Adventures in Oaxaca 2021!

Hola! I just got back from an amazing 10 days in Oaxaca, Mexico – a treat to myself following a long year of zoom teaching @ USC and a break before the two-day intensive hackathon (that actually just happened) through the Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Challenge Program (I will detail that another post). Of course traveling has changed a bit since before the pandemic- but my friend, Traci, and I each were able to get fully vaccinated prior to traveling (Lucky us, I know!). We also wore masks when in public and stuck to mainly outdoor activities and dining. Overall we had a fantastic and safe time, complete w/ negative Covid19 tests upon re-entry to the States.

I highly recommend going to Oaxaca if you have the opportunity to do so, as we both felt like it was super underrated and such a gem of a place (the people are amazingly friendly and it was very safe also!). So here, I’ll try to discuss some of the logistics of our travels, including those pertinent in the Covid19 pandemic, as well as of course relaying some of our adventure stories! I am not making any income off of this post or from any of my suggestions- so rest assured !

First- I highly suggest flying in directly to the Oaxaca International Airport (OAX) if you can rather than through Mexico city. We left from LAX so had a quick and easy 4 hour flight via Volaris! If we had flown to Mexico City first- it would have been almost the same price and then we would have had to take about a 12 hour ride via bus to Oaxaca.. no thank you! Plus I’ve heard that Mexico city has crazy customs and lines right now because of Covid19.. .versus arriving to OAX was easy breezy (although coming back to the states is another story because of their confusing Covid19 checking process which I’ll explain in more detail @ the end of this post).

Day 1: Oaxaca de Juárez:Once we landed in Oaxaca and passed through customs (15 minutes), we went to the ATM, and used our US cards to get Mexican Pesos (MX) – which gets you a better exchange rate than going to a currency exchange spot.. especially at the airport. Then we grabbed a collectivo (shared taxi) via the airport transportation office for about 250 MX ($12 USD) each to get to the center of Oaxaca de Juárez- and to our first hotel where we stayed for two nights: Boca Del Monte (highly recommended B&B, although my favorite place was the AirBnB we stayed for our last two nights which was a bit cheaper and had a pool ! I’ll detail that one below). Once we were at the B&B, I went for a quick run around the city, we cleaned up and then we ate at my # 1 favorite restaurant of the whole entire trip: Las Quince Letras!!!! The author of the Oaxaca guide book, Cody Copeland, could not have more accurately described this restaurant or its infamous Chiles de agua a la vinagreta – where as soon as he took a bite he wanted to call his mom to rave about them! Basically this dish is chiles stuffed with pork and delicious seasoning. I typically don’t like pork and never order it… and so my friend got this- and once I tried a bite of it I forgot that I don’t eat pork and wished I had ordered some too (and wanted to call my mom and rave about them!). Anyhow- all of the food and drinks were amazing!

Day 2: Oaxaca de Juárez: The next day we had breakfast at our B&B and then walked to the Monte Alban Bus area (near the 20 Noviembre Mercado) and took a bus ($80 MX per person = $4 USD) to the Monte Alban Archeological site- where the Zapotecs once ruled! (~$100 MX per person including photographic permission = ~5$)- We had a blast walking around looking at the ruins and the amazing insects and plants all over the place!! Including the coolest locusts ever!!! That is.. an amazing time minus the blisters from new waterproof sandals we had bought prior to the trip because we thought it was going to rain every day which it never did.. whomp whomp… (lesson: never buy new shoes to wear on a trip….. try them out for a week before!).

Once we got back to the main city center, we stopped by the famous market: 20 de Noviembre- grabbed some lunch (Mole and Tlayudas) and then headed to the Bonito Juarez Market to grab some snacks such as nuts, Chapulines (grasshoppers), and ice cream (chocolate and coconut!).

Then in the evening-my friend Traci joined me on a walk to a Capoeira Class (Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts) !! whoop whoop- and yes of course I found a capoeira group to train with while on vacation because why would you not?! One of the capoeira groups in Oaxaca is led by Instructor Golias. I had a blast training w/ all of them- and even ran into my old friend- Nemo from UCA Capoeira in Berkeley! I also showed them a couple of my favorite moves passed down to me from some instructors and Mestres here in the USA- shout out to Mestre Xango, Instructor Macaco and Mestre Paulo Batutua! The gym was open-air- so that was awesome (re: being safe during Covid19) and after training we all headed to a famous chain known for their great Tlayudas: Tlayudas El Negro. Tlayudas in my opinion are basically like a mexican version of pizza-, and in Oaxaca they are complete w/ Oaxacan cheese-and fun toppings like chapulines (grasshoppers) and mole (depending on what you want)- yum! Although they are great – I think I burned myself out from Tlayudas – since I had 2 Tlayudas in one day! lol..

