Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Up and Over: The Epic Vršič Pass

GoogleMaps.pngMy favorite day of the trip so far had to be the day we drove through Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s one and only national park. Thanks to my new friend Rick Steves, we did a self-guided tour through the highest mountain roads in the nation. We were ready for the hairpin turns — 25 up and 25 down. Googlemaps helped a bit, but there was really only one road to follow, and it was well marked.

At first the roads were pretty flat. There were always guard rails, but in the beginning, the roads weren’t too narrow or curvy. Flat

We saw a lot of farms with these iconic hay stands that we’ve seen all over Slovenia.


It didn’t take long to start seeing some remarkable views. We had to stop a lot for photos.

Early Views

As we drove further uphill, the roads got narrower and the views got more about more impressive. This might have been our favorite pull off point: Tofu San with Cairns.png

Close to the top, we stopped for lunch. The food was ok, but the views were incredible. Lunch spot.pngI decided to take a tiny walk to explore near the restaurant and ended up with this funny video:

We were close to the top then, so we just had a few more scary turns to go. Here’s a video that gives a sense of the driving as we arrived at the top:

We laughed when we saw sheep just chilling on the road, right at the top.Sheep.png

When we asked a shopkeeper why the sheep were huddled next to cars, she answered “sheep logic. They have all these beautiful trees and such, but they like tires.” Are sheep always this weird?

From this parking area, we decided to hike up a bit. We passed some old ruins, possibly from WWI, which was neat to explore.

Hiking at VrsicRuins

Eventually we explored a little path, and arrived at my favorite little secret spot, where we sat to take it all in.

No panorama or video could do it justice, but I tried.Sk with Pano.png

It was just beautiful up there. From the vast views to the little wildflowers. I loved it all.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 11.26.29 AMFlowers

We also got great views of the famous Adja face (like New Hampshire’s Old Man in the Mountain, except it’s a girl’s face). Can you see it?!

And then, of course, we had to go down the mountain. Slowly. We stayed at two different tourist farms and did a lot more driving, but some of this other stuff will have to wait for later entries. I do have to give thanks to my little VW polo rental car which was brand new and we offered it 700+ km on the road. It was an amazing little car, getting great gas mileage because it turned off instead of idling when stopped for a few seconds, and it automatically adjusted to lower gears as needed. I’m proud to say that I returned it safely to Ljubljana without a scratch.Polo.pngAfter only a week, I was sad to say goodbye to both our lovely little car, and even more so to Slovenia, a beautiful little country. It was much cooler weather than Venice, but the people were so warm and sweet.

Zagreb graffiti.pngNow, we are in Croatia! We were a bit worried about getting around without a car, but we successfully made it to Zagreb yesterday, and this morning we booked a bunch of buses and ferries. In fact, I’m currently writing this on a bus with wifi, traveling through Croatia. So, we keep moving onward, without our own wheels.

Failing at Getting Off-the-Beaten Track in Slovenia

Let me start off by saying that I LOVED the Lake Bohinj area, in Triglav National Park, where we spent most of the day. However, today did not go exactly as I planned.

In the morning, I decided that I wanted to do a hike somewhere far away from all the other tourists. After consulting our hotel owner and a tourist info booth, we set out for a scenic walk just north of a small village called Starza Fuzina. We had a plan, maps, and water in our backpacks, and the views from the parking lot were impressive enough to make me excited for the hike.Parking Lot.png

We started the hike and found ourselves quickly surrounded by woods, ascending a steep path.Path

It was very steep, but we passed a few other hikers and decided to be persistent. We trekked onward, looking for the first trail marker. We didn’t see it. For a long time. We did see a lot more rocks and trees, and just kept following the path. Ok, there were a few flowers too.

Eventually, we saw a little clearing, with a tiny view, and stopped for a break. Best view.png

Some Slovenian women passed by, asking us if we’d seen a trail marker. It was then that I realized… hmmm… maybe we’re on the wrong trail. After chatting for a while with the women, consulting GPS on my phone and more maps, we realized that yes, we were not on the trail at all. We stayed with the women a bit longer, though their English skills were not super strong (though better than our Slovenian language skills). Slovenian Friends.pngFinally, we found a trail marker! For a mountain that was not at all where we wanted to go. We decided to turn around and head downhill, this time on a proper trail, with red dot markers.

Once we hit a road, the views were beautiful again!HorsesAnd eventually we found the original trail, though by this point we were too hungry for lunch to see much of it. We saw a bit though.


For the afternoon, we decided to head back to the tourist route. For 14 Euro, we got a round trip ticket on the gondola / cable car headed to the top of Vogel Mountain.Wires.png

I’m kind of terrified of heights, so I got some butterflies in my stomach and my ears popped, but it was so worth it. The views were incredible.Pano.png

Did I mention that I LOVE mountains?!

I couldn’t stop taking pictures at the top. My little friends Tofu San and Loki got in on the fun too.

I even did this. Don’t worry, I’m not as close to the edge as it looks:


After hanging out in the obligatory tourist areas, where even the cows are used to tourists, we headed back down in the cable car.Cows at Pizzeria.png

Lake Bohinj is really a gem, much less built up than Bled. It’s just a clear turquoise lake surrounded by big mountains. Bohinj from BelowAfter coming down the mountain, we found a beach for swimming, paid our 1.50 Euro for parking, got some popsicles, and enjoyed the crisp water alongside a bunch of other people. This time, no complaints about the tourists. Apparently, they know how to find the good spots too.Tourists at Bohinj

Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, and the Internet

The first time I planned an international trip with a friend, I realized on the way to the airport that my passport was expired. I eventually made it on that flight, though I’d like to think that I’m a bit more responsible now than I was in the 90s.

SK at Bled Castle.png

Me Yesterday!

Since then, a lot has changed in the world, but nothing has shifted our reality like technology. I’ve been thinking about it a lot during this trip. We are currently in a very touristy town called Bled, where there’s a beautiful lake, with a castle on a cliff above and an iconic church on an island in the lake. Beforehand, I looked at lots of blogs and photos online, and now I can confirm that, yes, it’s as beautiful as everyone said it would be.

Lake BledSwan and CastleCastle at Night

Other tourists have also figured that out. Even though Slovenia is a tiny country, with only 2 million people who live here, this town is packed with tourists.Castle Happenings.png

To be honest, I read lots of blogs, but I was worried about all the chances to read other people’s trips. I was worried it would ruin the sense of adventure that makes travel so fun. It didn’t.

Yesterday we set out with bikes that we borrowed from our hotel, to bike around the lake. On the way, of course, we stopped for more photos. Paddling

ButterflyThen, we saw a sign for the castle on the cliff. Even with GoogleMaps, we couldn’t totally figure out the route, because, as it turns out, the path we selected was closed. We ended up meeting a nice Slovenian couple who helped us navigate the path (even around some fences and construction equipment). HikingAt the castle, the couple even got us in without paying the 10 Euro fee, heading straight for the restaurant where we spent our money on a lovely castle-top meal instead. The views were stunning.Tofu San at Bled.png

The other tourists didn’t matter. We ended up sampling honey in a shop, and chatting with this guy works in the print shop. For 8 Euros, he’ll help you make yourself a souvenir using old school printing methods. Instead, we just hung out and chatted, and I made him a balloon crown. Much more fun!

Balloon Hat Bled Castle

Honey StoreWe eventually got back to our hotel, where we traded in the bikes for our rental car, and headed out with our friend GoogleMaps. When we hit another closed road, this time we re-rerouted into tiny narrow roads in residential neighborhoods.Narrow Roads.png

The adventure getting to Vintgar Gorge was as interesting as the destination. Jesus and road.png

And then we arrived at Vintgar Gorge, which again, lived up to its hype. The paths were beautiful and the water was so clear.

It was a great day, and I’m grateful for all the blogs I read before, and all the benefits of offline maps. I still feel like I got a chance to discover these beautiful spots, just in a different way than the days of traveling without technology.

Art and Heart in Ljubljana

Maybe you’ve never heard of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, but it’s a really fun city with a lot of interesting art to see. Where can you see some art in Ljubljana? If you ever go, here’s where to look:

1) On random street corners: BootsFace and Skinny Alley

2) On the sides of buildings, even in residential neighborhoods:

Close Up

3) In public art exhibits (This one was an area where it rains whenever it feels like it, even when the sun is blaring. Small wires hung very high are almost invisible, making it really seem like there’s a bizarre alternate reality where it’s raining in just one spot.)RainOwn Weather

4) In the city’s architecture! This morning we went on a free walking tour, and learned a lot about the city’s history, and all the architectural influences, from baroque or art nouveau.

5) Inside the Ljubljana Cathedral (just this regular old ceiling there):Church Ceiling

6) At the Saturday market ~ There were all sorts of crafts on display, from traditional to modern. It took A LOT of will power to resist buying all the things. The lace making was my favorite:

7) Metelkova Street, where squatters / artists have taken over a former military barracks:

One of the buildings on that street had sculptures with the best faces ever. You’ve got to look closely to see how expressive they are!

ColorsFacesClose Up Faces 2

So now you know where to go to see art when you visit Ljubljana! Do you know that the word LOVE is part of sLOVEnia? The locals know.Love

Better than Disney: Caves, Castles, and Sweets of Slovenia

Yesterday was our first full day in Slovenia, and it was a whirlwind. We started out at Postojna Caves, where visitors ride a Disney-like train through a cave.Cave Train 2.png

Except instead of fake displays, the cave is real! And unlike in the U.S., there are no seat belts and sometimes the passageways felt extremely tight.Cave Train.png

Once inside, we got to walk around a bunch on the paths.Walking Path

The views were very impressive.

After caving, we had lunch at the dream-like Predjama Castle.Predjama Castle.pngIf you think kids would have liked this part of the day, they would REALLY like the desserts of Ljubljana. We thought nothing could beat Italy’s gelato, but… then we tried pudding-like hot chocolate at Cacao. With whipped cream, of course.Hot Chocolate.png

It got even better when we wandered into an “open kitchen” market which happens every Friday throughout the summer. Open Kitchen.png

My friend Erica got so excited about one of the desserts that the chef gave us one for free! It was something called a Tiokin Brulle from Pri Levu Restaurant at Union HotelsTionkin Brulle

Wow. Two bites in!Tionkin Brulle Close Up.png

And then… if you thought Dippin’ Dots were the ice cream of the future, you’d be wrong. Check out these amazing ice cream rolls that we tried (not so traditional Slovenian):

I’m pretty sure that kids would LOVE Slovenia. It turns out that Slovenia has one of the best party shops for balloons I’ve ever seen, even compared to ones I’ve seen in the U.S. Party Shop.png

We met up with the party shop’s owners and balloon professionals visiting from Hungary and Japan, and they also loved the yummy food here. I think we’ll stay!New Friends New Desserts

New Balloon FriendsWhy don’t more people visit Slovenia? They should!


DaVinci and the Venice of Old

Walking around Venice, there are certainly many modern things, but overall, the city feels old. Really old.

This random building that we passed this afternoon just blew me away, imagining all the layers of history:

In fact, in one photography gallery, I noticed that the walls were covered in salt. Inside! Apparently, that’s really common in Venice. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the city is built on the water, but it’s still kind of mind boggling to me!Salt

A favorite part of my day was visiting a brand new Leonardo DaVinci Museum. Apparently, there are two Leonardo DaVinci museums in Venice. We had passed by another one on our first night, and tried to go back today, only to realize that we were at this newer one. Who could have guessed that there would be two museums in one small city dedicated to one person? After visiting the new museum, I decided that DaVinci was amazing enough to deserve many more than two museums! Leonardo DaVinci died in 1519, but he had visions of many modern day inventions before they were created! His sketches show that his ideas were well ahead of his time (of course, in addition to being a famous artist). He had designs for bridges, catapults, bikes, submarines, machine guns, tanks, cities, and more. DaVinci Bridge

Among other things, he designed this super cool spiral windmill, which I’d love to see in today’s world!DaVinci Machines 1

It was really fun playing with his “machines” which the museum re-created from his drawings.DaVinci Mirrors

For instance, before photography existed, he invented this tool to help artists break down images for sketching them in pieces. I tried modeling behind the screen:

I took a bunch of video so that you could see DaVinci’s machines in action:

Venice is a city like no other I have ever visited, and I’m trying to imagine what it might have been like when DaVinci lived here. Maybe not too different! There’s lots of hustle and bustle, but I haven’t seen a car since we arrived. Venice Canals


To celebrate our last night here, we got A LOT of gelato after dinner. I don’t think we should probably leave every city with this kind of sweet goodbye, but tonight was pretty yummy.



When in Venice…

St. MarksThis summer’s adventures have begun, and I’m here in Venice! As this is my first time in Italy, I keep thinking of the famous saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I’ve been trying to appreciate all that Venice has to offer, after only a day and a half. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far. When in Venice, you must…

1) Eat tons of gelato. Two or three times a day isn’t too much, right?Gelato.png

2) Learn some history. Today we visited St. Marks Basilica, which was mostly constructed by 1092 and the Doge’s Palace, which was the “home” of many old Venetian leaders.

3) Check out glass blowing in Murano. We took a boat over to the island of Murano, where many years ago, they sent all the glass workers to avoid fires on the main islands of Venice. Today, they are famous for their beautiful glass art. We got to see a demonstration, which was neat.

4) Go out for seafood, pasta, or pizza. There’s no shortage of these to go around.

Italian Colored Pasta

5) Say goodbye to cars. You won’t see any in most parts of Venice. The roads are either little walkways or canals. Skinnier Canal

6) Ride some boats through canals. They have boats for everything here — trash pick up, transporting construction material, public transit like a subway, and of course, fancy gondola boats for tourists. And so much more!

7) Chase the Pigeons.  I’m pretty sure if you fed them, they’d jump all over you. Not interested in that, but they are sort of cute.Tofu San at a Canal


8) See some art. We didn’t hit up the art museums yet, but there’s plenty to see on the street and in the shops. In addition to glass art, there are a lot of masks for celebrating Carnival.

Glass BalloonsMasksGrafittiAll the MasksArtist San MarcoSofer

We still have another day in Venice, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else there is to check out around here. Definitely there will be more gelato on the horizon!Roofs of Venice



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.

Students Working for Change

FireworksSummer is upon us, and America’s Independence Day is approaching very quickly! My city already had some early fireworks, pictured here.

As an American, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s happening locally, but I try to teach my students to:

  1. Be curious about other people and places
  2. Care about what’s going on elsewhere
  3. Feel empowered to take action and work for the world they believe in

During the last few months of school, I worked with several different groups of students on action projects, all focused on issues that the students chose. Each class had a different focus, but they were all based on current events research.

Action 1: Fighting Chinese Air Pollution, by the Leach and Maier Advisories

A student in this class read an article about this issue on a great website called Newsela, which publishes news content at multiple different reading levels. The rest of the class agreed that breathing clean air is a human right, so they decided to target companies that use coal in China:

Action 2: Ending Assumptions about Homelessness, by the Krakauer Advisory (with help from the Destramp Advisory)

Each advisory at our school takes part in some community service. My advisory decided to focus on homelessness. They were able to Skype with an expert from a national organization called Community Solutions (a former student of mine from way back). My current students learned that the first step towards change is for people to understand that homelessness is not a permanent label, but a situation that people can get out of, if they have the right support. They decided to make posters to hang around the school to teach their peers about what they learned:

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Action 3: Individual Campaigns by the LaRoche and Bresnahan Advisories 

My last class did fabulous research, but then we ran out of time for the collaboration piece, due to a power outage and some schedule changes. Instead of doing one big project, students teamed up in small groups to design their own actions.  They each chose an audience to appeal to, whether their peers or a person in power, like President Obama. Even with the time crunch, their results ended up quite persuasive:

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I’m proud of the work my students created, and I hope they inspire you to take action on whatever issues matter most to you. Former President John F. Kennedy said,

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

On this Independence Day, let us work to live out his dream and fight for a better future for people across the globe. If these students can do it, so can you!

Note: Want to see more? Last quarter’s classes also had some powerful things to say. Check it out here!

Our School’s Musical Inventors

Homemade %22Guitar%22This blog is about global education, but don’t think that this kind of learning only happens in Social Studies class! To be prepared to grow up to be adults who tackle global issues, students at Innovation Academy learn to think creatively and come up with new solutions to problems. They do this in many classes — even in music class!

We’ve only been offering a music class at our school for a handful of years, but our middle school music teacher, Jess Destramp, has developed an amazing program. After listening to seventh graders recording music videos to “Livin’ on a Prayer,” in every corner of the building, I had to stop in today to see my 5th and 6th grade students’ sharing their final projects.

Ms. Destramp explained that these students  just finished a unit where they learned about the science of sound, and how different types of instruments work to produce and amplify their sounds. For the final project, she asked students to invent and build their own instrument.Instrument Fun

The requirements were that 1) it couldn’t be a homemade version of an instrument that already exists, and 2) it had to make some kind of sound! Students also completed a worksheet that asked questions about how to classify their instrument, what vibrates to make sound, how to change the pitch and dynamics while playing, and what kind of music they thought their instrument could work well with. Some students got really creative and ambitious with what they constructed!Instruments

I was blown away by their creativity. You have to see it in action to believe it!



What will they innovate next?

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