In School in Germany: Picture Games

IMGP8304

To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

IMGP6820

Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

DSC02427

It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………   

 

IMGP6971

It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

DSC02495IMGP7900IMGP8194

Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

sunset

FF new logo1

Advertisements

Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

Typical one-room school church
Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

FF new logo1

Genre of the Week: Sojourns and Sayings of Martin Luther by Heinz Stade

sojourns and sayings of martin luther

The art of music is the best food for one who is troubled, for through it the heart is contented, inspired and refreshed.

 

Sometimes even the best writers, teachers, priests, and people working in the field of law need music to produce ideas and ease their souls, to reflect on the situations that went wrong and look ahead to the future with a plan. Even as I write this, I listen to classical rock music and think about the ways to address Luther and the problems we face today, not to mention how we look at Luther from our own eyes. Literature is one of the aspects to look at, as it shows us how Luther lived and conveyed his message to his followers, let alone how his teachings have affected the Church to this day.  Sometimes even having a collection of quotes gives a person an insight into his experiences and how he can share them with others. After all, quotes and sayings produced from one’s mouth can speak more volumes than any lecture, speech or talk because it is based on one’s own achievements. This is why I usually write and keep a set of my own quotes for my own use because of my experiences that can help others having similar experiences like I did.

 

Several books have a collection of quotes written or told by Martin Luther, pending on the sources. I will present two of them I found during my recent visit to Wartburg in Eisenach. The first one is a collection of sojourns and sayings of Martin Luther, a collection of quotes put together by Heinz Stade but based on a German work by Susan Kubitz, released in 2015 by Rhino Press.

 

Available in English, French and Spanish, Sojourns and Sayings is divided up into cities where Martin Luther’s influences were at his best and where most of his written works are found and recorded into history, from the parents’ home in Möhra (Thuringia) and Mansfield (Saxony-Anhalt) to his place of birth and death in Eisleben, to his days as a student in Erfurt and as a reformer there and in Wittenberg. There was even quotes from the city of Torgau, where protestant history was written, and Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora died in 1552. His quotes are not only categorized based on his stay but also in categories, such as family, pursuit of knowledge, Christian people, work and idleness and on God and the world for each of the respective aforementioned towns. The quotes book is so small, one can carry it with in his backpack and read the quotes while travelling, let alone use it for insurance coverage (that topic will come later).

 

But how useful are the quotes from the book? I took a few excerpts out and categorized them myself to show how Luther interpreted them, connecting them with the current scenery, which from Luther’s perspective would be justified to remind society of how our gifts should be handled with care, the fruits of this world should not be abused, and lastly, how we should respect and love our own neighbors regardless of their social, cultural and other backgrounds, unconditionally and wholly.

 

So without further ado:

 Love, Marriage and Relationships:

 

This one needs no explanation because of a lengthy column I wrote about on this topic (click here to read). But to sum up, Luther was against impure relationships for it would otherwise hurt the natural settings, which to a certain degree is justified, but in today’s standards, the choice of who to love lies solely on the person.  But here are a few worth mulling. The third one is so true, which led to my wife and daughter, the latter we are teaching the fruits of life so she can carry it on for future generations.

 

If anyone is about to marry, let him not ask after the woman’s father but let him ask in what odor the mother is held. Why is this? Because the ale is as good as the barrel smells.

 

Bedding and being bedded- that comes easy, even out of wedlock. But the best of all ways to plight your troth is by children, for they are the finest wool from the sheep.

 

The world cannot do without its women, even if men were to bear the children alone.

 

 

Growing up:

 

For parents who try to force their children to doing things they don’t want to do just because they made mistakes in their lives: Don’t do that. Let them grow to become who they themselves want to be. This is Luther’s reason why:

 

Youth is like the juice of freshly pressed fruit. It will not keep. It has to ferment and brim over.