Day 3: Oaxaca de Juárez to Huatulco:The next morning we had an early breakfast, and then to a taxi to the Lineas Unidas transportation area in Oaxaca (Bustamante 601, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico) to make our way down to Huatulco on the coast! First we took a ~6 hour ride via Lineas Unidas to San Pedro Pochutla ($250 MX/person = $12.50 USD /person) and then from there we grabbed a different collectivo by Transportes Rápidos de Pochutla to Huatulco ($35 MX/person, 1 hour ride). Note- very important: Many people warned us about how windy the roads would be, so we each took one dramamine prior to taking the first collectivo. We both felt fine… so I guess I recommend taking a dramamine just to be cautious and to avoid getting nauseous. The ride was super pleasant and Lineas Unidas has a tv so I got to watch three movies in Spanish including ‘Finding Nemo’! Lineas Unidas was also super comfy and the driver was great!! Also, all of the collectivos make sure to stop for bathroom breaks about every 1.5 hours or so. Eventually, we got to our Airbnb in Huatulco.. had a couple of issues w/ trying to get into our place.. but soon succeeded and settled in, topping the evening off w/ a swim in the pool, a couple strong cocktails @ “Maz + Mezcal” and a delicious dinner at Terra Cotta in La Crucecita, Huatulco.

Day 4 Huatulco: This was probably one of the days I was most excited about! We set out to explore, relax and snorkel @ Playa La Entrega ! One of the themes of our trip also might have backfired a bit on us this day- where we pretty much decided to skip taking taxis when we thought we could walk somewhere …. So we looked at a map briefly, talked to some locals and set out on our walking way to the beach with all of our beach gear and luckily plenty of water (I brought a camelback full of water which I highly recommend using for adventure traveling!). The path we were aiming for was supposed to take about 30 min… but somehow we missed our turn-off (likely because we were distracted by a group of people right at the turn off that were trying to get us to take a and ended up walking on a hilly path for almost 2 hours in the hot sun.. yikes (should have taken that taxi!) Anyhow, eventually we found our way to the beach and managed to waive off all the people asking us if we would like to pay for umbrellas/tables/chairs etc.. and found a great natural shady spot on the beach under a tree- and next to a guy playing some good mexican music. One funny thing however is that by the time I got back from my snorkel, I came back to find that another family had set up a full blown stereo system just 10 ft away from the guy next to us- and so two different groups were playing music on two different sound systems.. lol. Funny enough.. they just each kept turning up their music louder and louder… like a music war! So eventually we relocated to another shady spot by some folks selling oysters. After we settled in our new spot – I took my friend (Traci) for her first snorkel! The snorkeling was great- and I just wore my goggles while she borrowed my gear (but there was also gear there you could rent if you don’t bring your own). We weren’t too worried about our stuff on the beach because we didn’t bring much of value w/ us-aka didn’t have our phones- hence why I don’t have photos of this day (below are photos of playa santa cruz) After snorkeling, reading and working up an appetite, we ate at one of the local beach restaurants.. which I’m not sure I recommend because we both got really really sick the next day… I think it was the fish tacos because they tasted off (and because the tap water in Huatulco is drinkable… so unlikely it was the water ).

Day 5 Huatulco-Ugh.. so this day was a bit rough… I woke up in the middle of the night/aka the early morning w/ montezuma’s revenge (TMI?) and my friend also felt sick so we had to forgo our originally planned 7am jungle bike ride, but were lucky enough to be able to reschedule it to 4pm later that day. So to try to recuperate we went back to bed and self medicated by alternating charcoal tablets and pepto bismal tablets (two key medications I recommend for everyone to pack in their international travel bags!!) Charcoal binds to what ever crap is making you sick, and then well it comes out of you later (magic..) and then Pepto Bismol treats your symptoms and actually the problem sometimes- aka it actually kills the bacteria!! We took it easy in the morning at our favorite local cafe in Huatulco: Cafe Huatulco! and watched the birds, read and ate some very very plain toast (good for when you are sick!).

