Day 48: The Czech Republic

By the time we arrived in the gothic capital of Prague, it was late and the sun was going down over the Jiraskuv bridge. Bridges cross the Vltava river every few hundred meters or so, but the crown jewel is Charles Bridge which is shut off from cars and open only to pedestrians and statues that adorn the ramparts.

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Fun day exploring #Prague castle and Charles Bridge.

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Prague is one of the historic ‘old towns’ in Europe, and life comes alive here at night. The brew pubs (some of the best in the world) fill up with patrons and spill out onto the street when stools are scarce. Parks fill up with groups huddled onto park benches and get louder into the night like in Lisbon. Sadly, the days of Prague being a ‘cheap’ destination are gone, but it’s still better than most of the big cities Westward. There are more tourists in Prague than any other city we have visited thus far.

The strangest thing in Prague are the ‘minimarts’ and christ almighty are there a lot of them. Here, the minimarts sell three things: brass knuckles, absinthe and hemp products, and they’re almost exclusively run by Vietnamese people hailing from Hanoi. Our Airbnb was in little Asia so we had a number of Korean and Vietnamese run food marts that we could engage and reminisce about our time in the ‘old country’. The Koreans were more than affable and the conversations went like this:

You lived in Korea! Where?” Asked the shop owners.

Pangyo. Just south of Seoul. We lived there for 4 years.”

I never meet non-Korean Koreans here in Prague. I can give you a discount if you’d like.” which we were typically greeted with at check out. After a few phrases in Korean dialect, we knew we made a friend for life. The Vietnamese, not so much:

Are you from Hanoi?” I asked in Viet at the checkout counter.

Yes.” They’d usually reply.

I used to live in Saigon. For 9 years.

Um, ok. Would you like a bag?

Trying to wrap my head around the disparity of kinship of my Asian brothers, I can only assume that Czechs are preparing to defend themselves against the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse and are hoping the minimarts will be their essential survival supply bastions. I mean, really. What other scenarios in life would implore you to buy brass knuckles and a bong at the same time? And who the hell drinks absinthe?

Screencast for Avigail’s Story: Second Draft

We’ve been using the writers workshop model with ipsative feedback to guide Ava through her narrative writing piece. Back in Riga, she started a draft of a girl that was separated from her parents during WW2, inspired by our visit to the Jewish Ghetto. Ava had some good ideas, but she didn’t transition well from topic to topic so I used screencasts to give her reviewable feedback using ‘Screencastify’.

Screencasts are just video recordings (typically with voiceovers) that people use for instructional or informational purposes. I’ve also had students use screencasts using quicktime for movies and digital stories, but I learned a handy way of using the ‘Screencastify’ chrome add on to give video feedback which saves time writing comments in the margins digitally, or by hand. Here’s how it works:

Install the ‘Screencastify‘ app on your chrome browser. From here, you activate the desktop or screen recorder and can choose to embed the webcam of yourself talking. (If I was better looking, I would. But as I’m bald and bearded, I look like a penis with a face and kindly opt out) Here’s the cool thing- after you finish the recording, you upload it to youtube (one of the options that ‘Screencastify’ offers) and upload it as an ‘unlisted’ video and add the link as a direct comment.

Adding a direct comment with an unlisted video for the student.

Unlisted videos can only be seen by those with the link, so in my youtube dashboard, I can see how many times Ava has looked at my screencast and I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. There is nothing more deflating for teachers than spending countless hours on giving student feedback and then not having the student read or act on it.

The unlisted screencast shows 2 views.
10 Books for Early Readers

South to Cesky Krumlov

After three days in Prague, we took a bus down to Cesky Krumlov, a small UNESCO town near the Austrian German border. The whole town looked like it was born out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale- meandering cobble stone streets lined with old pensions and restaurants adorning the city.

The next morning, I went on an early morning walk and got some nice drone footage before the tourist buses came at 10ish. By then, the city was flooded with German, American, Korean and Chinese tourists walking around with their selfie sticks permanently jutted out in front them, eager to document every second of their visit.