 

 Judging other people:

 

In this category, I have a nice quote for those who claim to love their neighbors but act differently, which questions otherwise: How can you love your neighbor but judge them too prematurely and not even be there when help is needed? There are a few people on my list who I hope will read this.  Luther has some ways of handling people who are different in some aspects but in the end, they are like us- humans who have just as much right to live here as the people during Luther’s time. Here are his quotes:

 

No man or woman is so evil that in them there is nothing praiseworthy at all.

 

Man is a creature made up of life and death, pleasure and grief, desire and satiety, love and hatred, understanding and folly.

 

Take this as your guide- not to defame your neighbor elsewhere by talking about him, but to warn him in secret, so that he may change for the better.

 

 Education:

 

Education is one commodity which is becoming underappreciated by the year, as institutions are charging more for access, hiring teachers who are not open to different cultures and learning styles, and lastly, becoming so chaotic that even the bottom line slogan for it is clouded. Furthermore, when looking at Betsy DeVos, minister for education in the US, having someone who undermines the basic foundations of the country’s education system in favor of education for the privileged contradicts what Martin Luther had preached for in his 95 Theses: religion, education and the Bible for all and not for the elite. Here are some quotes that support educating the general public, which includes the importance of learning the language:

 

The task and duty of the teacher is this, not only to teach what he knows but also to disprove the teaching of opponents.

 

Without the language we shall never keep the gospel. Languages are the sheath: the gospel, the sword of the spirit, is held in them (….)  If we fail (which God forbid!) in this, paying no heed to the common speech, we shall not only lose the gospel but we shall end by being able to speak and read neither Latin nor German.

 

 Hard Work:

 

Hard Work seems to be another commodity of today’s society that is clouded. Hard work does not constitute 10 days in a sweat shop or manufacturing facility just to earn money and gain physical strength. The psychological aspect has to be included, which means jobs in the administrative section, such as teaching, journalism, etc. can also be included. Man is born to work but also to be proud of his work, as Luther quoted:

 

Hard work makes you healthy and strong

 

There shall be no toleration for feasting day in day out, for dressing in luxury or for lecherous excesses.

 

God wants no lazy idlers, but each should work hard and faithfully, following his calling and fulfilling his office, that God give him blessing and cause him to thrive. Man is born to labor as the birds are born to fly.

 

 

Being Yourself and Succeeding:

 

And lastly, one cannot be onesself with loving onesself for his own work, bringing up matters of concern to the forefront and initiating change to satisfy onesself and others surrounding him. This was the slogan for Martin Luther as he fought to preserve and foster the personal identity of others instead of following the beliefs blindly like a herd of sheep:

 

It is always customary to make out of a little spark a big fire.

 

What is at the end of all laws is love.

 

Be refreshing! Be clear! Be brief!

 

flfi-logo-martin-luther-500

Interesting Facts About Germany: Books and the Ten Commandments

IMGP8541

Here is an interesting story to share with you to start off this article: At an elementary school in Bad Oldesloe (between Luebeck and Hamburg), a group of pupils during an after-school class (Schulhort) saw an elementary school clearing the bookshelves of old, used school books, to make way for newer materials to be used in the classroom. Instead of putting the old books into boxes to be given away to the needy, the teacher instead discards the books into the garbage can- right in front of other pupils. An average of 30-35 pupils attend the Schulhort to do homework, activities and other things while waiting for their parents to collect them- a concept that is non-existent in the US and other countries, where classes run from 8:00am to 3:00pm- ending two hours later than in Germany.

Fortunately that group that saw the incident fished out 10 of the books and divided them up among themselves to take home with them. And while a complaint against that teacher has been sent to the headmaster of that school, little is known what action will be taken there, if at all.  But this incident conveyed the message to the pupils, whose parents and other educators would object forcefully:

 

 It is OK to throw books away because they are waste. It is OK to kill more trees because we don’t need them. It is OK to pervert the environment more than it is already.  And it is OK to waste the minds of the next generation because they are indeed cogs of the elite that believe the Earth is dead already- why not make it even deader?

