Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the tag “Classroom”

Stormy Democracy in Action

As we brace for Hurricane Sandy, remember that every person can make a difference. If Frankenstorm lives up to its nickname during this Halloween week, we’ll need lots of informed, caring citizens to look out for each other.

Sandy’s current path

In a few mere hours, the storm is set to strike Massachusetts. Most of us are prepared, but we know that some damage and power outages will be unavoidable because of the strong winds and rain. However, we’re in better shape than we would be if we didn’t have any warning of what was ahead. The hurricane hasn’t hit yet, but you won’t believe what I woke up to in the middle of the night last week:

What I woke up to on October 20th

As you can see in the video, a short burst of rain caused my street to flood.  The water got into the cars, and set off the horn in one and the lights in another.  I called the police and waited on the porch, watching. My neighborhood woke up. The guys across the street put on their bathing suits and went swimming (which was funny but disgusting, since the water did not look very clean).  Lots of people peeked out, took a few photos, and went inside to find their earplugs. The police arrived and a work crew set out to try to unplug the drains.

Work crews at 5 AM

I’m not sure what they did, but by 9 AM the next morning, the water was 100% gone.  Sadly, most of the cars that were parked on the street were totaled. Apparently when water gets into a car computer, it costs thousands of dollars to fix.  My car was parked in my driveway, but the inside of the car was still filled with water. It’s been in the repair shop for a week already and I’m waiting to find out whether or not the insurance company will agree to replace the carpet. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a new interior and only need to pay the $500 deductible.

My car interior filled with water

The line shows where the water level got to the night before

It’s pretty clear that this happened because of an issue with the city sewers and drainage, and so I decided to take action. The next day, I sent an email to my city officials telling them about what happened. I wrote, “I believe that there is a serious problem with drainage on my street which needs to be addressed immediately.” That afternoon, my local alderman (the local legislative branch representative) actually came to my house to talk to me about the problem.  On Monday, he sent the city engineer out to my street. On Wednesday, there were crews pumping out the sewers.

Wednesday’s work crew

Notice of Sewer Work

On Friday, I got an email from another city official, who copied me on an email to the city engineer, asking if this situation was being addressed. When I got home from work, the street was lined with cones letting people know that sewer work would be happening on Saturday.  I don’t know if the city succeeded in solving the problem, but their test will come tomorrow.  If they did fix the problem, Hurricane Sandy won’t turn our street into a river again. I’m probably not the only person who spoke up, but it feels good knowing that I played a role in fixing this problem. Now that’s Democracy in action!

Hoping to avoid this during Sandy!

There’s always more problems to solve. In my classroom, students have been studying the U.S. government, and they recently learned about how citizens can influence their local government. For their Democracy in  Action Rubric, students wrote about issues they wanted to see addressed by the government, and they brainstormed how a citizen might influence change. Here are some of their ideas:

Voters of the Future

“As citizens of the United States it is our job to make our nation a better place and to be more peaceful. I would write a letter to the senator telling him that people in prison need to be treated fairly.”

“A normal citizen could record a video about how the Executive branch of the Federal level could control the F.D.A. to set higher standards for the number of side effects a drug can have or how dangerous those side effects can be.”

“I would send a letter to my representative asking for a law to lower the allowable rate of plastic production. I would also text the President to tell him to approve the law. Friends and countrymen join me. Write to your representatives. The United States Congress has the power to create bills. We can stop companies from producing plastic in excess. Companies may not like this because they make money on useless plastic. I say, give up the happy meal toys. We should all recycle and use less plastic to save our planet!”

More happy students who one day might change the world

“Organize a doctor’s strike until all people are provided with health insurance. By then, people would be dying and the government would have no choice but to provide health insurance. If they’re stubborn enough to not provide the health insurance, they will be sued by lots of people and then have to buy in.”

“If the roads are safer people will not be as likely to crash and be killed or severely injured in those car crashes. You should all send letters to our mayor saying which roads are dangerous.”

As you can see, at 10 and 11 years old, these students already understand how a single citizen can make a difference. As we prepare for this upcoming storm, I encourage you to be on the look out.  What is the government doing to protect us, and what can you do to show good citizenship? Even though our system isn’t perfect, every little bit counts.

The calm before the storm. I took this photo in Cambridge Common this morning. The statue shows John Bridge, who settled here in 1632 and was one of our country’s first town selectmen and ran one of the country’s first public schools.

