Monday, September 29, 2014

Experiential Academics

Hello all~

Napping Monkey in South Luangwa

As TTS24 travels through Zambia, they continue to take in their surroundings and jump into new adventures. Parents received some personal updates from students last week during phone calls and we look forward to another round of communication soon. In the meantime, it sounds like teachers and students are living out their academics. Malaria Day culminated with a four part TV show featuring malaria players, including a mosquito, a ghost and the Gates Foundation. Stay tuned for more details on how it all played out.

Girls Leadership Club 2012
Students met with a Girls Leadership Club while in South Luangwa to share stories of being teenagers and learn through different perspectives. During the afternoon our students were shocked to learn about a few poignant cultural differences, including how a woman's menstrual cycle affects her life in a community often keeping her out of school for days at a time. Differences such as this led to introspective TTS debriefs post exchange and help our students understand global issues on a more personal level.

The group spent the weekend on Bovu Island on the Zambezi River. Hannah L spent time in the same community about two years ago and was so greatly impacted by her service project, she returned home a raised money. This trip was a fantastic opportunity for Hannah to rekindle past friendships and for TTS to use your connections to bolster cultural exchanges around southern Africa.

Big Blue
As you know, these ladies are busy! Below are updates from the teachers working to share classes with you so you can catch a glimpse of the academics.  


Precalculus students are wrapping up the chapter on simplifying expressions and solving algebraic equations. We have multiplied many polynomials and explored the reciprocal relationship between dividing out the greatest common factor and factoring. This has set the stage for graphing equations and exploring functions in the near future. Students recently teamed up to teach each other different factoring methods, and they regularly collaborate on problem solving during class, homework time, and while revising their quizzes. They are gearing up for their first test this week.


Algebra 2 students recently conquered their first chapter test on properties and operations. After uncovering the differences between rational and irrational numbers, we moved on to simplify algebraic expressions. Students have encouraged each other to understand the properties of exponents and square roots, working together to divide and multiple expressions including positive and negative exponents and radicals.We have applied our learning to solve word problems about our own trip, for example, determining an equation to describe how much 16 girls spend when buying different types of soft drinks! We are now moving onto solving linear equations and proportions.

History & Government

After a huge unit on colonialism, exploring the question, 'What is the legacy of colonialism in Africa?', history students are moving on to a new question, 'Why is it that resource-rich nations remain so poor?' Zambia is filled with copper, and students are beginning to explore the social, political, economic, and environmental effects of mining. Just today we visited the University of Zambia, and met students who had grown up in the Copperbelt. TTS students are knee-deep in articles debating whether natural resources are a blessing or a curse. How, you may ask, does this relate to history or government? It is the student's task to find the connections! They are reading about the formation of trade unions for miners, and how the unions were connected to independence movements from Britain. Coming up next is a case study on the Mopane copper mine.


Sitting in a circle on the floor of our cabin in the woods of Mount Mulanje, we addressed the flow of group dynamics. Teachers introduced a model of how groups form and grow over time, and we reconsidered our hopes for each other as an assemblage of human beings. Even though the idea of “storming,” or working through difficulties, with each other created discomfort, we also thought about its long-term value.

To introduce goal-setting, the teachers took on the personas of overly enthusiastic life coaches at a fictional seminar. After introducing the rationale behind creating intentions in our lives, we were able to be a bit more serious. We considered the academic, personal, emotional, social, and physical realms, and discussed the importance of goal-setting. Students worked in mentor groups to create both short term and semester-long goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

As our semester progresses and students' possessions find themselves out of their bags more often, we turned to the subject of organization. After a workshop on calendars and assignment notebook use to track academics, students reconsidered how they organize themselves in their duffles and tents. This reorientation of personal objects is a crucial step in the maintenance of personal space and sanity as the semester continues!

In the next few weeks, we are looking forward to digging into methods of conflict resolution, revisiting our original goals, and the process of gracefully giving and receiving effective feedback.

Elephants headed to TTS24 South Luangwa Camp

Since our adventurous and wet hike to Mount Mulanje, students continued their outdoor and physical education at Lake Malawi. We had the most fortunate opportunity to kayak four kilometers to Domwe Island. We paddled in double kayaks with two professional local guides who described the natural history of the lake and the surrounding area. The following morning we continued to develop our kayaking skills as we paddled back to Cape MaClear in the brilliant sunshine. 