 

I bet Betsy DeVos (America’s newly elected Educational Minister) is reading this right now and is about to kiss me for those comments, while also inviting me to dinner with Josef Stalin and all the evangelical Jesus-freaks, including Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon. 😉

ana at poni
Ana Beatriz Ribeiro introducing the new open library at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig during last year’s Intercultural Blogger Conference. Ana is the founder and columnist of the Leipzig Glocal

 

But away with the sarcasm, the discarding of books in general would make a German cringe, for if there is one sin that is unforgivable, it is reading the book and then desecrating it. Germany prides itself on books, for one in three German households have an average of 1,200 books in their libraries! And while people may think only one in ten have a library or can find books in each room of the apartment or house, don’t be fooled when you check in the forbidden areas, where you can find boxes and shelves of books in the cellar, garage, some attics and underneath beds in the bedroom. I even saw a library of books in a neighbor’s basement! No matter where you go in the neighborhood of a German community, books are everywhere. This is why we have these key facts to consider:

 

  1. A community has an average of two libraries; in a university city- six counting a university library. For larger cities with more than two universities, don’t be surprised if university libraries are divided up ad customized, based on subject of studies and spread out throughout the city, justifying the need to bike from one end to the other.

 

  1. Each suburb of a city with 70,000 people or more has its own library full of new and used books, and these libraries have as full of capacity as the normal central libraries as well as the university ones.

 

  1. Germany prides in having book stores. You will find an average of one book store franchise and one private, family owned one in a city of 50,000 or more. And both are well-visited.

 

  1. Germany is the only known country to have an open library. On trains, in the park and in city centers, one can see a glass case with books for you to take. However, it comes at a cost of giving away one of your own. You can also borrow, read and put back if you wish. The open library displayed by Ana Beatriz Ribeiro at the 2016 Intercultural Blogger Conference at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig is another example, but it is one of the firsts in the country to have this in an eatery.

 

  1. Most importantly, Germany prides itself in hosting two international book fairs: One in Leipzig in March and another in October in Frankfurt/Main. Both taking place at conference centers (Messe), as many as a million visitors converge on these fairs to read and even purchase books from writers and publishers from as many as 90 countries on average, including one theme country.

 

To summarize, Germans treat books as Americans treat the Bible- they see these as sacred gifts never to be desecrated, period. Therefore when a person is lent a book and returns it in the form deemed different than what it was before- creases in the pages and covers, plus coffee spills (even if unintentional), that person can expect to be blocked on facebook and spammed in the GMX accounts. Ruining a book can ruin a friendship. When a person throws away books deemed useless, you can expect book lovers rummaging through the paper garbage containers at night, fishing them out to save them. Believe me, I’ve done this myself as my wife and I are bookworms ourselves.  And what is wrong with selling a book at a flea market (Trödelmarkt) for a buck? (One Euro) A loss in profits is a given, but at least the next person can share in the experience in reading the book as much as you did before selling it. 🙂

 

As a writer and teacher myself, if there is a Ten Commandments as far as books are concerned, there would be the following:

 

  1. Thou shall treat the book like the Bible. Handle it like it’s the most valuable gift in the house.
  2. Thou shall not desecrate the book in any form. Karma will kick the offender in the Gluteus Maximus for any petty misdemeanor with this.
  3. Thou shall treat the book like a gift. Books are great gifts at any occasion and no person can deny this.
  4. Thou shall not discard books for any reason. Even if a person dies, his books are also your valuables.
  5. Thou shall donate unwanted books. Libraries and second-hand shops are always forthcoming in taking on books for their collection.
  6. Thou shall ask before lending out books. When living in a flat with your partner, if you have a book to lend to a colleague, consult first before carrying it out.
  7. Thou shall treat a borrowed book like the Bible. It is a sin to read the book and return it altered.
  8. Thou shall visit one international book fair in thou’s lifetime. You’re not a true German if haven’t spent a whole day at a Buchmesse- better, two: one in Frankfurt and one in Leipzig. Both are experiences of a lifetime.
  9. Thou shall cherish the memories from reading a book. Books are brain food, providing some memorable experiences when reading it and some topics for discussion.
  10. Thou shall set examples for others when treating the book. Remember, one tree produces 5 books. One book produces memorable experiences similar to a vacation. That means paper can be recycled but not the book itself.

