Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flat Stanley in Luxville

We documented Flat Stanley's adventures in the UK earlier this year, but I was going through photos and realized I forgot to post some pictures of his visit to our home city!

These are from back in February.  (Things are a little greener these days).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Luxembourg Museums: Mudam and Dräi Eechelen

Dräi Eechelen in front, Mudam in back
May 18th was International Museum Day, and most of the museums in Luxembourg offered free admission for the weekend.  We took the opportunity to visit two museums we often glimpse from afar. They are perched at the edge of the Kirchberg plateau, overlooking the valley that wraps around the high city center.  Kirchberg is the most modern section of Luxembourg city, and the area at the bottom of the valley is a very historic section. These two museums sit atop the valley at the threshold between. Together, they represent the Luxembourg cityscape in a nutshell: the stark juxtaposition of the old and the new.

Speaking of nutshells, Dräi Eechelen means "Three Acorns" in Luxembourgish - and you can see where the name comes from in the photo above.

I had heard the contemporary Mudam exhibits were a bit "inaccessible," even by modern art standards, so our expectations weren't high.  Upon entering we were greeted by some creepy oversized hanging puppets.  And, expectations = met.

I'm sparing you the close-ups
The architecture of the building was certainly impressive, and we wandered rather swiftly through the majority of the exhibits.  Eager to be out in the fresh air again, we headed for the Dräi Eechelen.  This museum is an old fortress, and the exhibits within are related to the history of the fortress and associated military artifacts.  Cannons, swords, guns, uniforms, maps, models - interesting exhibits but all the explanations are in French and German, so we just took a quick look-through.  Still, it was much more accessible for the kids than the Mudam.  I think there's an audio tour in English if we go back.

running through a fortess tunnel
walking along the top of the Dräi Eechelen
But again, the main reason for the outing was to enjoy the scenery and walk around in the sunshine.  We wound our way down the path leading out through the fortress walls and into the valley below.

And we found a playground at the bottom.  Always a nice bonus.
Red Bridge from city center to Kirchberg
Below is an aerial view of the two museums, as well as more fortress wall ruins and the path leading down into the valley.  The Dräi Eechelen is the structure.
Just remember there are three acorns, not two. 
Dräi Eechelen website here.
Mudam website here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

No-Car Update: It's No Accident. Pun Intended.

Look out.

*hauling out soapbox*
*stepping onto said box*

Living without a car is not an afterthought or add-on to your life.  It's not a lifestyle aspect you can graft onto your existing life after you've chosen all your other priorities.

You must intentionally set up your living situation ahead of time in order to accommodate this lifestyle.  There are sacrifices involved.  You might have to give up a bigger house and yard for a smaller place in the city or closer to a bus route, workplace, or school.  You might have to take on fewer extracurricular activities and commitments, or choose them carefully based on travel requirements.  You will surely need to clear more time, space, and flexibility in your schedule--to live a slowly-paced life.  You must be willing to ask for help when you need it, and be ready and available (i.e. not over-booked) to offer other kinds of help in return.

So please don't tell me you would LOVE to be able to live without a car, but you can't because you live outside the city, or not close enough to bus lines, or school is too far away, or work is too far away, or your partner needs the car for work, or you've got to get you and your kids to a-b-c-d-x-y-z.

It's likely that you had some choice in where you live and the activities you participate in--that they were not forced upon you.

So instead of flippantly stating, "Oh, well I'd love to do that too, but..." perhaps instead say that you would like to live without a car, but that you didn't purposefully set up your living situation and make the sacrifices necessary so you would not need a car in the first place.  You simply had different priorities.

I'd totally respect this response.  I've never heard it.  But I'd respect it if I did.

(Other answer I respect:  "You're completely nuts.  I love my car and I love having a car.  I couldn't live without it." No excuses.)

*stepping down from and (temporarily) storing soap box...*

photo credit

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

German Schoolwork (Winter/Spring, 1st Grade)

I have to say, it feels like Luxembourg expat blogs are popping up all over the place right now!  Which is great!  Still, I haven't seen too many (any?) that delve into the public school system or curriculum from a participant's perspective, so I'd like to continue to fill that role in the "market" in case anyone is curious.  Plus, as a former teacher, it just interests me.

I've taken a few sample snapshots of Daphne's German tests from December, February, and April.  Before I share these, however, I'd like to share a few things I've learned (or at least understand better) about the curriculum over the past few months:
  1. Just a few years ago, the curriculum was altered in that they teach German, beginning in Cycle 2.1 (1st grade), with a new approach : as if German is a foreign language to all the students.  For Americans to wrap their minds around that, it would be like going to school in which all the kids are in the ESL program.  Apparently, they used to treat it more like a native language.
  2. The students do not learn letter names.  Rather, the approach is phonetic.  In other words, they don't learn the name of the letter "E."  Instead, they learn three different E sounds and vocabulary words that go with each, plus a representative word they always associate with that sound for reference.  So for E, they learned E as in Ente ("eh" sound in the word for duck), E as in Esel (long ee sound in the word for donkey) and E as in Katze ("uh" sound at the end of the word for cat).  Now they are learning the Ei sound as in Eimer (it's a long "I" sound in the word for bucket)
  3. Part of the reason the school years come in groups of two (Cycle 2 = year 2.1 and 2.2, Cycle 3 = year 3.1 and 3.2, etc, often with the same teacher for both years) is that learning objectives are set on a two-year basis. When you discuss your children's progress or are given a report, you will see their progress on a two-year scale.  So if your child is in Cycle 2.1 or 3.1 and it looks like s/he is quite low on the scale, this is not cause for alarm - s/he has another year+ to get there.  This system makes a lot of sense to me in light of the diverse and transient nature of the Luxembourg population.
  4. It is possible for children to work on material from the next Cycle in a subject if they are very advanced and have already met the objectives for that subject in their Cycle. (No, Daphne is not doing this! I just discovered it.)
In the fall, I posted on Daphne's German work here.  Many of the types of activities and assessments have remained constant...
what's the first letter sound of each word?
which words contain the sound, and where in the word does the sound occur?
Other methods have continued, but with an added degree of difficulty.  In these puzzle-train activities, as seen below, they now must spell the whole word instead of just coloring the spot where the one specified sound goes...

