Day 263: The Road to Rio De Janeiro

Rio might just be the most beautiful city in the world.

Like many beachside cities, it sports its crown jewel beaches with namesakes like Copacabana and Ipanema but the allure is the geology which makes it special. Looking similar to the karst limestone formations of northern Vietnam or southern Thailand, Rio sits in a cradle of black augen gneiss estimated to be half a billion years old. As the rock cycle goes, these metamorphic rocks are some of the oldest and hardest in the world and still are prone to weathering and erosion but still, they’ve endured.

Brazilians have adapted to life here by not going over, but under the rock. For the last century, the citizens of Rio have tunneled through and under the monoliths with hybrid EPB boring machines that are sensitive to the softer rock deposits but tough enough to drill through the incredibly hard gneiss. Living amongst and around the mountains gives the city an aesthetic feel of respect for the landscape much like in Hong Kong, but the reality is that land and rock is extremely unmalleable and humans bend to its will, not vice versa. “We were here before you.” the mountains around Rio seem to say to its citizens. “And we’ll be here long after you’re gone.

Old Friends Curitiba

We met up and stayed with our friends Ryan and Sarah who are the new rockstars at the local international school in Curitiba along with their two daughters whom Ava got to rekindle an old friendship with that has spanned 6 years and 2 continents. Every night was a sleepover for the girls and they even managed to do some horseback riding at their local stable. During the day, we took trips to the weekend market and the city parks to muck around the rainforest. Seeing friends in faraway places has been one of the highlights of our trip.

As the girls played and texted to each other into the night (despite sleeping right next to one another) I couldn’t help but notice the subtleties of our daughter growing up. For the last few months, Ava has been spending more time combing her hair, taking a sincere interest in pimples and face wash, and we have been having to remind her to apply deodorant on a daily basis. Puberty is around the corner, as announced by eye rolls, ‘duh’s’, and all the joys of becoming a teenager are around the corner. Pretty soon, she’ll be asking for designer clothes and her own iPhone and will want to walk ahead of us in public places.

The kid’s utter disbelief at their parents lack of cultural references. (Printed with permission)

Brewing Cachaça in Paraty

Because the letter ‘t’ has a ‘ch’ sound in Portuguese, ‘Para-tee’ actually sounds like ‘Para-chee‘. This little Portuguese outpost has been known for 150 years and is the premier city for cachaça distillation. Made from sugarcane juice, it’s the main alcoholic ingredient for caipirinhas, the local drink which is made of the sugar cane alcohol, limes and tastes a bit like a mojito. While in Paraty, we took a jeep tour to one of the local distilleries, swam in waterfalls and got rained on every day.

The Road to Rio

Rio De Janeiro was our last stop in Brazil, and we’ve been looking forward to it for months. Back in December, we booked a free, four night stay completely on points at the Hilton Copacabana and Lisa’s diamond status got us an upgrade to an executive suite on the top floor overlooking the beach and sugarloaf mountain along with free breakfast. Ordinarily, a standard room goes for $250 a night and a suite two times that price, so if even for a few nights, we felt like royalty. In the evenings, we got access to the executive lounge with snacks, drinks and dinner so we ate 2 of our 3 meals each day for free and our weekly spending was next to nothing. There was a big tour group staying at the hotel and I managed to talk with some of the guests in the lobby and elevators:

So where are you guys off to next?” I asked.

Buenos Aires tomorrow.” A kindly man with ‘John’ on his name tag replied. “We’ve had something like 8 flights in the last 3 weeks and we’re so exhausted. Still, there is so many great things to see.” with a smile on his face looking like a cat who ate the canary. “Travel is a great teacher.”

I couldn’t agree more.” I said.

On our first sunny afternoon, we sprawled out on beach chairs and within 5 minutes, I bargained a vendor from $25 down to $5 for a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I’d lost a week ago and 5 minutes later, we had 2 caipirinhas in our hands that I bargained down to $6 for the pair. During the day, we took day trips up to Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the redeemer and got to see magnificent views from one of the ‘7 Wonders of the World’. Our time in Rio was beautiful.

Black History Month Comes to a Close

While in Brazil, we finished reading ‘Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry‘ and our expose on racism in the United States in early 20th century America by Mildred Taylor. Hard to believe after so long, racism still runs deep for many people in the south. Back in the 90’s, schools in Louisiana banned the book because they deemed it inappropriate and school districts in Florida banned it because it contained the word ‘nigger’. The good thing about teaching your child on a sabbatical year is that you are not beholden to any bureaucratic oversight; especially in the age of Betsy DeVos. If anyone was going to screw up our child, it was going to be us.

Gamified math in ‘Prodigy’

Ava has also taken a renewed interest in ‘Prodigy’ a game based math program to keep her skills sharp which we support with multiplication and division times tables when we can.

With our flight to Peru tomorrow, we’ll start Ava’s 7th and last book of her 4th grade reading curriculum and her last process writing piece on informational writing. With 7 weeks left of our trip, the end is near, but like John said, ‘There are so many great things to see.

For me personally, I’m holding out hope for a biscuit cat.

