Monday, June 16, 2014

My Followers Part 1: The Smallest People Are Some of my Biggest Fans

I’m always surprised to learn how many people are following my trip.  I receive emails and comments from friends and family in Oregon, people back in Barcelona, Thomson Bike Tour Clients, previous hosts, students at schools I visited, parents of students at schools I visited, emails from people I meet out on the road, to random strangers who stumble across my website.  I never imagined my trip would permeate the world as it has!

It excited me to learn about the schools that have been following my trip, after all that was my original idea when I set out on The Loong Way Home.  I wanted to was to reach out to schools worldwide in hopes that teachers, students, and parents would use the teaching section of my website as a resource for learning and to drive investigation.  Embarking on my endeavor meant giving up my classroom, but in reality the only thing I’m missing is the physical presence of the four walls because as you see, the world has become my classroom.  Today it is the southwest, soon it will be the Colorado Rockies, and after that open countryside and plains. My colleagues who I met with daily at BFIS to plan aren’t with me, but they’ve been replaced by my knowledgeable and entertaining hosts, park rangers with their inside information, and by other cyclists, and friendly strangers who I encounter on the road.  My students?  They are out there too, from the people I meet every day when I stop for a snack or end my day at a campground. They are the curious strangers who want me to share my experiences and whose questions I answer, even if it means repeating myself every 15 miles down the road.  But, actually, I also do have students out there in classrooms who have been religiously following The Loong Way Home since the day I left Barcelona.

My most dedicated followers come from the classrooms where Neus Bruguera works as a support teacher at Sa Graduada in Mahon, Spain one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Northeast Spain.  Oddly enough, I have never met her, although I’m a good friend of her brother, Vicens, who rode with me from Barcelona to Nice, France and has been an incredible support to me throughout my trip with the technical logistics.  From my email interaction with Neus and her students, it is obvious she is a dedicated teacher.  She has been using “The Teacher on 2 Wheels Website” since September and created several projects in various classrooms related to my trip.  It’s quite remarkable considering most of the content on my website is in English.  However, the English department at her school uses my website as a resource in their English classes because it help promote real world language learning, something I didn’t imagine happening, but an incredibly valid occurrence.

This letter makes me laugh as the students says I have my husband waiting for me at home when I arrive.  Does he know something that I don't know?  One of their assignments in class was to do a newspaper article summarizing The Loong Way Home
I received a bunch of cards from the 4th grade class when I reached the 15,000 km milestone, what a surprise!

Neus and her students consult my website weekly, read the blog posts, watch videos and go through my picture albums I post on Flickr.  They have turned my trip into a language and geography lesson.  During the middle of the school year, they wrote reports summarizing my trip thus far and sharing with me their opinion of my trip.  I was absolutely delighted to receive their letters, evidence of the time and energy they had been investing in my project.  In fact, I got goose bumps as I read their commentary and also had a few good laughs at their interpretation of my trip.  You can’t imagine how much I learned from them reading their letters, gaining perspective and insight to how 10 to 12 year olds digest the world.

This card came to me with others from the class when I arrived in Australia

One of their assignments in class was to do a newspaper article summarizing The Loong Way Home

Early on in my trip, one student in particular reached out to me in a special way.  Lucia, a 5th year student at Sa Graduada Mao, wrote me an email with a special request.  She was looking for a penpal in Australia because she wanted to learn more about the country.  Little did I know the request would turn into a wonderful learning journey for Lucia and her classmates in Mao.  In my opinion school, especially in the early years, is all about developing your interests, passions, and inquiring about your curiosities.  This is exactly what happened for Lucia as she learned about Australia, excited and anxious to establish a penpal relationship with a young girl her age in Australia.  She and her friends made videos about Australia and my travels in Australia after researching all about the country.

Lucia explains about the letter she sent in this video

Lucia thanks me in this video after giving her letter to several students in Australia

With the help of her English teachers, Neus, and parents, Lucia prepared a letter to her unknown future pen pal, introducing herself and sharing with them a bit about her family, friends, and culture.  She sent the letter to my parents in Oregon, who brought it over to me in Australia and I delivered it to various classes at the schools I visited in Australia. Back in Mahon, Lucia anxiously awaited a response.  The school year is just about to come to an end and it looks like the students at Mother Teresa Catholic School in Melbourne have responded.  Neus tells me how much Lucia admires my travels, but the truth is, this young lady is a true inspiration to me!  She is passionate about learning, curious, and driven to research and explore the world around her.  She’s confident, open-minded and pushes herself just outside her comfort level to grow and learn about the world.  If kids her age had just half the motivation and interest she has to learn, the world’s problems would be solved by our future generation in a heartbeat. Something tells me with the contact she has now established with the students in Australia and her continued curiosities; she has opened the door to a world of opportunities. (Here are the links to her other videos Introduction Video, Lucia and her friends, Australia Video

They did a Playmobile animation video when I arrived in Australia

Thank you students at Sa Graduada Maó for all your support throughout the year!  You are some of my youngest and smallest followers but you have the biggest heart and are constantly curious.  Although there are about to go on summer break, I’m sure many of them will continue to follow my travels during the summer and once the school year starts again in September, I’m sure I’ll hear from them again!

Institut Escola Turo de Roquetes in the Barcelona area is another Spanish school that has been loyal followers.  My friend Nuri, and fellow cycle companion from the Gracia Cycling Club teaches the 6th graders.  This year her students have been involved with an entirely self-directed class research project.  They chose the topic of cycling and Nuri turned them on to my trip as one of the many facets of the sport.  Nuri religiously used my teaching resources in her classroom, including the math problems, writing prompts, and inquiry questions I posed bi-weekly (in fact she even translated them into Catalan from Spanish!)  Their dedication to my trip was flattering, to say the least.  

This is part of the classes documentation of my trip included in their research project. 

During the later half of the school year, we set up a Skype date so that students could complete their inquiry and investigation surrounding my trip.  Nuri and her students compiled a booklet of their work and sent it to me, giving me an idea of their project and how it was organized.  The quality of their work is fascinating and I attribute it to the power of choice.  When motivated and interested in a subject area, students capability surpass the expectations of any teacher.  The bicycle is worldwide icon and people of all ages can relate to and motivate learning.  In fact, Nuri admitted that her student’s attitude and behavior changed dramatically in class when they started their bike and cycling project.  They prepared an extensive interview and each student had a question for me as we Skyped, me from San Fransisco, while they were in class in Barcelona.  The biggest surprise of all was a neat video they prepared showing me how they have been follwoing my travels.

Here is part of their project, photos from the different places I cycled

They prepared a short video you can watch here for me as a surprise!  What neat students!

As teachers, it is easy for us to get caught-up in our day-to-day routine and feel the pressure of making sure we cover all the curriculum during the school year.  We can get obsessed with making sure our students are reading on grade level, competent writers, and meeting the benchmarks for their grade in the different subject matters.  While I do believe that traditional academics are important, this trip has changed the way I think about school and our education system.  Kids learn everywhere and anywhere, and it’s important to foster an environment that motivates them to learn so that they become passionate inquirers.  For some this may happen in a classroom setting, for others, it will be a phenomenon that occurs beyond the four walls in a school….and for a select few it happened while following Ms. Melissa, “The Teacher on 2 Wheels” traveling around the world on her bicycle.

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