TTS23 in the Galapagos Islands

TTS23 in the Galapagos Islands
From left to right: Scout, Lindsey, Sophie, Feyza, Erin, Caroline, Lena, Susannah, Charlotte, Rebecca, Allie, Hannah, Alizah, Maisie, Anne, Kate, Courtney

Monday, March 31, 2014

Many Thanks!

Thank you for the photos!  For parents that are not able to join in, it is a pure pleasure to see it all and most importantly, the smiles.  Yes, the scenic photos are gorgeous, but one parent nailed it on the head - we want to see the kids! Please keep posting your experiences or putting them in dropbox!! Also, many thanks to the parent that brought homemade cookies.  I received a letter telling me about them at length!  A little home was greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,
Megan Ross Kempt

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stories from the students

Swimming between the dark crevice, we heard "Hammerhead! Right beneath us!" We looked down and saw the silhouette of at least eight hammerheads swimming along under us.  For some seeing the sharks was a fear we had to face.  Therefor, we took a big gasp of air and swam down  to examine the sharks.  Usually seeing sharks is something we swim away from, but in the Galapagos it was life changing to see them swimming in their natural element.
 -Anne, Lindsey, Allie 

Each morning we woke up to the Galapagos sunrise, lathered on sunscreen, boarded the zodiac bleary-eyed, and headed out for a nature walk.  Around us flew Great Frigate birds and on nearby rocks the world's only marine iguanas soaked in the sun.  Our guide discussed the fragile ecosystem and biodiversity, but the finer details went over our heads.  Instead, we found ourselves engulfed by the magic of the Galapagos.  The beauty and variety captivated us.  Although scientific answers provided clarity, we were content with not knowing specific details and remaining open to the wonder and mystery that nature has offer.  The Galapagos is as much a place of research and knowledge as it is a place of observation, taking in the views and becoming aware of the magic that surrounds us.
-Scout and Kate

We sought solace from the swarms of hammerhead sharks as we watched from atop a four by eight food inflatable raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  With a half-complete understanding of our guide's Spanish instructions, we attempted navigating the zodiac in and out of water-filled caves and in sloppy circles in search of sea turtle silhouettes.  Knowing that our guide might push us out of the raft at any time, we surrendered to being soaked, sunburned, and in a state of salty bliss under the vast Galapagos sky.
-Maisie, Susannah, and Alizah

The fierce current tugged us back, but we fought it in a desperate attempt to see more of the endless marine life.  Our eyes darted in every direction trying to take in each detail of this hidden underwater world.  On one side of the wide channel, a black tip reef shark drifted by, allowing te current to drag it away.  On the other side, a sea turtle seemed to be stuck in slow motion, sweeping its broad flippers forwards and backward, but remaining suspended in the same place above the fine white sand.  A spotted eagle ray then glided directly heath us, its menacing bar whipping behind it.
-Hannah, Erin, and Rebecca

"¿Podemos saltar?" We, the girls of the parent boat, eagerly asked our boat captain every afternoon.  He always responded by yelling, "Geoffrey!" The first mate hustled up the three flights of stairs, running behind our trail of dripping bathing suits and sloppy footprints.  Once he guided us across the slippery yacht roof, we almost regretted our original request as we peered over the boat's edge, down to the deep blue waters of the Galapagos thirty feet below.  On the count of three, we all hurled ourselves off the boat, holding our breaths as we plummeted, waiting for the plunge to come.
 -Feyza and Charlotte

I know that I'm on vacation when I lose track of what day it is.  The Galapagos was my TTS vacation.  In a place where you can snorkel, hike, see endemic wildlife, bask n the sun, swim with sea lions and watch the sunrise every morning, it is definitely a place for everyone's bucket list.

And more comprehensive update from Maisie:

Fresh off the bus that had carried us to various mind-blowing destinations throughout the Amazon Rainforest, we found ourselves decked out in dirtied life vests and neon-blue helmets on the edge of the Rio Hatunyaku.  We were both anxious and psyched to conquer the rapids.  After a bilingual safety speech and the presentation of our plastic paddles, we pushed off from the river's steep banks.  Each boat held five girls and a teacher, all passionately working together when a guide shouted "Adelante!"  Some waves were bigger than others, including a class four rapid cleverly hidden among the class threes.  After every splash-filled jolt, shouts and giggles ensued.  During the more subdued stretches, the silty, the Amazonian water filled with TTS23 girls floating alongside their rafts.  Scout and Susannah could often be viewed floating feet-first, eyes closed, in complete relaxation while Sophie and Lena plunged off of a mid river boulder.  In spite of our never wanting it to, the day inevitably came to an end.  We stepped from the rafts sunburned, damp, looking to relive every second of our white water excursion with our 16 new sisters time and time again.

After a sun and movement filled week in the Galapagos Islands, the 27 hours rumbling down the coast of Ecuador over the gray deserts of Peru on cramped bus came as a mental and physical shock.  One hour in, the floor of our moving classroom was filled with books, backpacks, and notes.  At times, the narrow interior teemed with midterm stress, yet we managed to lift each other's spirits with bus-speed dating.  The speed dating consisted of each girl stepping forward to the shaky front and presenting the rest of of us with a question that we answered and discussed with our seat partner.  "If you were living in a tiny Japanese hotel room, what would you bring and why?" "If you could bring back any trend, what would it be?"  "What is your favorite holiday memory?" Eventually, we reached  Huaraz, Peru where we threw our tired bodies onto the beds of our next temporary home and campus.

