Fall 2016 – Southern Africa

Welcome to the blog for The Traveling School’s 28th Semester.

Fall 2016, Southern Africa. 

Preparing to Transition Home

Wrapping up a Traveling School semester is an emotional process. We go through a series of transitional activities to help students process these emotions and to prepare them for what’s ahead. Every semester looks a little different in terms of activities, but the intentions remain the same: give students space to say goodbye to each other, their teachers, The Traveling School, and Africa; help students to identify what they are feeling and why; support students in identifying who they can talk to at home about their experiences; and give students language for talking about their semester with their families, friends, and acquaintances.

This week in Waterval Boven we are doing a mix of activities, some fun and some serious, to help prepare TTS28 for the journey home. On the more serious end of the spectrum we have students write letters to TTS29 to get them excited about being TTS alums and be a resource for the next generation of traveling scholars, help students draft an “elevator speech” to answer the impossible question, “How was Africa?,” and facilitate a process called “Warm and Fuzzies,” where students write personal notes to everyone in the group. Each person will be able to read their warm and fuzzy notes after we have parted ways. We are also marking the end of this semester by abseiling down the side of a waterfall, hosting a graduation and gift-giving ceremony, and holding a final circle in which we share hopes and fears about the semester coming to a close. On the fun end of the spectrum, the girls have organized a talent show, a dance party, a movie night, and paper plate awards. These final few days are FULL: full of hard work, full of emotions, full of excitement and sorrow. We want you to know we are preparing your daughters to make their way strongly and confidently back home to you with the utmost intention and care.

We leave you with a reading we shared with students that helps us to put words to what it can feel like to leave an expedition.

Briefing for Entry Into A More Harsh Environment

By Morgan Hite

People always talk about what you can’t take home with you after a NOLS course. You can’t take home the backpack, or at least it has no place in your daily life. You can’t take home the rations, and if you did, your friends wouldn’t eat them. You can’t take home the mountains. We seem to have to get rid of all of our connections to this place and our experiences here. It’s frustrating and can be depressing.

This essay is about what you can take home. What you can take home, and what, if you work at it, can be more important than any of those things you have to leave behind.

Let’s look at what we’ve really been doing out here. We’ve been organized. We lived out of backpacks the whole time, and mostly we knew where everything was. We’ve been thorough: we counted every contour line on the map and put every little bit of trash in a bag. We’ve been prepared: at this moment, every one of us knows where his or her raingear is. We’ve taken care of ourselves. We’ve been in touch with basic survival tasks. We’ve taken chances with other people, entrusted them with our lives and seen no reason not to grow close to them. We’ve persevered and put our minds to things that never seemed to end. We’ve learned to use new tools and new techniques. We’ve taken care of the things we have with us. We’ve lived simply.

These are the things you can really take home. Together they comprise the set I call “mental hygiene,” as if we needed to take care of our minds the way we take care of our bodies. Here they are again, one by one.

1. Organization. The mountains are harsh, so you need to be organized. But that other world is much more complex, and even harsher in ways that aren’t always as tangible as cold, wind and rain. Being organized can help you weather its storms.

2. Thoroughness. Here it is easy to see the consequences of leaving things only half done. That other world has so many interruptions, distractions and stimuli that it is easy to leave things half done, until you find yourself buried under a pile of on-going projects with no direction.

3. Preparedness. Out here you’ve only had to be prepared for every eventuality of weather; but in that other world you have to be prepared for every eventuality – period. There are no rules, shit happens, and only the prepared are not caught off balance.

4. Take care of yourself, and do it even more aggressively than you do it out here. The environmental hazards are even greater: crowding, noise, schedules. Take time to be alone and think. Never underestimate the healing power of being near beauty, be it a flower, music, a person, or just dinner well-prepared.

5. Stay in touch with basics. Continue to cook your own food and consciously select the place where you sleep at night. Take care of your own minor injuries and those of your friends. Learn about how the complex vehicles and tools you use work. The other world is far more distracting and seeks to draw you away from the basics.

6. Keep taking risks with people. Your own aliveness is measured by the aliveness of your relationships with others. There are so many more people to choose from in that other world, and yet somehow we get less close. Remember that the dangers are still present; any time that you get in a car with someone you are entrusting that person with your life. Any reasons that seem to crop up not to get close examine very carefully.

7. Remember you can let go and do without seemingly critical things. Here it has only been hot showers, forks and a roof overhead. But anything can be done without; eventually for us all it is a person that we have to do without, and then especially it is important to remember that having to do without does not rule out joy.

8. Persevere at difficult things. It may not be as concrete as a mountain or as immediately rewarding as cinnamon rolls, but the world is given to those who persevere. Often you will receive no support for your perseverance because everyone else is too busy being confused.

9. Continue to learn to use new tools and techniques. Whether it is a computer or an ice cream maker, you know now that simply because you haven’t seen it before doesn’t mean you can’t soon be a pro. Remember that the only truly old people are the ones who’ve stopped learning.

10. Take care of things. In that other world it’s easy to replace anything that wears out or breaks, and the seemingly endless supply suggests that individual objects have little value. Be what the philosopher Wendell Berry calls “a true materialist.” Build things of quality, mend what you have and throw away as little as possible.

11. Live simply. There is no substitute for sanity.

These eleven things are the skills you’ve really learned out here, and they will serve you in good stead in any environment in the world. They are habits to live by. If anyone asks what your course was like, you can tell them. “We were organized, thorough and prepared. We took care of ourselves in basic ways. We entrusted people with our lives, learned to do without and persevered at difficult things. We learned to use new tools and we took care of what we had with us. We lived simply.” And if they are perceptive, they will say, “You don’t need the mountains to do that.”

Europa Canyon

Bridger Wilderness, Wyoming

August 1989

[(c) Copyright, Morgan Hite, 1989-1991: No permission required for copies which include this notice.]


Belated Thanksgiving Wishes 

Snapshot of Global Studies Class

The current unit in Global Studies class has been jam-packed with passion and empowerment. Focused on “Race, Power, and Oppression,” we delved into issues rooted in South Africa and the U.S. In a “Glistory” class (Global and History), we read about Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. Tying these principles into Black Lives Matter, we shouted the movement’s mission statement in an attempt to give it power and do it justice.


Group picture from backpacking trip in Tsitsikamma National Park.

In a vast grassy field with a beautiful view of the ocean, we had a quintessential TTS class on Feminism. We learned about its history, topics of focus, and crucial figures and texts. Jumping back to a news clip we watched about France’s ban of the burqa, we discussed the pros and cons of the law from a feminist standpoint. It was fantastic having a class about hard facts and the history of the movement given how much this trip is rooted in female empowerment.

November 8th was a TTS “interdisciplinary day.” All classes were dedicated to lectures and discussion about U.S. elections. We investigated our political system, historic and current elections, key issues, and the philosophy around rhetoric. We had SO many questions. The day culminated in our own little TTS28 election, Poisonwood Bible style. We each had one pebble to place in the bowl marked with the symbol of our top candidate. Clinton was victorious, with Jill Stein coming in second and Gary Johnson taking third. (See the Election Day Update Post below)


Lena, giving her soapbox speech.

We ended the unit with a bang, bringing empowerment to a whole new level with Soapboxes. We each chose a topic related to race, power, or oppression, and presented it without notice, for two minutes to the group – often while standing on a tree stump, table, chair, or porch. Scoobs presented about how rape culture has manifested itself in her community. Mardy spoke about heteronormativity and its impacts. Alaina discussed the racism that gets perpetuated at her school. We’re finishing this unit brimming with passion and emotion, and are psyched to get into our next unit, “The Politics of Saving the World!”




Global Studies Reflection: Screenplay from Homestays

(For this assignment students were asked to write a screen play that highlighted a powerful moment from homestays.)

Setting: Sylvia’s kitchen, “coloured neighborhood,” Cape Town, South Africa 2016
Characters: Sylvia, Anna, Alaina

By: Anna H.

Sylvia: Don’t throw the crumbs away! I like to give them to the birds.
Alaina: Sylvia this homemade tomato jelly is wonderful! Thank you.
Anna: Yes, thank you! We’ll do the dishes.
Sylvia: Just be sure to save all the crumbs. And what are you girls up to today?
Anna: We’re going to the District Six Museum.
Sylvia: Ahh, you know I used to live there. Then the apartheid laws changed and my family was forced to leave.
Alaina: Oh my god! What was that like? Were you sad?
Sylvia: What do you think it was like? We lost everything. Packed up and left our homes to be burned and destroyed.
Anna: How old were you?
Sylvia: I was twenty-four, just married.
Anna: And you were teaching at the school?
Sylvia: Yes, I had just started the arts program and we were thinking of starting a family.
Anna: What happened to the school?
Sylvia: Oh, they left it. Schools and churches weren’t burned.
Alaina: But what about the books and art supplies?
Sylvia: We took all we could. But here’s a story for you girls…
Alaina: Yes?
Sylvia: On the last night, we were allowed to live in the District some naughty boys snuck into the school. They would have been in unbelievable trouble if they had been caught. At midnight they played the school’s piano for a final time.
Anna: Weren’t you taking the piano with you?
Sylvia: Of course not! We didn’t have the room and couldn’t get it down the stairs. *She laughs.* On the last night those boys played the piano and then pushed it out the window.
Alaina: Really, oh my god!
Sylvia: The next morning, we woke to the broken piano shards in the street. The birds were eating the bits of wood.
Anna: Is that why you always save the crumbs for birds?
Sylvia: Yes, child. Now go to the museum, but please remember my story.

