The adventure begins!

I am checked in and waiting to board the plane for my first flight and I am SO excited the adventure has officially begun! I will stop briefly in Dallas and then hop the LONG flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Several students asked how long it takes to get to Antarctica from Austin, and according to my itinerary it will take about three days: the Explorer is expected to reach Antarctica on Saturday, December 31 – what an awesome New Year’s treat! There are probably faster ways to reach the legendary White Continent, but we are going to take a little time to explore Buenos Aires tomorrow and then will fly over Patagonia to Ushuaia, Argentina (capital of Tierra del Fuego) where we will meet the Explorer on Thursday.

As you all know, I am lost without a good book in my hands, so I am well prepared for the 10 hour and 24 minute flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires.


In addition to books to prepare me for my Antarctic adventure, my Kindle is loaded with a stack of new titles that may just be the next big thing in the Library. I am also finishing Lars-Eric Lindblad’s biography (1983), Passport to Anywhere: The Story of Lars-Eric Lindblad, who is considered the pioneer of adventure travel. The story begins with the exciting account of an Antarctic journey gone a bit awry, and then chronicles Lindblad’s life, both his successes and failures, as he paved the way for adventure minded tourists to visit some of the most remote and exquisite corners of the world. His enthusiasm for learning about the world by experiencing the world is contagious, and thanks to his book I now have a rather long “bucket list” of places to see and things to learn. If you are even remotely interested in travel, I highly recommend this title – you can even get an electronic copy for free on the Lindblad Expeditions website.


Lars-Eric Lindblad’s son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, is the reason I have the opportunity to have this tremendous experience (and am able to share it with all of you). He created the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship to honor his friend and colleague Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Chairman Emeritus National Geographic Society and Education Foundation Board.

Happy reading!

Teachers and Librarians: There is still time to apply for a 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. Applications close at 11:59 p.m. December 31, 2016.

Packed and Ready!

Today it feels real.

Tomorrow I am embarking on my adventure to Antarctica as a 2016 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic aboard the National Geographic Explorer.  My bag is packed and I am ready for this amazing experience of a lifetime.

The journey actually began about three years ago when I first learned about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. It is the pinnacle of self-directed teacher professional development, combining a love of learning with some of the world’s most exquisite destinations.  Of course, I immediately made it my goal to earn a place on the prestigious fellowship roster.

In December of 2014, I was facilitating an International Baccalaureate workshop in Washington, D.C. and planned a few extra days to explore the city since I had never been to our nation’s capital. In the mad dash from the Washington Mall through the Smithsonian Museums, and stopping for a quick picture at the White House we took a moment to visit the National Geographic Museum. I have long been a fan of National Geographic Magazine, and have fond memories of the excitement of their monthly arrival and the hours I spent in awe of the pictures (I am fairly certain I have several boxes of old volumes from the 80s hiding out in my attic). While standing at the museum entrance, shortly after paying for our admission, I noticed a fountain attached to the wall. There were several coins in the fountain, creating a sort of wishing-well effect, so I promptly took out my quarter, wished for my application to be successful and threw it in the marble trough…

I wasn’t selected for the 2015 class of fellows, but in February of 2016, I received one of those phone calls that change your life: I was selected as a 2016 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and would be traveling to Antarctica in December. Wow. I was really a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, but it didn’t feel real just yet.

In April, all of the fellows meet in Washington D.C. at National Geographic Headquarters to learn about our responsibilities before, during and after the expedition. It is also an opportunity to meet our shipmates, collaborate about bringing the experience back to our schools and communities, and meet with the experienced team of naturalists who will be joining us on our journey. We were welcomed in the historic Hubbard Hall, first headquarters of the National Geographic Society.


I met Jeanna (from Houston) and Sara (from California) who would be joining me in Antarctica and we became fast friends, ready to share the adventure.


My two days in D.C. (which also included a quick jaunt to the National Mall and a quick wave at the White House) went by in a blur. I learned so much, and returned to my campus armed with information about creating virtual field trips, using my camera more effectively, and a wealth of engaging lesson plan ideas. Still, it didn’t feel real – Antarctica? Really?

Since April, I have been reading and researching and planning. I scoured the stores for base layers and wool socks, and now have a healthy collection nestled comfortably in my travel bag. I have visited with teachers about ways to integrate my experience into their curriculum, and I have a stack of questions my students would like answered.

My bags are packed. My grizzly bear mascot will be my travel buddy. I am even bringing along a book of poetry written by the 5th grade students who will be attending my school next year; an example of the amazing collaborative opportunities this experience provides.



Tomorrow the adventure begins, and today, it finally feels real.

I will be posting about my adventure as I am able. Follow the Daily Expedition Reports from the National Geographic Explorer here.

Reflections on Myanmar – Summer 2016


Sometimes the most powerful lessons are learned in rather unexpected ways. As I prepared for my journey to Myanmar (Burma) in the summer of 2016, I did not know what to expect, but caught myself focusing on things like what I would eat and packing enough Deet laden insect repellent to arm myself against the tiny biting mosquito demons. I received a scholarship from the University of Texas South Asia Institute to travel with GEEO Tours on a two week tour of Myanmar. Having never traveled beyond the Western world, I was eager to learn about Buddhist custom and the art and architecture associated with religion and ritual in Myanmar. Of course, I experienced all of these things (and so much more), but the one I will never forget relates to the generosity and unbreakable spirit of the Burmese people.


We were just returning to the city of Mandalay after an evening boat excursion on the Ayeyarwady River (Irrawaddy River). It was early evening and most of us were hot and hungry. We spent the day touring the regional pagodas, exploring Burmese food and culture, and learning about how the rainy season particularly affects the lifestyle of the region, particularly those who farm rice or live along the river bank. Many of these people were living in somewhat temporary housing along the new river’s edge since their regular homes and businesses were underwater. During the outing, our boat skipped past thatched rooftops peeking out of the muddy brown water. Some families used boats to access their flooded homes, though most were submerged beyond the point of reasonable entry.