By 2pm we were feeling better so floated in the pool a bit, and then got ready for our jungle bike ride with our guide Antonio through the ‘Descubre Huatulco’ company. I highly recommend them! The guides are bilingual and know the Parque Nacional Huatulco pretty well. Plus we were advised by many people to not try to explore the park by ourselves. Anyhow Antonio was great, he picked us up w/ bikes and helmets in hand and then drove us to the park entrance where we explored the trails leading through the jungle to the beach and then to a cactus area and a bird watching area! After the bike excursion, he even took us to see a nearby lighthouse with some cool views! By the end of the night we almost felt almost back to ourselves so were able to eat some great fusion food at the Mercader in Santa Cruz Huatulco.

Day 6 Huatulco to San José del Pacifico: The next day we were about 80% normal and feeling pretty good for our ~3.5 hour ride up to the mountains in Sierra Sul to San José del Pacifico. So of course we decided to walk w/ our luggage about 30 min to an awesome brunch spot overlooking a harbor and the ocean Cafe Juánita prior to catching a ride to the mountains.

Prior to the long drive, we took some pre-emptive pepto bismol in the morning, followed by some dramamine as soon as we got on our van/collectivo. For this part of the journey, we ended up catching a ride w/ the company ‘Huatulco Dos Mil‘, (Transportes Huatulco 2000) but you can also use Expresos Colombo as well. Both of these companies go from Huatulco to Oaxaca and stop at San José del Pacifico,on the way (~$240 MX/person). We safely arrived in San José del Pacifico, just in time to get a tour of the town, check out the place we were staying @: La Puesta del Sol (highly recommended!) and then eat @ the La Puesta del Sol restaurant!

Day 7- San José del Pacifico:

The next morning, we woke up feeling 100% back to ourselves, and so of course planned an epic hike through the mountains (Traci has the AllTrails App... and so she found this trail!). I highly recommend the trail we did, but just a note we didn’t get all the way to the vista point because there were some guys and trucks on the road about mid-way along the trail and they didn’t want us to continue hiking. There was definitely something weird going on because when we got back to town, other people were asking us about the guys and the trucks and it definitely seemed like they weren’t supposed to be stopping us from our hike… but oh well- we didn’t want to cause any problems so of course we just complied when they told us to turn back around – whomp whomp! It also wasn’t that big of a deal because we still were able to hike for about an hour prior to being stopped, so tons of cool flora and fauna, and then we followed this hike up with lunch at the Café Express (huevos rancheros, complete w/ a mocha and a Oaxacan artesian chocolate bar!)

After lunch we walked around town and into the mountains again (but on a side road rather than finding a nature trail) and got to see some really cool artwork and vistas. For dinner- we wrapped up the day with some amazing Italian food @ La Taberna De Los Duendes (some of the best I’ve had.. and I’m part Sicilian!). The owner was super nice and the ambience had chic-hippy vibe.

Day 8- San José del Pacifico to Oaxaca de Juárez: The next day, after a quick jog through town (dodging some territorial dogs along the way!), some Oaxacan coffee, huevos rancheros and fruit- we started walking toward town to grab a van through Lineas Unidas to head to Oaxaca de Juárez. But- the van grabbed us before we could grab them!! We seriously were walking towards the bus area at the Café Express, and were about 10 minutes away (slowly dragging our luggage ), when a Lineas Unidas Van saw us and stopped right in the middle of the road in order to help us get on board w/ our luggage- what great luck?!! It actually happened to be the earlier van that we weren’t planning on catching, so it was great to get to Oaxaca de Juárez a bit earlier than initially planned- especially since we had to take Covid19 tests on this day! We were also lucky in the fact that once we arrived to Oaxaca de Juárez, we happened to be just about a 5 min walk from Salud Digna where we had planned to get tested for Covid19 via their antigen tests to meet the requirements of testing negative for covid19 within 3 days of re-entry into the United States (even if you are vaccinated!). You can take the antigen or the PCR test, and we chose the antigen test because it was a lot cheaper (260 MX versus 950 MX for the PCR test)! We didn’t have to have appointments as US citizens, but we did have to bring our passports and waited for about 15 min to be seen (not bad!). I think though if I had to redo it, I might have paid more for the PCR test because the antigen test was super uncomfortable- basically a really really long probe that they stick up your nose and practically all the way up into your brain (jk.. but felt that way…). Anyhow -it was good to get all of it out of the way and we received our results w/in 2 hours and were both negative- so hooray! After we got tested, we headed to our new AirBnB.. which was maybe my favorite place we stayed during the whole trip aside from our cabin in San Jose Del Pacifico. I cannot recommend this AirBnB enough! José, the host, was so kind and pro-active, and took time to talk to us about our plans and with great advice for our last two days in Oaxaca. After settling in, we headed to dinner at the highly recommended Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. The views and the food were amazing! My favorite were the stuffed squash blossoms- which inspired me to cook with my squash blossoms @ home!