For some reason people, people in Cesky Krumlov (when seeing me coming down the street or alleyway) gave me a wider berth than usual time and time again. I guess they do have reason to be suspicious. I’m six foot six, two hundred and sixty pounds, bald, bearded, tattooed and when I’m wearing sunglasses and pursed lips I look like I could kill an entire family. If I’m ever arrested and put in a police line up, I’m sure I’d be singled out from my looks alone and would simply put up my hands up to save time. I’d announce: “It was me. I did it. Let’s move on shall we?

Nevertheless, we had a full day of fun. In the morning after Ava’s school work, we visited the castle and nearby gardens followed by lunch at Krcma Satlava. Satlava is an institution in Cesky and after eating here, you’ll find out why. They have a massive grill and slow roast tenderloin, chicken, potato pancakes and pork roast served up with sauerkraut and potatoes so succulent, you’ll start eyeing long term rentals when you stagger out. The local beer is a nice chaser to the horseradish and mustard garnished morsels and for entertainment you can enjoy watching the other patrons recording their dishes on video. It’s a slice of heaven for the senile.

After a post lunch gastronomic siesta, we went river rafting. We found a company that allowed us to take a raft with no supervision or helmets out on the river for 2 hours for only forty-five dollars. To be out in nature was curative after the crazy hedonism of city hopping for the last month. We spent most of our time swimming, laughing or laying back on the raft looking up at the sky and wondering why life can’t always follow a pace like this.

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Day 43: Poland Part 3-Just One More Step…

I’m having a Samwise Gamgee moment.

Samwise was Frodo’s companion during the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy who accompanied him to Mordor to cast the ring into Mount Doom. In the first movie: ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘ the two leave the safety of the Shire and there is the moment wherein Sam realizes that if he takes just ‘one more step‘ he’ll be farther than he ever has from his home.

Today was that day for us. As our fellow schoolteachers announce their trips home by way of parabolic arcs via facebook updates, we are boarding a bus for Prague from Wroclaw and continuing on. Today marks the longest stretch that we’ve ever traveled in our lives.

I thought that we’d be worn out by now. By the end of the summer, we’re usually ready to go back to work, see old friends, swap stories and get back into our routines but for us, the trip has still only really begun. We are nearing the end of our two month swath through eastern Europe (our first region) which will culminate in Budapest for 2 weeks with our good friends the Macs. I’ve been surprised at how good we feel and don’t seemed to be plagued by exhaustion.

Accredited Online TEFL

The Golden Age of Travel is Now

Ian Harvey recently wrote that the so called ‘Golden Age’ of travel (specifically air travel) is over. He referred to the time when legroom was spacious and passengers were given cocktails before take off and dressed their best before boarding a flight. Adjusted for inflation, even short hop tickets were over a thousand dollars, but the lap of luxury made it worthwhile. Sadly, he says, those ‘good times’ are over.

I disagree. Travel now is easier than it’s ever been- in my lifetime at least. I remember hauling huge backpacks around Southeast Asia, staggering into towns with a lonely planet guidebook in hand, lucky to find a youth hostel that had a bed for us. Most places had phone numbers, but we had no way to call them. Other places (if any) had websites as the internet was in its infancy. Fast forward to now and the interconnectivity of the world has made travel planning a snap. It’s sobering to realize how ‘easy’ we have it with:

  • Numerous websites (Hotels.com, Booking.com) that not only book accommodation for you but compare prices and give you member rewards such as free nights and free cancellation.
  • Google maps and Skyscanner which compare airline ticket prices and apps like ‘Hopper’ that monitor prices changes. Those with ‘the Force’ wield VPNs like Jedis and know to buy mid week and 4 months out. Budget airlines jockey for our dollars making low cost trips cheaper than buses or trains.
  • Credit cards that reward points just through purchasing everyday items and can be applied to free tickets or class upgrades.
  • Mapping tools such as Apple and Google maps which can save landmarks, restaurants, and estimate walking and driving distances. They can even tell you which busses and trains to take to your location. 
  • Apps like trip advisor that crowdsource customer reviews to get an unbiased recommendation on a museum, eatery or bar so you don’t waste your ‘meal out’ of the day. 
  • Transportation apps for the electronic scooter revolution or ride sharing apps like Lyft and Uber to save you from getting price gouged by unscrupulous taxi drivers. 

