You Are Here…

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Last summer, after returning from a two-week road trip out West with my family, I wrote a post called Roadmap to Learning.  I am a firm believer that travel is the best education, and that it builds a unique perspective, empathy, insight and open mindedness that is difficult to form to the same extent any other way. We learn from experience…Learning happens everywhere. In keeping with tradition, I am writing this post to once again document the rich learning and reflecting I have done this summer through my travels. Our travels tell a story.

This summer, I was lucky enough to visit New York for the first time, with one of my most favourite people and dearest of friends for four days, before heading to New Jersey for a three-day educational conference and then spending an afternoon exploring Philadelphia with two lovely ladies, before flying out!

Shortly after returning home, we left on a two-week family vacation out East making our way through Ontario and Quebec. Busy!

I share some of the highlights of these journeys below through the lens of some big picture observations and snapshots of what I learned (these are not deep musings or earth shattering content by any means 😉 but lighter in nature). But my travels are also documented through my treasured MUGS!

Yes, I admit it. I have in recent times purchased my fair share of the Starbucks You Are Here Collection mugs.

I am not the collector type. In truth, I am a bit of a minimalist. I don’t like trinkets, or knickknacks or baubles and such. I wouldn’t dream of bringing home a magnet, or spoon, or ashtray (do they still make those??), or key chain, or tacky t-shirt from the places I visit. However, this past spring when the Starbucks, You are Here Collection of mugs crossed my path, I was all in. I do like coffee. I do love Starbucks. And these mugs were anything but tacky. My first purchases were Vancouver and Tennessee. After this summer, a few more now fill my kitchen cupboards as a daily reminder of the wonderful memories made in the places I have been lucky enough to visit.

So here goes….

NEW YORK CITY

 

Highlights: Visits to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, The Highline, Rockefeller at Night, The Statue of Liberty, the New York Public Library, Central Park including a tour from an informative, entertaining pedicab driver, Magnolia Bakery, and the Sugar Factory for lunch. A walk down Fifth Avenue & Wall Street, as well as through Tribeca, Soho, the Meatpacking district, and Happy Hour in Greenwich Village. Seeing Kinky Boots on Broadway. Using the subway. Bagels and pizza.

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I learned…

  • All of the amazing things I had heard about NYC over the years were true…and then some! It is big and vibrant and diverse and alive and beautiful in a way that is so unique and exhilarating.
  • The Brooklyn Bridge is much longer than you think and much more stunning
  • The infamous NYC places you see in the movies are much smaller in person than they seem on tv
  • Grand Central Station is more than just a train station and has a culture all of its own
  • The banana pudding and cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery really are that good!
  • Broadway is all it’s cracked up to be and Hamilton tickets truly are hard to come by!
  • New Yorkers are friendly, helpful and welcoming.
  • There is a reason people go back to NYC over and over again!

TORONTO

Highlights: Visits to the Ripley’s Aquarium, CN Tower, Canada’s Wonderland, the Downtown Waterfront, Eaton Centre, The Hockey Hall of Fame and taking in a Blue Jays game.

 

I learned…

  • Toronto truly is busy and big and has way too much traffic!!
  • Seeing the Toronto Blue Jays play LIVE is so AWESOME!!!
  • Canada’s Wonderland is VERY busy and lined up in the summer
  • Toronto’s Waterfront is very lovely
  • Ontario’s Emergency Room wait times are reasonable (Nate’s chest pains turned out to be a strained muscle…phew!)

 

NIAGARA FALLS

Highlights: Seeing Niagara Falls both during the day and at night lit up, fireworks over the Falls, Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Niagara Cruise, Niagara’s Fury (4D show, telling story of the Falls creation), White Water Walk, Clifton Hill Street of Fun

I learned…

  • The Niagara Falls are truly remarkable, powerfully breathtaking, stunning and a must see for everyone!
  • I am not one to do all the tours, guided things, red busses etc, but in Niagara Falls seeing the Falls from all perspectives is well worth it. Get the Adventurer Pass and visit one of the kiosks to set up your times when you get there. Use the WeGo busses for everything.
  • It is actually possible for breakfast for 4 to cost $109 (even with a coupon) at IHOP (it’s true!)

