Book recommendation: “Der Zoo der Anderen” by Jan Mohnhaupt

Source: Hanser Literaturverlag

Here is another book I recently read, and that I wish to review here in English despite it being written in German. The journalist Jan Mohnhaupt has written a detailed report of what happened to the two Berlin zoos during the Cold War, that I found captivating and moving. I have been to both the Zoo and the Tierpark, but at the time with only a vague idea of their history – I am even more curious to come back after this read, to see the animals, trees and enclosures not only as themselves in the present time, but also as traces of a complex past. The interesting side of this book is that the story of the zoos and of the people who managed them and worked there sounded to me as a net of complex, but understandable, human stories, about people who showed the highest dedication to the cause of wildlife, but also had to play smart on the Cold War chess board and to deal with personal life obstacles.

I also have the feeling to be a little more Berliner, with this new piece of local knowledge. I still oscillate between feeling “local” or “foreign” in this city, and I oddly feel close to the most beloved animals in the zoo: adopted by the visitors as true citizens, but forever (hopelessly?) foreign, as members of an exotic species.

Panda bear Bao Bao – source: Berlin Zoo website

I warmly recommend this book to whom has a good German level, and I hope it will be translated to English soon!

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Introducing changes: the trial phase

Last weekend I talked with my friends about introducing changements in our lives, and more precisely, what makes each one of us hesitate before changing anything in our routine.

We agreed that we all find difficult and risky to introduce a changement from one day to another, with no plan to rollback, even if it’s a change for the better. I find it daunting to turn a page forever, and have to adjust into the new habit because there is no other choice. What I look for is to be 100% (OK, at least 80%) convinced of the new plan, therefore I need to test it for a while, because I could discover that it’s not the right solution to my question, or I could need to adjust some details and test it again.

For example, some time ago I decided to draw more regularly. I initially resumed drawing, but in drawing sprints (with a drawing a day) that were too demanding for me to be a permanent task. I have since revised the plan and am aiming to draw once a week, but still I find myself struggling to respect the schedule. For the time being, I’ll probably settle for a finished drawing every other week, and scribbling everytime I feel inspired. I feel that the important thing is that I keep this activity in my schedule, rather than dropping it completely because I can’t work on it often enough. Of course the lower limit changes for every activity (running once every two weeks can’t count as training) and determines how much progress I can expect on that domain (I’m really behind with my practice with the trombone, but I won’t give up, and I want to practice more often in the near future!). Even for what falls below the lower limit there can be a positive thought: it has been tried, but this time it didn’t work out – if I want, I can analyse why, and try again with a better set of conditions.

Overall, I feel more inclined to introduce a changement in my schedule if I can have a trial period before adopting it on the long run. Amusingly enough, it is a widely accepted practice in Germany, so much that there is a (colloquial) word for introduction course: Schnupperkurs – based on the verb schnuppern, that means “to sniff, and in broader sense to get an idea about something new”. The goal of these courses is to give newcomers a good overview of a discipline, so that they know what it involves before committing to it.

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What do you think about introducing changements in your schedule? What works for you and what doesn’t? Let me know in the comments!

After the concert

Last week I played as a guest percussionist in a symphonic wind orchestra, and my concert experience was overall good. On the positive side, I managed to play almost all my notes and I didn’t have issues with tubular bells, which I practiced only at the day of the concert. Here is a first-person view of the percussion section, right before the sound check:

It was a somewhat difficult concert, because I knew some pieces too little, and I had to pay a lot of attention just to follow what others were playing. Only the first piece was clear to me enough that I could really enjoy it. I think that the required level of attention is what makes the concert feel energizing, easy or exhausting. If I have to keep my attention on high alert for the whole ten minutes of the piece (or worse the whole concert), and moreover I make mistakes, my energy levels plummet down. I think it’s a quite common experience among musicians, and that my limited amount of rehearsals played a big role. However, for my next concerts I want to be more aware of how ready I am, aim at reasonable goals and not at perfection, and manage my energy so that I have enough left for the day of the concert (sometimes I put 130% in the last rehearsal and go to the concert with almost no energy). The thing is also that I need to communicate my current energy/skills availability in a positive way, not in a way that make me appear lazy. Most of the times when I say that a piece is too hard or that I can’t do something, I end up being pushed even more. I’m working on it, and will update you about my progress, maybe my experience will help others too 🙂

Book recommendation: “Montessori-Pädagogik und digitale Medien: in Krippe und Kita” by Marion Lepold and Monika Ullmann

Source: herder.de

I read this book a while ago, looking for modern applications of the Montessori method. It is sometimes said that Montessori kindergartens and schools are against digital media, and some of them actually are, but the authors of this book find references in Maria Montessori’s publications that highlight her goal of making the child familiar to the culture of its location and time. Nowadays, digital media are present everywhere, and are part of almost all parents’ lives. Even if the child would live in a technology-free home and go to a kindergarten without any digital media, it will still see them everywhere else, and it will of course be curious about them. Uninformed experiments could be very risky, so the question is then “how  can I help a young child learning about digital media” rather than “if”.

The first chapter of the book is quite technical, but I appreciated its in-depth analysis of different kind of digital media, their uses, their downsides, and an explanation of media competence (in four stages: critical thinking, knowledgeability, usage as-it-is and modification/original usage). The authors consider that very young children should make useful experiences with digital media, and get support from the teachers on how to use these tools safely. The special difficulty in teaching digital media is connected to their very recent development: many teachers are less experienced that children, and are not able to integrate these tools in the classroom – and the same can happen at home with the parents.

