Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Valentines Around the World

Today, my students offered to help me teach you a bit about how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in different countries around the world.Love is Friendship

1. Denmark

If you’re a woman in Denmark, today you might get a pressed white flowers called snowdrops, or a gaekkebrev, or “joking letter” with a funny poem or rhyme, signed only with anonymous dots.

2. France

Would you want to participate in a loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love?” It’s outlawed now, but unmatched women used to have a big bonfire and burn pictures of men who wronged them. VDay France

 3. South Korea

February 14 in South Korea is similar to our Valentine’s day, but March 14th is White Day, when men give their ladies gifts that go beyond chocolate or flowers. Then April 14th is Black Day, when singles mark the day of being solo by eating black bean-paste noodles. VDay South Korea

4. Wales

People in Wales celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on January 25th, when it’s traditional to give a lucky wooden spoon to the one you love. VDay Wales

5. China

In China, Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. Young women prepare offerings of melon and other fruits in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. VDay China

6. England

In the United States, we have the Easter Bunny on Easter, but in Norfolk, they have Jack Valentine! He knocks on children’s doors, and when they open it, they find candy and small gifts on their porches. 

VDay Engalnd

7. Philippines

This is the day to get married in the Philippines! Head to a mall or another public location, and you’ll probably see hundreds of couples getting married or renewing their vows.

VDay Philippines

8. Italy

There are may traditions in Italy’s Spring Festival, including giving yummy Baci chocolates and going for romantic dinners. A weird tradition was for young single girls to wake up before dawn — the first man she spotted was thought to be the one she’d marry, or at least someone like him!VDay Italy

9. Brazil

Brazilians have Lovers Day on June 12th, but gifts can be exchanged between anyone you love, whether your family member, friend, or partner. VDay Brazil

10. South Africa

Would you be embarrassed to pin the name of your love interest on your sleeve? That’s what women in South Africa do, and sometimes, this is how men learn who likes them.VDay South Africa

So there you have it! If you want to be a good global citizen, keep learning about other countries, and someday, consider visiting yourself.

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Want to learn more? Read more about these traditions in the article below. Credit:

Sure, it’s cold, but who else is excited to go back?!

Last week, we missed 3 days of school because of excessive cold and snow. Snow shadows

We’re literally covered and freezing. Cold I ventured into Downtown Boston on Friday, and the city is still beautiful as ever.

Customs Tower

But the first week of 2018 has been mostly spent inside, huddled for warmth.Hiding

I have to admit, I’m excited to go back to school! Sure, it’s nice to spend the day in pajamas, but I love what I do. Before winter vacation, it was beautiful to watch my students learning about other cultures by visiting houses of worship.

Check out this experience, when a student asked the Imam at the mosque if they could hear the Muslim call to prayer. The students were silent as they listened:

I get to spend my days with a bunch of thoughtful, creative, generous young people. Gift Exchange.pngBefore break, my advisory participated in a Yankee Swap of homemade items, and it was so great to see what everyone came up with! These are just a few of the gifts that the kids made:Homemade Gifts.png

So, yeah, snow days are exciting, who else is excited to go back to school tomorrow?


Peace is the key

Crane.pngLast week, I asked my advisory if they wanted to participate in a global project — a school in Japan is trying to get students in every country around the world to make paper cranes. Tomorrow, photos of students and their cranes will be presented at a big celebration to recognize ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) for winning the Nobel Peace Price. The project aims to “express our sympathy for victims of nuclear weapons and to consider peace while folding the paper cranes with a prayer for world peace.” While the celebration is happening this week, schools are invited to participate in the project beyond this single event, and photos will be posted on the Paper Crane Project webpage. When you look at this site, the list of countries represented is growing every day! My students eagerly signed on, but then discovered that this origami challenge wasn’t so easy. After a bunch of practice, we did it, and here’s our contribution:


The students in my advisory came up with this slogan, “Peace is the key” on their own, and I love it. In a lot of ways, it’s been a real theme of this year, even though I didn’t know it. In Social Studies, students have had lots of opportunities to bridge differences and get to know other cultures, and I certainly believe that this is a key to peace.

This fall, IACS students got to talk to Native Americans living in Massachusetts on our field trip to Plimoth Plantation:

They have also chatted with students in Morocco, over video chat:

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And most recently, each 6th grader conducted a one-on-one interview of someone in their community, learning about a culture that wasn’t their own. Students were creative about finding a “cultural connection” — from their barber or a local restaurant owner to a neighbor or relative living abroad. Listening to students share about their interviews, it was clear that the conversations were meaningful.

