WOW! What an exciting, overwhelming, wonderful, fantastic, sometimes stressful, amazing first two weeks I have had in Berlin, Germany. I have traveled to other countries prior to this experience, but I have never stayed for eleven weeks nor was I alone. The past two weeks have been filled with exciting adventures and new learning outside the norms I am accustomed to in Wisconsin. I have truly learned a lot about who I am as a person both in and outside of the classroom!
I am placed in the Year 4 classroom at the Berlin British Primary School. The Primary School is home to students ages 6-11. The school began implementing a new curriculum this year. They are working with the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) for Years 2 through 6. This curriculum works to make connections across subject areas, and promote student’s use of critical thinking skills. Each class Year is divided into two separate classes, each with a teacher of their own. Each grade level shares a large room, separated by a wall divider that can be either left open (which happens most often) or closed for separate instruction. The educators are constantly working in collaboration with one another to improve student’s education, differentiate instruction, promote critical thinking, and collaboration between students. The staff and students come from all over the world! The diversity within the school is incredible! They have welcomed me with smiling faces and words of encouragement. I am sincerely grateful to be surrounded by such incredible educators and students!
The important foundation of education: differentiated instruction/projects, student success, collaboration, assessment, and reflection which I have learned about throughout my education at UW-Oshkosh is familiar to the principles of the BBS. However, there are many differences, cultural and educational, that I have experienced and learned about over the past two weeks.
The first thing I noticed is the language and terms being used in the classroom. The BBS is an English speaking school, but the names of objects and teacher directions are much different. I look back and have to smile when I think about asking a student to erase something. He just stood, staring at me with a blank look, and had no idea what I was talking about. After a moment and hand gestures of what I was asking him, he informed me that it is called “rubbing it out.” Following that, I learned that an eraser is a rubber, the garbage bin is a bin, students work drawer is called a cubby, and cleaning up is called tidying up! It seems pretty basic and easy to understand, but sometimes I simply confuse the terms and say them incorrectly. Thankfully the students are very patient and help correct me when I am wrong! I am a work in progress!
I am slowly beginning to enjoy coffee (which is much stronger here) and taking a break to sit and talk with a coworker. At the BBS the students receive a snack break mid-morning. They enjoy a sandwich or snack before returning back to learning. Shortly after this break, they go outside and play. During this time, the teachers take a coffee/tea break. At first I was not sure what was going on! Until I took time to make a connection between school and culture, and recognized the importance of this time to meet and talk over a cup of coffee/tea. The time is spent catching up with one another, and taking a break before returning to the classroom.
I immediately noticed the pace of life is slower than the usual busy, jam packed lessons, and on-the-go lifestyle we have in The United States. Especially on Sunday’s when there is hardly any place open here except for the cafes. I noticed during the school days that the time in the classroom is at a different pace. Class time is not just planned for the day, class block/period, or week. The lessons are designed to be continued from previous class time with no distinct end- just because the class period is over according to scheduling. Student achievement is measured throughout the school year, using ongoing assessments- both formative and summative. As any teacher knows, students work must be graded. I have learned a new technique of grading in my classroom! Students work is graded with a green colored pen/pencil. They receive a tick (check mark) for correct answers and a dot for incorrect work. After they receive their results, they return to their work and make corrections to the answers that have been marked incorrect. I think this is an effective way to track students progress, and allow them room to grow as a student. Having the opportunity to review, identify the problem, and correct their work is a powerful technique that teaches students to be reflective problem solvers.
The collaboration within the school is not just among the staff, but the students as well. I am impressed at the students ability to work with one another to problem solve, create, plan, and help one another understand (most often working in their native language to translate) what they are learning. The students are so creative and eager to learn!
I feel it is important for me to not only experience the school culture, but the culture of Berlin as well. I have spent quite a bit of time throughout the past two weeks trying to understand public transportation (and get to my destination without getting lost), finding my way back from getting lost, going grocery shopping, exploring, and visiting the incredible historic landmarks of Berlin! The people here are kind and the country is absolutely beautiful!
The Berlin British Primary School
Standing at the Berlin Wall line, where it used to stand.
Outside the Charlottenburg Palace and The Monument to the Great Elector.
Enjoying the simple beauty of nature and Germany!