The second chapter summarises Maria Montessori’s life and works, and the third chapter outlines the integration of digital media in Montessori pedagogy. The child is progressively made familiar with them, first only by passive observation when it is very young, then by usage, then afterwards by increasingly critical thinking about how the tool works, if it fulfills the child’s needs in a particular activity, what are the consequences of its usage. The authors underline the importance of using digital media not just for entertaining but mostly as a support/expansion of learning. I liked the point where they state how the child should be deciding what to do and then pick the best tool, rather than picking the tool first and then adapt to what the tool can do – it showed me how the child focuses on its ideas rather than being led. The chapter ends with a reflection on teachers, who have grown up without media, and have no personal experience to rely on. With a good plan, this gap can be successfully closed.

The last chapter deals with the practical aspects of introducing digital media in a Montessori kindergarten where they are currently absent, and takes into account many levels of interaction: with the direction, with fellow teachers/colleagues, with parents. In many cases the path has to be explored as new, and great importance is given to tech-competent people (teachers and parents) who can contribute a lot in sharing useful information in the group. Last but not least, the addition of digital tools in the classroom have to abide regulations and good practices about privacy. All of this aims to create a learning environment for the child in the field of digital media, promote awareness in their potentials and risks, and foster responsible use from an early age.

I really liked this book and I think it will be an important reference when I’ll be teaching. As a former software developer, I wish to share the knowledge I acquired, and the proposed framework will definitely help me promoting the idea of introducing digital media in kindergartens. Unfortunately it’s in German… but I bet there are equivalent publications in English and many other languages. If you know one or more, I’d be curious to read them!

 

Finished colourful sweater!

After many months of patient knitting, here is the result:

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I opted for a warm and colourful sweater with some extra challenge. Strange Brew pattern looked promising, as it was simply explained and open to customisation. I used a spreadsheet to test various pattern and colours (putting numbers in each cell, and using colouring rules according to those numbers to test out different colour palettes), and then headed for the wool shop to buy all I needed:

… the challenge of alternating colours started right away, and turned out to be fun:

It was a nice knitting project to do, except maybe for the boring body part worked in the round… but the yoke was worth waiting for. Now the last step is wet blocking, and then I’ll wear it! Luckily it’s still cold in my city 😉

Visiting a luthier

Wateau, a luthier specialised in guitars, moved in my extended neighborhood around a year ago. Since then, I have been quite curious about his work, and finally had the chance to visit his worshop thanks to the European Artistic Crafts Days.

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I was the first visitor to come for the open day, and Mathieu guided me through the workshop, explaining the functioning of odd tools and giving me information about guitar construction techniques. Then a few clients arrived and while he was performing a few fixes and tuning of their instruments I looked around, searching a good subject for a sketch.

I finally decided to draw the press that Mathieu built himself, and that is used to bend the wood of the sides of a guitar. I somehow didn’t save the picture of that tool, but only the one of the drawing:

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The press works by appling heat to flexible metal plates, between which the soaked wood is placed, and by progressively bending the wood in the shape of a half-guitar template (that is a removable part of this tool).

It took around 20 minutes to sketch it, including a quite long phase of observation. It is definitely an odd machine with a lot of parts and it was quite difficult to choose where to start! But Mathieu has been patient and let me sit on one of the tall chairs while he cut wood parts for guitar necks and cleaned one of his workstations. It was pleasant to share a silent moment with each one focused on independent things. I found it remarkable, because it is usually the result of a longer acquaintance, but I’m experiencing it more and more often with like-minded people whom I just met. I plan to ask him to pay another visit, so that I can sketch a few more subjects, and enjoy the atmosphere of the workshop. Stay tuned for more craftsy posts!

 

 

On several ways of experiencing loneliness

Today I listened to the BBC4 “All in the Mind” podcast about loneliness. I found relieving to hear that loneliness can be seen as a neutral or positive state, at least in some cases. For many people, or maybe more for the general expectation of the society they live in, loneliness is seen as unhealthy, unwanted and sad, or even lousy. I agree that there are people who at given times of their life would like to have more social interactions, but have problems finding/keeping friendships, and this makes them unhappy. I also agree that unwanted loneliness can have serious consequences on a person’s health and life quality. On the other side, I think that each one of us has their optimal level of social interactions, so it’s very difficult to give others advice for “feeling better” by suggesting a specific amount (or even type) of social contacts.

I see myself as a solitary person who enjoys close friendships, and I know I’m not good at smalltalk or at mantaining not-so-close friendships. This led me to have a somewhat small network of people I regularly check with, and to feel unpleasantly lonely sometimes. I have recently met new people in the city, during meetings about shared interests, and this has made me feel definitely better. I also think I feel better since I decided that it was OK for me not to improve my smalltalk or my standard social interactions, because I felt uneasy in playing a role very different from my real self: I am authentic from the start, and I find like-minded people to share great moments with.

I don’t feel like celebrating loneliness per se! I’m rather interested about how I feel when I’m alone or with others, what can help me when I feel unpleasantly lonely, and how I interact with other people. I feel it is a work in progress: my understanding of loneliness is part of my path towards understanding myself and maintaining authentic relationships.

I chose to end the post with a picture of the Dolomites. The(se) mountains have been for me the perfect place for being alone in a magnificient, natural, healing, powerful and humbling landscape.

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