Monday, December 12, 2011

Feliz Navidad!

With the holidays upon us it is interesting to see how Sotogrande International School approaches Christmas compared to schools in the states. Back home it is obvious that the separation of church and state is taken seriously and schools avoid anything that could be interpreted as promoting Christianity. This means that schools will have “winter festivals” and send “holiday greetings” but will conscientiously avoid decorating and talking in specifically christian ways. Schools general avoid teaching about any kind of religion in school just to be on the safe side. They leave that instruction to the parents and many students never get a good understanding of other religions or a non-biased idea of their own.

Our classroom "Thinking Tree". It has questions
 we have about Christmas and things we know.
 Around it is an  art project with fractions.
That approach is very different here at SIS. In P5 we are teaching a unit of inquiry on Festivals of Light, meaning various religious holidays around this time of year that have a significant element of light. We focused on Divali, Hanukkah, and yes, Christmas. This means we actually taught the Christmas story. It also gave us a chance to talk about where our Christmas traditions come from and the meaning behind various symbols. The teachers were confused when we mentioned that we would probably never teach this kind of content at home. They said that it is important to show the kids how all of the religions have common elements and ways of celebrating.

The main lobby of the school is all '
decorated for Christmas
It is also interesting how the school itself approaches Christmas. There are Christmas trees, garland, ornaments and other decorating filling the school entry way and many of the public spaces and common rooms around the school. The younger students are putting on a Christmas play about the nativity story, and there are a couple different Christmas festivals and Christmas bazaars. There is absolutely no attempt to be politically correct or to lessen the importance of Christmas in these celebrations. There are a couple reasons behind this. For one, Spain is a very Catholic country and there is not the concept of separation of church and state that we have in the states. It is not something the teachers and parents worry about or get offended over. There are a few students who come from backgrounds other than Christian, but they do not seem concerned about the proliferation of Christmas celebrations- it's accepted as part of the culture here.

Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Going boating in November!

Going boating is something we Minnesotans cherish during those short three summer months every year. In Sotogrande, however, we’ve been “boating” for the last two weeks- in November! Allow me to explain… Libby and I have been full-time teaching for the last two weeks in Primary Years 1. As mentioned in an earlier post, our unit of inquiry is on materials. The students went on “hunts” around the school for things made from metal, glass, wood, plastic, etcetera during this unit, as well as studying the properties of these materials, such as smooth, bumpy, squashy, etc. While distinguishing between smooth and bumpy things, one of my curious students, Tom, raised his hand and asked “Miss Christa, do you have smooth things in America?” Another student replied for me by saying, “Tom, there are smooth things EVERYWHERE.” He gave her a knowing expression and said “Yes, everywhere except Africa!” Needless to say, their comments and questions have been endless free entertainment for us!
The first boat we made was out of a square piece of tinfoil. Every student got one square piece to design their boat however they wished. Miss Lin and I filled up the water tables in the courtyard outside our classroom, and the students put their boats to the test! After a few minutes, we added an extra challenge…adding toy people to the boat to see if it would still float! We had talked about floating and sinking earlier in the week, and this was a great demonstration on the difference between the two concepts.
Later in the week, we made paper boats (paper hats tipped upside down!) The students enjoyed making the boats, but the fun part was of course testing them in the water! Even with aprons on, we had a lot of wet jumpers for the rest of the day! After the project, we talked about whether or not water was a good material to use when making a boat, as well as the difference between waterproof and absorbent.
The final piece of this project was completed last week. In partners, the students made plans for making their final boat, constructed the boat, tested the boat in the swimming pool, and finally reflected on their experience. The students were so motivated to make the best boat they could and spent one morning working hard on their construction! Most of the students made the boats out of old cardboard boxes, and decorated them with flags, toilet paper rolls, etc! To say the students were excited when we finally got to bring the boats to the pool is a big understatement!
This whole experience was such a good example of the IB school philosophy. The young children worked mostly on their own, and used their imagination and prior knowledge to construct their own learning. Libby and I really enjoyed the unit, and I think the students did too! Who knows when the next time we’ll be able to go “boating” in November will be, right?!

