Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

The Kind People of Pakistan

The news is breaking my heart. Today, I mourn for Pakistan.

I mourn because the Taliban attacked a school this morning, killing at least 132 children and 9 staff members. It’s a tragedy beyond anything I can imagine. It’s more than five times the lives lost in the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, which happened this week, two years ago. LahoreI would guess that many Americans might not relate to this situation as much. After all, Pakistani kids are far away, and their skin color and religion might be different than yours. However, I’d encourage all my American friends to take a moment of silence for those who lost their lives today, and for all Muslims around the world. I can’t imagine the media will be kind.

Just in case you didn’t know, Pakistan is not a country of terrorists. Muslims are caring people who welcome strangers with open arms. In fact, of all the places I’ve traveled, I found Pakistani people to be some of the most hospitable in the world. In February of 2001, I was lucky that a job brought me to two of their biggest cities, Lahore and Karachi, and I met many extraordinarily kind people. This post is dedicated to them.

To the family in Lahore that invited me into their apartment for tea after I bought some clothes from their shop:

Family in Lahore

To the kids on the playground in Karachi who I had a great time watching at play — they were true masters of the monkey bars: monkey bars

To the family who came over to chat with me when we were both tourists at the same garden:


To the salesman who asked me lots of questions about why I wanted to buy Muslim prayer beads to show my students. He ended up giving them all to me for free!


And most importantly, to Ahab and Saamia, who I met through a mutual friend. They ended up being unbelievable hosts to me while I was in Karachi. My favorite memory was when they took me “crabbing.” We went out on a boat, where the local fisherman cooked up the crab that they’d been catching all day, and we had a giant feast.

Ahab and Saamia

To all the Pakistani people who might read this — I am thinking of you today.

When I see Pakistan on the news, I think of these people who took care of me and showed me kindness. I think about flying kites, drinking pomegranate juice, and wearing glittery bangles on my wrist.

Whether you’ve had the opportunity to travel or not, try to remember that there are real people behind the headlines. Our global community was hurt today. Let’s show our neighbors that we care.

Today’s Sons and Daughters of Liberty speak out!

On Thursday night, I went to a protest in downtown Boston, and then on Friday morning, I had to be up early to attend a protest in Social Studies class. Our students were giving speeches at a meeting of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. Outside the classroom walls, Americans are sending a message that they are outraged — black people are getting killed by the police and sent to jail at a much higher rate than people of other races, and white police officers are not going to trial even when their crimes appear atrocious. What do you think: do our complaints today have anything in common with those of the Patriots before the American Revolution? Click any photo to see it bigger.

As history unfolds before us, the United States can be an exciting and terrifying place. Some people may feel that the events in the news today are nothing too extraordinary, while others see Americans finally standing up to call out our broken system.  What do you think? Is it time for another revolution? Or have we learned how to make changes happen without going to war?

Note: Please share your comments below, where it says “leave a reply.” Students — many adults around the world would love to hear your perspectives. Adults —  the students would love to hear your thoughts too — please help me include many different perspectives in this conversation.

Protests in the Streets of Boston

Hands Up Don't ShootAn angry crowd yelling in the streets of Boston. 

Intimidating officers trying to keep the peace, but sometimes making things worse. 

People calling for change, but not sure how to get there. 

This is what I experienced last night at the “Indict America” protest, but I could be talking about the Boston Massacre, back in 1770. At that time, officers ending up opening fire on a group of protesters, killing five innocent people. The colonists just wanted to express their concern over Parliament’s latest policies and some taxes they didn’t like.

Boston Tea Party Museum Meeting

Our 5th and 6th graders have been studying these events that led up to the American Revolution. They just seem like events in a history book, until you turn on the news. Americans are protesting in the streets again, only this time, videos are being tweated, Facebooked, YouTubed, and more. I don’t claim to have any answers, but last night this teacher joined the protests, calling on our country to do something about racism in our justice system. Here’s my contribution to the media blitz:

As we discussed in class, I was careful to be safe, but there were scary moments last night. People are confused and angry that Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted, and nobody knows exactly why. People are upset that Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed. Our students had a lot to say about this issue:

  • “For self defense, you don’t have to shoot someone in the head.”
  • “If a black police shot a white man, would the police go to jail?”
  • Boston Crowd“Cops are supposed to help citizens not kill or even hurt unless they are doing something bad.”
  • “I think the grand jury was right to not put him on trial because a police officer should have the knowledge on not to shoot someone for no reason. It was probably for a very good reason.”
  • “In my opinion, if you kill someone, no matter who you are, you should go to trial.”
  • “We can have the police have 2 guns, one with rubber bullets for people that aren’t armed, and real guns for people that are armed.”
  • Police the Police“Michael Brown also might have looked like a suspect from a robbery, but there isn’t a reason to kill him even if he did rob a store.”
  • “I feel that this is intolerable since he shot somebody 6 TIMES!!! One shot is self defense, not 6.”
  • “To be violent, it causes more even worse things to happen. Like in the Boston Massacre the Patriots were angry at the king for bringing in soldiers so they did something small that agitated the soldiers so they shot and killed 5 people.”