 

With a lot of writing greats coming from Germany, one should try and write a book to keep up with tradition. Not a column like this one, but a classic 200-page novel dealing with mysteries, travels, social and medical themes, business and history- the things Germans love to read. 70% of Germans prefer print media over e-media. That trend is bound to stay the same in the coming years. The smell of paper from the press is impossible to refuse, and e-books to many is just a piece of plastic that hurts the eyes. Germans have a very close and erotical relationship with books and the paper product with pages needs to be taken very seriously.

After all, as one person in a forum about Germany and books stated: Having a library full o books does not justify NOT buying more books. So if you see that in a German household next time, imagine a library full of Bibles, Quorans and Testaments, treat them with care and understand why books are to be kept as collectibles and not desecrated.

Thank you! 🙂

flefi-deutschland-logo

 

Disclaimer: The location and name of the school where the incident took place was changed to protect the identity of those involved. 

In School in Germany: The Black Box

IMG_20151017_183153

The Black Box– a secret device hid inside an aircraft to record the flight from start to finish. The box is used to determine how the flight went, but also in worst case scenario, how it crashed. The black box is top secret and can only be opened when deemed necessary.

Each of us has our own black box in our heads, kept locked away and containing the secrets and desires that the majority of the public does not want to hear or see- that is unless there is someone who is willing to open it up and accept our dark sides. 🙂

But the black box does not necessarily have to be full of secrets that can destroy one person. It can also serve as something to share with others where all can learn from it and the person who has the secret can benefit from it; especially when it comes to learning a foreign language or other subjects.

Most recently, I developed a Black Box exercise which can be utilized wherever needed, pending on which subject you are teaching which topic you wish to discuss. Good for all ages and regardless of whether it’s for 1-1 training or a classroom setting, it is a two-part exercise that requires work on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts, but in the end, will bear fruit as far as discussion and learning is concerned. What you need for materials are the following:

For each student and the teacher, you need one sheet of black paper and another sheet of a colored paper of choice.

Use the black sheet of paper, fold it along horizontal lines in half and afterwards, fold the halves into half again, thus having a sheet folded into quarters, as seen in the picture below.

IMG_20151017_180553

The next step is to fold the horizontal portion of the sheet into two halves then again into quarters, thus creating a origami with eight rectangular shapes. Please ensure that the sheet is closed in half horizontally, as seen in the pictures below.

Fold the vertical portion in half....
Fold the vertical portion in half….
....and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
….and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
Closed-book format like this....
Closed-book format like this….

The next step many people may fall for (and I have many times myself). Here you need to fold the outer corners of the folded sheet of paper. What is meant by outer corner is the folded sheet and not the single sheet, as some people have done. Please see the pics below to see how the corners should be folded. Normally, the corners folded should have a 45° angle touching the folded crease in each corner with a tab sticking out down the middle on both sides.

This is not the way to fold it!
This is not the way to fold it!
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.

Fold these tabs outwards so that they cover the outer corners. Then place your fingers in the opening and sandwich the long ends, so that in the end, a half a box is revealed. It should look like this in the end…..

IMG_20151017_181946

IMG_20151017_182020

Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards....
Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards….
Top portion of the box finished! :-) Now the bottom portion needs to be done.....
Top portion of the box finished! 🙂 Now the bottom portion needs to be done…..

