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Big Animals of Etosha National Park

Me and Tofu San on Salt Plan.pngEtosha National Park is a mecca for animals. It’s really big, about the size of New Jersey, and overall, the climate is pretty dry. There’s a huge dried out lake, called a salt pan, in the middle of it. The salt pan is the size of Rhode Island, and looking out over it feels like looking out at the ocean. The salt pan is flat and goes as far as the eye can see. It makes for great photographs where you can mess with perspective.

Because of the scarcity of water at Etosha, animals congregate at various watering holes around the park, some natural and some man-made. This makes it easy to spot a lot of animals at once. Apparently, the animals help each other out spotting predators — each brings a different skill, whether strong hearing, vision, or smell. Here’s a little video that I took — see if you can spot the giraffe’s tongue and the elephant drinking:

Etosha Booklet.JPG

At the entrance gate, I bought a handy little booklet which has photos of the animals found in the park, and checked them off there. In total, we counted 50 different types of animals over our two days there — 23 species of mammals and 27 types of birds.  I don’t have photos of every single one, but I’ll share a lot here!

The youngest member of our group (who is 11) kept count of what we saw, so I’ll list the big animals here, roughly from the most common to the least.

Springbok (more than 1000) — we saw them everywhere!Spring bok.pngTraffic.png

Plains Zebra (also more than 1000) — this is a different type than what we saw at the watering hole in the desert, which was the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. They’re just so beautiful — check out the nursing colt in the bottom photo.

Blue Wildebeest (~500): They’re quite majestic, and apparently, also sometimes called a gnu!Wildebeest - running.png

Oryx / Gemsbok (~85) — I think these are my favorite of the deer-like animals:Oryx.pngWatering hole - oryx.png

Giraffe (~65) — I’ve seen them before, but they don’t cease to amaze me. I loved watching them drink, and their run is very clunky but also poised:

We saw two young giraffes flirting and playing, and it was the cutest thing ever:

Black-Faced Impala (~47) — these guys are called the McDonalds of Southern Africa, because they’re everywhere, and it looks like they have the letter M on their butts:Impala.png

African Elephants (~35) — So majestic and beautiful. From afar, of course. They’re dangerous to approach!

Greater Kudu (~30) — Yet another type of antelope / deer type animal, but with the curliest horns. Here’s a male and a few of the females in his group in front of the salt pan.Kudu and salt pan.png

Red Hartebeest (~20): I love their long faces. They’re big guys, like the wildebeest. Red Hartbeest.png

Blackbacked Jackals (~14): They are smarmy little canines who try to steal leftovers from other animals and apparently carry rabies. They hang out with vultures. But they’re very cute. Jackal 2

Banded Mongoose (a bunch) — they were at the campsite where we stopped for lunch. Very playful!Mongoose.png

African Lion (4) — We were lucky to see a group of lions with their kill. A bloody zebra.Lion with flesh.png

We weren’t too close, but we went back later that night on our evening safari and drove right over. Check back to see those pictures. Yikes.  In these ones, taken during the day, you can see the jackals and vultures keeping an eye, to swoop in when the lions aren’t looking. Lion Jackal Vulture dueling over zebra carcass.png

Warthog (3) — They’re pigs, but Lion King made them famous. Warthog.png

Black Rhinoceros (2): They’re very endangered, and it’s much more likely to see white rhinos in other parts of Africa, but the black rhinos are more common in Namibia. One way to tell them apart? We were told that the black rhinos always have their babies behind them, and the white rhinos always have their babies in front, like humans (not sure if this is a real “rule” for humans, but interesting nonetheless). Rhino face offRhino with salt flat behind

Leopard (2) — I had never spotted a leopard, so I was pretty excited about this one. They’re beautiful!Leopard walking.png We saw it stalking a red hartebeest, but then ultimately deciding to take a nap under a tree. Leopard watching.png

Other smaller animals included the ground squirrel:Ground Squirrel.png

And the Damara Dik-Dik, the smallest of the antelope family:Damara Dik Dik.png

As you can see, there were A LOT of animals at Etosha. How many animals you can spot here? What big bird can you see? Watering hole - busy.png

Check back soon, because the birds of Etosha were incredible, and they deserve their own post. In addition, I’m going to do one extra Etosha post just on our night safari, which was both amazing and terrifying. There’s too much for one blog entry, let alone one photo!Watering hole - big guys.png

What part of Europe will I set out for TOMORROW?

I leave for a trip tomorrow! Here’s where I’m going… drumroll please…

What part of Europe?