OTTAWA

 

 Sidenote: Our Nation’s capital does NOT have its own You Are Here mug. Seriously! I have no idea how Starbucks determines these things. (Hence the Canada one).

Highlights: Visit to Parliament Hill, Changing of the Guard Ceremony, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guided tour of Centre Block, Northern Lights Sound and Light Night Show on the Hill, Byward Market, Calypso Water Park

I learned…

  • Ottawa remains one of my favourite cities in Canada. I like the size and the feeling of it, but it’s more than that. Being a Canadian citizen is one of my greatest blessings. I am always very patriotic, but there is something so special to me about being in our Nation’s capital.
  • The Northern Lights: Sound & Light show projected onto the Parliament Building each evening in the summer is incredibly well done; informative, beautiful and moving.
  • Parliament Hill is about to undertake a ten-year renovation during which it will be closed to the public for tours and visitors.
  • Calypso Water Park is an exceptional water park a half an hour outside of Ottawa. It has tons of awesome slides, and is clean, has minimal line ups and reasonably priced. Wisconsin Dells fans…this waterpark is a must visit!
  • Always take note or a picture of where you parked and make sure you don’t count on those little business cards outside elevators in parking garages. Apparently, it is possible for 6 tourists to lose their car and then a kid for over an hour in a hot, low ceiling, stuffy parking garage! Yikes! 😉

MONTREAL

 

Highlights: exploring Old Montreal, tour of downtown, city view from Mont Royal Park, Jarry’s Diner, Voiles en Voiles Aerial Course in Old Port, crepes, gelato

I learned..

  • Old Montreal is lovely.
  • Wheelchairs and cobblestones are not a good match.
  • My French comes back when I need it.
  • Montreal is a very big, very busy city.
  • Although, big sandwiches filled with red meat are NOT really my thing, trying a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich is a must (definitely has the Philly Cheesesteak beat…I tried that in July!).
  • Ropes courses never cease to amaze me. They are such an awesome way for kids (and adults too) to practice risk taking, perseverance, and problem-solving all while participating in an intense physical activity.

QUEBEC CITY

 

Highlights: exploring Old Quebec including; Quartier Petit-Champlain, The Citadel, Plains of Abraham, Place Royale, Chateau Frontenac, Place d’Armes and Rue Saint Jean. Visits to Ile d’Orleans, Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, views of the St Lawrence. More crepes. More gelato.

 

I learned…

  • There is no such thing as too much gelato!
  • Seeing my children enjoy and appreciate the true beauty and wonder that is Canada is a gift, especially watching them share in that with my own parents!
  • Old Quebec is an absolute gem and I cannot believe it took me 43 years to see this Canadian treasure.. There are no words to describe the beauty, history and feeling that lies there. It is truly incredible and my favourite part of the 2017 Cornwell Canadian Adventures!

So…. if any of you reading this are from Vancouver Island, Calgary, Edmonton or New Jersey (places I have visited over the past year but missed the cups for)…and you are willing to help a girl out….I’ll send you my mailing address and a cheque if you’ll send me a cup! 🙂

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Roadmap to Learning

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If asked to capture some of my firm beliefs as an educator in as few words as possible, two statements immediately come to mind. The first being, we are all learners. We are born learners and do it naturally. Regardless of age, circumstance, or ability, our intelligence is dynamic, and each and everyone one of has the potential to learn.  Of course people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, strengths and challenges– but everyone can learn, change and grow through application and experience, because we are all learners.

Secondly, learning happens everywhere. Learning is not an entity reserved for the school day and building.  Learning happens in parks, on streets, in living rooms, at dinner tables, online and in a multitude of other places outside of the confines of brick and mortar each and every day.  In fact, learning sometimes happens despite our formal education system which at times works against all that we value and intuitively know about learning and learners as outlined above. Learning happens alone, or in groups and in the presence of mentors, friends, family, colleagues, elders and perfect strangers. Learning is ubiquitous, abundant and infinite.

Children learn most deeply when involved in engaging, first-hand, relevant experiences. They learn by thinking. They learn by asking questions and exploring answers. They learn when doing.  They learn when active and involved in experiences they see as meaningful.

I marvelled at an amazing example of this earlier this summer as our family embarked on a road trip across Western Canada. As we drove through four provinces, all the way to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, we were in awe of the stunning and varied Canadian landscapes and I was in awe of my own children’s bountiful learning.