Every day a field trip day

Yesterday, we studied the American Revolution while scavenger hunting at the Old North Bridge in Concord and acting like militia men at the Minuteman National Park in Lincoln. Field trip days are always favorites, and I wish we did more of them.  Maybe someday, schools will look different and we’ll spend as many days out in the world as we do back in the classroom.  How much more could we learn if the woods and streets of New England were our classroom?  I used to work in a private school that took students on expeditions all over the country. It was a fascinating idea, but way too expensive for a public school.

Don’t worry. Even if daily field trips are not possible, I’m not going to give up on helping students learn through experience and adventure. It’s 2012, and now we can travel for free using the magic of the internet and our imaginations!

Here are some benefits of field trips that today we can get for free, using technology:

1. Talking to Experts — Yesterday, we worked with experts at Minuteman National Park who taught our students about the rich history in our area.  Now, with organizations such as Skype in the Classroom, experts can come into the classroom through video conferencing without any long bus ride.

2. Seeing Live Action — If you didn’t get to come on our field trip and see how muskets worked during the time of the American Revolution, are you jealous?  Don’t be! I filmed it so you can check it out.  And there are lots of other people creating educational video content.  We still use Discovery Education, but now there’s so much more out there these days on YouTube and other sites.

3.  Experiencing Real Places — There’s nothing that can replace the feeling of standing on the Old North Bridge, knowing what happened there hundreds of years ago. However, it’s still pretty amazing to get to walk the streets of Rio DeJaneiro, look down on Machu Picchu, or even stand on Mars through the power of Google Earth.

4. Make Interdisciplinary Connections — Yesterday we ate lunch at some picnic tables in Minuteman Park.  While at lunch, some students and I saw a very cute inchworm.  We got a whole science lesson on insects right then and there, watching this little guy (and it was so great that I had to go home and turn my video footage into an art project).  When students engage with real people, there are so many ways to combine Social Studies, Language Arts, Math, Science, and more.  Organizations like iEarn,  which develops collaborative projects between classrooms around the world, get my mind racing with possibility… But first, experience the wonder and amazement of the inchworm, our unexpected teacher yesterday:

5. Have fun — Of course, I’d never give up the chance to really travel and immerse oneself fully in a new place. It’s just plain fun, as you can see by our silly photo below.  But maybe the magic of technology can take us places that we could never afford before.  Students LOVE to explore using technology, and it makes them curious, enthusiastic, and alert. Now that’s preparation for the global world we live in. Or at least we’re inching in the right direction.

Forget the Flashcards

The longer I teach, the more I realize how important creativity is in the classroom. When students are engaged in interesting, imaginative work, grades become secondary.*  But don’t take my word for it. Watch what my 5th and 6th graders came up with when given a chance to “study” in a non-traditional way:

I don’t mean to suggest that flashcards are a bad thing (I still use them sometimes too).  However, there are many other ways to learn information. In this case, we were studying the events leading up to the American Revolution.  In class, I showed the students some memory tricks that I made up, using different motions done in different parts of the room.**  For their homework assignment, students got to use their bodies to make up their own tricks, and then share their work in any creative way they could come up with. Some students drew cartoons, wrote original songs, and made videos like the ones shown above. It’s clear when you see the results that they had tons of fun with the assignment. I’m pretty sure they’ll remember these events a few years down the line.

Thanks to Charles Linskey, our guest speaker today, for bringing the people of the American Revolution to life!

* I’m also motivated by creativity, as you can see by this website!  It’s not part of my job description, but I love to flex my creative muscles through writing, photography, and videography. That’s why I’ve put my heart into this blog even though there’s no A + grade or financial reward around the corner.

** I have to credit the teachers who came before me for coming up with the concept for this assignment, and my previous students for coming up with the idea to make videos showing their memory tricks.  Creativity spreads easily!

What are you celebrating?

Today is Columbus Day, and I’m not sure whether to celebrate. Despite all of the problems in the United States, I am proud to be American.  Our country is beautiful and rich with many different cultures. Columbus was one of the explorers who brought news of this land back to Europe, and a lot of development took place here as a result. This morning, as I flew back from Washington DC, I got a spectacular view of the city.

In my photograph above, you can see the Washington Monument, National Mall, and Capitol Building — they are truly a majestic sight from any angle.

