Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BONGOS, BANJOS, and BRAVOS!

The Primary Years Programme (Grades 3-5) had their Spring Concert Assembly on Friday...and experience I will not soon forget.  Fabian, the Lower School Music instructor, developed a magnificent sight and sound experience for the parents and guests to enjoy.  In one hour, Fabian and all the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders worked together beautifully to take the audience on a "World Musical Tour."  The students weaved around one another to find their designated positions for each song - some found their way to the xylophones, some to the bongo drums, some to the banjos and guitars, some to the recorders, and some to the risers to use their voice and movement to infuse the auditorium with their next piece.

We musically visited the drum beats of the African jungle, the jazz filled streets of New Orleans, the Caribbean isles with their calypso sounds, the south of the United States imitating the music of the slaves...the journey was amazing...and so beautifully performed by each student.  The rhythms were toxic and exciting, and the audience was obviously fully engaged.  At one point, a select few of the 5th grade students walked to the microphone getting the audience to repeat "I said a Boom-Chicka-Boom, I said a Boom Chicka-Rocka-Chicka-Rocka-Chicka-Boom" in various falsettos and decibels.  It was funny, interactive, and quite enjoyable.  Bravo, Mr. Fabian...you have done a remarkable job with your music students...BRAVO!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

IN FULL SWING

The students are in full swing at ISA.  Planning and teaching lessons, organizing small group work, attending grade level and team meetings, participating in professional development days, enjoying special events such as the PYP (Primary Years Programme) 3rd-5th grade spring concert, football (soccer) games, "Cake Friday" and "TGI Friday Happy Hour" on campus are just a handful of the activities our Elmira College Teacher Education students are experiencing.  Let me expand a bit further...

All of the pre-service teachers have been given the opportunity to teach a lesson or two at this point in the term, at least to a small group of children.  They have been fully emerged into ELL (English Language Learners) curriculum as well, as several of the students in each grade level speak little English.  This poses new and exciting opportunities for the students to work closely with the Language teachers and allows them the opportunity to "soak in" teaching techniques unique to the wide cultural diversity at ISA.  The teaching techniques for each classroom teacher also allows our students to see a new and fresh perspective to teaching, unlike the traditional school in the USA.  Inquiry based learning is, in my opinion, a complete program - allowing the students to think for themselves, think deeper, and learn problem solving techniques.  The students KNOW why they are learning what they are learning, as opposed to learning the information simply to regurgitate the information back for the test, only to forget 80% of the material the next day.  Its impressive to see how the teachers maneuver, plan, and execute their daily lessons...and it has been even more exciting to watch the EC students perform in this manner as well.

The school day usually begins at 8:30am, but on Friday's the school day begins at 9:30am each week.  This time is set aside for teachers to attend longer grade level meetings, follow-ups on conferences, book-talks and other Professional Development meetings.  A few Friday's back, we were invited to participate in the Professional Development morning, complete with breakfast consisting of freshly made pastries, bagels with cream cheese, a variety of coffee and teas as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, a favorite of many of the EC students.  The menu of events was impressive...cohort groups included sessions such as "Google Docs - How It Can Be Used in Planning for the Classroom," "Reader and Writer Workshop - A Lucy Calkins follow-up (from Columbia Teachers College in NYC)," "Sensory Disorders - Recognizing the Symptoms in Students," etc, etc, etc.  The professional resources at ISA are incredible.

Friday's are special days in more ways than one...especially for the MYP (Middle Years Programme) Humanities Department... for Friday's mean "Cake Friday" at lunchtime.  Each week, a new Humanities Department Teacher brings in a variety of cakes, eclairs, and other treats for the Humanities department to enjoy.  But, in the true nature of teachers, this is not just your average "bake goods" display...oh no!  They take their "Cake Friday" quite seriously - including a 7 point assessment rubric for each week (all in good fun, of course).  The criteria is steep and taken seriously (all in good fun, of course)...from the arrangement and display of the cakes, to the variety of the cakes, the amount of the cakes, etc.  All I can say is - the cakes have been nothing short of DELICIOUS!

But that doesn't conclude a typical Friday - because come 4pm, all the teachers and staff roll into the large faculty room and outdoor patio to enjoy the full open bar and snacks for TGI Friday Happy Hour.  The students, and myself, were speechless when we realized that there was a full functioning bar at ISA.  The idea is not new to ISA, or even to the International School Program, apparently.  The philosophy is "we worked hard all week, now we will celebrate with an adult beverage or two."  And that is exactly what everyone does - celebrate.  For 2-3 hours, the staff relax, unwind, talk, laugh, eat and drink...with their peers and their families, effortlessly moving around the room and patio.  Its a natural networking time...and an opportunity to to meet professionals from literally all over the world - New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, Taiwan, etc.

ISA continues to impress and amaze us...we may never leave! :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The International School of Amsterdam - aka - EDUCATION UTOPIA

The International School of Amstedam, more commonly referred to as ISA, is unlike any school facility I have ever witnessed.  The state-of-the-art building is filled with professionals eager to get to work each morning.  They are greeted with a warm reception and a 2 story foyer filled with the excitement of a new day from the students, the parents and the entire staff.  The students rush in to the school, many stop at the commissary for a morning snack, and then off to their classroom to immediately begin their work.  It is common to find the parents say goodbye to their children and then gather in the cafeteria eatery lounging with a cup of coffee visiting with friends, grouping up for a morning language lesson, or even as a meeting point to walk the dog or take a jog with like-minded individuals.

One day one, we are welcomed by Dr. Greene and the heads of the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Upper Years Programme (IB) and a few others for a delicious lunch consisting of assorted fresh paninis, fruit, yogurt, and beverages.  After the formalities of the introductions we fall into easy conversation, discussing everything from our home countries, teaching backgrounds, future goals, as well as the Royal Wedding of William and Kate which is to take place this Friday.

Following our lunch we are met by Tina from admissions who graciously takes us on a school tour - every classroom, every special area, every meeting room, music room, gymnasium, every nook and cranny of ISA was explored...each location leaving each of us more and more in awe.  We meet many of the teachers, assistants, and helpers throughout each grade level, each just as welcoming as the next.  The Elmira students meet their cooperating teacher and even some of the classroom pupils...many eager to have a new "teacher" in the classroom.  Throughout the day we hear facts from the faculty and staff about the school; facts such as:

1.  There are no real discipline problems in the school (pre-school through 12th grade).
2.  There are currently 52 countries represented by the student population at ISA.
3.  Each grade level recieves 15,000Euro YEARLY for materials in the classroom.  Often the grade levels turn money back in because they are unable to spend it all.
4.  The students actually get excited when vacation is OVER - they look forward to learning at ISA.
5.  Approximately 60% of the ISA students first language is NOT English.
6.  The PTO is a VERY active part of ISA - and they hold unique events WEEKLY.
7.  ISA supports a vast variety of special interest groups as well as organizations yearly.
8.  Each employee of ISA is allotted 700 Euro each year for Professional Development.

And the list goes on and on and on and on and on.............................in my opinion
The International School of Amsterdam is EDUCATION UTOPIA.

SIGHTSEEING IN AMSTERDAM

We have been so busy these last few days, its hard to think that it is already Thursday.  However, I must slow down some tonight and reflect on our last few days ... and hopefully keep it short.

Tuesday we explored the city of Amsterdam.  After a small mishap purchasing our one hour tram tickets, we boarded tram 51 for a 20 minute ride into city center Central Station.  We depart the tram finding ourselves in a swarm of travelers boarding and disembarking trains, trams, and buses, hustling and bustling around, some with luggage, some with children, and many with bicycles.  We eventually find our way above ground only to find a sun filled city filled with beautiful old buildings and boat filled canals.  "Welcome to Amsterdam!"

We quickly find a tourist office to purchase our tickets for the canal tour.  We were told by both experienced travelers and locals that the best way to see Amsterdam is from the canals, so we obeyed the advice of many and spent a large portion of our day on different "canal boat" lines - seeing the sights the way Amsterdam was intended to be viewed.  The boat leaves the dock, we immediately travel under our first bridge and are transformed to a completely different part of the city.  We start at the old boat harbor and begin to hear the vast history from the recorded tour guide, passing Anne Frank's house, the Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, boat houses, windmills, the Heineken Factory, and so many other sights.  For our final ride, we choose the last canal boat of the day, 5:30pm.  The tour was to take us on the Orange line - the furthest from city center.  A beautiful tour ended abruptly however when the clock turned 6:30pm.  Apparently, no matter where you are located, when the clock turns 6:30pm, the boat docks, everyone is to disembark and walk to their final destination.  Problem is...our final destination was on the complete other side of the city - SO.....we hoofed it.

However, this ended up being a blessing as we find ourselves just walking and exploring the city streets, still being cautiously aware of the bikes in the city.  Walking up and down the city streets, we find quaint districts throughout - various shops, restaurants, pubs, coffee-shops, souvenir boutiques, etc.  We even fell into a "carnival" in Dam Square - and of course, needed to patronize their existence.  Students chose their ride for the evening while I remained on the ground laughing and taking pictures of the brave souls on the rides.

After a long night, we board the 51 tram again to head back "home."  We are tired, chilly, and ready for bed...the tram is quiet, no one seems to be talking much so all we hear is the thu-thump, thu-thump of the tram on the tracks.  And then.......the tram stops, the doors remain shut, and no one is saying anything.  Apparently the tram was experiencing difficulties and we needed to leave the car, but the doors wouldn't open so we could only leave the car by going through the drivers door.  What an experience this was...But alas, we made it back home with the help of the bi-lingual dutch locals helping us to see the next tram on the Overstappen  - the other track.

We make it back to the HTel, politely say our goodnights, and quickly fall into bed exhausted after a long 12 hour day exploring the city of Amsterdam - eager for our next adventure in the city.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

WE ARE HERE!

We arrived  tired and sleepy from a long flight from Newark, New Jersey to Amsterdam, Netherlands on Monday morning, April 25, 2011.  The flight was easy, although it was not without its minor complications.  The airplane was old showing its age through small tears in the seats, tray tables that would not fully close, certain air vents that were not working, blurry and dark screened televisions, and even a few problems with the audio equipment making movie watching nearly impossible.  However, we are grateful for arriving in Schiphol airport safely.  Customs was a breeze...few questions, and even in one case, just a simple smile and a stamp of the passport was all it took to pass through.

We met our drivers, sent by the International School of Amsterdam, who promptly picked us up and drove us via the "scenic route" to our Htel accommodations.  We passed through city streets, an industrial park, a tulip farm and greenhouse, a draw-bridge lifting for a few sailboats to pass through the canal, and through the cottage-like town homes of the local people of Amstelveen (pronounced Am-stel-vain).  After a short 20 minute drive from the airport, we arrived at our "home" in Amstelveen - the Htel.

The desk clerks greeted us immediately with a warm welcome, offering us tea, coffee, or water, and were quickly willing to give us a tour of our accommodations.  The student's smiles were priceless as we received a tour of the building.  Swimming pool, sauna, foot baths, Turkish steam room, state-of-the-art lounge, high-tech meeting facilities...and thats all before we saw the fully furnished apartments.  They were impressed, as was I, with the sleek look of our surroundings.

After everyone found their apartments, we closed our doors, unpacked, showered, and bed down for a short nap.  But time quickly passed and it was time to meet Dr. Edward Greene (the Director of ISA) along with his lovely wife Christine for a dinner at a local restaurant around the town.  They introduced us to the 2 delicacies of Amsterdam...French Fries with mayonnaise and Bitterballen (a deep fried ball containing meat, ragu,and some spices - usually to be dipped in a spicy mustard).  We dined outside as the weather was a dreamy 76 degrees, uncommon weather as per the locals.  Before and after dinner, we walked about the town with Christine who was eager to show us where the locals shop for groceries, clothing, glasses, electronics, flowers, etc, along with how to navigate through the streets.  By navigate, I am not merely speaking of directions to and from, but instead, discriminating between the pedestrian lane, the car lane and most importantly, the BIKE lane.  Bicycles are the biggest form of transportation in the Amsterdam area, and one should not ride casually here.  Bikes are a form of transportation, not merely enjoyment, so - get out of their way or they will RUN YOU OVER!  :)

After a lovely night we all returned to our apartments, ready for a good nights sleep.  We needed to rest, for the next day we would tour the big city of AMSTERDAM.