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Day 223: Argentina- Tigre River Delta

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Day 223: Argentina- Tigre River Delta

Daddy, I love it here. I wish we could stay here forever.” Ava told us after having arrived in Tigre.

After stepping off the Azamara Pursuit at 9:15 in the morning a few days ago, it was only a 20 minute walk to the train station for our next hop. We found a coffee shop in the station that had good wifi and we caught up on emails, news and finalized our Antarctica video. Already, I was planning to go back there but this time hoped to scuba dive and started looking into how we could get ice diving experience.

Tigre is considered a northern suburb of sprawling Buenos Aires but has the last vestiges of what one might call a town before jumping off into the frontier. We were set to stay at a small cabin on the banks of the river but were told that supermarkets were long walks and we were better off taking our food with us. We had bought 6 steaks, 2 loaves of bread, butter, chorizo, potato chips, milk, coffee, wine, potatoes, spices, 3 mangos, 3 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, cereal and strong armed 5 shopping bags full of food along with our luggage to the pier. Communicating solely in Spanish with our host and boatman, through ‘What’s app‘, we met our boatman “Beto” who took us by boat taxi up a series of canals to our little casa called ‘Sol De Medianoche’ which translates to ‘midnight sun.’ “We wouldn’t have been able to come here without speaking Spanish” Lisa glowed triumphantly.

Our stay was magical. Our cabin was poised upon stilts to save it from perennial flooding and we were befriended by local dogs that came to hangout with us on our balcony demanding ear and tummy rubs. There was a dinner ‘surge’ of canines especially when we discarded fatty scraps from our steak dinners which bought their affection instantly. The whole stay felt like going to the cabin in Minnesota or Wisconsin with locals zipping by in small boats and kids swimming the murky water and making mud pies on shore. The days were long and at night we’d sit on the balcony watching whatever the river brought by, listening to music, dodging mosquitos and counting our blessings.

The Almacen Boat

We went through food fast. By the second day, we had burned through our steaks and most of our eggs and were at risk of running out of sustenance. Luckily, there is a river boat called the ‘Almacen’ which translates to ‘mercantile’ which makes its rounds between 12:00 and 1:00 and docks wherever locals come down to the water’s edge and wave it over. Its arrival was the most exciting part of our day and much like when the ice cream truck rang its bell to announce its arrival in our neighborhood on a sweltery July summer day back when we were kids.

The ‘Almacen’ Boat

Shiny luck. With our new found fortune, we were able to stock up on fruit, eggs, coffee, salt, pepper and chorizo sausages for evening barbecue. For locals, this IS the grocery store and we welcomed it every day. Pura vida.

Science and Reading Lessons

Ava’s educational time was structured around the science of river deltas. The Tigre delta felt similar to that of communities of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam with its houses and dirt walking paths mirroring the larger river channels but she didn’t know the science of how they formed. Coincidentally, we were reading “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” as our guided reading book which is about an African American girl named Cassie whose family grows up in the Mississippi river delta although the book is less about the science of river deltas and more about the harsh prejudice of racism. As the first day of our stay was during Martin Luther King Jr. day, there were some nice lessons on the importance of standing up for others.

Modeling river deltas with a goofy face.

Tomorrow, we’ll have 7 forms of transportation back down to Buenos Aires and across the border to Monteverde, Uruguay where we’ll be for the next 2 weeks.

Wish us luck.

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Day 203: Beautiful Buenos Aires

A two hour hop to Heathrow from Berlin and another fourteen hour flight heralded that a new leg of world travel was about to begin.

South America has always proved elusive. Visiting the americas during summers and Christmas meant catching up with family and friends and not leaving much time to explore our sister continent south of the equator. Boarding a plane in Germany in the middle of winter and stepping off in Buenos Aires in the middle of summer was a bit confusing for Ava as we usually hugged lines of latitude with trips across the big pond of the pacific ocean.

“How can it be a summer here?” She asked.

It has to do with the tilt of the earth.” I told her. “The northern hemisphere is farther away from the sun in its winter, but the southern half is closer.

I don’t get it.

The former science teacher leaped into action as I then proceeded to model the earth as an apple with a nearby lamp as the sun and she understood completely. Take that flat earthers.

San Telmo Market

Buenos Aires is the land of Malbec, tangos and steak and we sought to try every one. Whereas in Berlin my blond beard and blue eyed appearance made me look like a German (Guten tag herr…?), Ava and Lisa looked the part with their olive skin and dark hair so locals would start up with them in Spanish at every turn. Being in a region where we could speak the local language was immensely insightful and I regretted not learning more Arabic while in the middle east.

Our Airbnb was a 10 minute walk to the historic San Telmo Market and we were lucky enough to arrive on market day when the streets were aligned with artisans, antique sellers, and clothing shops. The indoor market has a number of shops selling produce, flowers, but the food kiosks are the real pull. Empanadas with cheese and chorizo. Grilled rib eyes with potatoes. We even found a Vietnamese restaurant that served up a pretty good ‘Buon Tit Nuoung‘. We were home.