20 years ago, these applications started debuting on the market. Now, they’re mainstream. The dizzying pace of innovation has inadvertently created a game of ‘catch up’ as we try to adapt to the ever changing world around us. It’s certainly made travel easier.

As we amble into the Czech Republic, here is a highlights video from Poland over the last two weeks. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for app ideas to help assuage the grief and time suck of not having everything instantly.

The American dream lives on.

Little Passports

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Day 38: Poland Part 2- Auschwitz Birkenau

The day after arriving in Krakow, Lisa and I took turns visiting the most infamous concentration camp in the world.

Unless you’ve been living on the moon or dropped out of high school, the name ‘Auschwitz‘ brings a chill because of the atrocities committed there. From 1941 to 1945, over one million Jews and political prisoners from all over Europe arrived with false hopes thinking they were coming to yet another ghetto or labor camp. When the cattle car doors clanged open, letting in the first sunshine and first fresh air people had seen in days, the ‘separation‘ commenced by SS soldiers and frothy-mouthed dogs on leashes. Crying, screaming, pleading families on one side imploring for compassion met only with shouts of ‘Shnell! Schnell!” and “Actung!” by the other.

The purpose of the separation was simple: identify laborers who could work and get rid of everyone else. In all, 80% of arrivals were marched into the gas chambers just moments after their long journey with false promises of a shower before being shown their new bunks. They shuffled into large rooms, docilly, after being stripped and having had their heads shaved. The rooms were sealed and instead of water coming from the shower heads, Zyklon B was poured in from above and the suffocating commenced. Those closest to the ducts died quickly, those in the corners lived 20 minutes more in agony.

If the staff of Auschwitz were going to hell, a special place was reserved there for Josef Mengele. I heard of Josef Mengele when I was younger, but the horrors he committed have cemented my view that he might just be the most vile human being ever to walk the planet. Mengele was so aptly called the ‘Angel of Death‘ and carried out numerous, sadistic experiments on the populace in the name of eugenics and finding out how to build a better ‘master race’. His experiments and lab (which we saw) involved castration, genital mutilation and gender reassignments surgeries. He had a soft spot for twin children as he could use one as the baseline and inject the other with debilitating diseases. Whereas Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz was found guilty at the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to hanging next to the crematorium of Auschwitz as retribution for his crimes, Mengele slunk out of Germany and died while swimming in the ocean in south America. A fascinating and horrific read from a first hand account is ‘Surviving the Angel of Death‘, by Eva Mozes who wrote about experiments done on her and her twin sister Miriam while imprisoned there.

travel, holidays, accomodation, Agoda

Visiting the Park

Auschwitz Birkenau was just over an hour outside of Krakow. Although it’s possible to take a bus, I recommend an organized ‘skip the line’ tour from City pass which leaves from Krakow and cost 180 Polish Zloty. An organized tour also provided us with a guide and headset to listen to the extensive history of the site from local experts. When we got back to our apartment, we watched the six part, BBC documentary: “Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution” which combined historical archives, CGI and reenacted scenes leading up to its construction.

What age is appropriate to visit?

After much debate, we decided not to take our 9 year old daughter. After web searches and talking to people who had been there, we felt that she was just a ‘tad’ too young. That being said, there was a middle school group visiting in rapt attention and other parents who brought children as young as 5 to play outside the building’s exhibits while the parents visited inside. In Auschwitz 1, there are graphic pictures of naked, emaciated women and children which may be too much for young eyes.

The personal artifacts are what haunted me the most. At the park, entire rooms are used to house clothes, eye glasses, human hair and shoes from victims of all ages. As you visit, you can’t help but think- in every pair of shoes walked a different person. A different person with hopes and dreams. A different person from a loving family who was loved and who loved someone back. Different people from different backgrounds reduced to nothing. Just ash. Like that.

