Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Tofu San’s Weekend with Olivia

Tofu San went home this past weekend with one of our 5th graders, Olivia, who was headed up to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Read on to hear about their adventures!

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Before we headed up to Maine, Tofu San came to my soccer game with Mack, Sarah, Kirsten, and me.OliviaSoccerBefore we were ready to go up to Maine, we first stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts to get some donuts and munchkins. If you’re not from Massachusetts, you should know that Dunkin’ is a place where you get good breakfast sandwiches or coffee and it’s VERY popular in our state.Olivia2

On our car ride up to Maine, Tofu San had a really fun time listening to music and sleeping with me.Olivia 3When we got there, first he had to sit on the picnic table waiting to do the next fun thing but he was very patiently waiting for us to do something.Olivia1My cousins and I painted coffee mugs and movie pictures. Tofu San finished painting with us and that was a lot of fun. Olivia and TofuSanThen we made dancing videos with Tofu San in them. Tofu San was ready for a nap after all the dancing me and my cousin did with him. We had a lot of fun making videos and doing funny things.Olivia4

The weekend was fun with Tofu San and I hope he had a fun time with me too!

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

To my friends in Japan! Moments ago, I saw a beautiful lunar eclipse, and then I realized that you can’t see it from your side of the planet. It is day time for you, sadly.

Map courtesy of DOGOnews

Map courtesy of DOGOnews

Here’s what it looked like through my camera. I hope you enjoy the views, even though you couldn’t see it in the sky. (Note: I don’t have a telescope or anything like that, but my SLR camera’s zoom lens is pretty decent! I didn’t do any editing on my computer, except cropping)

Eclipse7 Eclipse6 Eclipse5 Eclipse4 Eclipse3 Eclipse2 Eclipse1

Creativity Oozing at the Vator Shop

RobotEconomics has been a part of our Discovering Early America unit for a while, but it was only two years ago that I invented the Inno-Vator Shop. Students get to learn about business principles by creating their own “companies” and trying to make a profit. This quarter, we’re running our shop on multiple Fridays, so that students will get a chance to make adjustments from week to week, learning from experience. Our first shopping day just happened, and it was a big success:

It might not be clear in the video, but students had very limited resources from which to make their products. They were only allowed to use simple school supplies or household items, such as aluminum foil, yarn, and binder clips. Because of this, they needed to be really creative in developing their products.

Peanut Guys

Many students stuck with making products out of paper, which didn’t cost too much in amp (&), our classroom currency. It’s amazing what you can make with only paper!

Some students capitalized on subjects popular in the media, from video game icons to pop music references:

Others created original characters, in order to start their own trend:

We even had one student that made Tofu San art! They sold out quickly.

Tofu San Art

Some students decided that demand would be highest for items that would be useful. We had some interesting pencil holders and other school supplies.

Pencil Holders

We had so many more interesting products. Want to reach for something far away? The Vator Shop had an invention for that.

Picker Upper

The Vator Shop also had musical intstruments…

…and Thanksgiving decorations.

Some products were big…

Tic Tac Toe

…and some were very small.


In all cases, students seemed to have a great time selling their products.

How will they improve their products for next week? Who made enough of a profit to pay back their initial loan of 200&? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out. For now, the excitement is palpable, and shoppers went home with lots of treats.


What’s Ahead in Social Studies?

Dear Parents and Guardians ~ Welcome to Back to School Night! By now, you’ve probably been to a number of these events before, and you are expecting the same old routine.  Let’s get to the heart of this all. Here’s what matters:

We live in an increasingly complicated world. As your child’s teachers, we will do our absolute best to prepare these students to be successful, caring citizens. 

Whew! We have a difficult job ahead of us- preparing students for the 21st century. We are ready… and thrilled to take on this challenge with your children. You might be wondering about some of the other basics of this class. We can answer those questions too:

Who is my child’s teacher?  My name is Sara Krakauer. This is my 13th year teaching at Innovation Academy. Some interesting facts about me:

What is this class and what is it like? I teach Social Studies Project to a combined class of 5th and 6th graders.  It’s a two hour class that meets every other quarter (alternating with Science).  It focuses on American history (5th grade standards in Massachusetts) and world geography / culture (6th grade standards in Massachusetts).