Follow-up question: How do personal stories help one better understand apartheid more so than a history book?

Cape Town Memories

Hello from South Africa! We cannot believe that we are already in the last few weeks of the semester and in our last country in southern Africa. Since writing last, we have crossed our fourth border and explored as much of Cape Town as we could. On our first full day in Cape Town, we headed to Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. Our tour was led by an ex political prisoner and another ex political prisoner was also on the tour. It was a transformational moment for all the students when they learned the person they were sitting next to was a long time friend of Mandela’s and had a first hand account of the atrocities of prison life. Phyllis remarked that meeting him was a highlight of her life and that she would remember it forever. Although the ferry ride back to Cape Town was choppy and many people felt sea sick, the day was incredibly powerful. The following day students headed to their South African home stays. It was the first time for for our group to have spent more than a couple hours apart. The emotions were high but we all came together the next day for a braai (traditional South African BBQ/grilled meal), a potluck meal at Katherine, Courtney, and Mandara’s home stay house. Although our group was paired off in different houses, we continued to meet as a group during the days to explore more of Capetown. We visited with Denis Goldberg, a famous anti-apartheid freedom fighter who was imprisoned for 22 years. Over the years Denis has become a friend to TTS, inviting groups into his beautiful home each year to share his wisdom and zest for a well-lived life. He also treated us to a yummy homemade meal and a tour of his amazing art pieces which all hold a special place for him. Anna was struck by the meaning and love he found in each of his paintings. It was an emotional experience for all, as he recounted what he had seen and heard during his life. Lena asked pointed questions about his change from a weapons maker for the ANC to a man of peaceful diplomacy. He left us with the message that we need to fight peacefully for equality between people and that we cannot sit back when injustice is happening in the world. We continued onto District 6 in Cape Town, a neighborhood with a strong history of forced relocation of blacks and coloreds during the apartheid regime. Scoobs and Emma were struck by the District 6 museum and the exhibition on a shared and free world.

On the lighter side of things, we also enjoyed the markets and street life of Cape Town. Aine bought african fabric from a local seller, practicing her bargaining skills. We went out to dinner one night as a group. Katelyn and Maria enjoyed ordering from the menu but also commented that no food is as good as Tee’s.

And finally, one of our biggest celebrations to date was our halloween party on top of Signal Hill. Chessie, Mardy, and Sophie had elaborate outfits from their home stay fathers, dressed impeccably as old school backstreet boys. Alaina did not have a costume ready but she was amazing in the orange under the neck relay race. Sav was dressed as Aine’s twin and everyone had fun trick or treating with the teachers.

We were in Cape Town for a week but we could have stayed for much longer. The city is filled with history and beautiful landscapes. We are off on the Garden Route now, meandering our way along the coast. As the days tick by, we are enjoying each other’s presence and soaking up as much of South African Culture as possible. TTYES!

Election Day Update by Beth

The day was a confusing and solemn experience. Everyone was excited and many students woke up before 6 to go with teachers to check the polls. After seeing the results, the mood was understandably different. While the results are a massive disappointment to many of us here, we are also trying to hold space for folks that are happy with the results, whether that be within our group or in our extended networks.

The teachers decided that a distraction would feel like a positive move, and the group went zip-lining together. In literature class in the afternoon, we spent part of the class journaling and discussing a quotation from Neil Degrasse Tyson, “This is the end of nothing. This is the beginning of something new and solemn and so important. You must be part of what comes next.” This quote has incredible value, and it fueled a fruitful discussion for the students about what comes next.

Students participated in a multidisciplinary election unit this week. After reading the following passage from Poisonwood Bible. Students voted in a kitchen election. img_1364

Can you guess the candidate represented by each object?



South Africa and Halloween Photos


Academic Updates

TTS28 says hello from the coast of South Africa and hopes you enjoy these class updates over the weekend. Stay tuned for more tales of activities and photos.


Group picture from Robben Island (Cape Town in the background).

Math Classes

Precalculus has been moving quickly through the material in the second half of the semester. We started and finished our unit on exponential and logarithmic functions. The cornerstone to this unit was an in-depth look at many real world applications.  Lena was great at compound interest, calculating which investment was better in the long run. Katherine studied the exponential growth of population in Southern Africa and her hometown. To finish the unit we studied Newton’s Law of Cooling. Anna reflected in her journal how she observed Newton’s Law in action on the Orange River when her hot chocolate cooled more quickly than she expected. Project Ever is still ticking along with the students interviewing at least one adult each week to discover if and how they use mathematics in their everyday life. Not every interview goes as expected and sometimes the students find that many adults go out of their way to avoid using mathematics. Phyllis recounted an interview where a river guide discussed his aversion to mathematics. For every aversion though there is an exhilaration with students finding people who absolutely enjoy using mathematics whenever they have the chance. The end of the semester is fast approaching and we have started our unit on trigonometry. We look forward to graphing our Project Daylight trigonometric curves and analyze our semester on the x-y plane.

In algebra 2 we are cruising through the curriculum. In the last few weeks we concluded our second unit with a midterm where we looked at graphing linear equations and writing linear functions. Students are continuing with their Project Ever interviews. They collected some fascinating stories from people we have met. In Luderitz we took part of our class period to walk the main streets and use what we saw to build word problems for review before the midterm. We began our next unit where we are implementing all the skills we have learned to solve linear systems using algebraic methods and solving linear systems in three variables. Students have been dedicated to learning this new material and applying previous knowledge to this new challenge. In the next couple of weeks we will also be looking closely at statistics around girls in STEM to write opinion pieces on how to get girls more involved in the field of mathematics. I am excited for the next couple of weeks as we continue to graph and start working with matrices.

Global Studies

Since our last update we have already started and finished our unit on Human Rights and the United Nations.  While in northern Namibia, students discussed what it means to be human and what rights every human is born with. After an in-depth study of the history of the United Nations, the students debated the success or failure of the United Nations in a mock television debate. The debate spiraled from two people debating the issue to a class wide debate on the subject. Mardy was the moderator for both sides, making sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Aurora commented that warfare around the world is still widespread and that the United Nations had failed. Mandara argued that although the United Nations was formed to prevent the atrocities of the World Wars, that they cannot be accountable for every violent event that takes place. It was a special moment for everyone, with the enthusiasm palpable on the banks of the Orange River. We quickly changed directions with the start of our unit on Race, Power, and Oppression. Our first class of the unit was an emotional discussion on privilege with many students grappling with the different privileges they all hold. Since then they have built creative representations of their privilege, channeling their emotions into powerful visuals. Our most recent class centered around a discussion of stereotypes. With all of this knowledge stirring about, we will create action plans to draw attention to oppression in our lives and the lives of others.

Natural Science

Science class came alive on the Orange River, where synclines and anticlines narrated the story of the river’s geologic past. The lines on the banks of the river and within the rock formations nearby told a history of sediments, igneous intrusion, and metamorphism. We were lucky to have an amateur geologist with us on the river; our guide Altus kept us informed about particular features and gave us an in-depth tour of an abandoned diamond mine. Left abandoned along the banks of the river, Rudy’s mine can still show us the process of alluvial diamond mining. Steps of sorting according to size and density preceded the painstaking effort of collecting the diamonds by hand on large tables lit by UV lights. Giant old generators electrified the business; dozens of workers made the mine successful during the 1990s. The tour of the mine ended with countless questions about the ethics and future of diamond mining in Namibia. After the river trip, we dove into a review of the rock cycle and the movement of tectonic plates. Ultimately, the essential parts of this information have to do with why these concepts matter to us in our lives today. The answers we came up with demonstrated a higher level of understanding: not only do plates determine the landscape around us, they affect climatic patterns and therefore the species of plants and animals that can exist in different parts of earth. The rock cycle helps determine what kinds of soil exist, which also impacts the types of life that can thrive in particular environments. Moving forward with this information, the rest of the geology unit will cover an understanding of geologic time as well as the environmental impact of diamond mining and resource extraction. Very soon, we will be turning to the final unit: a comprehensive look at infectious disease in southern Africa.

Literature and Composition

Interest in and motivation to read have increased exponentially as students attack the almost 550 pages of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I delight in the students’ reactions to the characters’ actions and the way the plot develops. They bring the text up in all sorts of circumstances, so I can tell that they are loving this book. Understanding gleaned from interpreting this novel has appeared in history class, global studies, and casual conversation. In class, we utilize different discussion formats to investigate topics about character development, literary structure, and connections to themes of colonialism and religious interpretation.

