Starry Eyed


On Friday I fished something substantial out of my mailbox at school.  I regularly get marketing materials from companies eager to make some money off of students, be it through candy fundraisers or spendy summer symposia.  But this envelope was different.   The return address said Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I don’t think I had ever gotten anything directly from MIT before. 

Was MIT succumbing to the standard means to recruit students to their summer programs?  MIT, with an exemplary reputation for cutting-edge research, quality instruction, and creative entrepreneurism, has never seemed to lack in attracting the young, ambitious, academically-driven students at Monta Vista High School, where I teach.

Max was with me today, so I was motivated to open the envelope and share with him what was inside.  Max has learned a lot about education, from shadowing me for one hour each Monday and Friday morning, before his school begins, next door.

Inside was a padded maroon plaque sleeve, with white silk corners and a typed, signed, and watermarked letter.  What was this?

MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory was issuing me the Minor Planet “Debfrazier” (otherwise known as 30142).  No, this was no marketing stunt.  MIT had discovered the asteroid, so like the discoverers of foreign lands centuries before us, MIT was claiming it as their own and had named it in my honor.  They were doing all of this because last week one of my students, Natalie Ng, was awarded 5th place in the 2014 Intel Talent Search, a sort of Nobel Prize in applied science for high school seniors.

Natalie is amazing, and she has a lot to show for it.  Yes, there is an asteroid named Natalieng, as well.  And Intel gave her tens of thousands of dollars and an amazing week in Washington DC, where she enjoyed meeting accomplished people including 39 high school seniors doing groundbreaking science, and got to shake President Obama’s hand.  Natalie and I talk about her way of looking at the world, her science, and her ambitions a bit.  She’s a pretty normal person, humble and realistic, with a perspective perhaps 5 years older than her age.  She loves math, science, ice skating, and music.  Being a mentor to her has been a very nice way to get a glimpse into what I hope parenting might be like for me in ten years.

This week, Max completed his second science fair.  It was really neat to see his excitement and urgency about presenting at it.  Last year, Max was a bit shy and took a while to warm up to sharing his paper airplane project with others.  This year, two minutes late for the start of the fair, Max was anxious, making me deals like “I’ll meet you there,” when his sister was irritatingly slow getting out of the car.  Holly and I checked out the other exhibits, and checked up on Max often, but he was not eager to see us – he wanted to talk to other people visiting his poster, and show them what he had learned about homemade light bulb filaments.

There were less people at the science fair this year, than there were last year.  At Max’s fair, everyone gets a medal and certificate, and there are no judges.  Students do all of their research at home, and there is really only oversight from volunteers pointing out safety concerns on proposals (my job) and parents helping with research.  It’s a far cry from what Natalie does for her research; for the last several years, she has been working at research institutions, where there can be staff support for overseeing safety and a group of well trained colleagues can help advise about research.  But without a competitive edge to vie for, kids (or parents) are less inclined to enter the fair.

This same week, I interviewed for a summer position at Google.  Google, like so many lucrative technology companies in the area, works hard to give back through education.  In my interview, the team evaluating me wanted to know what I do or think could be done to engage parents as students learn, so students would be driven to keep learning or practicing, even after a formal class or program.

Based on my experience with Max and Natalie, what keeps them wanting to learn and do more is intrinsic.  They are both curious.  They want to create and experiment.  It’s fun, and it’s accessible.  A parent’s job is to facilitate that accessibility.

When I bring my kids outside to hike, backpack, or play, their engagement is nearly always instantaneous.  I don’t have to plead for them to run, find treasures, build, or invent a new game.  It just happens.  They ask me to come and play with them, so engagement is a two-way street.  I engage them, and they engage me.

Put Max or Holly in a library, and they move in self-directed ways.  They feel the shelves, take a book from the stacks, turn the pages, want me to join them in reading.

One of my favorite things to do with Natalie, is to ask her to help me to design fun things for my classes.  She begins hesitantly every time (she is a very humble person), but once I have laid out some major concepts or begun to describe a scenario, she dives in, with creative ideas of what can be done.  Likewise, the gears in her head are constantly spinning.  Natalie comes to me with questions about keeping microbes alive (she recently began creating a microbe-powered battery).  Max is already talking about what to research for his science fair next year.

Money and fame are not motivators, at least not for me, Natalie, Holly, or Max.  But fun, interest, and the ability to explore, fuels an engine that gets fired up when outdoors, in a library, or around their favorite science or art tools.