A Mayan women for whom I made a balloon hat in Panajachel

I am happy to have a day of rest after a busy weekend, but I also feel sad that we are celebrating Columbus Day.  I know that Christopher Columbus killed many Native Americans in his quest to “discover” new land. Imagine what this landscape looked like during the 1400s?  After Europeans arrived, many trees were cut down and the whole landscape changed.  Hundreds of tribes have been displaced and many are gone forever. There are many people who think of Columbus as a murderer, not a hero.  Today, I was reminded of the song  1492 by Nancy Schimmel and came across this e-card on the web.  Instead of calling this “Columbus Day,” should we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Sadly, Native Americans in the United States do not have much land and many aspects of their original languages, cultures, and traditions have been destroyed.  In Guatemala, Mayan people still make up most of the population. Unfortunately, many of them are relatively poor and the people in the country with the most wealth often have European ancestry. When I visited Guatemala in 2006, I learned a lot about the Mayan culture, from their stunning weaving to their hearty farming practices.  This is a group of people who have a lot to share with the global community, and I hope their culture stays alive for many years to come.

Two women I saw touring the sights of Cappadocia together back in April

The issue of Columbus Day is not just about history.  We are still living in a world where people are trying to figure out how to get along with others from different backgrounds. A few weeks ago, I read a news article about a college student in Ohio who posted a photograph online of a Sikh woman he saw in the library. He made a mean comment about her appearance, and many other people online started making rude comments. The young woman in the photograph, Balpreet Kaur, saw the comments. Instead of writing something rude back, she used it as an opportunity to educate people about her religion.  She wrote, “I do not think explaining myself and the way I am is a waste of energy because storytelling in itself is a way to fight the apathy in this world… By simple interactions like this, we can better understand each other and make this world more open and loving even if it is just one person or many.” What could have been a sad situation of cyber bullying turned into an opportunity.

Students from many backgrounds who worked together in China this summer

Learning how to appreciate other cultures and work side by side is fundamental to being successful in the 21st century. Over the next 10, 20, and 30 years, more and more jobs will be multi-national, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural. Your co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family will hail from many corners of the globe, if they don’t already.  This blog is one small piece of an effort to prepare all of us to live in a “global world.”

My talk at the Teachers for Global Classrooms symposium: “Beyond Blogging”

This weekend reminded me that I’m not alone in this effort. The Department of State funds the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program, which flew me to DC and Ukraine. I’m proud that foreign policy dollars are being spent to make sure that young Americans are prepared to live and work in a global economy. I gave a talk on this blog to Department of State representatives and teachers from more than 30 other states. A few other teachers also spoke about how they are doing global education, and each person in the room had ideas to share in break out sessions afterwards. Nobody was there because they had to be. All of the teachers in the program were clearly hungry for ideas, because we all care so deeply about this movement.

This is the end of our TGC program, but it’s just the beginning. I will soon introduce my Global Education Resource Guide to teachers at Innovation Academy, and work to share what I’ve learned throughout this past year with TGC. While I’ll probably keep adding and editing, you can check it out now in the “For Teachers” tab at the top of this page (especially if you are a teacher)!  I’m proud to introduce this video that I made to introduce the guide to teachers who might want to “globalize” their classrooms:

Let’s work together to think globally, but not because we are trying to beat China and India to the best jobs. Let’s globalize because we have a lot to gain from getting along and working together across cultures. Now that is something to celebrate! If you are a student who is reading this, I hope you grow up to make many discoveries like Columbus. And I also hope you learn some things from his mistakes.

Ukrainian Musicians (playing the bandura)

So, how should we celebrate Columbus Day next year? And what can we do before then to work towards creating the type of world we want to live in?

Back to School Night

Dear Parents and Guardians ~ Welcome to Back to School Night! By now, you’ve probably been to a number of these events before, and you are expecting the same old routine.  Let’s get to the heart of this all. Here’s what matters:

We live in an increasingly complicated world. As your child’s teachers, we will do our absolute best to prepare these students to be successful, caring citizens. 

Whew! We have a difficult job ahead of us- preparing students for the 21st century.  We are ready… and thrilled to take on this challenge with your children. You might be wondering about some of the other basics of this class. We can answer those questions too:

Who is my child’s teacher?  My name is Sara Krakauer. This is my 10th year teaching at Innovation Academy. I co-teach HB Salk and HB Gandhi with John Bresnahan.

What is this class and what is it like? We teach Social Studies Project to a combined class of 5th and 6th graders.  It’s a two hour class that meets every other quarter (alternating with Science).  It focuses on American history (5th grade standards in Massachusetts) and world geography / culture (6th grade standards in Massachusetts).