What will students be learning this year?  This year, we’ll be working on two units (you can download the overview and documents on our class website):

  • Discovering Early America: Our country’s early history, learning about Native Americans, explorers, colonists, and more. We’ll also learn about economics concepts that affected people then and now.
  • Holy C.O.W. (Cultures of the World): World geography, religion, and culture, focusing on how people live today in Europe, Asia, and Oceania

How are students assessed? As noted in our grading policy, we mostly assess students through rubrics (big projects), but we do have some more traditional homework and tests. For example, some big projects we are doing this quarter include:

  • Designing our own board games to reveal the truth about explorers and Native Americans
  • Writing poems with original music compositions to tell about life in colonial America
  • Simulating a store to practice economics concepts in action

reading2How can I support my child at home? There are lots of ways to support your child with love and attention, but here are a few ways to use technological resources to support what’s happening at school:

  • Check your child’s planner daily.
  • Check our daily log often (homework updated daily there).
  • Check X2 at least once a week.

How can I learn more? Follow this blog by typing your email address in the sidebar to the right under the word “follow.” You can also look for me on Facebook. Or just check back soon!

Have questions, comments, or ideas about global education?  Email me any time:

Tofu San hits Hogwarts and DC

Tofu San continues to be very busy! Omi Sensei sent photographs of his visit to the land of Harry Potter in the United Kingdom. He traveled to Hogwarts via Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Railway Station. Here you can see Omi going right along with him!Platform 9 3:4Tofu San also got to dine in the great dining room of Hogwarts (actually at Oxford University). I don’t think he got to meet Harry Potter, but he looks pretty excited, right?


If that weren’t enough excitement, this past weekend, Tofu San Jr. came with me to a wedding in Washington DC. He enjoyed riding on an airplane, though it was very early Saturday morning.Above the Clouds

The wedding was actually a bit out of the city, on a farm in Maryland. Tofu San enjoyed visiting the barn and celebrating a new marriage. It was once a dairy farm that held something like 75 cows!

Barn from the outsideTofu San considered partying on the dance floor, but then he realized that his legs are very short for dancing.
Barn from the inside

Tofu San got some time to explore the city of Washington DC on Sunday. He saw many important government buildings and museums. Most of them he just saw from the outside, because he was on a busy schedule.

He did get some time to relax on the Mall, which is a big public green with the Washington Monument at one end and the Capital Building at the other end. He also met some of my friends from college.

Tofu San loved his visit to the National Zoo, where he saw many interesting animals.

Overall, he just enjoyed checking out the beautiful city, with its interesting architecture.

DC Townhouses

He noticed that Donald Trump is even building a hotel!

Trump Hotel

He didn’t spend too much time checking it out though, because he was distracted by the Hispanic Festival going on, with lots of proud people from El Salvador.

Salvadoran FestivalJust a few blocks over, he found himself in Chinatown.

ChinatownThere’s always a lot going on in DC! Overall, it was a fun weekend for me too, with some time to explore my own country’s capital city as a tourist. Since I wrote about the bathrooms in China and the fancy toilets in Japan, it’s only fair that I also note the interesting restrooms I saw on this trip to DC. At the Hotel Monaco, the view was spectacular. Don’t you agree?

Beautiful Hotel Monaco Bathroom

At a restaurant in Capital Hill, I also spotted this strange sink for the first time. It washes and DRIES your hands in the same place. Have you seen one of these before?

Tofu San and I had such a fun weekend, and you can expect more adventures soon. Where will he go next?!


Alfie Kohn Would Disapprove

About 15 years ago, long before my current students were even born, I heard a guy named Alfie Kohn speak at an education conference. Proud of BoatI was a recent college graduate and an aspiring teacher, very idealistic and eager to change the face of American education. It was not your typical keynote talk. As Alfie Kohn spoke with humor and frank storytelling, I watched a room full of teachers react — some cowering in their seats and others turning red and shouting. Kohn argued that all external rewards, from grades to stickers (and even just words like “good job”) are actually harmful to students. In his book, Punished by Rewards, he argues that kids should learn because of interest and intristic motivation and not to win incentives or avoid punishments. As a young teacher, I listened intently and vowed to be a teacher who invites student voice and creates an atmosphere of empowerment and self motivation.