These moments are powerful — an act of folding paper done by young people thousands of miles away from each other, an internet that allows people on opposite sides of the world to chat, or even a simple conversation between two human beings who live in the same city. I don’t know if these acts will be enough to abolish nuclear weapons, but if there’s any road to peace, it starts with getting to know people who aren’t like us. And that’s the work ahead of us. Teamwork Float

Up next week? We begin our visits to 5 houses of worship, all within a 15 minute drive from our school. Over the past 15 years, I’ve taken hundreds of students on this field trip, and still, I can’t wait.

Summer 2017 Top 6 Experiences

Summer is coming to a close, and it’s been a great one. I wanted to share my top 6 favorite experiences, in no particular order. On top of Mount Shilthorn.png

1. Wandering into a swarm of butterflies on a hiking trail in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Ok, the trail was called the Path of a Thousand Flowers, so maybe the butterflies shouldn’t have been such a surprise.





2. Volunteering in Boston with MIRA, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. We waited outside of new citizenship ceremonies, and as new Americans came out of the doors, we offered to register them to vote.





3. Renting a camper van in Iceland, and driving around exploring the landscape. Because there are so many volcanoes in the area, there’s a ton of geothermal energy in the ground. That means there are craters, bubbling mud pits, hot springs, and geysers.





4. Seeing glaciers on mountains! I took ski chair lifts up Hohfluh at 7,300 feet to see the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland, and also did some hiking at Mount Rainier National Park, getting up to 6,336 feet (via car and foot). Glaciers are beautiful, especially under the summer sun.





5. Chilling out on an island in Lake Maggiore, Italy — eating yummy food, watching weird birds, and reading a good book.





Ever seen a white peacock? Running in circles? Me neither. Until this summer.

6. Seeing beautiful trees in Washington State — there’s rainforest, record setting heights, and roots that grow in bizarre places. Not your typical evergreens here.





And now I’m ready to go back to school! I’m looking forward to hearing about all the interesting experiences my students had over the summer.

A Challenge to Teachers: #NoHateClassroom

I am proud to be an American, but embarrassed and scared by recent acts of hate in our country. When our leaders don’t condemn hate groups like those at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, it is up to us to do so.

Somerville Vigil

Somerville Vigil in Solidarity with Charlottesville

As a teacher, I commit to post a statement in my classroom so that students see it when they arrive on the first day of school. Here’s what I’ve got so far (feedback welcome):

You are entering a space where hate will not be tolerated. You will be treated with respect here. It doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity , or religion you claim, or what languages you speak at home. It doesn’t matter what your gender or sexual orientation is. It doesn’t matter whether you have disabilities, or struggles with money, or any other challenges. Here, we will fight for all people to be safe, appreciated, and treated with kindness. You are welcome here. 

I challenge other teachers to write their own statements, or use this one, and post it in your classroom. I challenge administrators to send a statement like this to the school community. If you feel comfortable, share your statement in the comments of this blog entry, and share this challenge with other educators using the hashtag #NoHateClassroom. When I post mine on my classroom door, I’ll share a photo too.

Let’s start this school year out right.Empty Classroom

“We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” ~Grace Lee Boggs

N.B. If you came to this blog to learn more about global education and our amazing planet, you’re in the right place! Stay tuned for more on Tofu-San’s summer adventures, coming soon.

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Five Senses in the Alps

Since you aren’t up in the Alps Mountains with me, I thought I’d share a bit about each of the five senses so you can get a feel for what it’s like here.

SOUNDS ~ While hiking in the mountains here, we hear these cow bells all over across the hills. Someone told us that cow bells are a status symbol for farmers here, and sometimes cost $2,000 a piece — but owning cows is very difficult to actually turn into profit.

Cows.pngSIGHTS ~ There are so many beautiful sights. Photos don’t do these mountains justice, but here are a few that might give you a taste. Pano from Murren.pngCows and ViewAnother ViewMe and Amazing MountainsDon’t let these photos fool you — the weather hasn’t been perfect this whole time. We tried to go up to the top of a mountain to see the view, and ended up in a cloud. We’ll try again tomorrow, but here’s what we saw at the top so far:White.pngIt’s a cloud. Eventually, we got some nice views from the Cable Car, once we got out of the cloud:

Coming down.png

SMELLS ~ Ah, the flowers! I have really enjoyed stopping to smell the wildflowers in the mountains. So many colors and varieties!