Concurrently, we are also hammering away at our task of drafting the second addition to our writing portfolios: the analytical essay. Working through the process of becoming familiar with the text, outlining potential research questions, and searching for appropriate evidence has led us to the formation of thesis statements. With the body content almost entirely written, we will soon work on writing introductions, conclusions, and of course (my favorite part!) the revision process. I am looking forward to tailoring the essay assignment to each student’s personal experience and skill set so that we can all gain from this essay in our own way.

History & Government


Students take photo with ex-political prisoner & guide at Robben Island.


Boat ride to Robben Island (Cape Town and Table Mountain in the background).

As we headed further into Namibia we started focusing on the economic reason for colonialism. The class studied what economic activities existed in the regions that we have traveled through, such as agriculture and mining. In Luderitz, we compared the diamond mining industry in colonial times with the current industry. Currently most diamonds are being mined in the ocean which we were able to see coming in and out of the port. To continue our diamond research we looked at the De Beers corporation and the strategic marketing campaign used to a convince the world that “Diamonds are forever!” We used the Orange River trip to learn more about Namibia’s independence and how the river remained part of South Africa due to the large quantity of diamonds. Once off the river we dove right into the apartheid system as we crossed the border into South Africa. In our first day in Cape Town we went to Robben Island. It was a moving experience as we spoke with two ex-political prisoners as we saw Nelson Mandela’s cell and walked around the historical island. Cape Town is an amazing place to see the effects of apartheid on society today, specifically in how the city is built, race dynamics, and the university protests that the news is covering. Students are also using their homestays as a lens into the apartheid system and the state of affairs currently in South Africa. We are using the book My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan to get another perspective on the systems and policy’s that the apartheid government mandated. We are going to continue to dive deeper into learning about  the anti-apartheid movement and the negotiated reconciliation  as we travel through South Africa.


As teachers, we love the opportunities that iLife provides to build unique life skills in our students. Since midterms, we have focused on the process of evaluation. In a workshop on feedback for courses, we addressed the utility and importance of effective feedback; it is relevant to reinforce this topic in various contexts. Students also took part in some intentional self-evaluation with the second installment of their Skills Assessment Checklist. The checklist illuminates the types of abilities we are working together to grow at TTS, and students spend time at the beginning, middle and end of the semester to honestly evaluate their status and growth in skills that have to do with our mission as a school. Not only does this provide a framework for understanding personal development, it also gives the students language which they can call upon to be able to explain their experience. Students were shocked by how their interpretation of personal skills had changed in the first eight weeks; we are looking forward to having this conversation again near the end of the semester.

In the last couple of weeks, we also had iLife workshops on body image and conflict resolution. In the body image class, students reflected on societal expectations of human bodies, as well as practiced individual self-love exercises to increase confidence. The conflict resolution class gave students a structure for providing clear and honest feedback to individuals and the group. We hope that this skill, when practiced intentionally, will allow all members of our community to function and grow together.

Activities Galore

Blog post by Beth: After weeks of interminable heat, we were delighted to enjoy the lovely weather in Luderitz, Namibia. Every day sunny skies and high winds met us at our hostel. Being the only group in the hostel allowed us to spread out, stretch our legs, unpack and repack, and decompress. Couches, a kitchen, and beds stood out as luxuries within the context of our experience. So even though it was a stressful time with the looming approach of midterm “celebrations of knowledge,” it was a pleasure to spend time with each other in a new environment. After a clear outline of boundaries, students were set loose to explore the Main Street of Luderitz by signing out for hour-long excursions with partners. We structured a “reading day” before midterm exams to feel more like a college vibe: tons of free time to fill with studying and preparation, an “open breakfast” so folks could eat whenever they needed to, and minimal commitments throughout the day. Once the tests were over and the projects submitted, it was time to celebrate. The group hiked up to a rock that overlooks the city, enjoyed the view, and sipped on sparkling apple juice “Appletizers.” We listened to our favorite jams on a travel speaker, sang along, and took photos of the smiles that come after a success.

Just outside of Luderitz, there is a small abandoned town called Kolmanskop. Born out of the diamond boom in the early 1900s, this town was once responsible for producing almost 12% of the world’s diamond supply. The town boasted a local butcher, baker, hospital, and school. They even produced ice and distributed it throughout town with a small train. But when luck and diamonds ran out, the town was abandoned and the ornate buildings succumbed to the sand dunes. When we visited this ghostly location, we took a tour and participated in a literature class about the permanency of diamonds. Students reflected on the discrepancy of information between the contract workers and the German inhabitants of the town. Lively discussions about the ethics of diamonds ensued.

Then, it was back to the heat as we traveled south and away from the coast to a campsite on Namibian border. Felix Unite proved to be a spectacular campsite for our group, as it featured large lawn of healthy grass (another luxury we’ve come to appreciate) and a spacious “ablution block” (bathrooms). It’s fascinating what becomes valuable for us on this journey. At Felix, we enjoyed getting back into the swing of classes and eating Magnum ice cream bars during passing periods. With our tents perched above the scenic Orange River, we could look into South Africa, beginning with the sand on the other bank. As we reflected on our last days in Namibia, our anticipation also grew for the upcoming, multi-day Orange River trip.

Contrasted against our windy kayaking on the upper Zambezi, our adrenaline filled day rafting the lower Zambezi River, or our time in the Okavango Delta in makoro canoes, the scenery on this trip brought a different type of awe-inspiring connections with our natural environment. The landscapes and the gentle waters mixed with the nighttime fires provided a unique backdrop for our group to come together. Each day we paddled with different partners and enjoyed some one-on-one conversation and bonding. Each night students told “campfire stories,” a joint literature-history assignment which incorporated historical content about diamonds with creative character development and a condensed plot. After these stories, we curled into our sleeping bags, with our heads in a circle, and listened to chapters from The Poisonwood Bible as we fell asleep under a dazzling blanket of stars.

Thoughts from students:

From Katherine:
While paddling the Orange River, I made plenty of observations. I had also never seen a landscape like that of the Orange River before this trip. The new surroundings led me to observe many different factors that surrounded us. The day after we returned to Felix Unite, we had an introduction class. I have begun to form connections between the class and the river experience. First off, for most of the trip, we were surrounded by mountains. After having the science class, I now know where, or how they formed. Convergent plates have two different ways they interact with each other. They can either push upward, forming a point, or one plate can end up being pushed down while the other plate remains on top. The mountains that were near the river were possibly formed by convergent plates pushing together, then upward. Another connection I found within the class and the trip involved the rocks, and what type they were. In class, we talked about the different types of rocks and how they’re formed. I briefly remember Altus [river guide] talking about what kinds of rock made up the surrounding landforms. He told us that the top layers of the mountains are the new sedimentary layer, while below this was the older metamorphic and igneous layers. In class, we learned that sedimentary rocks form with sediments weathering, eroding, and compressing to form new rock. This connected nicely for me.

From Courtney:
This week in science class we learned about earth science. The rocks we saw on the river trip were igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, which at the time when Altus [river guide] was pointing them out I didn’t really know the difference. But after we had science I feel like I learned a lot more. During the river trip, we saw a really cool rock formation that was called “God’s Thumbprint.” The reason why it’s called that is because of the shape the different rocks make. The layers go in a mountain-ish shape and when I first saw this shape I was very confused on how it was made. But after we had science class, I realized that the formation was likely due to tectonic plates, faulting, and folding. During the river trip, we also learned about how some of the rocks we were seeing were only about 1-3 million years old while others later on in the trip were hundreds of millions of years old. On the river we also learned about diamonds and through class we learned that the deeper you are into earth the greater the pressure and that is how diamonds are able to be made.


Drabble projects from lit class. Ask your daughter more about this assignment during your next call.

Sweya by Maria B.
Is my only friend. He is an imaginary boy with dark hair and twinkling blue eyes. Sweya has a sense of humor that could make anyone laugh, but only I laugh. During visiting hours, people see me. They ask me questions like, “can you still see him?” Or ” is HE here?” I say no. This is true, in a way, because he leaves right before they arrive. They never see him, can’t hear conversations we have, don’t believe he’s real, but it’s been four years here. I’m starting to believe he’s going to stay with me until the very end.

The Call by Mardy W.
The phone rang piercing the silent air. Clare’s hand wrapped tightly around his, rings pinching their fingers. The conversation was brief. It worked. Their hands relaxed. The four of them lay there not speaking a word. He watched her silhouette as she dried her tears, it reminded him of her. He rolled over and whispered to Clare, “look up, see the stars, know I’m watching, waiting to catch you.” Ed always found that cheesy but he knew his nine year old sister could never sleep without it. He looked up, smiling as he said goodnight to the rest of the fugitives.

