She Went, She Saw, She Cycled
Q&A with S.A.T.T winner Elissa Pitts
Elissa Pitts was one of our two, 2016 Send a Teacher Traveling (S.A.T.T) award winners. This summer she cycled Verdant Umbria Plus! Todi and Orvieto and we thought we’d check in and see how her trip went, and how she plans to incorporate her experiences in Italy in her classes now that school is back in session!
Each year you ask your students to take a “tour” through a chosen region and to then identify notable geometry. When we chatted before your trip, you mentioned a few stops on tour that you thought would make great examples for this project. Can you tell us about what you ended up finding and which examples you want to use in your classroom?
Before my cycling trip began, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Rome. One of the days, I walked to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is described in my travel book as “mathematical perfection”. The dome is as high as it is wide – 142 feet from floor to rooftop and from side to side. A ball with 142-foot diameter can fit perfectly inside. I can definitely use this in my classroom when we talk about 3 dimensional figures and volumes.
When we arrived in Spoleto, we found our way to the Ponte delle Torri aqueduct. The Ponte delle Torri was constructed with “ogival” arcades. These type of arches can be made using a compass and straight edge or they can also be made using ellipses. This type of arch is not only used in architecture, but can also be useful in physics and engineering.
A surprise that I found involving mathematics was at the Lungarotti Winery in Torgiano. We toured the winery and saw very large barrels of wine as well as smaller barrels of wine. The barrels were made of French oak which is apparently very expensive. The smaller barrels of wine sold for much more than the larger barrels of wine. This is because the surface area to volume ratio is greater with the smaller barrels and more of the wine comes in contact with the desirable French oak. We study both surface area and volume in geometry and this is a wonderful real life application of those measurements!
In what other ways do you see this experience influencing your teaching in the future?
In education we talk about differentiated instruction and tailoring our classroom to meet the needs of each student. This sounds great, but it is difficult to achieve in the classroom with the varying levels of abilities we experience. The guides on our tour provided great examples of differentiated instruction. The cyclists in our group rode at different levels and had different interests. The guides were able to challenge the experienced cyclists and support the less experienced cyclists in a very smooth and natural way. The great cyclists never felt as if they were held back and the novice cyclists did not feel like they were ever behind. The guides were also able to cater to different interests. I expressed interest in WWII and the role that the famous cyclist, Gino Bartali, played in delivering papers to Jews in hiding. Because of this, the tour leaders led us to a printing press in Assisi that was used during WWII to print the papers that Bartali delivered. Another one of the leaders found a plaque devoted to Bartali in a train station and made sure to take a picture and translate the caption for me. Other group members showed other varying interests and their needs were also met. In the classroom, this makes me think of the different levels of students that I have that I often treat with the same lesson even though some can move much quicker and some need more support. It helped me to think of ways to let the more advanced go on by themselves and at the same time give support to those that need it.
Did you have a favorite day on tour? If so, which day and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite day. Every day brought a new challenge and a new highlight. I look back at my photo book and can remember special parts of each day. Some days offered difficult cycling challenges that I was proud that I accomplished, all days had amazing scenery that was unforgettable, there were many fun times with the group, the evening meals offered special memories, and the list goes on.
Any culinary highlights to share?
While all the planned meals were amazing, one of my favorite meals was one that we found on our own one evening in Bevagna. We miscommunicated with the waiter about what we wanted and found ourselves with enough food for several tables of people. At first we didn’t know what we were going to do with all that food, but once we started eating we found it was so good that we finished it all off!
Any surprises along the way?
At the end of the day after a decent climb into Todi, we gathered at the hotel cafe. The waiter started kicking around my shoes that I had haphazardly discarded in the middle of the floor. I decided to give him my ExperiencePlus! cycling hat and he swooped me up into his arms! Quite unexpected!
Did you do any training to prepare for your tour? If so, what did you do?
I work out pretty regularly year-round. However, cycling in the winter is hit or miss depending on the weather. I try to do some spinning in the winter, but I don’t log many miles on my bike. For this trip, I squeezed most of my training in between when I found out that I was going on the trip in March and the start of the trip in June. I tried to go 15 – 20 miles 2 to 3 times during the week and at least one longer ride on the weekends. There were several weekends when the weather didn’t cooperate, but I got in as much as I could. While I think I probably could have trained a bit more, I felt I was prepared for the trip. Every day was challenging enough to make me feel like I worked hard, but not too challenging to make me not want to ride anymore. There were extra rides that I could have gone on had I been in better cycling shape, but I don’t feel as if I missed anything. (Next time!)
How did you like traveling by bike?
I loved traveling by bike. I loved being able to take in the scenery instead of it just zipping by. I loved that there was exercise each day to balance the amount of food we ate! The balance of biking in the morning, exploring in the afternoon, and lingering over our food in the evenings was perfect.
Would you say this trip changed you in anyway? If so, how?
I definitely am more confident in my cycling and this trip has sparked my interest in planning other biking trips. Anything from a local brewery tour, to a long weekend in the mountains, or even trying to plan another extended trip. I feel confident that I could take on other challenges that might come my way and now look forward to other adventures. I also look at this trip as a celebration of good health after experiencing a few years of difficult health situations. This trip helped me turn the corner and that now seems to be in the past.
Anything other takeaways or tidbits you’d like to share from your trip?
I loved every moment!