Representing Montana’s Students and Educators In Our Nation’s Capital!

The sculpture of President Lincoln as he sits looking over the National Mall in Washington D.C. This is a part of the Lincoln Memorial (4/24/2017).

BiCEP Team: Yesterday I flew into Washington D.C. for a week of training and meetings as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year. Once again, I find myself being asked to step to the plate for our state’s State of Education, for our students, for the professional educators I work with, and for the people of our state. Remember the lesson Henry and his group taught us a few weeks ago when the environmentalist was absent and not at his commission’s urban sprawl planning meeting. He and his group didn’t care about the environment, because the environmentalist wasn’t at the meeting. This week, I am taking a seat at the table!

There are a number of units and lessons I do with my students each year that are great fun, but I really love the one you’ll be doing this week. Bittersweet, this adventure that pulls me away from you is, that’s for sure.
During the unit, you’ll be studying Mexico City. Mexico City is much like Washington D.C. where I am. Both are federal districts, meaning that they are national capitals that stand on their own. They are not a part of any state (both the USA and Mexico have states, another similarity). After learning your Geoterms for the chapter, you’re going to get in a virtual taxi cab and go to four different neighborhoods of Mexico City. In each neighborhood, you will hear an interview from one of the people who lives there. Listen carefully, and write all the data you gather from the interview into your notes. After each interview, you’ll match the data you collected with maps of the area to figure out which neighborhood your person lives in.  This is an awesome unit I hate to miss, but I hope you know that I am working with the teachers I’m with to help improve our education system.

A sign on the lawn the day after the March for Science – a protest held on Earth Day by people wanting the new President to spend more money on science and research.

I started my day with a run this morning, class. I’m not a fan of running, but Washington D.C. is an amazing place to run. There are memorials to Americans who gave their lives  defending our freedoms, monuments to our greatest leaders and to change like the civil rights movement. The President’s home, the White House, is just off the Mall as well. With every step, my mind races as I take in the meaning of the sacred spaces around me.


As I run, everywhere I look brings to mind stories of the nation I love. Patriotism is everywhere – hundreds of flags blowing in the breeze. Reminders like the one I read this morning in the Lincoln Memorial (above), remind us that we American’s have an obligation to ensure that our government is a government of our own doing to continue its existence. These are the thoughts in my mind as I begin my week in Washington D.C.
I will be meeting with a number of people, both those who help form policy and policy-makers themselves, this week. I will be telling stories of our successes in the schools, of the gains we are making in developing critical thinking and communication skills within our rooms, and of your increased global awareness. I will work to make our schools better for not just me and you, but for all teachers and students in Montana.
So, students, please know that I am trusting Mr. Dudek to dive into the Mexico City Unit with you. He is an excellent guest teacher. I just received an Email from him, and I know he is excited to guide your investigation into the ideas surrounding Spatial Inequality this week (that will be your first Geoterm)! Give it your best in class, check back to this blog for possible updates throughout the week so you can join me (virtually) on my journey, and I look forward to seeing you on Monday, May 1.
Best of Luck, Class!  – Mr. Elder
#CCSSO #MrE2DC #MTtoy2017

Belize/Guatemala 2017: Final Reflections by the Group

For our final blog entry about this incredible Spring Break Adventure, the group was asked to provide a “Top 5” list in reverse order – David Letterman Style (only the oldest of us understand that reference)! Here are the responses I was able to collect on the plane.

What an incredible week – wow! As these reflections show, this experience is an incredible one for the students of C.R. Anderson Middle School. Our next trip will be in the spring of 2019, and all 7th and 8th graders are invited to learn more when we have an organizational meeting late this spring or early next fall. Thank you to those who participated in this year’s adventure, with a special thanks to the parents who made the trip with us and helped ensure success!

(If anyone didn’t answer the question who would like to, please Email me your Top 5, and I’ll get them added to this post!)

“What are were your top 5 moments/experiences of our past week in Belize and Guatemala?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie –


Auggie Tupper applies some sunscreen.

5. Holding a puffer fish

4. Ziplining

3. Meeting new people/ Hanging with Kevin/ Having Erik as a guide

2. Swimming with sharks

1. Visiting the ruins/ Looking out from the top of the highest Mayan ruin

Autumn –


Autumn Denney sits atop Temple IV, Tikal UNESCO World Heritage Site Ruins (Guatemala).

5. Riding the airplanes.

4. Shopping – all of it!

3. Mayan Ruins – both Caracol and Tikal.

2. Zip-lining

1. Snorkeling – seeing the rays, sharks, and a turtle.


Cale Hines swimming in the Rio Frio on a hot Belizean afternoon.








