Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mittwoch-10/17/18-Happy Workin' Man-Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Sculpture made by students at the school.
Wednesday began with another school visit. This time we were able to visit a large vocational school called Max-Bill-Schule.  This school was very unique as it actually offered many different programs in one large school.  Students could take classes in the lower secondary school, intermediate secondary school, traditional vocational model, gymnasium before the Abitur, Welcome classes for immigrants and refugees, and there was even technical college on campus.
As the principal began his presentation he explained that he wasn't comfortable speaking in English before a group of native English speakers.  However, he said just as he needed a translator, the vocational schools operate as a translator for students between high school and life.  The role of the vocational school is to connect the theoretical with the practical.  One of the key goals is for students to make mistakes and learn from them.  This school focused on construction fields and offered everything from bricklaying, concrete work, and scaffolding to architectural draftsman, furniture making, and graphic design.  While there were 25 other schools in Berlin that had a technical focus, none offered the same options as this school.
Each square is the weekly schedule for 1 class within the school.

Having all of these different schools within one campus seemed confusing to me, yet I understood the benefit of allowing students to move from one pathway to the other based on their interests and skills.  The principal told the story of one student who started in the lower secondary school and was unable to pass the exam to move on to the vocational or gymnasium level.  He continued to persevere through the intermediate secondary program, eventually completing his vocational training and, while working in his vocation, was able to eventually pass the Abitur and go on to university for a career change.

When students are in school as part of the vocational program, not only are they learning the theoretical ideas behind their career field, but also career counseling, business management, and entrepreneurship.  Additionally, there is a phrase called "Every word counts" meaning language must be incorporated into every subject.  This reminded me of the phrase in American schools of "reading across the curriculum".

The second year design class.
After the introduction, we visited several classrooms, which was fascinating.  The first class was a group of second year vocational students who were working on furniture design projects for a local museum.  Students were in small groups and were developing furniture ideas as well as marketing and graphic design concepts.  Most students in this class were between 17-23 years old.

Carpentry students sharing a roofing project they completed.
We also visited an upper level carpentry class.  Most of these students were older, mid-twenties, and many of them had passed the Abitur, but decided to pursue vocational training rather than attend university.  As they were learning about complexities of roof joisting, we learned from them about the German custom for carpenters.  When a student has completed their carpenter training and becomes certified, they should take a three year journey traveling around Germany, or all of Europe, working for room and board.  According to tradition, the carpenter should not take any cell phone or electronics and should focus on learning the different regional approaches to carpentry work as well as a bit of self-exploration. They shouldn't earn any money during this time period and, in exchange for their work, should only receive compensation such as lodging and food.  While many students didn't seem interested in this tradition and were more focused on getting a job after finishing school, a surprising number were interested in doing the journey, at least for one year if not for all three.
CAD projects.

Our next class visit was a class where students were learning CAD programs.  This was one of their full days at school and they had six hours to complete a home re-design project.  While it seemed that most of the vocational classes were dominated by boys with a few girls in each class, this class was about 40% female, which we learned is typical for the design aspects.  This class was comprised of students between 16-28.  We also learned about school partnerships that exist with other schools in the EU.  The headmaster saw these as very important for learning how other cultures approach the vocations and different design processes.

Our final class was to a class for new immigrants.  Their German was yet strong enough to attend vocational training, but as part of their Welcome school, they were learning some basic skills so they could begin working and earning money while they assimilated into the German labor market.

We wrapped up with lunch and a closing question/answer period and before we knew it, it was time to pick up our bags and get on the train to head to Hamburg!

Close up of the final goal for the project.

Comfortable train travel 

Even the fraternities are beautiful old buildings.
After a busy morning in Berlin, we headed to the train station to travel by train to Hamburg.  Train travel is so easy and lovely in Europe and it was just a quick two hour trip.  Before we knew it, we had arrived and were walking to our hotel for the next few days. 
Inscription on a church in Hamburg
Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and one of the city-states of Germany.  Hamburg has been an important port city along the Elbe River for hundreds of years.  Our hotel was in a beautiful historic area.  We walked around for a bit before having a traditional German dinner.

family style German dinner

Dienstag-10/16/18-Same In Any Language-I Nine

Tuesday was another busy day.  We started off with our first school visit to Charles Dickens Grundschule, which is an English immersion elementary school.  This is truly a model program for any school system wishing to developing bi-lingual students.  Language literacy is emphasized during elementary school and students begin learning a third language in fifth grade.  By ninth grade they are taught in both their mother and partner tongue at the native speaker level.

The library had books in both German and English

At Charles Dickens School, we met with the headmaster and he provided an overview of their school and program.  The school is a public school, paid for by the government and has about 430 students.  There are 24-26 students per class and each class has two teachers, one who is a native speaker in each language (German and English in this school).  When they're learning their partner language, they are taught in an immersion model and when they begin to learn their third language, they are taught in a more traditional way focusing on grammar and vocabulary from a textbook.
An example of how instruction would vary between German and the partner language.

