Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

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.

Adventures in an Indian Village

This is our third student post from India (check out Athul’s and Sonakshi’s too). Wow!  Adhiti tells about something pretty different — the countryside. She took lots of great photos and I think you’ll really feel like you’re there with her. Enjoy!

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Hi! This summer my family and I visited my grandparents in India. Five weeks sounded like a long time, but it went by very quickly. We did a lot of fun activities, such as, shopping, watching indian movies in the big theaters, sightseeing, tasting different types of foods, and visiting our extended family. I’m going to tell you about my trip to the village where my grandfather was born, named Annaram (in the state of Andhra Pradesh).

When we first got there I saw a dusty road leading to a small house inside a gate. The house belongs to my grand uncle and grand aunt. At their house, we decided to explore. They have a well next to the house where they get water from using a pail.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 6.42.45 PMThen, we got to play with the chickens. My brother went into the pen first, then my cousin and I followed. We scared the chickens out of their skins and they hid in a big bush. They were such scaredy cats, or should I say chickens!

Next, we saw the cows (2 moms and 2 babies). We got to pet the calves, but we washed our hands after in a small fountain.

Then we walked around the fruit orchards and saw some green trees filled with really big fruits called jack fruit.There were also mango, sweet lime, lemon and pomegranate trees.

As we walked out of the gate we saw some small houses. My grandfather’s house was donated and turned into a school as you can see in the picture.

As we kept walking, my grandpa ran into his childhood friends who stopped and talked to him as you can see in the picture. They were very interested in meeting us too. Once we saw most of the village we decided to go back to the house. We slept over and left the next morning. My family and I had a great time on the trip and I hope that when we go back to India, we can visit there again!!!


An American Celebrates Canada Day

Canada DayJust like we have the 4th of July, our Independence Day, Canada has its own day too. Check out Matthew’s experience celebrating Canada Day and having some other adventures too!

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The first thing I did this summer was go to Canada to visit my family. While I was there I celebrated my birthday with my Uncle Chris. On July 1st, we celebrated Canada day by going to watch fireworks. They were awesome! The next day we went to the Pavilion, which was flooded because of all the rain. In the basement, there were sandbags by the doors to keep the water out.Matt

I saw some interesting buildings, like the Canadian Humanitarian Rights Museum. It has a wall that is curvy and looks like it might fall down.Human Rights Museum

Next we went to the Louis Riel bridge, a suspension bridge that has a restaurant on it!  I also went to the museum and went inside a train engine.Louis Riel Bridge

After that we went to the farm where our family cemetery is and had a picnic. But most of all, I enjoyed visiting my Nanny and playing with her dog, Sasha.Nanny's dog Sasha


Pink Sands of Bermuda

6th grader Hope was lucky to get some exciting travel in this summer! It looks beautiful, doesn’t it?

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Hi IACS! For my global experience I went on a cruise to Bermuda. I was not able to post while I was on the cruise and in Bermuda because there was no internet access so I am doing it now. In this post I will be talking about the beaches and weather in Bermuda.

First of all the beaches and water in Bermuda are beautiful! The sand is pink and the water is so crystal clear. It looks very blue and you can see the sand underneath it! When we were at one of the main beaches in Bermuda called Horseshoe Bay the sand was so warm and pink we couldn’t think how it had gotten so pink. When we got home I looked it up and it said the sand was pink because after millions of years of red sea creatures such as clams and mollusks that have died and then the strong waves of the Atlantic Ocean have crushed the sea creatures and then their remains have been washed to shore. The water is light blue because of the sun reflecting off of the sand and the water.Bermuda

The year round weather in Bermuda is very similar to the weather in the summer here. Today it is 73 degrees F and in Bermuda it is 78 degrees F. In the winter Bermuda’s temperatures range from 61 degrees F to 80 degrees F from October to February. One day when we were at the beach it rained so hard we could not see anything. It was warmer in the water than out! Our clothes, towels, and bags were drenched. But it was very fun! Bermuda is a great place to visit!

This picture above is of my siblings and friends at Snorkel Park Beach. At this beach we swam and went snorkeling. The sand here was not as pink as the other beach and we did not get to take any pictures because it was pouring out! Unfortunately we don’t have any more photos because of the circumstances!


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