5. The fifth thing that I like the best was probably the ziplining. That was pretty cool but I had done it before so it wasn’t as good as the first time.

4. The thing that I really loved also was the amazing food from Crystal Paradise. I loved the pineapple.

3. Another thing that I really enjoyed was probably the snorkeling that was amazing and I had never done it before. I liked it so much grabbed a few shells and got to swim with sharks and rays.

2. My second favorite thing was the Tikal Ruins. That was really cool because I learned how sophisticated the Mayans were and how they lived, how smart they were, and how structurally sound their buildings were.

1. My favorite thing out of this whole trip was probably meeting new people and getting to know better friends. Some of the people I met were Auggie, Kendra, Nick, Morgan and Madison

Calvin –


Calvin Dinh strikes a pose in the airport, excited as we work on getting to Belize.

5. Wildlife: birds!

4. Learning about Mayan Culture in Caracol (Erick).

3. Mayan Ruins: Tikal’s Temple 4.

2. Eating – especially the fruits.

1. Snorkeling – the sharks.





Ella –


Ella Shropshire checks out a large starfish before putting it back gently into it’s ecosystem on the sea floor.

 5. I also really liked seeing all of the awesome animals, like the Toucan, and the Tarantulas.

4. I liked traveling in the first bus. It was really cool to sit with my pals.

3. I liked going to Caracol and Tikal because they where sooo cool. I loved seeing the old ruins (and the bats).

2. I really liked Saint George’s Caye. It was very cool, with the ocean around it. I really liked the rooms, they reminded me of my lake house.

1. my favorite part was Shark Ray Alley. It was cool seeing the sharks, but also seeing the turtle with the remora on it.

Harrison –


Harrison Francis enjoys the water blasting in his face as we boat to and from the reef from Saint George’s Caye.

  1. The Chicken.
  2. Seeing all the sharks.
  3. Howler Monkey.
  4. Crystal Paradise Rooms.
  5. Uncle Andrew!



Jaida –

5. My last favorite thing was Tikal. The view at the top of Temple 4 was amazing you could see trees for miles. It was absolutely incredible. The stairs were a little bit tiring but it was definitely worth the climb!

4. My fourth favorite thing was probably the FOOD. I really stepped outside my comfort zone when it came to the food. I even tried fried Plantains.


Jaida Salois smiles for a portrait as she shares earbuds with her buddy Cale while on a boat in the Caribbean.

3. My third favorite thing was definitely the zip lining! It was my first time and I was scared out of my mind before I went, and it didn’t help that the platforms we stood on weren’t exactly stable. After I went a couple of times we switched my harness around and I went Superman style. When I got to the end of the zip line the guy that was there to stop me was a bit of a jokester, he pretended that he wasn’t going to stop me and I was going to have to do it myself which would have consisted of me sticking my hands out so that I didn’t face plant into a tree.

2. My second favorite thing was probably snorkeling… even though my legs are fried (you should see Mr. Elder’s back). Seeing the Coral and Sharks was a really fun experience.

1. My favorite thing during this trip was getting to make new friends. I became close with many people I didn’t expect. At night we would play games like Truth or Truth and BS. We learned A LOT about each other and are all great friends now.

Mia –


Mia Loble flashes a crazy look of excitement as she goes to get in the mini-bus and begin our adventure moments after clearing immigration/customs at the Belize Airport.

5. Shopping

4. Exploring Mayan Ruins

3. Swimming in the fresh water pools

2. Snorkeling

1. Exploring the cave in canoes




Nico –


Nico Bugni strikes a pose with his friends while checking out the elite residences of the Caracol Ruins.

5. Experiencing new foods

4. Visiting the Mayan ruins

3. Swimming with sharks and sting rays

2. Leaving the country for the first time

1. Making new friends







Nolan Burke takes a break while checking out Shark and Ray Alley.

Nolan –


5. Trying new food

4. Going to a new country

3. Seeing a manatee

2. Snorkeling in the ocean

1. Getting a smoking hot tan body



Sophie –


Sophie Palcisko enjoying a little zip-lining through the Guatemalan Canopy near Tikal National Park.

5. Exploring the ruins

4. Seeing all the wild life, especially the dolphins

3. Snorkeling

2. The food

1. Zip lining

Kelly –

5. The wild and the wildlife. From the Orange-Breasted Falcons (we saw a couple of this rare bird, much to Paul’s delight) to the parrots and other birds, the monkeys (Howler and Spider), the dolphins, rays, eel, lobster, sharks, and thousands of fish living in and around the intricate coral reefs – all of the animals were really incredible. We did not see a Jaguar, but other than that – spectacular!


Mr. Kelly Elder waving to the camera with hundreds of fish in the background as he checks out the reef’s ecosystem about 25′ below the surface.

