To say this month went by in the blink of an eye is an understatement. I’m sitting here writing on my flight back to Fort Worth and I feel like it was just yesterday when I was in the same position filled with anticipation and excitement heading to Sweden. There have been some bumps in the journey, but all of the positives outweighed the negatives and I am leaving with a great sense of peace and on overwhelmingly full heart. If you’ve been reading my blogs then you know that I have ended each blog post about the school with a top three list. I decided that for my last post I would countdown the top three biggest lessons I learned from this experience. This of course was extremely hard to do since I learned so much and could write on and on forever but I tried my best to sum it up.
I’ve been asked countless times throughout this entire experience if school in the United States or school in Sweden is better. People beg to know which one I think is the best. The answer is neither. Neither Coder Elementary nor Malmö International School are perfect but they are filled with teachers who wake up each day with a steadfast determination to make it as close to perfect as they possibly can for their students. There are flaws in both systems and there probably always will be. MIS is going through a big transition period right now. There are lots of new teachers with fresh ideas and perspectives. People are thinking of out of the box ways to reach the students who need it the most. They are trying to make education exciting and relevant again. I’ve seen the same from the teachers I watch and work with at Coder as well. School isn’t perfect, but it’s getting there. Maybe if we somehow find a way to collaborate with educators from all over the world, we can pull the best parts of each school system and make one that is pretty near perfection. That may be wishful thinking but my what we could learn if we just opened our minds to the possibility of it.
One of the greatest challenges I think I will face as a teacher is trying to relate to all of my students—to try and build meaningful relationships with them in order to make a lasting impact on their lives. I think the key to accomplishing this comes from a few areas. 1) Be open-minded. Each of my students will be completely 100% unique and come from a variety of backgrounds and situations. I will have to navigate how to understand the various worlds they come from when I myself may not walk the same path. I will need to be open-minded and not let my misconceptions or own ideas dictate my students’ journey in my class. 2) Be caring, always. Through small victories and large ones, students deserve recognition and praise for their accomplishments and contributions to the classroom. Being a strong, compassionate person in the lives of my students will be vital as I may be one of the only people in their lives that they have who shows them that they care daily. 3) Be a risk-taker and let students push the learning in a direction that is important to them. Hayley often lets her students’ ideas lead the curriculum and instruction. Woah, woah, woah, having a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds decide what they’re learning about? You’ve got to be out of your mind! Those were my exact thoughts too when I first stepped into the PYP5A class, trust me. Somehow, someway, it works. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still boundaries and standards that need to be met. There is certain content that needs to be taught. It’s not like every morning Hayley stood at the front of the room and said, “Okay kids, what do you want to learn about today? Oh the Lochness monster? Cool, let’s do it” but the students are the driving force behind a lot of the big overall topics discussed in the class. That takes a lot of risk and a lot of flexibility but the outcome is really cool. All of that being said, if I am going to expect these characteristics of myself, then I also need to expect it from my students. Establishing these positive classwide expectations will be crucial in creating a strong classroom community in my future similar to what I have seen at MIS.
There’s this little thing called fear that sometimes creeps in and prevents me from taking chances and saying yes to things outside of my comfort zone. I have learned so much during the past month and to think that I could have missed out on it all if I hadn’t said yes to the unknown adventure is crazy. Adventure can be found everywhere; it doesn’t have to be in Sweden but could be in your own backyard or in your classroom. Maybe you say yes to using a new resource or to working with a teacher you normally wouldn’t. Maybe you try a new food or pick up a new hobby. The possibilities are endless; the world is yours for the taking. Say yes to the thing that’s been on your bucket list forever. Say yes to the crazy idea that your friends spit out at you on a random Tuesday afternoon. Say yes to the mysteries, the unknown journeys, and the unfamiliar places. And if you ever get the chance to pack up your life for one month and move to a place you’ve never been just to experience a different culture and way of looking at the world—say yes. Say yes a million times over because it could just be one of the greatest adventures you will ever have.
My life will truly never be the same after my experiences at Malmö International School. The students have left an imprint on my heart that I will carry with me forever. It was a strange feeling leaving and coming to the realization that I may never see those students again, that I would never know what will become of their ever-so-bright futures, and that they may never realize the greatness of the impact that they had on me. I felt like there was still so much I could learn from them, that we had barely even scratched the surface. I can only hope that I get the chance to go to Sweden again one day but until then, thank you so much PYP5 for the best four weeks. Hejdå för nu!
I was so excited to see the bright-eyed faces of my students on Monday morning. Don’t get me wrong, traveling was so much fun but I was ready to get back into the routine of teaching again. The temperature had significantly dropped since we left Malmö. We headed to our favorite coffee shop before school for breakfast (I’m sure the baristas had been so relieved when they thought they had gotten rid of us… but SURPRISE we’re back). We ordered our usual, three ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches with large cappuccinos. It may be hard to go back to the normal gruel that I eat for breakfast. I have been so spoiled by the fresh made breads and specialty coffees and I’m not so sure my toaster and Kuerig will produce the same deliciousness.
Hayley really likes to randomly ask me about 2 minutes before a lesson is supposed to start if I want to take it over for the day. This really freaked me out at the beginning of my time at MIS. It is becoming an almost every day occurrence and I think probably one of the best experiences I could have during my time here. I am such a planner, as I have mentioned multiple times before in these blog posts, but as with life not everything during the school day can always go according to plan. I’ve gotten really good at flying by the seat of my pants and just going with the flow. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out so great and other times it’s wonderful. There were two math lessons that I took over this week at the last second. One was great and I was able to make it up as I went along and another…not so much.