As you can see, our students have a lot of thoughts about this one case, which unfortunately, is one of many situations of police brutality against black people.

So, what can we learn from history?Tea Dumping

Change takes time. The colonists gathered a group of about 5,000 men to discuss the tea taxes before a group assembled to dump 340 crates of imported tea off the ship.  Our students recently got to reenact these events at the Boston Tea Party Museum. As you’ll see in this video, some of the same emotions people feel today were probably present back then too:

The colonists were not able to solve their problems peacefully. It got worse than just destruction of tea. Several years later, this issue turned to war, with the first British soldiers losing their lives at the Old North Bridge in Concord.

Grave of the British Soldier

Today, we stand on that bridge, and remember the “shot heard ’round the world.” Those 6 shots fired in Ferguson, Missouri will also be remembered for many years to come.

Old North BridgeThe American Revolution wasn’t fought because of taxes, but so that we have the rights we have today. We have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, allowing us to gather and express our views, whatever they may be. Last night, I was very thankful to live in a country where people can come together to peacefully express their views.

Instill Justice

Whatever happens next will not be only about Mike Brown or Darren Wilson. It’s hard to predict what’s next. Are we smart enough to figure out how to make change happen without violence? There’s a lot of young people counting on us to make sure our country’s justice system is actually just.

IACS students with shipThis Thanksgiving, be thankful for your voice. Be thankful for your community. Together, let’s use our voices to do something good.


I will not take these things for granted

IlluminusThere’s nothing more American than Thanksgiving. The holiday is technically about our country’s first settlers (for a great interactive site to learn about what really happened, click this link from Plimoth Plantation). Today, Thanksgiving seems more about appreciating our family, friends, and all the gifts we have in our lives.

In honor of this holiday, I made all of you a little music video to one of my favorite songs. I took the footage in late October at an evening light festival in Boston. Even if you hate technology, after seeing this, you have to admit that it can turn into something quite beautiful.

Thank you to Illuminus Boston for the wonderful evening of light and magic. I’m grateful to live in a city full of beautiful art!



Does Democracy Work?

Election Booth

The Voting Booth

Some Americans are likely thrilled with last week’s election results, while others are likely upset. Even though they can’t vote, our fifth and sixth graders had a lot to say about the outcome. Overall, students think our system is a good one:

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However, some students weren’t happy with the outcome of the election.

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Many students had ideas about what could be improved (click photo to enlarge).

Our students wondered — do other countries have good governments? If you are reading this from other country, would you be willing to answer some questions for us? Here’s what our students want to know:

Please comment below this post and tell us your opinions. If you are American, do you think our democracy works? If you are in another country, what is your government like? We look forward to learning from you.

Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: Not a Fairy Tale

When you hear about Cape Coast Castle, do you picture a beautiful place with princes and princesses? Unfortunately, it’s not such a happy ocean palace. As 6th grader Tyler can tell you, Cape Coast Castle is a very real and sad place to be. Tyler visited there this past summer,  when he was in Ghana, a small country in West Africa. Read on to hear about Tyler’s experience.

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Rocks at Cape Coast CastleCape Coast Castle was a place that people would take slaves and throw them in there and do very bad and inappropriate things to them. The photo above, is one of the many rocks that are on the beach next to the ocean. These boulders are countless and would probably take you many hours to count and climb them all.Cape Coast Cannons

If you don’t know what these are, they’re called cannons. They shoot cannon balls. They used these cannons a lot whether it’s for shooting a ship that the slaves were getting away in, or shooting down a pirate’s brig coming towards here to capture slaves to be in the “Hearty Crew!”CapeCoast

This was another fortress that got attacked constantly. Everyone wanted it so badly, but too bad that its defense was so great they barely left a mark.Inside Cape Coast

Picture this: Close your eyes (Once I’m done talking). Imagine being in this darkness for 75 to 200 WEEKS! That is what it feels like in the cell. I went in there and couldn’t even last 60 seconds in that scorching hot, un air conditioned room. They threw slaves in there if they didn’t listen to their master’s every command. They didn’t even give them Food!!! Some slaves actually resorted to cannibalism (one species eating its own species, as in humans eating humans) just to survive one night. I want you to think about it. If you knew you were going to die in 5 minutes, would you eat your best friend just to survive until tomorrow? Post in the Comments! Thank you!

