Saturday, April 12, 2014

Free Travel for Teachers

Teaching and travel are my two passions in life. A few years back, I discovered a way to travel and become a better teacher, for almost no cost! The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) offers free summer courses just for teachers around the United States and World. Even though the programs are free, the cost of travel would still prevent many teachers from participating, which is why the NEH offers a stipend to all teachers that complete the courses. The stipends (which are taxable income) range from $1200 for week-long courses, to $3,900 for five-week courses.  Though you certainly won't make money earning an NEH Summer Program grant, you may be able to get pretty close to breaking even. 

What to Expect
I participated in a short NEH program in April 2010 called American Visions: NEH Picturing America held at the Newark Museum. The program focused on how to use Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) in the classroom, and was taught by experts in the field. That program remains, hands down, the best training for education that I have ever attended. As a travel enthusiast, it was great to be in Newark, New Jersey because I took a few tris in Manhattan once our sessions for the day were over.

This June, I will again be participating in an NEH Summer Program. I will be traveling to Gettysburg Pennsylvania, to be participate in On Hallowed Ground: Gettysburg in History and Memory. The workshop will be taught by the faculty of Gettysburg College and will hopefully open new way for me to teach the Battle of Gettysburg to my students. I fill in details on this blog when I return.

How to Apply
Check out the NEH summer program website at The summer 2014 programs are closed for applications, but you'll get a good sense of the variety and scope of programs offered. Keep checking back in the fall or winter to see when the new programs are announced. You can apply for up to two programs, but may only participate in one. I applied for two programs this past year, and was lucky enough to be accepted to both. Applications are usually due in early March. My advice would be to find a program that fits your passions and interests in teaching, not the location of the program. 

If you have participated in a NEH Program for Educators, I'd love to hear about your experience! In the comment section, please share your experience and any advice you have for teachers thinking about applying for a NEH grant! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lost at Arecibo Observatory

Puerto Rico is famous for white sand beaches, world-class snorkeling, pro-surfing, rainforests...and a really big telescope? Arecibo Observatory features the world's largest radio telescope (featured in the films Contact and GoldenEye) a visit is an interesting break from the sun and surf sites of Puerto Rico. Areribo actually exceeded my expectations in a few unexpected ways. I expected Arecibo to be located deep in Puerto Rico's mountainous interior.  I expected the telescope to be big. It was the journey to Arecibo observatory and the beauty of the telescope that was much greater than I had expected.

What is a Radio Telescope? 
Before visiting Arecibo, I had some experience in radio telemetry. I worked several summers at PARI Observatory, an old NASA tracking station in North Carolina, that featured two giant 26 meter radio telescopes. Radio telescopes collect radio waves from the deepest corners to the universe. The bigger the dish, in theory, means more data can be collected. Astronomers analyze the data to better understand the universe. My time at PARI (which is tucked away in a remote part of the Blue Ridge Mountains) taught me that radio observatories need to built in areas far away from electromagnetic interference. In other words, Arecibo's remote location and ban on cell phone use is necessary. But enough science.

What to Expect 
I'm not going to lie to you; Arecibo Observatory is off the beaten path. Despite hosting thousands of tourists every year, there is no direct route to the site. The roads to the observatory are narrow, curvy, and might cause motion sickness. Despite dozens of signs to help direct us, my wife and I were never quite sure if we were on the right road (especially when we had to swerve to avoid hitting a horse hanging out on the road). Though we found our way to the observatory without major mishap, we did get lost on the way back.

At the front gate, we were directed to turn our cell phones to off/airplane mode and told to park in a lot below the visitor center. I've read complaints about the steep walk from the parking lot up to the visitor's center, but it's not difficult. Once we paid and were inside the visitors center, there were several exhibits on astronomy and radio telemetry that weren't all that interesting. Next we directed to the theater to watch a short video that explained the basic operation and history of Arecibo. The video was actually pretty cool.

Once the video was over, a guide took us out to the telescope viewing platform. The 305 meter dish must be seen in person to comprehend it's massive size. It's beauty took me by surprise. Much like other man-made wonders like the Empire State Building, St. Louis Arch, Golden Gate Bridge, and Hoover Dam, I left with Arecibo in awe.

Just the Basics
  • Website:
  • Directions: A somewhat confusing map is provided by Arecibo on this page
  • Hours: 9am-4pm, closed most major holidays 
  • Cost: Adults $10, Kids and Seniors $6 
  • Advice: If you are prone to motion sickness, you might want to consider taking medication before the drive. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Beat the Rush to La Mina Falls

La Mina Falls El Yunque National Forrest
A quick image search of La Mina Falls shows why it is one of Puerto Rico's most popular tourist destinations. It doesn't get much better than a waterfall in the middle of a tropical rainforest that is also safe enough to swim! However, most images also show a crowded pool full of people all waiting to get their picture taken in the falls. My wife and I were not interested in fighting crowds or taking part in the group tours of the falls. Our solution was simple; rent a car and arrive early! 