What will students be learning this year?  This year, we’ll be working on two units (you can download the overview and documents on our class website):

  • Reaction, Revolution, Reform: U.S. Government, how it came to be, and the American Revolution
  • The Global Action Project: World geography and culture, studied through a lens of international development in Africa and the Americas

How are students assessed? As noted in our grading policy, we mostly assess students through rubrics (big projects), but we do have some more traditional homework and tests.

How can I support my child at home? There are lots of ways to support your child with love and attention, but here are a few ways to use technological resources to support what’s happening at school:

  • Check X2 regularly!
  • Check your child’s planner and the Homework GoogleDoc as needed.
  • Log onto Edmodo, our new online forum. Set up an account by using the parent code that your child gave you (or can access when they log in). Monitor participation.

Oh, and how was your summer in China? Wonderful! If you haven’t already checked it out, this site includes my blog so you can see lots of photos and videos about my experience. And here’s some highlights:

Have questions, comments, or ideas about 21st century education?  Email me any time:

Cool Like Facebook

Student profiles on Edmodo are personalized, but secure.

In Social Studies class, we recently piloted a new technological tool called Edmodo.  It’s a website that is made for students to communicate with social networking tools in a safe, secure manner.   In some ways, it has an interface like Facebook — students create a profile page, can post on a wall, and comment on each others’ posts.  However, there are many additional features, like the ability to submit assignments online, take polls, earn badges, and give parents access to seeing what’s going on in class.  In addition, it’s totally safe, because all content is hidden from the public and monitored by teachers. Facebook requires users to be 13 years old, but that doesn’t mean that our 5th and 6th graders aren’t interested in connecting with each other using new technologies.

Basically, students are into it.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Listen to what they have to say about Edmodo after less than a week using it:

We aren’t just using Edmodo because it’s cool.  We just finished posting our first rubric assignment there!  Students had to write about an issue that they’d like to see changed in America.  They analyzed how the government could make a change on their issue, and how a regular citizen could influence the government to make the change happen.  Students wrote about getting rid of the Electoral College system, getting health care for all citizens, preventing future terrorist attacks, and many other interesting topics. For extra credit, some of them are developing their ideas into real action.  Stay tuned to hear more about how these individuals begin changing the world… one person at a time!

Global Leaders Club

If you are a student at Innovation Academy, consider joining a new Global Leaders Club!

Our school on Google Earth (zoomed out)

What will students in the club do? Students will work in teams to research global issues that they care about. Then, they will design action projects to make a difference on the issues that are most meaningful to them. Action projects may include creating awareness campaigns, making web videos, writing blog entries, or organizing fundraisers for organizations already working to fight global problems.

When will the club meet? It will meet on Mondays (approximately every other Monday) from 3-4 pm in Ms. Krakauer’s room. The dates for the first half of the year are: October 15 and 29, November 5 and 19, and December 3 and 17. To join, you should be able to attend regularly.

Let’s create beauty where there’s a need!

Who can join? Any student in 5th through 8th grade is eligible to apply, but due to size limitations, only some students will be selected. If you are interested, please answer the application questions listed below and share your answers with Ms. Krakauer through email or google docs (

Application Questions:

1. Why are you interested in joining the Global Leaders Club?

2. What’s one thing you’ve done in the past that shows strong global citizenship?

3. What’s one project you’d like to work on as part of the Global Leaders Club?

4. Describe an example of something you’ve done this year that shows your self-direction skills.

Love is not a Political Issue

Dear Students,

You laughed today when I mentioned same-sex marriage in class. It made me feel very sad, but I’m not angry at you.  You probably don’t know what it’s like to be teased for who you are and who you love. You are just beginning to learn about how to be in relationships that go deeper than just someone you play with at recess. Maybe you think that same-sex marriage is about sex, which is normal to giggle about in middle school. Let me assure you — same-sex marriage is not a dirty word.

Same-sex marriage means some men want to marry other men. Some women want to marry other women. They love each other and want to be legally considered family. Strangely, the government gets to decide if that’s allowed.  As we discussed in class, right now there’s no amendment in the Constitution which says anything about who can get married and who can’t. This means that each state gets to decide whether or not to let men marry men or women marry women.  This is a hot topic these days in the news.  Only 6 states in America allow same-sex marriage. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, but gay couples who get married here still can’t get the federal benefits of marriage.  For example, an Argentinian man can’t get U.S. citizenship if his husband is American.  However, back in Argentina, his marriage would be fully recognized. A handful of other countries, from South Africa to Iceland, also allow same-sex marriage.  Perhaps some day, there will be a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage, but right now neither Obama or Romney is fully in support of this change.

