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Travel to the Extremes (In the Name of Science)

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

I was a military brat.  My dad was in the Navy, so every 3 to 4 months we’d pack everything up and travel to a new military base for my dad’s new assignment.  By the time I was in middle school, I had lived half of my life overseas in places like Scotland and a tiny 3 mile by 8 mile island off the tip of the boot of Italy.  I loved immersing myself in a new culture and picking up bits of the language.  Even the transfer from South Texas to Southern California was exciting.  I lived right by Sea World and the San Diego Zoo!  I blame this exciting upbringing for my love of travel. 

When my husband and I got married, we knew we’d want to celebrate our anniversary each year with a trip.  We considered a Saturday wedding in June, but finally decided on a Saturday in March knowing that, as a teacher, I’d always have a week or two for travel during Spring Break.  We’ll be celebrating 13 years of wedded bliss next week. London, Egypt, Paris, several Italian cities, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are just a few of the places our wanderlust has taken us.  One of my favorite trips was to the Galapagos Islands.  It is a Biology teacher’s Disney World.  Everything I studied, everything I teach (ecological succession, courtship rituals, natural selection, and evolution) was right there in front of me.  To walk in Darwin’s footsteps was exhilarating.  I found myself physically and mentally exhausted each night and contemplated how amazing it would be to bring students to The Galapagos.  Like learning Spanish in a six-week intensive immersive program in Spain, this is how natural selection should be taught. 

Six years ago, my husband wasn’t able to get time off during Spring Break.  I was crushed.  This meant we wouldn’t be able to take our annual anniversary trip.  While I wallowed, my husband suggested that I see if any students were interested in going to the Galapagos.  He’s a brilliant man.  After much planning, I took 7 students on the trip of a lifetime, a 14 day Galapagos excursion. 

My pollywogs earned their Shellback Club membership (a little naval lingo) as we crossed the equator.  Our pale NYC skin took on an uncomfortable red hue as we explored the islands at 0° latitude where the most intense solar energy strikes the Earth’s surface.  Talk about extreme!

In two weeks, I’ll be taking a group of 5 students to the opposite extreme as we travel to Iceland, which lies right below the Arctic Circle.  Yeah, my husband didn’t get the time off again.  As he broke the news to me, to avoid my pouty, sullen mood, he was ready with the suggestion that I take a group to Iceland.  We took the trip ourselves a couple of years ago and loved it. 

I’m so excited to once again be offering a small group of students the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime.  Our itinerary includes an exciting evening trip where we’ll chase the Northern Lights as they dance across the sky.  To learn a little Earth Science, we’ll go spelunking in a lava cave and snorkeling in a rift valley where we’ll have the opportunity to touch both the Eurasian and North American continental plates at the same time, and visit a geothermal power plant to see how Iceland harnesses the power of the Earth to provide clean energy for the entire country.  As if this weren’t exciting enough, we’ll don crampons and an ice pick to hike a glacier where we’ll get the opportunity to drink pure glacier water from the source.  Our plans also include a hike on the black sand beaches of the South Coast and a visit to the troublesome Eyjafallajokull volcano whose eruption in 2010 caused the cancellation of many flights to and from Europe.  Ash spewed in to the air leading to the largest air traffic shut down since World War II.  After many waterfalls, including one we’ll walk behind to feel the force of the falling wall of water, we’ll conclude our trip with a luxury visit to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa where we’ll rest our tired muscles before heading back to NYC.

It’s going to be quite a trip.  I wish I could take all of my students with me, but alas it is not possible.  However, you can still be part of our journey.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for pictures and running commentary during our travels.

We are welcoming students to class this spring either via a hybrid in-person/online learning model in NYC (following our Spring Break), or via fully remote, synchronous online classes.  Learn more about our response to COVID-19 >