One third of our way from the coastal city of Guayaquil to the mountainous city of Huaraz, we stumbled down the steps of the bus onto a sandy beach campsite in Mancora.  Prior to tent set-up and dinner, we had the opportunity to enjoy the frothy waters of the Pacific.  We washed off a long day of travel with laughter as the Peruvian sun bled over the horizon and pack mules trotted alongside the incoming tide.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

A few more academic updates

Math Concepts
Visiting the Galapagos allows us the opportunity to study the economic effects of immigration as well as trade patterns and economies of scale.  Speaking with an array of islanders, we’ll seek to understand how tourism brings both promise and challenge to residents.  Another topic we’re exploring is how the government of Ecuador is now faced with assessing the economic “value” of its diverse natural areas.  We’ll examine how President Corea has implemented a variety of social programs funded to a large extent by oil and the exploitation of other natural resources and look at the consequent ethical implications.  Finally, in anticipation for Peru, we’re looking at how trade patterns, supply and demand, and faith in particular markets affect currency values and exchange rates.  Courtney is drafting a small business proposal as part of a microloan challenge and will present her project near the Santa Cruz trek.

Intermediate Spanish
¡Saludos desde Guayaquil!  Greetings from Guayaquil!  Intermediate Spanish students are hard at work preparing for midterms with an intensive review of the past preterit and past imperfect tenses.  Equally important, the girls have been making huge strides in having more meaningful and extended conversations with those we’re meeting in our travels.  As we finish up in Ecuador this week and head into Peru, the intermediate students are ready to step up to the challenge of translating for our whole group. We’re also looking forward to adding the new local expressions and Peruvian slang to our growing Spanish vocabulary.   Reading local papers and discussing hot topics in politics, education, government, and the environment will help us delve not only into a deeper understanding of the language, but also of the country.

Honors Natural Science: Biodiversity and Climate Change

After turning in their incredibly impressive Amazon unit projects on cloud forest and rainforest flora and fauna and completing equally extraordinary Oil Day presentations on the science behind oil extraction, the girls are off on a well-deserved trip to the Galapagos.  Erin, Caroline, and Charlotte showed off their fine artistic skills and exceptional creativity capturing the detail of the jungle wildlife in their journals.  On Oil Day, Kate did a magnificent job bringing into question the minimal differences between nonrenewable and renewable resources, while Alizah explained in clear, practical, and concrete terms how the oil debate influences economics, international relations, and national politics.  As the students head off to the Galapagos, they will be studying the unique wildlife and land formations of each of the islands they visit and compiling their findings in their unit three culmination project.

Honors History and Government of South America

In the Amazon the students learned first-hand about the history of oil extraction in the region. They interviewed local Quichua residents gaining a more nuanced understanding of the pros and cons of utilizing oil as a resource. They were prohibited to visit the oil company nearby due to the company not wanting outside observers. Meanwhile, half of the students prepared for their oral presentations on historical figures of Ecuador.

Once in Guayaquil, students presented for their classmates and some of the parents. Alizah began with a spectacular poster on the last Incan King, Atahualpa. Scout followed with an awesome presentation of Francisco Pizarro's journeys. Lindsey conquered her fear of speaking in front of others and rocked it teaching the group about South America's liberator Simon Bolivar. Anne performed an original historical rap on the current president, Rafael Correa. Susannah finished the first half of the presentations by teaching us about a female activist in the Amazon named Maria Aguinda, who took Chevron to court.

In the Galapagos, history students had an oral history project. Each student needed to form a few good interview questions to ask a crew member. What stories could they gather from the Ecuadorians who served us food, cleaned our bunks, and kept us safe while snorkeling? What is life like for people in the Galapagos? What is their history? How does their government operate? Are they controlled by the mainland? It was a joy to see students pull crew members aside to sit together under the stars and speak about their lives. The assignment also pushed the students to use their Spanish since none of the crew spoke English!

As I write this entry the students are working hard on a sit-down exam that covers the larger themes of the semester so far. They are diligent, despite the rocking to and fro of the boat, the salt on their skin from snorkeling, and the sleepiness they feel from the sun.

Coming up will be the second half of the presentations during the Santa Cruz trek, and learning about a whole other country 's history and government - Peru!

Honors Literature and Composition

When we returned to our base camp  in Tena, out of the jungle, the Literature students each wrote a 'Found Poem' from words gathered from articles on oil. Once crafted, students were asked to choose their most powerful line. They then stood in a row and recited the lines one by one, which created our community poem, titled 'Black Gold '. Just before dinner, when all were seated, I yelled, "Black Gold", and the students stood up on their chairs, performing the poem for the teachers as a surprise dinner ritual. It was a beautiful moment, the culmination of hours of reading and discussing complex issues around natural resources.

The students just finished their midterm paper, which was a 'This I Believe' essay. They explored their own values at this moment in time, and wrote on their personal philosophies. A few nights ago the students requested a 'read-around'. We gathered on the top deck of our yacht, the Golondrina, in a circle under the stars. Each student wore their headlamp and read their piece aloud, over the sound of the engine and the wind.

Coming up is the main novel of the semester, 'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende. The students will encounter magical realism, and even get to attempt their hand at this challenging style...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Galapa-razzi visits TTS23 on a boat

After spending 10 days with TTS23, the words that continually come to mind is 'WOW - what an amazing group of diverse young women!' Each member offers a unique trait to connect the introverts with extroverts the Spanish speaking experts with the Spanish novices and the shy with the wild.

