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Tuesday Travels: Traveling Europe is NOT for Rules-Followers

My entire life has been about following the rules.  I am a stickler for rules, and feel that most of the of time, they are the only way.  I lived my life this way, taught my child this way, and taught my students with this mentality.  While occasionally I found reasons to encourage rule changes, even that could be done in a rule-following manner.  And then I traveled to Europe...
Our first train ride on our European trip! Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
Most Europeans live by rules that are drastically different than my own.  We encountered this from our first step onto the ship to take our transatlantic passage, and it was reinforced almost every step along the way.  The greatest example of this was their lack of respect for the line, or que. 

As a dedicated Disney visitor, I am all about the proper line.  Everyone steps in line, and they wait patiently for their turn.  In Europe, there is no such thing.  We experienced this getting on trains, waiting to enter tourist attractions, hoping to fill our breakfast plate from the buffet, checking in at hotels, being surrounded by cigarette smoke as we struggled to be free, and even in wishing to take that perfect, once in a lifetime picture.

Now laughable moments include:
  • Steve standing in what he took for a line to the creme puffs for desert, only for an Italian gent to step in and grab all 6 remaining on the serving plate at the same time.  Walking away, and stuffing his mouth, with no regret.
  • My shouting match outside the train with the chimney of a German gentleman who argued his position while I just wanted to get on the train through the door he was blocking.
  • Our standing in a "3 hour" line at the Palace of Versailles (with our "skip the line tickets") only to see others join the que in groups of 10 or more in front of us as we slowly edged toward the gates.  We eventually gave up on this, seeing we would spend days there, and saw the gardens instead. 
    Palace of Versailles after we gave up the line.  Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
  • Being told on our MSC cruise to Greece that the noise from the neighboring room well after midnight EVERY NIGHT was allowable because our neighbors "are an Italian family." (Stated with a shrug and a smile.)
  • Being felt up (if they only knew they were grabbing foam!), butt groped, and literally picked up and moved with the crowd pushing through to see the smiling Mona Lisa in the Louvre.  
And the insults to rule-breaking continued from city to city and country to country. 

Arriving in the Vatican City, and heading to the Sistine Chapel, we hoped there would be order and rules-enforcement, if nothing else but in the name of the church!   And were were happy to see rules clearly posted about camera use, those ever swinging selfie-sticks, and even the use of the correct line for entrance. 
Lines outside Vatican. Photo (c) by Steve Luck.
Still, the movement through the Museum was a shoving match, or cattle herd, to say the least.  But Steve and I resisted the urge to push ahead or to cut in front of those not paying attention.  We waited our turn.  Rules-following, we vowed, would be our way. 
Vatican Museum Hallway to Sistine Chapel. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
And finally, there it was.  I stepped through a door to see THE CEILING OF THE SISTINE CHAPEL.  Right above my head was the works of Michelangelo.  All of his greatness surrounded me and filled my mind with images of the scaffolding holding him in the air as he painting while laying on his back. 

I pulled out my phone to begin taking all the pictures I could possibly take while being moved through the room with the crowd.  And then came the voice... The enforcer... Might as well have been the Pope himself standing there yelling out the words... "NO CAMERAS!  NO PICTURES!  MOVE ALONG!" 

Over and over, the guards yelled these words as they stood around the room, surveying the crowd for rule-breakers.  Finally.  But, this was the Sistine Chapel.  This was "The Creation of Adam" above me.  I had to have a picture.  But, I had to follow the rules.  What could I do?

Oh, fine.  I concede.  No one is perfect, and I am weak when it comes to Renaissance art.  So there, in the most amazing chapel on Earth, I pulled out my phone, and very discreetly snapped the pictures. 

And what happened?  Nothing punitive.  I was not arrested, ushered to a holding tank, or even taken to the underground for question.  No inquisition at all.  Like many others, I was pushed through the room, snapping pictures from my waist, and ended up back in the outside hall with a collection of images for my album.

But, I have to add... Karma quickly kicked me in the butt for my rule-breaking.  As I scanned through the images, I found the penalty for my disobedience... The pictures suck!  Blurred portraits.  Images of arms or heads.  And another memory of Europe that has to leave me laughing, just so I don't cry!

Now, if you want to see these images, just remember... They were illegally taken, so you, too, would be a rule-breaker in participating in such behavior!  Still, they are posted for your enjoyment - and laughter!
All Photos (Embarrassingly) (c) of Michele Luck!










Happy Traveling!

Tuesday Travels: My Greek Lesson

When we first arrived in Europe, we toured the city with big eyes and high expectations on all the sites we planned to see.  We had tickets to visit the Vatican Museums, the Forum and Colosseum, the Louvre, Palace of Versailles, and the Tower of London.  We had days scheduled to tour the Olympic Ruins, the Acropolis, and the Duomo of Florence.  For each, we knew exactly what we would see, and we thought we knew the history that supported the site.
Tower of London. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
To start off our visit to each new city, we took Big Bus tours.  These helped us get the layout of the destination and led us to the locations we most wanted to see.  Some offered commentary, live or recorded, and this is where the lessons started to come into play.

Through London and Paris, we heard the terms "reconstructed" and "rebuilt" a number of times.  We understood this description; after all, these cities had been involved in world wars that had ravaged, not only the land, but also the landscape.  As we arrived in Frankfort and Munich, we saw that these cities were very modern, and the evidence of the nation's history was evident in what we did not see.
Munich, Germany.  Photo (c) by Michele Luck
But then we got to Greece.  At the site of the ancient Olympics and at the Acropolis, we started to learn the lesson in a whole new way... And that's when we learned to look a bit closer at everything we saw.  More importantly, we learned to question everything we heard, and learned, when we were being seduced by the stories of the past.

Our true lesson started off at the Olympic Ruins as we walked down the hill from our tour bus.  Our guide explained that the river had run through the region, flooding out the ancient cities, but in recent times, the ruins had been dug up and replaced on what archeologists believed to be the actual sites.  She explained that the stadium was "probably" over the hill just through the gate, but that the valley where the athletes ran was set below the gods for their entertainment (and worship).
"Probably" the Olympic Stadium. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
After this very thorough (and shattering) explanation, we went into the ruins where we continued to see further evidence of the "rebuilding" and "restructuring" of the ruins.  Modern cement could be seen where cracks had taken over columns or other structures.  Screws were drilled into platforms and stabilizer bars were attached, but discreetly placed for less visibility.

Now I understand that this is a necessity to preserve the ruins and to maintain the structures to give us a glimpse of the past, but here's where I start to have the problem...

We started seeing this evidence everywhere.  We saw it in Athens at the Acropolis.  We saw it at the Colosseum in Rome.  We saw it with the churches in Florence.
At Acropolis while under repair (Look at white repair cement in columns).  Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
Colosseum in Rome with "reconstructed" levels. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
While I cannot make a blanket statement about what all teachers teach their students when it comes to ancient history and ancient ruins, but I now know that I lied to my students for many years.  I taught them that these were the actual sites, the actual stones, and the edifices as they were built and lived in thousands of years ago.

So, with this great Greek lesson, I want to make a suggestion to all of my teacher friends... Teach your students to look at the evidence.  Teach them to question what they are taught.  And teach them to trust only what they see and experience for themselves.  In reality, that is the only truth!

Happy Travels,

Bright Ideas Blog Hop: Meeting Students at the Door for Classroom Management

One of the most popular books for classroom management over the past few decades was Wong and Wong's The First Days of School.  While this book was not as relevant for middle and high school classrooms, it still offered great advice that could easily be applied for the upper grades.  The one I've found to be most important, and most effective, for maintaining my classroom management is the Meet & Greet at the Classroom Door.

Studying the 80s is always a favorite in my U.S. History classes!   Like Totally!
Meet & Greets have become a fun way to orient students to your classroom and each other on the first days of school, but the teacher/student meeting is far more important.  In this initial moment on the first day of school, students will often form the opinion of you that they may carry throughout the entire year.  Set things off on the right foot, and this meet and greet may help you set the standards for the classroom management you desire.

Each teacher should have their own personality in their Meet & Greet, but the vital ingredient for all is being at the classroom door as students are entering on that first day (and every day).  Here are a few suggestions that have worked well for me over the years:
  • Shake hands, high-five, or fist-bump every student as you introduce yourself on the first day.  Make this an everyday activity that will tell your students you are ready for their arrival, and they should be prepared for your class in return!
  • Compliment each student as they come to your door.  Address their outfit, their hair, or their cool new shoes.  If you are uncomfortable with personal attributes, call out their notebooks, the fact that they have pens or pencils ready to go, or the how they have arrived so quickly from their last class.  This can be a simple gesture, but will make a huge impact in building classroom confidence. 
  • Assign seats as students come to the door to avoid confusion or chaos.  Make it fun by using color codes, numbered sticks, or allow students to draw out their seat number for more random placement.
  • Distribute task cards, a Find Someone Who handout, or a Meet & Greet card to get students started in the first class activity.  This is vitally important.  It sets the standard for classroom time use and establishes your expectation that students will be on time and on task from bell to bell.
While the process is very important to establish yourself and your expectations, it can also be fun and entertaining to get your students engaged before the bell even rings!
  • Dress up in a fun outfit based on the subject you teach or what you'll be teaching.  I did this with each new unit, and my students loved getting a great laugh at my outrageous costumes and hair styles representing the eras in history.
  • Make entering the classroom an adventure.  Hang beads from the door (This always was the norm during my Counter-Culture Unit!), use decorative paper to create a black hole for students to climb through to enter, place numbers/equations or literary quotes on the floor for students to follow as they make their way to their seats, set up a hopscotch board to help students get some energy out as they enter, or distribute clues for a scavenger hunt and encourage student pairs to solve the clues.
  • Set the mood with music or video as students enter the room.  Play motivational videos or songs to rally up your students as you prepare to discuss the great year you have planned.  Convert your syllabus to a video presentation to make it less boring of a first day procedure!  Continue this trend by projecting your bellringers with music or video as the year goes on.
There are hundreds of ways you can Meet and Greet your students on that first day of school and in every day following.   The important thing is that you DO meet your students there.  Being in the hallway shows your students you are their protector, you are ready for class yourself, and you are excited about the lesson you are planning to teach.  Moreover, it shows students that you care about seeing them each day, and that you expect them to be there.  When they are not, make a point to share this sadness with them, and when you see changes of any kind - NOTICE!

In the end, the Meet & Greet is not a first day of school activity.  It is an every day of school activity, and one that will make your classroom a better, more inviting, more structured environment for learning.

If you enjoyed this Bright Idea, please follow me for more great advice as we work through the school year.  You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest!

For more Bright Ideas from other bloggers, be sure to scroll down to the link up below and choose the topics and/or grade level that interests you!




Happy Hopping!

Tuesday Travels: My Funniest Most Painful Memory of Europe

While my brain is urging me to write about our trip to Europe in chronological order, my gut is telling me I must tell the funniest, most painful story first.  That takes us to the middle of our trip as we set off to explore the ancient ruins of Olympia, Greece.
Gates to Olympic Stadium.  Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
It was a beautiful day with the sun shining brightly and the temperature rising through the afternoon.  We had cruised into port early, and had joined our tour group of 40 other English speaking tourists to visit the popular ancient site.  The bus ride was filled with incredible information provided by our tour guide, past and present, including explanations of the large piles of trash on the roadside due to the economic woes of the country and the recent trash collector's strike.  This left us curious to see the attractions and excited to be almost there.

As soon as we arrived, we all exited the bus and started down the hill.  This is when Steve and I learned one very important travel lesson: You do not and should not stay with your tour group if that's not your thing!  As some lit up their cigarettes and others marched at their own, very slow pace, Steve and I became more anxious to get to the real stuff!  We marched ahead and gave up the wonderful commentary for our personal space and freedom to roam.  It was marvelous.

We saw the Zeus Temple, the Stadium field, the Entrance Gate, the housing area for the athletes, and we read every sign before us on the history of the remains.  We learned about the past, but also learned about our present world, including a lesson that was reinforced almost everywhere we went... Much of what we see today is a recreation of what is believed to be of the past.  The more we saw the evidence of this fact, and the more we heard tour guides discussing the "rebuilt" this or "reconstructed" that, the more disappointed we became that we'd fallen for so many stories of history, when in reality, we don't really know the truth.
Temples to the gods.  Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
Temple of Zeus Remains.  Photo (c) by Michele Luck.

New Archeological Dig Site. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.

Digging to reconstruct the past. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.

Closed dig site. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.

Reconstructed stadium area. Photo (c) by Michele Luck.
The more we walked, and as the sun rose higher into the sky, the hotter I got.  Finally, as Steve was determined to set out to the furthest locations at the site, I confessed that I needed a break.  We spotted a rock bench off in the distance, and I headed over to relax while he continued exploring.  No sooner than I'd sat down to catch my breath, I saw two elderly women coming my way.  They were loudly speaking Italian, a language we'd become quite familiar with on our cruise to Greece from Venice.  One of the ladies seemed to be feeling the same as I, so she was struggling along as the other led the way.  I scooted myself to the very end of the rock seat, with my bottom only taking up about 6 inches, working to allow room for the two ladies.  What happened next has left me with the funniest, but most painful memory of our entire trip...

The first woman took her place on the bench with plenty of room for her friend.  But instead of allowing all three of us to share the bench, she instead swung her hips to the side, knocking me fully onto the ground, butt in the dirt.  She looked down at me, a smug look on her face, and then turned to her friend, offering up the plentiful space now available.  My pride was so hurt that I quickly rose, ran off toward Steve while dusting off my shorts, and tears streaming down my face. 

When I finally caught up with Steve, he placed his hands on my shoulders to ask what was wrong.  Concern was all over his face, and I was struggling for breath to speak.  Finally, the words came out... "The old Italian lady bumped me off the bench!" I cried through short breathes as I continued slapping the dirt from my tuckus.  And then, hearing my own words, I burst into laughter.  "Are you hurt?" he asked.  No, my bootie was fine; it was just my pride that was bruised. 

As we made our way back to the bus, we laughed and joked about my butt-busting experience with the older Italian lady.  At that point, we were so tired of the pushy Italians and their "take what they want" way of doing things.  We'd been on the cruise ship for 3 days with majority Italians, and we'd been shoved at the breakfast buffet, refused seating in the lounges, cut in front of at the dinner line, and talked over so many times that we were simply tired of the "Italian way!" 

Now I must clarify on our views of the Italian culture!  I LOVED Italy.  It was a country filled with beauty and there were people that were as great as they were evil.  This same description could be said of the French, British, Germans, Greeks, or even Americans (myself included) that we've met along our travels.  However, the Italian culture, which we now much better understand, is one so different from our own.  They grasp for personal space, they speak loudly for emphasis, and they demand rather than request.  And this is what we love about the culture... as much as we hate it! 

So, when we remember our trip to the ancient ruins of the first Olympics, what will I think about first?  Not the amazing columns still standing, the incredible archway where great Olympians once walked, not the fortresses built to honor the gods; I will instead think about my bruised ego - on both ends!

Happy Travels,

Tuesday Travels: Lessons from Our Whirlwind Trip

Over the past three years, Steve and I have traveled the country, hoping to see everything possible before his mobility is limited.  When we talked about traveling to Europe or other parts of the world, we always dismissed the dream, believing it was beyond our means, but still secretly hoping it could come together for us.  And this summer, it did.

We planned everything so carefully, and cut corners at every turn just to fit the trip into our limited budget.  We read every blog, compared every ticket sales agency, and read reviews on every topic along the way.  We bought our train tickets far in advance for extra savings, booked our tours in bulk for the discount, and stayed in AirBnBs to avoid high hotel costs.  Even after all the booking, we religiously watched the travel sites for better deals and price match opportunities.  And then it was time to go.

While the trip we so meticulously planned was exactly as we'd laid out, it was not at all what we expected.  We learned so many lessons about the world, and about ourselves, as we visited civilizations developed so long ago and met people from all around the world and every walk of life.

Here are just a few lessons we will take with us as we continue to travel, all thanks to our experiences over the last 42 days all across Europe!
  • Democracy does not mean free.  We see and hear this so much in the states as we travel from campground to campground, but we also heard (and saw) so many examples of this in Europe, bringing it to mind as something I want to always remember.  So, what does it mean?  Democracy does not guarantee opportunities for every citizen based on sheer existence.  We have to work for those opportunities; earn them.  And some opportunities that come to me may not come to you.  That's life!  More importantly, expecting to be treated equally without putting forth any effort does not entitle anyone to anything, especially in a democracy.  Democracy is actually expensive.  It takes service, sweat, tears, and lives to preserve.  Those who think otherwise are sadly misinformed. 
  • There is a cost for everything.  Nothing is FREE!  If you remember back to your freshman Economic class, you learned about opportunity costs.  It you want something, you have to give up something else.  We give up our time and energy for the material things we want.  We give up our comfort and security for the sake of relationships.  And we give up freedoms and irresponsibility for stability and safety.  At no point does life hand us everything we want for nothing.
  • Cultures are different, but humans are the same.  And this lesson was learned over and over.  Each time we arrived in a new city, we experienced new cultures and new ways of living day to day.  What is priority in one place is not at all a concern in another.  This often makes us uncomfortable, and sometimes self-righteous.  We each think that our way is the only way, but in reality, that is not always true.  And in the end, we all just want what is best: Best for ourselves, our friends, our families, our neighbors, our nations... Best for those we know, and all others come after the fact.  We are human. 
  • Personal space is a gift.  Living in my 400 sq. ft. motorhome, I often consider myself a minimalist, living with just what I need and nothing more.  Oh, how that is so untrue!  Personal space and property is such a gift.  And while we often take this for granted, it is vitally fought for in many other parts of the world, even those just as civilized and developed as our own.  Along the same lines, how we behave in our space is the product of what space we have, or do not have, to begin.  Understanding that as you travel is an invaluable lesson.
  • Traveling is personal.  It is an individual action and is never the same for everyone.  I want to see what is important to me, and you may want to see things entirely different.  To take that a step further, what we see is relevant to our lives in individual ways.  Respecting that difference is very important when you are traveling with others, and especially when you hope to see the same places, but each for different reasons! 
  • What we learn, believe, and even see is not always the truth!  We have to learn to look closely for the facts.  And we must learn to listen carefully to understand the reality of what we want to believe, think or feel.  History, and definitely life, are not always what they seem.
  • Sometimes, we all break the rules.  Even for those of us who are diehard rules-followers and enforcers, occasionally there is a rule or circumstance that pushes us over the edge and into the realm of defiance.  Biggest lesson learned... no one is perfect! 
There are so many more, but I will introduce them as I tell my stories of Europe over the next few weeks!  And yes, there are so many stories to tell...

Happy Travels,

Monday Mapping: Addressing Current Events with Historical Facts

As we get closer to the end of the school year, and especially after testing, it becomes more and more challenging to teach in the content-based, unit to unit way we are used to in our Social Studies classrooms.  Students are less willing to read from texts and are more apt to share their opinions rather than support anything with fact.  This pushes us, the dedicated to the end teachers, to pull out lessons that will engage, and maybe even some that will entice anger, frustration, or sadness, just to get a response!


Most lessons of the sort will not be an easy find, or even an easy creation.  They come from knowing your students, and knowing what will rile them up!  Still, here are a few tips to get you started:
In the end, just find a theme.  Something you know travels through time, and is still significant today.  While a few years old now, Jimmy Carter's "Losing my Religion" piece is perfect for stirring up conversation (and review).  Read along in the piece (at the link), and then ask yourself where these questions could take your classroom...
  1. What does religion mean in your life?  (Yes, you can ask this!  No, it does not mean you are introducing or judging any religion or breaking any law.)
  2. How do you think religion affects society?
  3. How does religion impact the political system or laws?
  4. What historical support can you come up with for President Carter's points on the oppression of women by religion?
  5. Are some religions more or less accepting of difference than others?
  6. How does the discrimination discussed by Carter compare to other, more current discrimination? 
  7. What groups or peoples are the brunt of discrimination in modern society?
  8. How has history taught us to be tolerant?  Forgiving?  Accepting?
  9. What do you think is the overall goal of The Elders?
  10. Do you think people can practice their faith and still be accepting of difference?  How?
  11. Why? Why? Why?  This is the big one... As your students why we should look deeper at this issue and those similar.
  12. And finally, What can you do?  You see what Carter has done through this piece.  Other world leaders joined him in statements regarding their own faiths or beliefs.  What can you, as individuals in our modern world, do to make a difference now and in the future?
Teaching the last days of each school year can be an incredible challenge, but it can also be a great learning experience for you and your students!  Enjoy your time with them, and help them take away everything they can from the classroom experience.

Happy Teaching!

Secondary Smorgasbord: Games to Keep Them Engaged at Year's End

Teaching new content at the end of the year is most often out of the question with crazy schedules and early dismissed groups as events and other obligations draw our students in every direction.  Still, we know we must wrap-up our content with students to help bring lessons together and to help them review for coming final exams or course tests.  How can we keep it together as everything seems to be falling apart in the final days of the year?


Keeping students engaged can be the greatest challenge for any teacher.  While some teachers choose to give up and offer free time to their students those final days, I could never give up that time, or my sanity to the chaos, and instead set up organized game play for my students each and every school day right up to our final exams.

Here are a few of my Game Strategies for the Secondary classroom:
  • Use Practice Games -  design games to address specific content, skills or standards and course curriculum.  Create your own questions and create competition among your students to keep them engaged and participating.  Offer incentives to highest scoring groups.
  • Allow Students to Create Games - divide your class by the number of units covered in the course and assign one unit to each group for game creation.  Allow students to use existing game resources (game pieces, etc) or encourage them to create every aspect of the game for every greater involvement.  Use the final days for groups to exchange game boards and to compete for course prizes.
  • Play on a Human Game Board - One of my favorites!  Turn your classroom into a human game board using the tiles on your floor as spaces.  Roll the dice or award points based on question values and review the course content from beginning to end. 
No matter how you choose to spend your final days in the classroom, just remember that your sanity, and the success of your students, will be best maintained if you keep order and structure to the very end.  That said, maintain that order and structure while you have fun in the last days!  Your students will remember your content, and they will remember you for being the cool teacher you are!

Be sure to check out the other posts in the Secondary Smorgasbord for great ideas to help you get through the end of the school year!  And, thanks to Meatballs in the Middle and Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting these wonderful blog posts!




Happy Teaching!