March 8 2010
Three of us sit here in our in our mini mobile classroom trailer, eleven feet long, filled with our luggage as we travel; when we are camped it transforms into a mobile media center. An eighty-watt solar panel is on the roof wired into two six volt 105 amp hour batteries and a 1000-watt inverter. The students put the system together back at base camp before we left. Ohms law meets the Baja California sun and we have about 600 watt-hours of power each day. We now sit 50 yards from the breaking waves in San Roque, Baja California Sur, two students beside me with their computers happily humming away on the day’s store of solar energy. The view out the trailer is five miles of deserted beach with pelicans diving after fish that are trying to escape the patrolling lobos Marinas (sea lions).
San Roque is an abandoned fishing village about half way down the peninsula on the Pacific side. The village once supported about 20 families. Just off shore is Isla San Roque, the whole area is one of the Nuclear Core Zones of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. The island supports a large colony of harbor seals and many species of birds. Twelve kilometers to the south is the small town of Bahia Asuncion; it also has an island just off shore with its own colony of sea lions. The town is not a tourist destination, so our presence here has a much different feel than our other haunts. We have been bringing students here for a number of years and many people in the town know us and greet us warmly. The local young people come to our beach camp for boogieando (boogie boarding) to play music, dance, practice English/Spanish and share food.
One of the reasons San Roque is abandoned is because there is no fresh water here. We bring what we need from town and the twelve of us subsist on less than 10 gallons a day. We wash our dishes and bodies with agua del mar, a very hands on lesson in conservation and appreciation for what we take for granted, and the magic of this place rubs off on the students just as planned.
By: Tom Weistar
It’s a hard concept to get, it takes a while; some of the students are just now starting to come around after six weeks. This idea, this notion of self-directed learning, intrinsic motivation, life long learning, the world is your classroom, that learning is a luxury to take joy in. I am a fortunate product of the alternative school movement of the late sixties and early seventies. About 60 of us were chosen to form a school within a school. Thirty were the brainiac kids that were bored with the standard fair, and the other 30 were, well, us, the ones that might tarnish the schools prestigious image. We designed our own curriculum. I got exposed early to learning outside of the classroom, and I remember it hit me like a ton of bricks one day that I was learning so much away from school. Even seasoned teachers we have trained have had a hard time with self-directed learning; they want the (false) security of the textbooks, the lesson plans, and the summative assessment tools (tests). We steel our resolve, exercise our patience, strategize and nudge.
We made some big strides the other day. We had just told the students that we wanted them to think of the people we were meeting as their teachers, to engage them, to learn from them and to ask questions. Unscheduled and unknown to us Paul walks in, right on queue. A semi-retired professor, and an ornithologist with a PHD from Cornell, and a fantastic human being. He is down with a group of researchers working on conservation issues. He took us for most of the day on a walk to the edge of the mangroves, where he wove birding and conservation with literature and… Zen and the art of living? At the end of our walk he excused himself, he came prepared with his bathing suit under his clothes, to float on the outgoing tide along the Mangroves out into the lagoon. A few students followed his lead. I hope our paths cross again.
So the students work at shedding their Pavlovian conditioning, some still waiting for the bell to ring, for the subject to change, for someone to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how many points it will be worth. Meanwhile we wait, for self-direction, knowing it is the only reward to attach to learning.
By: Tom Weistar
As we travel the Baja California Peninsula we search for the Good and for the rhythms by which to set our daily structure. This proves to be a challenge and a blessing. The wind is consistent, its kinetic energy mirrors our group, sometimes still and calm, at other times a gusting force to be reckoned with, and we have to take our tents down till it passes. Some of the other constants we set our rhythms to are: the tides, especially when they rise to within a few feet of our camp at the edge of the lagoon; and the endearing warmth and friendliness of the local people. New friends and experiences come to us with such inconsistent regularity that we are starting to count on it. For example yesterday just as we finished our morning meeting, and we set the students out on their projects, two truck loads of local fishermen pulled up with their catch of giant squid. They wanted to know if we had a compressor to fill their tires, the truck was overloaded with the heavy catch. As a gesture of appreciation for the compressor, they thrust three giant squid into Alex’s waiting hands. He struggled to keep the four-foot tentacles from dragging on the ground. Even as I write this I am interrupted by a couple of carloads of Mexican families coming out to visit us at our beach camp. And so it goes here, we learn about the local economy and how to make Calamari Ceviche, we are thrust into cultural immersion, speaking Spanish, new friendships and new culinary experiences. The only experience so far that I hope doesn’t take on rhythm status is the breaking of leaf springs on our trailer, three times so far… and yes, I am counting.
By: Tom Weistar