Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

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!

Do you disconnect in order to connect?

I’ll admit it — I have an unhealthy addiction to my phone. I’ve been wondering — is this the week to turn it all off?

A tantrum I witnessed at the Summer Palace in Beijing

A tantrum I witnessed at the Summer Palace in Beijing

The holiday season makes many of us reflect on our lives, all the good, the bad, and the ugly. I find myself going back over the past year and thinking, “was this year what I wanted?” I’m grateful for so many things and I also notice all the holes and things that were missing. Overall, I usually focus on all the amazing people I’ve spent time with throughout the year.

Our Japan group of 15 in one selfie

Our Japan group of 15 in one selfie last summer

Around this time of year, I want to reach out to all my friends around the world to connect, to let them know that I’m thinking of them.


Friends in Zaporizhya, Ukraine

With lots of vacation time on my hands, I also find myself spending hours staring at my computer screen. I’m online shopping, reading news, and wasting way too much time on social media.

An "arcade" around the corner from where I stayed in 2007, in the town of Kati, in Mali (West Africa)

An “arcade” around the corner from where I stayed in 2007, in Kati, Mali

And so, I’m pretty sure that this is the time. I need to disconnect for a few days. In order to connect back to my life, to the people around me, and to myself — I need to turn off my screens. I’m honestly not sure if I can keep myself from cheating. If I allow myself GoogleMaps and my phone’s camera, can I really resist Facebook, CandyCrush, and email? It’s embarrassing to admit my addiction.

It's not easy to give up technology.

It’s not easy to give up technology.

On Christmas day, I leave for a mini-getaway in St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. If I can’t disconnect on a beautiful Caribbean beach, is there something seriously wrong?

The last time I stepped foot in the Caribbean -- Puerto Rico for New Years 2010

The last time I stepped foot in the Caribbean — Puerto Rico for New Years 2010

I’ll be back before New Years, so it’s just a few days away. Still, I’m thinking of all sorts of excuses why I’ll need to check in. I have about 24 hours to make my decision — any advice? What’s your experience disconnecting?

Trying to choose an ice cream flavor at a place in Lares, Puerto Rico with hundreds of flavors

Choosing an ice cream flavor at a place in Lares, Puerto Rico with hundreds of flavors

In case I’m out of touch, wishing all of you a wonderful holiday and last days of 2014.  Whether online or in person, I hope you all have lots of opportunities to connect with the people you love.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

* * * * * * * *

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


Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 516 other followers