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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Rhubarb-ginger-lemon jam

From a visit to the local library I brought back this intruguing little book about ginger:

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Publisher’s page

The title translates roughtly to “Ginger – health and taste” and is a collection of interesting recipes with ginger, with an informative introduction about the plant, its history, and its many culinary and medical applications. From the many recipes I picked the one for rhubarb jam, that included gelling sugar (that I bought last year but didn’t manage to use), lemon and of course ginger juice. I went grocery shopping and I came back with a kilo of rhubarb, in the form of three huge stalks (really huge! I had never seen such large stalks in Italy!). At home I washed and cut the stalks in small pieces, and removed only the largest fibres. I put the rhubarb pieces in a plastic container, poured the sugar, put a lid on and put everything in the fridge overnight. The day after, the rhubarb had let out a lot of juice. I asked my friend to taste a piece of rhubarb, to know whether to filter the fibrous parts away, but he said they were quite soft, so I blended everything in a purĂ©e and transferred it into a pot. I cooked the jam until it started gelling, and then added the juice of a lemon and a lot of ginger juice (it’s sold in small bottles here, and it’s so practical). I stirred the jam and poured it into little jars.

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I’m not that fond of ginger flavour, but my friend is, and this jam has become a fixed part of our breakfast 🙂 It goes especially well on the dark bread that I just baked, and is #59 in my bread count:

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Book recommendation: “Lernen geht anders” by Remo Largo

I read this book a while ago and took quite a lot of notes about it. It’s a book that I found compact and easy to read, while talking about very broad ideas about teaching and learning. Remo Largo is a Swiss pediatrician who wrote several books about education, and is therefore well-known in the German-speaking world.

Book cover, from the author’s website

In this book, he underlines how external pressure (from parents and teachers) is not as effective as the child’s own motivation to learn, because it works as a threat and has no positive long-time effects. Small children grow following a “curiosity path” that leads them to focus on specific topics for a short time-frame (language, movements…) and it’s important that the adults notice these focus moments and support them with related learning environments and tools. He is convinced that obedience doesn’t help in building any relationship between the child and adults, and that a healthy emotional connection with teacher figures has a positive effect on the interest on the topics they explain. He proposes individually-tailored learning paths for each child, so that the speed of learning is appropriate, and the child doesn’t get bored or overloaded.

I consider this book more of a manifesto than a guide, and am curious to know more about the practical applications of these concepts. Many ideas are already part of school programs, and I find that there is significant overlap with Montessori education concepts.

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!

 

Book recommendation: “Vögel in der Stadt” (Birds in the city) by Klaus Richarz

Here is one more German book that I would like to recommend to people who are interested in birds and are learning German! It’s actually more for an upper intermediate level of German, but it’s worth reading it at a slower pace, taking the time to translate words and understand syntax.

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Klaus Richarz presents the most common bird species that live in or near human settlements, with many tips for successful observations, appropriate feeding, and detailed instructions on how to build nest boxes. The appendix includes further reading on specialised books and websites, as well as links to birdwatching associations. The book is pleasant to read, with shortish chapters and beautiful watercolour illustrations:

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I found this book in my local library, but I’m inclined to buy it, so that I have it at hand anytime and I can re-read it and make notes about new words. And maybe take inspiration for watercolour paintings too!

Double book recommendation: local people autobiographies

This time I review two book at once, namely “Ick bin een Berliner, da kieckste, wa?” by Ronald Potzies and “El ZĂ©lese” by Antonio Carlizzi.

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Both books are the account of the lives of two people I know personally, and this makes me consider these books differently from others: they are the written version of facts and emotions that happened first in real life, while in most other cases either the book is my only connection with those lives, or it is a work of fiction. I enjoyed the direct language of both of these accounts, and the many references to common and sometimes hard conditions of life (both authors experienced world wars) that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for a fiction work, or would be mentioned sparingly, as background information, instead of a daily struggle. I find much to learn not in the abstract model that could be extracted from the lives of these two men, but in the details: the way they took a decision without knowing enough to be sure to make the right choice; their inner strength; their simplicity in being human without becoming heroes or book characters.

These are two books dear to me. I’m curious to know about similar books you read, please mention them in the comment section!

Book recommendation: “Mythos Begabung” (“The Myth of Giftedness”) by Ulrike Stedtnitz

I’d like to write a review for this book, even if it’s currently available only in German. I found it a compact yet deep analysis about the perception of giftedness in my cultural environment. Each chapter ends with a page of questions that readers are invited to ask themselves, with the goal to better understand their own thinking and how it influences the people near/dear to them.

mythos-begabung

Dr. Ulrike Stedtnitz starts the book with the analysis of potential, success, intelligence, and giftedness. It is nowadays clear that all these concepts can be modeled in many ways. Moreover, gifts evolve with time: for example, a child who learns to read at an early age is not necessarily going to keep being a reading genius, nor show potential in other domains.

It becomes clear that giftedness without practice doesn’t go anywhere, and that practice alone usually goes pretty far! Many people (especially children), who show a gift in a particular domain, usually make initial progress quite fast and effortlessy, and start struggling far away along the road, as they need a background of exercise and effort management they haven’t developed. Therefore, the author’s suggestion is to teach how to manage effort, concentration and persistence, and let personal capabilities and creativity collaborate to success.

She then ends the book with three chapters, one about dealing with emotions (how to cultivate/teach emotional stability and resilience), one about early education (where she mentions many principles in common with Montessori method, and the method itself) and the last one about school (with the invitation to abandon fact-learning, test-based evaluations of the whole progress, and to better prepare for working life).

What I liked in Dr. Stedtnitz’s analysis is how she makes clear that giftedness doesn’t require a fast lane or special rewards in school in order to lead to success – on the contrary. It is described as a specific advantage, which can backfire if it allows the child to skip crucial parts of the learning process, especially if it makes the child associate effort to insuccess. Therefore her suggestion is to have an education system that focuses on managing effort, developing concentration, intrinsic motivation, and let children experience and later generate moments of flow. I share these ideas, and I want to integrate them into my teaching model – a likely smooth task, as the Montessori method already shares many of these basic principles.