Newsflyer: 11 June, 2014

Unknown photographer. Used in connection with article found here: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/lwx/lightning/va-lightning.htm Public Domain

Giant Storm Causes Widespread Damage throughout Germany.  World Cup in Brazil in Full Gear.  Hamburg SV Handball Team Finished?

Getting off the train this morning at Erfurt Central Station in central Thuringia, passengers received a shock of their lives, as the sounds of thunder and lightning made the state capital sound like warfare going on. Pick any war in the last 20 years and it was reenacted by mother nature. And this in addition to heavy rains that flooded streets and brought the vehicular infrastructure to a complete standstill for a time.  But this was the overture to the series of storms that occurred over the course of two days, ending today, which is comparable to Hurricane Kyrill in February 2007, and caused severe damage throughout all of Germany. More on that and a pair of sports-related items in the Files’ Newsflyer.

Video of the Storm

Kyrillian-sized storm cripples Germany:

Local Flooding in Cologne, Rostock and Berlin. Downed trees in the Ruhr River area, northern Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt. Train services suspended. Power outages everywhere. This was a familiar sign when Kyrill brought all of Germany to a complete standstill in 2007. Yet with the storm system sweeping through Germany yesterday and today, it brought back memories of the event. Sweltering heat gave way to golfball-sized hail, high winds and torrential downpour that caused critical damage to many cities throughout Germany. Fallen trees and flooding caused several raillines to suspend services, including the hardest hit area, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the German railways suspended all services statewide yesterday for the fourth time since 2007. Officials there are predicting services to return to normal by the weekend. Stations in Essen, Dusseldorf and Cologne were cut off from the rest of the rail network. Raillines between Berlin, Hamburg and places to the north and west were either closed down or rerouted. Over 100,000 travelers were stranded or had to find alternatives, which didn’t fare better with motorways being blocked due to downed trees and other objects.  Damage is estimated to be more than $135 million. News sources are predicting a clean-up effort taking up to more than a week to complete; this includes restoring the infrastructure affected by the storm. More information and photos can be found here.

Hamburger SV Handball Team to Fold?

Once deemed as the one of the powerhouses of German handball, especially after winning the Champions League Title last year, the handball team from Hamburg’s days as a Premere League team may be numbered. Faced with a 2.7 million Euro deficit (ca. $4.4 million), no president since the resignation of Andreas Rudolph in May and with that, the team’s main sponsor withdrawing its financial support, the team was denied entrance to the first and second leagues. Its last attempt to save face and be allowed to play next season in the Premere League is to overturn the decision by the German Handball League through the arbitration panel. The decision should take place on Wednesday. Should the panel uphold the decision or Hamburg withdraw its appeal, the team will be forced to play in the Regional League (3rd League) in the next season. In addition, the team will not be allowed to participate in the European Cup in the next season, despite finishing fourth in the standings. Melsungen would replace the spot left vacant. And lastly, the team will most likely file for bankruptcy, which could lead to the club being liquidated, should no one step in with money to help them. Such a free fall would be catastrophic, as Hamburg has competed well against the likes of the 2014 Season and German Cup champions, THW Kiel, as well as Berlin, Rhine-Neckar Lions, and the 2014 Champions League winners, SG Flensburg-Handewitt. More information can be found here.

World Cup begins tomorrow

Germany and the US are two of 32 teams that will go head-to head with the competitors beginning tomorrow. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will take place in Brazil at 12 several locations, with the Championship to take place on July 13th in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time since 1930, all the teams winning a World Cup will participate in the competition (Argentina, England, France, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Germany).  Spain is the returning champion, having edged the Netherlands in the 2010 Cup. This is the fifth time the Cup is taking place in South America, which has been won by teams from that continent the last four times. That means Brazil is the heavy favorites to take the Cup. More interesting is the pool play, in particular, Group G, where the US and Germany are in. They are scheduled to meet on 26 June in Recife. The stakes are high for the head coaches of both teams, who are both looking for their first World Cup title. Jurgen Klinnsmann is being criticized for the American team being Europeanized, which could be his downfall if his team does not make it. Joachim Loewe is hoping that winning the title will improve his chances of a contract extension before 2016. With both teams hobbling with players banged up from regular season competition, it will be interesting to see how the match will turn out, let alone, who will go far in the Cup. More on the Cup to come in the Files. If you want to know more about the tournament, click here for details.

