Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Outdoor Fitness Goals

Jessica Leach
Granite Street School
Millinocket, Maine
2015 TTEC Cohort

July 18, 2015

As my summer vacation moves along I try to have outdoor fitness goals that incorporate the AT. For the past two summers I have taken on the 100 mile wilderness with a few hiking friends. This journey has made a huge impact on my life and world. It makes me really want to share what the woods, trails, hiking community and life on the trail with others can offer people, most importantly, young adults. I feel the challenge of the 100 mile wilderness is worth the hard work it takes to finish it. As I move forward in my discovery of the trail community I hope that I can give back all that I have received from the Appalachian Trail and the community that comes with it.

My goal as a physical education teacher is to give students that ability to choose which healthy goal they want to keep in their lives and hopefully part of that goal will incorporate being outside in some way whether it is in the woods, on the trail, or just enjoying outdoor sports.

I am posting a few pictures from the trail to show the great adventure we had with hopefully many more to come.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Roland Tester
U.S. Government Teacher 
Daniel Boone High School, Gray, Tennessee
2015 TTEC Cohort

July 14, 2015

The weekend (April 10-11) that I spent at the Amicalola State Park and the Len Foote Hike Inn as a member of the Southern Regional Appalachian Trail Cohort was a wonderful experience.  The TTEC program and agenda was well-planned and well-executed, from beginning to end. I arrived at the Amicalola Park Lodge on a rather rainy and dreary Friday morning.  We expected a wet trek to the Hike Inn, but by the time we finished the morning agenda at the Lodge, the rain had moved on; with the exception of one episode that would scarcely classify as a drizzle, we had a very pleasant jaunt to our lodgings. The Len Foote Hike Inn is inaccessible to vehicles: the only egress is a 4-5 mile trail from the State Park, which makes for an invigorating walk, with a most welcome destination at the end.

I cannot express how impressed I was with the Len Foote Hike Inn, and the thought and engineering that went into it’s design and operation; the construction of all the buildings on stilts to minimize the impact on the terrain and the fauna, solar panels on the roofs of the buildings, windows and other openings placed specifically to both heat and cool, composting toilets, a red worm farm to assist with composting, no trash cans (what you packed in, you packed out), propane/solar heated water, very Spartan (but very welcome and comfortable) sleeping quarters, wonderful outdoor areas, spectacular vistas, good and plentiful food (I always enjoy eating good food and drinking good coffee that I neither have to make, nor pay for!) and above all, a restful and reflective atmosphere conducive to relaxation and deep thinking.  My only regret of my stay at the Hike Inn was that it was so brief; I could have gladly stayed for a week.

I suppose that if I were to make connections between the vision and operation of the Len Foote Hike Inn, and the greater vision of how we treat our Earth and ourselves, it would be to Be Mindful: Think about your actions, and their consequences; think about your impact on your environment, and think about the impact that your neighborhood, your city, your county, your State has on the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat; and how ultimately, the way we affect our environment returns to us, good or bad.  Live as Simply as you can.

There must always be Quiet Places where we may enjoy a respite from the rattle and hum and buzz and constant rush of the 21st Century; and there must always be Wild Places where humans can remember that we are a part of Nature, and not separate and detached from it. This is why I believe that the Appalachian Trail is a National Treasure so important to us.

Simply Observing

Daniel Masi, 
Upper Valley Waldorf School
Quechee, Vermont
TTEC Cohort 2015

July 15, 2015

Being a part of the TTEC program and working with other incredible teachers has been a really inspiring experience. After that weekend, I saw the world a little differently than I did when I arrived. I found myself looking at every tree, bird, insect, small plants, flowers, mosses and mushrooms with tremendous curiosity and desire to know what it was and what was its individual story and what lessons it had for me. I was observing the world with a new lens that had been formed by what I had learned that weekend.