Success!This year, I began my Social Studies classes with an activity that I thought went pretty well, but I’m pretty sure it would make Alfie Kohn cringe. We called it “Float Your Boat” — students worked with a goup to design a boat that would actually float, after choosing and “buying” materials such as paper cups, pipe cleaners, and balloons. The winning boat was also judged on creative design, with extra points offered for looking “cool and intimidating.” The members of the winning team got to choose a prize from my newly assembled prize bin.

Reasons I loved Float Your Boat:

  • It introduced some of the major themes we’ll be studying this quarter, in an interesting way. We’ll be learning about both economics concepts and Will it float?motivations of European explorers and colonists coming to America.
  • It required students to work in groups and get to know new people.
  • It gave us real life situations to refer back to when discussing our class norms.
  • The competition was super fun!

Reasons Alfie Kohn would hate Float Your Boat:

  • Students were doing a task to win a prize
  • Students were working to impress their teachers (the judges) rather than for any intristic motivation

The boat competition was fun, but we didn’t stop there. We used this activity as a springboard to discuss norms for working together throughout the year. We discussed how our class needs to “float” in order to be successful. In small groups, students discussed what they wanted to work on in order to “make our class float.” They also discussed behaviors that would make our class sink. Then we wrote these on post-its and put them in water.

Floaters and Sinkers

We attached a marker cap to the floaters and a paperclip to the sinkers.

Paperclips and Marker Caps

As they went into the water, we typed them up into a GoogleDoc, putting these ideas together to form our class agreements and goals. There were many concepts that I expected to hear come up from a group of 5th and 6th graders, but some new and different reflections arose using this format. For example, for a floater, students decided to add “ask good questions and disagree respectfully.” That came out of a discussion about whether or not arguing was a sinker.


There were other sinkers that we were able to turn around into postive actions. For example, “being rude, mean, and bossy” was on the list of sinkers. We turned it around to say “try to be understanding of others’ needs” on our final class agreements.


We will post these goals and agreements in our classroom so that students remember them. In addition, I’m trying something new this quarter. Throughout the week, I’ll give out little slips to students that are being particularly helpful, doing the things on our list or showing our school’s four social outcomes (community membership, problem solving, self direction, and effective communication). The little slips of paper get our little friend, Tofu San, involved. They read “Tofu San saw you helping to make our class float.”

Tofu San saw you helping our class float

At the end of the week, I’ll draw a name out of each class container and the lucky winner will choose a reward from the prize bin.

Now you understand why Alfie Kohn might think I’m a terrible teacher, right?

It does, in fact, make my heart ache a bit to offer prizes for students to follow basic classroom norms. Shouldn’t they behave well because they care about the class and the community? Perhaps, but I teach middle school. Some students really struggle to quiet down when the quiet symbol is given. I feel better about rewarding the students who show positive leadership than giving the class a mini-lecture every time they falter, or punishing the students who continue talking. Or the worst thing — standing there with my hand in the air waiting while everyone continues to talk over each other.

I work to make my classroom a place like the one Alfie Kohn describes in this interview —  not about compliance but a place “where students are working with one another in a caring environment to engage with interesting tasks that they have some say in choosing.” I also believe that students need structure, especially in a context like mine (a public school with 25-26 students per class). I need to maintain a learning environment that works for all the people in the room, not just some.Moment of Truth

So, why incentives? It’s not that I’ve lost my idealism. My 15 years of experience have taught me a lot. I used to work at a very alternative school where students went on expeditions, learned in context, and had a lot of autonomy to direct their own learning. While it was a very special place, and very effective for some, I watched many students struggle — to self-motivate, to balance their own needs with the needs of others, and to push through learning some of the basic skills that one is expected to know in our society. It was a private residential high school, with a rigorous admissions process, and given the choice, students often chose to hang out with friends rather than pursue challenging topics of study. At the end of each quarter, they crammed to complete a bunch of written work to prove they had learned something. Many students dropped out before completing their studies there. Personally, I think it was a tough learning environment because most people benefit from consistent external structures to help them see their progress and meet benchmarks.

I do think other methods are possible. While visiting classrooms in Japan, I was told that Japanese teachers don’t play the role of the disciplinarian. They believe that discipline interferes with the teacher’s ability to be an advocate and coach to the student, so the expectation is that students discipline each other. Based on what I observed, I believe that this works in Japan. Everywhere you look, there is a collective feeling of care for the good of the society, and this is taught from a very young age. 

