Saturday, January 9, 2016

Unlocking European Geography with National Geographic Tools

This fall, I had the opportunity to collaborate with my social studies colleague at Kearney High School, Amber Lewis, to combine my 11-12th grade AP World History class with her 9-10th grade world geography course.  My students served as mentors to the younger geographers as they explored the us of several National Geographic Education resources.  Amber and I were fortunate to be featured on the National Geographic Educator Spotlight Blog.  Here's the link to the blog post at:

Screenshot of the blog post at 

In addition, we produced a capstone video for the National Geographic Educator Certification program that explains this lesson that we taught.  Here's a link to the video:

National Geographic Certification Capstone Video from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Summer for Heroes

As you can see from the absence of posts over the spring and summer, it has been a busy last couple of months.  Busy, but rewarding in so many ways.  I had an incredible experience in Cambodia during April, spent an amazing week in Ft. Scott, Kansas during June, and enjoyed a wonderful summer.

Just recently, I had the opportunity to write a blog entry for the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.  I noticed that my experience in Cambodia and my time in Ft. Scott had common ground.  Ultimately, I've arrived at the notion that encouraging students to seek out heroes from the past, but also see themselves as the hero of their own story can lay the groundwork for citizens that truly strive to make a difference.  Here is the link to what I wrote for the Lowell Milken Center:

Screenshot of from blog post at

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What is the YSEALI Generation EARTH Workshop?

I wanted to share an excellent description of the structure and purpose of my travels to Cambodia this next week.  Here's a link to the news release from Cultural Vistas, who is administering the workshop in conjunction with Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, Siem Reap Campus.  This workshop is part of a larger series of YSEALI Generation regional exchange workshops that seeks to engage the youth of ASEAN Member countries.

Here's an info graphic highlighting the countries represented by the youth participants:

These youth participants will be guided by 12 leader mentors from the United States and 12 leader mentors from the ASEAN nations as they seek to develop action plans for environmental advocacy.  

I'm thrilled to be working as a leader mentor and look forward to sharing updates and experiences!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Leader Mentor for YSEALI Generation EARTH Workshop in Cambodia

Just found out that I have been selected as a leader mentor for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Generation EARTH Workshop to be held in Siem Reap, Cambodia in April.  This program is funded by a grant from the Embassy of the United States in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and administered by Cultural Vistas and Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, Siem Reap Campus.  This workshop will connect 72 young leaders from the 10 ASEAN member nations to work with leader mentors from the United States and ASEAN countries focusing on the development of action plans to address environmental challenges facing Southeast Asia and the world.  As a leader mentor, I will have the opportunity to assist in providing virtual activities for program participants prior to the workshop, deliver a workshop session on youth engagement and partnerships in environmental advocacy, as well as serve as a mentor for a small team of young leaders representing the ASEAN member countries.
Look for more entries on this blog as the project develops.  Thrilled to be traveling again to Southeast Asia, working with young leaders on environmental advocacy, and planning on bringing my experiences back to my students in Kearney, Nebraska!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Video Collection Featuring Singapore and Malaysia

Last Thursday, I returned from spending over three weeks in Singapore and Malaysia as a teacher-participant in Cultural Vistas' American Youth Leadership Program to Singapore and Malaysia.  It was an incredible program to two fascinating countries with a great group of program staff, teachers, and students from all over the United States.  There is so much to talk about in terms of reflections and findings from this program, but for now I wanted to post a collection of videos that I shot with my iPhone 5S and quickly edited with iOS iMovie.  They will be posted in the order in which the events portrayed took place.  Enjoy!

Singaporean Market from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
The first video is a visit to a local Singaporean market with the host family I stayed with for a weekend. It was chaotic, noisy, colorful, and full of a wide range of scents, but it also was an incredibly convenient way to get fresh meat and produce. It was also a valuable social meeting place for families in the neighborhood and the merchants selling their products.

Making Chinese Dumplings in Singapore from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
My host family in Singapore did such a great job sharing local culture and cuisine. The meals they prepared were amazing, and we even had the opportunity to learn how to make Chinese pork dumplings.