Enter NewsELA for Current Events

The bus ride back was somber for everyone. Looking out in the windows at the rolling countryside of green with cheerful looking towns, I asked what people have been asking about the genocide for decades: “How could this happen?” In the 1930’s, legions of European Jews were denied asylum in the United States and other places as many thought of these immigrants as vermin who would take their jobs, mooch off welfare –sound familiar?– so they got sent back to Europe and their eventual doom. ‘Not my problem’ was one refrain. “They’re Communists” was another.

Just recently, Poland has passed a new law making it a punishable offense to insinuate that Poland was somehow responsible or complicit for any part in the holocaust. During the war, Germans utilized Polish police forces for rounding up Jews and for logistical support and if they didn’t help, they would have most likely been killed themselves. All over Europe, the third reich bullied the local garrison into doing their bidding. During wartime, people will do anything to survive.

Assessment Blueprint for Un… by Nomadic Edventures on Scribd

I found this new law fascinating and was excited to find it on NewsELA. As we have been reading more and more current events and informational texts, I have introduced Ava to “NewsELA” which curates popular articles into different reading levels for readers and can be assigned for reading and tracking.

Assignments in Ava’s dashboard.

In addition to being able to read articles of varying length, NewsELA also has post reading questionnaires that measure information text understanding of common core reading standards.

A post reading questionnaire: Courtesy of NewsELA

Never again” I repeat to myself, knowing that the ‘Never again‘ mantra goes only as far as those who have seen it. ‘Never again‘ didn’t make it to the shores of Cambodia, the mountains of Yugoslavia, jungles of Rwanda, or Armenia, or Darfur and millions more died because of it.

“Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it”

-George Santayana

After the visit and after all the books we read and documentaries we watched, two distinct moments hang with me. The first was a video interview of a prison guard at the camp who was asked: “Do you regret what you did?” “No.” he said. “I thought the Jews were terrible and we needed to get rid of them. It was my conviction that they were awful people and the cause of our problems.” The power of propaganda.

The other was from Eva Kor shortly before being liberated by the red army. While having freedom to explore the grounds for the first time, she came across a river and across it on the other bank was a young Polish girl her age. The young girl carried a backpack and was wearing her school clothes and was on her way to a lesson. The other girl had been carrying on with life as usual, inured to the horrors across the bank while Eva was covered in rags and recovering from torture. “How could you not have done something, anything?” She thought.

Combating Modern Day Fascism

One of the more interesting articles on social media use I read recently was ‘The spread of true and false news online” in Science 2018. The authors point out that fake news gets spread quicker than facts because it’s novel, and uses the availability heuristic combined with false consensus to make the sharers feel like they’re part of something; and their tribe is bigger than they think. People just don’t want to waste time checking their sources. Or be told that they’re wrong.

Anger and fear are seeds that germinate war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.

-Eva Mozes Kor

Truth is discourse. In order for that discourse to develop we have a responsibility to share these truths with all the facts to back them up. We have a responsibility to stand up to newly emboldened white nationalist trolls, holocaust deniers and anti-immigrant populists who cajole fear. We have a responsibility to call out this ugly behavior and vote out of office politicians who either support it, ignore it or wield it themselves.

Never again.” We’ll tell them.

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Day 34: Poland Part 1-Eastern Delights

The day we arrived in Warsaw, one of the biggest music legends in the world was playing at the PGE Narodowy coliseum.

I would not have normally gone to see Jon Bon Jovi, but with standing arena tickets costing only $40, we had to do it. Bon Jovi dominated the romantic rock genre since he started in 1983 and has been riding it strong ever since, without too many trips to rehab or scandals as rock stars are known for. As many archetypes of the classic rock heyday age into playing casinos or second tier rock concerts, Bon Jovi has been playing to sold out arenas (like they did a few nights ago) by starting with songs off their new album ‘This House is Not for Sale‘ and then launching in their classics causing such a rise from the audience that menopausal women started ovulating.

