Teach Your Children Well


Yesterday, I passed out some expedition stickers to my 8th grade science students. Well, they are not mine literally, but I spent an entire semester at Jefferson Junior High School with many of them, ten weeks as a student teacher of 8th-grade social studies, and six weeks of 8th-grade science. I kind of consider them mine, at least figuratively.

Jefferson Junior High School. Columbia, Missouri’s first high school in 1911.

I was substitute teaching yesterday for my science students and we watched a marvelous Planet Earth video called “Fresh Water.” I watched the movie five times as I had five classes to teach. Never was I bored with it, but with each viewing became totally immersed in the photography of the wildlife and the waterways highlighted in the movie.

Grand Canyon’s Colorado River

One river highlighted was the Amazon River in South America. The Amazon carries more water than the next top-ten biggest rivers combined. It empties into the Atlantic Ocean after meandering 4,000 miles eastward from its source in the Peruvian Andes.

The Amazon River
The Amazon River

The students enjoyed the video, too. We saw grizzly bears feeding on salmon in British Columbia, a team of smooth-coated otters harassing a 13-foot crocodile in an Indian River, eight-foot fresh water dolphins, Botos,

Fresh water dolphins of the Amazon River.
Fresh water dolphins of the Amazon River.

navigating by sonar in the murky waters of the Amazon River, the falling waters of Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the highest in the world, mating lake flies producing smoke-like columns extending hundreds of yards up in the sky on one of the world’s largest lakes in the East African Rift Valley, and a red-bellied piranha feeding frenzy in the underwater forests of Brazil’s Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland.

Angel Falls
Angel Falls
Lake Flies mating before dropping eggs on water and dying.
Lake Flies mating before dropping eggs on water and dying.

Honestly, I had not planned to give away my stickers and tell them about my expedition, but the opportunity presented itself perfectly after watching “Fresh Water.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen (the line I use to get their attention), I don’t know when I will be back in this classroom, so I have a small announcement to make:  I have been planning an expedition since last June. I will be leaving in 2 ½ months, on April 14th, to solo kayak the entire length of the Missouri River, which starts in Montana.  The Missouri River is the longest river in North America and the fourth longest in the world, and flows about 2600 miles from its ‘source’ in the Centennial Mountains to St. Louis.”


Their response:

WHAT are you doing? What’s a kayak? Where are you going to sleep? What will you do for food? Who is going with you? How long will it take you? You’ll have a motor, won’t you? Won’t you be scared? The river is dangerous. That’s crazy. I could never do that!  Good luck.

My response:

“This is one of my objectives: I want you, and kids like you, to know that “you can do anything”, if you have the desire, a positive attitude, and support to help you. I want to model that for you by doing this trip.”

Now, I would like to add:

So listen up:  chase negatives away, just like the smooth-coated otters did with the crocodile, and “Make It Happen,” no matter what the “It” may be. Got it, guys?

Teach Your Children Well


Riches Much Finer Than Gold

The most wonderful thing happened to me at the Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA) mini-conference yesterday.  I walked away from the event with the most amazing book; it is a compilation of educational lessons and activities about the Upper Mississippi River. Erin Hilligoss-Volkmann of the Army Corps of Engineers gave a presentation, and I was one of the lucky ones to receive one of three copies she brought along.  I asked her if I could post some things about the book on my blog, and she said, “Yes.”


This book is the manifestation in the physical realm of what I have been envisioning in my mind as it relates the Missouri River.  Only it goes way beyond what I imagined possible.  It is complete, thorough, comprehensive, beautifully illustrated, and bursting with amazing science and social studies lessons and activities.  I’d say the book is somewhat like a dream-come-true, and gives my trip a rich new perspective.

Well deserved kudos go out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) Cultural Resources and Stewardship Mitigation Team in La Crosse, WI, and design team led by Formations.



This book is given to facilitators at a workshop in which they are trained to train teachers to teach students about the upper Mississippi River.  Here are the titles to the units:

Unit 1 Introduction to the Upper Mississippi River Watershed

Unit 2 Introduction to Upper Mississippi River Ecosystems

Unit 3 Introduction to Mississippi River History and Culture

Unit 4 Introduction to the Mississippi River at Work

Unit 5 Introduction to A Shared Resource – Our Mississippi River

Here’s a peak at some of the activities:









Content includes activities relating to river habitats, glacial history, plants, animals, and habitats of the Upper Miss, bird migration, endangered species, Mississippi’s ancient civilizations, Native Americans, settlement and transportation, Underground Railroad, watershed occupations, steam power, Mark Twain, Lewis and Clark, floods, locks, dams, water safety, and caring for the river, among many other subjects.  The book even includes profiles of people important to the river today, such as Michael Clark and his Big Muddy Adventures.



To be honest, I am quite speechless as I look through this treasure chest of river education tools.  Seems reasonable and logical to have a complimentary Missouri River resource such as this, full of  riches much finer than gold.

Ahhh, the possibilities!

Approaching a Major Confluence


Often in life we start new chapters.  These milestones are times of exhilaration and anticipation of experiences in which we are not necessarily in control.  “Positive believing equals positive receiving” has always been my mantra.