From the time I arrived at the hostel, I was welcomed into the group with excited hellos and smiles, all of which silently asked, "Do you have the letters?" And yes, I did - in fact my bag was stuffed with fan mail for the group - but I waited... through the final moments of the Literature midterm This I Believe work session, impromptu pool session, interactive History class where five ladies gave presentations on key players of Ecuadorian and South American history and the schedule lowdown on the Galapagos adventure. And then there was momentary silence as girls read letters until Kate B piped up, "Do you want to see the photos my mom sent?"... which began a waterfall of stories from home and excited exclamations as students recognized faraway family and friends based on stories they had heard throughout the past seven weeks.

Spaghetti dinner at the hostel went by quickly and then the girls were off to downsize their packs to the bare essentials for the Galapagos - 17 lbs for a carry on and about 25 lbs per checked bag - Maisie made it her mission to fit everything into her daypack. She accomplished it with a few pounds to spare and even had her homework and "one extra shirt" than the required number.

The energy was contagious at the airport as our bags were checked for any items that might contaminate the unique ecosystem of the islands. Eventually, I settled into my window seat next to Allie's mom, Amy, and Lena. Lena shared stories of home and moving from California to New Jersey before settling into her artwork. She silently sketched an amazing portrait of a woman in a flowing dress as Amy and I chattered on. Lena later showcased her tattoo drawing skills on the night of the pirate takeover (notice the knife tat pictures in the slideshow). Departing the plane, Alizah and Sophie reveled in the humidity, first lizard sighting and unique landscape by quickly snapping the first photos. They continued to investigate the unique island setting throughout the week, often burying friends in the sand or diving down to check out the seascape while snorkeling.

Courtney was delighted to see the sea lion at the yacht dock, lazily lounging on one of the benches. Little did we know we would later visit the town of San Cristobal where the children's water park has been taken over by these cute but territorial animals. From the dock, the group split into two groups for the different boats - the Fragata and the Golondrina. For the next week, any time our groups met, there were numerous hugs and lots of laughter, as if these great friends had been separated for months.

Anne and Charlotte quickly nestled into their cabin in the depths of the Fragata before heading to the top deck to enjoy the sea breeze as we motored out to our first island. Their soft smiles and anticipation radiated throughout the group as did their shrieks of delight in our first sightings of colorful crabs, lava lizards and flamingos.

Hannah was in her natural science element throughout the week - asking Maritza (Golondrina guide) questions about animal habitats on the island. She, Allie and Feyza loved grabbing their snorkel gear and flipping backward off the Zodiacs to explore the turquoise waters. Sharks... ha! These two were ready. Meanwhile, I looked at Charlotte as we donned our snorkel gear at Kickers Rock, and said, "I think I could do without a close up with Hammerheads." She nodded in agreement as we peeled off the boat. However, when the guides yelled "Shark" we both quickly swam over, eager to see this intimidating animal. For the rest of that snorkel, we all kicked back and forth through the channel to see up to 7 Hammerheads or 8 Galapagos Reef Sharks at once.

Lindsey delighted in her periodic dances with sea lions. She often lingered behind the snorkel group for one more twist and turn with the playful creatures. Rebecca somehow managed to keep her big contagious smile while snorkeling. She continually found new fish, urchins and starfish to investigate with the group. Susannah's excitement followed the group back to shore where we often sat in awe of the experience and shared short stories of what our different groups saw during the day.

On the islands, the girls worked on their photography skills. Carefully selecting their perspective to show the subject in it's element. Whether they captured the Blue Footed Boobie courtship dance, rippled lizard scales or sea lions basking in the sun, these ladies were thoughtful and respectful of the animals environments. Erin was quick to jump in the water whenever possible and then enjoy some beach relaxing and sun bathing. Other ladies would slowly join her after a short snorkel or swim, thankful for some beach R&R.  

Caroline and Scout bounced throughout the week excited to live in the moment. They snuck in opportunities to ask about the upcoming Santa Cruz trek or Machu Picchu. Like the others, these ladies always had a hug ready for their friends when the groups met up.

Although everyday was unique, the days began to blend together into an surreal dream. We woke each morning around 6:15 am enticed by the lingering breakfast smells. Before we could digest our food completely the adventures began with an early morning island walk and snorkel or vis-versa. Before we knew it, lunch was served as we motored to another site to hike and snorkel. Each night we were rocked to sleep as the crew motored us to another island. Some of us slept up on the deck, others snuggled into our cozy cabins, quickly falling back into dreamland only to awake and begin it all again.

As we patiently sat in the airport waiting to return to reality, I was immersed in the magic. The magic of teenage girls being girls - hugging one another, laughing the full belly laugh and holding hands as only true friends can do. Of course we ate ice cream and talked about everything under the sun, including the much anticipated 3 day bus journey to Peru followed by an epic backpacking adventure, but it was the underlying feeling within this group. These ladies have created a magical community, individually peeling away the layers of life and accepting support and friendship to gain a new sense of self and confidence to shine as strong independent women. As some lucky parents witnessed growth in their daughters over the past seven weeks, I was reminded of the power of 22 ladies willing to embrace a journey, question the world and experience diverse cultures.

During the trip I did my best to be the Galapa-razzi and snap photos of everyone. Some ladies were ready to strike a pose whenever the camera came out and others were quick to duck. I did my best to sneak photos of everyone. I hope you enjoy the slide show and see some smiles from your daughter sent from the Galapagos with love.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Galapagos from a parent's view.

