Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let the fun begin (as if it hasn't already...)!!

This was my final week of training before school starts with kids on Tuesday. And, to be perfectly honest, it has been quite fun for a variety of reasons. Now some of those reasons are definitely related to the amount of free booze provided by the school in this final week, but many of the other reasons are related to professional (and not booze related) factors.

This week we had a guided city tour as part of our training and part of that included a drinking lunch at a nice restaurant downtown. Oh, private school life, how different you are!

Teachers don't usually get to do the "drinking lunch" without
going to jail or this one was pretty exciting!
Mostly I have just been hanging around with new teachers since we've only had one day back with the whole staff. There are 30 new people this year between the elementary and the middle/high school and so we've had a large group and gotten to know each other pretty well these last two weeks. The whole school has well over 200 staff members (including support staff, HR, etc.) and so there are obviously a ton of people left for me to meet!

Here are some other pictures from our city tour. We went up a giant tower (come visit and you too can go up a giant tower in Düsseldorf) and so we got some great views of the city!

Here's the giant tower! Fortunately there was an elevator to the top!

Our tour guide told us how Düsseldorf is a "young city" because it was only founded in the 1200's.
As a North American, this is just hilarious to me. 

Another view of the church that will have a straight steeple only when a "true virgin" gets married there.
It was reconstructed after the war to look this way because this is how it looked before WWII.
The very top was so heavy that the original tower started to twist and since that was part of the church's charm, they reconstructed it this way.

Düsseldorf is known for cartwheels. Also, hilarious.
It has something to do with men coming back from war (like hundreds of years ago) and all the boys doing cartwheels to celebrate. Nowadays, there is a contest every year that just recently allowed girls to be involved too (that whole "dress" thing got in the way when doing cartwheels apparently until girls were allowed to wear pants!).

View from the tower.
Düsseldorf's on the Rhein River in case you hadn't picked that up yet.

There are six suspension bridges in this area that are all exactly the same.
The old bridges were blown out during WWII.
85% of the old part of the downtown (the Altstadt) was destroyed because the Americans were right across the river and this whole area of Germany was home to many munitions factories.

The one part of the city that wasn't destroyed at all during the war. This area is called Oberkassel and it is on the opposite side of the river from the rest of the city-- the part of the city where the Americans were launching the bombs into the Altstadt so it was spared. The tram goes right across the bridge in just a few minutes from downtown.
Besides the great city and the great people that I've met so far, I am really enjoying working on curriculum design at my new school. Basically, from what I can tell so far, not a lot was actually written down in terms of a scope and sequence until this year when the department head (whom I love so far!) decided to just get it down on paper for a jumping off point (and we have our IB accreditation this year in January!). The big difference between this school and other places where I've worked is that there is no governing agency prescribing a specific curriculum. There are very (VERY) loose frameworks provided by IB for the Middle Years Programme (grades 6-10 in the International Baccalaureate program which shall henceforth be known as the MYP in my blog) but it is relatively general and centered on the big ideas of science like change, systems, structure/function, etc.

This is super exciting and scary at the same time. It is about as opposite as you could get from what I was doing last year where the curriculum was prescriptive to the millionth degree. It is also quite different from what I've done in Colorado too, but fortunately I had enough freedom at CBMS that I was able to arrange my units in ways that I thought worked best for my kids, etc. so I am familiar with curriculum design to a degree. Having to plan things for three grade levels basically from scratch (while trying to work with other teachers and reach agreement...always a hard thing) is definitely going to test my skills in curriculum design, but, is also TOTALLY fun and lets me be creative!

I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to use Understanding by Design for unit planning where you design the assessments first and then plan for understanding while you work toward those assessments. MYP unit planning is very similar to Understanding by Design but has an additional layer because we have "Areas of Interaction" that are related to everything being internationally minded. The "Areas of Interaction" are like the lens you put on each unit. They are Human Ingenuity, Health & Social Education, Environments, Community & Service, and Approaches to Learning (Metacognition) and this is going to be the super-new aspect of the MYP for me compared to what I've been doing so far in my career. To give an example of how these are first unit for seventh grade is on human reproduction and factors that affect survival of fetuses, babies, and children. So, the Area of Interaction that we will use for this unit will be Health & Social Education and we will look at human reproduction/survival through the idea that different countries have different resources and that these factors often affect survival and health. I am sure that this is similar to "thematic units" that people did in the 80s/90s but the themes are just more broad and every subject area (including art, music, & PE) uses the same ones. I think it is super-cool and it is definitely pushing my skills and challenging me!

That being said, I do feel a high degree of self-efficacy so far because planning inquiry-based science units is one of my favorite things to do, professional speaking, and I am being supported here by my department head and my MYP coordinator to be creative! I just don't feel like anyone is going to come in to my classroom with a checklist (like last year) and repeatedly tell me how much I suck! I don't feel beat down and overwhelmed like I already did before school started at my English school. I feel like I might actually have a life here! WOO HOO!

Speaking of that, in about a month, I will begin an intense German class for six hours per week that will go until Christmas. I am going to take it at the adult education center downtown with another teacher from my school, Lauren. I am surviving okay not speaking German but I kind of feel like a jerk that my first question is always "Sprechen Sie English?" While we were getting our cell phones hooked up the other day, the guy in the store was apologizing (who, btw, was named Wayne! "Hi Wayne...Hi!" à la Wayne's World) because he didn't think his English was very good. My friend Lauren and I were embarrassed because we're in Germany and here he was apologizing for not speaking English (which he totally did but everyone always says that they don't speak it well and they they speak it about as well as I do!). I think after three months of six hours/week, I will have a good start and will at least be able to converse on the basics! I have definitely already learned a lot of random words just from being in grocery stores, restaurants, and out and about around town.

Düsseldorf is turning out to be a great place to live (except the fact that they weren't lying when they said it was referred to as "Drizzledorf" because it sure does rain a lot here!)! There is a huge variety of restaurants of various ethnicities and hilariously, Düsseldorf is a hugely popular area for bachelor/bachelorette parties and so there are always a lot of groups walking around the Altstadt in matching t-shirts. Last night there was a whole group of guys in the Mexican restaurant where we were having a beer who were dressed in Leiderhosen and leather shorts. Awesome.

Rhonda, me, and Lauren. I think that I've already had a better social life here in two weeks then I had in nine months in England. It is just a lot easier to meet people because everyone is in the same boat and is new instead of me being the only new person. We've already had lots of laughs!
So, the kids start on Tuesday and tomorrow we have a final day of meetings and prep time to begin with kids! I will only meet three of my five groups of kids on the first day but within the first three days will have met everyone! I am nervous and excited but no more so than I am every year at the beginning of the year! I was definitely more nervous last year considering that I was expected to start teaching science on the first day of school whereas here, I am given complete freedom to do what I know needs to be done to build community and establish classroom rituals/routines. That fact alone is a HUGE RELIEF because I know how important and valuable that is and really like being in a school who shares my values. YAY!

Any education people out there...the school is really focused on assessment and gave us the book "Making Classroom Assessment Work" by Anne Davies. I read the first half and it is excellent and very practical and useful and I totally recommend it!

So, in a nutshell...having a great time and really psyched for school to get going! But, I still miss everyone (LOTS AND LOTS!) so feel free to Skype with me when you can!

Tschüss!!! (Bye!)

1. Michelle Bachman. REALLY? REALLY? REALLY?
2. I am obsessed with my ipad because while typing this, I have been streaming NPR and listening to "Prairie Home Companion" and "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" on KUNC. I realize that I could have done this on my regular computer but it is just so much cooler on Ichabod Pad. (Thanks, Mama!)

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