4. Building relationships with others on the trip: Paul with Global Travel Alliance; Erick, Mariela, and Kevin (San Ignacio Crystal Paradise) as well as Victoria and Johnny (Saint George’s Caye). This is most often my favorite part of travel.

3. Seeing all of the students talking and bonding together, more and more over the course of the week – from the opening interviews and introductions (partner activity) to the evening dock sessions the kids had at Saint George’s Caye.

2. Watching everyone come out from the breakfast area excitedly trying to get the best possible glimpses and photos of the Toucan(s) in the trees at Crystal Paradise near San Ignacio.

1. Riding in the back of the 4-wheel drive truck with Adrienna on the way down to the Burton Cave.

Kylie – 


Miss Kylie Pancich on the beach with the “front dock” going out into the Caribbean side of the island at Saint George’s Caye (Key).

5. All of the good food. Fresh fruits, Belizean spices, rice and beans.

4. The history and exploration of the Mayan ruins in Caracol and Tikal.

3. Snorkeling in the Caribbean. Swimming over shark, rays, and variety of fishes.

2. Meeting new people. The adults and students on our trip were so fun. The Tut family (Eric, Victor, Kevin, Edward) were brilliant, welcoming, and such great additions to our group.

1. The views of the forests from the Mayan ruins. The views of the Caribbean Sea from the Cayes, boat, and water.

John –


Dr. John Tupper taking in the view and looking around the main plaza from the highest temple at the Caracol Ruins (Belize).

5.  Canoeing Barton Creek Cave

4.  Hanging with the adults in the evenings

3.  Tikal : ruins and monkeys

2. Crystal Paradise – meals, toucan, Eric

1. Singing in the van with the Belize Street Boys

Andrew –


Mr. Andrew Mayer takes a selfie in front of the Mayan Ruins – I believe this is .

5. The profiles of faces in the cave walls when we paddled out of the cave on Barton Creek. They looked like there were coming out of the underworld in LED light; I can only imagine what they looked like by torchlight for the Mayans.

4. There was a disabled young man in a wheelchair begging at the Guatemala border, with someone I assume was his brother, who was very stern. As we drove by, the brother bent over the young man in the wheelchair and gave him a huge hug and a smile. I wish I could describe how tender it was.

3. The view of the plaza and the canopy from the top of the tallest temple in Caracol. We stood where the ruling family lived so they could be closer to the Gods.

2. My first time sitting under a waterfall. It wasn’t very big or tall, but all the water was unexpectedly heavy. It felt amazing.

1. Thousands of leaf-cutter ants carrying huge pieces of leaves from a tree to their nest, working in a tight row across the ground and up another tree.


Corvallis Group:

Morgan –

5. Visiting a new country.

4. Getting to know our guides.

3. Watching the sunsets and sunrises from St. George’s Caye

2. Getting to see all of the old Mayan Ruins in both Belize and Guatemala.

1. Getting to see all of the marine wildlife. (Turtles, Sharks, Dolphins, Manatees, etc.)

Kendra –


Kendra focuses intently as she comes onto a platform during our Guatemalan Zip-Lining Adventure!

5. Being in a new country.

4. Meeting new people.

3. Hiking the ruins.

2. Swimming with sharks.

1. Seeing a turtle for the first time



5. Getting a break from Montana

4. Experiencing a different culture and atmosphere

3. Swimming with turtles, sharks, and rays

2. Mayan ruins

1. Being in a new country for the first time

Day #6: Montanans Experience the Great Barrier Reef in Belize!

The Question of the day today:

“What was your favorite 5 seconds of our time in and along the reef?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – Holding a fish – a baby puffer fish!

Autumn – I was afraid I was too close to a shark. He started moving, I thought he was going to attack me, and he just swam under me! He didn’t care at all.

Cale – When I saw the ‘big turtle’ – as I swam, John Tupper yelled “Turtle!” I swam as hard as I could to get to see him; and he had three fishes underneath him.

Calvin – Jumping into the water when there were a bunch of sharks just chillin’!

Ella – When I saw the first turtle; I was taking my flippers off and everyone said, “Turtle” – and then I got to see it.

Harrison – While snorkeling along the reef, I looked down, and there were just a bunch of crowded fish staring up at me. They seemed to be saying, “What are you doing here?”

Jaida – Snorkeling at Hol Chan. Victoria said there is a shark right by you, and I looked and it swam right under me.

Mia – When I saw the turtle the first time. It was interesting because it had these fish on its shell. These fish were eating whatever the turtle ate.

Nico – I almost touched the sharks.

Nolan – Swimming over the shallow coral, and then you see the drop off and you see just all this sea-life in their own ecosystem – there in a cave in the coral.

