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I’m standing on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, far away from wifi and cell service and anything familiar at the start of my summer vacation. I’m fascinated with the lighting strikes and thunderstorm moving rapidly along the opposite rim. Amateur photographers snap images in 20-second intervals, trying to capture an unforgettable moment but are careless with their failure. They live in the moment, illegally sleeping and waking all night on the edge of the rim, young, 20-year-olds with a sense of hubris and adventure.  Their enthusiasm and excitement for living a full life were infectious and I stayed up late as well, watching, listening and learning. I began to think about inspiration and the roots of success. I began to leave my angst, my cynicism and my past year of teaching behind me. Vacation became a perfect study in spontaneity and rejuvenation.

Independence & Responsibility– My husband and I took our daughter, a precocious ten-year-old to the Canyon. We had waited our whole life and she is young enough not to understand the magnificence of the moment.  The National Park Service has a junior ranger badge program at every park and this thrills her. Following her own initiative, she requests the requirements for earning a badge, reviews the suggested activities from a provided workbook and chooses those that fit both her age level and our hiking plans. She chose a scavenger hunt field guide, a haiku poem project and attendance at several lecture programs by rangers at sites throughout the park. Being in control of her engaged learning and an itinerary that fit into our hiking plans made this day not only enjoyable but memorable. I had a revelation connected to my own classroom teaching. What could it be if students could move in and out of classrooms, could take control of what was learned and how it was learned.  As an educator, there is much to be learned from this camping experience.

Car time– my daughter kept long distance friendships thru online gaming and weekend video chats for two years and this was the summer to visit those friends in person. In person, the friendships were solidified and a car trip to White Sands, New Mexico was planned. We discovered that the park is open for each full moon with a special evening concert but many people use this as an excuse to just run around on the cooling hot sands or to sled down the dunes. We jumped around and cartwheeled under the blue glow of the moon and a starry sky. The four-hour drive back home didn’t seem quite as long after a memorable night like this, however, conversations eventually worked their way back to elementary school and requirements for summer reading assignments. I became interested in creating some incentives for dividing car time into work and play activities. If everyone could agree to participate in 20 minutes of spelling reviews, word games, name games, and sing-alongs based on word picks from the Scripps National Spelling Bee then I could allow for zoning out time on the iPads. My daughter’s friend was obsessed with teaching us about Mindcraft.

[bctt tweet=” Unintentional learning, formative assessment ideas were being tucked away in my brain for later use while I stayed in the moment, happy to connect with friends and family.” username=””]

Every 45 minutes we found an excuse to stop the car, get out and jump around.  We tried to notice something new, shift our brains in a new direction. Conversation naturally shifted towards favorite book characters and a new activity created on the spot.  The girls in the back seat used their avatar design app, Weemee, to create book characters. The image would be passed forward and my husband and I had to guess what book character was created. We could ask any question or beg for clues which led to much speculation and analysis of how we portray literary figures. Unintentional learning, formative assessment ideas were being tucked away in my brain for later use while I stayed in the moment, happy to connect with friends and family.

Other inspirations- summer vacation includes a great deal of time offline, away from my cell phone but not entirely away from my camera or my notebook apps. A week of summer day camp for my daughter gave me and my husband time to tour museums. We moved at our own paces but came together over treats in a coffee shop. It was refreshing to share new loves, new insights and perspectives in the art that we had never considered. Museum curations lead the mind in new directions, they pose open-ended questions that allow me to drift in any direction and then draw me back to center. Salgado’s eye for migration, Californian artists protesting East Coast influences, the history of red dye, the fight to save the California Condor fit into a number of museum finds. The unintentional gathering of thought uplifted me, enlightened me and humbled me. The collected experience pushes me to think about education not just as job looming at summer’s end but as a calling to gather with equally eager learners of all ages. I’m an educator who loves the profession when I can find beauty and magic in the moment. My inspiration is refueled and I’m almost ready to return to the classroom. Just one more adventure calls.

Please share your summer inspirations with TER- what are you engaged in this summer to recharge your educational battery?

I teach High school and middle school students World History, AP World History, Reading Instruction,...

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