In School in Germany: Story Cubes and Index Cards

In teaching, there is a golden rule to keep in mind: A teacher is a natural if and only if he is constantly creating new activities out of things that he has in his possession. A nature boy with a creative talent is a teacher at heart, just like the Nature Boy Ric Flair and professional wrestling. This is where the Story Cubes and Index Cards come in handy. A set of mobile materials to take with you to class to use for any subject, including foreign languages.  An overview of both are presented here.

STORY CUBES: 

Created by Gamewright Inc., the game features a set of nine die, each having a picture on there. There are three different games to choose from: regular, action or travel.  The object is to create stories or provide sentences using the pictures that are given after the die is rolled. It can vary from once dice or more, and the number of participants can vary. I found the game during my trip to Iowa with my family last year, while visiting the Living History Museum Complex in Des Moines, and since then, I have not regretted buying them, for students have taken the opportunity to learn new vocabulary and improve grammar through several activities. One can create as many stories as activities, including the ones provided below:

FINISH THE STORY:  Using one or more die, one starts a story based on the pictures provided on the rolled die. After one or two sentences are said, the next person picks up where the first one left off. Each player then adds to the story for one or two round until the story is completed. The advantage of this game is to learn new vocabulary, while improving on communication skills.

GRAMMAR CHECK:  Focusing on a certain grammar aspect, like direct vs indirect speech, adverb vs adjective, or even asking and answering questions, one can provide some exercises with Story Cubes. Some of the exercises I came up with include the following:

TRADING AND SWITCHING: In pairs and choosing one grammar subject, the first person writes a sentence, whereas the second one converts it.  This goes well with (in-)direct speech, adverbs vs. adjectives, or when working on questions, where one says the answer and the other asks the question.

ESSAYS: Using one or more pictures on the die, you can construct an essay, focusing on one or more grammar topics.

MR. SPONTANEOUS: Rolling one or more die, the teacher can present a task for the student to complete verbally. The same applies if it is student to student.  This includes asking questions, filling in the gaps using verb tenses and the like.

MAKE A DECISION:  Using the picture on the die, students can create a situation and have the rest of the group decide what course of action to take.

ASQ:  Using one die, you can roll a picture and ask someone a question. How it is done is up to the person rolling it, but it can give the person(s) asking a chance to provide some interesting answers and encourage them to speak.

 

INDEX CARDS:

In comparison with the Story Cubes, using index cards for foreign language teaching encourages the participants to be more flexible with their way of communication. There, students can choose a card and start a discussion, pending on the two forms of frontal teaching that is used here:  the closed form (where a student completes a task exactly the way it is mentioned on the card), and the open form (where a student can freely express himself as long as it is within the certain category). Then there is the hybrid version, where both forms are used in an activity. Examples of how index cards are used for certain exercises, based on some exercises I developed for my English cards include the following:

Finish the Story:  Choosing a card from a deck provided in the middle of the table, your story starts with what is on the card. After the first sentence, you add your sentence and then the other players. The story goes a couple rounds before it ends with the last sentence.

Make a Decision:  You pick a card with a situation which you have to solve on your own. However, other players may have different ideas on how to solve the problem.  Good practice for those who are pursuing business careers and need some additional vocabulary for this purpose. But it is also useful practice for those loving to travel and need some help with English before ending up in a situation seen on the card.

Favorites: This is one of the most open-ended part of the card game as you have an opportunity to talk about your favorite thing, pending on the subject. Sometimes just by presenting general topics as an ice-breaker on your first day of class does the trick.

Telephone Dialogs:  Useful for practicing telephone conversations, a pair receive a situation where they have to construct and practice a dialog. Useful for  pronouncing words and learning new telephone vocabulary. Good for people who need English to communicate with other Anglo-Saxons.

Media:  This one features the lone hybrid form of index card games I’ve developed so far. It has three categories featuring the favorite medium used (favorite book, movie or computer program), specific questions pertaining to media (like reality TV, obsession with facebook, etc.) and personal opinion questions to share with your players (like the last time you visited a concert, favorite musician, etc.) The cards are differentiated with colors and symbols. Mine was differentiated with three different colors and the themes dealing with campfires. Useful when you want to talk about media or are pursuing that career.

 

These are only a few examples of how a teacher can make use of these two materials. They are useful when you have little time to prepare for your class and need something quick and spontaneous. Pending on how open or closed your style of frontal teaching is, nevertheless these materials are a hit when you want to encourage your students to communicate both in writing as well as orally. They’re small and compact, but they are very handy and you can do a lot with them. It is just a matter of making it creative, useful, and fun. Especially when it comes to learning a foreign language, students can benefit from producing sentences more correctly and learn some new vocabulary. This is something that I as a teacher can take comfort in that fact. 🙂

Link to the Gamewright page and Story Cubes can be found here.

In School in Germany: Mini-presentations

Question for teachers of foreign languages, history, social studies and even classes dealing with religion and culture: when preparing a topic that is complex and difficult to handle, how do you approach it? Do you divide them up into subpoints and provide them with materials and activities or do you provide a question-answer session pertaining to the subpoints discussed in class? What about having students presenting their subpoints as part of the topic?

One of the experiments I tried with my history classes was the Mini-presentation. An open form of frontal teaching, students are assigned a subpoint in connection with the topic to be presented, to be prepare at home, finding the most important and relevant information supporting it. They then conduct a 5-minute presentation on their points, while the remaining class (as well as the teacher) take notes. The teacher can exercise the right to add and correct the information to ensure that the facts fit to the points.

An example to present was the topic of the USA in the 1920s and its return to normalcy, where the Americans wanted nothing to do with international affairs and live the life they had before being dragged into World War I in 1917. With a group of 20+ students in grade 9, each one was given a theme for them to research. The points belonged to the categories of domestic policies, international relations, and accomplishments and inventions. Each student had up to 5 minutes to present his/her findings to the rest of the class, with questions and discussion to follow. The themes belonging to the Roaring 20s included: jazz music, Washington Conference, the radio, Prohibition, Women’s Right to Vote, Dawes Act, Fordney-McCumber Act, farming, the US highway system, and airplanes, just to name a few.

Advantages of a mini-presentation is students have a chance to know about the important points, let alone be encouraged to dig deeper in the research. For foreign language teaching, they have the chance to improve their language skills and acquire vocabulary relevant to the topic discussed in class. Two major disadvantages are the time factor and the fact that many students can forget the information mentioned if they do not write it down or have problems in communicating. For the first part, it is difficult if a session is between 45 and 60 minutes, pending on which school you are teaching, as mentioned in an earlier article. It is perhaps more effective if these presentations are done over the course of two sessions, or in a block session, as many Gymnasien in Germany have. To avoid problems with the second part, it is the easiest if a handout with a summary of the points are presented at the end of the topic so that the students have something on a sheet of paper.

But speaking from experience, mini-presentations are perhaps the most effective but also interesting way to lead the class through the subject without having difficulties in understanding the themes. This is because the students have the opportunity to do the frontal teaching, while the teacher can moderate to help them with their language, presentation and knowledge skills. On the school level, the students will get a whiff of what is expected of them when graduating: presentations of 10-30 minutes at the university and in their jobs. As our society has become more communicative, presentations are becoming the key requirement skills needed for the job, even more so if in a foreign language.

So for teachers of the aforementioned courses, now is the time to do the students a favor. And believe me, they will benefit from it-double! 😉

In School in Germany: Surveys Galore- doing a Questionnaire during a Praxissemester

There is a special rule when you want to pursue your teaching career in Germany: When you do your Praxissemester, expect to do a survey for your professors at the university.  Germany is famous for its sometimes complicated empirical research (in German: Empirische Sozialforschung) that has been done in all aspects of life, from focusing on the environmental conditions in the classroom, right down to the amount of time pupils spend on their English homework per week.  There are some benefits and drawbacks from this. One important benefit is to determine what improvements need to be made to the education curriculum and to the school system in general, which is done by the government and other organizations working with them.  For the students, it gives them another avenue to consider pursuing if teaching is not for them. Usually the Praxissemester serves as the interchange on a motorway, to decide between sticking to the highway to being a teacher and changing for other options.  Many have worked in a research think-tank, coming up with surveys of their own for their own research.  Yet the drawbacks are numerous. Surveys can be time-consuming and sometimes pointless as they do not reflect on the practical experience to be collected as a teacher.  For many schools bombarded with surveys on a weekly basis, administrators have resorted to either assigning the internees with questionnaires of their own or rejecting the idea of the students doing a questionnaire unless they can collect parental permission from each pupil. Some have even considered complaining about these obligations to the university board, which would not be surprising given the workload they are overwrought with regularly.

The questionnaire I’m doing at the present time has to do with a theme to be mentioned in the Files soon: bilingual teaching in a foreign language. Since 2009, many German states have enacted modules where schools are required to provide classes in a foreign languages in the areas of science, humanities and social sciences. This includes classes in history, social studies, biology, chemistry, geography and even music. At the Gymnasium where I’m doing my practical work, the modules were introduced this year, even though it has prided itself in teaching bilingual classes in general for over 40 years. Yet for many subjects, as what I have experienced as a teacher of history and English, the school is entering uncharted territory.  The survey to be conducted, together with my two colleagues, will feature a questionnaire for the pupils having taken such a module- namely the ninth graders as they are required to take these modules- as well as interviews with teachers having done the module themselves and my own personal observations after teaching bilingual history. The goal is to find out how bilingual classes have benefited the pupils and what can be done to improve on them.

Based on my observations and some information collected through interviews and research will this topic be presented in the Files. I plan to include some benefits and drawbacks and how Americans can benefit from this type of education, as the US is more or less monolingual except for areas where Spanish and French are minor languages. Stay tuned for more on this topic.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt upends rival to win Champions League Title

You can imagine what a usually quiet Roterstrasse in Flensburg’s city center looked like after the upset last night!

The German handball team of SG Flensburg-Handewitt had been, more or less, owned by its archrival to the east, THW Kiel in the last seven years, with the zebras taking the crown on the national and international fronts. This includes winning the triple crown (the German Super Cup, the German Regular Season Title and the Champions League Title) in 2012 with an unprecedented 36-0 record- the first team ever in Germany to achieve that feat. There would be a time when the albatrosses from the Hölle Nord (also known as the Flens Arena) would finally get their revenge.

That time came yesterday, and in a big way!

Despite finishing third in the regular season standings and losing in the German Super Cup championship to them pesky foes,SG Flensburg-Handewitt (FH) finally took down Kiel in Cologne for the Champions League title, by a score of 30-28! Not only was the payback bitter sweet for the team lead by scorers Anders Eggert and Lasse Svan, but the victory brought home the team’s first ever Champions League title.

After upsetting Barcelona in the semi-finals, the team found itself behind early, as Kiel, fresh from knocking off MKB Veszprem, had built a six-point lead and was bound to run away with its fourth Champions League title in the team’s history. Despite being down 11-5, FH mounted a comeback of Herculean portions, thanks to aggressive offense and goalie Mattias Andersson denying one goal after another coming from the zebras, led by Aron Palmarsson. After trailing 16-14 at halftime, FH took its first lead in the 39th minute and never looked back.  Despite a frenzy comeback in the last minute after being down 25-21, Kiel finally ran out of steam as time expired, and the crowd of 20,000 celebrated FH’s first ever Champions League title in the team’s 24-year history.

Sensational is the word to describe FH’s heroic deeds, as the comeback was the second in a row, after it upset Barcelona in overtime of the semifinals,  despite being down by six goals with eight minutes left in the game.  This time SG Flensburg-Handewitt was the team outscoring everybody, giving THW Kiel something to digest in the offseason while their archrivals celebrate their first ever title on the international scale.  After a welcome-home celebration which will fill the streets of Roter Strasse (Flensburg’s city center), the next item on their to do list is the German championship and defending the Champions League title, a goal that was once unrealistic two years ago but is now within their grasp after the team’s successful run for the Champions League title and ending the 2013/14 season with a loud bang.

The Flensburg Files would like to congratulate the SG Flensburg-Handewitt team for its sensational run for the Champions League title and for giving the fans the best game of the season. You guys definitely won a lot of hearts with your run and gave the author another incentive to bring more expatriates to Flensburg to watch some handball games at the Flensarena! Revenge is sweet, but something like this is the most memorable and will set the stage for more successes to come.