Marina Bay Light Show from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
The Marina Bay area of Singapore is without question one of the most photographed and exciting areas of the city. The development of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, casino, and shopping complex has added to the stature of this area as a tourist, nightlife, and commercial draw. This video attempts to showcase the innovative light show that takes place right on Marina Bay, as viewed from the property of the Marina Bay Sands complex.

A Taste of Durian from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
When in Malaysia, one has to try the King of Fruits...the mighty Durian. This spiky fruit has an indescribable smell and texture. I got my chance to try durian in one of the night markets of Kuala Lumpur.

A Night in Jalan Alor from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
This is a video compilation of an evening spent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Jalan Alor. Lots of food and an impromptu street concert.

A Cruise Down the Melaka River from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
Melaka is a Malaysian city that represents the very height of cross-cultural interaction. It historically was a major trading city along the vital Strait of Melaka that links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. This video is a compilation of video segments from a cruise down the Melaka River, Melaka, Malaysia.

Nothing fancy in any of these videos, as I quickly edited them when free moments arose throughout the program. However, I hope they provide at least a few interesting snapshots from the time I spent in Singapore and Malaysia.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Singapore's Water Challenges and Solutions

One of the great ironies of Singapore's island status is that despite being surrounded by water, it has little in terms of naturally occurring water resources for its 5 million inhabitants.

Consequently, Singapore has had to employ practical and innovative solutions to these water challenges.  Essentially, Singapore's water needs are met by 4 major strategies.

1.  System of Catchments and Reservoirs:  In meeting water needs, Singapore does have the significant advantage of an annual rainfall of over 90 inches.  This means that if they can successfully collect this generous rainfall and store it, then they can begin to address their water challenges.  Consequently, the entire island is served by a network of water channels, canals, and catchment reservoirs to store the abundant rainfall. 
The larger reservoirs serve as places to store Singapore's rainwater

Of these catchment reservoirs, the Marina Barrage has allowed Singapore to utilize the waters of the Singapore River and Marina Bay as a freshwater reservoir.  A barrage is a dam that keeps out seawater.  Through a process of flushing excess water, they have been able to maintain high quality freshwater source with an area that equals 1/6th the size of Singapore.  In addition to creating a large water catchment system in the city center, it also provides for recreation, as both the water and the catchment facility themselves are open for public use 24 hours a day.  The facility contains massive pumps that improve flood control and prevent contamination from nearby salt water.

School group has the Marina Barrage catchment system explained to them.
One additional flood management tool employed is the use of permeable paving.  Particularly in the case of parking spots, Singapore uses paving stones and concrete patterns that have soil in between to allow for some absorption of water and also preventing as much of the car oil and other contaminants from running directly into storm sewers and canals.

Permeable parking spaces
2.  Imported Water:  Currently about 60% of Singapore's water is purchased from Malaysia.  There is a contract for this partnership to continue until 2061, but Singapore has developed it's other water strategies in order to achieve water independence earlier.  It was explained that through catchment, reusing water, and desalinization, Singapore has the capacity today for water independence, but purchasing some of their water gives them one more dimension in meeting their water needs.

3.  Reusing Water (NEWater):  Singapore has developed a sophisticated process of processing used water and sewage through three main processes (filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection) in order to produce water that meets all health standards.  Sludge and contaminants are incinerated and used as fill for reclaimed land projects.  It takes only 5 minutes to complete the process and production capacity is 117 million gallons per day.  This entire process can be witnesses at the NEWater facility.

The basic three-step process at NEWater can be seen at the NEWater Visitor Center, which has incredible exhibits to better understand how Singapore meets its water needs.  Here's a short video about the visitor center:

4. Desalinization: Singapore does utilize salt water resources in order to produce more fresh water for its citizens.  Major efforts in this industry include expanding capacity and energy efficiency.

The Big Picture:  By combining these four strategies, Singapore is able to meet its growing water needs.  However, in the midst of this expanded production, they are also trying to promote water conservation, as well.  Grey water is used to flush toilets.  Low-flow faucets and showerheads are widespread, catchment systems harvest as much of the tropical rain as possible.

