Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vienna, for me, means art

I took myself to the Museumsquartier in Vienna today. Of the several museums that are housed there, I chose to visit the Leopold Museum. It was quiet there this afternoon. Most likely since the weather was so beautiful most people would rather be outside enjoying it! 

The majority of the collection focuses on the works of Austrian artists like Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Hoermann. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that seeing an art piece in person is so very far removed from seeing it in a book or on a coffee mug. The colors and textures hit you in a different way. Also, the way in which the pieces are situated in relationship to one another also helps to tell their story or convey a mood or feeling. 

On one of the floors of the Leopold, they were hosting a temporary exhibit called Wolken (clouds). Monday is the last day for the exhibit, so I'm so lucky that I was able to see it. It was intriguing to see how the museum curators mixed the pieces together. For example, they used a very modern piece from Andy Warhol and another that used a Nintendo game along with French Impressionists to tell a story how about humans see a part of their world. I like this kind of right-brain thinking and would like to incorporate it more into my teaching.

The whole afternoon gave me so much inspiration for activities/lessons that I can use in the classroom.

1. Find a piece of art from an artist from the German-speaking realm. Write a short story in German inspired by that piece. 

2. Design an art exhibit that focuses on a particular theme. Create a brochure that describes and advertises the exhibit. 

3. Find a German poem that matches up with a piece of art from an Austrian artist. Present the poem and the art piece to the class.

Without a doubt, art has inspired me today. I'm so grateful for my afternoon at the Leopold Museum.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From the minds of babes

Following the news of my receipt of the Fund for Teachers grant, I asked my German 2 students to think about what they would like to learn about Austria. I told them that while there, I would investigate their questions and report back to them upon my return. In the spirit of the Post-It note craze that had hit my school, I gave the students as many little yellow squares as they wanted, which they used to fill up one of the classroom windows with their ponderings on what life could be like outside of Madison, AL.

I then collected and consolidated their questions into categories. It was interesting to me the types of questions that the students asked. Some of their questions were the standard type touching on food, daily life, education, religion, vocabulary/dialect, and cultural comparisons with the United States. However, some of their questions made me think!

Surprising Question #1. Do they sing everything?
This question at first seems like silliness at work in the classroom (which I don't mind AT ALL), but I think that the kernel of truth here is about stereotypes. Truth be told, when I think of Austria, I conjure up a picture of Julie Andrews twirling around in the Alps singing soprano like an angel. Isn't it amazing how one Hollywood musical can capture our minds?

My desire to experience more of Austrian culture and life was my whole impetus for writing this grant proposal in the first place. I figured if I, the German teacher and local expert on German culture, knew so little about Austria, which is a German-speaking country as well, then certainly my students were not receiving enough education on it either. Would a Spanish teacher only teach about Spain or a French teacher only about France? Hopefully not. I need to learn and experience more of the German-speaking world, so that my students can have a richer learning experience in my classroom.   

The challenge for me is then to figure how to bring Austria to my students so as to bridge their preconceptions with new experiences and information.

Surprising Question #2: Is the sky blue?
I remember my very first trip to Germany as a undergrad, and as I excitedly pressed my face against the plane window as we landed, I felt so .... disappointed. Skyscrapers? Electrical towers? Glass and metal buildings? Where was the Germany I had dreamed of? I craved gingerbread houses, villagers strolling around wearing dirndls and lederhosen, and cobblestone streets! The amazing thing about Europe for me is that the very old and the very new coexist. You can easily see a building from 1500 right next to another built just last week, or a dude wearing lederhosen and a baseball cap walking down a cobblestone street while checking his email on his Smartphone. 
Photo: Munich, June 2013

I think that as a first-time traveler outside of the US, I expected things to be so different that I hadn't considered the fact that the same sun shines on Germany that shines on the US. So to answer my student's question prematurely, yes, the sky is blue in Austria. For my students who largely lack the personal experience to verify this statement, it is worth the question, and I'm grateful that they asked it. 

My challenge here is to share with them my experiences from the big to the small, in the hopes that they will be inspired to go and see the world for themselves.

During my time in Austria I will keep my students' questions in my mind as I go through the seminar. Wish me luck to answer them all!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

No Kangaroos in Austria

June 28th begins my 16 day journey on which I will explore the country of Austria. Supported by a Fund For Teachers grant, I will crisscross Austria from East to West. Along the way, I will visit the cities of Vienna, Graz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. My objective is to
explore the diversity of modern Austrian culture, its regional dialects, and its metropolitan centers to understand and experience how it fits into the scope of the larger German-speaking and European landscapes.