I remember in the 5th grade when, while in gym class, Rusty Henderson pulled out a cassette tape of Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet‘ and we gazed, sitting transfixed on the album cover while thinking we were looking at soft porn for the first time in our lives. Since then, rocking out to ‘You Give Love a Bad Name‘ and ‘Living on a Prayer‘ has been a rite of passage for people around the world. Even though Jon can’t hit the high notes of 30 years ago, his band carried the harmonies, giving him time for the requisite hip shakes, which every time, released more eggs from menopausal moms.

Exploring Warsaw

Since we went to bed at 2:00 am after the concert, we had a bit of a sleep-in before exploring Warsaw. Poland’s capital city blends history with modernity. Unlike the medieval towns that we passed through in the baltic countries, Warsaw has embraced new construction and high rise development without the cumbersome resolutions of being a UNESCO heritage site.

The Old Town

The old town has had quite the renaissance since the war. We saw black and white pictures of the city in 1945 and most of it was destroyed with the bombings with nothing more than a few empty shells of buildings and piles of rubble. Since then, they’ve rebuilt buildings to a new shade of the former grandeur.

The Uprising Museum

One night, we watched ‘The Zookeepers Wife’ which chronicled the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who sheltered 300 jews in their zoo right under the watchful eyes of the nazis. Ava is not typically into dramas, but the story mesmerized her and helped her finish the first draft of her narrative essay on ‘survival’. The Warsaw uprising was a last ditch effort of citizens in Warsaw to rebuff the nazi occupation by launching a guerrilla offensive to liberate the city. The old Warsaw Ghetto has been destroyed and only a few dilapidated brick walls remain with a memorial to its sad history.

The museum is a testament to this event. The interior is made to resemble a city overrun with strife. It’s dimly lit. Flood lights passing overhead. Exhibits look like fortifications with propaganda posters and war memorabilia.

Hilton Hotels

The Nicholas Copernicus Museum

When I heard about the Nicolas Copernicus museum, I immediately started front loading content about the Polish astronomer so Ava would be familiar with his work. Copernicus wrote his seminal work on the revolution of earth around the sun just months before his death which would be instrumental to Galileo years later that was begrudgingly accepted by the public (and eventually the church) who denounced them as heretical. We used ‘Quizlet‘ to introduce new terminology (See below) and Insert Learning to turn web pages into lessons.

Quizlet allows teacher to use flashcards or build their own to build vocabulary.
A lesson with ‘Insert Learning’. Dashboard on the right can highlight words, or insert discussions or questions for students.

Ironically, the Nicholas Copernius Museum was less about the man and his life and more about hands on experiments and activities that children can do for hours, which, for the children, is awesome. As a former teacher who has taken hundreds of students to museums, this might just be the most interactive museum in the world. We had to drag our child away.

Onto Gdansk

On Tuesday, we took at 3 hour train ride to Gdansk on the northeast coast. We met our Airbnb host, Pawel, who introduced us to local lingo by berating my English and my inability to correctly identify our meeting place.

I’ve had hundreds of other guests and you’re the first not to come to the building!” Pawel said.

You see that?” I said pointing. “That is a building, so is that, and that. Building can mean many things and is very vague.” I replied.

Yes, but we call where we live a building.

How am I supposed to know what locals call a building? The train station is also a building, which I associate with the impersonal description of not being a ‘home’ and where I thought you said you would meet us.

Fearing I might tarnish his 5 star average review rating, he let it go and walked us up to our spacious one bedroom that had a big enough living room, 2 TVs and a washing machine of which we were in desperate need.

Gdansk is beyond charming. Old cobblestone streets and brew pubs make it cozy, intimate and fun. Street musicians playing classical to jazz to swing hang out in the tunnels, utilizing the acoustics for more ‘pop’. The colorful building facades stand up like Crayola crayons and the quay is the heart and soul of town inviting river cruises, boat rentals and rubber-neckers to watch it all go by.