Day 9- Oaxaca de Juárez:The next morning we woke up to an amazing breakfast at our AirBnB and great conversation w/ the other guests and José (the AirBnB host). I had a goal to seek out some artesanal oaxacan chocolate bars, so we got some great direction to visit Mama Pacha’s chocolate shop (owned by a chocolate-making goddess and mother, her son was even there when I visited). I bought a ton of her chocolate-it was so good!). José also advised us to explore the Barrio de Xochimilco– one of the oldest neighborhoods in Oaxaca de Juárez and well known for its traditional textiles. If you are lucky enough to get an invitation like we were- you can actually watch the experts weaving the textiles on looms. After watching and meeting the artists.. how can you not want to buy some of the beautiful pieces? -So- yes, of course we bought some small souvenirs! (We couldn’t fit the large pieces in our carry-on-luggage.. womp womp! I also loved this neighborhood because there was so much beautiful street artwork! I mean in general, the street art is frikin incredible in Oaxaca, and so thus I’ve put more photos at the end of this post, in addition to the art we saw in Barrio de Xochimilco. After we finished exploring the chocolate and textiles around town, we headed to an art collective ‘ARIPO (Instituto de Artesanias Oaxaqueños)‘ which had some amazing pieces ranging across 3D sculptures, ceramics, paintings, textiles and clothing. There was even an amazing artistic replica of the Loteria game, that we saw being put together by the artist himself in real time (see photo below)!

By the time it was 1:30 pm- we were starving from all of the walking we did! So we got lucky and found a great lunch spot: La Popular w/ some amazing tacos and a guest star- a hairless dog! I’ve never seen one in real life before- and she was adorable!! After lunch, we managed to find another awesome chocolate spot (specializing in truffles) and then headed back to our AirBnB where I immediately plunged into the amazing pool for an afternoon swim. After cleaning up, we walked around town for a bit, and caught a massive local political convention/campaign -complete w/ a concert! For dinner- we managed to finally get a table at Los Danzantes……. a gourmet five star restaurant that did not disappoint! I highly recommend their mole sampler!

Day 10 – Oaxaca de Juárez to Los Angeles, CA: Womp womp.. this was our last morning in Oaxaca, and we had a flight at 10am out of OAX. So we didn’t even have time to get coffee or breakfast before heading to the airport. We ended up being glad we left so early as we got to the airport > 2hours ahead of time. It was definitely necessary due to all of the Covid19 related policies and checks. It was actually a huge mess, and even though we both had already checked-in online, had our vaccination information, our passports, our covid19 negative test results, and the online covid19 questionnaire from Volaris airlines— we still had to double back to a crazy swarm of people all trying to take photos of these tiny QR codes (all on the same bulletin in the same spot) in order to answer yet another online questionnaire. We then had to show we had completed this particular questionnaire to an agent at the Volaris desk… which meant we still had to wait in the line w/ all of the other confused passengers. Then we had to go through an immigration line, and a security line…so needless to say we didn’t get to our gate until 9:15 AM! Luckily they had a coffee spot, and so that helped us settle in and wait for our flight to take off. Lesson learned: give yourself lots of time for these international flights because the Covid19 related procedures definitely slow things down!

So- all in all -an amazing trip – full of adventures, beautiful art, friendly and amazing people, coffee, cocktails and food that you will keep coming back for! Get yourself to Oaxaca!

Black Lives Matter, COVID19 and Environmental Justice

Wow has 2020 been an insane year globally and in the USA..

But has it? In my opinion things have always been insanely messed up in this country and finally now the majority of Americans paying attention and trying to do something about it.

We have seen protests all over the country and world, which is a promising sign. However, we have also seen anti-protestors, white supremacists and fascists trying to stop these protests and trying to cause harm to the protestors and African Americans.