Casa Rosada

The presidential palace is one of the most iconic buildings in Buenos Aires and gets its name from the rose colored bricks. Sitting at the east end of Plaza de Mayo which hosts demonstrations and political rallies, this might be one of the more intricately carved facades in the world and evolved from first a fort to customs house, post office and eventually the building which it is now. The old colonial architecture of Buenos Aires was completely different than anything we’d ever seen thus far on our trip.

Khan Academy Comes to a Close

We’ve been using ‘Khan Academy’ to support Ava’s math curriculum and since she finished the last of her 14 units of study it was time to take the ‘end of course challenge‘ after reviewing over the last few weeks. With so many units of study, some topics only gave 1 or 2 problems to show ‘mastery’ so a simple error could incorrectly gauge that a student didn’t learn a topic at all.

Khan Academy

As a teacher, I’ve always believed that students should be given multiple opportunities to show their learning and teachers should assess learning when the student is ready, not vice versa. Ava’s early attempts at passing the course challenge were met with failure but retakes allowed her to learn from her mistakes, improved her self confidence and raised her course understanding with every attempt.

The mission of education should not be to separate students that learn quickly from the ones that don’t; after all, all students are different and learning is anything but static. Don’t you think?

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Day 170: Thanksgiving in Cyprus

Cyprus is the forlorn lovechild between Greece and Turkey.

In 1974, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus as a deterrent to a coup supported by the Greeks and the island has since been effectively partitioned off into two separate territories with each country having a claim to the land either north or south of the jagged ‘Green Line’ running horizontally across its length from shore to shore. It’s attracted a fair share of Russian weekenders and British retirees so you’ll see plenty of ‘русский язык‘, mixed in with the local ‘Ελληνικά‘ at the local pub. Coming to Cyprus in November was like visiting a ski resort in the summer, it was a ghost town with many businesses closed until spring.

In addition to making sense of the signage, driving was a big challenge. The last time I drove a car legally on the left side of the road was as a foreign exchange student in Australia which was over 20 years and 100,000 hair follicles ago. Furthermore, since the driver’s seat was on the right side of the car, I had a manual transmission which I had to shift with my left hand which was awkward beyond belief.

Autumn caught up to us as well. As our friends back in Korea have been posting scarlet hued pictures of leaves as far back as October, we’ve managed to escape the chill by traveling through north Africa and the Middle east which have kept us in shorts, t-shirts and sweat every step of the way. After leaving Egypt to fly 400 miles north, we had officially left the desert for lowland scrub and found that mornings were actually chilly and we had to dig into the farthest reaches of our bags for jackets and scarfs before stepping out the door every morning. As winter was around the corner, we have been looking for thrift stores in Jordan and Israel to buy used winter clothes to keep us warm in the Christmas markets of Germany and cruising through icebergs in Antarctica which we’d see in late December and early January.

Paphos to Limmasol

Paphos was a 90 minute drive from Larnaca airport and a nice place to chill out for a few days. After so much traveling and staying with friends for the last month, it was so nice to just ‘sit’ and do very little other than binge watch our favorite movies, read books, cook and plan. The first day in Paphos we stocked up on supplies and spent most of our time hobnobbing around the neighborhood exploring and enjoying the fact that we were back in Europe which meant well stocked supermarkets and good local food. I befriended an old Greek woman who ran a local supermarket who gave me daily oranges and pecans from her village to take back to Lisa and Ava as snacks. A nearby, competing shop owner bewailed me every time I did this and wondered why I didn’t come into his shop more often. In Greece, rivalries between families and business can transcend generations like the ‘Hatfields and the McCoys‘.

Sobering reminders of violence and local division.

Having an Airbnb with a good wifi connection was immensely productive. Since we now had the start date of our next school where we’d be starting in June, we could start to work on logistics of the spring. Up till last week, we had our trip planned up till mid January, with only some rough ideas for what to do afterwards. In Paphos, Lisa spent 2 full days booking open-jaw airline tickets through Argentina and Brazil, and reserving accommodation from Argentina through Uruguay to Brazil through which gave us an itinerary through early March. Those purchases along with visas for Jordan and a trip to the local dentist for our 6 month cleaning, broke our budget of $1,000 per week, so we spent most of our time in Cyprus not going to restaurants and cooking in our apartments (with the exception of Thanksgiving) to make up for the additional costs and get our budget back on track.

A Real Thanksgiving for Travelers

For American Thanksgiving, we found a nearby shop that had beautiful roasted chickens and we made stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and baked two pies the day before to round out our meal of giving thanks for the things in our lives. We spent the afternoon going around the table and giving thanks for the people, family and little things in our lives that had made our little trip so wonderful:

  • A good clothes washer and effective spin cycle.
  • Comfortable couches.
  • A large drying rack on which to hang your clothes.
  • Smart TVs that are Chromecast compatible.
  • Supermarkets within walking distance.
  • A coffee machine and fresh Lavazza every morning.

Contrary to what most children learn in school, the origins of American thanksgiving are quite distorted from its portrayal in picture books. It was first a commemoration of massacre of the Pequot people in 1637, and then a reminder not of religious expression, but entrepreneurial pursuits of the Pilgrims and finally a celebration of civil war victories under Lincoln. Over the years, it has been whitewashed into a ‘feast to bring locals and visitors together’ despite Wampanoag natives may not even having been invited to the original table. In short, it’s a holiday that celebrates a history that people ‘wished’ to have happened much like the reasons that Columbus day is so unabashedly celebrated in classrooms around the country while turning a blind eye to his barbarism. Proof that history is written by those in charge.