Since we got Ava’s Bon Jovi concert t-shirt washed (which she wore every day we were in Warsaw) it’s bound to make an appearance for our train trip tomorrow back down to Krakow. By the way, ‘Ovulating Menopausal Women‘ would be a great name for a rock band.

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Day 26: Baltic Beauty-Vilnius, Lithuania

Sometimes explosive diarrhea can have a silver lining.

Living and traveling abroad for 17 years has given us stomach microbes that you wouldn’t believe. In every place we’ve called home, we’ve had an intricate map of public bathrooms around the moo ban (Chiang Mai), district (Saigon) and dong (Seoul) that we could depend on at a moments notice if we ever felt an intestinal emergency coming. Sometimes it came with no warning, and sometimes right after we went out.

Uh, daddy, I need to tell you something.

Now? We just left! Why didn’t you go back home?

I didn’t have to go then.

But sometimes, like today, it can have a silver lining. While buying a gelato outside a chocolate shop so I could use its facilities, we strolled inside ‘Sokolades‘ to see the most amazing spread of chocolates we’ve ever seen in our life. They had an entire room made of chocolate (pictured below) like something out of ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Before long we had espressos, hot chocolates and tasters.

This might be the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.” Lisa said, and it was true. They mixed tastes like no other chocolatier has. Ganache and chili in chocolate moons. Blue cheese and walnut with chocolate. Every taste more interesting and delicious than the previous with caffeine and hot chocolate washing down every sweet bite. Soon after the waitresses were showing Ava around giving her testers. Heaven on earth for a 9 year old.

Vilnius: Capital Delights

The capital of Lithuania is an old city that’s trying not to ‘be’ an old city. Whereas many old towns of eastern Europe are often compartmentalized inside the city gates that have lingered since medieval times, Vilnius’ old town stretches like a hand down arterial roadways from north to south with short fingers to the east and west. People actually ‘live’ in the old town and its residents haven’t been displaced by the tourist industry. People go on about their business and everyone looks like an instagram model.

Gediminas tower looms and watches over everyone here. Currently being refurbished, this 15th century battlement (seen above) has lasted for centuries and one lone turret invites patrons up for a view. After an ascent to the top, we visited the National History Museum to see Lithuania through the ages.

Getting onboard with Ride Sharing

Since I got ‘Google Fi‘ for worldwide cell coverage and roaming, I’ve been installing apps all over the Baltic countries for scooter riding with which Ava has fallen in love. It started with ‘Uber’ to avoid price gouging by taxi drivers but our friends in Helsinki showed us that electric scooters can be an affordable, cheap thrill and fun way of seeing the sights. So far, in nearly every city we’ve been in, we’ve spent a morning or afternoon zipping around the park happy as clams, dodging tourists and runners while we take turns at playing ‘follow the leader’.

Our ride sharing wallet

The Narrative Writing Project Slows

Since Ava has learned about the Holocaust while we were in Riga, her narrative writing piece has been taking shape. She’s writing a story from the perspective of a 9 year old Jewish girl who is displaced from her family during the Nazi rule. The ‘conflict’ that she is having as a writer is that she knows the impending fate that awaits this little girl, whereas the little girl would not quite understand what was happening to her at the time and would most likely confide in, and follow the advice of the adults around her. The little girl in her story is dead set on ‘escaping‘ and our feedback in her drafting process was that the little girl wouldn’t know about the extermination camps yet, so she might not feel so determined to get away….yet.

Although we meant well, this micromanaging has created a ‘snag’ for Ava as she tries to formulate her experiences and infuse them with her conscience to save her character from the horrors around her. Although the topic of our first unit is ‘survival’, narrative writing needs to be realistic in its fiction- decisions, transitions and reactions from its characters believable and true. We’ve since left her alone to write, and I’m anxious to see how her first draft plays out. The reoccurring simple lesson of ‘adults can’t always be trusted‘ is a keystone lesson of adolescence she’ll revisit time and time again through books like ‘Holes‘, ‘The House of the Scorpion‘ and ‘Never Let Me Go‘.