My younger daughter and I were so very lucky to join the girls, several other parents, Sarah and Aunge in the Galapagos Islands this past week. It was a phenomenal experience in itself made only richer by witnessing first hand the learning, living and friendships among all of our daughters. They are a great group who seem to have come together as a whole to support each other and laugh with each other through an experience that is not always easy and is both physically and mentally challenging. If that is not enough, they are great sports about the lack of clean shirts among them! I am sorry I do not have a more photos of all of the girls, as I know the feeling of scouring the pictures for glimpses of my own daughter, but I tried to give a bit of an overview of our time with them, from the hostel in Guayaquil to the beaches and terrain of the Galapagos. I appreciate the opportunity to have been apart of them for this short while. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Academic Updates from Heather

Global Studies
During our stay in the chilly and damp cloud forest in Yunguilla, girls studied eco-tourism as they participated in community-supported projects by making cheese and marmalade, milking cows, weeding the community organic garden, and planting trees for reforestation efforts. Local community members talked to our group about the benefits and challenges of creating and maintaining their community-based initiative which currently employs about 90% of the Yunguilla population through guiding, providing food and lodging for tourists, and working in the projects previously mentioned. We learned about the plants of the area and the area's history as a pre-Incan trade route and later a smuggling route for illegal alcohol bound from Columbia to Quito. Girls gave back to the community by participating in a minga (community work day) to pave a new road gained perspective on the difficulties of our native tongue while teaching English in a local elementary school.
A long windy bus ride took us down from the Ecuadorian mountains into the rain forest of Tena. From their reading of the book Savages, girls had background knowledge of the issues and history of oil extraction in the Amazon and Lindsey pointed out the oil pipeline that followed the highway for part of our journey, carrying crude from the Amazon to the coast for exporting. On one of our first days in Tena, girls learned first-hand about the local customs of carnival on an adventure through downtown where we were splashed with water, ambushed with silly string, and decorated with face paint. We traveled by canoe deeper into the rain forest for a four-day trip where we visited local communities to learn about local indigenous customs for planting and trapping, and tasted the results of chocolate made by hand. We reconsidered the topic of ecotourism during a visit to a community tourism project started entirely by local indigenous women who sought economic independence. While in the jungle, our guides spoke to the group about their personal experiences working for oil companies and their views on the benefits and dangers of oil extraction in Ecuador. Upon returning to our hostel on the outskirts of Tena, girls were each assigned a personality with a different perspective on oil policy in Ecuador. They used these perspectives to guide their research in preparation to appear on the TTS23 production of Primer Impacto – our oil-focused version of a popular Latin American talk show. Personalities on the show included a representatives PetroEcuador (Scout), PetroChina (Lindsey), Amazon Watch (Lena), various indigenous groups (Kate, Susannah, Rebecca, and Sophie), members of the Ecuadorian government (Feyza, Alizah, and Allie), scientists (Maise and Hannah), a member of the colono mestizo population (Charlotte), lawyers in the case against Chevron (Anne and Caroline), a whistle-blower from inside the Chevron cooperation (Erin), and a local from the Tena community (Courtney). Through the talk show discussion, girls demonstrated their learning about the complex health, environmental, economic, and human rights issues surrounding oil extraction in Ecuador.

Algebra 2
In the past weeks, girls of Algebra 2 have revisited the concepts of inverse functions while studying exponential functions and their inverses, logarithms. We applied exponential functions to describe situations of exponential growth and decay, including interest, depreciation of price, and radioactive decay. Using graphs and tables, girls constructed the inverse of the general exponential function, the logarithm. We learned properties of logarithms and compared these properties with their analogies in the exponential world. Application of logarithm properties allowed us to evaluate logarithms and solve both exponential and logarithmic equations. We explored asympotes and domain and range of exponential and logarithmic functions through graphing exercises. Girls finished their work with exponents and logarithms and prepared for a cumulative midterm test covering all topics for the first part of the semester.

In the past weeks of Precalculus, Hannah and Sophie have teamed together to apply their knowledge of trigonometric functions to verify trigonometric identities and solve trigonometric functions. Solving these trigonometry puzzles requires creative application of trigonometric identities and properties as well as solid understanding of the periodic nature of trigonometric funcitons. The graph below shows the graph of y = cos(x) in blue and y = 1/2 in red. From graph, you can see that the equation cos(x) = 1/2 has solutions x = π/3, 5π/3, 7π/3, and so on.

Rebecca and Erin worked to apply their previous knowledge of functions and transformations to understand graphs of logarithmic and exponential functions. Their experience with inverse functions informed their understanding of the relationship between logarithmic and exponential functions and graphs including domain, range, intercepts, and asymptotes. We used properties of exponents and the definition of logarithms to derive logarithm properties, and then applied these properties to simplify logarithmic expressions and to solve exponential and logarithmic equations. While they are in the Galapagos Islands, all precalculus girls will apply the Law of Sines and Law of Cosines with known distances between islands to calculate the bearings that the ship must take to sail from one island to the next.

Beginning Spanish

With a much-awaited classroom study of verb conjugation, girls in beginning Spanish have formalized and practiced basic verb conjugation that they have picked up from conversation. Through written and oral exercises, they have practiced conjugations for all regular -ar, -ir, and -er verbs, as well as conjugations for tener, ser, and estar. Girls have crafted sentences to demonstrate the different uses of ser and estar and have used the verb tener in idiomatic expressions such as "I'm hungry" (Tengo hambre) or "I'm hot" (Tengo calor). On Oil Day, our interdisciplinary explosion of learning about oil extraction in Ecuador, beginning Spanish girls kicked off the day with a presentation of their oil-related vocabulary board. As we travel, girls continue to collect words that they learn through conversation in their journals. We have just begun to read our first novel, Pobre Anna, a short reader about a Californian girl who travels to Mexico. In the upcoming week, girls will learn new vocabulary and will have practice reading and writing with proper present tense verb conjugation as they read the novel and respond to discussion questions.  