In fact, my cousin-in-law Daniel Gregory, whom is African American, was recently shot while trying to stop an anti-protestor that had driven his car through a crowd of protestors in Seattle, WA on June 7th, 2020. You can read the article here. I am relieved Dan is in stable condition now, but he is ridden with medical expenses, so please donate to the gofundme page here if you are reading this and want to help Dan the Hero (or you can bypass the fees and send Dan funds directly through cashapp: $Dthunderg).

 “A man drives toward the crowd at 11th and Pine, injuring at least one person, before exiting the car and brandishing a firearm”. Image: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times Daniel Gregory (my cousin in-law) is pictured here reaching into the car to try to stop the driver (he was soon after shot by the driver, and now is in stable condition at a hospital). Please donate to him to help him cover his medical expenses via gofundme.

Perhaps protests like these, and those all around the world, as well as long overdue-attention have finally arrived due to the imperfect storm of COVID, Environmental injustice and civil injustice including the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans in the image below.

I’m not African-American, so Im not going to act like I know everything, or try to tell their narratives. I also have not gone into sufficient detail describing the atrocities against people of color in this nation or the concept of structural racism. Instead I’ll link to resources below this post that have been distributed from graduate students in the Earth and Sciences Department and have been circulating around at USC. Many of the resources (listed and linked below this blog) have been produced by African Americans, the very voices that deserve to be heard louder than any white narrative.

However, one subject that I am more knowledgeable in that relates intensely to the Black Lives Matter Movement is the intersections between Environmental Health and Social Justice – aka Environmental Justice.

To clarify Environmental Justice, let’s use the definition from the EPA:

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”.

To explore how communities of color are exposed to more pollution and hazardous waste- check out this environmental justice mapping tool, and enter in your address to see what types of pollution or environmental hazards are near you.

If you live in a wealthier area, go ahead and enter in an area where you know more low-income people or people of color live.. I guarantee you that you will be shocked (or maybe not if you are already well-informed) to find out that not only are people of color more likely to be discriminated against in their day to day lives. .but they are also living in hazardous areas that are affecting their health!!! I think this outrageous, and we need to do more about this issue in our country, and around the world (Not to mention how we ship a lot of our hazardous e-waste to countries in Africa.. leading to environmental injustice from global change).

If you live in Los Angeles, CA you can even see what uncovered oil wells are near you (releasing toxic fumes daily btw… ). You can read more about how you can take action here:

“A map of active oil and gas wells in Los Angeles. (Source: DOGGR)”

Thus, in addition to restructuring police systems, holding police accountable and letting the community have a direct role in how funds are spent in a given city/town in terms of policing and safety- I also think the community needs to have a more direct role in their surrounding environment, and control over water they drink and air the breathe. For instance – remember the Flint Water Crisis? Aka the city trying to cut costs, switching water sources and then lying to the people about the quality of their water all while the residents of Flint were drinking water with extremely high lead levels and other toxins- leading to permanent health issues for many of these residents. Oh and guess what % of Flint’s population is African American?: 57%!… exactly.. that is why issues of environmental justice are CRITICAL to discuss in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement.

To illustrate another example of environmental justice, I recently worked with another professor at USC this past spring semester to incorporate a question on the intersections between Environmental Justice and COVID19 as a final essay question in my Environmental studies. Remember all of those articles about people of color, primarily African-Americans, having higher infection and mortality rates from COVID19 compared to white people in New York City? Due to systemic racism in this country, again low-income individuals and people of color predominately live in areas with poorer air and water quality, and often don’t have access to sanitary infrastructure, much less access to health insurance- and aka health care. (By the way its not like these people choose to live in these places, on the contrary -a lot of companies choose these regions because they can get away with polluting more in these areas compared to areas that are primarily white and upper class…If that’s not an unjust criminal act then I don’t know what is). All of these factors compound, and leave these people not only more susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID19, but also less likely to recover.

Go ahead, and explore this for yourself, by using the COVID mapper:! and then again go back to the environmental justice map I showcased previously: and you will see for yourself how environmental health and social justice intersect (again this is called Environmental Justice).

I will stop here, because this has already become very long, but Environmental Justice extends way beyond what I have covered here. To learn more: check out a free youtube lecture by another professor, Chelsie Romulo (University of Northern Colorado) on environmental justice,

In addition to learning more about environmental justice and using the mapping tools above, you can take action by calling the EPA in your region about environmental justice issues of local concern, and check out the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice page.