We've also encountered a few new assessment techniques.  Here, they must take the mushedtogethersentenceandseparateitintoindividualwords.
Um, but I'm pretty sure German actually has individual words that are this long too! ;)
Here's a choose-the-correct-word-for-the-blank...
so some reading comprehension involved here
As in the example with the puzzle-train, spelling is becoming more important.  Here are some dictation examples...
from the winter
and here from the spring
Below, they must highlight and correct the misspelling...

And understand some of the more subtle differences in spellings and meanings...
hmm, must ask Daphne the difference between isst and ist!
They have, in theory, learned the articles (der, die, das...) with each vocabulary word all along, but now they are assessed on this knowledge...
sticking with the yellow, blue, and red color-coding system from day one
We can definitely observe what they mean by teaching German as a foreign language.  At the beginning it was all about vocabulary - massive word lists without much attention to spelling at all except one or two letter sounds.   They must get all the kids as close to on the same page as possible in terms of understanding and speaking the language.  This is the most urgent objective, considering how many "mother tongues" are represented in any given class.  Soon, they work on writing a few very simple sentences.  Now, they are gradually introducing the spelling and grammar pieces, reading comprehension, etc.

Daphne's spelling is quite amusing at the moment (but you must not tell her I said that!).  At home, she still writes in English, because it's her native language and she learned a bit of reading and spelling in kindergarten in Oregon.  If you are familiar with the phonetic spelling of a Kindergartener, though, you'll know it can be a bit difficult to decipher.  But now what we have is an interesting combination of German and English phonetic spelling of English words!

As a small example, she just wrote a story at home about a little fish, spelled "Fich" - and with a capital F as in German.  For the record, that's not correct in either language.

She'll get there.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Turbans or Teepees?

A few weeks ago, James casually mentioned that his class watched and/or did some "Indianer dancing" at school.  I asked him a few questions about it, but before I could elicit much out of him, he gave me his typical shut-down-the-conversation answer: "It's kind of hard to tell."  So I mentally pictured his class watching a dancing clip from a Bollywood movie, thought that sounded kind of cute, and moved on.

A few days went by and he brought up the "Indianer" once or twice more, and then started talking about their hats.  He said they had feathers on them.


Then I remembered that a couple of Daphne's very first German vocabulary words this year were the words for "India" and "Indian" (they learned words with the letter "i" very early on).  I also vaguely recalled seeing a tiny black-and-white picture of what looked like a Native American on her vocab list.  I'll admit, they struck me as rather odd vocabulary words to start off with, despite the fact they contain two "i"s a piece.

But now we were curious, so we pulled up some images of both Actual Indian-Indians and Native American Indians on Google images to show James and settle the issue.

Result: inconclusive (perhaps because some of the turbans had feathers too?) - but still leaning toward Native Americans.

We received the final proof the other day, however, when James mentioned a word that sounded a lot like "moccasins" in a Luxembourgish accent, and then said they lived in "teepees," straight-up.  Okay, mystery solved.

So in other words, my son came all the way to Luxembourg to learn about Native Americans.  Wow, cool - we have no problem with this.  But is just us, or does it also seem a bit, for lack of a better term, random?

If you read this previous post, you'll know that the class can spend several weeks on one topic, and it appeared that, indeed, James' class has spend several weeks studying Native Americans, culminating with a field trip this past Monday.

Wait, huh?

Ah, the magic and mystery of field trips here.  Emphasis on mystery.  Remember the forest trip from this time last year?  Most of the time we get a note home saying a trip is happening, and what the kids should bring, but it's not really a formal permission slip.  Sometimes we're given an address.  Parents are not invited (allowed?) to participate as chaperones, so you only find out what happened via the verbal account of your small child.  It's also an account of something that has just happened to them in a different language than they're using to explain it (and in this case, the subject is a culture that is neither of these).

Take a moment to wrap your mind around that.

Anyway, we received the note a few days before informing us that the class would partake in "Une Journée Chez Les Indiens."  They listed a website for details:

Do yourself a favor and go to this site, set your browser to translate, click around and enjoy the translations from German. :)

And sure enough, James came home from school on Monday looking like this:

can anyone make out what his Indian name is?
He had a great time and wants to know when we can all go back.

We're curious, does anyone else think this is super cute but super random like we do??  Are Luxembourgers "into" Native Americans?