Academic Updates from Beth

Travel Journalism
TJ students reveled in their element in preparation and performance for Oil Day. This interdisciplinary educational experience draws from all subjects to create a multifaceted and engaging interpretation of the issues involved with oil extraction in the Amazon. During our trip through the Amazon, I was pleased to note the frequency and depth of questions that the TJ girls asked of our guides. Once we were off the river and back in town, we were able to have several classes that addressed the process of writing a formal editorial. We examined the difference between interpretation and analysis, discussed the format and purpose of an editorial, and went into Tena to carry out some internet research. This topic of editorial writing meshed well with the goals of Oil Day, as each student was assigned a character to play throughout the course of the day. For TJ in particular, the girls wrote outlines of editorials from their characters' perspectives, which helped to frame their responses to interview questions and participate in educated dialog. Allie found motivation in the challenge of representing the Ecuadorian government's minister of social services, because the viewpoint of her character contrasted drastically with her own. Her performance demonstrated, however, that her research and dedication to her role had served her well. As I send these ladies out to the Galapagos, I know that they will take this phenomenal travel opportunity to beef up their photography portfolio; I'm expecting to see some fabulous wildlife pictures turned in at the end of the week!

Advanced Spanish
Our visit to the Amazon jungle provided fantastic opportunities for the Advanced Spanish girls to continue to build their translation skills. Throughout tours of a ceramics studio, an indigenous dance performance, and a visit to a village to learn how to make chocolate and chicha, these students have challenged themselves consistently. Translation is such an important part of language learning: it reinforces vocabulary, grammatical structure, pronunciation, and fluency. As for their part in Oil Day, the AS girls took charge of being anchors for segments announcing breaking news about oil in Ecuador. After researching and reading local newspaper articles, we presented these news flashes during the day to keep everyone current on the themes and events involved in oil extraction. Each flash in Spanish was accompanied by a fellow AS student that translated into English. I was especially proud of Lindsey, who carefully explained the significance of Ecuador's current economic dependency on China (and she had read a complicated and dense article to be able to present on that topic!). I am continually pleased by the growing confidence of these students, as they take more opportunities to listen and speak Spanish. In addition, they will continue make progress with their reading and writing skills while in the Galapagos. Processing the text of El Alquimista has been difficult, but they are enjoying the challenge thus far, and will be rewarded as the story becomes more intriguing!

Physical Education

Our physical activity in the jungle was, as it always is here at TTS, place-based. We hiked through dense Amazonian forest, swam in the Napo river, and participated in yoga sessions on the porch of our exquisite rainforest lodge. Back in Tena, the girls were motivated by a new type of work-out: a PE class we like to call “Hooray Loops.” Based on consultation from Hannah, we listed different plyometric and core-building exercises, and alternated them with brief runs. The result was a physically exhausting and rewarding morning routine that made everyone say, “hooray!” Since soccer has been such a fun class every time, we worked a game in at the parking lot of the hotel, as well. The girls have some excellent PE coming up in the Galapagos, as they swim, hike, and snorkel their way around the islands!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gallivanting in the Galapagos

Live update from Aunge: 

Trip is great- lots of snorkeling and walks. Swam with sea lions today. Everyone is smiling and living it up on boat life. We are in a town now. Absolutely amazing everyday. Lots of activities but also down time. Also snorkeled with sharks, tortoises, manta rays. 

Mail Call 2.0

Jennifer will be boarding a plane to Peru before we know it. She's happy to deliver letters or cards from yourself, friends and family. Please send items  to: TTS, PO Box 7058, Bozeman, MT 59771 (they must arrive by Thursday, April 3rd).
Friendly guidelines for mail: 
  • No packages please
  • Limit the size of items to standard office sized envelopes
  • Limit the number of items to 6 cards or letters
  • If you are joining the group in Peru please collect letters from your daughter's friends and family
TTS Home Office 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Otavalo, Yunguilla, and Tena

These past three weeks have taken us on a remarkable journey through Ecuador’s amazingly diverse regions.  In Otavalo we rose early for a brisk walk across the city just after sunrise and right in time to arrive at the bustling animal market.    After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and chocolate pancakes, the girls set off again, this time to visit Otavalo’s most renowned market, a bazaar of colorful hand-woven scarves and sweaters, intricately carved and painted works of art, and a wealth of other goods from across the country and region.  Under the expert guidance of their intensive Spanish instructors, the girls practiced bargaining in Spanish for the best deals on recuerdos to take home for family and friends.  Later in the day, the history class set off to tour the traditional main plaza while Math Concepts students went to the fruit and vegetable market and bought lunch for our whole group.  As a mid-afternoon rainstorm caught both groups by surprise, we huddled together under the awning of the best coffee and hot chocolate shop in all of Otavalo, happy for a reason to sample some of Ecuador’s most esteemed exports, cacao and café.   Continuing on with the market theme, we spent the late afternoon touring a very small, family-run factory that produces many of the traditional clothing items sold in los mercados throughout the country.  The girls were amazed to see the complexity of the weaving process.  TJ students recorded the intricacies of the process, noting the differences between the traditional looms still employed and the newer electric machines.  At the end of our personalized factory tour given by a member of one of the Agualongo host stay families, Allie, Courtney, and Susannah began a new TTS23 fashion trend with their purchase of eccentrically colored Ecuadorian comfy pants.  (pics coming)  Our action-packed day was brought to a perfect end as we enjoyed a special dinner out in town with our small mentor groups. 
With deepened Spanish skills and Otavalan souvenirs stowed away in even fuller packs, we hopped on Humberto’s bus ready to exchange the fun but chaotic sights and sounds of the city for the tranquility and calmness of the Yunguilla cloud forest.  A very windy road led us high into the Andes once again.  Rain began falling gently and the characteristic cloud forest fog began to appear as if in greeting.  Daisy and Guillindo greeted our group and spent the afternoon showing us around the community.  Charlotte, Lindsay, and Feyza did a fantastic job translating for our group as we visited the cheese and marmalade factories, the organic farm and greenhouse, the tree nursery, and the handicrafts workshop.  Throughout the week the students took turns working in each of the community projects, and it was a special treat to have cheese and jam made by the students at meal time.  Rebecca, Kate, and Allie visited the local school and helped teach children about water and hygiene as part of Project WET.  On our last day in Yunguilla we enjoyed one of the most memorable hikes of the trip to date, and learned a great deal about the Paramao, Andes, and the cloud forest plants and animals.  On our way back, we hiked the secret camino first made by Pre-Incan peoples and used for centuries by merchants and the occasional contraband traders.  As we stopped to look in awe at the bamboo, the meandering streams, and the incredibly vast views, we could not help but feel the history of the place.  We bid goodbye to Yunguilla with a campfire and s’more sendoff.

After a seven hour bus ride south, made complete by a refreshing stop at the local hot springs, the coolness of the cloud forest gave way to the warm and sunny Amazon rainforest.  Carnival was in full swing upon our arrival in Tena, and the girls had a blast.  Heather and Beth playfully ambushed the students, spraying them with foam and colors as the girls descended from a lookout tower.  Alizah became the carnival queen by receiving the most water balloons and paint attention from the local children.  Upon our return to our stylish jungle cabins, the girls enjoyed a rinse off in the river.  After a day of classes, we set off down the Napo on a rainforest adventure.  We visited an indigenous women’s community and learned about how they were working together in tourism to sustain their families.  We toured a yucca, plantain, and cacao farm and learned to make chocolate from scratch!  We sampled our roasted chocolate with some freshly picked bananas. . .a satisfying morning snack.  Later in the day, as we traveled down the river on canoes, we made stops to visit a local trap museum and see artists making pottery from the clay found in the Amazon riverbed.  The highlight for many of the girls, came after lunch when we had the incredible opportunity to float down the river in lifejackets, letting the current carry us peacefully downstream. 

Tomorrow, the girls are looking forward to white water rafting.  Then it is off to Guayaquil to meet the first parent trip and our much-awaited Galapagos adventure.


Academic Updates from Beth and Vickie

Math Concepts

After a few weeks of successfully ingraining supply and demand curves and shifts in our minds, we’re happy to move on to “real economics” and make use of the theories.  We've been exploring the idea that Ecuador’s dollarization has been successful largely due to the abundance of oil in the region.  As Oil Day approaches, we’re thinking quite a bit about how oil has provided economic freedom for the region (President Corea’s social programs are now significantly more encompassing) while at the same time the history and relative abundance have also translated, in a painfully ironic way, to debt (formerly with the IMF and now with China).  Ecuador’s current situation makes for a perfect case study in many arenas: the effectiveness of dollarization/Eurozation, the connection between economic and political power for a nation on the global scale, and the relationship among natural resources, debt, and economic freedom.  Courtney is now delving into John Perkin’s An Economic Hitman and beginning to prepare a presentation for the group on business ethics.

Intermediate Spanish

¡Saludos desde Tena, la entrada de la Amazonia!  Greetings from Tena, the gateway to the Amazon!  Intermediate Spanish is continuing their efforts hablando más español.   Both the homestays in Agualongo and the Spanish classes with native speakers in Otavala have provided a wealth of opportunities for building vocabulary and conversational skills.  Along with their intensive Spanish teacher Juan, the girls toured the world famous Saturday market in Otavala and practiced bartering in Spanish for recuerdos to bring home to family and friends.  In the cloud forest at Yunguilla, Susannah and Kate both helped translate for the group and did an outstanding job!  We’re now working hard on studying the differences between past and imperfect tenses and will be putting our knowledge to the test in creating an original series of postales depicting our viaje thus far.

Honors Natural Science: Biodiversity and Climate Change

After some literally breath-taking hikes, the girls are busy putting the finishing touches on their unit projects about the various types of interactions among species.  In Yunguilla we had one of the most memorable classes relaxing on a summit in the Ecuadoran Paramo.  Our guide, Edison, showed us what deforestation and conservation look like as we gazed from the summit into the distance where the dense and vivid greens of the primary forest stood in contrast to the weak saplings and sporadic growth of secondary reforestation.  We learned about the pattern of the clouds and rain caused by the warm coastal air mixing with the cool Andean mountain air. . .and felt the intense weather effects throughout our weeklong stay.  In the jungle, we learned about medicinal plants, sampled new and delicious exotic fruits, and listened as Gerson explained the complexities of the rainforest layers.  Anne put her Spanish skills to the test and did a fantastic job asking pertinent questions while researching for her species project.

Advanced Spanish

Our homestay experience in Agualongo de Quinchinche proved crucial to the girls' confidence in their existing Spanish skills.  Since our focus lies in conversation during this course, the students were required to complete an oral history interview with a member of their host family.  Topics ranged from childhood struggles, to wedding traditions, to bilingual Quichua education; the students wrote polished essays focusing on one specific story they unearthed in their conversations.  They described the event using preterite and imperfect past tense verbs, and also included potential follow-up questions to keep their minds on the investigative power of personal communication.  We will continue to practice these skills throughout the semester.  As our time in homestays came to an end, the girls immediately entered into their language immersion classes in Otavalo.  The purpose of these seminars is to provide the students with the valuable opportunity to learn Spanish from a native speaker.  The Advanced Spanish class was pleased to spend their four hours daily with a charismatic and demanding teacher named Washington.  Flying through complicated grammar, the girls loved getting the chance to have "real" conversations about abstract topics like climate change and Ecuadorian politics.  At the end of their mini course, the class visited the world famous Otavalo street market to practice their bartering and reinforce their conversational skills.  I had noticed an appreciable increase in the students' confidence and comprehension, so by the time we arrived in Yungilla, I knew it was time to start translating!  The students demonstrated their motivation to continue to increase their language skill set by translating for the group on tours of the cooperative's marmalade and cheese making facilities.  Scout, in particular, puts forth extra effort to translate whenever she can, and does so with increasing accuracy!  As we navigate our way through the jungle and over towards the Galapagos, our class is starting to dive into reading El Alquimista (The Alchemist), by Paulo Coehlo.  This novel is a challenging read about learning on life's journey: a perfect subject of conversation on our trip!  I look forward to many intellectual discussions as part of this ongoing reading assignment while our group finishes up with Ecuador and moves south into Peru.

Physical Education

Balancing exercise with other activities can be challenging: in the last few weeks of our trip, we have had to find ways to be creative in our physical endeavors.  While in Agualongo visiting Quichua families, the girls took part in a "minga," or community work day, and realized how physically exhausting it can be to dig, shovel, and move firewood.  A couple of longer hikes (around the community and through cow pastures and over mountain ridges to the neighboring community) gave us a preview of the PE we can look forward to on the treks in Peru.  In Otavalo, we were excited to discover a track nearby, which we used for interval running workouts.  Dr. Kate has stepped in as a PE teacher on several occasions to offer yoga sessions in the mornings.  In perhaps the group's favorite PE class thus far this semester, the girls took part in a competitive soccer match in Yungilla, which yielded a final score of 0-0 and many laughs as well.   Rebecca was a standout player in the game, as she gave all of her cheer-background-inspired energy to her team.  As our high altitude hikes approach, we are now in Tena focusing on cardiovascular endurance and core strength for long-distance backpacking.

Travel Journalism

Throughout their groupstay experience in Agualongo, the TJ students maintained a travel log of observations that they noticed about their host family, the community, or themselves.  This turned out to be an effective assignment to process the experience, and allowed us to practice the art of making observations without making assumptions.  While continuing our ongoing discussion of information gathering practices, the students also delved into conversations regarding the relationship between the press and the government, and visited the Journalistic Code of Ethics.  As we returned to Otavalo, our thoughts moved towards techniques for writing narrative journalism and the requirements for our first formal article.  The girls excitedly chose their topics for their first major article: a short piece that maintained a focus on a specific place that we have visited, and presented a concern of intriguing aspect about that place.  After a combined writing workshop between the TJ and Literature and Composition classes, the students carried out a fruitful round of peer editing.  As the deadline for their article approached, we focused on effective caption-writing for their featured photos, and the composition of a strong lead.  Check out this fantastic lead by Alizah:

As Ecuador's climate conditions become increasingly unpredictable, farmers' livelihoods are destabilizing along with the weather.  With roughly one third of the population employed in agriculture, price fluctuations in the global market have long dictated the state of Ecuador's employment and economy...

Her article continues, referencing an interview completed during a recent hike with a local farmer:

Although a seemingly endemic problem, climate change's impact reaches far beyond the receding borders of the Amazon - all the way to a small farm in Otavalo, over 350 kilometers away. "When I was younger, the crops couldn't help but grow," Fabiola Bautista, farmer and mother of two, laments in Spanish from a lookout above her extensive cornfield.  "My grandmother had a bountiful harvest every week."  Bautista, now twenty seven, has grown up on the family's farm, aiding in planting, harvesting, and selling their crops.  Within the last decade, as the effects of climate change have proliferated, she has experienced first-hand the challenges brought on by undefined seasons and unpredictable weather patterns.

In Yungilla, our focus (pun intended?) turned to exposure settings on our cameras as we asked, what is an aperture?  How does shutter speed affect the way that light enters?  The orchid greenhouse at the cooperative ended up being a lovely location to begin answering these questions through experimentation and study.  Oil Day is approaching us on our semester, and the TJ students will be front and center during that dialog, because we have recently transitioned to the study of editorials.  The girls will practice taking an academic and informed stance on an issue, and are currently researching and outlining their arguments in order to present them on the big day.  I know the girls will find endless opportunities to complete the "wildlife" category of their photo portfolio in the Galapagos; I look forward to seeing some of those shots.  When we move onto Peru, our class will also move onto strategies for investigative reporting.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Class Updates from Heather & Sarah


We've made it to Establo de Tomas. It's beautiful here! There is a bigger bridge now, so Humberto was able to drive us right up to the hostel. We got here earlier than we expected, so girls had the chance to cool off in the river before a tasty dinner. 

(In the past, after traveling for about 7 hours, the group had to get off the bus and unload everything about a 1/2 mile before the hostel. Sometimes students re-loaded gear into smaller trucks and sometimes they made the trek to the hostel with everything.)