German kids have the best school supplies!
English class
One hundred percent of German school children learn a second language.  After a brief overview, we spent time visiting classes.  Donna and I were assigned to a first grade class and were able to watch half of the class in mother tongue English, then the other half of the class in mother tongue German before watching each group switch and learn in their partner language.  It was so fascinating to watch little six year olds speak native English ("Are you kidding me?! You're on the wrong page" said one sassy little girl to her friend) and then watch them go to German and speak well there as well.  It was also interesting to see how the teachers modified their lessons for each group while focusing in on the same skills.  We didn't see either teacher speak in the other language during their entire lesson.  We were also able to observe the kids at lunch and visit a Welcome class for immigrant students newly arrived to Germany who are working on their German language skills before entering regular.

After departing the school and a small train ticket debacle, we arrived at the Central Agency for Schools Abroad.  Here we had two presentations on German vocational schools and Germany's efforts to connect to across cultures throughout the world.

The Bertlesmann Foundation provided us with an overview of the German vocational school system.  The Bertelsmann Foundation is the largest charitable foundation in Germany (think Gates Foundation) and they do a lot of research about Germany's vocational schools and support vocational programming.  From the representatives, we learned about the different paths for vocational training.

General Information about the Labor Market in Germany:
There are basically four different types of vocational fields-crafts, industry, trade, and health.  There are about 350 jobs for which students must attend a vocational school and receive a certificate before they are able to work in the field.  These certifications are managed by government agencies in conjunction with labor unions.  When students begin going to a vocational school, they also apply for a job with a company, just as they would apply for a job.  Once accepted by a company, they sign a three year contract to work while they're attending school.

Historically, about 90% of Germany's labor market came from the vocational system and only around 10% of students went to university.  That is shifting significantly and now, after secondary school, about 40% of the student population pursues a bachelor's degree and 60% pursue some type of vocational training with 40% attending a dual apprenticeship program and 20% doing school based apprenticeships.

Just as in the U.S., some vocational careers are having a hard time filling jobs and apprenticeship programs as the population moves away from pursuing manual labor careers.  The immigrant and refugees populations have been welcomed in Germany as they're seen as a way to fill some of the employment void.  The Foundation is researching ways to make the vocational programs more attractive for students so they do not continue to lose students to Abitur (not sure what the Abitur is?  see my post here) and academic pursuits.

Vocational School Model:
When students attend vocational schools they attend school two days a week and work at apprenticeships in companies three days a week.  There are many reasons for this model, one is so students can practically apply the skills they are learning.  Another reason is because it's too expensive for schools to try and provide all of the hands on learning experiences students need to truly learn the skills for the job, especially in fields like welding, plumbing, electrical work, medical fields, etc.  We looked at an example of what kind of things students would learn in their vocational classes versus what kinds of things they would learn on the job as part of their apprenticeship.

Once students have completed vocational school, their certification allows them to work anywhere in Europe.  About 68% of students get a job with the same company where they apprentice.

Another interesting fact is that all students, regardless of what type of school, must do a six week internship in grade 9 in order to explore possible career options.

Central Agency for Schools Abroad:
The Central Agency for Schools Abroad (CASA) is basically a subsidiary of the Federal Foreign Office, but also works in conjunction with other organizations to promote cultural relations and education policy internationally.  As I listened to all they do to promote German culture and build connections with countries around the world, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad that the United States doesn't take such a pro-active approach to connecting with other cultures in a symbiotic way.  They support 141 German schools abroad as well as support German language programs where German is offered as part of the public school curriculum and offer other means of support (such as Saturday schools) where German is not a part of the regular school curriculum.  The main objectives of the CASA are to:

  • promote German language
  • promote connections, dialogue, and cooperation with other people and cultures
  • create global networks
  • promote democracy
  • promote peace education

Melanie and I enjoying dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in Berlin
After we wrapped up the presentations, we had some free time and I was able to meet up with a Canadian friend who is now living and working in Berlin with her German husband.  As a native French speaker, she teaches at a German-French immersion primary school.  It was really interesting to hear her perspective after visiting a school of a similar model that morning.

At home she speaks French to their kids, her husband speaks German to their kids and they speak English to each other since that was their common language at the beginning of their relationship.  A tri-lingual family of four, a true example of Berlin's multiculturalism!

Montag-10/15/18-Winds of Change-Scorpions

Monday was such a busy day, I had to break it into two posts.  In addition to all of the information we learned about the German school systems, we also had a full afternoon of cultural and historical learning events.  After lunch at the Hotel de Rome, we walked across town to the city center area.

