2013

New Places, Faces, and Experiences!

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! Image

The Berlin British Primary School

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Standing at the Berlin Wall line, where it used to stand.

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Outside the Charlottenburg Palace and The Monument to the Great Elector.

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Enjoying the simple beauty of nature and Germany!

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4 thoughts on “New Places, Faces, and Experiences!

  1. Brittany,
    After reading your post, I have recognized several aspects of our schools that are very similar. Our school day seems like yours. It is not as fast paced back in the states, and teachers take a coffee break when the students go out to play. I too thought that this was strange at first because I thought it was just a place to refill your coffee, but then everyone sat down and chatted for 20 minutes! All the while in my head I was thinking of different things that I could be doing to plan for my next lesson. But now that I have been in this setting going on my third week, I come to really look forward to the break that we have and socialization is a good thing to have to stay in the loop of different happenings in the school and also fellow teachers lives!

    Student’s at my school all come from a wide variety of different countries and they all take their schooling very seriously. The teachers have a similar marking/grading system that you have as well. We use green pens to grade with all different markings meaning different things then what you have said, but they are the same color! And purple pens to do writing in. Our school teaching system also focuses on differentiation and working on ongoing projects/learning activities done in groups. Our rooms are different then yours in that we have rooms similar to the United States and no dividers. Even though teachers teach in their own classrooms, there is much collaboration with the same year teachers to plan the same things to teach their students and to talk about different needs that students have.

    Overall, I really am enjoying my school so far and love the different British English words that the students and teachers use. It is so different from back home, but in some ways very similar. It seems that my school is using a system similar to PBIS even though it isn’t called PBIS because they are coming up with a school wide rewards system and only focusing on the positive which is very similar to PBIS. I hope you continue to learn and grow at your school! What a great experience we both are embarking on!

  2. Joy- I must say, I am beginning to really look forward to the coffee break in the mid-morning! It is a nice time to just take a little break, and get “geared up” for the rest of the morning.

    You use green pen as well? I really like this method! I just might take this idea with me forever! I think it is especially important for students to be able to find errors and make corrections. The process of reflection, identifying, and rethinking is essential for everyday life- not just the classroom. I hope to incorporate collaboration with the other Year 4 teacher throughout my teaching! I think it is important for the students to work with one another, not just always the same friends or groups… New ideas, sharing, collaboration, and perspectives.

    I am finding differentiation a bit difficult. I am focusing on getting to know the current learning levels of students to better be able to plan and create work each of them are able to complete independently, and with confidence!

    I have to sit and smile at some of the words/phrases! Like you mentioned- so much the same, but different at the same time. Makes for an interesting day!
    This experience has been life changing in only four short weeks… I cannot imagine what is to come in the next seven! Talk to you soon.

  3. Brittany,

    It sounds like you are having an awesome time in Berlin. Germany is one of my favorite places to travel to with all it has to offer!

    I like that your curriculum has a strong focus on connecting across the subjects as well as promoting critical thinking. I think that this is such an important aspect that can easily be forgotten. It is easy to think of subjects as separate concepts, but in reality it is important to combine aspects to make the learning more meaningful.

    I have found that there is a great amount of collaboration here in Australia as well. Our classrooms are actually combined with two grades into one. Do you like that they are constantly collaborating with other classrooms? When they collaborate is it all one huge group or do they separate into smaller groups? We have found to have some of both here, but it gets to be interesting because we have a lot of behavior issues, so when the group gets larger the behaviors seem to be more challenging to manage.

    I had to laugh when I read your comment about language and terms because I have ran into the exact same thing here. We call erasers rubbers, garbage’s are bins and clean-up is tidying up as well. Can you tell that we were settled by the British? I still catch myself using the wrong terms every once in a while. It can be hard to use new words, when you are so used to your own language. It makes the day fun and interesting- I think I learn a new word every day!

    It seems that the United States likes to move, move, move. Similar to your school, things in Australia are much more relaxed and times are not followed closely. They are there simply as a guideline, but many times we do not follow it. I like that your lessons are planned to be continued with no distinct end. It is so important to focus on the lesson itself instead of trying to rush because you are short on time. When this happens learning gets cut off. I think you learned a great new technique for grading. Children need the chance to learn from their mistakes. Instead of things just being wrong, they actually have the chance to show their learning by going back to correct their work. Very powerful teaching strategy- I want to keep this in mind for the future!

    I hope that you continue to enjoy your experience in Berlin if you haven’t been to Checkpoint Charlie yet it is well worth it- I still remember going there and that was almost 10 years ago already! Can’t wait to hear from you again soon!

  4. Brittany,

    Great that you are having a chance to work with the IB curriculum at the primary level. When I was at FIS we only had IB at the high school level. I really get excited about the prospect of incorporating the tenets of IB at all grades. I’ll be curious to see what you think after using it for a few months.

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