Teachers and students learn from US-German exchange
November 23, 2011
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Teachers from Hohenfels Middle/High School crossed the culture gap by attending and teaching a class at the Parsberg Gymnasium, recently. (Gymnasium is the equivalent of high school in Germany.)
HMHS Principal Daniel Mendoza said that the exchange program between the two schools grew out of a conversation between Gymnasium director Eckard Fruhmann and Lt. Col. Kevin J. Quarles, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels commander. Fruhmann had pointed out that his school had exchange programs with schools in Spain, Italy, England, and even America, but not with the American school a mere 10 kilometers away.
While HMHS has partnerships with several other schools in the region, in the past exchanges between the schools have been limited to a few hours with a select group of students visiting and interacting with their German counterparts.
"This is the first time I'm aware of in the history of Hohenfels that teachers have actually gone in to teach a class at a German school," said Mendoza.
Six teachers spent the day teaching subjects ranging from civics to math to language courses. All of the teachers were struck by the initial difference in their teaching techniques.
"The (German) education system seems very teacher oriented where there's a lot of lecture, whereas our education system is very student centered and the activities revolve around the students," said Barbara Nicklin, who taught an English class to German eighth-graders.
David Becher said the third-year Spanish students he taught seemed surprised by the interactive activity he had planned.
"I don't think they're overly accustomed to being up and moving around and being in groups," said Becher.
Mini Delamarter-Lefebvre agreed, but said once the ice was broken, the students seemed to respond well.
"I don't think they're used to talking," said Delamarter-Lefebvre who taught aspects of the American Constitution to juniors and seniors. "But we did a lot of comparing between the American laws and German laws, so then they had to respond to me because I'd say, well I'm not German, what is this law, do you have that in your country?"
All of the teachers felt the experience was very valuable and fulfilling and said the highlight of their trip was watching the students begin to respond to their more active teaching process.
"Some of the German teachers mentioned in our forum at the end that they would like to see more interaction between the students, more opportunities for them to process information," said Ed Lynch who taught math story problems in English to juniors at the Gymnasium.
The students weren't the only ones who learned from the interaction.
"I have a much better understanding of the German kids who come here as seniors…how their approach to education, their response to stuff is a little bit different, and now I have a little bit better understanding as to why this is," said Nicklin.
"It was a worthwhile and insightful trip because it allowed us to see the operation of another education system and to be exposed to a different pedagogical philosophy," said Mark FitzGerald who held a forum on the use of technology in American education.
FitzGerald also pointed out the partnership leads to more social interaction between the two communities as a whole.
"It goes beyond the school exchange program," he said. "We've been asked to and visited German teachers' homes for supper and things like that."
Plans are in the works for the Parsberg Gymnasium teachers to visit HMHS and observe and co-teach with their partners here.
"We also want to have our student exchange as well," said Mendoza, explaining that 2-3 students at a time from both schools would exchange places for the day. "It doesn't have to be academic in nature, it could be a fun thing, cooking, athletics; it could be anything."
"What we want to do is make sure German and American students learn each other's culture, not only academic but what they do outside of school," Mendoza said.
(David Becher contributed reporting)