It’s a hard sell in the context of American society, even at a progressive charter school like mine. I once tried to offer students time every week to pursue their own interests and passions without worrying about a grade. Many students said they were bored. They are so used to working based on teacher expectations that they don’t know what to do without this structure. Short of quitting my job and starting a homeschool center where students and parents really direct their own studies, how can we empower students to learn without incentives?

Here we are in 2015. It’s a new school year, and I am rewarding students who help make our class float. Alfie Kohn, if you are out there reading this, what are your suggestions for next steps? Teachers, please share your strategies. Current or former students, what do you find most motivating in a classroom? I’m always learning, even now that I’m a teacher.

Two Tofu Sans!

Tofu San has been busy! Luckily there are two Tofu Sans! Here’s the original one who now lives in Japan with Omi Sensei and her students:

And here’s Tofu San Jr. who now lives in the United States with Ms. Krakauer and his other friends at Innovation Academy:At IACS

There’s one very small difference between the two Tofu Sans. Can you spot it?

The original Tofu San recently went on a trip to the United Kingdom with Omi Sensei! While he was in the lake district in England, he got to hang out with Peter Rabbit in the place where Beatrix Potter used to live. He sure is a lucky tofu!

Peter Rabbit 4Peter Rabbit 1Peter Rabbit 2Pater Rabbit 3

Back in the United States, 5th grader Michele took Tofu San home this past weekend. In describing her time with Tofu San Jr., she said, “This weekend Tofu San had many adventures in and around Dracut. He had fun meeting new friends and playing around at the grocery store near my house and then we also took him to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Manchester, New Hampshire to see Clydesdale horses. My favorite part of it was when we got home and he got to sit with my cat.”

Omi Sensei, Tofu San Sr., and her students are following Tofu San Jr.’s adventures. Check out the posters below that Omi made to show her students.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.18.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.18.20 PM

Is that a Hello Kitty Tofu San?! If you want to say hi to our friends in Japan, comment on this blog entry with questions or comments for Omi Sensei and her students.

Tofu San’s Adventures at Lake Winnipesaukee

Tofu San at LakeThe students at Innovation Academy miss Tofu San very much, even though they know he is happy having adventures in Japan. Thanks to my friend Omi Sensei, I got to visit with Tofu San this summer, in Tokyo and Koyasan. Luckily, my students no longer need to be lonely! I was able to find Tofu San Jr.! He’s a brand new buddy that we are keeping in our classroom, so that he can continue to go on adventures in the United States. In fact, one of our sixth grade students, Jack, took Tofu San on his first weekend adventure for Labor Day, an American holiday celebrating the workers of our country. Here’s Jack’s tale of Tofu San’s visit to New Hampshire.

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in the carTofu San began his adventure at my Meme’s house in Lowell, Massachusetts. We took a little swim in the pool (on the tube, of course). Then, after that, we packed the car to get ready to leave. He met many stuffed animal friends in the car.

When we arrived at our house on Lake Winnipesaukee, my cousins were there. We immediately went to the Town Docks, our favorite restaurant. It’s a seafood restaurant that is almost entirely docks

After that, we went on a sculpture walk and Tofu San slayed the dragon (fly).dragon fly

Then we went to the lake for a boat ride.boat

We had lots of fun and Tofu San even got to drive.driving boat

After that, we went out for ice cream. The ice cream stand we went to was closing the same day, for the season. It was the last day of being open, so everything was cheap. We got there 5 hours before it cream

After that, we drove back to the lake house and took Tofu San for a hike in the woods behind our house. We know a special spot to get to the lake where nobody else goes, behind a giant rock.lake

We then went to the town beach and Tofu San played lifeguard.lifeguard

He also went on the swings at the playground.Swings

Overall, me and Tofu San had a great time at my lake house.

~Jack C.

Sleeping in a Temple at Koyasan

I’ve slept in many interesting places, from a cave in Turkey to a tent by the beach in St. John, but this summer was my first time sleeping in a Buddhist temple. At Daienin Temple in Koyasan, up in the mountains, visitors can live the monk life for an evening.

Front of Temple

To get there, many people hike up into the mountains, following these special posts, representing earth, water, fire, wind, and space.