We have also enjoyed early morning jogs and circuit workouts. After Domwe Island, TTS students participated in a morning run along the beach while fisherman prepared their nets. Furthermore, TTS teachers Mary Reid, Beth and Quinn have introduced yoga in to our routine by incorporating sun salutations, breathing exercises, and post workout stretches. Since arriving at South Luangwa National Park, PE class has been limited to our campsite because of the extraordinary number of surrounding animals (hippos, elephants, monitor lizards and more). For example, Katie, held a stretching warm-up under a straw pavilion overlooking a watering hole that elephants frequently visit. To stay true to our TTS philosophy, we make the most out of our unique locations and resources. Hence, PE has primarily focused on individualized circuits that consist of lunges, push-ups, ab exercises, burpees, squats, balancing poses, and a variety of other strengthening exercises.


Science, as much as any course, consistently reminds me of how fortunate as we are to be immersed in our classroom! On the shores of Lake Malawi, students engaged in text-based discussions about the challenges unique to the area. Issues include the rapid drop in the water levels, diminishing fish stocks, over fishing, and the search for oil under the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. Why are water levels dropping? What problems does a governmental program to restock the lake create? How can education efforts be extended to a population that is minimally connected to mass media? What is a “resource curse,” and how can this thought be amplified and applied in other contexts? Our scientific search for meaningful questions continues!

In preparation for our first big animal experiences, we moved on to population ecology and the value of resources in determining population size and distribution. Upon our arrival at South Luangwa National Park, elephants and hippos greeted us. Families of monkeys and baboons provided ample opportunities for tent-side wildlife observations. At last, we jumped into the Land Rovers for our first game drives! In two four-hour drives (one early morning and one evening-night), we caught sightings of elephants, squirrels, mongoose, zebras, giraffes, hippos, hyenas, porcupines, various types of antelopes, civet cats, warthogs, leopards and LIONS! We were lucky to encounter four out of Africa's Big Five! Now, we're only missing the rhino...

In homage to the missing member of our Big Five sighting, we turned our focus to the poaching of rhinos. After a park guide explained the local context of poaching, we researched the issues and held a debate about the effective management of this keystone species. Who wants to buy rhino horn and why? In what ways is sustainable horn harvesting a realistic option? What consequences should fall upon poachers when caught? Who poaches and for what reasons? How does the black market for horn work? How do we feel about trophy hunting permits sold for conservation purposes? 

Literature & Composition

We recently finished the novel, 'Zenzele', by Zimbabwean author and neurosurgeon J. Nozipo Maraire. Everyone loved it. They completed an essay exam and every teacher is excited to read through the exams because students poured their hearts into their work. Lit students also are finishing their first major writing assignment, the epistolary narrative, a series of letters inspired by the style of Maraire. Yesterday was a fabulous coalescing of all of the classes in our famous cross-curricular days. The first in our series was 'Malaria Day', where all of TTS24 worked together to study multiple angles and perspectives surrounding the issue of malaria. Lit students contributed to the day by creating a community found poem, a collaborative piece of work. Each student mined 50 words from a key article on malaria. Then they wrote an 8 line poem using only their mined words. Next they chose their strongest line. Finally, they collectively arranged their lines into one large class poem, which they spontaneously performed during dinner later in the evening. It was a cool moment, sitting in the dark as students turned on their headlamps one by one, and powerfully spoke their lines, voices in the circle from all directions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Travel Journalism and Global Studies updates

Over the past few weeks of Travel Journalism, students have  worked hard on their writing, interviewing and photography skills. They recently handed in articles showcasing some familiar faces of TTS, as well as some of the people we met along the way on our travels. Students are beginning to improve their interviewing skills and have started to learn what hard hitting questions they should ask during their interviews to help shape their articles.

In photography workshops, we have focused on scene composition, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Students have added these 'how to' set of skills to their camera manuals and have been visiting some spectacular places to practices these new tools. They learned how to set a high shutter speed to freeze the fast action of the speedy impala running through the grass, and practiced changing the aperture to limit the depth of field in portraits of our fellow classmates. However, the class favorite has been a photo shoot with classmates jumping in the air with the African sun setting over the river...just an average day in the life of a TTS student!

Enjoy Claudia's article on Chifundo and stay tuned for an upcoming special interest post on Mt. Mulanje's Cedar Trees coming from two of our TJ students. Additionally we're currently writing a series of 'Who Am I?' articles and we'd love you to guess who our writers are personifying in their writing!


By Claudia, Panama, Sophomore

It's amazing how someone can inspire you so much to follow your dreams with just one conversation. This happened to me at Fishermen's Rest one night when I decided to talk to the shy face hidden in the kitchen. Chifundo was her name.