As teacher, I believe there is so much to be learned by simply observing. Stopping to take notice of our world, the forest, the path, and all living creatures along the way. This experience made me think about goal oriented lessons versus process oriented lessons.  For example, going on a class hike, one of the goals was to get to the top of the mountain and back. Other goals included using and expanding the capacity of observation. Of course, good lessons consider both, but the key is finding the sweet spot where children experience the intended goals and at the same time enjoy the process.
Taking my experience and applying it to the classroom, I was ready to bring it to my class of second graders. I knew we had a field trip planned for a hike at the end of the school year and this was my first opportunity to lay the foundation of the expectations and experiences that we will have on future hikes on the Appalachian Trail in future higher grades, as I follow the class through the grades until 8th grade.
With my class in second grade, they are still young and very much living into their environment. A lesson must just be a part the experience and not something separate. So I came up with a very simple lesson: Making observations and recording the observations with parent volunteers. We had several parents with clipboards and a spreadsheet of possible items to be observed and a blank spot for things not on the list. The idea was to make it simple to record and turn the children’s attention to the environment. As hiking can be a social time too, especially the last week of school, they needed this little assignment.
Children of various learning styles and temperaments react differently to an experience like a class hike. There are the goal oriented students who would run to the top of the Mountain trail without looking at anything, doing anything they could to be at the top, preferably first. Then you have the social children, who are talking and socializing as they hike. There is also the introspective observer, taking everything in and connecting with the environment. Lastly, there is the one student who wants to collect everything they see and take their time hiking up the mountain. They sometimes need a little prompting to keep them with the group.
This simple lesson brought something for each of these different children. The goal oriented student had a goal of finding and observing their environment. They seemed to want to find more than anyone else, even though it wasn’t a contest. The social child now had to turn their attention to the environment and observing, usually with others and talking about whatever they just found or how they have seen something like this before. The introspective child, taking it all in, now has to tell someone (a parent in this case) what they were observing. These children saw things that everyone else missed!  The collecting child similarly found many interesting things and was usually at the end of the group needing a prompt to keep moving.
The hike was structured with parents in front, middle, and at the end. The students could walk, run, jump, etc… within the front and the end, as long as they stayed on the path. Parents marked the sheets with observations, by what each individual child observed. They could make simple line hash marks for each bird or insect or reptile or mammal a student pointed out to them. When we went back to the classroom after the hike we reviewed what had been observed by each child and tallied all the different observations and totaled the various observations.
This very simple lesson allowed the children to taken in their environment and experiences and share it and see how much they can see if they stop to look. Same with all the senses, taking the time to take it in and observe the world around them. I believe this is one of the foundation lessons to bring to the students at this young age. Using and expanding the capacity to observe will serve these students in grades to come, for example, in fourth grade when we are learning animals or fifth grade when we begin to study botany.
My hope is that I take my own feeling of curiosity and wanting to learn and observe my world and give my students experiences for them to find their own curiosity and desire to observe and learn from the world.

Attached, spreadsheet.


Melissa Largen
Physical Science
Grayson County High School
2015 TTEC Cohort

Saturday, July 18

The word “adventure” conjures up all kinds of excitement.  I think my love of it stems from childhood. My parents would wake my sister and I up on Saturday mornings and say, “time to get up girls, we’re going on an adventure”. We would scramble to see who could get dressed and into the back of the old panel station wagon first and off we went, on our adventure. We never knew where we might end up. Sometimes we would just follow old gravel roads around the mountains, stopping to play in burbling streams and climb over boulders. At times we would get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stop at the first trail head we came to and just start hiking.  We would walk until we got to the end of the trail or until my parents had judged that they would have to carry us back if we didn’t turn back.  I always wanted to see what was around the next turn and that was true of riding in the car as well as hiking.   Sometimes we stayed in the mountains of Virginia.  Sometimes we would end up in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, or on one memorable occasion, Kentucky.  My sister and I each had our own pair of binoculars and would clamber all over the back of that station wagon looking out windows and vying to be the first to see the deer, cow, bear, or whatever animal my dad challenged us to find. These were before the days of mandatory seat belts, mind you. All of the fun memories have one thing in common, I never knew where I would be at the end of the day, nor what adventures I might have along the way.

Teaching is like that, an adventure. I teach eighth grade science at a small rural high school in Southwest Virginia and I must say that every day is an adventure. I may have some vague notion of what I expect to achieve by the end of the day but I have absolutely no idea what adventures will befall me during those seven and a half hours I’m surrounded by hormonal thirteen and fourteen year olds. One thing I can say about teaching is that it is NEVER BORING! I would be less than honest if I said I loved every minute of it but truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way I learn as much from my hyper charges as they hopefully, learn from me. That love of learning has lead me to my current adventure, Trail to Every Classroom.

My school is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We are approximately 25 miles from the part of the Appalachian Trail that passes through Grayson Highlands State Park. It is about a half hour drive up crooked, bendy mountain roads. My goal is to get my students on part of that trail. My first step was to informally question the students in my spring semester classes as to how many had visited the state park. The answers were very discouraging. Less than half of my students had ever been to the park and most of them had little too no hiking experience, outside of hunting, that is. My next step is to create a survey for my fall semester students to take detailing their experience with hiking, visiting state or national parks, anything to do with outdoors. I am collaborating with two other science teachers in my building as well as a member of our local AT Club. Our goal is take both our fall and spring semester classes out onto the trail.  We plan on incorporating some of the “Hip-Pocket” activities that we experimented with during our spring workshop with Kathryn. We all had a lot of fun debating which nasty human habit is worse and trying to convince others our opinion was the correct one. We are hoping to get more great ideas from our workshop this summer. Can’t wait to see everyone in Sheperdstown.

TTEC Spring Regional Workshop at Mt. Lake Lodge

John Alexander
Fries School
Fries, VA
TTEC 2015 Cohort

The TTEC Spring Regional Workshop at Mt. Lake Lodge returned me to a place I had not seen since the 1970s. The lake is possibly on some 500 year cycle of emptying and then refilling, but the trails around it were as I remembered.

While hiking the lake trail we ran into a group of mountain bikers trying to navigate a very difficult section. It seemed to me that what we were doing, hiking, was more fun.

Our excursion to the AT and demo of trail games, trail etiquette, and other discussions made for another fun day. 

The presentation by the teachers from Giles was excellent. The work their students did on the trail gave me many ideas. 

Our current budget year will have no money for field trips so, we will look at some grant writing opportunities to get the students involved.

Looking forward to the summer program and to looking at ways I can use the AT and other trails in the classroom.

"Saxifrage is my flower that splits rocks" (William Carlos William)
by Pia Houseal-Allport 
Seven Generations Charter School
Emmaus, PA
TTEC 2015 Cohort

I've repeated this line from William Carlos William in my head in the two months since we returned from our May outing for TTEC in Virginia. As we were hiking, our hike leader (trailer!) pointed out the saxifrage and mentioned the above line from the William Carlos William poem. I immediately thought of some of our toughest students breaking through their own personal rocks.

In my role as a school social worker, I work with students who see the rocks and only the rocks every day- the barriers, the I "can'ts" , the “its her fault”, the “he shouldn't have done that”... all of the things that stand in the way of their success in school. (This doesn't even begin to address the issues within families, with siblings, of poverty, homelessness, or lack of food, fractured families that may also be barriers for our students.) Yet, day after day, these students can learn that there are flowers that break through- giving them  showing them how to persevere through hard work and effort, and it is that learned resilience that helps them when an issue feels overwhelming.
The rocks of PA
The curriculum that I'll be working on in the coming week will focus on the links between students social emotional learning and nature. I've been excited from initially hearing about the TTEC program, to learning that 3 of my colleagues more about our local resources, specifically the Appalachian Trail in the Delaware Water Gap area in Pennsylvania. My personal focus at Seven Generations has been using our natural world as a venue for personal and emotional growth (much in the way that our curricular framework uses the environment as a context for academic growth). Linking that work with students to the local Appalachian Trail is a great fit and one that I’m excited about.
Beautiful PA Trail section- what’s not to love?