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of our journey was seeing how my twelve and ten-year-olds were sponges and interested in knowing more about so much they encountered.  Sarah and Nate learned about mountain formation, tides, erosion, landslides, mirages, rock classification, inlets and rainforests.  When there was service in the mountains or in our hotel at night they Googled questions that came up…. the definition of a city, interesting facts about sand dollars and bull kelp, the sleeping habits of cows, and how the Capilano Suspension Bridge was made. Learning is driven by interest and curiosity.

Yes, technology does make travel easier. Having information about schedules, hours of operation, hotel bookings and endless tidbits at our fingertips can be a blessing, at times. On top of that, GPS is most definitely an innovation that simplifies travel, makes things safer, and reduces frustration. Millie (our name for our GPS voice) did get annoying on occasion but she was a huge help in our travels J.  However, when the opportunity arose on the ferry to the Island I made sure to go old school on my two after I spotted a map of BC for us to trace our travels and mark our stops along the way.  We used the grid to locate places, symbols along with the legend to explore things of interest, and the scale to estimate the distances between our stops.  The kids were so into this map work and I was glad that I made the point of doing this with them. When relevant, learning is natural and spontaneous.

On day 1 of travel Nate invented a game that never did seem to get old. We all had to predict the population of each town or city we went through.  We would then have to research the actual population and the closest predictor without going over would get the point.   This often led to finding out other interesting facts about the place such as, what it is known for, where its name originated and further conversations about each location.  Learning is motivating and fun.

My kids experienced many things for the first time on our trip including; touching a stingray, feeding seals, surfing (and getting up repeatedly J), eating fish tacos, swimming in the Pacific, and walking in a breathtaking rainforest. They saw the tallest tree in BC, heard a lighthouse foghorn, and pushed limits and comfort zones on water slides, zip lines and ropes courses. Learning is about risk taking.  It is about the exhilaration of opening our mind to new possibilities and opportunities.

Sarah and Nate met many interesting people, both Canadians and from around the world. They encountered and were inspired by artists of many kinds, magicians, street performers and numerous others passionate about where they live and about the work they do.  They learned that there really is such a thing as too much take- out or fast food and nothing beats a home cooked meal. They learned what “white knuckle driving” means and the fluctuating price of gas. My daughter also learned never, ever carry a cell phone onto a floating dock. They skipped rocks in the ocean, watched a sunset on a ferry, made a wish on a shooting star, built an Inuksuk along every trail we hiked and felt the true pride of being a Canadian.  There is something so powerful and inspirational about traveling in your own country, particularly one as diverse and incredible as Canada.  Learning is organic and contextual.

My two are collectors.  Whenever, we travel they are keen on gathering mementos or keepsakes. And although they did manage to come home with a Tofino t-shirt and a couple of other trinkets, what mattered to them most were the stones they collected in each of the places we visited, as well as their bags full of sea shells.  These are their treasures. It is these items along with our hundreds of pictures, numerous anecdotes and the abundance of wonderful memories we made along our travels that matter most.   Learning is personal, passionate, extraordinary and meaningful.

 Next week, as our students return to school from their summer adventures whether this involved travel, camping, weekends at the lake, day camps, hanging with friends or hanging at home, many teachers will be asking this age old question through Ice Breaker/Get to Know You Activities, “What did you do this summer?”.

Perhaps, more fittingly the question we should be asking is…” What did you learn this summer?”

Much of the learning my own children experienced this past summer will stay with them for a lifetime.  Alfred Mercier once said, “What we learn with pleasure, we will never forget”.  As educators we need to take what we know about the type of authentic, real learning that motivates our students and build on that.  We need to harness the passion, and enthusiasm our students have for their own areas of interest, and bring it into the school setting.  We must ensure that the individuals in our classrooms are engaged, curious, and motivated, while facilitating learning that is relevant for them and to their futures.

As educators, by creating learning opportunities that are more experiential, student centered and driven by learner interests, questions and passions we will see an increase in engagement and commitment. By constructing learning environments and activities that are more inquiry and project based, design focused and personalized, we will help develop capable, motivated, life-long learners. As educators, it is our job to help our students “create a roadmap” ….

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