Limmasol to Ayia Napa

Our apartment in Ayia Napa overlooked the ocean and had one of the best kitchens we’ve had on our trip. I cooked french toast for breakfast most mornings and in the evening we had ravioli with white wine garlic sauce, mexican style burritos, pizzas, and fish tacos for dinner. While at the local ‘Metro’ supermarket, I spied English sausages and made biscuits and gravy the last morning which is one of my weekend specialties back when we had our own apartment in South Korea. Between meals, Lisa tentatively reserved a 20 day itinerary for Peru and Machu Pichu and I found a good price for one way tickets from Cuzco Peru, to Cartagena, Colombia for $630 for all three of us with an overnight layover in Lima. I booked our final flights from Bogota to the Aruba and a series of puddle jumper flights that would take us from there to the islands of Bonaire and Curacao for scuba diving before flying back to Los Angeles in early May. With the rest of our flights booked the end of our trip had taken shape and, we realized that we were over the halfway point of our trip. Where does the time go?

A Persuasive Essay Turns Infographic

As Ava worked on her second writing piece of the year: ‘Why we need to save the Rhinos’, inspired by our time in Kenya, we thought that it would best be supported by images and statistics not ideally displayed by traditional word documents. For this, we settled on an infographic which we used ‘piktochart’ to make which has more allure as a poster or printable flyer.

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Day 148: From the Nothing Springs Dubai

20 years ago, there was nothing here.” Saaid, our Uber driver told me.

Like, which buildings, do you mean?” I asked looking out over the vast expanse of development and construction projects.

All of them.

The rampant rise of turning a desert into a booming world economy that is hosting the World Expo next year is no small feat. Emiratis are some of the wealthiest citizens in the world and their rich oil reserves have created infrastructure that would make your head spin. The population of Dubai is made up largely of immigrants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan all working across service and labor industries. Local Emiratis makeup only 10-15% of the actual population so it’s evident that everyone is coming here for their own slice of the pie. A non-existent crime rate, excellent health care and luxury villas give Dubai an appeal to the ultra wealthy and its location as a business hub means Europe, Asia and Africa are all within an arms reach.

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Standing tall in Dubai.

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I’ve heard that living in Dubai is like living in a mall. Everything is new, constantly being manicured and well put together. It turns out that a trip to Dubai means visiting the mall, and with dozens to choose from, it’s actually a nice way to spend a day. The air conditioning and almost theme park like attractions (The Emirates Mall had a downhill skiing hill!) make it a nice respite from the sun. Another thing that was nice about visiting the mall are the international restaurant franchises that offer us the comfort food that we longed for after having been in Africa for two months. TGI Fridays, Cheesecake factory, PF Changs, Din Tai Fung, Chili’s, and Cinnabon were just handful of the shops that promised massive portions, loosening of belt buckles and good old fashioned gluttony. Sights like ‘The Frame’, Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa are quintessential world landmarks.

Ava Takes a Field Trip

While we were at the GRC job fair, Ava joined our friends (the Greenes) to ‘Bounce’ and to the Mall of the Emirates for a spin in their bouncy room and lessons on Chemistry and Space. Ava had the opportunity to program a rover to retrieve a satellite from space and for physical science, used chemical reactions to fill balloons. Fun stuff.

The Job Search Comes to a Close

The week before the GRC fair in Dubai was crazy busy. Schools in attendance were updating their vacancies frequently and we had skype interviews with schools nearly every day the entire week before the fair even started. My first interview was back in August, so I had months of interviewing practice which made me a well oiled machine complete with a succinct elevator pitch, and how to make the right impression. Despite the hectic pace, it was nice to reconnect with friends from Korea and administrator friends all over the world when we had a moment between interviews.

At the GRC Fair in Dubai with Ava’s French Teacher in Korea: Mademoiselle Luu

We are happy to report that we signed with a fantastic school Saturday night, so our our job search is officially over and a huge weight has been lifted. Sometimes, international school teachers will have to take positions for which they are not ideally suited or in locations that are not pleasant but in our case, we’ll be moving to a new continent to work in a school that has a great reputation with administrators with whom we had instant rapport. With that, we can breath a sigh of relief and focus on more homeschooling and enjoying the sights around us.

Where are we going? You may ask, would be a story for another time.

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Day 115: Sandboarding the Sahara

Day 115: Sand boarding the Sahara

There’s just something about the desert.

Deserts are one of the most unforgiving and inhospitable landscapes on our mother earth. Not only can the heat peak over the 50 degree mark, erosion and weathering gives them an ephemerality that few environs have. Yet, walking around the sand, you start to notice things. Little scratches from beetles and asymmetrical footprints from desert mice line the ripples. Leaving these shifting sand dunes and coming back a few weeks later, you’d see a completely different place, as if it were a lifeless blob enveloping any and all things where only the strongest survive. There’s just something about the desert.