Repeat the steps with the other half of the box and you have yourself the finished product, as seen below:

12087845_1028557130508269_4206675909159838275_o

Once you have completed your black box, you can do many activities with them, where students can cut into pieces and place various colors of paper into the box, pending on what topic you are talking about in class. These multi-colored cards are then picked out by random, either by the teacher walking by and picking one from each student’s black box or by asking them to submit a card of a certain color into the teacher’s own black box and then, the teacher chooses one. Black boxes are very useful for foreign language teaching as they serve the following purposes:

  1. They can be used to break the ice and start a conversation in class,

  2. They can be used for introducing new vocabulary and cultural themes a student or teacher picked up while encountering media or visiting an event and a wants to share,

and 3. They can be used for conversational purposes based on a topic previously discussed in class. This is especially useful when teaching a subject in a non-native language, such as bilingual history, social studies, religion, and music in either English, French, Spanish, Russian or other languages.

In one case, students can ask the teacher a question about a topic of interest. This is especially useful if the teacher is a native speaker of a language being taught in the classroom. In other words, Ask the Ami a question about American Culture. 😉

IMG_20151017_183236IMG_20151017_183248

I have tried (and am still trying) to introduce this in the general English where one colored card has a question pertaining to the topics learned in the workbook, another for questions on vocabulary, another for questions for discussion, and the last one for questions for the American. However, this can be done with other subjects and topics, yet one has to be aware of the audience and their knowledge of both the topic and the language.

Another concern is that some students (especially in a large classroom setting) may find a creative way of ruining such an activity by posing questions and providing vocabulary words that are inappropriate, personally attacking other students or even the teacher with a question or comment, or playing Devil’s Advocate on a topic deemed controversial and not suitable for the classroom. Here the teacher will need to set guidelines for such an activity to avoid any conflicts in the classroom that might have a negative impact on the teaching environment or even the teacher’s career. While the Black Box is suitable for all ages, students need to be aware of the questions and vocabulary words they are asking which may be difficult for them to understand if they are either too young or the language level is too low. That means an A-level student should not be asking philosophical questions about Socrates if his/her level is suitable for small talk and telephone conversations.

Nevertheless, the Black Box function similarily like the device on the airplane: it brings out the most thought-provoking questions to the students in class, who will benefit from learning from the “secrets” kept locked away until now, while thinking about and utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom in a positive manner. A wiser man once said to the author: Never judge a person by his looks or actions, but by his inner thoughts and backgrounds. It applies to not only future partners in relationships but also people you encounter along the way. After all, the most interesting aspects come from the most unusual people. 🙂

Enjoy the exercise and one confession: Yellow is my color because my devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, in case you are wondering. It is also the favorite color of my daughter’s whose homemade box idea inspired this activity. 🙂 ❤

five years flfi

In School in Germany: Teaching Environmental Sciences

IMGP6424

It’s a day like no other: a simple walk in the woods on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the spring time. The leaves on the trees are budding, the moss and the pine needles are getting greener, and the skies are blue with a few clouds in the air. Mushrooms are growing on the trees and the lake is as blue as the reflections in the sky. One used to go swimmimg there in the past, but not anymore. Why? Too much run-off has produced algae that is occupying most of the lake, suffocating the life out of the fish and marine life that once thrived there.

Then there is a walk along the beach in the US. Going barefoot, one person steps on a ripped tin can and cuts herself deep. The can was buried 3/4 of the way in the sand. Plus there were bags and other non-perishables nearby. Not far from there, we see a river that has not seen a drop of rain for months since its one-time torrential downpour with the consequences being as dire as in this picture below:

envir1

One should also not forget the infestation of grasshoppers and locusts thanks to the drought that also resulted in nearby forest fires that destroyed a once-popular tourist attraction….envir2

These are just the classic examples of how unaware society has been with regards to the environment around us. With the recent events unfolding in front of our eyes: the illegal killing of the lion in Zimbabwe, governments signing leases to oil companies to explore for oil in very sensitive natural preserves, rain forests being decimated in square kilometers per day, to even the German and Danish governments pushing to have a megatron-style expressway and high speed rail line run through a small but vulnerable island, one has to ask himself: are we aware of what we are doing to our flora and fauna?  Some people think it is the work of God and even one person mentioned recently that we are already facing Armageddon. But even God is the one who is displeased with how His world, which He created in seven days, according to the book of Genesis. Yet do we want to face Armaggedon by continuing to be greedy and ignorant?