We first visited the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This is a powerful memorial comprised of thousands of concrete slabs of differing heights called "stelae".  We each took some time to walk through on our own.  The memorial is constructed on a sloping field so that as you enter the memorial, soon you are consumed by the towering concrete which evokes a feeling of isolation and feeling trapped.  The stelae are constructed in orderly rows that are slightly askew.  This is intended to represent an orderly system that lost touch with human reason.  Though the designer denies the connection, one can't help but feel that you're walking through an endless dark cemetery.  I found the memorial powerful and thought provoking and I enjoyed how the abstract nature of the memorial allowed for varying interpretations.

We next rendezvoused in the square near Brandenburg Gate where we connected with Arvid, our outstanding tour guide.  Arvid provided historical background for all of the buildings in the square and how they evolved from WWII to the Cold War and Berlin Wall era, to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the modern era.  It was fascinating to see pictures of the no man's land around the wall on the East side.  As we stood on bricks that symbolized the former wall, Arvid told us about the day he and his wife joined the celebrating at the fall of the wall in November of 1989.  They climbed over and ventured a few hundred meters into East Berlin before running back, still fearful that the reunification was only temporary and they could be trapped on the other side like so many others in 1961.

We walked through the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in the Tiergarten park.  This was a powerful memorial with a deep, dark pool of water at the center.  In the center of the pool is a triangle shape to represent the badges worn by prisoners of concentration camps.  Around the edges of the pool are scattered stones, some with names of concentration camps.  There was a powerful moment when Arvid told us the story of his wife's great uncle who had been imprisoned at Mauthausen.  It was also in this place that we learned about the Stolperstein, or "stumbling blocks".  These are brass plates that have been placed at Holocaust victims' homes and workplaces to honor their last free choice before they became persecuted by the Nazis.  Once we learned about them, we noticed them on all of our walks throughout Germany.  Some have criticized the fact that they are in the ground, while others say it is a sign of respect that one must bow their head to read the inscriptions.
Reichstag Dome
We made our way through security and then toured the impressive Reichstag Dome.  The Reichstag is home to the German parliament.  The building was destroyed before WWII and went unused until after Germany was reunified.  The design of the dome is intended to symbolize a reunified Germany.  The transparent design is striking, but I found the details and symbolism incorporated into the design  fascinating.  The mirrored cone at the center of the dome reflects down on the Bundestag, or debating room of parliament, bringing a purposeful feeling of transparency in government. Around the dome are two walkways that are open to the public everyday.  The design of having the public walk above the government building was intentional symbolizing that the people are above the government.

The designs were also environmentally conscious.  The mirrors reflect natural light into the large room below, reducing the energy required to light the building.  A sun shield tracks the rotation of the sun preventing the natural light from becoming too blinding in the room below.  The open air platform at the top of the dome catches water that is reused and allows for beautiful 360 degree views of Berlin.  We were fortunate to catch the sun setting while atop the platform.

We wrapped up our tour and headed for a true German dinner at Clarchens Ballhaus where we enjoyed sausages, sauerkraut, weiner schnitzel, and potato salad.

Members of our group in the Reichstag Dome

Montag-10/15/18-Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard-Paul Simon

Our first day in Berlin began at the Rotes Rathaus or Red City Hall.  This Red City Hall is the headquarters for the Berlin government and mayor.  The building was damaged during World War II, but has been restored and has housed the city government and mayor since the late 1940's.

While at the Red City Hall we learned some general information about Germany and had two presentations: one from the National Educational Administration and one from the Berlin Senate Department of Education.  Here we learned that Germany is made up of 16 federal states, three of which are "city states"-Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen.  Germany has 82.7 million people and 3.7 million of them live in Berlin.  In Germany 46% of kids attend nursery school.

The German school system is generally a tiered and tracked system.  All students start with grundschule, or primary school, through 6th grade.  Then, students may track to a gymnasium secondary school, the college prep route, or a integrierte sekundarshule, which is an integrated secondary school, more of a vocational track.  They attend these secondary schools for four years until grade ten at which point students in the gymnasium track continue for two years to the Abitur which is the college entrance exam.  Students in the vocational track could continue with vocational training and then enter the workforce or take the abitur after an additional year.  Ultimately, we learned that the German system is much more fluid than it used to be with some students taking more school in the vocational track and then sitting for the Abitur, while others pursue the gymnasium track and choose to attend vocational school.  The good news is that failing a test doesn't prevent a student from accessing a track, it just means it may take a bit longer.  There are fifteen different frameworks for schools in Germany so it took much longer than just this presentation for us to understand the intricacies.

The Abitur is a high stakes college entrance exam.  There is pressure from the business community to keep the abitur prestigious.  The exam is given to all students on the same day at the same time each year.  Subjects tested include math, German, two second languages, and more.

The National Educational Administration shared information about how their schools are organized and evaluated.  Each school is measured against their own data rather than measured against other schools.  Schools must develop and publish their goals and teachers are evaluated every five years by their principal (headmaster).  Teachers are supported in coaching programs.  Each school has the same base budget but the funding is thought of more in terms of what services each school needs to provide their students rather than budgetary bottom lines.

Here are some interesting differences between schools in Germany and schools in the U.S.
  • In Germany teachers are hired by the state and assigned to a school rather than be hired by individual schools.
  • All German school administrators still teach at least one class.
  • There are no outside substitutes so teachers must cover each other's classes.
  • Homeschool is not an option.
  • Attendance is taken very seriously and there are state laws restricting the number of days a parent can take their student out of school for any reason.
Here are some interesting similarities:
  • The German system is becoming more and more focused on competency based education.
  • They also focus on STEM fields, but in Germany it's called "MINT" which stands for math, infographics, natural sciences, and technology.
  • Special Ed students are taught in an inclusive system and are integrated into regular classes as often as possible.
Overview of the German school system
Germany, and Berlin especially, is a multicultural country and there is an expectation of acceptance of cultural diversity.  In Berlin, 38% of all school students have a migrant background and 18% of their citizens have dual citizenship or a foreign nationality.  In order to build success for migrants, German schools offer "Welcome classes" for migrants which teach in their heritage language as well as teach German language and other skills.  Some schools offer courses for parents as well, especially for mothers of students in nursery school.

Our group at the Federal Foreign office.
We also learned about the European model of instruction which is a dual language immersion program.  In these schools, half of the students are native German speakers and half of the students have a different mother tongue. In Berlin there are 9 combinations of languages and 17 primary schools and 15 secondary schools taught in this way.  The teachers are native speakers in both languages and different subjects are taught in each language throughout the day.  In addition to the bi-lingual skills, one of the key goals of this program is cultural awareness of one's own culture as well as other cultures.

After these insightful presentations, we walked to the Federal Foreign Office where we learned about Germany's efforts to collaborate with other countries.  We also learned about the efforts that are made to promote education internationally and build cross-cultural understanding around the world.

My amazing dessert at La Banca restaurant in the Hotel de Rome
As our morning came to a close we had an outstanding four course lunch at the Hotel de Rome and were able to visit the rooftop terrace with beautiful views of Berlin.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Sonntag-10/14/18-Bright Lights, Bigger City-Cee Lo Green

I'm off on a new adventure on a trip sponsored by the Goethe Institute and Germany's Central Agency for Schools Abroad.  Our journey began on Saturday with an orientation at the Goethe Institute's New York office.  We learned a bit of German, discussed cultural perceptions and cultural differences to be aware of when traveling to Germany.  Some differences we learned are that Germans are known for being more direct than Americans and don't always require as much personal space.  Also, Germans prefer more in depth conversations to small talk and enjoy talking about politics.  During our orientation, we also learned about Germany's outreach efforts and agencies worldwide.  The Goethe Institute is a German cultural association which promotes the study of German and encourages international relations.  There are 159 institutes in 98 different countries.  I was so impressed by that and wished the U.S. made similar outreach efforts to connect with countries globally.

Before we knew it, we were off to the airport arriving in Berlin on Sunday morning.  We arrived in Berlin to unusually warm weather and we immediately off for our first cultural activity.  We visited the Berlin Wall Memorial.  For those born after 1985, the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 during the Cold War.  Berlin was in East Germany, but three-quarters of the city (West Berlin) was occupied by France, the UK and the US.  The wall was put up overnight in order to contain citizens and prevent people from escaping East Germany through West Berlin.  The Wall remained a symbol of the Iron Curtain until East Germany announced they would no longer restrict movement across the border in November of 1989.  The Wall came down shortly after and the memorial started in 1990 as a way to commemorate the history and move forward with reconciliation.  One thing that impressed me most about Germany was its efforts to reflect on its history and learn from its past.  Often in the U.S. we choose to gloss over the more negative aspects of our country's story.  However, following the German example of reflecting on these events allows the country to acknowledge and move forward in a new, more positive direction.

Our dinner view
The Berlin Wall Memorial includes a 200 foot section of the Wall as it stood with the wall, electric fence, no man's land and guard tower.  Throughout the 1.5 km there are steel rods showing where the wall used to be.  When you look at them from an angle, they appear to be a solid wall but one can easily walk through them, symbolizing the freedom with which Beliners now move about the city.

After a guided tour, we had dinner in a lovely European courtyard and were on our way to see the final night of Berlin's "Festival of Lights".  During this ten day event, Berlin's historic buildings are lit up each night in a beautiful and artistic light show.  Despite our jet-lag and the late hour, this was an amazing event and I would highly recommend it if you're able to visit Berlin during the festival.

Festival of Lights

Brandenburg Gate