It was for that reason that we left Fez and drove to the town of Merzouga near the Algerian border to come face to face with the monstrosity known as the Sahara. The Sahara desert is the world’s largest and occupies nearly 10 million square kilometers and stretches from Mauritania to Eritrea with an area that rivals continental Europe. On our way there, this blob made its presence known as the sand drifted over roads and swallowed small buildings as if to tell us who was really in charge here.

Just don’t get caught.”

We met our guide ‘Yousef‘ who arranged for herders to take us to to the Sirocco camp about 3 miles through the dunes on one-humped, dromedaries. The last time we rode camels was in Mongolia a year ago and the larger, Bactrian camels with their two humps made for a natural ergonomic saddle and thus, a slightly more comfortable ride.

We stopped amidst the dunes to watch the sun go down and I was able to get some drone footage for the first time in Morocco without fear of confiscation or imprisonment. Recently in the news, two Australian travel bloggers were arrested and imprisoned in Iran after having flown their drone without a permit, so I haven’t been exactly eager to tempt fate. “Just don’t get caught.” Yousef told me.

Arriving at our camp in the dark, we were greeted by ‘Mohammed‘ who is a tribal Touareg of Berber culture who had been living in the desert his whole life. We had some time before dinner to spy constellations and the lack of light pollution made for the Jackson Pollock-like milky way which was as clear as ever. I downloaded a few star gazing apps on my phone and we pointed out Sagittarius, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor, Cygnus, and why way finders use the north star for navigation. It brought Lisa and I back to our CELP days of teaching astronomy in California and sharing the myths behind the legends that dot the night canopy.

Viewing constellations with ‘Starwalk’

The next morning, we caught the sunrise over Algeria and went sand boarding after breakfast. I could sense Mohammed was sizing my skills up as I picked out a Libtech 164.

Are you sure you want to try sand boarding? Don’t hurt yourself old man!” He said to me.

Don’t worry punk, I got this.” I said back.

What was hardest about sand boarding is not the ride down, but the walk up the dunes. For every step up, you foot sinks down to practically the same level it was before, like running in your nightmares and not getting anywhere. It took Ava and I about a minute to walk up a meager 30 feet of dunes and we were exhausted by the time we got up. “You go.” I said panting. “I’ll just watch“.

‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Courtesy of Bill Watterson

And watch I did, over and over and over. Funny how kids can tire so easily and get a second wind when they see a playground or park. “My legs are tired!” was one of Ava’s go-to mantras as we walked miles around Europe last summer. “It builds character” we always said back, realizing that we had turned into our parents and yes, our parents were right all along. It did.

An hour later, we loaded up our corn-dog like, sand covered child into the car and drove west to Ouarzazate. Four hours into our drive I got my second speeding ticket in Morocco for driving (yet again) 69 in a 60. Standing there as the cops fumbled and filled out their triplicate forms, I took in a most beautiful ruined Kasbah in front of us next to a palm-tree smattered oasis that looked like it was part of a movie set. I didn’t mind the ticket much, I needed to stretch my legs anyways.

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Day 50: Sampling Intercourse in Vienna

Are you ready for intercourse?” The waitress asked me.

Beg your pardon?” I kindly asked back.

Intercourse. Is your family ready for intercourse?

I’m sorry, we didn’t think this restaurant was that kind of place.” I said while protectively eyeing my wife and daughter and shooting glimpses towards the bushes to see if I was on candid camera.

Intercourse.” She said. “The space between dishes so you can sit, talk, drink and digest.”

Oh yes! Intercourse. Of course.” I replied. “Yes, our family will have intercourse now.” That’s Vienna for you.

That’s the fun thing about traveling, you never know which funny custom or lost in translation moment you’ll find yourself in. Many brazen thrill seekers actually search out these perilous moments and some are psychotic enough to voluntarily be chased by bulls in Pamplona, swim naked in the freezing waters of northern Russia, or fight with live fireworks in Chios, Greece. Some of these traditions are engrained in religious or holiday events; such as whipping women with willow branches on eastern Sunday in the Czech Republic, or the fact that Santa comes to visit families on Christmas not with reindeers, but 6-8 black men in the Netherlands. No shit.

Some seem like they were born out of a bet instigated by heavy drinking. How else can you explain that men in Gloucester, England race down the hill to catch rolling cheeses before their peers or that Finland has an annual ‘wife carrying championship’. “Well Sven.” I imagined one Finn saying to another years ago, “You carried you wife faster than me THIS time, but I will train and beat you next year. Now let’s go soak in the sauna, my back is killing me.” Just like that- a cultural tradition is born. All because Sven’s competitor needed a rematch.

Landing in Vienna

We arrived in Vienna early in the afternoon. We checked into the Hilton Danube which was a real treat as we’ve been staying in a string of Airbnbs which, over time, can be a little lonely. At the Hilton Danube, we mixed and mingled with other guests which we haven’t done in a while. Our first afternoon, Lisa chatted up a couple of women who were taking a 10 day trip across eastern Europe. The next morning by the pool I met a woman whose family was following F1 (formula one) races across Europe. The concept of ‘time‘ came up a lot as we shared our stories with one another. “How do you have the time to do such a trip?” we’re commonly asked.

“In your final moments, you realize that ‘time’ is more valuable than money”

In the end, it’s time that kills us. On our deathbeds, we realize, ‘Our time has come‘ or ‘We’re out of time‘ or ‘My time is up.” I wish, I wish, I wish. I wish I had more time to do this, or that, and now, that time is no more and it has simply run out. I think most people, when looking back on their lives, in those final moments realize that ‘time’ is more valuable than money. You can’t take money with you, and it’s impossible to enjoy without time. More time. I wish. If only. For some, ‘If only‘ becomes a state of mind that keeps them from transforming and moving forward and firmly rooted in who they were, and never who they could be. Poor bastards.

There’s a certain air about rich people at a high class resort. A sort of pomp around which their lives revolve around, and it becomes clear which way the wind blows for them even after a short conversation. However, after I let the cat out of the bag on our world tour, I’m often awed at how lecherously the richest of people can cotton to the dreams of a middle class family of teachers to whom time is no subject. “I wish I had time to do that.” They often say ruefully, realizing the true currency of the world.

Highlights of Vienna

  • Cafe Central: This institution has been serving the likes of Leon Trotsky and Sigmund Freud and sponsoring their conversations since 1876. Looking up at the intricately painted vaulted ceilings one can’t help but wonder what conversations shook out of this place and onto paper as text and arguments in politics which have influenced millions. The apple strudel is to die for.
Deserts at ‘Cafe Central’
  • Belvedere Museum: The gardens alone make it worth the trip alone, but works by Rodin, Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt make it special. See Klimt’s ‘The Kiss‘ but don’t neglect the ‘Self Portrait‘ by Maria Lassnig, and ‘Ball Head‘ by Mara Mattischka in the lower Belvedere for some serious existential introspection.
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica: If you’ve been through eastern Europe, it’s easy to get a little ‘churched out’. Of course every city has an old town, central square and a church spire towering over the surrounding buildings to signify who runs the show. Still, St. Stephen’s Basilica interior and facade is magnificent and only rivaled by ‘La Sagrada Familia‘ in Barcelona, and ‘Westminster Abbey‘ in London. Although you’re more assured to find more tourists here than genuflected devotees, make sure to leave a monetary donation to help your chances of getting into heaven.
  • Walking Streets: Add ‘Graben’ and ‘Karntner‘ streets to your walking path you’ll have no shortage of eye candy for your city stroll. Pop into bars to witness the two national pastimes, (drinking and smoking) and watch the world go by.
Hilton Hotels

Ava’s Narrative Fiction Story Finishes with ‘Pro Writing Aid’

After weeks of tinkering and feedback, Ava finally finished her narrative essay which she started in Riga which seems like years ago. She’ll turn the final draft into a digital story with visual and sound effects while we’re in Budapest but I was happy she finished it so we could move on to other things.

Editing a document with ‘Pro Writing Aid’

We used ‘Pro writing aid‘ to smooth out grammar and spelling issues and ‘pro writing aid’ does this well. After uploading your document the program looks for grammar, style and spelling issues with suggestions. It made revising a snap. “It’s a lot like grammarly” Ava said.

Over dinner one evening, after enjoying burrata cheese and an artichoke salad I told the waiter:

We’ll have intercourse now.”

Excuse me?” the waiter said.

Intercourse. Uh, you know, the space between meals.

Oh yes. Not many tourists are familiar with that term. It’s an old time expression.

Those are our favorite kind. Do you have any more you can teach us?

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Designing Curriculum for a Global Education

Working on curriculum can feel like a slog for many teachers. Teaching is a hard profession.

With only so many hours in the school year (and even day) to create and mark assessments, meet with colleagues and prepare for lessons, (let alone teach them) it’s easy to neglect updating curriculum maps to ensure the viability of a curriculum. After a few years of teaching, most teachers invariably figure out ‘what’ must be taught and do so with the best intentions in the only way they know how. Still, teaching is a hard profession.

Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young’.

Education reformists in the US like Michelle Rhee who rose to notoriety after a pledge to clean up public education and remove ‘lazy’ teachers who didn’t teach a viable curriculum by teaching to the standards were first embraced by the public, eager for any change to our lagging scores on worldwide PISA tests. Eventually, the sole measure for success became standardized test scores and the countless (and pointless) number of tests that students took over the school year which highjacked lesson time in favor of test prep. Teachers that didn’t deliver were culled out of this rigged game resulting in high teacher turnover, attrition and overseas postings. Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young‘. Teaching is definitely a hard profession.

One of the more thoughtful changes I’ve seen lately in education is Finland’s move to integrated, thematic units of study rather than subject specific disciplines. Finland and the Scandinavian countries have led the world in education for years but they have had a lot going for them that has made it easier, such as high literacy rates, robust funding and exemplary teacher training along with amazing internal professional development opportunities. This change from subject specific to concepts or ‘themes’ has rightfully had its share of critics- the first person through the wall always gets bloodied. “How are teachers supposed to be experts on every subject?” is the common complaint from cynics. Good question, but don’t elementary teachers teach every subject with the exception of PE and the arts?

“A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness.”