In case you can’t see on the map, that’s Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. I’ve never been to any of these places! Maybe we’ll even hike into Austria, since we’ll be right by the border. Here’s a close up of the area, for those of you who aren’t geography nerds like me:


I’m not sure what to call this region, because I’d imagine most people would look confused if I said “Southeast Europe,” and it’s not really all that south or east compared to a country like Greece. Perhaps these regions are defined by being around the Adriatic Sea? However, Slovenia, where I’ll be spending a good chunk of the trip, is a country with very little coastline. In fact, much of the time I’m there, I’ll be up in a corner of the Alps.


This is an area that is also defined by its history. It was once part of the vast Roman Empire, and much more recently, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were part of a country called Yugoslavia.


I’ll be on the northwest edge of an area that has seen a lot of violence and change in the not-so-distant past.

Former Yugoslavia

Why did I choose this part of the world? Basically, some friends recommended it, and I got really interested as I started doing more and more research. I’m not doing any kind of exciting fellowship like I did in Japan and Ukraine. I’m going to have an adventure and expose myself to some new people, places, and perspectives. Hopefully, I’ll have a bunch of fun too!

It’s a strange time to be traveling. The U.S. state department has issued a travel alert for the entire continent of Europe, and our own country doesn’t always feel like a safe place to be either. I’m torn between wanting to find ways to fight against the injustices of the world, and wanting to escape them. Hopefully, I can do a little bit of both on this trip — and I’ll return home with some new insight on how people can get along just a little bit better. If there are moments when I feel anxious, I’ll just remember that even though I’ve never seen this corner of the world, many people call these places “home.” And so… Tofu San and I are off to finish packing!

Boston Sunset

Boston you’re my home.

To go where the tourists go? Cliffs of Moher or Loop Head?

These photos of me were taken in Ireland, on the same day, in two different places. The photo on the left was taken at one of the most touristy places in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher. The photo on the right was taken at a place called Loop Head, which was pretty empty when I was there. Why?


Basically, from what I can tell, the Cliffs of Moher were discovered by foreigners earlier, and they’ve become famous. They really are as beautiful as people say they are. My little friends Loki and Tofu San agreed.

Unfortunately, the Cliffs of Moher has been very built up, so there are lots of walls, stairs, and even stores. I’m sure people in wheelchairs appreciate the ramps, but it sort of takes away from the natural beauty.

The designers clearly tried to make it seem “natural…”


The cliffs stretch for 5 miles, so once you walk past the warning signs, the views are pretty remarkable.


And there’s no guard rail!Path

Path 2

I was glad to see the Cliffs of Moher, but in many ways, I preferred Loop Head, which looks very similar, but there aren’t mobs of tour buses stopping there every day. This undiscovered gem is a truly stunning place. And no guard rails anywhere! See for yourself:

I know the guard rails are there to keep people safe, and I do appreciate that. In fact, there was a whole campaign at the Cliffs of Moher to keep people from committing suicide by jumping off the cliffs! There were a lot of signs for hotlines to call if you need help, and even a meditation space to sit next to a peaceful fountain.

My verdict? I think it’s worth going to places that tourists have discovered, but I also think it’s important to go to places that are a little off the beaten track. For my next trip, I decided to plan for a mix! I’ll be taking a 3 week trip this July with my friend Erica. Some of the places we’ll be visiting are extremely well known around the world. Others you might never have heard of. File_000 (3)

Do you recognize any of the cities pictured above? We’ll be visiting all of these places, and more! I’m pretty sure that the number of tourists in each location will not determine how much we like our experience there. But I’ll keep you posted…

For now, see if you can use these clues to figure out our itinerary!

The Making of a Global Citizen: A Peek Inside the Classroom

Drawing a Global Citizen 7It’s a new quarter, and that means yesterday we started a new unit. During Holy C.O.W., we’ll be studying world geography, religion, and Cultures Of the World (that’s the COW part). I am so excited to teach about my favorite topic — how we can all become better global citizens!

The last two days have been jam packed. We’ve already started learning about how different countries have different resources. During the Hat Design Olympics, students competed to make the best hat ever, but they did not have the same resources as their competitors! Some only had papertowels or scrap paper to work with, but other teams had aluminum foil, cups, ribbon, and more.

