Monday, 28 November 2005

Consider Columbus

For those not in the field of scientific endeavour (or indeed other forays into investigating the unknown) here is a quick working definition of what it is all about.

Research, n.:
Consider Columbus:
He didn't know where he was going.
When he got there he didn't know where he was.
When he got back he didn't know where he had been.
And he did it all on someone else's money.

Monday, 21 November 2005

German Schools: Arrrrgggh!

Well where to start on this contentious topic? Having come from the progressive education system in Australia and taking it for granted I have found German schools not wholly to my liking. Why you may ask?

The first surprise: school is only a half day, starting at roughly 8 o'clock and finishing somewhere between 11:30am and 1:30pm. This makes arranging one's errands a little challenging as most of the shops and offices do not open until 9:30 but children may be home from school as early as 11:30. Furthermore this means the children leave for school in the winter while it is still dark and freezing.

Next point. Because they are only at school for half a day, they are expected to do large quantities of homework. Which means I have the pleasure, first of all, of convincing them to do it -- I guess I'd have to do this in Australia anyway -- and secondly of attempting to assist them without a good knowledge of German. Much less emphasis was placed on homework at the children's last school (all were in primary school) in Australia. Of course, I realise the boys are at high school now but the German education system seems to go from the sublime (children starting school at 6 or even 7 years old) to the ridiculous (classifying the children into a secondary school at the age of 10). You should be aware that there are four levels of secondary school each aimed at a particular outcome. So students at the Gymnasium are on the track to university while attendees at the Realschule are anticipated to be skilled but not professional workers. In our case, Mara is in her final year at the Grundschule (primary school) and we are in the process of discussing with her teacher where she should be going for the remainder of her education life.

The schools have no program to assist non-Deutsch speaking children and most of Joshua's teachers put it all in the too-hard basket last school year. So there was almost no help for Josh to learn German or understand the work but this year (only two months later!) they expect him to complete all the work and have sent home notes about failure to do homework. All children here start English as a second language in 3rd grade. Interestingly, despite being native English speakers our children and many other bi-lingual (in English) children I know only seem to get average to slightly above average grades in English as a subject. This is largely due to the emphasis being on grammar and not so much usage and fluency.

German teachers, on the whole, are an antique breed -- lacking in flexibility, unable to cater to children that are different and placing unrealistic expectations and demands. This last point includes such things as 'You must have this book by tomorrow' or 'You must have your bike at school tomorrow' and that is the first you hear of it. I have found this demonstrates that they sometimes seem to be living in a world that they think revolves around them. While I have no problem getting books and bikes to school for my children asking for it within less than 24 hours is just not always possible.

The teachers hand out a lot of loose leaf papers for work and are obsessed with having them all neatly filed in 8 or 9 different colours 'schnellhefters' (the plastic loose-leaf binder type folders with fold-down metal prongs). Two of our close German friends -- who have also both spent time in North America -- agree that German teachers are, on the whole, over-paid, lazy and self-important. Here endeth the rant. Stay tuned for our blog on Prague.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Summer Holiday 2005, Part III

10 August
Daytrip to Venezia (Venice). I was very excited to be visiting Venice. We drove to a parking lot on the mainland (less expensive than the few on the islands) and caught a bus over the bridge. From here we caught a water bus (vaporetto) close to San Marco -- the main square in Venice which you've all seen pictures of in books or on postcards. We alighted from the vaporetto a stop too soon. Half the stops were 'San' something and when in unfamiliar territory all look the same. This gave us the opportunity to wander through a couple of quieter campos (like a common courtyard or a small square), cross the Grand Canal and see a couple of gondeliers at work. (Joshua seemed convinced we would be lost in Venice forever). Eventually making it to the main square, it looked just like the postcards but with more people and pigeons.Ariana gets up close and personal with some Venetian boat wash.

We queued to see inside the Basilica San Marco (Basilica of St. Mark) which was very beautiful though we generally agreed a little overdone. Mosaics every where with lots of gold. In the basilica we viewed the Pala d'Oro (translates as 'golden altar screen') which is decorated with icons and 2000 uncut, but polished, gems. I also saw the Treasury, containing a number of relics, which I found rather bizarre and grizzly despite their gold cases. Both the screen and the items from the Treasury were looted from Constantinopole in 1264, Fourth Crusade.

Another vaporetto ride to the island of Murano to watch a glass blower in action, browse the shops and make a small purchase. On the way back to San Marco the low-sitting vaporetto was hit by a wave completely drenching Ariana Ariana gets up close and personal with some Venetian boat wash. who loved every minute of it. From thence we caught another vaporetto down the Grand Canal and then to the Campo San Sebastian -- to find the setting for one of my favourite novels 'Miss Garnet's Angel'. We found the church and the statue featured in the novel and took a number of photos (to the amusement of some locals as this church is not on the normal tourist itinerary). A view of the statue from 'Miss Garnet's Angel' found at a Venetian church.

So our general impressions of Venice are that it is very beautiful but in parts quite showy and touristy. At that time of the year also very full of tourists. I am still amazed at how American accents carry. Also, we don't recommend bringing a stroller. Plenty of foot bridges with stairs and no ramps.

Unfotunately Fenton became sick late in the day (coming down with Joshua's bug), but still managed to get us back to the camp ground.

11 August
Fenton remains sick as a dog (or at least a very ill one).

12 August
We packed up camp in the morning and travelled on to Firenze (Florence). We had booked a room in a hotel since we were only planning to stay one night. The Hotel DalĂ­ is right in the centre of the city and navigating the inner streets were very difficult -- even with a GPS system (it had the direction of some of the one-way streets incorrect). Parking was hell but the hotel was very convenient being in walking distance of everything we wanted to see.

There was a museum dedicated to working models of Leonardo's designs. This was very popular with the children and Elijah managed to injure himself. The Duomo (cathedral) was less showy than the basilica in Venice and in my opinion, more tasteful.Outside Del Duomo in Firenze

While strolling the streets I ducked into menswear shop to buy Fenton a 6€ tie. We ended up with an Italian-designer wool suit, a shirt and two ties -- they gave us a great sell including a 'large family' discount! Fenton looks great in a well cut suit that fits. Finally we queued for Del Academia which is a famous gallery with the main attraction being Michelangelo's 'David'. It also contains many Catholic-themed paintings. 'David' was magnificent, of course.

Overall Florence was more to our taste, we think, than Venice. Fenton thinks it is because it is a comparison of academia to business (and which one does he prefer hmmm?). You'll have to come and see it for yourselves.

Originally our plan had been to continue on to Rome but as were all tired we decided to spend a little longer in Florence before returning home. We'll Catch It Next Time™.

13 August
Departed from Florence for home late in the day and stopped overnight once we were a few hours out of town.

14 August
We completed the journey home -- stopping for a picnic lunch in Switzerland -- with all the children travelling very well.Picnic in Switzerland on the way home from Italy.