There is a saying that is worth noting: The best time to educate is when the baby is in his diapers. If there was one class in school that should be introduced at all costs, it is environmental sciences. And when? As soon as the kid enters school. And how long? If kept as a core requirement, like reading, writing and math, all the way through high school.

But how do we introduce this to the class? And what should we teach them that is relevant to this topic?

Children should be gradually introduced to this topic by showing them the importance of our environment: the trees, flora and fauna, water and especially, food. They should be taught the importance of reusing and recycling goods rendered useless, planting trees and taking care of the vegetation, eating healthy organic foods, not buying goods coming from sensitive environmental areas, like the rain forest, or derived from endangered animals and lastly, learning how important the Earth is to them and the next generation. As they later become an adolescent, themes, such as pollution, climate change and destruction of habitat, can be introduced so that they can implement their knowledge and talk about these topics- even more so when they are current events. Very important is taking a look at the measures already in place to help our environment, whether it is the use of renewable resources, like bio-gas, wind, water and sun, saving energy or even using alternative forms of transportation instead of the car, like the train.  Some factors, like anthropology, sociology and natural sciences could be mixed in there to ensure that when graduating from school, they would have a sufficient amount of knowledge and common sense to take action to stop the global warming process, which is progressing faster than expected.

IMGP6398
Example of a renewable energy source: converting compost and manuer into energy: bio-gas, as seen on a farm in central Thuringia

At the moment, no laws exist regarding the requirements of this class, let alone incorporating it into the core curriculum. Reasons are pretty standard: not enough funding and support, too much focus on the testing requirements, too much opposition from the lobbyists and even politicians, and lastly, falsified information from the media, claiming that global warming is a natural process. (and if you are one of those believers, you better quit reading this right now and start praying!)

Yet there are some factors that a recent article published (click here) that should provide enough incentive for lawmakers and educators to at least consider bringing this matter to the table:

2015 is the hottest year on record with record-setting forest fires and destructive flooding causing trillions of dollars in damages to property. Every year means a new record for temperatures and the like. The number of species has dwindled by up to 80% over the last 30 years. Migration has put a strain on social resources in developed countries. Germany alone expects to receive a record 800,000 immigrants by year’s end, and the country is already having problems finding homes for them, let alone people willing to accept them. And lastly, our natural resources are dwindling, despite claims of them being around forever. If we look at fracking in the United States and the poisoning, earthquakes and destruction of the flora and fauna for the sake of oil, none of the facts are in dispute.  Yet if one still believes that global warming is a natural process and a class on environmental sciences is needed, then perhaps watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and in particular, the destabilizing and eventual destruction of Genesis (esp. after the Enterprise is imploded through self-destruction) might convince you otherwise.

In either case, the facts remain clear in our society: mankind does not know what to do to stop global warming and we need to educate ourselves in order to find ways to stop the process and ensure that our planet is livable for generations to come. The best solution is to educate ourselves and our children to ensure that in the end, instead of having a planet that is dried up and not livable that we have a planet like this:

IMGP6433

or this:

IMGP6428

If you want that, then please, write to your politicians, lobby your teachers and principals (or headmasters), start a demonstration, and advocate the need to learn about Mother Nature as a full class and core requirement. Think about your future and that of the next generations. Only then, when we educate ourselves properly will we have a future like this and not what we’re seeing in the western two thirds of the US right now, which really resembles the destruction of Genesis in the Star Trek film.

Thank you for your support.

