Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Top Ten Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a place that I definitely want to visit again someday.  I met a Belgian couple today who have been coming back over and over for the past 13 years — so many times they’ve lost count. They took me on a hike this afternoon that I never could have found on my own.  I see why they find it so special. Here are my top ten highlights from my visit:

10. Seeing Mount Erciyes before I even got off the plane, but then getting to get much closer

9. Going underground to see how people used to live when they felt danger close by.


8. Coming up from underground to see a double rainbow in the rain and sun mix

7. Waking up early this morning to see the hot air balloons over Goreme

6. Meeting people from all over the world who have come to see the rock formations and mountains

5. Seeing interesting plants and animals, smelling walnut leaves and tasting green buds of apricot

4. Battling the heat by trying new kinds of ice cream treats

3. Getting off the beaten track and squeezing through small tunnels between cliffs and caves going straight through

2. Meeting a local family and making them balloons

1. Experiencing the amazing variety of colors and shapes in Cappadocia

I’m working on a few videos of my time in Cappadocia, but they may take me a little while to finish.  I couldn’t stop using my camera, and now I have too much footage to look through.  I also made a video of the hotel, upon request of some of the people who commented. I’ll get those up as soon as I can, but I also want to focus on enjoying the rest of my time in Turkey.  I’m now in Istanbul, where tall buildings replace mountains. It should be pretty different.

Scrub-a-Dub Hamam

A visit to a Hamam is an essential part of any trip to Turkey, because it is central to the Turkish culture. Many friends who had been to Turkey told me that I absolutely had to try it out. A Hamam is also called a Turkish Bath, and they’ve been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, literally.  People didn’t used to have bathrooms in their homes, so they’d go out to a central location for bathing.  Roman baths were also popular back in the day, but the way it’s set up in Turkey today comes from the time of the Ottoman Empire.  Hamams generally have three rooms: the hot room (sauna), the warm room (steamy room with hot marble to lie on and old people who scrub you with suds), and the cool room (for relaxing with a cup of tea).

I had a long day exploring Cappadocia under the hot sun, so I spent the evening relaxing at a Hamam. The man at the front desk helped me to explain to you about this special Turkish tradition:

I wish I could share my photos and videos from my day exploring the mountains, rocks, and caves of Cappadocia, but the internet is very slow here and I need to go to sleep.  There are many tourists in the area now, and I did an organized tour called the green tour.  I met people from all over the world.  For example, I had breakfast with a Brazilian guy, lunch with a Bosnian guy, and dinner with a Japanese woman.  The sights were gorgeous, even though I felt a little like a fish swimming in a sea of hundreds of other tourists.  We walked on the tippy tops of cliffs, looking down at the scenery. We climbed up rocks and explored caves in the sky. We drove zigzags around mountains. We went underground and ducked through tunnels that were built at least 1,000 years ago. We sweated through the heat, the sun blaring down on us. We walked along a canyon as the rain began to fall (and even caught a glimpse of a rainbow). Stay tuned for more visuals tomorrow.

Also, some exciting NEWS: I was interviewed by a really fabulous website,  Check out my interview here!

Magical Lands of Turkey

Stunning mountain seen out the plane window on the approach to Kayseri, Turkey

The comedian Louis C.K. has a funny sketch in which he talks about how “everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” He uses airplanes as an example.  He talks about how people complain about delays and silly issues like leg room, but they don’t take the time to stop and realize how incredible it is to sit in a chair in the sky and fly like a bird. We often don’t think about how in a few hours we can now cross continents that used to take people years to get through.

View from the deck outside my hotel room

Today, as I flew through the air from Kyiv to Istanbul, and then Istanbul to Kayseri, I was truly amazed by the miracle of flight.  In between, I will admit that I had some other feelings: exhausted carrying my heavy backpack, confused by the process of getting a Turkish visa for my passport, and a little annoyed when my second flight didn’t have a movie. Despite these grumblings, it was all worth it.  Looking out the plane window, I was in awe at the landscape of Turkey.  I saw farmland, oceans, islands, rivers, mountains of every shape and size, valleys, and more. Then, after an hour of additional driving, I arrived in Goreme, in the center of the Cappadocia region.  The landscape is breathtaking.  See for yourself:

Students: I’ve been realizing how much I’m using other kinds of learning to get by on this trip.  See if you can help me solve some of these mysteries using skills from your various classes:

1. Math: In the taxi from my hotel in Kyiv to the airport, my taxi driver got up to 130 kilometers per hour. And there were no seat belts in the back! How fast is this in miles per hour?

2. Science: If you were to create a topographic map of the Cappadocia region, what interval would you use for the contour lines?  What’s the highest elevation is in the area? Are my sneakers enough for hiking around here? I didn’t bring boots.

3. English Language Arts: I have to write a letter to a principal in Istanbul to try to convince them to let me visit their school this coming week. What should I use for my hook and/or topic sentence?

4. Math: It will cost about 35 Turkish Lira to do a load of laundry.  Is that worth it? Or should I wear dirty clothes this week?

5. Language: Help me figure out some basics.  How do I say “thank you” “good morning” and “excuse me” in Turkish?

6. Social Studies: I know that most people in Turkey are Muslim. Will I offend people if I wear short sleeves? What about a tank top?

7. Science: I’ve caught a glimpse of the bizarre rock formations in Goreme National Park. How did they form?

Can any students out there help me with these? I don’t have time to do all this research on my own and your skills would be much appreciated.

A Sad Day in Ukraine

Today was a sad day for Ukraine.  If you read the news this morning, you would have seen that there were multiple bombing attacks in a town called Dnepropetrovsk in Central Ukraine. This is about an hour and a half drive from Zaporizhya, and I passed very close to there last night on my overnight train to Kyiv. Several dozen citizens were injured; the bombs went off in a regular town, near a movie theatre and tram stop.

The articles that I’ve read online say that nobody is sure who set off the bombs or why. Maybe by the time you read this, the investigations will reveal who did it. Right now, they think it might have been to make some political point. Unfortunately, Ukrainian people are suffering because their government is a mess, and this may be yet another sign. I have grown to love these people and this rich culture, and I am so sad that this happened.

Today is also my last day in Ukraine, and this is another reason why I’m sad.  It is hard to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made here. I’m sad to leave a community of teachers who inspire me. When I first learned that I was going to Zaporizhya, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed.  I read that it was an industrial city and other teachers were getting to go to the Black Sea or beautiful countryside villages.  I was so wrong.  Zaporizhya is a small, friendly city with a rich history and a lot of green space.  I was lucky to spend a week calling it home.  I’ve been wanting to share some of my favorite photographs from the Zaporizhya, and today seemed like the best time since I am leaving tomorrow. I hope these photographs capture what a special place it is.

The Beauty of Zaporizhya:

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I’m going on to Turkey by myself — first stop: Cappadocia.  I have to admit that I am feeling a bit more scared than excited now. There are a lot of unknowns in Turkey and I have felt very cared for in Ukraine.  I am reminding myself that the best experiences come from stepping out of our comfort zones.  We learn the most when we challenge ourselves.  So, while I am excited for this journey, I am also bracing myself for the challenges that will come from exploring a new culture alone.

Today, I got an email that I needed to call Turkish Airlines.  After a while fumbling with my phone and international calling codes, I had to wait on hold while I listened to a recording in Turkish.  Eventually, I found out that one leg of my flight is running fifteen minutes late.  Whew!  No problem.  Now, I just need to manage my bags onto the plane.  Hopefully, that is going to be my biggest challenge tomorrow.  Wish me luck, but don’t worry about me!  I’m ready for the adventure.

And I will take a piece of Ukraine in my heart as I board the plane.

Student Video Response #2

Here’s another video of Ukrainian students responding to American student questions.  They also asked some of their own too: 

Ukrainian students: If you are reading this, please comment to the American students.

American students: Feel free to answer their questions in the comments below, and they can view it on the blog.  Also, we got an email from a teacher in France this morning. She showed her class our videos, and they commented on the Child Labor video and Religion video. Check out their comments!  We are communicating all over the world. This week, the blog has been viewed in 9 countries, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil, and Australia! How exciting is that?

Special Thanks and Music

After a long overnight train ride, bumping around a lot, we are back in Kyiv.  The end of our visit in Zaporizhya was really special. The school had a big end of the year concert, and we were honored there. It took place in a big concert hall in Zaporizhya, called Glinka Hall. Carol and I gave speeches thanking the school for hosting us, and I made a balloon bouquet in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.  I presented it to Helen, the school principal.  Carol presented the school with an American flag that she had flown over the Capitol Building in D.C.! There were lots of gifts and hugs and “thank yous.”  We feel very lucky that we were assigned to visit the Classical Lyceum. The people are so kind, and the students and teachers are so talented.  We were made to feel very at home there! Our host teacher, Lydia, was so caring, and the principal, Helen, is also a wonderful person.

It was a beautiful evening, and we were certainly not the only people being honored!  Students also received awards for their accomplishments.  It was like an end of year awards ceremony and concert.  There’s a Ukrainian tradition that people come up on stage and present people with flowers after a performance or award, much more often than we see in the States.  The little flower girls and boys were adorable.

Students sat with their classes, and many of them snuck up on stage to perform without being noticed. The professionalism of the students was impressive. Even the little ones were poised, both while performing and also during the moments between songs.  Only the littlest ones were squirmy in their seats.

We saw all different types of music, from traditional Ukrainian instruments to modern symphonic orchestral music. You can see the talent for yourself in the video.

The Bandura is one of the traditional Ukrainian folk instruments

Special thanks to everyone at Zaporizhya Classical Lyceum for welcoming us and helping make this week so memorial.  I will do my best to bring back your warmth to my school community.  I hope this is the beginning of a relationship between our two schools and not an ending.

Student Video Response #1

Hello IACS students!  Students at Classical Lyceum have been busy answering your questions and I’ve been filming their responses to send to you. Here’s the first video installment.  I’ve been busy trying to get them edited to put up on the blog!  This one focuses on the students talking about how they view their home country: Ukraine.  More student videos will be coming soon. The students in Zaporizhya have been following the blog so they will see your comments if you post them.



Land of the Cossacks

Here’s a question of the day: Yesterday, Loki learned about the Cossacks.  Who were they?

  • a) People who lived in Southern Ukraine and Russia during the 15th – 18th centuries
  • b) Warriors who fought against the Turkish people and many other groups
  • c) Members of a Democratic society, where knowing how to write and share your voice was valued
  • d) Rough guys who used bad language and stole things when needed
  • e) All of the Above

Your challenge is to find out about who the Cossacks were and why they are important in Zaporizhya. This relates to MY challenge from last night, which was to understand a play which we went to see on Khortytsia Island. It was a beautiful play performed outdoors right by the Dneiper River, at the Sich Fortress (the place that is like Plimoth Plantation). It was a warm, sunny afternoon with a perfect breeze, and the play featured horses, fabulous costumes, and beautiful music. The only problem? It was in Russian. Lydia was sitting next to me translating bits and pieces.  So, I know that the play featured a Cossack guy named Mamai who was separated from his brother when he was small.  His brother converted to Islam and joined the Turkish side, who were the Cossacks’ enemy.  Can you understand anything else about the plot by watching this video?

Mamai is a famous fictional character from Cossack legends. In fact, there’s even a sculpture of him on the island. Carol and I call him the “Cossack Buddha” because of his round shape in this statue. Actually, we went to a museum today and saw real Cossack artifacts.  Check it out!

“Special” Education

All students deserve to be happy.

The Canteen at Classical Lyceum: Do you wish you had choices like this?

I have loved my time at the Zaporizhia Classical Lyceum, but it’s clearly not an average Ukrainian school. There are 22,000 schools across Ukraine, and the Classical Lyceum is ranked 23rd in test scores.  I’ve been learning more about why.  Clearly, the teachers are good, but there are other factors as well.  Even though it’s public, students have to take a test to get in.  I just found out today that they get tested again after grade nine, and the class size drops significantly.  They only keep about 30 of the top students out of 50, so their graduates are the best and the brightest.

The motto at School 71: "You can be the best"

Today, we visited another exceptional public school, School 71 in Zaporizhia.  Like the Classical Lyceum, students take a test to get in and they specialize (in language instead of music).  Students were eager and are working on writing letters to students at IACS.  So, I hope to bring home some personal notes of introduction! I also gave them IACS wristbands, which they loved.


So, where are the students who are “average?” Where are the students who have special needs? There’s no such thing as inclusion in Ukraine, as far as I can tell.  Students with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, or mental retardation are kept separate.  In fact, we were told that many fathers leave their families when a baby is born with disabilities.  It’s very sad. Overall, there isn’t space made in traditional public schools for students with any kind of exceptional need.

There is some hope.  Today, we got an opportunity to visit a special education school in Zaporizhia.  They have the full range of students, from age 6 to adult, from ADHD to severe mental retardation. They have teachers who specialize in many areas, from physical therapy to music and art therapy.  The teachers that we observed used many creative strategies to reach their students — we saw them use toys, demonstrations, and even give the students a chance to sculpt the curriculum topics in clay. The teachers also showed a lot of love towards the students, and the classes were small — always less than 8 students, but more often 2-4 students per class.

I was impressed with their creative methods. For instance, they have this sensory room where students can calm down if needed.  I wish we had one of these at Innovation Academy:

The school is fully funded by the government, but there are some problems, of course.  It was small (less than 50 students), so I get the impression that there are many students who don’t attend any school or get any special help. Also, some students live there and go home only one night a week. The school doesn’t have facilities for bathing, so students who live at school just get a full shower when they go home.  I also feel sad for the students who don’t get to be in a regular classroom.  We saw some classrooms with kids who were teenagers together with pre-school kids.  It seems like special education in Ukraine has a long way to go.  But then again, we have a lot to learn in the United States too.

One to One Connections

It’s very clear being here that the direct person-to-person connection is most powerful.

Student to Student: Today, I shared your responses with the students in the video from a few days ago.  They loved seeing your responses and even seeing themselves on the blog.  They watched an Innovation Academy 6th grader, Nate, who shared a video response with me and their smiles were huge.  One thing I’ve learned about the culture here is that people don’t smile unless they mean it.  Americans are taught to smile all the time — at storekeepers, at friends, or even at people we pass on the street. Ukrainians aren’t like that. They only smile when they are really happy. And you should have seen their faces when they saw that the American students are responding to them. They are so excited to talk to real students in other countries.

During my presentation, I showed some examples of student work from IACS.

Teacher to Teacher: In the afternoon, Carol and I presented to a group of English teachers in the region. We spoke about project-based learning and technology use in the classroom. It was clear that the teachers are dedicated and excited to try new methods.

Carol showed some useful websites, many of which I'd like to try out myself!

Afterwards, several teachers approached us and asked to continue being in touch through email so that we can continue the relationship. If there are any teachers out there who want to do a collaborative project with a teacher in Ukraine, I’d be happy to help make introductions.

If you want to send a note to students here, it’s not too late.  We are visiting the Classical Lyceum until Thursday.  You can post in the comments here, or email me at  We’ll also be visiting other schools this week, if all goes well — tomorrow we’re hoping to see an English school and a school for people with disabilities. Then, on Wednesday, 100 principals from the best schools of Ukraine are coming here. It’s an exciting time!

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