When it comes to elementary school math, there isn’t really a lot of material that I don’t know how to do. The problem comes when I try to explain the concepts. It has been so long since I’ve learned it myself that it is hard to go back to that place of confusion and break it down for someone who has never seen it before. Cue Hayley asking me to teach about place value to the right of the decimal….easy right? Tenths, hundredths, and thousandths… what could be so complicated about that? I explained with an example and thought it was great….then someone asked me why. “Why are they called that?” “How did they come up with that?” I explained the best I could and set the students loose to work on creating their own place value charts. As I walked around the room I realized that I had done a less than fantastic job because many of the students were still confused. I paused and asked if we could rewind for a minute and go over the information again. I walked through the process slowly and more clearly, reteaching myself along the way. I also found a Flocabulary video (thanks for introducing me to that resource, Mrs. Dearman!) for the students to watch that explained it in a different way. Even though one of the students, Charlie, said the decimal rap in the video was “C-R-I-N-G-E-worthy,” I think he secretly liked it and the whole class had fun with it. Even though it was a silly video, Hayley and I really hyped it up. We even tried to make it a competition to see who could learn all the lyrics the fastest. Before the end of the math period the students were all at the front trying to sing and dance along. This particular math lesson taught me two things:
Tuesday turned out to be one of the coldest days Malmö has seen all year (lucky us). I was very grateful to not have break duty on Tuesday so I didn’t have to be out in the frigidness. That afternoon, my students started working on their portfolios. These binders have been with them since they began school at MIS five years ago. It shows work samples and growth throughout the years. In the past they have always been physical paper copies but this year they decided to go digital and are doing the portfolios on their iPads. Many schools I have been at in the States do something similar to show student progress and growth but I really like the way it's done in PYP5. For each unit the students have to select 4 work samples—one has to be from math, one from English, and the other two can be of their choosing. Once the students select their work samples they also have to write a short reflection about what they learned from it or how they felt about the process of making it, writing it, etc. I enjoyed that the students actually had to think about their work and why it would be a good example to put in their portfolios and that each one of them selected different pieces of work that they were proud of.
To keep out of the cold that evening Chandler, KayLeigh, and I decided to do one of our favorite things…go to the movies! We had walked past a movie theater countless times and thought it was the perfect activity for a cold winter night. We did our best to navigate the Swedish website and purchased tickets for a movie in English with Swedish subtitles, or at least we hoped that’s what we bought. The theater had self-serve concessions, which was different than most theaters we had been to in the U.S. With our popcorn and sodas in hand, we enjoyed the movie Every Day. Thankfully Google translate pulled through and it was in English! If you ask me, it was a great way to spend the evening.
This morning we woke up and got ready as usual. We walked down the stairs and to our surprise were greeted with at least 3 inches of snow! When we had been planning before coming to Sweden, we thought it would be like this every day. When we got to school we found out that this weather isn’t actually normal for Malmö. They haven’t seen snow like this in about six years so the kids were just as excited as we were! It was truly a winter wonderland. In Fort Worth, if we go this much snow, the whole city would be shut down but here it was business as usual. The kids LOVED playing in the snow during break time. We went out with a plan to make a snowmen village but the snow was so powdery that it didn’t really stick when we tried to pack it into snowballs. I built a little miniature snowman with one of my students but that was about as big as we could get. The rest of the time, students frolicked around making snow angels, put snow “graffiti” on the walls, and built snow forts and the best snow people they possibly could. As we walked in, Hayley reminded the students to stomp their feet to get the snow off and one boy cleverly responded that it was “sNOw problem”. You couldn't help but love all the snow masterpieces and the snow puns that came from all these creative little minds.
I can't believe my time here in Sweden is almost over. Just two more days with my class before I head back to Texas. It's been such an adventure! The next time you hear from me I'll be on the plane heading home!
We thought it would be silly to be in Sweden and only explore Malmö so for the last leg of our adventure before we started student teaching again, we decided to check out the largest city in Sweden, Stockholm. We got in on a flight late Thursday night, loaded up on some pasta at a local Italian restaurant, and got some much-needed rest. Chandler, KayLeigh, and I all love to have a plan but we decided that we would start the next morning with a large cappuccino and just see where the day took us. We only had one goal in Stockholm and that was to find matching Sweden hats. We found them in the first souvenir shop we went into and splurged immediately even though we probably could have found them for cheaper elsewhere. Nothing screams locals like obnoxious, brightly colored hats, so we fit right in…!
After purchasing the hats and stopping into a couple more souvenir shops, we explored Gamla Stan or Old Town. This part of town contains some of the oldest buildings in Stockholm and is a hub of fascinating culture and interesting architecture. We went to the Royal Palace just in time for their changing of the guard ceremony. Although it was entirely in Swedish, the ceremony was a unique bit of Stockholm that we were glad to see. We kept hoping to see the royal family but found out that this palace is not their official place of residence and they actually reside in a larger palace, Drottningholm Palace, just outside of Stockholm.
Soon after the ceremony we were greeted with something we had been waiting for ever since arriving in Sweden three weeks ago…SNOW!! Large flakes were swirling around us and before we knew it the snow started to accumulate on the ground. It wasn’t a ton but it was the perfect winter wonderland we had been hoping for. The snow, of course, brought with it a drop in temperature and we wished we had put on a few more layers before leaving the hotel that morning.