Singapore American School’s superintendent Chip Kimball recently shared a fascinating presentation that I caught at 21st Century Learning Hong Kong to support this pedagogy. They are reorganizing their traditional classrooms into pods called ‘Flexible Learning Environments’ where teachers are on a team (Team 6a, 6b, 6c for instance) and students move to and from each teacher in the pod based on the needs of the project, not necessarily when the bell rings. This style of redesigning spaces supports grade level teams collaborating and sharing ideas in a constructive, empowering way that values teacher’s individual strengths, but in a fluid learning environment that resembles real life. By the way, Mr. Kimball, if you’re reading this, I’d work for you in a heartbeat.

Flexible Learning Spaces: Image Courtesy of Singapore American School

When the World is your Teacher

This is the curriculum I wanted to design. Having a year of travel to teach my daughter a curriculum that focused on high cognitive abilities but also educating the ‘whole child’ might be the most liberating, autonomous year of teaching that I’ve ever had, and possibly ever will. A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness. The challenge however, has been how to distill separate subjects into a handful of thematic units that are transparent, accountable and viable. Here have been the stages that I’ve used to formulate them:

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

Step 1: Identifying Themes from Literature Studies: Our school’s grade 4 teaching team recently shared the half dozen books that are essential reading in their core curriculum. I’ve ordered the ones we haven’t read and chose ‘literacy’ as the backbone around which to name a theme and also integrate the three major writing pieces (narrative realistic fiction, persuasive essays, and informational writing). From this, I’ve settled on the following unit themes based on concepts in the literature:

  • Unit 1: Survival
  • Unit 2: The History Around Us
  • Unit 3: Standing up for Others
  • Unit 4: Explorers
  • Unit 5: Protecting Our World
Thousands of high quality titles.

Step 2: Organizing Power Standards into a Curriculum Guide: Power standards are the most important standards in a curriculum and we wanted to teach them well and deliberately. We created a curriculum guide with these alongside summaries, skills and essential questions (we’ll use a lot more when we cognitive coach) for reference. We have some project ideas in stage 3, but will also let Ava chose the best product to demonstrate her learning. I’ll probably add to this over the months.

Unit 1 Curriculum Map: Sur… by on Scribd

Step 3: Breaking Down Standards into Assessment Blueprints: There is a saying in Spanish: “entre dicho y hecho hay gran trecho” meaning between what is said and done, often exists a big gap. In regards to education, it’s easy for educators to pay lip service to standards and not assess them or when they do, realize they didn’t give ample opportunities and chances for students to show their learning.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

To prevent this oversight, I organized standards into assessment blueprints that allow me to track where and how standards have been assessed using ‘Depth of Knowledge’ indicators in verbiage with ‘Formative’ and ‘Summative’ assessments.

Step 4: Combining Standards into Transdisciplinary Projects: After I identified the standards, I was able to find overlaps in Math, Science and Social Studies to see where different subjects might support one another. For this last step we will have to be responsive to learning opportunities that we find while traveling and bundle them together when possible.

The Bottom Line

The word ‘homeschooling’ is a loaded term. When most people think of families that homeschool their children, they either dismiss them as casually negligent, political wingdings, or religious nut jobs who think that public education is a covert, Obama-era conspiracy designed to indoctrinate their children with a socialist, homosexual agenda. There are a glut of sites and blogs espousing the homeschooling pathway as ‘the only way‘, but parents risk under preparing their children for college and beyond who carry this practice into a child’s high school years when the parents themselves don’t have the content knowledge and expertise on more advanced subjects.

My ultimate goal with this post is to provide a sensible roadmap for any others that may like to do the same. In the meantime, we’ll be adding to these Google docs and the ‘Curriculum‘ page as our trip marches forward so feel free to download, copy and steal any and everything. We’ll be out exploring!

In Bend Oregon (July 2018)

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Connecting Your Classroom to the World

One of the things I’m looking forward to the most next year is the ability to collaborate globally. As a classroom teacher, I’ve been able to foster connections using tools like skype and hangouts with professionals such as authors and scientists in fields that my students are learning about and are innately curious. Tools like ‘periscope‘ will make it easy to live stream field trips to classes around the world and share them with twitter hashtags and ‘Google Fi‘ will give us worldwide coverage.

Platforms for Connected Classrooms

Traveling Teddy: This is a fun site to dip your feet in connectivist culture wherein your class signs up to take a teddy bear around the world and document it as if it were a member of the community. Rockstar teacher Pana Asavavatana is the brainchild behind this fun program. Signups for next school year start in August.

Flat Connections: This is Julie Lindsay’s site that she uses to connect classrooms around the world to each other through events and projects. She’s a global legend and I just read her book ‘The Global Educator’ for the second time and pleased that many teachers featured I now call my friends!

Empatico: Craig Kemp turned me on to this one and my after school ES ‘Techsperts’ club has been using this for the last few weeks to connect with a classroom in India. We started as a mystery hangout and then moved into empathy building sessions (hence the name) built around prompts such as how you help in your community, to local landmarks, and how students use energy in their homes.