Today, we learned about how different countries sell their resources to other countries. We represented these trade routes with yarn. After we were all connected, we could see how a problem in one country can have a big impact on people in other countries. It’s a little hard to teach and film at the same time, but here’s a little taste of how the activity looks:

Since we know that people all over the globe are connected to each other, we are starting to talk about what it means to be a true global citizen, or someone who gives back to their planet and not just their local community. We watched one of my favorite TED Talks yesterday, about a National Geographic photographer and his experience learning about the world:

For homework, students were asked to draw a global citizen. There was a lot of variation in what they chose to draw:

Some students chose to highlight particular people who they felt modeled global citizenship. One student chose Dr. Elizabeth Stern, a scientist who made breakthroughs in cancer detection. She wrote, “Elizabeth is a global citizen because she has saved many people with her discovery… She is helping and being a community member to people all around the world.” Elizabeth Stern

Another student chose President Obama. He wrote, “Obama is a global citizen because not only does he only help Americans he can help people from anywhere.”


Another student chose Malala Yousafazi, the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Prize. This student wrote described her as a global citizen because she “fights for girls education. She wants all education to be equal for everyone.”


As we continue learning about global citizenship this quarter, hopefully students will see that it’s not so hard to think and act globally. You don’t have to be superhero to make it happen, although sometimes it seems that way. Here’s a last drawing, from a student who drew Ironman as a global citizen!


Are you a good global citizen? If you don’t think so right now, keep learning and you will become one soon!

Now is the time for teachers to relax… and apply for free travel


Sand.pngStudies have shown that teachers should take some time to relax during vacations in order to avoid burn out.  That’s obvious, right?

If you are a teacher, here’s what you might not know. Now is the time to apply for a fellowship to travel for free during next summer. Some of these applications are long, but I promise you — it’s worth it. This could you be, next summer:

Me and Buddha

Me and a Giant Buddha in Kamakura, Japan

I have been lucky enough to have received two fellowships, and they both really changed my life in huge ways. You could be doing one of these programs in the not-so-distant future:

Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for ESD ~ Applications due January 20th

GroupPhotoESDSFThis program brings together American and Japanese teachers in both countries for an unbelieveable cross-cultural experience. The fellowship focuses on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which is basically about teaching students to be changemakers and work to make the world a better place. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. As educators, we can teach students to fight for a planet that has a sustainable economy, culture and traditions, and more. Group at KaraokeOne thing that makes this program unique is that it’s jointly funded by the U.S. government and the Japanese government. I was SO impressed by the cohort of American and Japanese teachers who did the program with me. This was no ordinary group of teachers. The people in my year will be friends for a long time, but also they were totally inspiring educators who see their job as a kind of social justice.

Teachers For Global Classrooms (TGC) ~ Applications due March 17th

TGC is not just a trip, but a year-long professional development experience. Ukrainian HospitalityYou’ll learn about the growing field of global education, through an online course, a symposium in Washington D.C., and a two-week international trip. I went to Ukraine, but other teachers have gone to Morocco, Ghana, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and more.


Doing this program in 2011-2012 really helped me to see how the work that I do every day fits into a larger movement that is changing the way educators see their role. As our world becomes more and more globally connected, the way we teach has to shift. This program connected me with a whole network of people all over the world working to teach students to be true global citizens.

There are many other fellowships that sound pretty fabulous also. Here are a few more, with upcoming deadlines:

  • Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program ~ Applications due January 3rd ~ This prestigious program allows educators to board a National Geographic ship on expeditions to places like the Arctic, Iceland, the Galapagos, Antarctica and more.
  • TOP Germany Study Tour ~ Applications due January 25th ~ The Transatlantic Outreach Program is designed to help Social Studies and STEM teachers experience modern Germany in a hands-on manner.
  • Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship ~ Applications due February 15th ~ If you are a U.S. or Canadian Social Studies teacher, you are eligible for this free study tour in Japan.Chicago and Tokyo Banner

If you don’t get into any of these, don’t lose hope. There are many ways to get abroad without breaking the bank. You might consider:

  • IMG_8349Global Leadership Adventures (Interviews begin in January) ~ Apply to work with high school students on a service learning trip abroad. I served as an International Director in China, and had an absolute blast learning alongside the students.
  • Primary Source Study Tours ~ It’s kind of on the expensive side, but nobody does global education work better than Primary Source. What do you think — Spain and Morocco next July sounds pretty dreamy, right?
  • SaraLionsGEEO ~ This organization runs trips for teachers, with the idea that if you enrich teachers’ lives, you enrich students’ lives. You pay for the trip, but the cost is more reasonable than a lot of other options out there, and you can fundraise to subsidize.
  • Global Competence Certificate Program (Next application deadline is May 22) ~ They have it all: an online course with instructors from Teacher’s College at Columbia, fieldwork in places like Ecuador and Uganda, and collaborative practice groups with other like-minded educators.

Whatever you do, don’t let fear or money get in the way of your chance to see the world. Think ahead, and make it happen. You’ll be glad you did.

But first, take some time to rest up and celebrate the hard work you’ve done in 2015. Teachers — enjoy your well deserved vacation!

ZoeMaliTravel 062

Do you know of other ways for teachers to get abroad? Have you done any of these programs? Share in the comments section so that we can inspire other teachers to apply for these amazing experiences.

The Best Holiday Greetings are the Global Ones

You might think that it would be hard to make friends from other countries. I can picture you wondering — How will we communicate across language and cultural differences? I can promise you that whatever challenges you might face, it will be worth it.SaraOmi

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I came into school today to hear that a package had arrived from Japan. My friend Omi-Sensei sent some holiday greetings for my advisory. The students were so excited when they saw their names on the letters and artwork!Names

They were thrilled to see personal notes written directly to them, from Japanese students, telling them about life in a Japanese school.

Many of the Japanese students sent original artwork, which totally blew my students away. There are many talented artists in Omi-Sensei’s class! My students were amazed.

Group with Art

In particular, my students were very impressed with the anime artwork on a calendar that the Japanese students made themselves. Wow!

We were also so excited to receive a homemade Tofu San doll to keep our other ones company. (It’s the cutie on top. The other fun stuff was made by my students).Triple Tofu Sans

We posted more artwork on the wall outside of our classroom for the rest of the middle school students to see.Wall Display

So many treats! We are too lucky!

Here’s a personal thank you from me to Omi-Sensei and her students:

Please comment on this entry to join me in thanking Omi-Sensei for her wonderful gift! And if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Years, or some other holiday at this time of year, I encourage you to send some greetings across the oceans. Maybe you’ll make someone as happy as we were today.

Using Math to Calm Fears about Terrorism

These days, many people are afraid. We’ve been hearing a lot of scary news from the media. It’s easy to imagine that bad people with guns are everywhere.

On top of the World

Nobody likes being afraid, but it also causes big problems because it makes people act in dangerous ways. Just in the last week, there have been 19 hate crimes against Muslims (people who practice the religion Islam) in America (source 1). Innocent people have been beaten up, vandalized, and even firebombed just because of their religion.

People in our country need to understand the facts before they jump to conclusions. This is a case where math can help us see a few vital points:

  1. ParisIslamic State is very small compared to the world population.
  2. Most Muslims have nothing to do with what’s going on.
  3. The chance of anything happening to you personally is very small.

Here’s what you need to know. First of all, it was a group called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, that took responsibility for the recent violence in Paris, and a number of other terrorist attacks. How big is this group? People aren’t exactly sure, but experts estimate that they have about 60,000 fighters worldwide (source 2).

Most of those people live in Iraq and Syria, but even if they all lived in our small state, Massachusetts (which they don’t, of course), this pie chart will give you a sense of the numbers:

If all of IS lived in MA.jpg

Let’s look at the numbers in a different way. Let’s compare Islamic State with the number of Syrian refugees in the world, and the number of Muslims living in the United States (source 3, source 4)

How big is Islamic State?.png

Can you see how many people are hurt when we assume that all Muslims or Middle Easterners are terrorists?

The vast majority of Muslims do not support “Islamic State.” Most are angry that they call themselves Islamic. Even in Iraq, where this group has a fair amount of power, 91% of Muslims say that “suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified” (source 4). There are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, so when I make a pie chart for the fraction of Muslims who support Islamic State, the slice is too small to even see!

Muslims who support Islamic State.pngWe can’t judge a whole religion by this small group of people. In fact, 21% of the world practices Islam.

World Religion.pngIslam is a very peaceful religion — 5 out of 12 of the last Nobel Peace Prize winners have been Muslim (source 5).  In the United States, we just don’t know a lot about this religion because it’s a minority here.

Religion in America.png

Most Muslims live in other parts of the world. Perccentage of Muslims in Each Continent

Are people just afraid of what they don’t know? It’s not even true that terrorism is most often commited by Muslims. According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks in the United States (since 1980) have been committed by people of other religions (source 6).

The big thing to remember is that the chance of a terrorist attack in the first place is extremely small. For example, if we look at statistics from recent years, do you know some of the things that are more likely to kill you than a terrorist (source 7)?

Chance of dying in a car crash: 1 in 8,000

Car Crash.png

Chance of dying from getting struck by lightning: 1 in 5,500,000Lightning.png

I could on and on. Based on recent statistics, being killed by a terrorist is less likely than drowning in your own bathtub, being crushed by a piece of furniture, or even being shot by a toddler who accidently picked up a gun. Toddler.png

Do you want to live your life afraid to get in a bathtub? Of course not!

The next time you see something scary in the media, remember to question what you are seeing, and remember that most people around the world are kind. The world needs more positive action and less fear right now. If you hear your friends jumping to conclusions, speak up.

Note: Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity. There are some helpful resources on the ING website.

Innovative Ways to Study Economics

OwlsI made up the Vator Shop to help students learn about economics principles, but today as we discussed preparation for our test tomorrow, and the students came up with many more ways to study. Some favorites include:

  • Paper Football – if right, go certain # of yards
  • Economics Charades
  • Look for interesting advertising in magazines and analyze it
  • Make a song about profit
  • Shark Tank — act out yourself
  • And so many more!

NonnyIt’s also possible to use a blog entry to study! My morning class, known as the “Cool Kids” came up with these questions about a character named George with a very original business idea. Can you figure out the answers yourself? To keep things interesting, we’ll also include some photos of Vator Shop highlights from this quarter.

* * * * * * *

1. George is a creative business person who came up with an idea for a new chocolate bar with surprises every bite. You never know if you’ll hit a piece of caramel, oreo, or some other goodie. What would we call him — an entrepreneur or an economics?

George2. George and the man in the yellow hat are selling chocolates. At first, people haven’t heard of his “surprise bars” so the demand is low. What should he do to the price?

3. If later on, the surprise bar becomes really popular, what should he do to the price?

4. In the early years of his business, George had trouble finding cheap supplies. He spent $3 on chocolate for each bar and $2 on the surprises in each bar. He sold the bars for $6 each. What was his profit for each bar?

Success5. If George had trouble getting caramel and couldn’t produce as many bars one month, what should he do to the price?

6. George bought $87 worth of chocolate, which weighed 20 pounds. Each chocolate bar that he makes uses 1/10 of a pound, and he sells them for $1 each. He uses 17 pounds of his chocolate to make surprise bars. What is George’s profit?

7. George is interested in how many people want to buy his surprise bar. What is it that George wants to know?

Hologram Viewer8. George wants to raise demand for his surprise bar, so he gives away samples. Unfortunately, some loud people say that it’s too sweet, so other people become less interested. What should he do to the price?

9. George started his business in August of 1986. At the beginning of his business, the demand was low even though his prices were low. The chocolates kept on melting . . . But on the 24th of March 1990, the president of the United States of America had a little taste of (for a show called America’s Test kitchen as their chief guest) George’s chocolate mustaches. “I think that they were really good” he said. So he gave George the money to make an advertisement! Soon people started coming to George’s shop after hearing that even the president liked it. Should George raise the prices or lower the prices? Why and why not?

10. If George wants to keep his money safe, but he knows he’ll need to buy more supplies often, what kind of savings method should he use?

11. George’s friend Jim wants a chocolate Ferrari. He knows he needs to save up for this big purchase, but isn’t sure how long it’ll take him to save. Which method should he use?

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Click here to see the answers to the questions above.

Student Guest Post: Family Adventures in Bermuda

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

* * * * * *

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

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

~Kyle E.

Bermuda boat

Student Guest Post: Backwater Lagoons of India

Another awesome guest post from 6th grader Athul. Who would have thought that he could rival last year’s elephant post?

* * * * * * *

This summer, I went to India just like before but went somewhere totally different from last year. This year, I went to a place called Kumarakom, a popular tourism destination near a city called Kottayam in Kerala, India. Set into backwaters of the Vembanad Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes . . . no, it is the largest freshwater lake of all of Kerala and, Kerala is a BIG place. The most popular way to enjoy the scene is on something called a houseboat. This is when things get interesting, because if you look at it literally looks like a long beach hut fit right onto a boat which apparently is the reason why it’s called house boat.  Houseboat

The inside looked just like a mini house, having a tv and one couch and two long curved benches (to cover the front of the boat) benches

There was also dining room, bedroom and a kitchen:   

The food was cooked on board and it was awesome. It contained fish fry, fish curry, chicken curry, shrimp fry, vegetable curry and some yogurt to wash off the spiciness, especially the fish curry which was the spiciest dish.feast

But the main highlight was the shrimp. It was nearly as big as a lobster, which was the biggest shrimp that I’ve ever seen in my life!

Shrimp compared to my Dad’s hand

Shrimp compared to my Dad’s hand

I hope you enjoyed my blog about Kumarakom. I’m sure you’ll love the experience of travelling in a house boat. If you liked this blog try to read my other one called “Close Encounter with Temple Elephant” which I did last year. Thank you!

~Athul A.

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