Sunday, February 27, 2011

How To Teach Geography to Teenagers

So I had a glimpse recently into a concrete benefit of this trip that we've yet to depart on.  During the past year each of my two kids took a semester class in geography.  They approached the course with varying degrees of effort and success, but what they had in common was a general lack of interest in the subject.  Each of them slogged through the content, and both were surprised and dismayed to find the final exam included actual maps full of countries and capitols they were supposed to be able to complete. Honestly I didn't pay a lot of attention.  I was busy with my own classes and I'm sad to report that, while they do work very hard at their schoolwork, I am pretty used to their frequently uninspired approach to learning.

Then, last week, something happened that made me pay attention. Wilder, during a casual discussion about possible RTW routes, left the room that houses the television to consult a decorator map that hangs in our living room with the purpose of locating, then comparing and contrasting, the locations of Easter Island and the Galapagos.  There ensued a discussion of the relative merits of each during which Peyton referenced a report she had written during a previous year and we googled the two destinations to add to our knowledge.  They were interested, and they were engaging in the learning!

Since then we've spent a lot of time together comparing and contrasting potential routes and destinations.  I don't believe it's exaggerating to say the kids have learned more about geography through the process of planning this trip than they did in a semester of classroom work.  It appears the concept of road schooling is already bearing fruit!

Many of you have been asking how we plan to handle the formal portion of the kids' schooling.  The answer is we don't have a complete plan yet but we have lots of ideas.  We are very lucky in that our kids attend a wonderful Catholic private school with very high standards but also with visionary leaders.  They clearly believe in creativity as a vital element of learning and in technology as a powerful tool to aid in the process.  We are looking forward to working with those leaders to forge a creative plan that will ensure our kids get the formal education they need while still allowing us to provide them with this life changing adventure.

What Else Will we Learn?

Geography is perhaps the most obvious of subjects to benefit from this trip, but I know there will be many others.  Opportunities to practice and work on our Spanish language skills will certainly be frequent.  Also in 10th grade the curriculum includes World History.  What better way could there possibly be to learn the history of the world than to visit the sites of the events you are learning about?  Literature has lots of possibilities as we plan to select reading materials that are relevant to the regions we are visiting.  Our physical education program is guaranteed to be fabulous as our main mode of transportation will be by foot and highlights will include bungee jumping and the like.  Finally our kids study religion and this subject too lends itself beautifully to world travel.  I can't imagine a better spiritual education than low cost travel through the developing world.

Why Motivation Matters

While the degree I'm working on focuses on leadership, it is technically a doctorate of education and therefore I have some coursework in that area.  The professors at Pepperdine are great, and were really key to the genesis of the big idea and my decision to pitch it to my family.  On the topic of education one of my professors recently paraphrased a quote by Barbara Lamping in order to draw us a mental picture depicting the problem with unmotivated students,

"Standing and lecturing at students who aren't interested in learning, and calling it teaching, is like throwing marshmallows at their heads and calling it feeding."

Another of my professors, Dr. Mark Allen, during a discussion about our recent reading of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed exhorted us with,

"Students are not vessels to be filled, but fires to be lit."

I believe this trip is going to help light the fire in my kids, to excite them about learning, and to bring them back with a new and better appreciation for their teachers, the subject matter, and the vital role they themselves play in their own education.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Little More about "WHY?"

Since we have begun to think about the possibility of this trip and started to broach the subject with family and friends (as I am not at all good with holding things close to my chest), many have been enthusiastic and assumed it was a spectacular idea while others have wanted to know why.
In attempting to answer the why, another family said it better than I could.  The following is quoted from the James family on their their RTW travel blog  at

The three things they've found that families who decide to take such a journey have in common:
First, each family has expressed the feeling that time with your children is fleeting. They made a choice to share an extraordinary family experience, one that will never be forgotten.
Second, each of these families seems to embrace the idea that there is much more to life than school and a career; that other, less traditional paths can have their own rewards.
And third, each family seems to recognize that seeing the world from the perspective of other people and other cultures makes for a more enlightened world view, and perhaps makes us more understanding citizens of the world.

My family had a good laugh when I read this to them the other night and began to tear up. After all nothing is funnier than watching mom get all sappy reading travel blogs.  It was just that I got emotional seeing my own feelings articulated. I felt a real connection with all of those other families who've felt this way and then made it happen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"It's Time to Start Our Blog"

This comment was from Wilder in the car coming home from school. "You know, so we can start posting about our planning".  Start our blog? But we don't have an actual 'Round the World trip planned - we just have a sort of idea, a "wild hair idea" as I describe it to my friends, an idea I got in the shower and then couldn't believe I'd never thought of before.  Come to find out however I'm not the first to have the crazy idea - families are actually doing it!  All of my free time is currently consumed with reading their amazing blogs that detail the thrills and chills of their international journeys, and reading them to my family of course - thereby inspiring Wilder's conviction that it's time to start our own blog.  But a blog is such a BIG step! It feels like a commitment actually.  The more we talk about it, however, the more real it is starting to feel, despite a complete lack of planning or actual concrete actions taken.  OK, so here goes, perhaps this is the first concrete step now taken.

The idea is to take the next school year, 9-10 months beginning in August 2011, and travel the world together as a family, backpacking and traveling on the cheap and stopping to volunteer some too.  Other than endless blog reading thus far our planning has consisted of a loose calculation of whether we can afford it ( a tentative maybe with lots of ifs) and a lot of thought about how to deal with school as both kids are in high school and they don't want to come home a year behind. Curiously, once I had the idea and shared it with the family, we've spent very little time considering whether it is actually a good idea.  We are pretty much focused on whether or not we can make it happen.  We all seem to take for granted that it would be an amazing blessing, an opportunity not to be missed.  "Even the teenagers?" you say. Yes,  especially the teenagers!  Really, they are the most gung-ho, seeing only the upside.  Mark and I are the only ones who get distracted with the downside, the difficulties.  "But won't they miss their friends?"  Well yes, we all will.  I in particular have an amazing group of girlfriends that I am very attached to.  But the kids know, as I do, that we will keep in touch with our friends via this blog and also skype and that our friends will still be here when we get back.  We also hope some of our friends might manage to meet us in some far away place during the year.  Still I am proud of the kids.  I know not all teens would think a year traveling with their parents is a thrilling idea.  We'll see what they think when we get back!

So there it is.  Our first Blog post.  Our commitment.  August is 6 months away.  More to follow.