The village of Allmendhubel is famous for its flowers, and they even have a flower playground and flower walk, where you can learn about all the types of flowers you’ll see while hiking. This little garden had an exhibit with a wooden platform to lie on, inviting visitors to lay down to smell the flowers. Who am I to refuse?!

And then I tried out the playground too… it was an extra good one.

TASTE ~ We’ve been eating lots of cheese, served every day with bread at breakfast. We also had fondue the other night (the dipping bread into melted cheese kind), along with the traditional bratworst sausage and rösti, a kind of potato fritter. Mmmmm…

Fondue, Rosti, and Brotworst.png

FEEL ~ We visited a waterfall that was inside of a mountain! It felt very… wet! Here’s the evidence:

Tofu San at Trummelbach Falls.pngThis was a neat experience, but as you can see, it was pretty touristy. Even better was the next day, when we were hiking and came upon a sign we didn’t understand. Sprutz sign.pngWe used Google Translate, and saw the word “caution” but decided to proceed down the trail very slowly anyway. It was very steep, and in the woods.Me and trail.png Eventually we were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall. Sprutz from far away.pngI was very careful, but we figured out that it was safe to walk underneath and through to the other side, which was pretty amazing!Sprutz from the topSprutz People under

Can you see me on the other side after I made it through?Me and Waterfall.png

So, there’s a little taste of the Alps (and sounds, sights, smell, and feel)! I hope you got a little bit of a sense of what it’s like here.

European City Hopping: 4 Cities, 3 Countries, 2 Sleeps

Greetings from Switzerland! We are finally up in the Alps, and decided we needed a rest day to bask in the mountain views– a chance to slow down and sneak in a blog entry. Views from Murren.png

During our first few days of this trip, we did some country hopping. We left Saturday night from Boston, and flew overnight, arriving in Lisbon, Portugal with 13 hours until our next flight. We barely slept on the plane, but stayed awake enough to get in miles of walking around the city and a stellar first gelato cone of the trip.Lisbon Pano

We arrived Sunday night in Zurich, Switzerland and crashed quickly. With a full night’s sleep under our belts, we spent the morning wandering around the city, which is the biggest in Switzerland but still much smaller than Boston.

That afternoon, we decided to country hop over to Liechtenstein, since it was less than 2 hours by train. One of the smallest countries in the world, Liechtenstein is a little kingdom with the highest GDP per capita in the world — that means that it’s a very wealthy country. It has a ruling prince, and while we didn’t see him, we did see the castle where he and his family currently live. Vaduz (pronounced “Vah-DOOTS”) is kind of small and fairy-tale like, but also modern in the “downtown” area. We made it up the path to the castle, walked around town, and arrived at a restaurant for dinner just as the sky opened up into massive thunder storms.

So despite the jetlag, and having seen three countries in two days, we woke up the next morning and set out for a full day journey through Switzerland. We took some time first to walk around Zurich more, and then spent several hours in the capital, Bern, which we loved. It’s just a really lovely city all around, and feels really quintessentially Swiss.


They say that Bern was named after the bears in the area, so they actually have some bears in an enclosure in the center of the city. So cute!

Close UpAnd after 7 different legs of trains, trams, or cable cars, and about 7 miles of walking, according to my phone’s GPS, we arrived in the mountains. The Swiss rail system is really incredible.

All four cities were beautiful, and had some things in common.

Two of the cities had castles, where we hiked up and looked down on the city from above:

Two had funky outdoor elevators to help navigate the hills:

Three had beautiful churches, too:

We saw lots of interesting art on the street…

…ate some yummy food…

…and had great views overlooking the water.

But now we are in the countryside and looking forward to a bit of a slower pace. It’ll be a few days out of the city, but I’m sure we’ll make our way back soon.

The Big Update: Off and running in 2017

This blog has been quiet for a few months, but things are about to get interesting. It’s summer!

To be honest, this spring HAS been eventful. I guess it’s been so action-packed, that I haven’t had a chance to write about it all. This was the year of the fidget spinner, dabbing, and water bottle flipping. I even figured out how to make a fidget spinner out of balloons.

At school, students have been creating some fantastic projects. At the very end of the year, they even took action on real issues in the United States. Call #1.pngSome students wrote letters to their representatives asking for more funding for services to help people experiencing homelessness, while others made phone calls arguing against funding Trump’s border wall. Call #2.pngWe had students calling the Department of Homeland Security, giving their input on train safety in America, and others calling the Department of the Interior, letting Secretary Zinke know that they want National Monuments protected. One group even made a petition that you can sign, which is now public on  Check out their video, and if you like what you see, sign their petition to Governor Baker.

I was busy teaching this spring, but I still snuck in some travel. Though I didn’t get a chance to go international, I did “visit” many different countries at Epcot, in Florida’s Walt Disney World. Epcot’s global village allows visitors to experience a taste of many different countries, all within a short walk. Having been to most of these countries for real, Epcot’s versions seemed a little bit superficial, but it was still a blast to country-hop around. I’d definitely recommend the global village at Epcot, but if you ever have the chance to actually go to a different country, that’s even better.

Many of you have met Tofu-San, my plush friend who was introduced to me by a Japanese friend, Omi-Sensei. She started sending Tofu-San around the world many years ago, and she shared the tradition with me. In April, I brought Tofu-San camping in Utah, and he had a blast. Here he is at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks:

“Where will Tofu-San go next?” you might be wondering… Well, thanks to Omi-Sensei, Tofu-San has a few friends who are already traveling. One of my students, Nico, has a miniature Tofu-San in Mexico, and will be reporting more on his adventures soon. Here it is in Isla Mujeres soaking up the sun:TofuSanMexico.png

In other exciting news, an adorable friend of Tofu-San’s, disguised as a sheep but undeniably cute, is currently on a journey with Mrs. Angelone, our other Social Studies teacher extraordinaire! They are in Bali, Indonesia right now (where I took Tofu-San two years ago), but here’s a sneak peek of their adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they were last week:

What other adventures are in store for Tofu-San? Everyone has been asking me about where I’m going this summer, and yes, I’m headed out of the country… at the end of this week! Tofu-San will join me in the Alps, checking out the mountains of Switzerland, as well as a taste of Northern Italy. I’ll also try to give him a peek out of my backpack while on some interesting layovers — there will be a day to adventure in Lisbon, Portugal on the way over to Europe, and two days in Reykjavik, Iceland on the way home (where I visited in 2014 and am psyched to see again). After I come home from that trip, I’ll rest a little before exploring the other side of our country — Seattle, Portland, and a few other highlights of the Pacific Northwest.

Summer 2017 Map.png

As you can see, many more global experiences await. Check back soon to read about my journeys, Mrs. Angelone’s whirlwind tour, or the adventures of Tofu-San and his friends. If you are a member of the Innovation Academy community, and you have a global experience, whether far away or close to home, please consider writing your own blog entry. Details are here, but basically, you’ll just email me your text and photos. If you are local to Massachusetts, I bet you can hear some world music or try a new kind of food at the Lowell Folk Festival, which is totally free. There are so many ways to experience another culture. Where will YOU have some global experiences this summer?

Can’t get away this week? Try out some virtual travel!

Jardin Etnobotanico Oaxaca.pngWhen studying world geography, I often describe what we do in class as “virtual travel.”

If you walked into the room last week, you would have seen students fishing through guide books, planning trips to all sorts of exotic destinations. Thanks to my local library, I could stock the classroom with a whole travel section. That’s because for their most recent assignment, students were assigned to groups, and they needed to work together to plan a trip to their assigned country. Easier said than done!Catedral metropolitana, Mexico City.png

Each group rolled dice to determine their budget, and collaborated on map making. They worked together to choose which cities to include as stops on their trip. Jamaica Map.png 

Each student then planned at least 3 activities for their stop on the journey, and they had to fit within their group’s budget. Some students even converted costs into the local currency of the country being visited.activities

If you haven’t already figured it out, we used a green screen app to take pictures as if the students were really there. Read some excepts from their “trips” and you won’t believe that the students never actually got on an airplane:

From Aquario do Bonito in Brazil:

Aquario do Bonito.png“I woke up early, got ready and hopped in the car. I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds. We got there and I was invited in by the tourist guide who spoke English. He gave me a presentation of what we were going to do and where the bathrooms and the souvenir shop was. I was very excited. First we went to the stingray tank he offered me to touch them. They were very slimy in my opinion but it was still very fun. After that we went straight  to go snorkeling. I got my bathing suit on and then the guide showed me how to use the mask and the actual snorkel itself. The guide said that the snorkeling takes 45 minutes to 1 hour. After it was done all I could say that it was so fun! I really wanted to go here because I love learning about environment and I thought it would be very important.”

cristo-redentorFrom Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

“My last stop was Cristo Redentor. We had to hike up the mountain to the statue but it was worth it. The view of Rio de Janeiro  was beautiful but the statue was better. This statue is historical because it’s been there for 86 years and people pray to him. Overall, I loved all these activities and I would strongly recommend them.”