Normally, I don’t like to share my personal political views in the classroom. If you ask me who I am voting for in November, I will politely refuse to answer.  I want all of you to feel comfortable sharing your views in class, and I don’t want to tell you what to believe. My job is to give you tools to make your own decisions.

I will, however, proudly announce that I support same-sex marriage.  To me, this is not a political issue, but it’s about respecting all people and giving everyone the same rights. Some of your parents might disagree, but that’s because we live in a complicated world.  Sometimes good people disagree and need to find ways to work together on things that they agree on.  Even if your parents disagree with my views, I bet we both want you to grow up to be strong, thoughtful adults, and we can work together to be there for you as you grow up.

Last weekend, I went to my first same-sex wedding. It was beautiful.  The couple were two women, Mary and Jan (ages 71 and 83). They’ve been together for more than 20 years, and they love each other very much.  They live in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal. They tried fighting the government and they tried to explain to officials why they wanted to marry. They were still not given a marriage license.

They came to Massachusetts and got married in a church, with a small ceremony and reception. Many ministers helped marry them, because they wanted to show that there are people out there who believe that God approves of all types of love. Many strangers came to the wedding to support them in their marriage, because Mary and Jan weren’t able to bring their families or friends. It was touching to be a witness to their love. I took a little video that I’d like to share with you:

I felt honored to share this special moment with Mary and Jan. For me, it’s inspirational to see two people who have fought so hard for love. For some of you, it might be weird or uncomfortable to see a marriage of two women, but that’s ok. When you grow up, you can marry whomever you want to marry, and you can have whatever kind of family you want to have.  You don’t need to want what they want. You do need to be respectful of everyone in our community, and whether you know it or not, some people you know are gay. I challenge you to put yourself in their shoes. I challenge you to work on finding something you can love about everyone, even if they seem different. I challenge you to stand up for those who get teased for just being themselves. If you do love people of the same sex, I want you to know that I respect you for who you are.

Let’s work together to make sure that everyone can love and be loved. Our world will be better because of it.

Where Would You Go?

I have a busy weekend ahead. In addition to social activities, school work, and a balloon twisting job, I also need to set aside time to work on my Global Education Resource Guide. As part of my TGC fellowship, I am developing resources for other teachers to help students become more “globally competent.”  I’ve always believed that the first step to being a good global citizen is curiosity about the world around us.  Young people today know that they are globally connected — through the food they eat, the games they play, the places their families have lived, and more. You can see it in their recent classwork shown below. I asked students to answer this question: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Here’s a selection of their responses. As you can see, students are thrilled to connect globally… and now I’m just trying to figure out how to take them one step closer.

If you are not lucky enough to be a 5th or 6th grader in one of my classes, go ahead and answer in the comments section — Where would you go?

Technology: Terrific or Terrible?

“Clouds” in Lynn, MA (made by a group of sky writing jets last weekend)

Here I am, writing a blog entry in my bedroom, getting ready to send this text up into the Cloud.  I rarely think about what I am doing when I publish something online. However, it’s really amazing when I stop to think about it. In a few minutes, when I am done writing, this text will be sent to storage farms which could be anywhere in the world. In just a few more seconds, it will be made available to billions of people online. There’s no guarantee that anyone will read this, but they could.

Girl in Beijing fighting with her mom about her cell phone use

In fact, my statistics reveal that fewer people viewed my blog today than any other day all summer, but I still got views from Australia, Japan, and Germany. It’s hard not to feel like the internet is magic.

Over the 10 years that I’ve been teaching at Innovation Academy, technology has become a greater and greater part of the classroom experience.  Today, more 5th grade students have their own cell phone, email address, social networking accounts, and more. They speak this technological lingo as their first language, and not as a foreign tongue.  During our orientation sessions over the past few days, I led classes on technology for over 100 students. We are working to help students understand how computing works in the 21st century, to go beyond just clicking. We showed this fabulous video which I can’t take credit for, but does a hysterical job explaining cloud computing:

Students are impressed with the Cloud, but they were able to identify problems with increased technology in today’s society. Students named the following challenges that technology brings:

  • Less time to play outside
  • Frustrations waiting for broken machines
  • Empty wallets due to money spent on computers
  • Hackers and “haters” that can be very dangerous
  • Increased use of energy to run all the computers, creating more CO2 which is damaging the environment

Today’s youth are connected, and they are aware. Watch out.  They are not just taking in information. They are producing new knowledge. And it’s not going away. It’s stored up there in the Cloud.

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