot of guidance just to take writing from a graphic organizer to a full paragraph.

On Friday we had a meeting with Lois Totton who talked about our schedule, assignments and travels. Then we had the rest of the day to explore the city and do some shopping.

Saturday was our trip to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giants Causeway. They were both so gorgeous. It was a little cloudy and then the last 30 minutes of our time at Causeway there was a steady rain. I wore my winter jacket which is not waterproof so I was soaked by the end of the trip. But the beauty of it all was definitely worth the wet clothes!

Sundays are lazy days in Ireland so we tried to  be productive but none of the buildings or the library on campus were open. So we had to settle for the kitchen to be our work space for the day!

This upcoming week I will be in the classroom every day so I will much more to say about school!

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway




Stan House