From Las Terrazas, Cuba:

Las Terrezas.pngI woke up early to beat the crowds and check out the Canopy Tour. When we got there, we were approached by people from our hotel saying that we get a special because we are staying at Hotel Moka. Then we saw a guy named Kevin who was suspended in the air 25m from steel cables. We went one at a time Me (Sarah) going first, Keira going second, and Daniel going last.  We finished our course and it was so beautiful I would go back in a heartbeat. After we left we went out to lunch before going to the Museum.”

From Playa Caracol in Cancun, Mexico: 

Playa Caracol.png“Apparently locals call this specific place the last “real beach.” I instantly fell in love with the beach once I stepped on the soft sand and saw the beautiful crystal clear beach. In fact I think the water was the clearest i’ve ever seen! I laid out all of my beach things and the wind was warm but not too cool. Perfect. I noticed a little building that had a sign on it: Wind surfing for anyone, any level. I walked over savoring the best beach i’ve ever been to. The first time I did my first run of wind surfing it was a little difficult at first. When I got the hang of it I realized you just have to have good balance and direct the board in whatever direction the wind is going. I loved the beach even more when I accidentally fell in a couple times. The combination of the warm wind and coolish water just made my day even better. For a second I was wondering weather I should just put the board away and stay in the water all day but i’d have plenty of time to do that later, so I kept going with the windsurfing.  Part of what made the beach so good was that there was a band playing at one of the hotels at the beach, so you could hear it while still at the beach and the restaurants looked so good.  I also noticed that there weren’t a lot of people there. Something else was that there weren’t a lot of rocks or seashells by the sea shore. (it’s supposed to be a tongue twister ;)) I looked at my watch, 14:38. Gotta go. Sayonara beautiful beach.”

From Leon, Nicaragua:Cerro Negro.png

“The last thing I did was volcano boarding. They gave us instructions and equipment, and than I was up 726M and more so I could see everything below me, I could see a blotched of green below me. It was was beautiful! The landform is  pitched black, so it felt like I was an astronaut and I was on the moon. I learn that the volcano erupted before in 1850.  This place is important enough  I wanted to visit because if you love surf boarding down a snowy hill then you’re going to enjoy surfing down a volcano.”

From La Aguja Dive Center in Havana, Cuba:

Havana Cuba.png“We went to the La Aguja Dive Center first so we could do the early morning dive.  I learned about the coral, plants, and animals that live around and in the reef.  Also I saw shipwrecks from a long time ago.  I even got to go inside one.  I never knew how cool coral walls could be.  I also learned about the invasive species that are killing off the coral and other plants on the cuban coast.  We were in a medium sized group, just about 10 people.  I visited the La Aguja Dive Center because I wanted to learn about the environment under the sea and learn about the animals, coral, and other plants in Cuba.”

* * * * * * *

There were so many more exciting trips planned, but unfortunately, this blog entry would be way too long if I included all of them. Students “went” to all sorts of cities and towns, some of which I’ve now added to my list of places to visit some day:

They researched some very interesting historical sites:

And many students wanted to hit the beach!


Students learned that travel can be a lot of fun, and each itinerary highlighted the student’s unique interests and personality.

Now you know — if you can’t afford to leave the country, try out some virtual travel. If you do decide to book a trip, I know some students who can give you some advice.

Balloons for All Ages

My students know that I love to travel around the world making balloons for people I meet. Here’s me in action in Dubrovnik, Croatia last summer:

Last week, I taught my students to be balloon twisters themselves! It was a short lesson, but on Valentine’s Day, we put their skills to the test. We visited a local senior center to volunteer and bring some joy to the seniors’ day. As you can see, it was a little chaotic, in the best possible way:


Even as beginner twisters, the students brought forth many smiles with their creations (and yes, I made some balloons also).

The students made some new friends…

…and learned that you’re never too old to play with balloons!


They might be ready for their Balloon Twisting 102 class pretty soon!


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