Below, I have also included list of what you can do to become more educated about anti-racism and being a better ally to the black community. Because remember Environmental Health and Social Justice are linked, and you need to be informed about both to make a difference! You can do it.. now go out there and be the bad ass activist that you are!

Daily Learning:

Justice in June – a syllabus for folks new to anti-racism (or wanting to learn more) to spend some time each day in June learning how to be a better ally to the black community (this contains several of the resources listed below)

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice, Corinne Shutack

Race and Racism in the Geosciences, Dr. Kuheli Dutt

Why Are College Campuses So Tense?, Claude Steele

(you can get around this paywall with your library proxy if you are part of a University)

If Not Now, When? The Promise of STEM Intersectionality in the Twenty-First Century, by Drs. Kelly Mack, Orlando Taylor, Nancy Cantor, and Patrice McDermott

Collectors, Nightlights, and Allies, Oh My! White Mentors in the Academy, Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola

Why Teaching Black Lives Matter Matters, Jamilah Pitts

What Do I Want From White People (An Illustration of Being Black in America), Tianna (from the blog What’s Up With Tianna?) 

Sorry, I Can’t Just Focus on the Science, Naia Butler-Craig

The American Nightmare, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Letter to my Son, Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Why is this Happening?” An Introduction to Police Brutality (some articles, some videos)

To watch:

Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives Matter, by Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, and Charline Carruthers

13th (Ava DuVernay) — available on Netflix and Youtube

To listen:

A Decade of Watching Black People Die, NPR Code Switch

The Limits of Empathy, NPR Code Switch

1619 Project, created by Nikole-Hannah Jones (New York Times)

Books to read:

How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (for an excerpt, see “Letter to my Son” above)

Teaching while ‘Sheltering-in-Place’

Wow.. has life taken a surprising turn.. not just for me but for the whole world. With the onset and spread of the COVID19 pandemic we have seen people across the whole world have to adjust and make changes in both their personal and work lives.  It’s been interesting for myself and other teachers (K-12 and Higher Education) to try to quickly readjust and attempt to deliver a premium education for our students. Its also been comforting to see the rebirth of ‘community’  such as folks helping out their elderly neighbors and teachers banding together and sharing online teaching resource and tips.

Thus the focus of this post is to share what others have shared with me, as well as some of my lessons I have learned in the first week of online teaching.

However before I go into the meat of  online teaching.. let me back up a bit to BC (Before Coronavirus) time period. As you may know – I recently started a teaching postdoc position at the University of Southern California (USC) , which has been absolutely amazing so far. In the Fall semester I taught an upper division Ecology class and a lower division Env. Studies GE course, and now in the Spring Ive been teaching two sections of the lower division Env. Studies GE course (no labs this semester thank goodness!)

It all seems like a blur but just two weeks ago USC was still proceeding business as usual… as were most schools in California. Then as we got closer to our Spring Break, USC announced a ‘trial-period’ of online teaching for 3 days before Spring Break so that we can adjust our methods as needed “IF” we needed to extend to online teaching. Then as the # of COVID19 cases rose (see here a live tracking website made by 17 year-Avi Schiffmann)- USC quickly changed the plan to teach remotely after Spring Break until April 16th… and then two days later extended online teaching to the end of the semester. Ha.. people’s plans have been changing so fast.. but not as fast as the virus spreads and mutates:

Immediately I had mixed feelings about online teaching for the rest of the semester: Cons: Im not very good at this online teaching thing yet and now I better get good at it fast! Pros: I can teach in my workout clothes (with makeup on and a nice top) and foster or adopt a dog since Ill be home all day! (..already made progress on latter- see my foster-fail/adopted dog- Yesenia) from the North Los Angeles Animal Shelter. I still have to officially fill out her adoption paper work.. but haven’t been able to go to shelter yet due to COVID19 restrictions.

Anyhow, now that I have my trusty dog by my side, I have been focusing on how to improve my online classes. I also have received lots of helpful links that I am pasting below this blog post to pass on the shared resources and knowledge.  