What to Expect
We left our condo in San Juan at 7am and followed Rt 3 until turning right onto PR-191 to the El Yunque National Forrest. There are signs on Rt 3 and PR-191 clearly marking El Yunque National Forest. The visitors center did not open until 9 am, cost $4, and didn't interest us so we skipped it. We instead drove straight up the steep and curvy mountain road to the La Mina Trail parking lot. The entire drive from San Juan to the La Mina parking lot took about an hour.

The 30 minute walk to La Mina Falls was not overly difficult, but I would recommend wearing sturdy shoes. The .7 mile trail has some steep up and downs and was slick with water. It rained off and on the entire time we were there (which is normal considering it is a rainforest). We arrived at La Mina Falls at 8:30am and had the entire area all to ourselves--our own little tropical hideaway! We spend 30 minutes swimming in the pool, snapping photos, and enjoying the falls without another soul in sight. On the hike back we encountered a couple of tour groups headed toward the falls. We had beat the rush!

Trail to La Mina Falls
Just the Basics 
  • Location: El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
  • Website:
  • Cost: Free ($4 if you go to the visitor's center)
  • Advice: Arrive early to avoid the crowds. Wear sturdy footwear for the falls to avoid cutting your foot on a rock in the water. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cheap Breakfast on the Las Vegas Strip

La Salsa Cantina
Food is not cheap on the Las Vegas Strip, which is why I am always on the lookout for a good deal. La Salsa Cantina, located across Las Vegas Boulevard from the New York New York, has the best breakfast deal on the Strip. For $3.95, they serve up a full hot breakfast which is also a perfect hangover cure. 

What to Expect
The $3.95 breakfast includes two eggs, breakfast potatoes, two tortillas, and bacon, sausage, or ham. For $.99 you can add a (small) bloody mary. Las Salsa can get crowded during the late morning, so it is best to try to arrive early for immediate service.

La Salsa is also a great place to stop for margaritas or a Mexican dinner (menu). It's location makes it an easy pit stop for those casino hopping the strip. Late at night, the restaurant transforms into a (21+) dance club and bar.

Just the Basics

Monday, July 1, 2013

Is the New York New York Coaster Good?

New York New York Coaster
Las Vegas is filled with thrills for both adults and kids. A popular attraction for kids of all ages is the  roller coaster at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. The coaster is visible to anyone walking by the casino on Las Vegas Boulevard. Like everything in Las Vegas, riding the roller coaster comes at an inflated price. The New York New York roller coaster costs $14 for one ride!  Is it worth the price of admission?

What to Expect
The entrance to the roller coaster is located on the second floor, in the back corner of New York New York. Follow the signs through New York New York's casino, food court, and arcade. Once there, you have to leave bags and loose articles in lockers ($.50) located at the coaster entrance. I shelled out $14 for one ride, but found out later that it is easy to find 2 for 1 roller coaster coupons online. 

The ride itself takes about two minutes and has all the elements of a good roller coaster; steep drops, an upside down loop, and wild curves. The best part of the experience is the view of the Las Vegas Strip from the top of the first drop. I felt safe the entire ride, and unlike some poorly designed coasters, there weren't any turns that left me with a feeling of whiplash. Would I ride the coaster again? Probably not? Is it worth the $14 for one ride? I'd say it's a safer bet for fun than most of the table games.

Just the Basics
  • Location: New York New York Casino--access through second floor arcade
  • Cost: $14 for one ride (repeat rides cost $7)
  • Advice: Look for 2 for 1 coupons online. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ride the Las Vegas Strip Bus

Las Vegas Deuce Bus
The Deuce and the SDX Strip and Downtown Express are the cheapest and easiest way to travel the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Strip is over four miles long, which makes walking difficult. Cabs are expensive. The monorail only travels one side of the strip and is more expensive than the Deuce. Make the most of your time and money in Las Vegas by buying a pass for the Deuce and SDX Express.      

What to Expect

It is easy to catch the Deuce or SDX Express. Easy-to-spot bus stops are located outside every major casino on both sides of Las Vegas Boulevard. The Deuce runs from the Four Seasons Hotel to Fremont Street. The SDX Express makes fewer stops and runs all the way from the South Strip Transfer Terminal to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets. Make sure to review route maps (links below) to know where each bus picks up and stops. The Deuce is a double-decker bus with "Deuce" clearly displayed while the SDX is a one level stretch bus. Unfortunately, the Deuce or SDX Express DO NOT stop at the Las Vegas airport. 

Deuce Ticket Kiosk
You can purchase tickets on board or at ticket kiosks at each stop. An $8 day pass allows you to hop-on and hop-off either bus as many times as you like in a 24 hour period. For $20 you can buy a three day pass. The buses do get crowded during peak hours, from midday to evening.

Just the Basics

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Only in Vegas

You never know what you will see in Las VegasWhile training for a marathon, I took a 10 mile run up and down the length of the strip. I began the run at 6am to avoid the oppressive mid-day heat. At 6am, there are only two kinds of people on the Las Vegas Strip; runners and those still out partying. There's a good chance you'll come across something photo-worthy (see below).
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
Photo of the week is part of "Photo Thursday" at the Budget Travelers Sandbox.  Please visit to check out other amazing photos!