Growing up in Malawi, one of the poorest countries of the world, Chifundo rarely had enough to eat and school was always a challenge. Her mother, just like the majority of women in Chifundo's village, had no job apart from taking care of the house and the kids, and since Chifundo was the oldest, she always had to help clean or take care of her little brothers. However, she always had bigger plans in mind. She always dreamed if going to college to become a doctor. "I noticed that out of the twenty children in my village, twelve had Malaria, and all I wanted was to cure them". Chifundo dreamed big, but college was too expensive, and therefore, at age sixteen she was already working at a school. Here she met the love of her life and became pregnant. Although her heart was filled with joy an happiness, college seemed ever farther away now.

When she was seventeen, while she was teaching him French, her love got on his knees to propose. She said yes with a smile and moved to his village to raise their daughter together. Her daughter was the joy of her life, but little did she know the hardest was yet to come.

At age two, her daughter got diagnosed with Malaria. Chifundo et as if everything was crashing, she felt extremely guilty. "If only I had bought her mosquito nets...". Years went on and her daughter still has to get injections twice a week to keep her healthy. She is happy that her daughter can get treatment although this means having to pay extra money each week.

This awful event however made her more dedicated to pursuing her passion for medicine. She decided to let go of her ideas about staying home, asked her mother-in-law to take care of the house and found  job at Fishermen's Rest. There, she created a budget to save money every week. This is how little by little, her dream of becoming the doctor who will heal her daughter is coming true. Just as Chifundo follows her dream no matter the barriers, I hope to be able to follow mine.

Varied in nature as it is, Global Studies class has cast a wide focus on our experiences in Lake Malawi and South Luangwa. In preparation for completing writing assignments in this course throughout the rest of the semester, the students participated in writing workshops. Topics included formal language and strategies for “exploding a moment” (detailed writing).

We also learned the format of the famous TTS RRQ (we're FFA: famous for acronyms). A bit of background: through the assignment of weekly reflections, students are given the opportunity to process their experiences; the homework rotates between RRQs and creative global reflections. In the biweekly RRQ, students write paragraphs that consider a specific moment during the week: their immediate reaction, and a thoughtful reflection. Peers trade papers and respond to each other's thoughts by writing probing questions, and each author answers the questions. Complicated as it may sound, this format gives the students a forum in which they can exchange ideas and opinions, and express emotions and perspectives. This is a crucial piece of experiential learning! In the most recent round, we read papers that addressed observations from truck rides, conversations with Ngwena, and realizations originating from TTS conversations and classes.

Designed to accomodate multiple forms of expression and thought, the biweekly creative global reflections are more artistic in nature and ask for a more creative response from the students' understanding of their travels. This week, we asked students to write a postcard (addressee and sender to be determined), and explain something they learned on a game drive or at Project Luangwa. We're looking forward to seeing what they come up with!

Speaking of Project Luangwa, part of our Global Class took place in conjunction with this education-based non-profit. A local elementary school allowed us to observe and participate in classes; TTS students interacted with children and taught classes ranging from fractions to world religions. We were very fortunate to receive an invitation from the student-run all-girls Leadership Club. Our students were pleased to interact with girls their own age: chatting about similarities and differences in their lives while they braided friendship bracelets for each other.

In addition to these experiences, we have attacked some complicated subject material: an introduction to the idea of privilege, the terminology of “tribes,” and defining globalization. Last but not least, Ngwena and Samukange are vigilant in continuing to reinforce our studies of the Shona language!

Monday, September 22, 2014

old and new news

Hello all~

Here is a blog post that was temporarily lost in cyber communication paths. By now you all heard about the hiking trip and the introduction to big blue, but never the less...

From Fisherman's Rest, we were looking forward to venturing south to Mount Mulanje, a green massif rising from the relatively dry plains. We arrived at the hostel the afternoon before starting the hike, taking time to arrange details with our guides, pack our bags, and organize food. And of course we made time for a few classes, delving into Galtung's iceberg theory of violence and reviewing and correcting the first round of Algebra 2 and Precalculus quizzes. We started out early on Monday morning, and we spent almost eight hours on the trail! Traveling around five miles and nearly 4000 feet in elevation, the girls pushed hard and stayed positive despite the tough climb. We were rewarded with some incredible views of the massif and the surrounding flatlands. We passed through bare fields, rocky outcroppings, bushes of purple and yellow flowers, and even several sections of rainforest. Arriving to a warm fire and a cozy cabin, the girls drank hot chocolate, cooked dinner, and bravely shared some of the poetry they had written for Literature class.
Despite the chilly and overcast weather on Tuesday, everyone donned their backpacks for a day hike. The weather never let up, and at one point the group split into two groups - one group who needed to go warm up by the fire, and another of who would go see the waterfall. Unfortunately, when we got to the cliff, we were enveloped in a mist and couldn't see much of the waterfall or the view! Nevertheless the girls marveled at being in the middle of a cloud and cheerily tucked themselves out of the wind to enjoy a morning snack before heading back to rejoin the others. We spent the rest of the day in the hut having a Q&A session with our Malawian guides, Peter and Vincent, listening to more of our own poetry, discussing the stages of group dynamics, and digging into some literature - both our current novel, Zenzele, and the poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver. Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon in the mountains.