Singapore is a city of over 5 million inhabitants and is looking to grow steadily in the coming decades.  However, in conjunction with this growth is the goal Singapore remaining a "City of Gardens and Waters".  A great deal of the urban planning revolves around expanding and improving natural spaces, trail networks, and waterways, while allowing for further residential and economic development.  Long term planning and a deep analysis of the implications of development seem to be the key in meeting business, employment, residential, and recreational needs.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

National University in Singapore, Public Housing, Senoko Waste To Energy Plant

After a very short early morning nap upon our arrival in Singapore, we began our first day of in-country programming.

National University of Singapore:  We are being housed by the National University of Singapore and had a chance to tour the campus.  This is a university that is considered among the most prestigious in the country and has aspirations of being a leading institution of higher learning on both the regional and global stage.  That being said, there is a palpable energy here, with the feeling that both Singaporean and a good number of students from around the world are here because they sense the growing global role the Pacific Rim and Asian Powers will play in creating and reaping the benefits from the economic landscape of the twenty-first century.

It also turns out that NUS is a fantastic place to begin exploration of Singapore as a true "Garden City".  Despite the fact that the city and campus is highly urbanized, there is incredible attention paid to providing green spaces, landscaping, and fostering a relationship with nature amidst the concrete and steel.  As a consequence, the sweltering heat and humidity is drastically mitigated by the fountains, breezeways, green corridors, and shade, while abundant greenery improves air quality and provides oxygen.  The expected urban "heat island effect" found in so many cities felt like it has been reversed through some very thoughtful planning and design.

UTown Green at National University of Singapore
A huge fan efficiently moves the air in this outdoor study area
Trees and shrubs bring the tropical rainforest back to the urban jungle

Vines run the entire height of this high-rise commercial and academic complex

Public Housing:  On our way to the Senoko Waste to Energy Plant this afternoon, we had the opportunity to witness much about the layout and priorities of urban design in Singapore.  One aspect that we will be learning more about later, but I found very interesting, was with regard to how public housing operates in Singapore.  This conversation was sparked by seeing some of the public housing developments we passed on the roadway.
Public housing development

Public housing in Singapore is built by the government to encourage ownership by the resident.  Housing is very expensive, but favorable, long loan terms are offered, and the property is well-maintained by the government.  These flats have proven to be an excellent way to build a valuable asset for the homeowner over time, as the lack of land and economic growth have driven property values higher.  Again, there is a good possibility that I may expand on this topic later in our visit, but this program does show the value the government places on home ownership and how high ownership rates of quality housing can be a stabilizing force in society.

Senoko Waste To Energy Plant:  With a growing population due to immigration and lack of available land, waste management is a huge concern in Singapore.  Part of the strategy to address this issue is to build plants capable of incinerating large amounts of garbage to reduce landfill needs, but also produce energy.  Here are some images that help to illustrate the process:

This solid waste incineration process requires (from Left to Right) the delivery of the waste, grabbing waste with mechanical claw, placing it in a hopper to release onto a moving grate where trash is incinerated and temperature is tightly controlled, this heats water in a series of pipes, which drives the steam turbines to create power.  Heavy metals, particulates, and other pollution are captured, processed, and/or filtered so that pollution from the stacks is reduced to below rigorous Singapore air quality regulations.

A few interesting points about the process and results:
  • Energy required to power the whole waste incineration process is only 20% of what is produced, so 80% goes back into national grid.
  • Original mass of waste is reduced by 80% and waste volume by 90%
  • Water is in a closed loop steam system and is incredibly pure so as not to damage the turbines.
  • Processed material that does reach the landfill will not produce the methane that is typically produced in landfills because there is little to no new decomposition that will take place.
  • This is Singapore's primary trash solution as there are Waste To Energy plants across the country that handle their respective region.  While recycling is often available in public spaces throughout Singapore, home recycling in high-rise apartments and public housing is rare because centralized trash shoots built into these structures do not allow for the sorting of trash.  (Basically, it is too easy to throw it all away, rather than pull out the recyclables.)
Tomorrow, we are off to the central business district and other iconic sights of the city!