Algebra 2
Seripinski Triangles
After our initial study of characteristics of functions, graphs, and transfomations of graphs, Algebra 2 students separated into three groups to address individualized curriculum needs based on their first semester work at their home high schools. Maisie and Allie's study of sequences and series included finite arithmetic and geometric sequences and series, and infinite geometric series. As a culmination of their work, the students are using infinite geometric series to describe fractal patterns such as the Sierpinski Triangle. Grace, Anne, Caroline, and Lena reviewed factoring and applied long and synthetic division during investigations designed to explore the remainder and factor theorems. The students made connections between factors, zeros, and x-intercepts of polynomials. Kate and Charlotte also worked with polynomials and extended their study to include complex roots of polynomials as well as an exploration how multiplicities of zeros, leading coefficients, and degrees of polynomials affect the graph. After individualized assessments, the students of Algebra 2 reunited to begin a study of exponential and logarithmic functions.

In the past weeks of Precalculus, students have continued on their personalized curriculum tracks. Rebecca and Erin extended their study of polynomials to learn about rational functions, which are fractions of polynomials. Students used their polynomial factoring skills and graphing calculators as tools to investigate horizontal, vertical, and slant asymptotes of rational functions' graphs. Sophie applied her knowledge of trigonometric functions to find missing sides of right triangles and extended her knowledge of the unit circle definitions of sine and cosine to sketch graphs of the functions use them to describe harmonic motion problems. Hannah built upon her study of systems of equations by learning to solve systems using matrices by performing Gaussian elimination, both by hand and with her graphing calculator. Hannah and Sophie have recently joined together to challenge their creative problem-solving skills and logical reasoning as they apply fundamental trigonometric identities to verify new trigonometric identities. These types of problems can be frustrating since there is no designated process for solving, but the students are discovering the fun and satisfaction of solving these trigonometric puzzles!

Beginning Spanish
Homestays experiences in Agualongo challenged beginning Spanish students with full language immersion. Courtney found that markers, a coloring book, and the Spanish words for the colors were more than enough to form a bond with the three-year-old in her homestay family. Rebecca and Maisie will always remember the difference between antes(before) and despues (after) after a minor communication misunderstanding resulted in them roasting smores with their family before dinner! Although Spanish was the language we used most often to communicate with our homestay families, we also learned common Kichwa words and phrases since this indigenous tongue is the first language for the majority of the Agualongo community. Anna Taft of the Tandana Foundation taught a class in Kichwa, including an adaption of a traditional Kichwa song we later performed for our homestay families to say goodbye on our last day in Agualongo. Students reinforced their experiential learning by collecting new vocabulary in their journals and practicing grammer in their workbooks. Language immersion continued for the girls in Otavalo with four days of four-hour intensive Spanish classes. Students studied vocabulary and practiced conversational skills with their Chilean teacher before heading out to the world-famous Otavalan market to practically apply their skills. With increased confidence in their communication skills, this week students have engaged in short conversations with the staff at the cloud forest ecolodge in Yungilla.  

Honors History and Government of South America 
Students of history have continued to learn about the effects of the Incans in Ecuador. Most recently however, the class is studying the legacy of Spanish colonialism and conquest in the region. On a daily basis students observe divisions that are a result of systemic violence inflicted by the Spanish. Students are paying attention to class and ethnicity, who has land and whether it's flat,  fertile, and desirable, or steep, inaccessible, and small. They are paying attention to where particular indigenous groups live, and where mestizos live, what livelihoods indigenous groups have versus the majority of mestizos, what educational opportunities there are, what the health status is, and much more.

Students are beginning to see that history is all around us, that the world we live in is a result of all that has come before. In Otavalo, on a rainy day, we walked a few blocks to a main square to study a mural depicting Pizarro's conquest over Atahualpa, the last Inca king. At first there were images of blood, shackles, and Europeans descending, but as students walked the length of the block they saw the story transform into images of indigenous empowerment and pride.

Each student is responsible for creatively presenting an historical figure pertinent to the region to their peers. The first round of oral presentations begin next week. First, however, we will dive into the history of oil exploration in the Amazon, our current location. We have already seen miles of pipeline along the road and interviewed various Ecuadorians on their perspectives on how the nation can become less oil-dependent. We are learning that the U.S. and China are major players in Ecuador's current situation, and will greatly affect their future. Students are wondering, can they affect the course of Ecuador's history?

Honors Literature and Composition
Students successfully completed their analytical essays focused on their first novel The Queen of Water and are glad to have a short respite before their next big written assignment, the This I Believe Essay. Just before their final draft was due the group had an amazing opportunity to meet the protagonist of the book and co-author herself, Maria Virginia Farinango! It was a surreal experience for all because we knew so many personal details about her life, such as the scars she wore underneath her traditional Quichua skirt from beatings, and the suffering she endured as a child slave. It was an incredible opportunity, and the students peppered her with questions about her life now, and how she overcame such adversity as an indigenous child servant in a mestizo household to the happy successful, and free  businesswoman she is today.

This week in the Amazon we will read short stories and create a community poem inspired by concepts of oil exploitation, the most prevalent theme in the region. Students are working hard. Some have managed to find free time to access our portable library, a suitcase full of content-rich books. Others have enough on their plates between all of their classes, activities, and learning how to live on the road. Throughout it all, students are journaling to unleash their fears of writing, maintain a steady practice, and dive into creativity.

Check back for more updates at the end of the week after we return from our jungle adventure!