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: Teaching Geography

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is a throwback to an article written last year on Geography and how it should be introduced in American schools, as part of the series on In School In Germany. Before introducing you to the answers to the quiz provided, I figured you as the reader should try this and challenge yourself.

OMT: The Flensburg Files has updated its German-American-Multicultural Page to include articles from this and other series. It’s an ongoing process but click here to see what is being added and have a look at the articles. Many of them may be useful for you. 🙂

This class is the first of many in the series on topics that should be taught in US schools from the point of view of the teacher observing classes at a German school. The first topic deals with Geography.

OK fellow Americans (and especially fellow Iowans and Minnesotans), before we get started with the subject of classes that should be taught, here are a few questions that you should try and answer.

1. Peaches are an important commodity in Egypt. True or False? If false, what crops grow there?

2. __________, ____________, ____________, ______________and ___________ are the  minerals that can be found in Minnesota. Of which, _______________ is still being mined there in the ___________________ Iron Range

3. What is the capital of Palau?  aPonce          b. Melekeok      c. Koror                               d. Kauai               e. Kuala Lumpur

4. Honey is produced in Canada. True or False? If false, what is produced there?

T/F   False: ____________________________

5. Which country has the highest crime rate in the world? Why?

a. Mexico        b. Germany       c.  USA                 d. Russia              e. China               f. Poland

6. Which province in the Ukraine joined the Russian Federation earlier this year and which ones want to join?

a.: __________________; b.: ______________________________________________

7. The Rust Belt, consisting of the states of O___________,W___________V _____________, P____________________, and I______________ and the cities of I______________, P__________________,P _____________________,C ________________,C _____________ received its name because of what industry that existed between 1860 and ca. 1970?

a. Steel             b. Tobacco          c. Iron                   d. corn                 e. wood               f. both a&c

8. Rice is grown in Iowa. True or False? If false, which US state grows rice?    T/F, If false, ________________________________

9. Which Eastern European Countries became part of the Warsaw Pact in 1955? Hint: there are seven countries not counting Yugoslavia?

10. Catholicism is the predominant religion in which German states?

11. Albert Lea, Minnesota was named after an explorer who founded the region. True or False?    T/F

Do not look up the answers, but try and guess at them, either on your own or in the Comment section. The answers will be provided in a different article. Yet if you cannot answer any of the questions, then chances are you should have either visited or paid attention in Geography.  Geography is part of the curriculum in the German classroom, yet it is one of core classes that is often ignored in the classroom in other countries, or are included as a tiny fraction of the curriculum of social studies, together with history, politics, and independent living. Yet one goes by the assumption that Geography is about maps, countries and capitals. In Germany, it goes much deeper than that, as I observed in the classroom during the Praxissemester. This is what a person can expect from a Geography class:

Using a student’s guide, in this case, Diercke’s Geography book, whose volumes consists of regions, the class has an opportunity to focus on a country and its profile based on the following aspects: landscape, population, industry/economy, resources, geology, culture, societal issues, environmental issues, places of interest, and politics (governmental system and its function and flaws).  Each aspect has its own set of vocabulary words pupils need to learn, both in German as well as in English. Each one has its own graphs and diagrams, as well as certain skills pupils are expected to learn, such as presenting an aspect, analysis, comparisons of certain aspects, as well as research and presenting facts, just to name a few.  While some of these skills can be taught in other subjects, such as foreign languages as and natural and social science classes, the advantages of geography are numerous. Apart from knowing the vocabulary and the places, pupils are supposed to be prepared to know about the regions, for they can be useful for travel, any projects involving these countries, and cultural encounters with people from these countries profiled in the classroom.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at the example of the session I sat in, with Japan.  Some of us have some knowledge about the country, apart from the Fukushima Triple Disaster of 2011 (Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown) that the Japanese have been recovering from ever since. And for some of the older generations, Japan was the champion in the electronics industry in the 1970s and 80s, mastering the Americans and Europeans before the economy took a double nosedive in the 1990s and in the mid-2000s. Yet in the session, pupils became acquainted with the Japanese industry and its ironic environmental policies, looking at the competition of the automobile industry between the Japanese and the Americans in the form of presenting a comparison and a profile of each of the automobile companies in Japan. In addition, a discussion of Japan’s secret problem of environmental pollution was presented, using the facts from Diercke and some additional materials deemed useful for the discussion. With 127 million inhabitants on a small island, whose topography comprises of 80% mountains and 20% flatlands, it is really no surprise that the country has suffered from its overpopulation, yet the topic was brand new to the students, even though it was covered previously when discussing about China, Japan’s archrival.

The class is required in the Gymnasium, yet the curriculum varies from state to state. In Thuringia, it is one year with one region, beginning with Europe. The American aspect is usually covered in the 11th grade and, pending on the Gymnasium, some aspects are offered in English, with the goal of getting the pupils acquainted with the English vocabulary. While English has become the lingua franca and is used everywhere, one could consider adding Spanish, French, and a couple Asian languages (in vocabulary terms) into the curriculum as much of the world also have countries that have at least one of the above-mentioned languages, including Latin America and Spain, where Spanish is predominant.  This way, pupils have an opportunity to be acquainted with terms rarely seen in the primary language unless translated, which loses its meaning.

This leads to the question of why geography is not offered either solely in American schools, or maybe they are being offered but only rarely. Speaking from personal experience, many schools have different sets of curriculum where Geography is placed at the bottom of the food chain, especially with regards to it being integrated into social studies. And its focus: Only North America and in particular, the United States, where the country’s history, social aspects and political systems are discussed. Current events and presenting them in writing and orally are found in these social studies classes, thus encouraging pupils to research and present their topics, yet most of the events are found in the US and Europe, and there is rarely any mentioning of countries outside the regions.  Some schools had the opportunity to be hooked up to Channel One, where news stories were presented for 20 minutes in the morning, during its heyday in the 1990s. Yet too many commercials and controversies have prompted many schools to protest or even break ties with the network, even though it still exists today after a decade of changing hands.  By introducing a year or two of Geography at least on the high school level, plus tea spoons on the lower level, it will enable pupils in American schools to be acquainted with the rest of the world and the key areas that are worth knowing about. It will save the embarrassment of not knowing some places outside the US, as I witnessed in a pair of stories worth noting:

1. A professor of political science at a college in Minnesota draws a map of Europe, placing the Czech Republic above Poland and Hungary in the area where Austria was located- in front of a pair of foreign exchange students from Germany who were grinning in the process. Of course this was the same professor who chose Munich and Berchtesgaden over Berlin and Interlaken over Geneva and Berne for a month-long seminar tour on Public Policy, where every capital of Europe was visited except for Austria, Poland, the Iberia region and Benelux. But that’s a side note in itself.

2. My best friend and his (now ex-) girlfriend meet me and my fiancée (now wife) at that time at a restaurant, where she boasted about going to Europe for a music concert. Yet when asked where exactly (which country and city), she could not answer that question- only proudly responded with “But we’re going to Europe!”

3. Then we had many questions and assumptions that East Germany and the Berlin Wall existed. One was wise enough to mention during a phone conversation that the reason he could not reach a relative in eastern Germany was that the East German Housing Development had blocked telephone access from America. And this was 10 years ago, I should add.

There are enough reasons for me (and others) to add that justify the need to offer a compulsory Geography class in American schools. While the core requirements are being introduced in the American school system, it is unknown whether Geography is part of the core. If not, then it is recommended, for the class does have its advantages, as mentioned here.  While geography contests and individual work will be stressed by those opposing the idea of teaching Geography, the main question to be asked to these people are “Are you willing to learn something about another region and the culture before encountering them, or are you willing to be ignorant and be foolish in your attempts to encounter other cultures without learning about them first?” Speaking from experience, I would rather take the safe path than one unknown and fall into several traps in the process. But that’s my opinion.