~Tyler D-H

P.S If you want to know what the building looks like, here you go!

CapeCoast Castle Outside


Creative Studying

Global education is woven into every aspect of Social Studies these days. Even when we study American history, we are practicing skills to prepare students to be successful in a society that is globally connected.

Poster MakingStudents have been learning about the U.S. government recently. We analyzed our system of checks and balances and wondered together — would we have been willing to fight for our rights like our ancestors did in the American Revolution? What would it be like to live in a society without all the freedoms we have in the United States? In places like Iran, freedom of speech is still not a given, as we saw when we learned about the young people who made this video below. They were arrested because their clothes and actions were viewed as obscene in their culture:

Global education doesn’t always mean learning about other countries. Learning to approach a problem from a variety of perspectives will also help prepare students for a globally interconnected society. For example, in order to study for our upcoming test on Thursday, students brainstormed many different ways to study. Instead of just looking over their notes, they learned that they could try any of these…

  • Study GuideMaking flashcards
  • Make a practice quiz for a friend (or get quizzed)
  • Use origami cups to practice federal, state, local
  • Make a poster
  • Make up a game
  • Make up a story using the info
  • Make up a song / rap
  • Play a memory game (matching cards)
  • Watch a video (such as School House Rock)
  • Listen to the rap songs about the three branches
  • Play an online game
  • Fill out your study guide
  • Read a book on the topic
  • Or any other idea they could create!

If you had walked into the room while they were trying out some of these methods, you would have been impressed!

If students use methods like these to prepare for their test on Thursday, there’s no doubt that they will do well! With a little room for innovation, young people can come up with some unique ideas. And that’s the kind of thinking our planet needs.

A Volcano is Erupting!

The start of school. Moving to a new home. These seem like important events in my life, but then I remember what it would be like to live in Iceland. There’s a volcano erupting right now! Activity at Bárðarbunga Volcano did not start until after I left Iceland, but now it’s in full swing.

You might wonder why it looks like a strip of lava instead of a single stream from the top of a mountain. That’s because the eruption started happening UNDER a glacier, and the lava flowed for days before it melted through the surface. Now, there’s basically a river of lava flowing for many miles, spewing very high. Imagine lava bursts of up to 130 meters high, which is higher than a 40 storied building! Scientists have actually photographed this eruption from space.

When I was in Iceland, I didn’t see anything like this. However, I did see LOTS of dried out lava fields as we drove around. This is dried out lava that probably erupted thousands of years ago:

Lava from many years ago...

Lava from many years ago…

I did see evidence of more recent volcano activity, like black ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which I wrote about in my post a few weeks ago, Living Under a Volcano. In that post, I even posted a video of my visit to a glacier, where you can see the ash mixing with the ice.

I’m glad that I didn’t witness a volcanic eruption in Iceland! I’m lucky that I have seen an active volcano though. Back in 2006, I traveled to the Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala, and I hiked up that volcano while it had lava flowing out of it! I did take some video footage, but at the time, my camera wasn’t quite as nice. In any case, now I’m publishing this “never before seen footage” for the first time:

As you can see in the video, we were able to see the lava flowing right next to us, getting pretty impressively close, while staying safe.

Pacaya Lava

The Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala, with hot lava that just flowed from the top.

The people that led our hike told us where it was safe to stand, and we could also feel it ourselves. Obviously, if the lava was red and flowing, I stayed back. But in addition, I could feel the heat coming from some darker rocks, so I knew to back up when it started to get uncomfortable. It was like walking up to a campfire and feeling a little burn on your skin.

Pacaya Lava Up Close

Pacaya Lava Up Close

Here are some photos that show the dried up lava at Pacaya. This lava was only a few days old, but totally safe to walk on.

Personally, I think volcanos are really interesting, and this is one of those moments when I wish I taught science! Did you know that during this eruption, over the past few weeks, there have also been thousands of earthquakes in Iceland? Every day, more news comes out of Iceland, and the situation is changing rapidly. They’re expecting that the volcano will start spewing ash soon, which could cause some additional problems, though not necessarily flight disruptions like last time. Right now, people are evacuated from the area of the eruption, so don’t worry — everyone is staying safe and nobody is under that lava!

The biggest risk is flooding due to the giant glacier that is being melted by the volcano. Remember the Dettifoss Waterfall that I wrote about in my Waterfall Pageant post? It’s currently closed due to the risk of massive floods. So, even though Iceland is a little country, with only about 320,000 people living there, please keep them in your hearts at this time. And if you want to follow the eruption as it unfolds, I recommend checking out these two sites for more information: the Icelandic Met Office and the Iceland Geology Blog by Jón Frímann. Whether you follow volcano news or not, know that BIG things are happening over in little Iceland.

New England’s Mushrooms

Today’s guest post comes from a student who finished all four years at our middle school, and is now heading off to high school. They grow up so fast! You’ll notice that Anna’s observation skills are very strong, and she has some great insights about our country for both locals and visitors alike. Enjoy!

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Mystery DI know what you’re thinking, “Why would someone write a blog post about mushrooms?!” Well, I’ll tell you why.

This August, my family and I went on a bunch of day trips in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We tried to go once or twice every week, and ended up seeing lots of beautiful sights! I was planning on writing a blog post about a trip that I made (whether in the past or this summer), but I couldn’t decide on one idea. The multiple day trips didn’t make it any easier! In the end, I chose to write about a commonality between all of the state parks we visited this August (yes, we went to a lot of state parks), and I think you can guess what that topic is.

BeaverWhether we were marveling at the beautiful views of the Flume Gorge and Lost River Gorge or just hiking through Great Brook Farm State Park, there were always mushrooms around every corner.

Believe it or not, mushrooms are actually quite interesting. For instance, the largest organism in the world is the honey mushroom. The biggest honey mushroom ever discovered can be found in the Blue Mountains in Oregon. Now you might be thinking, “Does that mean that if I travel to Oregon, I’ll see a GIANT mushroom?!” Unfortunately, the answer is no. The honey mushroom grows from a tiny spore, and gradually grows larger and larger and larger. It spreads to great distances underground, but on the surface, all you see are a bunch of small honey mushrooms.

I did a little research about the mushrooms we saw on our trips, and found out that the mushrooms we found include:

  • The “Small Chanterelles”
  • Horse mushroom
  • Chicken Mushroom
  • Parasol mushroom
  • (White) Matsutake
  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Indian Pipe

See if you can figure out which mushroom is which! (Yes, you may use the Internet.)

Note: One of the pictures is a plant, and not a mushroom (but still interesting). Hint: The plant shares its name with another mushroom that looks like bagpipes. However, if you look up the name online, you’ll only find the plant.

All of the photos are courtesy of my dad, and are not in any specific order.

Those were the mushrooms that I could put names on, but these photos have mushrooms that I couldn’t identify:

I hope you enjoyed my blog post!Finally, I just want to break the stereotype that most mushrooms are poisonous. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; 90% of mushrooms are not poisonous!

~ Anna ;)                                            * * * * * * *

Note: Unless you are with an expert, you should NEVER eat mushrooms found in the wild. Anna is correct that many mushrooms are edible. However, if you guess wrong, it could cost you your life. So that’s not a risk worth taking.

Speaking Spanish in Costa Rica

Today’s guest post is from Mr. Ticotsky, who works with teachers at our school to plan systems thinking activities. He wrote about trying out some new Spanish skills in Costa Rica. Read carefully if you are studying Spanish yourself! Some of our middle school teachers are planning a trip there, so maybe you’ll be the next one blogging from there!

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The Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano

Last winter, my wife and I went to Costa Rica for about a week.  Neither of us speaks Spanish, although my wife speaks French and is quick to pick up languages.  Before we left Massachusetts, we practiced Spanish using instructional CDs, especially while we were going somewhere in our car.

We concentrated on useful words first, including polite phrases like “Please” and “Thank you.”  Our language CDs (and our prior knowledge) taught us that “You’re welcome” is often said “De nada” in Spanish, which might roughly translate to “It’s nothing,” or perhaps matches the typical American response “No problem.”  Certainly polite, but not the usual phrase we heard in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican WaitorAlmost all the Costa Rican people we met were very friendly and kind.  Many smiles greeted us, and the people working in the tourism and service fields especially expressed pride in their country.  We learned that in Costa Rica, the most common way to express gratitude is “Con mucho gusto.”  That phrase would be expressed as “With much pleasure” and symbolized for us how thoughtful and gracious the Costa Rican people were to us.

Costa Rican Van DriverAnother phrase we learned in Costa Rica is “Pura vida.”  Literally, that might mean “Pure life,” but in Costa Rica it is a response that also means “Great,” “Excellent,” or “Very well.”  It is kind of a motto for the country and is very descriptive of many of the policies they have to maintain and improve their beautiful land.  There are no armed forces, sustainability seems to be considered in most government decisions, and environmental concerns balance tourism and development.   If you have an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, I highly recommend it.

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