Some more wandering and exploring the bustling streets of Stockholm led us to our dinner destination, which was traditional Swedish cuisine with a twist. We sat down at a popular Swedish meatball place called Meatballs for the People. We couldn’t be in Sweden and not try Swedish meatballs, right? Although Meatballs for the People had a variety of meatball offerings, we opted for the traditional ones. Since the only Swedish meatballs I have ever had are the ones you get as free samples walking into IKEA, these were pretty great. They were accompanied with some of the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. The warm meal hit the spot after a cold day wandering about.
Saturday began with a tour of Stockholm’s City Hall. We originally went on the tour because we wanted to go into the clock tower to see the town from above (you know this squad is always chasing the birds-eye views). Of course we didn’t read the fine print on the website and it wasn’t until after the tour was completely over that they told us the tower was closed for the winter season (cue the tragic music). Even without the tower, the tour of city hall was really cool. We saw the Blue Hall, where the Noble Peace Prize Banquet is held every year. We learned the in’s and out’s of the activities the Nobel laureates participate in on the night the coveted award is given out. Dinner is served in the Blue Hall, which you can tell by the pictures isn’t really blue, and then head to the gold room for dancing. It should be pretty clear which room the gold room is and YES it is all 100% real gold. The wall with the goddess on it is interesting because to her left you can see emblems of the West with symbols from places like the United States and Paris. To her right you can see things like the Turkish flag and elephants representing the East. The architect did this to say that Sweden was the keeper of the peace between the two parts of the world. We also learned that about 60 weddings happen each day in City Hall. Most of the ceremonies happen in one minute but if you’re feeling extra fancy you can splurge for the 3-minute option (how romantic!). So even though the tower was a bust, all of the information we learned about the purpose of the rooms in city hall was worth the trip anyways.
We had found an ice skating rink earlier in the day and thought it would be fun to come back later in the night when the lights were on overhead. I love ice-skating and we arrived as soon as the Zamboni had run so it was perfect…freezing, but perfect. We skated around the ice for about an hour before deciding our toes couldn’t take it anymore (a.k.a. we really couldn’t feel our toes at all anymore) and called it a night. In my book, ice-skating was the perfect ending to our 10 day journey. Sometimes it is good not to have a plan and just let a place reveal itself to you.
I’m excited to be back with my class at MIS this week to finish up my incredible experience abroad. I have already learned so much and I am itching to get back home and apply all of the newfound knowledge to my teaching experience in Texas. I may also be ready for some warmer weather and my own kitchen again too but I guess those are just added bonuses. :)
This week is winter sports holiday week at Malmö International School which means that the students get a week off to enjoy time with their families and go skiing before the season ends. What that meant for us is that we got a full week off to explore Europe. Last Friday we packed our bags and left Camp Malmö for an adventure!
Last summer KayLeigh, Chandler and I got the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris with the TCU College of Education. Once we learned about the sports holidays, we knew we wanted to go back. I truly think Paris is one of those cities that I could visit time and time again and never get tired of it; the magic never stops.
We started our day by walking around the Louvre and the Royal Palace. The Louvre, one of Paris’ famous museums, houses some of the most amazing pieces of art in the world. The Mona Lisa is among these masterpieces. When we visited last summer we spent time exploring the exhibits in the Louvre so we decided to forgo the admission fee this time and just wander around the gardens that surround it. We also wandered over to the Royal Palace area and took a few pictures there. We found some fun black and white striped pillars and realized they were a popular spot. That is one of the things I love about Paris, you never know when you are going to stumble upon something unique and fun like this.
After wandering for a while, we spotted a Ferris wheel. We quickly decided that it would be worth however many euros it was. To our surprise it was only 10. Let me tell you that was hands down the best 10 euros we have spent the entire trip. From the Ferris wheel you could see all of Paris and it was truly a wonderful view that I will remember for a long time. It was so serene and calm up there which is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city streets down below.
Next we wondered over to the Musée de l’Orangerie, which was right at the foot of the Ferris wheel. We really had only one mission in going into this museum—to see Monet’s famous Water Lilies painting. Mission accomplished and they did not disappoint! There are two bare white rooms with the paintings all over the walls and they are beautiful. I’m not much of an art gal but I could look at these all day.
After a quick bite to eat we headed to Notre Dame. This medieval catholic cathedral is an iconic Paris sight. The cathedral towers above the sidewalk below making you feel like a tiny little ant. You can’t help but notice the intricate architecture and wonder how it was built so long ago without the technology we have today. We had all been inside before so we briefly went in again but then decided to go to the top. We entered a winding staircase and 387 steps later we were overlooking the city. All of the steps were worth it for the spectacular view.
Next up on the agenda was Galleries Lafayette, one of Paris’ largest upscale shopping malls. Everything was wayyyyy out of our college student budgets but it was fun to look around. There is a rooftop restaurant at the top where we had dinner. The sun was just setting and you could see the whole city (in case you haven’t realized, we are suckers for a good view). The way the light hit the buildings was enchanting.
Ever since I was little I have loved the magic of cities at night. The way the lights stand out in total darkness and the way you can see the silhouettes of buildings has always amazed me. I used to ask my dad if we could drive around at night just so I could look at the city skyline all lit up. Because of this there is no surprise that my absolute favorite part of Paris is seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. As if the lights weren’t amazing enough, every hour they sparkle for five minutes. It was 9:52pm. We were sitting in our hotel room (which was about 3 blocks from the tower) and contemplating whether we could make the 10pm sparkle. It would be tight but we all love it so much that we hopped out of bed and sprinted down the street to get there in time. Boy oh boy was it worth it! I think I could watch the tower sparkle every night for the rest of my life and still be mesmerized every single time. Once the sparkle was over we walked underneath the tower to the crepe stand on the other side. We walked back to the hotel admiring the tower with fresh crepes in hand—the perfect Parisian night.
The next day was full of wandering around the city and just seeing where they day took us. We went to Champs Elysees, a street with more fancy shops (lots of window shopping took place). We stopped in Ladurée, a Parisian shop known for their macaroons, and grabbed a snack. I had a raspberry macaroon and a chocolate one and they both tasted like heaven. At the end of Champs Elysees is the Arc de Triomphe. The arc stands at the junction of twelve different streets and was built to honor those who died for France in the French Revolution. We made our way over to see the Eiffel Tower in the daylight after this. I think it is a littttttle more magical at night, as you know, but it was still pretty spectacular.
Next was one of my favorite areas of Paris, Montmartre. This vibrant area is full of interesting shops and wonderful art markets. At the top of a hill here is the majestic Sacré Cœur. It looks like a temple in the clouds and doesn’t really match the architecture of any other sight in Paris, which may be why I enjoy it so much. It is truly unique amongst its surroundings.
Earlier in the day we stumbled upon the Paris Opera House by accident when we came up onto street level from the metro. We wandered inside just to see if we could catch a peek at the stage and ended up getting tickets to the famous Paris Opera Ballet for only 10 euros! I don’t know much about ballet, but for that price we thought it would be a cool experience. So after Montmartre we headed back to the Opera House to watch Oneguine by Alexander Pushkin. The dancers were amazing and captivated my attention for the full two hours. Even though it wasn’t on the agenda at the beginning of the trip, I am glad we went because it is an experience I will never forget.
We ended the night with…can you guess?? The Eiffel Tower of course! We were pretty tired so we just walked by and took in the view without waiting for the sparkle but it was magical nonetheless. Back at the hotel we packed our bags to head to the next destination the following morning. With full hearts, we left Paris grateful for the opportunity to see and experience so much of the world.
A short train ride took us across the border from France to Switzerland, a place I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s because my family is Swiss and I have vivid memories of growing up with my grandma having all of the grandkids try fancy Swiss cheeses but I have always been fascinated with the idea of exploring this part of Europe. We hopped off the train in Geneva and dropped our stuff at our hotel. We really aren’t sure how but we ended up being in a two story suite at our hotel, by far the most fancy place I have ever stayed at. When we made the reservation it was the cheapest place we could find in the city so it still baffles us how we got so lucky. We dropped off our bags at the Bungalow (which we decided to call the room because it was somewhat like a treehouse) and headed off to explore.
A little bit of a hike brought us to a point in Geneva called The Junction. It is where the rivers Rhone and Arve meet. What’s so cool about the point where two rivers meet? Well, normally not much but this point is a little different. The rivers Rhone and Arve are two different colors—the Rhone is a clear blue and the Arve is more of a milky white thanks the amount of sand it carries in it. When the two meet at The Junction, you can see the distinctness of their coloring. If you are ever in Geneva I would say this view is 100% worth the small hike to get there.
We wandered around the quaint streets of Geneva after this and came to Saint Peter’s Chapel in the old town square. It’s hard to compete with Notre Dame in Paris but St. Peter’s was still beautiful. Geneva is famous for their fountain that comes out of Lake Geneva, so we headed there next. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on. We found out that in the winter they only turn it on when special guests come into town…I guess KayLeigh, Chandler, and I didn’t make the list of important enough people, maybe next time. :) The view along the lake as the buildings began to light up was still worth the walk over there though so it wasn’t a complete bust.
That night we indulged in a traditional Swiss meal—cheese fondue. The concierge at the hotel recommended a place called Les Armures to us so we took their advice and made a reservation. Turns out that this is a very famous fondue restaurant where many dignitaries and celebrities have eaten (had we known this ahead of time we may have chosen to forgo this and find something for a few less Swiss Francs but it was a cool experience). We ate as much as we possibly could before heading back to the Bungalow for the night.
When you think of Switzerland you probably think of the Swiss Alps, at least we did. So on Monday morning we loaded a bus to head to Chamonix, which is a ski village in the Alps. It is actually in France but it is closer to Geneva than any Swiss ski resorts. My mountain heart was so happy when we made it to the town and were surrounded by beautiful snowcapped peaks. We went to the top of Mont Blanc via a cable car and all I can say is WOW. The view is really indescribable. You can see miles and miles of mountains and it is truly spectacular. I always miss the mountains in Texas, being from Colorado where they are right in my own backyard, so this was just what I needed.
Once we made our way back down Mont Blanc, we grabbed some lunch and shopped around some of the little shops in the village. Our bus back to Geneva didn’t leave until 5 so we had some time to kill. We ended up discovering an adventure park near the ski slopes and decided to wander there to see what it was all about. There we discovered an luge alpine coaster and couldn’t say no. KayLeigh, Chandler, and I love a good adrenaline rush so we bought tickets and headed to the start. The luge is like a small single rider roller coaster that you get to control the speed for yourself. It was a blast! It would have been amazing anyways but the fact that as we rode down we got an amazing view of the Alps made it even better.
The next morning we had some time before we headed to the airport. Geneva is home to the Palace of Nations, one of the headquarters for the UN. The other main headquarter buildings for the UN are in New York City, Vienna, and Nairobi. There was a special counsel meeting and conference happening so we didn’t get to see as much of the buildings as they normally show on tours but it was still very interesting. We got to actually sit in some of the main assembly halls in the seats where some of the world’s most prominent leaders have sat. After our tour we walked around to the front of the Palace of Nations where there are flags of all the UN’s 193 member countries. It is amazing to think about how even during times when our world seems so different and divided, that 193 countries can come together to try and create peace and harmony for the greater good.
Switzerland proved to be a place I would visit again. Who knows maybe I stepped foot at some of the same places my ancestors did many years ago. Even if I didn’t, I am glad Geneva and Chamonix were places we chose to travel and that I got a little taste of home through the mountains.
We got into Prague pretty late on Tuesday night, which turned out to be fine because we shortly realized that Prague is one of those cities that never really sleeps. We were missing home a bit so we grabbed a late night dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and boy did that hit the spot! Who knew that the Czech Republic would have some of the best guacamole I have ever tasted.
The next morning we set out early to accomplish everything on our list that we wanted to see. We only had one full day in Prague so we had to jam it all in. We started off heading to the astronomical clock in the old town square. As we turned the corner we were bummed to see that you couldn’t actually see it thanks to scaffolding and shields that had been added due to renovations. Fortunately even though the outside was under construction, the inside wasn’t! We made our way to the top of the clock tower via a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type elevator. The views of Prague from the top were phenomenal. You’ve probably heard that phrase about 800 times now in this post but what can I say, we just really like cities from above.
From here we headed across the famous Charles Bridge to check out the other side of Prague. Once we crossed the bridge we found the somewhat hidden John Lennon Wall. John Lennon was one of the founding members of The Beatles and now there is a small wall devoted to him in Prague. There was a man playing some of the Beatles most famous tunes there. He played one of my favorites, “Here Comes the Sun.” It was so peaceful to stand there and listen while looking at the wall. At first glance the wall looks like a lot of graffiti but if you look at it long enough you will actually be able to see some pretty meaningful messages that people have left throughout the years.
If we thought the hike to the top of Notre Dame in Paris was brutal then we were in for a world of hurt when we came across the steps to the Prague Castle. The steps, as they prove to always be, were worth what we found at the top. The castle is the largest in Europe and although most of it doesn’t look like much from the outside, there is a stunning cathedral, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, in the middle that takes your breath away. The president of the Czech Republic still lives in the castle today and passes from building to building via underground tunnels as to not be seen by the general public. At night, when we went back to the Charles Bridge to see the castle from a distance, it looked like something out of a movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Harry Potter but it gave off some pretty strong Hogwarts vibes if you ask me.
After our adventure at the castle we had to try one of the Czech Republic’s famous snacks, the Tredlnk. It’s kind of a mix between an ice cream cone and a churro covered in nuts. I got mine with chocolate inside too. One bite and it’s easy to tell why there are Tredlnk stands all over the city…they are so good! We’ve already made plans to contact the city of Fort Worth to see what we have to do to get a Tredlnk stand put it…I’ll keep you posted on how our efforts turn out.
After wandering around that afternoon going into various souvenir shops and waiting till dark to see the city at night (my favorite), we decided we needed to try some traditional Czech cuisine. We headed to a restaurant called Lokal (10/10 recommend if you’re ever in Prague) and realized it was a favorite spot among both locals and tourists. It was filled to the brim with people! They told us it would be a thirty-minute wait, which we decided was worth it because it had to be good if there were that many people there. While we were waiting we met a couple from California. The man was a chef and told us all about some of the best places to eat in Prague (if only we had met him before our last night there!). It was fun to hear a familiar American accent in the midst of people from all over the world. One of my biggest tips when traveling is to be friendly with everyone around you and get to know both locals and other tourists. You never know when you will meet people like our new friends from California and end up having a great conversation with them. We finally got a seat and ordered traditional Czech food—fried cheesed, sausage, and beef goulash with dumplings. This might have been my favorite meal so far. Our next ten meals probably need to be composed of only vegetables to make up for the abundance of carbs we consumed but it was delicious nonetheless. One last walk through the old town square on our way back for the night and it was early to bed to get ready to head out and travel again the next day.
Three countries in seven days was a whirlwind. I never imagined being able to experience so much of the world at only 22 years old but I am beyond grateful for the memories I have made and all of the things I have learned so far. I’m writing this on our plane back to Sweden where we will explore Stockholm before heading back to Malmö to complete our last week of student teaching. Time has flown by and I wish it would slow down a bit so I can savor every last minute of this wonderful exploration.
I have to start off by saying I am sorry to all of you visual people (trust me I'm right there with ya) because I don't have as many pictures this week. It was just such a good week that the last thing on my mind was to remember to document it all on camera. If you need some more pictures for reference though, hop on over to Flat Stanley's page...he never forgets to take pictures so you will find plenty over there.
It’s crazy to think that I have been in Sweden for two weeks already. I look back on when I was preparing to come and think of how nervous I was because I had no idea what to expect. I have loved my student teaching experience in Texas and there were just so many question marks in my head when I thought of what life at Malmö International School was going to be like. I was excited of course but leaving your own, comfortable world for the unknown is scary no matter what the situation is. Two weeks in though, I’m glad I took the leap of faith to come here and be put in a place way outside of my comfort zone. That’s where true learning happens right? At the edge of your comfort zone? Here’s to being halfway through and already bursting at the seams with ideas and knowledge to take back with me to use in my future classroom.
PYP5A’s schedule is different every day of the week. Lunch and breaks stay the same but the events that happen in between are always a little bit different depending on the day. I thought this would drive me crazy at first because if you know me, you know I like a plan. Having such a wacky this-way and that-way schedule is not ideal for my very organized mind. That being said, it’s kind of growing on me—it keeps me on my toes. Who knows if I could last like this for a full school year but for the past two weeks it has been fun. Another thing that keeps me on my toes are the students. They are always coming up with wacky ideas and crazy schemes (another thing kids in the US and kids in Sweden have in common). This week groups of students in my class preformed “invisible theater” which is kind of like a flash mob but with acting not dancing. During break they preformed skits and tried to see if people would realize what was going on. They got REALLY into it. They emailed all of the teachers to let them know what was happening and to make sure they didn’t break up any of the scenes. They made pamphlets to hand out to other students saying “You have just been a part of invisible theater.” Their skits were fun and they were so proud that they had come up with the ideas all on their own. I’m not sure how I can incorporate fun activities like this into my classroom but after seeing how much the students enjoyed it, you can bet I will definitely try!
On Wednesday, the dad of two students in my class came to do story time. It wasn’t story time like you might think where someone comes in, sits on the carpet, and reads a picture book to the class. Bram, the father, is a librarian and storyteller who imaginatively makes tales come to life. He comes in once every term and tells a story related to the unit the class is covering. He has no script and just talks from memory. The students LOVE it and I did too. He had a magical way of captivating all of us and hooking us into the story as if we were there ourselves. The students got content relating to the unit in a unique way that was different than the typical academic lessons.
On Monday Hayley had approached me about creating some math activities based on material that needed to be reviewed from the students’ diagnostics tests they had done earlier in the year. She said many of them were lacking understanding of certain mathematical concepts that weren’t going to be covered in class. She asked if I would use their “Switch with Mitch” time, a time they devote every week to separate different math levels with the other PYP5 teacher and cover material, to teach these concepts. She plopped down the diagnostics tests in front of me and it was my job to investigate them to decide on 3-4 topics to review and create activities for. This was challenging for me in the best of ways. I have developed many lessons during my time at TCU but never ones where I had to decide what to cover based on tests like these. It was hard because I don’t know the academic abilities of the students in my class very well yet so all I had to go on was the tests that were sitting in front of me. After looking over them, I found that probability, angles, spatial reasoning, and elapsed time were the four most commonly missed topics. I developed a quick review of each of these and then considered what would be good activities for the students to rotate through and complete. The activities I created/decided on were:
Last weekend Chandler, KayLeigh and I hopped on a short 40-minute plane ride to explore the historical city of Berlin. Growing up I found World War II fascinating—the horrific actions of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust were so unfathomable to me that I always wanted to know more. Berlin, the epicenter of Hitler’s power, was a perfect place to dive deeper into this part of the past. I walked away from the quick trip with so much knowledge and a richer understanding of the grim past that once haunted the now vibrant city of Berlin.
We began on Saturday morning visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial. The Berlin Wall once divided East and West Berlin. The East was under communist control and the West was a symbol of Democratic ideals. When the East got tired of people fleeing to the West, the wall was built to keep control. The wall stood for almost 30 years from 1961 to 1989. Now, in its place at the Berlin Wall Memorial stand tall steel rods. It was a cold and quiet morning and we were the only people walking around the memorial. It was strange to walk along the place where the wall once stood and read stories of those that tried to flee the oppression in the East. Some people made it via underground tunnels and others weren’t so lucky and got stopped by communist border guards. It is surreal to think of all the events that took place along the exact route we were walking.
After the wall memorial we decided to take an underground tour of an old World War II bunker through Berlin Unterwelten. The tour we took was called Dark Worlds. Our guide, Joep, took us through the bunker and told us stories of how hundreds of people would come to it at all times of the day during the height of WWII when allied forces air raids would strike Berlin. It was small, dark, and unbelievable to imagine the lives of the people who had to go to the bunker in the middle of the night not knowing when they got out what would still remain of their city and homes.
Burgermiester was the next destination on a list. This is a famous restaurant in Berlin that was once an old public restroom. It was jam-packed but one of the most delicious burgers I have ever had. We were refreshed after our meal and made our way to walk along remnants of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery. Portions of the wall that still stand here, along the River Spree, have been beautifully decorated and painted by artists from all over the world. The wall that once stood as a symbol of hate and communist ideals is now more of a symbol of hope and inspiration.
The Topography of Terror Museum was the next stop on our journey. This was impactful. Although it will never be possible for me to truly understand what it was like to be apart of the terror of Hitler and the Nazi Regime, this museum gives a glimpse. We made our way through pictures and stories of the terror that Hitler caused. I knew how awful this period of history was but I don’t think I truly understood the scope until walking through this museum. The Nazis truly were taking over Europe. The last two aisles of pictures at the museum was dedicated to all of the countries that were affected and showed statistics of all those who lost their lives. These statistics were some that hit me the hardest during the weekend.
We ended day one with a quick exploration of Alexanderplatz, one of the largest squares in the city. There we found a small area with trampolines built into the street and decided that every city in the world should invest in this sort of fun.
On Sunday morning we took a trip to the Reichstag building. This building is where German legislation meets. We decided to take the audio tour of the dome at the top. This dome has a spiraling staircase around the outside and as we walked up it we were told about all of the buildings surrounding the Reichstag. We saw Berlin by foot so it was cool to see it from above too.
After this we made our way over to the Brandenburg Gate. This important passageway was once the gateway to the city. It is beautiful and majestic and the site where Ronald Regan gave his famous "Tear down this wall!" speech in 1987.
Next, after a pit stop at Starbucks to warm up, we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There really are no words to describe the architecture of this important sight. American architect Peter Eiseman designed it in 2005. We kept wondering why he chose the various sized concrete blocks. In some places the blocks were taller than us and in others they were barely as high as our knees. No words, no designs, just concrete. When we inquired about why he designed it this way in the small museum that is underground beneath the memorial, they told us that no one really knows. He never explained why he chose this particular design because he wants people to create meaning for themselves. As if the memorial wasn’t powerful enough, we decided to wander through the museum below. The most chilling room of all contained letters from victims in concentration camps—letters to family and loved ones detailing the events that were taking place. Some letters were saying goodbye, others were trying to make sense of all the pain and suffering. Seeing the letters with the pictures of the people, real people, next to them gave me a new perspective on the Holocaust—it cut me a little deeper than anything else we had experienced during our trip.
Our last stop before heading to the airport was the Cathedral of Berlin. After a failed attempt to go inside (we couldn’t read the sign that said no entry until 12 because it was in German and the usher was not too pleased that he had to tell us information that was so clearly laid out before us), we decided to explore the area a little more. We wandered through a street market and around what is known as Museum Island because it houses five of Berlin’s most famous art and history museums. Although we didn’t go inside any of them, the architecture was beautiful and I can only imagine that the insides held just the same amount of character.
If Berlin isn’t on your list of cities to visit one day, add it right now. Walking around the streets is like walking through the pages of a history book. What’s so crazy about it all is that the events that once haunted the streets of Berlin are “history” but they really didn’t occur that long ago. What they consider to be “the last bomb of WWII” went off in 1994 when contractors hit a bombshell while digging for new water lines. That was just one year before I was born. And the Berlin wall wasn’t fully eradicated until 1991, just four years before I was born. This is mind-blowing, that this “history” was really just yesterday in the grand scheme of life. In many ways, Berlin is still broken but they are rising up. Berliners are hopeful and slowly but surely turning the once hallowed streets of their city into a vibrant and beautiful masterpiece.
So you know what I said last week about this post being wayyyyy shorter? Well I just want to say I tried, I really tried. There's just so much I want to share. So much has happened int he past few days that I really and truly couldn't cut it down. Hopefully you understand...
One of my favorite parts of elementary school was always going to the school library. Books took me to exotic places and fantastic worlds I could only ever visit within the pages. They taught me to be imaginative and creative. They introduced me to people who inspired me, who impacted me, and made me feel like I could do whatever I set my mind to. Books provided an escape from the real world and allowed me to be transported, even if it was just for a short time. When I found out it was library day on Wednesday, I was so excited. We walked down the stairs and into Malmö International School's quaint library. Compared to the libraries I had in my schools growing up and the one at Coder Elementary where I student teach in the states, it was small. As soon as I started exploring the shelves however, I found that this small library held within it rich literature and profound learning opportunities. Some that didn’t even compare to the inventories of the biggest libraries I've been to. There are books in all languages, books for all reading levels, and books for all interests. And what’s the most amazing part of the whole place? Four years ago it didn’t even exist. That’s right, four years ago there was no library in the school—no books for the students to fall in love with. Ilsa, the librarian, built this little library all on her own when she came to MIS. She bought books, cataloged them, and transformed a dull corner classroom into a place of exploration. She understands these students in a different way than many of the teachers and staff at the school. No matter where they come from or what their own personal story is, each student will find something within the walls of the library that makes them feel like they are meant to be right there. I just love this hidden gem in the school and the way that books have started to transform the lives of the students that read them. It’s safe to say that if you’re looking for me in the next few weeks, you can probably find me in the library, curled up with a good book.
While I was in the library, I happened to ask Ilsa if she had heard of Flat Stanley. She smiled and walked to the other room to grab the book she had just recently ordered. It was fate. I hadn’t yet introduced my small flattened friend that I brought with me from Texas to my class at MIS and knew this would be the perfect opportunity. I borrowed the book for the afternoon and read it to the PYP5A class. Then I shared with them my very own Flat Stanley and all the adventures that he had already been on. I showed them a picture of my class back in Texas with him (left) and so of course they wanted to take a picture too (right). It was fun to be able to share this with BOTH of the wonderful classes I have the pleasure of student teaching. It was as if I was bringing two different worlds together.
Thursday came with the pleasant reminder that although technology can have its challenges in the classroom, it can also be wonderfully rewarding. I am so thankful for technology this week because not only has it allowed me to update friends and family back home, but it also let me stay in contact with my classes in Texas. On Thursday afternoon I was greeted with 54 (yes, you read that right) emails from the fourth graders at Coder Elementary. The classes were working on media literacy. I had sent them an email at the beginning of the week answering some questions they had prior to me coming to Sweden about the school and the country. As part of their lesson on Thursday they all sent me emails back and all I can say is WOW! That was just the mid-week pick me up I needed! I loved reading their emails and getting to hear more about what interested them. They were so curious about everything that was happening here…but more about that later in this post :)
After school on Thursday we spontaneously decided to hop on the train to Copenhagen. We ended up in Nyhavn, a district along the canal filled with unique restaurants and shops. We quickly discovered that it is much chillier in Copenhagen than Malmö but still managed to have fun wandering around. We are already planning another trip over the Øresund Strait to explore even more but next time we might have to pack an extra pair of gloves!
It was all fun and games at MIS on Friday…after a little bit of work though of course. The students began with a math assessment. The assessment was very similar those I have seen in the states. Something that I really liked about the way Hayley did this assessment however was that after the students were done, they did a self-assessment as well. They had to describe their thoughts on mastery of the content and strategies that they knew how to use. I thought this was a really unique way for the students to reflect on their own learning of the unit. After the math assessment, and after a much-deserved break, I got the opportunity to teach a lesson on planning writing. The students are going to be writing a narrative next week and needed to begin the planning process. We went through a graphic organizer that broke apart aspects of a narrative and then had time for students to begin the process for themselves. This was fun because I got to see the creativity of my students in the writing process and help them when they got stuck. After lunch on Friday (it was pasta day which I learned is always a good day at MIS), the students had Genius Hour and free time. For free time, I got to bust a move and play Just Dance with some of the girls in the class. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful first week!
Two days in and I can easily say this is going to be one of the most exhausting yet completely wonderful journeys I will ever take. Travel can be hectic but Chandler, KayLeigh and I's journey to Malmö was a breeze. We made it through two planes, a train, and a walk through the city only slightly sleep deprived and without loosing any of our luggage (we consider the moment when the final suitcase came up the carousel at the Copenhagen airport to be our first big European success). After a quick dinner at a tapas restaurant the first night we settled into our hostel, which we have decided to call Camp Malmö. Even after our short exploration of the city, we could already tell that Malmö is going to be the perfect place to call home for the next month.
When my alarm clock buzzed on Monday morning I was a bundle of excitement and nerves. We had no idea what to expect when we walked into the school. Malmö International School (MIS) is and International Baccalaureate (IB) school which is a worldwide program that educates children on how to think critically and learn to contribute to the world around them (that's the short version anyways). MIS is home to a Primary Years Program (PYP) and a Middle Years Program (similar to elementary and middle school back in the United States) and hundreds of students who come from all over the world. It is a school unlike any I have ever been in before. Each student speaks English, at least a little Swedish, and for the most part another language at home ranging from Hindi to Dutch to Arabic. We were greeted by the principal who told us a little about the programs, gave us keys to the school, and walked us to our classrooms. I was the last to be dropped off because I am with the oldest group of children out of the three of us. When the principal opened the door, I was immediately greeted with "Hailey! Hailey! Hailey! You're here! Hi Hailey!" and I could already tell this was going to be one wild ride.
I am in the PYP5A class which means my students are in their 5th year of school but are around the same age as 4th graders in the United States. This was perfect since I am in a 4th grade class back in Aledo, I felt like I was right at home! My teachers name is Hayley which is funny because students at MIS call their teachers by their first names. It really is double trouble in the Hailey department up in 5A! The students have started calling us "Hayley with a Y" and "Hailey with an I" because of course our last names begin with the same initial as well (what are the chances!?). When I came in the students were in the middle of doing math stations where they were working on fraction concepts. I jumped right in to help wherever I could. Shortly after I arrived it was time for the students first break of the day. They get two thirty minute breaks per day. If my kiddos back at Coder ever find out about that, I am sure there will be some outrage as that is double the recess they get each day. Lunch begins over an hour earlier than my lunchtime back in Texas (YAY!) and the teachers eat the school prepared meal with the students. There aren't choices for lunch, every day all of the students and teachers eat the same meal. Monday was vegetarian tacos and Tuesday was broccoli soup. The students have to clear their plate before they can enjoy the dessert which is a cracker (crisp) and butter. The rest of the day ran smoothly and I even got to read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas aloud to the class. They were amazed that I had read it before but hadn't seen the movie! After school we explored Malmö and ate dinner at a fun dining hall type place that was recommended to me by the other year 5 teacher. Once we had indulged in some delicious pizza, we called it a night and headed back to Camp Malmö.
Tuesday unfortunately brought a familiar taste of school in the U.S. as students and teachers began to drop like flies with some sort of stomach bug. Both year 5 teachers were not feeling well all day. I helped Hayley by teaching the math lesson on fractions that morning. By lunch Mitch, the PYP5B teacher, was down for the count and left for the day which left me in charge of his classroom. This was challenging but so incredibly rewarding. I had no plans for the afternoon and didn't have any idea what I would be teaching until I walked in with all of the students staring at me waiting eagerly to learn. I ended up reading some of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to them and discussing what happens when Bruno and Shmuel first meet at the fence. If you have never read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I would highly recommend it. After that I went over a powerpoint about the Bechdel test. This is a test created by Alison Bechdel that is used to discuss whether movies and books have more than two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a male character. This related back the their overall unit for this six weeks which is prejudice and discrimination and sparked a lively discussion about women and men's roles in both fiction and film. I learned that when it comes to teaching, in Sweden and the United States, you should always expect the unexpected. I never anticipated being in charge of a class alone on my second day here but I am thankful I got the experience. Mitch's class headed to Swedish and I went with Hayley's class to PE. During PE they did an obstacle course challenge. It was so fun to watch and amazing to see some of the activities it involved. I feel like these activities wouldn't be allowed in many PE classes in the U.S. like swinging on rings through a series of high mats and navigating through a spider web/balance beam combination. I wish I had my tennis shoes with me so I could have participated with them!
If you have made it to the end of this post then I promise the next one won't be as long! There is just so much to share it's hard to choose. Thanks for following along and I can't wait to share the next update on my adventures with you all!