I got there by train and car, thanks to my friend, Masa, who lives nearby. The journey was a little long, but we were grateful to be driving uphill into the mountains, where the weather was much cooler.


You see that I was reunited with my friend Tofu San, brought for a visit by my Japanese friend, Omi, who joined us for the adventure. I am lucky to have such great friends in Japan!

After arriving at the temple, we took off our shoes and headed to our rooms. The temple gave us special slippers to wear, so we kept the inside of the building clean. One size fits all?


Next, we checked out our room. It was beautiful! It was very traditional, but with some modern conveniences, like a TV.


When we first arrived, there were no beds! It is traditional in Japanese hotel rooms to have a futon mattress that is put out later. The mattresses were tucked away in the closet behind the black and white mural. While we had no beds yet, we did have welcome cookies, which were yummy.

Printed Cookie

Also, we had a view of the beautiful courtyard:


We also found a photograph in our room showing the Dalai Lama. At first, we were confused, because he leads a different branch of Buddhism. Then, we found out that the Dalai Lama actually stayed in our room! Here I am standing in the same place he stood in this picture.

Dalai Lama

Photos probably don’t do it justice! Here’s a little video tour of the room:

You might notice that there is no bathroom. That’s because in traditional Japanese hotels, they have shared bathrooms. There’s a toilet room that is separate from the place to bathe, called an onsen. Here’s a picture of the women’s onsen. It’s traditional to take a seated shower in front of a mirror, soap and rinse there, and then soak in the hot tub.


We didn’t relax in our room yet though! We did some exploring before dinner, checking out the local temples, where many years ago, a monk named Kukai founded this town as the headquarters for this particular branch of Buddhism. We had a lot of fun seeing all sorts of new things, like this giant bell. As you can see from Omi’s face, it was very big and loud.


Then we came back for dinner, and the monks had prepared a feast in our own private dining room.Dinner

All of the food was vegetarian, because the monks don’t eat meat. It had lots of different tastes and it was delicious! My favorite was the soup in a paper bowl, cooked right in front of us with a flame under the paper. I don’t know how it didn’t burn the place down, but it didn’t!

Dinner Close Up

While we were at dinner, the monks prepared our beds for sleeping. We got back to our rooms, and they were all ready for sleeping.


I decided not to wake up early in the morning for the morning prayer at 5:50 AM, and went to breakfast the next morning a little bit better rested. Again, there was a feast prepared, with no cereal or eggs. Instead, there was rice, miso soup, and some interesting veggies.


After breakfast, we got to explore more of Koyasan, going to hear some very prestigious monks chanting their ceremonial prayers. It felt very special to be there, seeing a real Buddhist ritual. There were no other foreign tourists there; only Japanese people knew to come see this ceremony.

Old Monks

Koyasan is a place where Buddhist people from all over Japan, and beyond, visit to connect with their spiritual side. I’m not Buddhist, but I made some wishes alongside the Japanese people there. Locals write their wishes on little strips of paper called O-mikuji and tie them to shrines.

Good luck wishes

Spending a night at Koyasan was very special, and I hope I was able to bring some of that good fortune back for you.

At Night

Student Guest Post: Family Adventures in Bermuda

It’s so great to see Innovation Academy students were having many international adventures this summer. Kyle reports back from Bermuda, where Hope went last year. Don’t you wish you were there now?

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This way to Bermuda My family went on a cruise to Bermuda.  While we were there we got to see some really cool things.

One excursion we went on was to the caves.  As the story goes, two boys were playing cricket and lost their ball in one of the caves.  I learned that cricket is more complicated than baseball and sort of like golf.  CaveIt’s a popular game there.  So anyway, the boys went looking for their ball and discovered the caves.  The caves were very dark and at one point, our tour guide shut off all the lights and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.  Stagmalites grow very slowly.  Here is a picture of me in the cave with the stagmalites.Inside the CaveWe also visited the National Museum.  Here I learned that many different people helped to make Bermuda successful when it was first discovered.  Different groups of people such as Native Americans, Blacks, English, and Portuguese, came and settled there. They used their own knowledge and strengths to make it great. For example, the Native Americans used their knowledge of planting and harvesting food to develop farms.  I liked that everyone worked together to make this island successful.

~Kyle E.

Bermuda boat

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