At USC most of the teachers and myself have started using Zoom as well as Blackboard, the latter which most of us have regularly used to post announcements and assignment instructions, as well as a platform for students to turn in assignments which we can grade online. So far: I have definitely learned some dos and don’ts with Zoom and remote teaching and testing:


  1. DO RUN A PRACTICE SESSION FIRST! I suggest practicing with your actual students in the physical classroom if possible prior to going to online only (this is what I did and we sorted out some issues on the student’s side of things this way, as well as how to share the powerpoints for them in slide show not presenter mode), but if not possible – get together w/ some colleagues and practice with each other (my mom actually did the latter and I thought that was a great idea!)
  2. Do set the settings to put everyone on Mute when they enter the room
  3. Do tell the students to unmute themselves when they have questions and feel free to speak whenever (much more engaging and feels more like a real class than written chat-room based questions/comments)
  4. Do TURN YOUR VIDEO ON and encourage students to turn their videos on if they feel comfortable-I noticed it makes me feel like Im actually talking to someone than just a green light on my laptop
  5. Do use the ‘polls‘ in lectures to mix things up and encourage participation
  6. Do use youtube videos or other documentaries to break things up, but be sure to adjust the settings to ‘optimize for full-screen video clip
  7. Do assign in-class activities, put students in ‘breakout rooms’ and have them report their results in their breakout rooms.
  8. Do record your lectures in the cloud in case you have international students that are in different time zones.

ZOOM Don’ts: 

  1. Don’t just lecture at the students and forget about encouraging participation and interaction (I actually am still working on this one.. it is more difficult than in-person classes because you can’t see all your students…)
  2. Don’t assume that all of your students are on the same time zone. I know for me it took me a couple days to realize some of my international students had gone back home. Thus I needed to adjust my expectations for them and let them watch recorded lectures and makeup any in-class activities w/in 24 hours .
  3. Don’t talk too fast (oops.. Im also working on this one…).

Blackboard tips and protocols for online testing: So I actually had in-class midterms planned for this week (BC) and I had to adjust to remote testing formats. I knew I didn’t want to use the ‘honor system’ since some students might cheat and that wouldn’t be fair to others… so I decided just to make it completely open-note, but I expanded on the # of questions in the exam so that it is fast paced enough that the students won’t have time to look up every question. Thus they still have to prepare for the exam a decent amount. I also decided to go with the “Respondus Lock Down Browser” app available in Blackboard for Online Exams. It basically locks out everything on a student’s computer except for the exam. For me the only reason why I decided to go this route is so that students can’t copy and paste answers from their lectures or from internet sources. But I did tell them they could use their ipad or iphones or other computers and notes for information. The key with online testing, just like with online classes, is to have the students PRACTICE! I offered my students 2 pts extra credit to try a practice exam with sample questions and the lock-down browser so that we could get all the kinks out of the way ahead of time. 

I also told me students to have a plan for what computers and internet sources they were going to use, and a backup plan in case they had an internet or computer malfunction. As for the actual testing day/time I will be online and can answer questions my students have via email in live-time.

For my international students and DSP students, blackboard testing tools lets you make make exceptions and adjustments to the test time period, date and time of test on a person-by-person basis. So for my students in countries with very different time zones, I adjusted the time of the exam to be at a more reasonable time for them. For my DSP students, I was able to provide them with extra time to take the exam. 

As far as how to make exam questions- I used the Blackboard ‘question poolsand then used questions from those pools to make the exams. The students are not able to see the question pools or the tests until the available date/time that you dictate in the settings. The tests are this week.. so fingers crossed they go smoothly. If not then Ill have to adjust and just make a take-home essay-based assignment for the final exam. The key about teaching and adjusting to a global pandemic is to be flexible, adapt and stay healthy.  To stay healthy, again I totally recommend fostering or adopting a pet, as well as getting more into cooking and working out everyday. (Lots of great online videos to stay in shape while sheltering-in-place, such as this oldie but goodie with Billy Blanks!:

With this said, Im leaving you with some great resources that have been forwarded to me from many great teachers: You got this!

Climate Mitigation and Adaptation E-Learning Site from AESS

Shared Resources for Online Teaching Received from Professor Chelsie L. Romulo (Univ. of Northern Colorado):

  1. Shared googlesheet resource
  2. Geoscience Materials for Teaching Online
  3. Ecology and Environmental Science Materials for Teaching Online
  4. Dr. Romulo’s lecture videos for her Introduction to Environmental Studies course

teaching meme
From Jazzmemes: