The World in your Classroom

A couple of months ago, I signed up for the great World In Your Classroom project.  Sponsored by the Municipality of The Hague, in collaboration with ACCESS, PEP, Anglo Info South Holland and The Hague Bridge, this project aims to bring together internationals living in The Hague with Dutch high school students to teach them about other countries and cultures from those with first hand experience.

I found out about it when I published an article on TheHagueOnLine (where I work as the editor) and you can read that article here.

The video explains more:

Firstly, we were given a two hour workshop on didactic skills.  I have to admit, I had to look up “didactic”….here’s the didactic dictionary.com entry:

adjective

1. intended for instruction; instructive:

didactic poetry.

2. inclined to teach or lecture others too much:

a boring, didactic speaker.
3. teaching or intending to teach a moral lesson.
4. didactics, (used with a singular verbthe art or science of teaching.

I’m thinking that just 1 & 4 were relevant – hopefully not 2!  We also were not really there to teach a moral lesson (3) though I guess the underlying moral for this project is to teach teenagers to have an open mind to other cultures, which is certainly a good thing for the future or our society and world, particularly in the multicultural environment in The Hague.

Around 70 volunteers signed up for the programme and did the training which was spread over a few sessions (each volunteer attended one session).  The material was written by Wouter Camps, who is an expert in how the teenage brain works.  He based the training on research around how to adjust educational methods to optimise learning.  Wouter wasn’t available for the evening I did the training (October 21st), so it was delivered by Nicole van Rens, also an educational expert who did a great job of sharing lots of tips and tricks.  She said it was her first time to deliver training in English instead of Dutch and she did it perfectly, the Dutch are very strong bi- or multi- linguists and I think programmes like this contribute.

I loved our diverse group for the training, we had people from Uganda, Pakistan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Span, Kazakstan, The Philippines, Brazil, India, USA, Canada and Italy – and of course myself from Australia.  All of us were keen to share our background and “original” culture with students in The Hague, where we all now live.

My own two children are aged 5 & 7 and I don’t have a lot of experience with teenagers, so found it interesting.  We were also taught how to write an effective lesson plan, incorporating elements such as reflection, orientation, explanation, practice, activity, evaluation and feedback.   Alongside that, we were also taught to be aware of the importance of classroom management in teaching, though in our case the regular teacher would be there with us to take care of that.

As a co-incidence, I actually started teaching at The Hague University as a guest lecturer in e-business the week after the didactic skills training – though it had been written with the 12-15 years age group in mind, I found it also very relevant for university age classes as well and also useful for my young children too!

After the training, I was connected with my school and their schedule.  Lucie Cunningham, the project co-ordinator, has done a fantastic job working on a complex task of matching up around 20 schools and our team of volunteers, taking into account all of our schedules and requirements.

My allocated school was ‘s Gravendreef College and I had a class of HAVO students around 14 years old.  My contact at the school was their English teacher, Linda, and we arranged that I would attend on Wednesday 19th November at 9.40am.   This was an English class and my presentation would replace their regular lesson.  I asked about their English ability – quite good for most was the answer, but I did try to remember to speak more slowly than usual.

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Here I am waiting in the class for them to come in.  I didn’t take any photos with the students as from experience you may need permission in schools, and I was only there briefly.

The class were very enthusiastic and all greeted me as they came in.  I had prepared a powerpoint presentation, with some slides to introduce myself, tell them about a few connections between The Netherlands and Australia and teach them some geography.

Here is the presentation I gave (on slideshare):

One trick I learnt from the didactic skills training was to give them all two small pieces of coloured paper – one red and one green.  Then when I asked a question, I asked them to hold up the green if they thought they knew the answer, or the red if not.  That got the students more involved and gave me a better idea at a glance of their knowledge.

I played some sounds (without letting them see the video) and asked if they knew what they were.  This was the first:

The class weren’t too sure.  One answer was a boomerang?  Then someone did remember it was a didgeridoo.

Unfortunately I had a technical difficulty with this sound  below so they could already see it but they were fascinated with the sound of the kookaburra, none had ever heard it before:

Next, we worked on an activity where I told them about the States and Territories in Australia and they marked the capital cities on a blank handout map.

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The 40 minutes went by quickly, and I finished a little earlier to ask if there were more questions.  I expected general Australian questions but found it interesting they wanted to know more about me personally.  Some were:

  • What do you like most about The Netherlands? (I answered the multiculturalism and that so many different nationalities live in relative harmony in The Hague and NL)
  • Which country do you like more? (I answered both have their pros and cons)
  • Which country do you prefer to live in? (I answered that I love Australia and miss it a lot but that I feel it was a good decision for our family to live here at the moment)
  • Which capital city is the warmest to live in?  (Probably Darwin though by their term of reference on this 8 degrees day, most Australian cities would be quite warm)
  • How does the weather compare in Darwin to Tasmania? (They were very impressed by the size of the country and the fact there is such a wide variation in climate)

I took in some books, maps etc to show them – we didn’t really get the time to look much at these but it was useful to have them.  I also took an Australian flag.

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Beforehand, I had also contacted the Australian Embassy, and they gave me a supply of a small book called “Australia in Brief” which I left with the teacher – she plans on using these for a follow up lesson.  If you’re interested in this booklet, you can actually download a digital version here.

Australia in Brief

To finish, I told them about Vegemite and asked if any would like to try!  About half the class were game, I squeezed a small bit onto a cracker for them.  One student described it as having lots of layers of taste – he said that it starts out like drop and ends like chocolate!!

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At the end, the teacher kindly gave me a Dutch gift bag with some stroopwaffels (typical Dutch treat) and a thank you card.

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It was a wonderful experience and if I didn’t have such a busy work schedule at the moment, I would have loved to have gone to another school as well – you can volunteer for several sessions.  Hopefully it will happen again next year and I’ll take part again.

You can find out more at http://www.theworldinyourclassroom.nl

World in Classroom