I hope she learns that lesson in a positive way. I hope she grows to respect her elders while forgiving any fallibility on their part. I hope she doesn’t fall victim to teenage angst, brooding over the mistakes of generations that came before her, fueling defiant apathy. As a parent you always want what’s best for your kid and always know better and ultimately what’s best for them.

Until, one day, they do.

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Day 22: Teaching Tolerance in Riga, Latvia

The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a teacher in Riceville, Iowa planned a lesson that would change the world of education.

Knowing that her 28 third grade children could not understand discrimination without experiencing it for themselves, Jane Elliot devised an experiment wherein blue-eyed children would wear blue collars and the brown-eyed children would wear brown ones. The blue eyed students were treated better, told to ignore the brown eyed students, and over the course of the day found that brown eye students were even taunted on the playground by their blue eyed peers proving that discrimination was a learned behavior. Mrs. Elliot was thrust into the public spotlight and the reaction by some was swift:

How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children? Black children grow up accustomed to such behavior, but white children, there’s no way they could possibly understand it. It’s cruel to white children and will cause them great psychological damage.”

Nigger lover

Jane Elliot eventually went on the speaking circuit to teach similar lessons around the world, wrote books and established herself as a hero for teachers around the world with her lesson as a bastion of lore on the power of applied learning rather than just reading a passage from a book. Academic research in the 90’s showed that the exercise ’caused stress’ for participants and should be eliminated as an effective strategy to reduce racist attitudes, but her children (now adults) conveyed how powerful the activity was years later.

Teaching Discrimination in the Modern Era

Could Mrs. Elliot’s experiment be replicated in our current climate? In a time of xenophobia and entrenched nationalism, lines have been drawn with rival camps unwilling to listen to the other on issues such as immigration and politics with our news feed keeping us firmly seated in the belief that everything we’re doing is right and the other side is wrong. As a teacher, this makes teaching something controversial extremely difficult because of the ensuing backlash.

“Part of being a parent is also wanting to protect your child from the cruelty of human nature as long as you can.”

Teaching Tolerance

Being able to teach our daughter ‘how‘ we want for an entire year on the road with only ourselves to answer to is one of the perks of this trip. As we landed in Riga a few nights ago, tendrils of the nazi’s reach started showing themselves so Lisa and I debated on whether or not to teach our 4th grader the atrocities of the genocide here during world war 2. Would she be able to understand all the geopolitical forces at work? Probably not. The Holocaust is typically taught to students between grades 8 and 10 in traditional schools as they learn the history of western civilization, and have a stronger stomach for it. But as Jane Elliot proves, education is a powerful thing, capable of turning even young children into racists, and back into tolerant people with the right direction. After all, hate and empathy are learned behaviors.

We went to the Jewish Ghetto Museum of Riga, where thousands of Jews were deported to before being killed in the Rumbula forest in the swiftest large scale killing before the advent of extermination camps. The gruesomeness and cruelty of their deaths were left out of the exhibit and instead was a testament to the lives of the victims while they were alive. The questions poured out of Ava like a faucet:

What happened to all these people?

Where did they come from?

Why did this happen?

Is something wrong with Jewish people?”

Why did they die?

Building Comprehensible Input for Narrative Writing

The afternoon of teachable moments was a sign that Ava’s narrative writing piece could be to write from the perspective of a 9 year old Jewish girl living in the ghettos during world war 2. Her narrative writing piece is a larger, more process writing piece that she could share digitally than her daily journal entries, so we started building up her word bank of target vocabulary and content knowledge.

Assessment Blueprint for Un… by on Scribd

CK-12 CK-12 is a free learning management system that can deploy content to students via a classroom you set up, or to other platforms like ‘Google Classroom’. Below is a snapshot of a lesson that I found that was written for a 7th grade reading level and allowed Ava to highlight passages for discussion later.

Assigning content in CK-12

Youtube Playlists– One of the more useful tricks in youtube is to create playlists of videos. Simply log into the app and ‘save’ videos to a playlist which you can see on your left hand navigation bar.

Epic I’ve written about ‘Epic‘ before and found some great books for Ava’s lexile (reading level) about World War 2. We read a great book last night called “Rebekkah’s Journey” which tells the story through the eyes of a girl about the same age as Ava who emigrates to the United States with her mother to seek asylum, but the loss of her father during the war is a constant reminder of the past. Just this morning, we read about Anne Frank.

‘Rebekkah’s Journey’ Courtesy of Epic
10 Chapter Books

Graphic Organizers and Notability. CSI or ‘Color, Symbol, Image’ is a powerful visible thinking activity that can be used as either a formative or summative assessment. I downloaded the image as a picture into my photos on the iPad and then uploaded it to ‘Notability’ a note taking and drawing annotation app that is done more easily with the apple pencil than a mouse.

CSI template of ‘Genocide’.

We’re on our way to Lithuania and eventually, Krakow where just outside lurks the ‘Auschowitz-Birkenau‘ concentration camp. I think we’ll spare our daughter the horrors inside its walls, as that would be a lesson for another day.

In the meantime, Ava has started work on her narrative story and is about two pages in, filling her pages with details around us and echos of history as a testament for peace.

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Day 18: White Nights in Tallinn, Estonia

Day 18: White Nights in Tallinn, Estonia

By 11:00 pm, it’s still light outside here.

Nestled between the 59th and 60th latitude, this former province of the Soviet Union is a seldom visited country in Europe that is fast becoming one of the ‘must see’ destinations of the world. With its old town oozing charm, punctuated by fairy tale fortress spires, and sections of the old wall that snakes its way around the perimeter, it’s easy to be mesmerized by Tallinn. If you go in the summer, it never gets dark.

The old town is most people’s first orientation to the country if they fly into Lennart Meri International Airport and we were no different. A 5 euro Uber ride into town with our jovial driver ‘Vladim’ took the edge off that most people have when arriving in a new country and we felt instantly at ease.

10 Books for Early Readers

Reading Turns Self-Guided with ‘Epic’

Before day trips out in Tallinn, Ava has been reading short stories on ‘Epic‘ a reading platform with thousands of books that can be assigned to children in a class and have ‘read to me’ options, customizable reading levels with lexile ranges along with post reading questionaries. For a family on the go like us, it’s been great and has given our daughter access to many different books without having to lug them around. Since we finished her first of 3 chapter books last week, this has been a great platform to continue her love of reading.

The ‘Epic’ Dashboard. Ava has been reading up on Minecraft to finish a big project.

Things to do While in Tallinn

I’m going to go off script from what trip advisor and lonely planet might say about this destination, but below is what made our time in the capital here sublime.

  • Explore the Old Town Spend a day walking around the old town. With its cobblestone streets, it’s easy to get lost and find yourself all at once. Be sure to climb the steeple of St. Olaf’s church overlooking the city.
  • Escape from a Harry Potter Escape Room We’ve enjoyed a dinner and escape room in many places around the world, but the staff at ‘In-Game‘ have gone above and beyond escape rooms. They gave us a fun introduction to set the scene and their rooms were more than tastefully done with amazing props and puzzles to entertain our whole family.
  • Eat at Tbilisi This Georgian restaurant has not only great food, but has some of the best dumplings that our daughter has ever eaten in her life. The restaurant sits in a 300 year old building with antiques from the mother country to inspire you to add it to your bucket list.
  • Have a Nightcap at Koht One of the things that surprised us about Estonia is the great craft beer scene. I thought this accolade would automatically go to Germany, Czech Republic or Belgium, but every restaurant had local craft beer and ‘Koht’ serves them up in a hidden alley behind the tourist trappings. A fireplace and intimate seating gives it warm feel.
  • Take a Day trip to Helsinki We took the Megastar ferry 2 hours to Helsinki and met our friends Anita and Karen who showed us around the Finnish capital in style. For only 60 euros for our family round trip, the boat was clean and comfortable with the downtown a cab ride away.

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