Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the tag “Religion”

Colors of the Hutong

Today was our first full day with students!  In the morning, I joined the beginner Mandarin class.  In just a few hours, our little group was able to have CONVERSATIONS in Mandarin Chinese.  They were simple sentences, talking about our names and ages, or what we like to eat, but we were speaking and understanding each other. It was very exciting.

In the afternoon, we visited the Hutong, which is a traditional neighborhood of small alleyways.  Today, there are lots of modern shops, even though the overall feel of the area is still very “Old Beijing.”  One highlight was visiting the Lama Temple, which houses the largest wooden Buddha in the world. In this photo, you can only see his feet!

You can see the people bowing down to him, but you can’t hear the monk in the corner who was chanting, or smell the incense burning all around.  You can’t jump into the photograph and look up several stories at the giant wooden sculpture, made out of a single sandalwood tree. If you could do these things, you’d be even more impressed. Perhaps it’s best that you are reading this instead, because you get to avoid the outrageous heat that we experienced as we walked around.  It was very hot!  As we walked around, the students learned about Buddhism, from the eight auspicious symbols to the fruit offerings presented at their feet.  I really enjoyed sharing my love of Buddhism with the students.  In this photo below, a student is spinning her first prayer wheel.

After our visit to the temple and a lot of walking, we needed a break.  Students were jet lagged and we were exhausted. We stopped to get some juice at a nice cafe.  Mine was “honey melon” which I think might be a cantaloupe-related melon, but not exactly the same. Silvia, who is in the photo with me, got papaya juice. My role this summer is international director, and Silvia is the local director.  She is Italian, but she’s lived in China for about 6 years.   She knows the area very well and did a wonderful job showing us around the Hutong.

It might seem like Beijing is full of ancient sites. It’s true that there are many historical places to visit, but there are also many modern things to see.  Here are some of my other favorite photographs from today’s visit to the Hutong:



For now, I need to say “Zai Jian” (goodbye). Sorry that I could not take this adorable dog home, but I will continue to try to capture a bit of Beijing to send home to you through photographs.

A Muslim Country?

Is Turkey a Muslim country?  According to the CIA World Factbook, 99.8% of people in Turkey are Muslim (people who practice the religion Islam).  Women who are Muslim normally wear head coverings and men who are Muslim generally wear beards.  Of course, people who are less religious might not follow these practices, but many do.  However, while I was in Turkey I learned that in public schools and government buildings, women are not allowed to wear head scarves and men are not allowed to wear beards.  The government wants to keep religion out of public spaces, but they are doing this by restricting people’s religious practice.  This seems sad to me. Shouldn’t people get to choose how they want to dress and practice their religion?

When I walked down the streets in Turkey, I saw people of all shapes and sizes, light skin and dark skin, covered heads and modern dress.  Like America, Turkey is a diverse country!  Take a peek:

Turkey is a crossroads country between Europe and Asia, so it has a long history for both Christians and Muslims.  I saw many mosques throughout my travels, but I also saw churches, from very ancient to more modern:


I also got to go inside a few mosques, some of them very famous:

Overall, I don’t think that Turkey should be defined as a Muslim country, even though many people are Muslim.  People are people. If we only see their religion, we miss out on lots of other aspects of who they are.  Even so, I loved learning about the things they find sacred, and how Muslims practice their religion. Here’s one of my favorite photos that I took on my last day in Istanbul, which I think shows the contrast between the old and the new, as well as the religious and the secular. As you can see, mosques are only one part of the landscape of Turkey.

Colors of Kyiv

Today was packed with learning about Ukrainian culture and seeing the sights of Kyiv.  In the morning, we went to the IREX office and had a lesson from our host, Iryna. She taught us about the history, politics, economics, and culture of Ukraine.  My favorite part was learning about the culture.  For example, here’s a clip of her telling us about how the view of personal space is very different from what we know in America:

Here’s a question of the day for you about Ukrainian culture.  Take a guess what you think might be correct, based on what we learned today:

Which of the following would Loki be LEAST likely to do if she were Ukrainian?

  • a) Stand very close to the person in front of her when waiting in line
  • b) Complain about how much she gets paid
  • c) Give a long story about how she is doing when asked “how are you?”
  • d) Move to a new city for a fresh start
  • e) Live with her parents through college and beyond

After our morning lesson, we went to lunch and then hit the town for a tour of important sites in Kyiv.  We visited several Orthodox churches, and since it is the day after Easter, it’s still considered a holiday.  Bells were ringing, and the colors were magnificent:

One of our favorite stops was a very interesting park, decorated in a most unusual way. Check it out:

Our day ended with a meal even more filling than yesterday’s!  This one included perogies (little dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese and other delicious things) and an apple strudel dessert with ice cream. It was a very full day… and meal!  Below are a few more of my favorite photos from today, from beautiful to quirky…

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Dinner on Orthodox Easter

For your viewing pleasure, here’s my first video from Ukraine.  You’ll see the many courses we ate tonight at our first Ukrainian feast. I get the sense that there will be many more to follow.

I am, indeed, stuffed. And now, I must sleep, sleep, sleep.

Sacred to Me, Sacred to You

Our classroom has four walls, but these days in Social Studies class, student learning is going far beyond our local bubble.  This is no typical geography class.  Students are writing emails to new penpals all over the world, eagerly awaiting their responses.  We’ve heard back from teachers who have agreed to share their letters with students in the Philippines, Afghanistan, France, Norway, Iran, China, Australia, India, Russia, Italy, Turkey, and Israel. Our students at Innovation Academy can’t wait to hear back. As teachers, we are frantically trying to keep up with coordinating these relationships, forged through former Innovation teachers and friends, past IREX fellows, and sites like Even without any student responses yet, the excitement is palpable. 

We are also using world religion as a lens to learn about different beliefs, traditions, and practices that vary and maintain consistent across borders. Last week, we visited five houses of worship, all within a half hour drive of our school. We met with leaders at a Buddhist center, a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, a Jewish temple, and a Greek Orthodox church. Our new class blog,  Sacred to Me, Sacred to You, will impress you!  Our students have shared what is sacred to them, from Jesus on a cross to footballs and legos.   Photos of their sacred objects are shown on the blog.  We are inviting readers from all over the world to contribute, and we’ll also post what we learn through our research about religions that are not our own.

Want a taste of our field trip experience?  Check out this video that I made:

If you are not a 5th or 6th grade student in Social Studies right now, don’t be too jealous.  You can join us!  Here are some ways that you can connect with our students:

a) Volunteer to be a guest speaker: We have a Wednesday speaker series in which guests give talks on places around the world where they have lived, worked, or traveled.  Do you have expertise to share?

b) Contribute to our Sacred to Me, Sacred to You blog: What is sacred to you?  If you want to contribute, check out details on the blog and email your writing, photo, or video link to  Be sure to say where you are writing from!

c) Share a Resource: We are always looking for ideas for websites, books, videos, and other resources to share with our students.  Let us know if you have an idea about global citizenship, geography, culture, or religion.

d) Follow and comment: In addition to my upcoming posts from Ukraine and Turkey that will appear here (in less than a month), more student work will be displayed on the Sacred to Me, Sacred to You blog.  Students would love to know that you are checking out their work, so come back soon!

We look forward to welcoming you into our classroom, virtually or otherwise!

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