We headed down the mountain on Wednesday, facing an arduous downhill. We took plenty of breaks to rest our knees, eat, and drink water, and the students in Science class took time to complete a couple of entries in their observation journals. (Our guides' knowledge of the mountain's flora and fauna was definitely useful.) We sang pop songs - this group has some strong vocal chords! - and talked about everything from the social responsibility of pop stardom to the ethics of cutting down timber in the protected forest we were hiking through. I think the girls enjoyed having time to get to know each other in a new way, and they all took pride in their ability to push themselves physically.

When we reached the end of the hike, everyone plopped down on the grass and enjoyed some chill time before meeting Ngwena (our driver), Simukange (our cook), and Big Blue (our truck.) We all cherished our rest that evening before heading north the next day.

And a more recent update over the weekend...

South Luangwa has been a dream. Students wake up with the sun to sit silently on a grassy patch overlooking the riverbanks, listening to Zambia wake up. Herons and kingfishers stand elegantly by the water, as each of us play our new favorite guessing game: rock or hippo? Today ten giraffe walked by. Thirty-five elephant walked single file across the river. Last night students unzipped their tents to peek out with their headlamps, watching two elephant eat the leaves on the trees ten feet away! We are in awe that this is our school. Sunsets are peach sherbet to molten lava orbs descending on the horizon. Meals are lovingly prepared by Samukange, who, along with Papa, has taught us greetings in Shona. Students are slowly overcoming their hesitance to make tea and coffee for their elders, the way it's done in Shona culture. They are vibrant, digging into tough issues, initiating conversations in and outside of classes. Us teachers smile as we walk by, loving their engagement, their respect towards each other, their quest for meaning.

TTS24 is going strong. From our start at Fisherman's Rest, where we dug into issues of service and the idea of 'helping', to climbing Mt. Mulanje, accomplishing it together, and fireside poetry, to encountering Big Blue, and easing into 'truck life', to kayaking to Domwe Island into tranquil solitude among boulders, civet cats, and monitor lizards, to game drives in Luangwe and women's issues in the region, intense discussions, and connections during school visits, to girl's leadership clubs that show that on one level teen girls no matter where are teen girls, the students are thriving. We can't wait for them to share with you their experiences.

Check back later this week for academic updates!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A quick group update - onto country #2

Update from Sarah moments ago: "South Luangwa is beautiful, and the wildlife camp is great. Elephants everywhere, fighting hippos, naughty monkeys. A baby monitor lizard is living above papa's room.
From Beth: 
The maiden voyage of our new chariot brought us to Cape Maclear: a beach town nestled in a beautiful bay of Lake Malawi. Our group enjoyed our first truck-camping experience: chopping vegetables from Samukange (our cook), learning Shona phrases with Ngwena (our driver), and basking in golden orange sunsets on the beach. The lake provided an impressive backdrop for classes, and the students finally found time to take care of the important things in life – laundry! Yet right as our clothes dried, it was time to immerse ourselves in a new experience. In double kayaks, the students and teachers of TTS24 paddled out to Domwe Island, and had the opportunity to experience a private island experience. With our tents set up on the beach, we found time to journal independently, make science field observations, and enjoy each others company. We learned the value of a dedicated hour of conversation in an activity called “dyads,” in which a pair are assigned to speak to each other and no one else. Tiny blue geckos darted around the paths, and we encouraged the students to move beyond superficial topics and gain deeper knowledge about their peers. The setting of reflection, relaxation, and rejuvenation led into our first Circle – a TTS tradition in which an intentional space is created to safely share feelings and address concerns. We dedicated this Circle to what we want to let go from our lives during this semester, and were joined in our ceremony by a civet cat slyly spying on our group from the forest.
We crossed into a new country today! As I write this now, I am eavesdropping on the students as they pour over the guide books from our library, quizzing each other on Zambia-related trivia. Discussions of resources, exchange rates, regions, and population statistics float through the cool night air. Tomorrow we head to South Luangwa National Park, one of the foremost wildlife viewing locations in Africa!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

More Academic Updates

Global Studies

Big Blue with previous group
What is Global Studies? It's the 'umbrella over the bucket' class, the course that is overarching. It encompasses site-visits and guest lecturers, and the processing and debriefs that occur after each academic activity. So far students have learned basic Chichewa, the language of Southern Malawi, and asked probing questions about the nature of service. They have written journal reflections on their preconceived notions of the African continent, and read articles on the invisibility of Africa. Recently the group interviewed their hiking guides on Mt. Mulanje and learned about the illegal cedar logging on the mountain. Today we met Ngwenya, our driver, Samuconge, our cook, and ‘Big Blue', our truck, which means we will need to learn Shona greetings (a language of Zimbabwe) quickly to show proper respect! Everyone is excited to set off tomorrow and get into the groove of 'truck life'. Global Studies will continue with language lessons, article-reading, question-asking, and intense discussions.


Physical Education

The girls of TTS are off to a roaring start for this semester's PE class. By the end of the semester our students will be leading the class, becoming teachers themselves. In the meantime, during these two short weeks we've completed early morning exercises, afternoon swims, and even climbed one of Sub-Saharan Africa's highest mountains!

Our first class was a series of circuits that helped warm us up in the chilly morning, starting us out for the day ahead. Mary Reid led our students through a combination of sit-ups, jumping jacks, squats and push-ups to help strengthen our core for the coming months.  Later in the week Katie and TTS's first overseas teaching intern Quinn had the girls swimming in the pool for some water aerobics. While the water wasn't the warmest, the girls braved the cold and joined in on the team-building activity. The students ended the week with an early morning run in the midst of switching between push-ups, planks, tree stances, superman balancing poses, and much more!

However, our most exciting workout so far has been climbing Mount Mulanje over the past few days. Our group hiked to 2,200 meters in one day to reach our cabin in the woods. The next day we hiked through the rain to a lookout point that we fondly called 'the end of the world'. From the high cloud coverage we weren't able to see as much as we liked, however, the misty atmosphere was still enjoyed by the group. We now know from experience what the inside of a cloud is like. Our hike down from the mountain included much nicer weather, and we were able to enjoy the beauty of the mountain. Even though our legs may have been tired, we all thoroughly enjoyed the journey and the accomplishment we were able to complete as a group.

Travel Journalism

Our TTS students have been getting busy the past two weeks with writing, photography, and even practice interviewing. We started off the course with writing an 'About Me' article and learning how to edit and peer review with other students in the class. Later in the week we dove into photography and completed portrait photo-shoots in the beauty of the nature reserve. The students then had a gallery walk to showcase their work and have the opportunity to share some of their photography techniques with the rest of the class.

Most recently students completed a diagram of their cameras and are in the process of making their very own camera manuals which they will continue to work on for the rest of the semester. This is a great way for them to become familiar with their own camera and learn how to adjust the settings in order to make the most of their photographs. Moving forward, students are beginning to build their interview skills and have started practicing with other students in the class. A few have even started interviewing and writing about the people we have worked with from our local accommodation, visit to the orphanage, and guides from our hike up Mount Mulanje. Stay tuned for updates coming from our budding journalists here at The Traveling School!

Algebra 2

Our TTS Algebra 2 class has been off to a good start by reviewing real, rational, and irrational numbers, as well as commutative, distributive, associative, and identity properties. Our lessons have included classes at our accommodation's picnic table, as well as moments up in a tree house with markers and a white board. They have covered how to divide, multiply, subtract, and add exponents and have been able to solve equations using by working with interval notation and set-builders.

However we are most impressed by the students' camaraderie and helpfulness towards one another in order to collectively succeed. During study hall the students have been sitting with one another to help each other work through the problems. Before leaving for Mount Mulanje, Algebra 2 students shared an intense study session then completed their first quiz. It is great seeing how positive and motivated the students are and how much they want each other to learn.

Katie Ryan (Travel Journalism teacher; Algebra 2 & PE co-teacher)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Academics at The Traveling School

History and Government of Southern Africa

"Who are your teachers?" I asked a second time, the first day of history class. "Everyone!" the class shouted. Students are practicing their interview and discussion skills, set out on tasks to find answers to their questions. "Who is the leader of Malawi? How did they come to power? What type of government exists here? Was Malawi ever colonized? If so, by what country, and for what purpose? What is the difference between a colony and a protectorate?" The history students, now able to say a few key phrases in Chichewa, collected information from the cooks, maids, and security guards, realizing that everyone around them is a fount of knowledge. Yesterday Bronia, one of the owners of our orientation site, and a young woman who wrote her dissertation on colonialism in the area, came to lunch. The students pelted our guests with questions about Malawi. Their curiosity is awesome.

In order to get on the same page about key political terms, students created haikus to differentiate between various economic systems and drawings to portray different forms of government.

It is my goal to inspire students of history to 'read the world', seeing the social layers and the human story behind each site they visit, each setting they drive by. We are looking forward to the end of orientation, setting off, meeting new people, learning about new places, continually digging deeper asking, "How?" and "Why?"

Mathematical Concepts

The first day of Mathematical Concepts began by searching each other's tags, a globalization activity which illustrates the interconnectedness of our current economic systems. "What country was your water bottle made in? Your watch? Your Eagle Creek? Your camp chair? How about your pants, sports bra, and hat?" Students created a list of countries to which they are connected by the chain of production and consumption. We have since created interview questions for a local tailor to begin to understand local economies, wrapped our minds around the exchange rate and Malawian Kwacha, watched videos about planned and perceived obsolescence, and begun to learn personal finance skills.

The students are full of questions. Claudia brings unique knowledge of Venezuelan and Panamanian economic policies. Sydney L. and Maia articulate their critical thinking beautifully. They are all eager to observe patterns in the marketplace. So far we have driven by women selling maize on the side of the streets, one of the main crops of the country. MC students know that Malawi's primary export is tobacco, which is sold to China and the U.S. How else are the students economically connected to Malawi? We will continue to explore this broad question in the upcoming weeks while honing our financial literacy skills.

Sarah White (History & Math Concepts teacher; Literature & Composition & Global Studies co-teacher)

World Literature & Composition

In Literature, we have been exploring how stories can help us interpret both the world and our own personal experience. We have begun reading our first major novel, Zenzele by Nozipo Mairaire. Zenzele is a fictional story written as a series of letters from a Zimbabwean mother to her daughter, a student at Harvard. Through this text, we are discussing the implications of tradition, family, culture, and colonialism. Students will soon begin their own epistolary narrative, digging into a moment when their perspective of the world shifted. We are also exploring the art of creative writing, a realm in which most students have expressed particular interest. Each student recently wrote a poem about a particular age in her life, and each will bravely share their work with the group during our upcoming hikes on Mt. Mulanje.


Our five student Precalculus class has jumped into math with a willing spirit. The casual nature of such a small class has allowed us to have some lively debates about radicals, exponents, and algebraic equations. In our first class, students used prior knowledge to derive the formula to convert temperature from Celsius to the more familiar Fahrenheit scale. The first week was primarily a review of key topics; we practiced simplifying algebraic expressions on the porch, discussed absolute value in the tree house, and recalled the properties of exponents and radicals underneath the trees. Each student tackled our first quiz this past Saturday.

Mary Reid Munford (Precalculus teacher; Literature & Composition, Algebra 2, & PE co-teacher)

Big Five Africa Mammals
I wish you could've heard how science started this semester: a theme song accompanied a professional sports style introduction of the “Big Five”: rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, and elephant. Even though we haven't encountered these creatures yet, any science student studying in southern Africa must be able to name them all. With the Five taken care of, we were able to jump into a discussion of scientific logic and the importance of asking good questions. Students responded to each of the units coming up in science this semester, listing knowledge they already have, and coming up with planned topics of investigation regarding biomes and ecology of the region, infectious disease, resource extraction, and water quality. The class broke in to pairs to research specific biomes in the course area, created visuals, and conducted presentations to share their information. Through an exercise involving blindfolds and unique found objects, we delved into the relevance of careful description and detailed observation. Armed with these skills, the students will tackle their first field journal entries this week at Mount Mulanje. In this course, I hope to guide the students towards utilizing scientific logic on an every day basis: making unique observations, asking profound questions, and developing relevant hypotheses. The use of field journals will be crucial to their documentation and knowledge development throughout the semester.


Our study of independent life skills has taken center stage during the orientation process, as students begin to practice self-care and hygiene. We discussed values and concerns regarding food while traveling, the sometimes-upsetting stages of culture shock, and joined in the TTS tradition of writing a letter to oneself. Students learned how to navigate their budget recording system and are starting to keep track of their own expenses. As classes progress, students settle, and we move into our life on the Big Blue Truck, we will be working to establish goals and intentions for the rest of the semester, organization, and stages of group development. In this team-taught course, we strive to set students up for success – personally, inter-personally, and in the greater context of the complicated world in which we travel.

Beth Billington (Science teacher; Global Studies & P.E. co-teacher; Spanish Independent Studies facilitator)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

First Week Sightings & Activities

Muli Bwanji!

Greetings from Fisherman's Rest. We've had the opportunity to enjoy our first week together here, in Blantyre, Malawi. Fisherman's is a fifty-acre nature reserve overlooking the Great Rift Valley, and impalas and nyalas have accompanied us during our journey to orient ourselves to the TTS lifestyle...

Pronking Impala

Nyala Buck
The ladies of TTS24 took the long trip to Africa in stride, relishing the chance to get to know each other a bit – between airport scavenger hunts, Harry Potter marathons, and 2am mid-flight wake-up calls. Upon our long-anticipated arrival in Blantyre, the girls were positive about conquering those first-week fears, and jumped into a game of Capture the Flag to shake off the plane legs. Throughout orientation, we wanted to be sure everyone was on the same page in terms of TTS practices and policies. Through skits, debates, conversations, and written reflections, the group was able to focus our energy on important opening topics. We considered the relevance of culture and what it means to be a U.S. citizen; shared our hopes and fears for the semester; wrote letters to ourselves; read advice written by TTS23 students; and spent time getting to know each other in mentor groups. What mentor groups, you might ask? Here they are for the first quarter!

Maris, Sydney SG, Hannah L, and Violet are “Shades,” with Sarah and Quinn...
Maia, Sydney M, Ava, and Claudia are “Robe Nation,” with Beth...
Sarah, Marley, Kait, and Hannah W. are “Channel Four News,” with Katie....
Caroline, Sydney L, Marisa and Baylie are “The Big Five,” with Mary Reid!

As you can see, the inside jokes are developing nicely, and we are happy to be starting with our crew rotations in which students lead the charge with particular chores, such as cooking, cleaning, and packing (all completed, thus far, whilst singing Disney songs).

(We are still working out a great system for having three Sydneys and two Hannahs!)

After our first tastes of classes, we set off down the road to get to know some local kids at the community center, called “Tilitonse,” meaning “We are together” in Chichewa, the local language spoken in this community Our group was introduced to a rousing game of rhythm and mimicry called “Like I Do,” a popular local pastime with children and adults alike, we are now realizing. The next few days were busy with more classes and more outings into the community. We were set up for success by the careful instruction of our Chichewa teachers, who came on a daily basis to work with us on our local language skills – and had everyone speaking in basic phrases by the end of the week.

We visited a school that is under construction, and we helped to rearranged bricks in long fire lines with the locals. A certain highlight so far was dancing around in the mud at the site, creating the material to stuff into brick molds. Our team (TTS + community members) made over 700 bricks in one hot day.

Boreholes are a source of life in this part of the world, as they provide safe drinking water to rural communities. Students of TTS24 were motivated to find out more about these important resources and had the chance to become more expert in the function and repair of a borehole.

During other excursions, we painted classrooms, read books with children, taught computer lessons, and played games (especially “Like I Do”). The girls reflected on what community service means – both for them personally, and in the places we visit – a conversation that will certainly continue throughout the semester.

Our last experience in the area was at an orphanage, a touching and poignant experience for all. We joined the children in a church service filled with heartfelt songs, dancing, and a dramatic play.

Mount Mulanje
During our last days in Blantyre, our hosts at Fisherman's Rest threw us a goodbye party: a traditional “Braai.” Similar in motivation and feeling to the quintessential American BBQ, the event included meat on a grill, a spread of delicious other foods, dancing, and singing. Some kids from around town came in to share music with us, which they played on their handmade instruments. After an extensive dance party, the girls performed several songs in their steadily growing repertoire of Disney hits, musical features, and Hannah Montana. They are still working out the choreography, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a fantastic rendition of “Grease Lightning” released very soon, maybe this week when we go to hike Mount Mulanje. We're off on our trek now, but we'll be back with you soon with some updates on what our classes have entailed quite soon.

On to the massif!
Tionana (Bye),

Beth Billington

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thank You

If you had asked me five years ago if I would be ready to let my daughter head off into the uncertainty of Africa (for four months), at the young age of sixteen, I might have looked at you as if you had lost your mind... Fast forward to today and I'm guessing some are looking at me as though I have lost my mind. Well, if that is the case, thank goodness I have!

While it certainly wasn't easy allowing my first born baby to burst out of her cocoon ( a few years earlier then expected) I'm so grateful she has chosen this path and honestly, Im grateful I had the strength needed to allow her to break free.What an amazing life gift to be able to give to a young, open-minded women

THANK YOU Traveling School for providing ours girls with a safe, nurturing, stimulating and clearly life changing experience. You truly are dedicated to creating a whole women.

While our daughters have just begun their journey, I could already hear the true joy and light in my Hannah's voice this past weekend.

THANK YOU for having the courage to run a school that allows young inspired girls to grow into  inspired women.

I look forward to hearing all about their journey as it continues to unfold.

With Gratitude,
Danielle Lawrence

Monday, September 1, 2014

On Sunglasses and What We Bring

“Imagine that in your own country, from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born with 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lenses in the sunglasses is yellow. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are these, because they have always been there and they are a part of the human body. Everyone has them. What makes them yellow are the values, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and assumptions that all people in your country have in common. Everything they have seen, learned or experienced (past, present and future) has entered into the brain through yellow lenses. Everything has been filtered and interpreted through these values and attitudes that have made the lenses yellow. The yellow lenses thus represent your attitudes, beliefs, values and cultural background.

Thousands of miles away in another country, from the time of the first people, today and far in to the future everyone that was ever born or will ever be born with 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lenses in the sunglasses is blue. No on has ever though it strange that the sunglasses are these, because they have always been there and they are a part of the human body. Everyone has them. Everything the people see, learn or experience is filtered through the blue lenses.

A traveler from the yellow sunglasses country who wanted to go to that far away land has enough sense to realize that to learn about the country and the people more thoroughly, she would have to acquire some blue sunglasses so that she could “see”. When the traveler arrived, she wore the blue glasses, stayed for 2 years, and felt that she really was learning about the attitudes, beliefs, and values of the people. She actually “saw” wearing the sunglasses. She came home to this own country and declared that she was now an expert on the country and that their culture was green . . . “

Sarah began orientation with this story from Engineers withouth Borders to help TTS24 students think about culture and perspectives.

The story continued:
What happened? She had a hard time removing her own yellow filters. By being able to understand and describe the values, attitudes, beliefs and assumptions we have, the lighter the yellow becomes and the more true blue the other culture becomes.

For TTS24, the question is, how will each individual experience this program and what relevance do our lenses have as we interact with classmates, teachers, and people you meet throughout southern Africa?

Throughout orientation students thought about their own values, beliefs and traditions to understand each individual has a distinct culture and background, which may be slightly different than every other member of the group.

As students progressed through the week, they studied the culture of The Traveling School and eventually created unique community standards to uphold for the next 15 weeks. Based on common values and aspirations, these standards will help the group develop into a new community.

Students continuously worked to peel off their sunglasses and embrace newness. And, it was quite a sight to witness. Each morning they had Chichewa lessons with local teachers. On various occasions the group went to different sites and volunteered – reading books, playing games, repairing boreholes – and so they experienced rural Malawi.

Indeed, the first week has been filled with deep thought, as well, the days have included laughter and song. Wednesday's lunch provided the staging ground for spontaneous song and dance – a full rendition of Grease followed by selections from High School Musical and then Disney classics. It is moments like these that crystallize the power of blossoming friendships and free spirits. As an honorary member of TTS24 and many other semesters, it was a moment to relish – girls being girls and proudly letting the world know.
That same day, Sarah S. and Violet reminded me it was the one-week anniversary of the group's meeting. Soon others piped in about how fast the time is going, and they all agreed how naturally the group is coming together. "Is this how the semester really goes?" asked Sydney M. Yes, it truly goes by in he blink of an eye, sure there may be ups and downs along the way, but I reminded them to embrace the experience, recognize how fortunate they all are to be in southern Africa, and try to live in the moment.

I said goodbye to the group on Sunday morning as they prepared to visit an orphanage. Although it was early, the laughter echoed as everyone recounted Saturday night's braai and dance party. As the stars popped out of the dark evening sky last night, TTS24 kicked off a "Like I Do, Like I Do" dance off with the band.

It's always difficult to pull away from a TTS group. To leave the anticipation of the girls as they begin to learn about each other and their surroundings. But, unfortunately, it was time for me to head off to Zimbabwe for a few more stops before heading back to the States next weekend. I'll be back in the office in about a week with loads of pictures and stories from my time with TTS24. Until then, enjoy your fist phone calls to Malawi. 

Here's to a fantastic start!



What a great pleasure it was to talk to Violet tonight and hear her say that all the teachers were amazing, and all the girls were amazing, and everyone was close, and there were no cliques! She said she loved all her classes. Loved the deep conversations about social justice, philosophy, and learning that were going on all around her. She was positive about everything. Must be a great school! Thanks, TTS.