Midnight Special by Emma H.
“Please… Just. Just get in the car. That’s all you have to do.”
He pulled her through the doorway, ignoring the squish of water pooling in his shoes. A round plum lipstick stain was smeared into her left hip.
“Sipping the moon,” Darcy breathed, leaning into the leather passenger seat.
She fiddled with the radio. NPR’s Midnight Special blaring like sirens.
“Slow down.” A pause. “Tom! Slow down.”
The moon melted when she wept; reached its palm out to warm the stars.
“We’ll be fine,” Tom sighed, watching his words turn to velvet flames against the cry of the radio.

New Photos from Jennifer!

Snapshots of Academics

Classes often challenge students to depict their thoughts in a variety of ways. Enjoy this photo tour of classes while you ponder what it must be like to live and breathe your education.


History students had to choose a country from the semester and then decide to represent either the people of the country or the colonial power. Once they decided on a stance, each student created propaganda to rally people for their cause.


Aine’s propaganda


Chessie’s work


Mandara’s rally call


After observing elephants in their campsites and on game drives, science class was busy presenting their findings about elephant behaviors with posters and graphs.


Aine, Mandara, Sophie and Anna share their findings


Katelyn, Emma and Chessie depict their location for observations


Lena, Katherine and Alaina track elephant bathing habits



Mardy, Maria, Courtney and Scoob’s graph their studies


Katelyn, Emma and Chessie compare species at the watering hole


Precalculus students are learning math skills such as graph transformations from the most basic form to more complicated forms. They often graph the differences to visualize how the shape can shift around the coordinate plane.

Precalculus students are also collecting information about how people use math in their lives. This project, Project Ever, is a semester long investigation to understand different math principles. We’re all waiting to learn how the project will culminate after fifteen weeks of interviews.

Project Ever

Entry #2: Maun, Botswana – By: Lena

Interview conducted at Dance Studio

Subject: Sarah W. From Denmark, has lived in Botswana for two years, one year in Maun.

Math Background: In Denmark, high school and college are combined into one institution called gymnasium. You can choose Language or STEM track. Sarah chose Language. She still took math classes and eventually went on to study architecture at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Copenhagen. This program, according to Sarah, is more aesthetic and design based than math or STEM-based, although she still took math classes throughout her studies there.

Sarah uses math every day in basic calculations and scale measurements for her architecture firm. She calculates lots of quantities for materials for her projects. She said she relies on engineers and contractors for the complicated calculations. In her personal life, Sarah has to do lots of conversions from Pula, Botswana’s currency, to Krone, Denmark’s currency. She also often has to budget and carefully plan her spending.

Global Studies

The most recent React, Reflect and Question (RRQ) assignment for Global Studies classes required students to think about a recent activity and put meaning to their experience. This weekly assignment typically involves students interacting through writing. However, with the Cheetah Conservation Fund as the backdrop this week, each student presented her RRQ as an oral presentation. Students have contemplated the Himba culture and village tour, how it felt to study desert elephants as well as shared summaries of interviews with researchers, fellow travelers or volunteers, or tales of sledding down the red sand dunes at top speeds.


Activity Update

TTYES! Maun, Botswana to Etosha National Park, Namibia

TTYES! That’s the motto on the truck this week because we have been going full charge ahead.

These last few weeks have been packed with activities.The last activity blog left off in Maun, Botswana. We began our stay in Maun by spending a morning learning to basket weave with a women’s art cooperative. The cooperative was started by a world famous basket weaver who had learned at the age of 2 from her mother.  We were taught how to weave baskets from river weeds and dye them to make multicolored designs. Not only did we learn a traditional skill but the women told us about how Botswana has changed since independence in 1966 and about the upcoming 50 year Independence Celebration.

To gain more perspectives, we invited a guest speaker to chat about poaching and the no hunting laws throughout Botswana. Our speaker, Jen, was a representative of March 4 Elephants and Rhinos an organization based out of the US, that holds an annual rally in cities all over the world to bring awareness to poaching and the animal black market. She was delightful and gave us a lot to talk about in History class when considering the role of the government vs. the role of the people.

In order to fully appreciate Maun we had to get out into the Okavango Delta. Early one morning we loaded up on jet boats to cruise through the Delta. The Delta was lush, a stark comparison to the dusty dry landscape we had been driving through. The green river grasses grew up around us with narrow paths for the boats to maneuver through.We saw beautiful elephants washing in the water and leading their baby elephants through the tall grasses. We also snuck up on a Kudu which was getting a drink at the water. It has been exciting to be able to get so close to such large and powerful animals and watch their behavior.



As a final surprise for PE class, we took the students to a community arts center for a hip hop dance class. The dance instructor, Sarah, is a Danish dancer/architect who moved to Botswana to start an architecture firm but teaches dance classes on the side. She taught us a routine in a style she calls girly hip hop. We shimmied, spun, stomped, slid, and whipped our hair around with great smiles on our faces! We all sat down for a Q and A with Sarah after the dance class to understand how she got to Maun of all places. Her story was fascinating and was closely tied with her partner who had raised a lion cub from birth. We ended our time at the community center watching videos (that are on YouTube) of her boyfriend hunting with Senga, the lion, and getting hugged every morning as he opened her enclosure.

We packed up our bags and headed to Namibia, going through our second border crossing with the truck. There was no ferry crossing this time, but there were many big game animal encounters. In our first days in Namibia it was clear that we had entered a hotter location. There was consensus that to get through the day we needed a mandatory pool dip. At our first camp, we were able to get out onto the sandbar in the middle of the river, to play nothing other than… rugby. The owner of the lodge came out to the sandbar after we had concluded a boat tour of the river and taught us how to play. The girls crushed it and brought their competitive spirit. The fight songs were creative and would have put the New Zealand All Blacks to shame.

We moved further into Namibia where we spent a day with the San people at the Living History Museum of the San People. We spent the morning learning how to start a fire with a bow drill, make jewelry from ostrich eggs and dried berries, and shoot a bow and arrow made by hand. We were welcomed with open arms and brought into their traditional welcoming song and games. At the end of the day we toured the modern village which allowed us to see the cultural changes that the San people have had through the last 50 years as they stopped being nomadic, lost the ability to hunt, and were given parcels of land by the government. The thing that remained the same was their click language which we practiced using our tongues and moving clicks around our mouths in order to say “Thank you.”

Salt Pan

Courtney on the salt pans

Lastly we have just spent two amazing days exploring Etosha National Park. The temperature increased but the animals in this area seem unfazed. In the first hour of being in the park we saw a cheetah sitting royally under a tree. In consecutive game drives we also saw rhinos, elephants, zebra, and wildebeest.



We got out and walked on the salt pan which made us need to blink and wipe our eyes to make sure we were seeing correctly. The salt pan, for as far as you can see, is white salty sand with only a few patches of darker sand intermixed – the brightness was shocking. We were very lucky as we drove out of Etosha to see a pride of lionesses. There were 6 of them wandering together near the road. They took a moment to identify because they were a lot bigger than any of us expected, but they wandered by our truck for a good 30 minutes.

We are now in northwest Namibia prepping for the days to get hotter and for more adventures involving Big Five sitings and conversations with the native tribes. Off for more TTYES!

 – Blog post by AJ

Read more about the Khoisan language and watch a video.

Literature and Composition Academic Update

As of the most recent update, we left our intrepid literature class hanging on the edge of their seats, wrestling with intriguing questions. Why do we tell stories? Who is listening and why does it matter? The literature students are listening, and they have their own stories to tell! In the last couple of weeks, we have continued along the same theme:  What stories do we tell? How do we learn from stories?

I love short stories because they provide the opportunity to taste literature in a bite-sized form. Authors utilize prose in a poetic manner, delineated characters, and condensed plot action to build a scene that pulls the reader in. Most of all, short stories fascinate me because of how quickly they can inspire us to consider complex themes within the story. They are the perfect introduction to a literature course, because we can establish our standards of close reading and critical analysis without committing to a larger work.

Working with short stories set throughout Southern Africa, students practiced conversational engagement. They are learning how and when to insert their voices within a seminar-style discussion. Here are a few examples of where we ventured in this unit… After reading an excerpt from J.M. Coetzee’s “Age of Iron,” we reflected on the power of our pre-conceived notions in determining our perception of literature and life. How do we recognize our pre-conceived notions? Is it possible (or important) to avoid them? “Crackling Day” by Peter Abrahams led us to an analysis of the traditional plot arc and thoughts around how to unpack a plot effectively. What determines the climax of a story? In Bessie Head’s “The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” and NoViolet Bulawayo’s “Hitting Budapest,” we found examples of different types of questions we can pull out of a text. What types of questions are textually based and answerable within the text? What essential questions can we derive from the text to provide foundations for greater interpretation of knowledge? We are looking forward to testing out these practices and habits of mind on a larger work, starting this week with Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible”!

From the compositional side of this course, students enjoy daily writing prompts, intentionally writing for at least ten minutes of class. We are wrapping up our first installment of the writing portfolio: the Drabble Project. Rooted in brevity, the Drabble is a 100-word short story. Each one needs to include a character, a conflict, a resolution, and feature at least two elements of the modern short story. We’ve worked through some writer’s cramps and headaches during the drafting process with this project (100 words is short; clearly it would be a challenge for me to make this blog entry 100 words…) but we will turn in the final product this week and I am looking forward to reading what folks have come up with! In addition, we created poems during a creative writing workshop based on Mary Pipher’s “Where I’m From” to help us illuminate each other’s lives and work towards creating an inclusive and inviting community workspace. In the next few weeks, we will continue with some creative outlets, as well as work towards the drafting of our first literary essay!


Independent Life Skills Academic Update

Independent Life Skills is a course that we love to teach because it allows us to engage in conversations that relate to the challenges of our unique experience here at TTS. The teachers presented what we thought was a hilarious skit to introduce the typical stages of group development. We use the skit to begin a discussion about the challenges we face while getting to know each other and adjusting to life as a group. We also participated in our first “circle,” which is an intentional space in which we practice active listening to facilitate open sharing. Since the first one, which addressed homesickness, we’ve also touched on group dynamics and celebrating birthdays as topics of community discussion. While sitting with elephants, students worked with their mentor groups to develop personal goals for the semester. All types of goals came up, from hydration to focused gratitude, and we enjoyed making plans for supporting each other in our goals throughout the rest of the trip. We also introduced the idea of healthy feedback and some strategies for conflict resolution, and students had the opportunity to practice intentional feedback with a partner. We hope that this format will make it easier to share this intimate and powerful experience together. We are looking forward to workshops coming up in the next couple of weeks relating to food and exercise, active listening, stress management, and revisiting our initial goals.


Global Studies Academic Update

Indigeneity is complicated: throughout our journey in Botswana, we explored the challenge of defining indigenous peoples. Utilizing background information about native people in the US, students worked out the characteristics of indigeneity.  Next, we introduced the idea of a “root cause tree,” which helps contextualize issues that we observe. Using the widespread prevalence of stray dogs as an example, we brainstormed the causes (and causes of the causes!) of the problem — the roots of the tree. The clear next step is to postulate the leaves of the tree, and examine what the possible results of the issue might look like. We practiced this framework with examples of indigenous issues in this region, like land dispossesion, lack of representation, and discrimination. This assignment helped to reinforce the importance of studying a systemically disempowered group. Botswana recognizes all of its citizens as indigenous, thus creating a disillusioned paradigm for understanding the place of people who call themselves indigenous. How do we view indigenous people?

Our case study for these themes is the Kalahari San (or “bushmen,” as they are pejoratively called). In mock news casts, students presented recent events regarding the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and court cases fought by San activists to reclaim access to ancestral lands. During one class, we looked at some maps and realized that we were only a few hundred kilometers from the CKGR. Discussion about the CKGR brought up questions regarding local mining companies, safari lodges, and human rights. Utilizing our framework for critical thinking skills, students analyzed an excerpt from “The Harmless People,” by Elizabeth Marshall. We compared the content and tone to other articles written by San people. The culmination of this case study occurred in a visit to a San Living Museum. Upon arrival, we were ushered into the bush, where we participated in building fires, traditional crafts, and bow hunting.  After the Living Museum, our group also toured the modern version of a San village. Each student came to the experience with a specific question inspired by the content we covered in this unit.  The post-experiential debrief incited fruitful questions about authenticity, defining poverty, and sustainable development: all themes that we will continue to explore throughout this course. Next up, we will dive into a unit about human rights and the role of the UN!


Science Academic Update

To wrap up our first unit of Honors Natural Science we conducted an elephant behavior study at Elephant Sands, Botswana. Located outside of Chobe National Park, this artificial water point right off the front deck of the lodge was an ideal spot for students to observe elephants, ask scientific questions and design and implement a scientific investigation of elephant behavior. By day students recorded data on the elephant’s social interactions at the watering hole, and by night they crept quietly around the campground watching the bull elephants drink from the bathroom toilets learning  about elephant’s keen sense of smell and the length to which they will go to get fresh water.

We switched gears after leaving Elephant Sands and moved into our second unit of land and resource management in Maun where we spend a day exploring the elaborate channels of the Okavango Delta and marveling at the beauty of the world’s largest inland delta. We crossed the border into Namibia and spent our first few days exploring the upper stretches of the Okavanago River before it dumps out into the delta. Here we learned about the role geology and plate tectonics play in forming the delta, and we discussed the potential environmental impact and economic benefits of diverting water from the Okavango River across thousands of kilometers to Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. After crossing several vet checkpoints on our drive though Botswana and Namibia we stopped to talk about the significance of vet fences and the pros and cons for wildlife and livestock of fencing off large areas to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease. During one of our longest travel days we listened to a conservation podcast from Namibia; we grappled with the ideas brought up in the heated debate surrounding the story of a black rhino that was auctioned off for trophy hunting in order to bring in significant revenue to Namibia’s black rhino conservation efforts.

This coming week we are excited to head into Etosha National Park and get our last viewing of green savannah grasslands and large numbers of megafauna before heading into the worlds oldest Namib Desert in search of more elusive wildlife who have adapted to living in extremes in one of the driest places on earth.


Physical Education Academic Update

After spending several days rafting on the Zambezi river in Zambia, our PE classes took a turn in Botswana as we have been on the move. Here we have focused in on getting in our early morning and mid-afternoon workouts. While being on the road means that our routines must sometimes be flexible, it also means that PE in Southern Africa often takes on unique and exciting forms. A few of our highlights from the past few weeks have included: workouts on the deck at Elephant Sands while watching elephants drink at the watering hole; running along the river in Maun; crowding into the small pool at Rainbow River Lodge to do pool workouts and cool off; and most recently having a guest lecturer teach us how to play rugby on a sandbar in the middle of the Okavango River. Moving into the next few weeks before the campus visit and midterms we are excited to see what new forms our class will take.


Precalculus Academic Update

Hello from the banks of the Okavango River! We finished our last class of Unit 1 today while we watched a group of hippos flap their ears. We discussed whether the amount of times the hippos surface can be modeled mathematically.

Tomorrow the students will put their knowledge to work in their first exam. Courtney excelled at finding inverses: She built a function to calculate miles driven per gallon of diesel on Big Blue and then found the inverse to calculate gallons of diesel used per mile.

Inverses and composite functions go hand in hand. We compared the discounts at the market in Maun through composites. Does taking 10 Botswana Pula off before or after a percent discount result in a larger amount saved? Alaina can tell you the answer and justify her reasoning through compositions!

Next up, we will study social justice mathematics, analyzing the disparity in wealth in both the US and Southern Africa. Then we are skipping ahead to chapter 3 on exponents and logarithms. Scoobs is already studying the exponential population growth in Africa.

In addition to class, homework and exams, we are also in the midst of many projects:

  • Project Teach is our last project to be introduced. Students will be choosing a topic, planning a lesson, and teaching our class for 30 minutes. Lena is first up, preparing a class on the Unit Circle.
  • Project Ever is in full swing already. During free periods, the students can be found in pairs around our campsites interviewing people we meet about the math they use in their daily lives. The culmination of these interviews will be an essay in which the students answer “When will I ever use this?” I cannot wait to read their answers! Until next time TTS friends and family! We have our eyes and ears open searching for the math all around us.


Sophie’s Koch curve

Lots of Action

We have done so much the past two weeks it is a difficult task to recount it all.  Since our last activity blog, we have crossed a border, observed dozens of elephants, watched the sunrise while on a game drive in Chobe National Park, and rafted down the Zambezi. Whew! No wonder we all fall asleep quickly at the end of each day.


Zambezi River Days

While rafting down the Zambezi we often took breaks to let our shoulders rest and enjoy the surroundings.  During these breaks, Mardy was normally found with a big smile on her face, lounging back in her duckie/kayak.  The first night camping on the banks of the Zambezi, we all practiced gymnastics on the unexpectedly lush green grass.  Sav learned how to do a somersault while Mandara delighted everyone with her perfect headstand.  We had our first circle on the second night camping on the river.  The stars were bright above us in the river gorge, with cavernous walls surrounding the campsite, as we discussed our first phone calls home and how lucky we were all to be at TTS with this amazing group.  The final day of the rafting trip was a big one for us all, and Phyllis stepped up to guide her raft down the rapids, grabbing onto the large wooden oars as she steered the group to quieter waters.


TTS27, meet TK, Tee & Big Blue!

Back on solid land, we headed back to Jollyboys and were welcomed by Big Blue!  We were excited to step onto the truck that we know will carry us for miles across Southern Africa.  We met our driver TK and our cook Tee. We welcomed them to the family with a big Shona greeting.  The following day we boarded Big Blue and visited Victoria Falls.  Scoobs loved seeing the natural beauty of the Zambezi River in a different form.

Our time back at Jollyboys was brief, Botswana was calling our name! We packed up, took our comfy seats and set off for our first border crossing which happened to take place on a ferry.  Sophie took surprise that a 3-minute ferry across a small stretch of the Zambezi resulted in another stamp on her passport.  Our first stop in Botswana was a campsite near the famous Chobe National Park.  Our alarms went off early the following morning for our first game drive.  Katherine could not contain her excitement at the large hippo we found upriver.  We had seen many on the river but this was the first time seeing more than their eyes and ears.  Anna loved to point out beautiful birds with florescent colors, always sure to ask our guide the names of ones she did not know.  Katelyn spotted a herd of elephants in the distance and could not wait to get closer.


Land of Elephants

After Chobe we headed to Elephant Sands, a very rural campsite with a man-made watering hole for elephants.  Each day we watched dozens of elephants drinking and cooling themselves off under the hot African Sun.  Emma was especially immersed in the elephants as she hopes to become involved in protecting wildlife one day.  As Elephant Sands had an unforgiving environment with hot sun and little shade, Maria made the most of her wardrobe by shielding her eyes and face from the sun with an intricately wrapped scarf.  Others have followed suit in hopes of saving their supply of sunblock.  Luckily, there was a refreshing pool there and when we first arrived, hot and fatigued from transport we jumped in as a group before we started class.

We are now in Maun on the banks of the Okavango Delta.  We have many activities planned ahead.  It is Courtney’s birthday today and we have a fun celebration planned for this evening.  Our Shona is improving day by day.  Aine is excelling at greeting TK and Tee at night, assuring them both that she passed a peaceful day.  Tomorrow we are basket weaving with the local women in Maun and this week we will be headed into the Delta on motor boats to see more wildlife in the largest inland river delta in the world.

Until next time! Everyone is smiling, excited for each moment here at the Traveling School.


Classes Galore

Hello all –

You may have heard the tales about Traveling School classes being the scaffolding to experiential learning. Here is your first glimpse of how classes have unfolded this semester. Enjoy the vicarious education and don’t be afraid to click some links and learn along with TTS28.

Independent Life Skills

During the orientation phase at the very beginning of our trip, we devote a lot of time to develop independent life skills that will help us throughout our trip. During the first week, we presented workshops on water purification, mosquito protocol, personal safety and self defense, culture shock and adaptation, personal budgeting, women’s health, academic organization, and stages of group development. We also worked together to create community standards: rules by which we will abide for the rest of our time together. We know TTS is a rigorous and complex environment, so as we move forward, we will think about how to address the challenges that come up regarding ourselves, our group, and how we interact with the region. As we understand this new environment better, we will draft and create personal goals for ourselves to help maintain focus and motivation throughout the semester. As we get to know each other, we will be creating dialogue around conflict management and feedback. As we spend more time with the people and places we are visiting, we will debrief how we want to be as humans in this world (a conversation that will continue for a long time!).

Literature and Composition

Greetings from Botswana! The World of southern African literature is upon us. We’ve begun our course with a mini unit on stories. Why do we tell stories? In our first class, we discussed the values of stories and what function they play in our culture and in our personal understanding of the world. Students practiced detailed textual investigation with Scott Russell Sanders’ “The Most Human Art.” Then, we turned to the questions of who is listening to our stories and why does it matter? To begin answering these queries, we were lucky to have enough internet to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.” This narrative set the framework for how we will approach our study of stories that we find throughout our trip around Southern Africa. We also used Adichie’s ideas to facilitate a conversation about numerical grades as an evaluative framework that can create dangerous “single stories” about student performance. Students were given the opportunity to opt out of seeing their numerical grades except for at midterms and finals, in favor of commentary-based feedback and a shift away from grade stress. We hope that this commitment (everyone signed a contract!) will allow for a more supportive atmosphere to grow our writing and literary analysis skill sets with confidence. The next class, we looked into the question, what stories do we tell? We walked through a brief history of the story, from the beginning of fire and language, to oral stories, parables, fairy tales, fables, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the short story in the 19th century. Considered by some to be the last major development in modern literature, we will be diving into the short story art form in the next couple of weeks. Not only will we be reading and analyzing short stories set in southern Africa, we will also be writing our own version of a short story. In the Drabble Project, students will have the opportunity to draft, edit, revise and complete a flash fiction piece of only 100 words (and 100 words exactly). More on this later, we are looking forward to attacking this project with creativity!


We started our Modern History and African Politics class off with a bang, jumping right in with no tiptoeing around issues. We studied maps of Africa trying to understand where we had actually landed and where we are going. We grappled with how cartographers choose to depict countries and what affect that has on the way we think about Africa and other continents outside of the Americas. We engaged with ideas around why people call Africa, Africa, instead of referring to the countries within Africa. As historians of present day, we discussed how we must to be aware of bias and whether it is possible to get an unbiased view of a situation.

Lucky to be in a wi-fi zone, we opened our conversation around cultural appropriation and cultural assimilation using the YouTube video Don’t Cash Crop my Cornrows. These topics became a heated conversation around what we know is happening in the US and what we perceive to be happening in Zambia. As history class normally does, we ended with more questions than answers and will continue to ponder these thoughts throughout the semester.

As we develop new vocabulary and ways of thinking about history, we began our unit on colonialism. Students broke into groups and built skits around a theme: cultural imperialism, economic imperialism and political imperialism. Each group found a unique way to share their theme, highlighting the heavy subjects with some points of laughter and creativity. As we start our exploration of Botswana we will continue to grapple with large topics and use the people around us as a resource to understand how colonialism affects the country today.

Algebra 2

Our small, five person class is a great change of pace for everyone. A few weeks into the semester, students are noticing how the class size allows us to examine material closely and spend copious amounts of time practicing techniques and asking questions. It has been exciting as we grapple with new ideas and refresh those that laid dormant through the summer. We started the course blending everyone’s different math backgrounds to find a common starting spot  so we can delve deep into topics this semester with a strong base of understanding. We began by learning algebraic equations using x and y points that correlated with Celsius and Fahrenheit. We continue to work on our Celsius and Fahrenheit conversion as we travel to Botswana because it has gotten a lot hotter here which demonstrates how the conversions change over a larger range of temperatures. We jumped right into learning properties of real numbers and how numbers nest into different categories. Mardy mastered simplifying square roots and worked hard to build a fantastic nested number drawing. Mandara engages with the material in and outside the classroom asking great questions. Emma is diligent and adds anecdotes and tips from her previous classes which proves useful to all of us.

As we entered into algebraic equations light bulbs started going off as we re-visited more familiar topics. Maria worked hard and answered many questions on the white board, acting as teacher, as we reviewed past concepts. In our last class we started working on exponents. We figured out what to do when exponents are negative, in a fraction, and in or outside parentheses in an equation. Chessie was an avid mathematician with her ability to do brain calculations and exponents. As we begin our study of functions we will play fraction bingo and birthday function img_3023exploration.

Throughout the semester the class will also learn about a new female mathematician every unit. Currently we are studying Freda Porter, an American Indian women with a Ph.D in mathematics. She founded the Mathematical Association of America’s Committee of Minority Participation in Mathematics and started Porter Scientific, Inc.


Precalculus is off to a great start here in Zambia. The first class studied the linear relationship between Celsius and Fahrenheit. All students derived the equation using both real world data from a small thermometer and boiling and freezing temperatures. Phyllis not only derived the equation but she is now a master at switching between the two temperatures without a calculator.

Quickly after that exploration, we delved into the world of functions and relations. Savannah built a function based on the average number of candy bars eaten on the Air Emirates flight based on age. Although our sample size was not very large, on average 16 year-old students ate the most candy bars. We have continued classes by studying the basics of functions. Anna created a piece-wise function to model a cell phone plan which we then analyzed in class. Here in Southern Africa, paying by the minute for phone and texts is normal which further highlights the importance of piece-wise functions. Aine excelled at difference quotients, a formula used to find the slope of any functions at specifics points. This quotient will come in handy next year in calculus when everyone will be studying tangent and secant lines.

Along with bolstering our problem solving skills this semester, we are also practicing our writing and processing skills with math journals. Last week everyone reflected on their first week in Traveling School precalculus. During our trek to the whitewater stretch of our three day river trip, Lena commented about our walk down to the river camp. It was incredibly steep at times and she was estimating the angles our bodies were making with the ground. She brought math alive for the whole group on the trail and later reflected about it in her journal.

We are currently on “Big Blue,” our overland truck, headed to Botswana. During our time in Bots, we will finish with functions by studying transformations. Up next is our in depth study of exponential and logarithmic functions.


Our team immediately kicked off science class by searching for clues about Africa’s big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo), in the airports and at our Zambian hostel. Next we learned about other common southern African wildlife using our field guides during a fun game of wildlife celebrity. These activities provided a great warm-up for our first unit in wildlife ecology and field science.

We began the unit looking at the big picture and learning about southern Africa biomes. We zoomed in and traced our route through the semester and then drew maps of how the biomes we travel through overlap. By the end of the first week it was time to set off for our first hands-on exploration of a biome on our Zambezi river trip. To prep for the trip as scientists, we spent an evening making observations about local plants around our campsite in our field journals. On our drive to the river we crossed through a local national park and saw our first giraffe and a troop of baboons. Our local river guides explained the wildlife management issues in the park and the difficulty that elephants have moving in and out of the national parks through the farmland. Our first two days on the Zambezi were full of hippos and occasional crocodile sightings.

For our final day rafting we hiked into the gorge below Victoria Falls, we quickly learned about river hydraulics and how the river changes at high and low water levels as we bounced through the class 3 rapids. The gorge also gave us a geology taster and a glimpse into our third unit about metamorphic and sedimentary rock formations. We observed layers of jagged basalt in the river bed below the limestone and sandstone cliffs that made up the canyon walls. Students made artistic representations and descriptive observations about the Zambezi river and the gorge in their field journals. After paddling the slow waters of the upper river and tumultuous waters on the lower river, it was time to visit the mighty Victoria Falls from shore. This vantage point gave us a great backdrop to discuss the formation of the falls and the geologic history of how they were formed.

As we continue to delve deeper into our exploration of southern African biomes and wildlife, we are all very excited for our first game drive and the beginning our elephant behavior study projects coming up in the next few weeks.

Global Studies


Reading the world

Global Studies is a 2-credit course that encompasses almost everything we do at TTS in some way. We try to consistently incorporate text-based references and understanding into real-world experience to create a narrative that helps us understand the complex reality of southern Africa. Zambia welcomed us with fascinating context: we were able to experience a pivotal moment in local history immediately upon arrival. We flew into Zambia right after a close election – so close it had gone into a recount of votes. Throughout our first week we read newspaper articles about the election, and spoke with many locals to see what their opinions are on the election and what the voting process looks like in Zambia. In our first official class, we presented a metaphorical activity, in which water represented knowledge. Each student sat with an empty glass in front of them, while teachers poured water from larger vessels into their glasses. We asked students to contrast that experience with one in which students and teachers sat together and exchanged water from vessel to vessel. We used this as a jumping-off point to reorient the group perspective on teaching and learning, and to discredit the “banking model” of education (Paulo Friere) in which teachers give empty-minded students information to store and repeat. In this course (and in all courses at TTS), we expect that students take an active part in their own education. Teachers are learning all the time, and we work together to facilitate each other’s critical thinking and academic expression. How can we read the world? Where do we find information and how do we share it? Our first outing from our orientation site was to a local orphanage: students enjoyed making observations during our walk there and having conversations with kids. In our debrief conversation, fascinating realizations came forth regarding our perception of poverty, our interpretation of development, and our understanding of the commonality of human experience. A guest speaker named Eddie delighted the students with a class on tribes of Zambia and an introduction to Nyanja (the most common local language). In the next few class periods, we dug into “Africa” as a blanket term, and learned more about the history and harm of referring to “Africa as a country.” Because we depend so much on experience to create learning, we went through Kolb’s experiential learning cycle as an introduction to our weekly Global Studies assignments. These assignments, while varying in format and expectation, consistently ask students to reflect on what they perceive and how their experience affects them. Before we move into our first big unit, we will spend some more time setting the stage for students by working through the process of critical thinking and creating expectations for textual annotation. Before we know it, we will be utilizing all these skills as we begin our discussions of indigeneity in Botswana!

Stay tuned for further academic updates.

Beth, AJ, Eva and Meredith

First Stop . . . Livingstone

Hello from Southern Africa! After almost 48 hours of travel we arrived in sunny Livingstone, Zambia. Traveling for that long was definitely tiring but also incredibly exciting. Air Emirates had amazing movies, music, and even candy bars. In the airport we all went on a scavenger hunt to explore our surroundings. We talked to airport personnel in Seattle, hearing the stories of their lives. We continued our questioning in Dubai and Johannesburg. We then were able to compare and contrast the experience of conversing with people in different cultures and places. A flight attendant in the Seattle airport intrigued Chessie, Katelyn, and Scoobs with his life story and how it related to an inner sense of peace. Anna and Emma talked with a security guard at the Dubai airport and learned he was from Bangladesh, loves his job, and visits his family about once a year. Stories are happening all around us, it just takes a bit of effort to listen!


Mopane Worms – yummy!

Ltn Blog

Laundry is fun – who knew?!

From the Livingstone airport we headed to our campsite and rested up for a couple hours. A unique dinner awaited us: we sampled the local beef and tried the local staple food (ground maize called “nshima”). We even crunched on the local delicacy: friend mopane worms! It was certainly a warm (and a bit unexpected) welcome to the African continent. Since then, our days have been filled with orientation activities and icebreakers. A gaggle of young boys delighted Mandara and Alaina through the fence of Jollyboys with songs and laughter. We have already started classes: the students’ minds are brimming with Zambian politics regarding the recent election, the linear relationship between Celsius and Fahrenheit, cartography, the big five African animals, and consideration of the “most human art” of storytelling. Eddie, who works at Jollyboys, gave a class on Zambian tribes and an introduction to nyanja, which is one of Zambia’s 72 national languages. Phyllis quizzed him on local customs. Hope, another employee, gave an informative and necessary tutorial on washing laundry by hand. Along with all of the other students, Katherine could barely contain her excitement at learning how to clean her clothes without a washing machine.

We left our campsite for the first time on a journey to the local orphanage. It felt fantastic to get out of  the physical walls that have surrounded us for the first few days and enjoy a sandy thirty minute walk to meet new friends. While Sophie and Lena chatted with a couple of sixteen year old girls about their experience living at the orphanage, Mardy spent the whole time with a baby on her hip and a smile on her face. Courtney and Sav played soccer with some boys who kept changing the rules on them, and Aine and Maria enjoyed trying to learn the rules to a circular hand-slapping game taught by the girls of the orphanage.

We only have a short time left here in Zambia; already we are winding down to our last few days in this beautiful country that welcomed us so warmly. We are looking forward to exploring Livingstone, settling more into classes, a lovely river trip on the Zambezi River, and hopefully, Victoria Falls!

Ltn blog2

Chillin’ at Jollyboys

Seattle Moments

Hello TTS28 followers –

I am all smiles after returning from the Seattle orientation. Last weekend I met 16 amazing teenage girls and a handful of parents who were all nervously excited for the upcoming semester. On Saturday, teachers ran laps back and forth between the hotel and airport to greet each newcomer and welcome her into the group. After arriving at the hotel, students buddied up for a pack check. The pack check is a concise way of saying unpacking your entire pack and wading through each item to ensure each student had everything from water purification to sleeping bags tucked away. First up were Lena and Maria who both arrived mid-morning. They became the greeting crew for Sav, Chessie, Mardy and Scoobs (Aurora) who all arrived around noon. Next some of the local gals popped in – Emma, Mandara, Katelyn and Alaina plus Phyllis and Sophie from the East Coast. By now the lunch buffet was out in the conference room and girls were making sandwiches while giggling and getting to know one another. Soon, Anna, Courtney and Aine waltzed through the door with duffles on their backs and daypacks on their fronts. The conference room was now buzzing with energy as gear flew out of bags. Those who finished pack checks early hung around eager for everyone else to finish up. After checking everything off the pack list, teachers bestowed textbooks to each girl, and the re-packing game became a bit more interesting. With some great moments of teamwork everyone managed to re-pack their bags and settle into afternoon activities. Phyllis made everyone homemade journals and brought decorating materials so everyone could customize theirs and add a bit of personal flair. Students may choose to use this journal as their PLM – Personal Life Museum – to track the events of the semester through academic activities, journaling moments, literature assignments and more. No matter how each one uses her new journal, this was the first touch of unique TTS28 moments. A couple students waited to make their journals until Katherine arrived. Despite arriving late, Katherine won the travel prize of the day for making it from the East Coast despite a flight cancellation and various airport re-routes.

With all the bustling activity in the conference room, parents hung out in the lobby sharing tales of preparation. We give everyone a huge congratulations for making it through the packing process, which is no small feat, but is often (luckily) forgotten as the girls settle into the semester and share stories of their adventures.

Around 5 pm everyone re-grouped for more formal introductions and ice breaker games. Everyone “mingled” through game one, pausing on cue to share a fact or story with the closest person before continuing to mingle until the next cue. Next the group played a game in which they chose between two options (oceans or mountains; dogs or cats; etc) to see who had similar interests. Finally, everyone settled into their chairs for teacher introductions and an itinerary presentation. Throughout the presentation Meredith gave a pop quiz for smile points, Eva added some personal touches about Namibia, and Beth and AJ amused the group with tales of possible activities and adventures in the coming months. A pasta dinner, more games, the first schedule presentation, and a surprise gift wrapped up the night. Emma and her father, Gary, presented each student with a Travel Bot for good travel karma. These special bots will travel with the group to help create a distinctive semester filled with memories and friendship. Before we knew it, bedtime had arrived and the weary group settled into their rooms for a solid night of sleep.

Beep…beep…beep… alarms sounded and swimsuits were on… pool games started at 7:30 am Sunday morning. Sharks and minnows and red light, green light were two games that initiated the travel day. Breakfast was followed up with a walk to a nearby park for teacher skits highlighting how to travel safely. The four teachers showcased their acting skills with comedic routines about money, ATMs, headphones and cameras, common scenarios that we take for granted in our communities but which need precautions in new environments. We returned to the hotel to put the last items into bags and say the final good-byes. Shuttle vans arrived and everyone jostled gear and organized into their travel pods to begin their grand voyage through four countries (USA, UAE, South Africa, Zambia), three planes, two layovers, a multiple hour time change and approximately 36 hours of travel before they landed in Livingstone.

Sunset near Dubai

Sunset near Dubai

And, as Meredith shared in a brief message on Tuesday, everyone is embracing the newness, “Students ate with their hands tonight for dinner. A traditional Zambian beef stew with maize. It was an experience considering there will also fried worms in the dish.” The early bedtimes this week have been appreciated by all.

Wednesday morning began the community building phase as teachers initiated TTS norms and expectations. Orientation will continue throughout the weekend and soon everyone will know their mentor groups, crew tasks, and white board procedures for the semester. Stay tuned for an activity update from the field next week.



Curious about the slideshow? Watch it below


Teachers welcome everyone to the semester

Hello TTS28 fans! Wow – just like that, summer came and went. And now we are prepping our first day of school outfits and school supplies for a semester quite different from anything else. The teachers began the journey with a busy week of orientation in Bozeman. We pow-wowed about classes, activities, itinerary notes, risk management strategies and more. We filled our evenings with community gatherings, bike rides and team building moments. Our week together highlighted the excitement, enthusiasm and experience we aim to share with students. Coming into my fourth semester with TTS, I recognize that although no two semesters are ever the same, each semester proves to be a monumental period where we all stretch our comfort zones and realize new potential. Here’s to a wonderful journey, thanks for supporting these 16 teenage girls and their troupe of teachers. Cheers! Beth (Literature teacher, Lead iLife and Global Studies teacher)

Hello Traveling School Family! This past week has flown by as we prepare for TTS28 to start. I have enjoyed bonding with my fellow teachers and we are all incredibly excited to meet everyone in Seattle.  Parents, I look forward to meeting you. Thank you for sharing your daughters with us.  Students, welcome to the Traveling School!  Get ready for a transformational journey.  Southern Africa here we come! Meredith (Precalculus teacher, iLife and Global Studies co-teacher)

Hello to all! I am beyond excited to jump into the semester and experience southern Africa with this group of ladies. Prepping for the semester began in Bozeman, where we practiced acclimatizing to the warmer than usual Bozeman summer weather before landing in Zambia while jumping right into Semester 28. With our many diverse experiences and life adventures to share we started with some quality get to know you time during the busy initiation week of living the TTS experience. Our TTS week was filled with textbook exploration, lesson planning, cultivating our community standards and solidifying some of the awesome activities throughout the semester. Of course, we took a few breaks to eat some of our favorite foods, play on the trails and soak in the hot springs before embarking on this endeavor. Let’s get this adventure started! AJ (Algebra 2 and History teacher, PE & iLife and Global Studies co-teacher)

Hello TTS28 fans! Our journey is quickly approaching. We are all busy preparing for our adventure and we are looking forward to meeting our team in Seattle soon! I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend this semester leading with three amazing and inspiring teachers. I am equally excited to spend the next four months learning alongside 16 inquisitive and enthusiastic students. Parents, thank you for supporting your daughter to make this opportunity possible for her. At TTS we have a saying, “Changing the world one girl at a time.” As teachers we know this journey will not only change our students lives but will change ours as well.  See you all soon! Eva (Science teacher, PE & iLife and Global Studies co-teacher)

The home office said goodbye to the amazing TTS28 teacher team this morning. They are off to Seattle this afternoon getting ready to greet your daughters tomorrow!

AJ loading the 200lb library!

Words of Advice from A Traveling School Mom
By Debby Greene

When my daughter Juliana left for SW Africa with The Traveling School in August it was a big step for our family. The months leading up to her send off were filled with anticipation and excitement coupled with apprehension and worry. There was the constant search for the “right” gear and supplies, checking her passport and airline ticket, setting up communication and banking information, getting medicine and shots, last minute indecision about the warmth of her sleeping bag and her jacket, learning to use her water purifier and take her malaria medication, writing down phone numbers and addresses, health insurance information, medical history and more. Lists were made and remade, the bag was packed, unpacked and repacked and then finally it was time for her to go.

At the airport I wanted to imprint her face and the feel of her hug in my memory to last for over 3 months. Not one for dramatics, Juliana wanted to get the hugs over with and be on her way. And before I knew it she was gone. I got home that summer morning, sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee and breathed a huge sigh of relief. We had done it. She was off. For a day or two I relished the quiet and calm and then I started missing her –a lot.

1467231_10201816939523530_805967988_nWe were prepared for no communication from our daughter for the first two weeks as TTS explained it helps the girls assimilate. But it drove me crazy. I wondered what my daughter was doing? Did she get along with the other girls? Is the sleeping bag we chose warm enough? Is she sick? Is she homesick? Eventually I learned to let go of the worry and trust or I wouldn’t sleep for 3+ months.

Near the end of the second week we got an email from TTS telling us to expect the first phone call sometime soon and that the call may be teary because the girls hadn’t heard our voices in awhile. Not knowing when to expect the phone call I took my phone with me everywhere — showers happened with the shower door open to hear the ring. I panicked on my commute to work when I was without cell phone coverage for 30 minutes. I didn’t want to miss that first call. The phone rang on a Thursday morning with this long, unfamiliar number and I answered, “Hi sweetie,” as I barely held back tears. But Juliana wasn’t teary at all. Her voice was clear and strong and it was impossible for me to cry because she sounded so great.

My husband compares sending your daughter to The Traveling School with sending her to the moon. Like most parents cell phones give us immediate connection to our kids but with TTS that is gone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining — it’s just a strange experience. For over 3 months I lived for trip blog updates, photos of my daughter, mentor reports from the teachers, academic reports, the elusive phone call, letters delivered via a TTS teacher (so cool), Facebook messages and any tidbits the office staff could share with me. I felt like I had sent a fledging bird out of the nest with this incredible leap of faith and I had to track her progress in some way without being able to text or call her. When it seemed like an achingly long time had gone by without communication, I would even stalk my daughter’s checking account.

Throughout Juliana’s entire TTS experience I kept my phone with me constantly. I felt a little strange but it was a lifeline to my daughter and I wanted to be there if she needed me. I missed a call about 6 weeks in but my daughter called my husband instead and they had a great conversation all to themselves.

Three and a half months is a long time and there were moments when it just seemed like enough already it’s time for her to be home but that clearly wasn’t an option. The photographs really helped pull us through. Our daughter is not the most smiley kid — but the smiles she had in almost every TTS photo lit up her entire face. Those smiles pushed away any fear and reassured us she was having the time of her life –which she did. Of course, not every moment was great and we did have some emotional phone calls. It is difficult to comfort a kid so far away and to not over-react but we knew that although this was a moment where she was struggling most of the time she was doing very well.

Keeping in touch with Juliana’s friends and having them over also helped me cope. They communicated with her via Facebook so we got to hear the stories she shared with them. Also I knew a few parents who already sent daughters to TTS and they offered a ton of advice — like some kids don’t call home a lot (our daughter). We also sent photos and updates to a long email list of relatives and friends and all their feedback and encouragement was a huge support. I also had a friend who lived in Tanzania for many years and walks and talks with her were priceless. Just keeping a good support system of people who love you and your daughter and ask about her because it is so fun to share what the girls are going through with people who care and it helped me feel like my daughter wasn’t so far away.

I also enjoyed connecting to other parents with daughters on Juliana’s actual trip. Every girl shares different things so hearing other perspectives was interesting as was commiserating with someone who really understood . We didn’t go on the parent trip so it was nice having a parent who was going on the trip to send things for Juliana and also connecting with another parent who wasn’t going so we didn’t feel so alone staying behind.

Overall I tried to remember my daughter was doing great (and if she wasn’t TTS would let us know). She had the experience of a lifetime and though it was hard to let her go for so long and so far away we felt proud to give her the independence. Juliana’s life was changed forever because of TTS and, really, it’s hard to express how much this trip has meant to her. She has returned more mature, thoughtful, engaged and open.

table topIn December, Juliana gave a presentation about the SW Africa TTS trip and someone asked if there were any girls she really connected with and Juliana said, “Well of course there were some girls I connected with more than others but I can also say I consider every one of the girls on my trip my best friend.”

So TTS28 parents enjoy the experience. It is amazing.

By | 2017-10-19T12:53:40-07:00 August 10th, 2016|Southern Africa, Trip Reports|0 Comments

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Leave A Comment