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)

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