Since our return from the May TTEC weekend, our Seven Gen group has gotten out on the PA AT for two hikes. It's clear from talking with friends who hike locally, a thru-hiker met near the Allentown shelter, and reading the shelter logs that Pennsylvania is known (read disliked greatly) for our rocks. We are even affectionately called Rocksylvania. While we don't have saxifrage (at least none that I've seen), we have enough rocks to work through, step over and walk around together. I continue to think about the saxifrage on the trails of Virginia and know that by using our link to the Appalachian Trail in PA that bringing students outside and connecting with nature and hiking, students personal growth can break through those seemingly tough impermeable objects and emerge stronger students academically and stronger children/adolescents socially and emotionally.
Three of the four Seven Gen staff on the AT in PA

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Independence Day

Colleen Gentry
Blacksburg, Virginia
Falling Branch Elementary
TTEC 2015 Cohort

The Appalachian Trail is a symbol of freedom.  On July 4th, 2015 my husband, yellow lab, Toby, and I spent that great remembrance of our independence overlooking the hills and valleys of West Virginia from a mountain top meadow. From our spectacular vantage point in the Rice Fields on the Virginia-West Virginia border, we witnessed an illuminated landscape of flashes, sparkles, streamers and blasts as Americans celebrated the nation’s birthday.  Adding to the chorus, a pack of coyotes barked, yelped, and howled from beyond the tree line.  American is wild and wonderful.
We began our July 4th adventure from our home in Blacksburg, Virginia and concocted the idea of an evening on the trail. After a short car ride and a 1.5 hour hike, we arrived in almost heaven, a view of West Virginia.
Much to our surprise and delight, we were not alone on the mountain top.  At the close by Star Haven shelter, we met two north bound thru-hikers.  We met three hikers from Sweden, whom were in the United States for their first time.  Joining us, along with the hikers, was a seven person crew of Konnarock trail workers.  Several women had traveled to Virginia from the Ozarks to build trail and learn new techniques for their own trail projects back home.
We marveled at how the trail had brought us and a nation together in shaping America the beautiful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From the A.T. to the Tetons

Blog Post by Rebecca King
Teacher at Christiansburg Elementary School
Christiansburg, Virginia
 In May, I attended to Spring TTEC workshop at Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, VA and had an incredible experience learning from the various facilitators and from my fellow participants.  Some of the key points I took away were:
·         There are many others interested in and committed to education that takes place outside of the classroom – it is not unusual or strange for me to want to take kids hiking.
·         A support network and resources exist for teachers to implement outdoor education
·         The implementation will not always be easy or comfortable, and may require lots of extra and at times complicated planning and collaboration, but it is so, so important.
The timing of the workshop meant that I returned to school the next Monday and spend the next three weeks administering the state standardized assessments all day every day.  The testing process can have its moments of joy - celebrating academic growth and success with the students - but the overall experience is one of pressure and drudgery for all involved.  It reinforced my desire to infuse next year’s teaching with time in nature and moments of learning and success away from the computer screen.

This June, my family and I spent a week in Wyoming visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  This trip of course included daily hikes through the beautiful mountains and valleys.  I never feel closer to my family than when we are hiking, and it inspired me want to extend outdoor opportunities not just to my students, but to their parents and siblings as well.  Not all of the families I work with have strong family bonds or shared activities.  Many do, but not all.  At Summer Institute I hope to remember this, and incorporate whole-family activities into my planning process.  Ultimately, the lasting impact of the work teachers do is carried on by parents.  

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald