Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Music and Art of Santo Domingo

Even the street posts are painted with art!

Even the street posts are painted with art!

I’m finally home from the Dominican Republic but I have to share about the music and art that were everywhere during my last day in Santo Domingo. The city is full of art! Walk into any shop, and there are paintings by local artists, and musical instruments for sale. Here’s a salesman trying to sell a güira, which is a local percussion instrument used in merengue and other local music:

Sit down on any restaurant patio in Santo Domingo and a group of musicians will probably come over and try to serenade you while you dine, asking for tips afterwards, of course.Table to table

The Ministry of Tourism hosts all sorts of free music events in the city. We got to see a few of them, and they are really exceptional — both the performances, but also the positive vibe in the audiences. This first band in the video below is Cuban, performing in front of the ruins of the old monastery of San Francisco. The second band is local, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the April Revolution, when there was a civil war in Santo Domingo.

These kinds of performances happen weekly, but there are others that happen every day. As we walked down the Conde (the main street of the old colonial neighborhood), there were street performers day and night. Here are a few talented examples I caught on camera:

A real highlight of yesterday was happening upon the International Santo Domingo Book Fair at the Plaza de la Cultura. I’ve been to the Boston Book Festival, and this was MUCH bigger. Book FestivalThere were hundreds of stands, with all sorts of ways to learn about the culture of the Dominican Republic and beyond. There was even a Korean tent! There were, of course, lots of books, but there were also craftsmen, food stands, performances, and more. It was really an exceptional event (click on any photo below to see it bigger).

Several of the local museums were also free for the festival. My favorite was the Museum of Modern Art. Contemporary art is VERY different from the ancient artifacts we saw earlier that morning at a flea market. Those date back to Taino times!

The modern art was futuristic and fun, and I found it to be very original.

I definitely recommend Santo Domingo if you like seeing interesting music and art! I’d love to go back and see more, but for now, it’s back to my normal life here in Massachusetts. I will be posting a few more entries from my Dominican trip, so stay tuned.Street Performers

Dove Missions: Connecting with Dominican Kids

I came to the Dominican Republic armed with questions from my students back home at Innovation Academy. I did find some experts to help me get those questions answered! With Kids One of the best things we’ve done since arriving in the DR is volunteering for a day with Dove Missions. We were picked up at our hotel by Martina and Juan, and headed to their youth development center in Puerto Plata. Dove Center They just built this center recently, and as you can see, it’s still in progress. But the first floor is really nice, with a classroom space, a kitchen, and nice bathrooms. We spent the morning working with youth in the program. I gave them the cards and questions from my students at Innovation Academy, and the kids were eager to provide answers.

It was really exciting to learn from these kids. My students had written questions for the Dominican kids, and they wrote their answers on the same page. For example, Therese, Hannah, Mia, and a few of my other students asked about school in the Dominican Republic.

I found out that students here only go to school for 3-4 hours a day! They either go in the morning or afternoon, and then spend lunchtime at home with their families. So, Dove Missions provides supplementary programming for the other part of the day. Dove art After a fun morning with the kids, the volunteers headed to lunch ourselves. On the way, we saw many kids headed home from morning school. Some get picked up on motorcycles. Here, it is pretty normal to see many people on one bike, all without helmets. Motos We ate lunch at a beautiful spot right on the beach, where we got to meet Martina’s family. A lot of my students had also wondered about the beaches here, and yes, they are beautiful!Nice Beaches Lunch was great, and her three year old son helped serve us!

After lunch, we headed to town. Martina took us to see the area where their students live. I was really happy to have this opportunity, because many students had also asked about their homes. HousesIt was really interesting to see where the students live. Their houses are very small, but they seemed proud to show us around.

They live right on the ocean, but it’s not quite as glamorous as other places we visited. Water There’s so much more to say about this experience, but I think I will have to save it for another post. Check back soon to learn more about home life.

After seeing the student neighborhood, we headed back to the youth center for the afternoon group. We also got to squeeze in some time for balloon twisting, which the kids loved. Balloons All in all, it was a really special day. I’ll be coming back to Innovation Academy with lots of answers from the students here, and I learned a lot about what it’s like to live here. Thank you to Dove Missions for the experience! Balloon Creations

Testing out the Underwater Camera at Sosua Beach

Today, we took a local bus, or Gua Gua, to Sosua Beach and tried a little snorkeling. We didn’t really know where to go, but opted to explore on our own rather than go on a tour or a glass bottom boat. The beach itself was pretty beautiful, but every minute or so, some guy would approach us and try to sell us something. That was a little adventure in itself, but ultimately, we found a nice quiet place to sit and admire the view. Sosua Beach

Eventually, we made our way into the water! I borrowed an underwater camera for this trip, and I loved playing with it!


We didn’t see anything too exciting at first. Just the sun shining through the water onto the sand.


As we got deeper, we saw some coral, and a lot of black spiny sea urchins. I stayed clear of those, since I’m pretty sure they’d hurt to touch!

Spikey Black

There were some neat looking fish too, but I’m not so good with the underwater camera yet. Here’s my best shot:


We made it out pretty far before deciding to head in. The waves were pushing us out, so it was harder to get back to shore than to get out to sea.

View from the Water

All in all, the snorkeling adventure was a success!


Bus to the Beach

Today, I rode a bus across the island, from the south coast to the north coast. It took about 4 hours.

Bus to the Beach

The Metro bus was pretty comfortable, with AC and coach seats. Looking out the window, it was beautiful to see the mountains of inland DR.


I even bought some local snacks. My chips came with a surprise! I didn’t try it, because it seemed like it could get messy. Salsa? Ketchup?Chips

And then we arrived! We are just a few minutes walk from the beach and I have no complaints!

Santo Domingo: City of Firsts




Greetings from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic! This is the very first city set up by Europeans in the Americas. When Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, he landed here on this island. He set up a colony here over 100 years before the Pilgrims!

Today, I went on a walking tour of the city, and saw many firsts. Many of these places were recommended by my students, who researched this city last week, when we were learning to use a guide book. For example, Bella suggested checking out the ruins of the first hospital built by Europeans in the new world:

Bella Hospital

I did go there today! It was really fun to explore. It no longer looks like a hospital, and there’s even a bee hive on the side, but it’s still pretty neat to see:

Kadyn recommended that I see the Puerta del Conde, which I also checked out!Puerta del CondeHere’s me in front of it:Puerta del Conde

This monument is like the gate at the end of a long street. Once I got here, I found out that “the Conde” is what people say to describe the Calle El Conde, which is the main road in the Zona Colonial, or Old City. The Conde is really beautiful, a walking street with lots of shops, restaurants, etc.

The Conde

The Conde

There are lots of shops that sell art, among other things.

Art on the Conde

Speaking of shopping, Jidelys recommended that I check out the local department stores:

Mercado ModeloIt’s always interesting to see what the locals buy, and what the non-tourist prices are like. It seemed like a nice polo shirt was going for about US$10, which is pretty affordable. One of the most fascinating things that I saw at the department store was a women’s undergarment with padding to make a woman’s behind look bigger. I don’t think that many women in the U.S. would buy something like this, but apparently there’s a market for it down here!

BehindHere in the Zona Colonial, there’s an interesting mix of old and new. There’s fast food, souvenir shops, and ice cream, but there are also so many other firsts, like the first church, first library, and first monastery made by Europeans in the new world. Matt W. had recommended that last one, which has a unique history, apparently.

Monasterio de San FranciscoSuccess! All the firsts!

What will the second day in the Dominican Republic bring?

Back to the Caribbean

Today, I’m heading back to the Caribbean Sea for the third time this winter. This time, the Dominican Republic!

Caribbean MapIt’s been a cold snowy winter, and I feel very lucky. (Also, I’ve chosen to travel and not buy a house, designer clothes, fancy furniture, or other “adult” things).Cold and Hot

I took a break from blogging during my last trip to Puerto Rico, so all the beachy photos in this post will be from that trip!

The sun sets over San Juan, Puerto Rico

The sun sets over San Juan, Puerto Rico

This time, I’m getting my students involved. In class, we’re learning about this region of the world. So students wrote notes to Dominican kids, which I am planning to deliver and attempt to get responses. I’ll be spending a day volunteering with youth in between vacation-y time.

IMG_3082My students also wrote questions, and I’ll try to seek out the answers.


I’m looking forward to learning more about Dominican culture. Speaking of tacos, I’m curious to learn more about what the food will be like. I don’t think I know much about food in the Dominican Republic!

Taco MakerI’m also looking forward to some relaxation time. Don’t worry — I don’t work all the time!

In Puerto Rico, we took a ferry to a smaller island and then rented a car. This time, we’ll be getting around with public transit. So, that’ll be interesting.

I’m also looking forward to seeing more interesting plants and wildlife, like I did in Puerto Rico:

What else will I see? Stay tuned to hear more about this adventure. My blogging hiatus is over!

P.S. Want to read more? A group of students and staff from Innovation Academy is heading to Costa Rica, which also has some borders on the Caribbean Sea. Read more about their Spanish study and exploration this week at 

My Day as a 5th Grade Milkdud

MeasamilkdudThis week, I spent a day following the schedule of my fifth grade students. I read a thought provoking Washington Post article in the fall that got me thinking about this, and I wanted to better understand the experience that my students go through every day. I’m lucky to work in a school that supports teacher professional development, and so, from 8 to 3 pm, I joined the group that my 5th grade advisory students are in, otherwise known across the school as… the Milkduds (The name comes from MLKD, which are the first four letters of this group’s four advisory teachers. The K is for my advisory: Krakauer).

What was it like to be a 5th grade Milkdud? I’m still processing my reflections, but here are some of my learnings:

1) It’s hard to bounce from class to class.

Health ClassIt was weirder than I expected to have to transition from topic to topic. When I was in 5th grade, I had one elementary school teacher. These students are in a middle school model, so they move from class to class. It was hard for me to switch gears so often! One minute we were in health class talking about the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness, and a few minutes later we were in reading class talking about the earth’s plates. It wasn’t always easy to make those transitions.

2) I felt out of control.

As a teacher, I’ve never really felt like I have tons of power. When I experienced the day as a student, I realized how much of the student’s day is dictated by adults. They told us where we could sit and when we could stand. LunchroomThey told us what to discuss. They told us what to write. They told us when lunch was over (and I hadn’t even started peeling my orange)! The teachers at my school are great about asking for student opinions, offering choice, and doing a mix of project-based activities. And yet, I still left the day with the overwhelming feeling that students have to defer to adults all day to direct their actions. I wonder if something different is possible in a public school model, when there are 20-something people in a room together?

CTRBeing a student felt a little like being on an organized tour while traveling. You go from site to site and you have a guide to tell you about each place and give you suggestions on how to best make the most of each experience. It’s not the only way to learn about a new place, but the tour guide makes sure you see all the important stuff. Sometimes, however, you’d rather just get there and get lost fumbling around.

3) I wanted to behave… and also to be naughty.

Throughout the day, I found myself wanting to do the right thing, to have people think that I was a good student. breadmoldAnd I have to admit — I also found myself wanting to see what I could get away with.  For instance, in science class we were doing a bread mold lab. We set up an experiment to measure how fast mold grows in a cold setting versus a warm setting. I started to wonder all sorts of other questions. Would it grow faster or slower in the sun? Would it matter if I spit on the bread? What if we rubbed the bread on the bottom of the table before putting it in the ziplock bag? My curiosity and the desire to experiment were strong! It gave me a greater appreciation for students who resist following directions. And yes, I did “peer pressure” an unnamed student at my table to cough on the bread.. and Mr. Maier agreed to put an extra piece of bread by the window to see how things change in the sun.

4) I realized that it must be awesome… and really hard… to be a high achieving student.

In math class, we had a rubric assignment, which means a giant project that counts a lot for your grade. I raced through, finishing steps 1-9 in an hour, an assignment which my fellow students had been working on all week. The students were impressed, and asked, “What?! You finished the whole rubric today?!” extrememakeoverAnother student pointed out, “Guys, she did finish college already. She has a bit of an advantage here.” And it’s true. Even though I teach a humanities subject, I rock at long division and multiplying decimals. And the assignment was fun — we had to design original carpet squares, and then calculate costs compared to traditional carpeting. When I did well, and my fellow students were impressed, it felt good. Throughout the day, I generally worked faster than a real 5th grader. Teachers took time to read through text slowly that I could skim through and understand quickly. Overall, I noted that strong readers must get really bored waiting for their peers to catch up. When teachers repeat the same instructions multiple times, it makes students feel less inclined to listen, because you assume that it’ll be repeated in a few minutes. However, some students surely need the additional time, and I imagine that they might also get frustrated when teachers go “too fast.” This experience left me wondering how I can even better challenge my high achieving students while still supporting students who struggle.

5) I felt like part of a team.

Recess Fun TimesMy fellow students were super helpful throughout the day. I had friends to show me where the colored pencils were kept in math. While I worked, I heard students sharing tips with each other about what was coming up next in science or social studies class. My table groups worked together to complete the assignments. Overall, I felt a real sense of community. Students look out for each other and help each other make it through the day. Sure, sometimes students struggle to get along, but the overwhelming feeling that I had was one of camaraderie.

6) The students really appreciated having me take on their role.

I had no idea what they’d think of having me be a student for a day. I hoped that they’d forget I was there so I could see a normal day in the life. While I do think I saw a real day, they didn’t forget I was there. They loved calling me “Sara” instead of “Ms. Krakauer.” It seemed like they felt really good about having an adult take an interest in what it’s like to be in their shoes. I didn’t really expect that, but I was really glad about that part of the experience.End of the Day

I could go on about all the things I learned from this experience, but I’ll stop there for now. I’m confident there will be a lot more time to discuss this with my colleagues — I work in an exceptional school, with a talented, thoughtful group of educators and students. I love learning alongside these people… whether standing by the white board or sitting at a desk.

My day as a 5th grader will definitely change how I look at my students when they walk in my classroom. I highly encourage other teachers to try it out. And if you do, let’s discuss.

Need a Face Mask?

I’m sick. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a bad winter for me and illness.

As I sit on my couch coughing, I’m reminded of the face masks in Japan. It is very common to see people wearing masks over their noses and mouths. The students in the schools did not seem to think it was a big deal.

From an American perspective, I thought it was strange. I’m not used to seeing face masks, except sometimes on cafeteria workers.


I wondered why people wore these masks. At first, I thought I should stay far away from these people, because they might have some kind of rare contagious disease.

MasksonPublicTransitThen, I remembered how densely populated Japan is, and I thought that masks might make sense in a place that is so crowded.

In the end, I decided to ask some of my Japanese friends — why do Japanese people wear masks? They told me that people in Japan wear masks for three main reasons:

1) If they are sick, to avoid infecting others

2) If they want to avoid getting sick (for instance, right before a big exam)

3) If they have bad allergies, and want to keep pollen and other allergens out of their system


Student artwork hanging at one of the schools we visited


I asked if people felt ashamed to wear a mask. I think I’d be embarrassed to show up to school next week with one. My Japanese friends told me that it wasn’t considered weird at all. In fact, it would be considered rude to show up at school or work sick, without a mask. Japanese culture is very focused on care for the collective good, so wearing face masks is totally normalized there.

Another mask appearing in student artwork

Another mask appearing in student artwork

Would I be healthy today if Americans wore face masks like the Japanese? I don’t know, but right about now, I wish I could visit this nurse’s office at Akan Junior High School in Kushiro.

What do you think? Japanese friends — Please comment below and tell us what you think about face masks. American friends or those in other countries — Please comment below and tell us if you’d ever wear a face mask. What can we learn from each other’s cultures?

A Hammock, a Coconut, and a Machete

On our last full day in St. John, I decided it was time to read on the beach. However, I didn’t want to get a sunburn, so I enlisted my trusty travel hammock and found the perfect little spot.

After some relaxing reading time, my friend found me and we went for a snorkel. He lives in St. John, and he does something called “lobster hunting.” He has a long stick with a small noose at the end. He dives under to look inside little coral caves for lobsters to catch.  It was a lot of fun watching him check out all his familiar spots, swimming along and checking out all the fish. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any lobsters that day, but after a little bodysurfing, we decided to head back to our campsite for lunch anyway.Bodysurfing

On the way, we saw a guy up in the trees above where my hammock was hanging. He was knocking down coconuts! My friend explained that the guy was helping the beach stay safe for tourists, and also he would sell them in town. We decided to buy one. The man said it’d be $3. At first, I thought that was kind of expensive, since the coconuts were right there in the trees. But then I saw that he was doing much more than handing us a coconut. First, after climbing up really high, he used his machete to make a hole so we could pour out the coconut water.

Coconut Water

After that, we brought the coconut back to him. Next, he chopped it up for us to eat the meat inside:

Finally, he even cut us up a little scoop to use to get the coconut meat out.

Coconut Meat

It was very gooey – different than other coconut I’ve had in the past! It also tasted more mild. It was refreshing!

The whole experience made me excited to try more new foods, and before leaving St. John, I stopped at a fruit stand in town. I got the weirdest thing I could find. It turned out to be a sugar apple! The customs official at the airport didn’t even mind that I took it on the flight home. It was a little smaller than an apple, and you squeeze it to break it apart. Then, you suck the fleshy fruit off of the seeds, and it’s a little gooey like custard. The fruit is very sweet!

Sugar Apple

I love trying new foods when I travel. Have you ever tried a food that you can’t get at home? What was it like?

Watching Out for the Little Guy: Critters of St. John

It’s cold here in Massachusetts. It’s hard to believe that just days ago, I was on the beaches of St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was stunningly beautiful.

Paradise in St. John

I did manage to avoid the internet for most of the trip (though I did cheat a little). It was a different kind of winter vacation than I’m used to.

Snowman on the Beach

While there’s a lot that I could write about, I want to start with the creatures. I don’t have an underwater camera to show you the colorful fish, eel, squid, and sea turtle I encountered while snorkeling. Those were awesome.Coral

Some of the animals we saw were less cute. My friend and I camped out in a platform tent, just minutes from the beach. In the woods, we got to “meet” lots of little bugs. It was… an adventure… to have to pick a dead cockroach out of our cooking pot on the first night.

Our Tent

We did get used to the bugs, and even made friends with them! The video below shows my favorite bug experience. I watched this guy for a looooong time.

Any guesses what’s going on there? I believe he or she is a katydid.

There were so many other animals to check out on land — the island is full of deer, wild donkeys, and mongoose. Actually, a mongoose attacked our snacks while we were snorkeling, which was not ideal. If you haven’t seen a mongoose, they are sort of like ferrets, and they wander around like squirrels do here. What’s different is that they live underground, not in trees. If you look up at a tree, you are much more likely to see one of these.


Do you know what that is? It’s a termite mound! There are other interesting critters in the trees, such as these little lizards.

lizardWe read on a poster that the male anole lizards do “push ups” when they want to impress their lady lizard friends. We saw that a bunch of times! Check it out:

There were many other interesting animals. Some were familiar, and seemed harmless. SnailOthers seemed not so friendly, so I steered clear. Red Bugs

Some animals let people get really close.

Close Up

Other animals put on a show for us, like pelicans who dived into the water to catch their dinner, or the fish that leaped out of the water like I’ve never seen before.
PelicanAll in all, St. John was a magical place to be for the end of 2014. As we start off a new year, I’m hopeful for more adventures in 2015. Hopefully, I’ll remember to appreciate the views, but also keep my eyes peeled for the little surprises that might end up around any corner. Those little moments are often the ones that make us smile the most.

FeetWishing all of you many adventures in 2015!

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 519 other followers