Google’s Applied Digital Skills: This has caught on like wildfire. Google compartmentalized tools of their app suite into tutorials and projects with a specific topic focus (coding, online safety, project management) and targets these projects for a specific audience within schools. As Google in Education has a focus on collaboration, it’s a great way to go beyond basic tool use and highlight the possibilities.

Education to Save the World: This site is also a great blog and Julie Stern breaks down approaches to global learning through inflection points called ‘Concept Based’ approaches to teaching and learning. She does a beautiful job of grounding current problems to historical ones.

Write About: This is a fun blogging platform that I’ve used with students that teaching not only writing, but the art of reading and responding to others as a commenter. The site has really fun writing prompts and as a teacher you can moderate the posts and comments from other students. A great way to start publishing student work to a larger global audience.

STEM colelection

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Kids and Screen Time: How Much is ‘Too Much?’

One of the more paradoxical conundrums I read about on a daily basis is kids and screen time. Since the digital learning revolution has been fully embraced by schools that can afford it and skills weave themselves into lesson from teachers that can teach it, we have to ask ourselves “How much is too much?”

I recently shared a story from CNN that pointed an alarming trend in the digital divide between rich and poor countries that has the potential to leave hundreds of millions of children behind in the foreseeable future with inadequate technical skills that are becoming prerequisites for the future job market. On the other side, we are also learning that more parents are opting for ‘screen less‘ experiences for their children, even sending them to device less summer camps to help ‘kick‘ their internet addiction. That is balanced with studies that show that internet socializing isn’t a bad thing as it allows children to continue strengthening their relationships through peer bonding. Research shows that some social media use is better than none at all, but overuse can lead to higher rates of depression as children see how amazing their friends lives are online and unfruitful their own must be. I’ve read countless articles from parents who have ‘stepped in’ to combat this in their own way by confiscating cell phones of their children (even in some cases of their children’s friends when they come to visit) which has been met with shock and awe from local communities, but sometimes even disastrous consequences as teenagers take their parents to court, commit murder, or take their own lives by suicide.

“Technology by itself does not equal innovation, but thoughtful, deliberate use can redefine new learning experiences.”  

Screen Time for Learning and Socializing: ‘The Grey Area’

As much as you might dismiss the dystopian case studies above as something out of ‘black mirror’, it’s unavoidable that our devices have become an extension of us. The first time someone suggested implantable devices into the human body, I scoffed, thinking it was ridiculous. Now, students walk around with phone in hand, ready to look at the latest tweet, snapchat or text sending them endorphins reminding them that they are loved by someone, anyone, and that they’re not alone. The ubiquitous ‘grey area’ of children and online learning is how quickly students multitask and pivot from teacher curated content where the experience is centered on the learner to social media content where the experience is centered on the creator. Not being able to distinguish the agenda and target of these two very different delivery systems is reshaping our political ideology and even our basic belief systems of what we thought was ‘true’ about vaccinations, our spherical earth and the historical record. Experts like Jaron Lanier, Cal Newport, Sherry Turkle, Simon Sinek and Nicholas Carr are advocating for limiting internet and social media use and helping you kick your own addiction. The choice to do so is of course our own.

Resources for the Classroom

One of the most common things I hear from administrators and other teachers observing me teach is not how much I use technology, but actually how little I seem to use it despite my reputation as a digital learning coach. The best lessons are ones with a great ‘hook’, engaging questions and ample opportunity for everyone to speak, listen, read and write. Technology by itself does not equal innovation, but thoughtful, deliberate use can redefine new learning experiences. Here are some of my favorite resources that have helped me and my learners over the years:

  • Chrome Extensions: For the chrome browser, you can install tools that will give you a snapshot of how much time you waste on distracting sites. Some extensions like ‘stay focused’ you can configure a time limit that will shut you off from time-sucking sites.
  • Common Sense Media: This great site has all sorts of lessons for understanding different forms of media but also great articles. I’ve been using CSM’s lessons for cyberbullying push-in lessons lately.
  • Applied Digital Skills: Google’s portal for applied learning takes projects and breaks them down by grade level. Students can join classes set up by their teacher (similar to Google Classroom) and work through tutorials that are student based with metrics that give teachers a view of class progress.
  • The Kids Should See This: This site has amazing videos for lessons or discussion starters during check ins.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Educating Parents

One member of my PLN, Keri-Lee Beasley developed a brilliant ‘March Madness’ style graphic to help parents thoughtfully and playfully use the internet in new ways with one new task per day in the month of March. Some of the parents at the school where she works were dismissive of the benefits of using digital tools in the classroom and her intervention reduced the stigma that many parents brought to the table by instead of her preaching on how to best model this herself, the onus was on the children to do these challenges with their parents ‘together’ highlighting that this is a relationship first and foremost best done together with generations of digital natives and immigrants alike. It reminded me of as session that I’m delivering to grade 5 parents next month on how to bridge the digital divide (see below) as students transition into middle school. Other considerations are whether to put parental controls on browsing, blacklist certain words or IP addresses, and the conversations to have as a family that support classroom instruction.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model to solving this problem- each school, country, and population of students and parents are different. As learning coaches, we can model thoughtful use, and highlight how when well leveraged, digital tools can enhance learning outcomes in amazing ways.

For Small Hands

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