Sophie – Seeing the dolphins just off the side of the boat and how they were playing with each other.

Kelly – The Moray Eel Johnny showed me… I could only see his body. Then, when I went to take a picture of him, he brought his head up into the light from the dark coral cavern he was hanging in, opened his mouth and bared his teeth, seeming to hiss at me.

Beth – When I finally figured how to snorkel correctly today – I finally quit sucking up salt-water.

Andrew – Swimming over the top of some scuba divers as they came by beneath me. I thought, there’s a school of the most dangerous predators in the ocean. It was like watching a movie scene.

Chad – First five seconds I put my face in the water today and my mask worked!

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – When I got to see the turtle; it was the first time I had ever seen a turtle in the wild.

Kendra – Seeing the sea turtle; I dove after it and got a good picture!

Maureen – Seeing the turtle. That was really cool. He was huge and he wasn’t there long, but they are so rare and going extinct – it was so cool.

Molly – When we saw the sea turtle.

Nick – When I got arm’s length away from a Nurse Shark. I dove down and was able to be still – I just looked at it. It was such an alien experience; I just looked at it. The shark was longer than me. It was really cool.

Madison – When Calvin tried to buy an alcoholic drink in town.

Eli – Jumping feet-first into a school of 6-10 foot sharks!

Day #5: Looking Back on Our Adventure in Belize/Guatemala – Random Acts of Kindness

The Question of the day today, La Pregunta del Día #5:

“Looking back over our week, we all saw people from this group doing ‘the right thing’ – a random act of kindness for someone else, whether they were in this group or not. Your assignment for this question: share that story of goodness with us.”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – Miss Pancich went over and sat with Harrison when she saw he was sitting alone at one point. That was very nice.

Autumn – When I puked on the bus, my grandma used the blanket she just bought to help clean it up, and that was pretty nice. Thank you.

Cale – Calvin jumped in for Molly’s wallet when she dropped it off the dock on our final night at Saint George’s Caye.

Calvin – Erick was providing food to everyone throughout the trip, no matter where we were. Thank You.

Ella – I was really upset when I lost one of the things I’d just bought, and Mia helped me find it when everyone else was sort of ignoring me. Thank you.

Harrison – When we were in Belize City, I found the little concession stand didn’t take Visa, and then Heather just offered to get what I wanted, and all was right with the world. Thank you, Heather!

Jaida – Sophie jumped in the water immediately after Molly dropped her wallet from the dock.

Mia –  Sophie helped me pack my bags and she paid for my hair-do on Caye Caulker. She was an awesome friend. Thank you!

Nico – When Calvin made the paper airplane for Edward (Kevin’s Cousin – Erick’s nephew) after supper at the Crystal Paradise one night.

Nolan – Erick was the best tour guide I’ve ever had. He didn’t have to be the best, but he tried his hardest to be the best. Thank You!

Sophie – Mia bought lots of things for me and she has been awesome, helpful, and a great friend. Thank you!

Kelly – Johnny, the lead snorkeler who runs Eco-Mar with his wife Linda. Johnny not only saved a lost wallet, fixed the broken toilets, cleaned bottles and other litter from the reef as we snorkeled, he guided us to and explained many of the intricacies of the coral. Granted, he was paid to do so, but this master teacher spoke from his heart, and shared all he could with us in a few days about his land, the people on it, and the ecosystem that sustains life in the Caribbean. Impressive!

John – This morning when everyone went to help Mr. Elder to look for his water-bottle [Editor’s Note. The water bottle ultimately showed up the morning we left… it had fallen off the end-table and rolled under John Tupper’s bed!!].

Beth – There were several times Jaida hopped in and helped students who were having trouble. Here on the island, someone was having trouble, and Beth helped her out. Another time, she helped Autumn figure out how to use the seatbelt in the bus. Very helpful, she is.

Andrew – On the boat ride over here, I gave my sunglasses to Harrison, which left me without. Cale saw that happen, and offered up his pair of children’s sunglasses for me the rest of the week.

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – Madison was struggling with doing her hair, and Mo offered to help!

Kendra – Eli paid for my zip-lining and snorkel gear; that was really cool. Thank You.

Maureen – Mrs. D. gave me a pair of socks to snorkel in!

Molly – Kendra bought me a bracelet because I didn’t have any cash. Thank you.

Nick – Johnny (Eco-Mar) dove into the water to help find Molly’s wallet.

Madison – Kendra gave a little boy getting on a school bus a US dollar.

Eli – Nolan, Calvin, Nico, and Auggie – after every meal, they stuck around and did their own little final touches, assigning duties to one another like pushing in the chairs and ‘resetting’ the dining area.