A Tale of Two Systems: V: Coming Home
This past summer and spring, my school participated in a German American Partnership Program
exchange. It has been nearly three months since I (along with ten high
school students and the German teacher from my school) returned from our
month of study and cultural immersion in Mühldorf am Inn in Bavaria.
While the friendships and memories (and, thankfully, chocolate)
remain, it has yet to be seen how we'll ensure that our learning doesn't
Here are some strategies I've been trying out.
When I was a student, I studied Spanish and Latin. I am fluent in
neither and struggle with the idea that I only know my own language
well. As I hope to return to Germany someday, I have taken it upon
myself to learn
as much of the language as possible. With the help of textbooks and
podcasts, I have built my vocabulary and feel much more confident
understanding simple phrases or questions.
My best method, though, has been auditing the German class at my
school. On Friday afternoons, I join the 8th hour German students in
speaking and written activities.
Jason Herrman, the teacher who organizes our exchange program, is
suffering from large class sizes and lack of collaborative opportunities
as the only German teacher in the school. By being in his class as a
teacher/student, I am able to help with crowd control and planning. In
return, I get to model for students in my building what struggling with a
language looks like and how to persevere.
My favorite moment of success with this strategy came when we were
walking outside for a fire drill and the young lady I was walking next
to turned to her friend and said, "She's in my 8th hour German class." I
was able to respond by asking her a question in German.
One of the commonalities that I see among teachers is that we like to
learn. Even if it can't be regular, why not seek to partner with a peer
to audit a class or subject that you'd like to learn more about? It's a
great way to build camaraderie in your building and to earn some
elusive street cred with students.
Having established friendships with teachers in Germany, it is hard
not to be excited about the possibility of sharing ideas and "classroom"
space with each other. Given the thousands of miles and eight-hour time
change that make collaboration difficult, it has been a struggle to
create this classroom space. Thank goodness for the internet.
Google has a host of free tools
that make virtual collaboration possible. With Google Docs, it is easy
for students to collaborate on written work. With Blogger, it is easy to share literature reviews and created threaded discussions. If you want to hear voices, then creating podcasts is another option. All of these free tools make it possible for teachers to share content and students.
We have struggled quite a bit with the scheduling conflicts inherent
in this kind of collaboration, but are currently having our students
create podcasts to share with each other. We are eager to find more
active learning options to continue this global classroom model next
Social Media Connections
Before our trip, we set up a Facebook
group to share photos and stories with the parents back home. We
required each of our American students to write about at least one
day-trip or activity that they experienced and had great interactions
with friends and family both in Germany and at home.
Now that we are back, our page has been dormant—until this weekend,
when my colleague and I posted pictures from our homecoming parade and
game. We have received several page views, but are still working on ways
to inspire more active interactions. Our hope is that this will provide
a venue for continued conversation among students and even a place
where we can post joint projects or academically related discussion
In an era of social media overload, there is no better way to engage
our students then asking them to use the tools they use already. If your
school doesn't allow Facebook, Edmodo is a nice alternative that is school friendly.
Plan for Your Next Trip—What Could We Do Better Next Time?
The beauty of the GAPP exchange is that it fosters ongoing
relationships between schools. The point is to create a connection that
lasts for many years. This means that every other year, as long as we
are able, we will take a group of American students to the Ruperti
Gymnasium and a group of German students will visit our school in
The challenge is making this experience relevant and meaningful
rather than letting it become the same trip over and over again.
This was my first time on the exchange. When I return in the summer
of 2014, I hope to know the language better and to have specific
learning structures in place for my students and for the German students
visiting us. As Jason and I reflect and collaborate on future trips, we
hope to take what we have learned about cross-continental
collaboration, social media, and language studies to create a project
that the students will work on over the six weeks of exchange time as
well as before and after the trip is complete.
As has been the case with most of my international travel, my trip to
Germany was a life-changing experience. I am excited for the
opportunities to grow professionally that are yet to come as our efforts
and experiments take shape. I look forward to sharing how it all goes.
In the meantime, viel Glück mit Ihren Schülern!