On Friday, we headed to see Holly’s first on-screen film.  “Mr. Peabody and Sherman rang true of plenty of classic values and roles of a parent and child.  It was a great to be treated to entertainment both parent and child could enjoy.  There were stars in the film aplenty – a nod to some important leaders and inventors in history, as well as some very famous voice actors.  I turned to watch my kids several times during the show, as they were grinning ear to ear at the full-screen experience.  Even with my own glowing asteroid millions of miles away near Ceres, my brightest stars are here at home.

- Debbie (Founder and President), Max (7), Holly (3), and Andrew

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More Weekend Events!

StrollerHikes_Findahike2Liz and Ashley are teaming up to offer regular weekend events approximately twice per month.  Wonderful!  Ashley’s family joined Liz’s on a weekend Stroller Hikes Los Trancos hike a while back, and was so inspired that she volunteered to lead weekend hikes too!  Join Liz and her family March 22nd weekend at Monte Bello (home to Black Mountain backpacking camp, described above), or join Ashley on March 29th.  Get out and enjoy that sunny weather and some great hiking with the whole family on the weekend!

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Leadership Meeting in April

Stroller Hikes is developing a leadership committee to take on the wide range of things Stroller Hikes does.  Join the committee and have a voice in how Stroller Hikes markets itself, spreads its wealth of information online and at community events, and manages its resources.  Commitment to this leadership group can be big or small.  If you’re interested in joining the committee, contact Debbie at

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Santa Cruz Help?

IMG_2842 (Large)Mika is beginning a new chapter in parenthood – preschool for her little one.  This means she can no longer lead her Seabright Beach Hikes.  Are you a coast or near-coast resident who wants to lead hikes to build community in your area, as well as build a routine for family time and fitness outdoors?  We’d love to keep hikes going at least once per month in the Santa Cruz Area.  If you can help lead a hike on the beach or a bit farther inland, please contact Debbie at

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Camp Comments


We heard from a lot of families last week about Amped for Camp.  Some families agreed that the options stretch the gamut, as well as the level of training and experience for the leaders.  Others agreed that it was time to plan for family vacations and camping trips, and appreciated the reminder.   Linda agreed that Camp Galileo is an excellent option, and since I have no direct experience with them, here is what she has to say:

If you–or any other Stroller Hikes families–would like to check out Camp Galileo this summer, I’d be happy to offer you all a $25 refer-a-friend discount.  My kids did two weeks of Camp Galileo last summer and absolutely LOVED it.  The staff is top-notch and provide a great balance of hands-on science, creative art, and physical activity.  It was my daughters’ number-one choice of activity for this summer, and their best science learning of the year, so we signed them up for two weeks this July in Almaden (they also offer at another location in San Jose, in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Saratoga for the South Bay, and plenty of other locations in the East and North: ).   

 To get the refer-a-friend discount, enter the code 2014FRIEND at checkout, along with my full name and email address:  Linda Hutchins-Knowles,  You’ll save $25 and I’ll get a $25 discount, too:  a win-win!  : )

 We’ve still not nailed down our summer plans, but have begun training Holly and Max up for some weekend camping trips at backpacking camps.   Last weekend, Holly hiked the hilly trails at Picchetti Ranch in Cupertino, on a 1.2 mile out-and-back hike, with 5 pounds on her back, not needing to be carried once!  We’re hoping to have her trained up for a 3-mile trip – no small accomplishment for an often stubborn girl who demands to be carried.  Meanwhile, I am training up to carry 25 pounds – hopefully an easy feat, though it is anxiety-provoking as it was about 13 months ago that I herniated a disc in my back. 

 As I don’t want to take on too much, too fast, I am not volunteering to lead any backpacking camping trips with Stroller Hikes, but if you are interested, Stroller Hikes is all ears about where, when, with how many attendees, and how far.  Might I recommend Waddell Creek (Big Basin), Black Mountain (with photo of play last year before bed, above, Monte Bello), or Point Reyes Coast Camp?  All are less than 3 miles in with a water source (you should filter, treat, or boil water from the source).  Stroller Hikers also love car camping.  We had several wonderful volunteers leading trips last year with tons of attendees having a great time.  Stroller Hikes can offer guidance about what to bring and plan for, and can loan out a huge but lightweight backpacking stove, as well as a SPOT (emergency beacon using GPS).  If you’d like to lead or co-lead, contact Debbie at

 -Debbie (Founder and President), Holly (3), Max (7), and Andrew

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