One of the things that struck me early on the trip was the amount of trash lining the streets, particularly in and along the banks of waterways.  What seemed to me like an ocean of food debris, plastic water bottles, soda cans and more covered many roadsides, empty lots and rivers. Football fields of trash floated along the top of the water near the shore while the locals simply ignored this and carried on with their daily lives.


As our boat pulled into the makeshift dock at the end of our tour, piles of litter and debris scattered to make way. While staring at the mess I noticed, just to the left of our landing area, a family leaving their hut for a bath in the river. When bathing in the river, men and women wear a longyi (traditional Burmese clothing that is basically a large piece of fabric turned into a wrap skirt). They are a very modest culture, so while bathing, nothing is visible, other than that not typically covered by clothing. I don’t have a picture because it is considered inappropriate to photograph a person who is bathing (obviously), but on occasion this can be harder than you may expect, which is perhaps why the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism included a reminder in this guide for tourists.

One of the women in the bathing group waded into the muddy water rather enthusiastically, smiling and waving vigorously to our boat, welcoming us back to shore.  She splashed and waved and waved and splashed with one of the broadest, most genuine smiles I have ever seen, showing no concern for the dark brown of the water or the layers of trash surrounding her bathing area. Many of us did a double take as she brushed her teeth, using the river as a water source.


It was at this moment that her smiling face cemented into my memory. Our group must have seemed rather entitled sitting on our boat beneath our sun hats and twelve layers of SPF 70, sipping bottled water and Coca Cola. And yet this woman did not look at us with scorn, jealousy or contempt. She smiled and welcomed us.  Perhaps she welcomed our American dollars, which may have fed her family that month (due to the hut’s proximity to the dock we suspect it may be her family’s business). Perhaps. Regardless, she welcomed us. She did not see any flaw in her lifestyle or the water in which she bathed, and I was forced to ask myself: “Why did I?”

I will always remember her kind eyes, her genuine smile and her contentment. We often forget just how much we have to be thankful for – this woman reminded me that joy doesn’t come from things. Even though she and I never spoke, we built a thousand bridges between a simple smile and a wave.

Monuments of Rome in English Culture

It is so rewarding when hard work pays off. I am excited to announce that the lesson plans from the 2015 Monuments of Rome in English Culture NEH Summer Teacher Institute have been posted to the institute website. If you are looking for ways to connect Rome to pretty much any part of your curriculum (at any age level) you will find it here.

As we conclude the Labor Day holiday, and now that the 2016-2017 school year is in full swing, I find myself longing for Rome… the daily gelato, the amazing architecture, and the slower paced way of life.  I am looking forward to taking a “walk” through the forum with my students as we complete the Monumental Literacy lesson I designed during the institute.  Check out the introductory video – I am SO impressed by the collective work of the team to produce such a high quality classroom tool for the lesson.

I am looking forward to remembering Rome as my students complete the lesson this November. It is also an excellent motivation as I plan my 2017 Summer professional development.

Where will the 2016-2017 school year take you?

Virtual Adventures with Google Expeditions


UPDATE (9/20/2016): I just learned that not only is Google Expeditions available to everyone, it is also available on iOS! I will be VERY busy this weekend planning ways to use this with my students. HOORAY!

Thanks to some financial assistance from my Instructional Technology Specialist’s budget, I was able to attend the Texas Computer Education Association annual conference in Austin for the first time this year. While it definitely isn’t worth replacing my annual attendance at the Texas Library Association annual conference, I found it a worthwhile event for exploring how to use technology with students in ways that are meaningful, easy to implement and productive. I recommend it for any librarian and educator, not only those teaching classes directly relating to the use of computers and technology.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was the opportunity to experience the new Google Expeditions Program using the Google Cardboard devices. WOW. For someone who loves to travel as much as I do, this is an AMAZING resource and is going to make my Library THE place to be. It’s still in Beta right now, but I am very much looking forward to using it regularly with my students. We are already researching ways for students to construct their own Google Cardboard devices using our campus makerspace, and I absolutely intend to purchase additional devices for the Library. We currently have two, but they are getting little use right now. Trust me, as soon as I have full access to the Google Expeditions Program that is all going to change.

Our “guide” took us on a trip to Mt. Everest. Of course the virtual experience will never match a physical adventure, but this was AWESOME and will engage students completely. The 360 degree 3-D images are superb and the teacher scripts will make classroom “journeys” easy to lead – though it might be difficult to keep participants on track. All of us were looking everywhere but where our “guide” was telling us to look because we were in awe of the “view,” but it was nice to know that as teachers, we will have the ability to see where our students are focusing their attention and adjust our lesson accordingly. The level of detail is so precise that the viewer is truly immersed in the experience. I was a little nervous looking down from my perch on a rickety swinging bridge across an icy gorge, and could easily imagine the frosty wind tearing across the base camp.

There are still a few things on my list before fully executing the Google Expeditions Program on my campus (such as, you know, actually having access to Google Expeditions…) but once it is out of Beta I intend to take my students on virtual field trips regularly. I would like have a monthly featured destination where I lead “trips” and provide an array of resources about or related to that place. Here are some of the titles I would display (or add to an interactive ThingLink) for our “trip” to Mt. Everest:

Top of the World top of the world 2 peak No Summit out of Sight conquering everest climbing everest adventure gap Between Heaven and Earth

I encourage you to apply to the Expeditions Pioneer Program. I wasn’t selected, but you may have better luck (no hard feelings – I know the developers want the program to be top notch before the official public release).

Happy Adventuring!