Experiencing behavioral problems

This past Friday was our last day of full time teaching. Through all of our classes of students here at Sotogrande International School we all have experienced different languages, cultures, routines and especially for me, behaviors. I have a student that is being tested for ADHD and behavioral problems. When I’m teaching, she will get up in the middle of my lesson and wander around somewhere in the classroom. There are lots of signs for ADHD and behavioral problems. I have learned a lot of different teaching strategies that have helped with her behavioral problems. One strategy is where I have a treasure bucket and I put in a treasure when students are sitting nicely on the carpet or just when they are following the Golden rules. I say their name followed by a reason why I’m putting in a treasure in. This student also has a mat that she sits on, on the carpet, which has a number seven on it. This really helps because the mat is right in front of my red chair. When the rest of my students are sitting on the carpet and she isn’t yet, I count down from five, four…etc. This is a great technique that I also used at my other student teaching placement. My cooperating teacher made a sticker chart for her behavior during the three daily playtimes. If she were behaving sensibly she would be able to put a sticker of her choice in the column. I know Christa had this same technique in her classroom with a student and it worked pretty well. This past week a physiologist came in to observe her. It was kind of nerve racking having him come in but my cooperating teacher reminded me that “he’s just here to observe the student not you.” After observing the student he told my cooperating teacher that I was handling it very well.
I have learned a lot of different techniques and how to enforce good behavior within my classroom. Although this was a difficult teaching experience I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with this student. She is very funny and has a great spirit. Every year a teacher will have a different set of students with different learning abilities.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Report Cards

It's that time of year, report cards! Here at Sotogrande International School the students will not be taking home a letter grade A through F, because there are NO GRADES in primary. Instead of a letter grade to indicate where the student falls in terms of meeting the expectations for the class, the student has a checklist showing what skills and knowledge they have and what they are still working on. They also have a small paragraph written by the teacher about that students' work habits, behavior and ability in class. We've been watching as the teacher work on these comments and noticed that they make a Herculean effort to say something positive about the student even if in extreme cases is is merely, “comes to class on time” or “is well-liked by peers”. We helped to do the maths report. For this we selected what level the students were at for a variety of objectives- “applied”, “understood”, “in progress” or “with support”. They also have some assessments that are conducted outside the classroom. For example they have a reading test to find their reading level. This test is standardized and conducted by a teaching aid.

The advantage of this sort of system is that more attention is payed to the individual student and their performance based on their potential. It reduced the comparison to peers and lets the students ability speak for itself. It also puts less pressure on the students and gives the teachers more flexibility- they are not bound to give a specific grade based on scores. In fact, most things we collect are not assigned points or recorded in a grade book. Instead comments come together to create an overall picture of a students ability and knowledge.

The disadvantage of this system is that it is very subjective. As Ashley and I realized as we prepared parts of the reports, it is hard to unattached your personal impressions about the student from their performance. It is also less standardized and hard to find how the student falls within the class and even harder to compare in different classes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


While you spoiled Americans were enjoying a break on Thanksgiving Thursday and Crazy Black Friday, we Spain teachers went about our normal day routines. School occurred on both Thursday and Friday this week, and although we knew it was Thanksgiving back home, it wasn’t quite the same in Spain. But no worries! Living in Spain couldn’t stop us from celebrating one of our favorite American holidays.
Thursday was another normal day at school, and although we received some thoughtful “Happy Thanksgiving’s” from the staff, everything else went as ordinary. For lunch, however, Alyssa and I were provided a lovely meal by our cooperating teachers. It was incredibly generous of them, and although there wasn’t turkey on the menu, we were still thankful for the delicious chicken curry and hamburger. We’ll take that over school lunch any day! Christa was able to show a quick clip from Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving to her 5 year-olds, who loved it! Who wouldn’t?! That night we also met up at Bonnie and Jim’s hotel for a special Thanksgiving dinner. Sam’s parents were still in town and joined us (even though Sam was spending Thanksgiving in Portugal with the futbol team). Libby’s family was also in town. After spending a few days in Barcelona, they made the long road trip down to Estepona to spend Thanksgiving here. Her mom, dad, boyfriend, and friend from France all joined us for the lovely meal! Because we were all starving Americans, we went to dinner at 7:30 (which was late in our books anyways). But there wasn’t anyone in the restaurant when we got there, so Jim’s voice seemed to carry even more than usual . Our 13 person table was the source of conversation and laughter all night. By the end of the meal (around 10:30) we noticed people were finally starting to fill the place up. The hotel restaurant was providing a unique Thanksgiving dinner that night, and man was it good! We enjoyed brie stuffed pastries as an appetizer. Turkey and potatoes in a delicious, reduced red wine sauce (that I could never replicate in a million years). And scrumptious pecan pie for dessert! Even though we were in Spain for Thanksgiving, we still partook in the tradition of stuffing ourselves to the brim and then proceeding to fall asleep.

In the tradition of the holiday, we decided to name some things we have been grateful for throughout this trip:
• Each other! We seriously have had such a great time getting to know each other this trip. Not like we haven’t spent the last two years in the same classes or anything, but we have learned a lot about one another, and a lot from one another during this experience. And I think this goes for everyone when I say this, but living together has actually brought us closer. We do still have two and a half weeks left, so I don’t want to speak too soon 
• Our teachers! They have been so tremendously helpful throughout this whole experience. We’ve learned a great deal from both the school and our classrooms. It’s been such a unique and valuable experience, and we can’t wait to take back all we’ve learned here and apply it to the schools in the states.
• Our advisors! We want to thank them both for visiting us here across the ocean. Thanks for setting up this whole experience and helping us become better teachers. Also, thanks for the great meals. We always eat so well whenever we have visitors here!
• The location! Our apartments are seriously amazing here. We love waking up every morning to the sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea. We love falling asleep to the sound of the gentle waves crashing against the shore. And we love the tranquility of watching the sunset down by the pool. We are a bit spoiled here! Oh yeah and there’s none of that cold white stuff-what do you call it again?!? Snow?!
• The kids! They keep us young. Whether we’re in Spain or in Minnesota, we absolutely love spending time with our students. They always keep us on our toes and make our days brighter. Christa was explaining to her students that she would normally be at home on this day, enjoying a big meal and spending time with her family. So she was a little homesick today and a missing her loved ones. The kids were so sympathetic and cheered her up, saying, “But Miss Chreeesta! You have us!”
• Lastly, we’re thankful for the whole new culture we’ve been able to experience here. The laid-back, casual style. The timeless attitudes. Eating dinner at 10:00 at night. And putting Nutella on EVERYTHING! It’s been an incredible experience so far! And we’re all very grateful for this opportunity.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Classroom Management

Even though most of these kids are super polite, we still need to have some management 
tricks up our sleeve.  The question is, what kind of management techniques?  Some
strategies we used in the states seems to be ineffective here in Spain while others have
still been useful.  For the youngins, Christa and Libby have been using some singing
management to gain the students' attention.  "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, we were talking now we're done!" and "tootsie roll tootsie roll lolly pop, we were talking now we stop" have worked in their classrooms.  Alyssa, on the other hand, tried turning the lights off to
get the students to be quiet, and (when she finally found the light switch) nothing really happened.  Some of us have also tried to do clapping patterns for students to repeat.  Sometimes the students will repeat the pattern and sometimes they will just
start clapping loudly while still talking or moving around.  It has been interesting to see what does and does not work for management techniques over here!
There are also different techniques that the teachers here use that we've never seen/heard before.  We are all familiar with the "clean up song" in America. Over here in kindergarten it's not the "clean up song", it's the "tidy up song."  And thanks to Christa and Libby's beautiful singing back at the apartment, we are lucky enough to have this song ingrained in our brains as well!
The language and accent differences have also been a factor in our teaching.  We don't throw things in the garbage, we throw things in the bin. We don't erase our mistakes, we rub them out. We're starting to get used to saying these phrases instead of saying
"garbage" and "erase," yet the accent differences have been a bit of a problem when it comes to phonics and spelling tests.  As Ashley was giving her class a spelling test, she would say the word and the students would reply, "What?!" Then when Ashley said the word in a sentence..."Ohhh you mean _________!"  Phonics is also tough!  It is hard enough knowing what each letter or blend sounds like, but when you throw in all of the accents it's just a mess!
While these issues can sometimes be hard to overcome, many of them are also humorous. The most important part is that we get through the day accomplishing our goals.  Then we can go home and give each other advice, or chuckle at all of our frustrating/funny stories. :) 


Friday, November 18, 2011

Getting the best out of students: The roles of an effective teacher.

“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.” 
Carol Welch

For the past few years, this quote has summed up the purpose and necessity of physical education for me.  Focusing on one of my disciplines, it is crucial to address three domains within every single PE lesson: psychomotor (physical), cognitive (mental), and affective (emotional).  Four years of schooling and active participation in a national PE and Health association has helped to establish my ideals and goals as a physical educator.  At the same time, my philosophy was still not exactly nailed down.  When the opportunity arose to student teach in Spain, I recognized it as the chance of a lifetime to practice teaching a very controversial and challenging discipline in a completely different environment.

My experiences as a teacher outside of America have instilled in me several key roles of a physical educator that will ultimately develop physically educated students – students who will have the knowledge, skills, and value of being active and fit for life.
1.     Deliver lessons with activities that engage ALL students, increasing their curiosity and motivation to participate and learn more
2.     Develop strong relationships with students that establish trust and safety, encouraging risk-taking and cooperative learning
3.     Consistently expect the most out of every student, bringing the best out of every student

Regardless of where I teach or what I teach, these tasks are part of my mission.  In order to effectively develop each of the three domains mentioned previously, objectives are developed for every lesson within these areas that guide students to a much broader goal for each unit.  I learned in college the most effective ways to teach the psychomotor, or physical, domain.  However, during this student teaching placement, I am learning to more effectively connect PE to every day life and other disciplines by asking higher-level questions.  Here are some examples of questions that accompany themes for various units:
Primary Years Tag Rugby: What are the three most important ways to successfully work together as a team while passing with a partner? Why do we always need to perform these tasks?
Low Middle Years Basketball: Think of your favorite hobby… Relate it to basketball - Why must we always begin something with very basic and easy skills and build upon them?
Upper Middle Years Basketball: Think of the debates in your other classes currently.  Relate basketball to the debates.  Why do you need to be an expert of both offense and defense or the pro’s and con’s of any given controversy/situation?

Ultimately, I think the biggest difference between effective and ineffective teachers has nothing to do with the type of school at which they teach or where they are in the world.  Their ability to effectively teach Physical Education depends upon the ability to develop a safe environment, encourage full participation and risk-taking, and make connections that intrigue students.  These jobs can seem daunting and sometimes impossible at times; however, when completed effectively, teaching is incredibly rewarding. I am learning how to become an effective teacher here primarily thanks to the incredible mentor I have found in my cooperating teacher who always pushes me to take risks and try something new with my students – no matter how crazy my ideas seem at the time!  I have heard many people comment that students at IB schools are smarter than others.  I would strongly argue that the students are not smarter.  Instead, the teachers are trained to bring the best out in every student.  I am so excited to take home with me the skills to be a great teacher and share them with colleagues.  

- Samantha Broderius