In two days I will have achieved a milestone in my life.  A goal always present, always on hold, since the day I dropped out of college at Humboldt State University in 1974.  It was the first day of my third quarter of college when I called my mom and told her I was moving to Montana with three of my friends.  As it turned out, we decided if we could move to Montana, we might as well move to Hawaii! So we did!  My mother let me keep the $250 check she mailed to me for books a few days before.  I told her, “Experience is the best teacher,  I will finish college later.”  In two days I will fulfill that promise to my mother, and to myself.

I have been busy student teaching as part of my internship for the last 16 weeks.  For ten weeks I taught 8th grade Social Studies, and for six weeks I have been teaching 8th grade Science.  This coming Friday is my last day.  I have been an apprentice working with masters of the trade at Jefferson Junior High School:  Mrs. Tracy Worthington (Social Studies) and Mrs. Jennifer Szydlowski (Science).  To these two women I am forever grateful for their expertise, patience, graciousness, and support.  This experience is one I will never forget.  I love teaching, and they have contributed to this passion.

I share all of this here because I have had to suspend much of my expedition planning.  I contacted a few potential sponsors over Thanksgiving break (I had five days off) only to be informed by one that, “Once you get this initial trip under your belt and begin to cultivate a sizable following on your blog, social media pages (you would need to have your own), aggregate additional sponsors, and generate significant media attention (both for yourself and your cause), we would be more than happy to revisit a sponsorship with you for future expeditions or projects of this type.”  This response was from DeLorme inReach with regard to their satellite tracking and communication device and sponsorship I requested from them.  I know that I need to start small and local, but I was thinking more “priority first.”  A satellite tracking and navigation device is high priority for my trip.

Fair enough.  I have not had time to promote myself, which does not come naturally to me anyway.  However,  after Friday I am free from school and work obligations until January 2.

I have reached a major confluence in life where my life lived thus far will join with my future, bright and mysterious.

Saturday I am attending a Missouri Environmental Education Association conference held at the University of Missouri.  I hope to get ideas and network with potential innovators regarding education.  I was honored to attend Missouri River Relief’s Education Committee meeting the other night.  Great things are happening with their organization’s  river education component.  I am proud to know them and help promote their mission and vision.

One other thing:  my expedition story will be published any day on the University of Missouri’s home page as a banner story, written by Nancy Moen, who is retired from MU Publications and now a free-lance writer.  I will be posting on this blog when that happens.  MU’s chief photographer, Shane Epping, shot some photos of me on the river a while back to accompany the story.  We were blessed with phenomenal lighting just before sunset.  Shane is also best friends with our beloved river rat Beatriz Jean Wallace who has begun a new chapter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently.  The Missouri River is all about relationships and community and family.

Anyway, I write this because I can’t sleep at night knowing about all of the things I have to do, people I have to contact, knowledge I must learn, and information I want to share as I begin some serious planning for this epic journey down the Big Muddy.  I feel I have reached a confluence if life, the merging of my life thus far and the bright and mysterious future ahead.  I have so many things racing through my head.

(Oh, and I also talked to journalism student, Tina Casagrand, and ex-President of Sustain Mizzou, a student environmental org, and she has offered to produce a Kick-Start video for me and help me include a PayPal link on this blog site.)

With all that said, life is good.  Thanks for listening.  Sweet sleep to all, and to all a good night.  (Oh, and I can’t wait to finally make it to Montana!) 🙂

Wilderness Classroom…can you say, “Totally Awesome!”

Dave and Amy are on a three year kayak/canoe/dog-sledding expedition around North America, bringing the wilderness into the classrooms of 65,000 school children and 1900 teachers.

Currently delayed on their North American Odyssey, which they began on Earth Day in 2010, they were scheduled to present at the New Jersey Kayak shop right before Hurricane Sandy hit.  They presented to a small audience, and then got outta there.  The shop suffered damage, but their kayaks were waiting for them, tied up in front, when they returned from evacuation.  They are staying in New Jersey for awhile to assist with the hurricane relief before heading down the east coast to Key West.

Check out their introductory video here, their blog, and their Facebook page to see exactly what they are doing.

Very cool.  Enjoy!

Meeting on the MO River


River Relief held an executive staff meeting yesterday to discuss their upcoming “Friendraiser” event next month, and we all gathered on Roger & Barb Giles’ historic sternwheeler, the Joseph M. LaBarge (of whom Barb is a relative!).  Melanie invited me with the hope that we would have a chance to brainstorm expedition ambitions.

The Joseph M. LaBarge at Cooper’s Landing

Well, it may be too early to discuss details for the trek, particularly since River Relief is in the process of developing an extensive

Education Program for next year, hopefully, if they can acquire the support they need.

They also have a vision for a MO River Action Team program in which communities up and down the river can become Stream Team leaders in the sustainable stewardship of their own areas.  What a great idea!  River Relief is the ideal role “model.”  After eleven years of assisting stream teams throughout the Midwest, River Relief wants to focus on developing a secure base camp in mid-Missouri, building reliable and enduring relationships within our local communities.

What vision!!  Now, THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Exciting.