Thursday, March 12, 2009

Global Classrooms Follow Up

After the global classrooms conference, Jim and I gave our students questionnaires regarding their preparation, the conference, and their thoughts on global classrooms. I have copied some of the quotes the students wrote because they really moved me and illustrated the importance and effectiveness of the program.

One girl wrote, “I think it was a good opportunity to learn new things and to learn how to listen to different points of view.” Another student said that “we learned how to speak and reach agreements with other delegates.”

One of the most poignant comments came from a girl who participated in the conference for her second time. She wrote “what I had learnt this year is the huge problem of disease in all societies and the main that I’d learnt is that what seems to affect only specific people at the end you realize that the problem is also affecting you some way.”

If only we could all realize how interconnected we are and that we have a responsibility to help all people around the world. I am now a firm believer in Model UN and global classrooms because it makes the students think critically, learn to respect others’ ideas, use English in a useful manner, and teaches them public speaking.

Based on the success of global classrooms, the secondary Fulbrights in Madrid are starting to organize fundraising efforts with our students related to the conference topic of malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Most of our students are really interested in the topic and we did not want their enthusiasm to go to waste. We have decided to support an organization called Nothing But Nets ( which is an organization dedicated to providing bed nets to people in Africa. One bed net only costs $10, so even if each school only raises a little money students will be able to see direct results related to their hard work. Currently, we are thinking of organizing a basketball tournament between the ten schools and selling tickets to the parents. In addition, if our school makes a profit off of the prom we are throwing, the proceeds would also go to support Nothing But Nets. However, we are very open to fundraising ideas so if you can think of anything let me know.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Model United Nations

On Wednesday, we had our global classrooms model United Nations conference. Global Classrooms is a relatively new program sponsored by the United Nations to bring the Model United Nations experience to disadvantaged public schools and spread the program throughout the world. Therefore, Global Classrooms allows students who would not normally participate in Model United Nations get exposure to international relations and diplomacy. Currently, Global Classrooms operates in 24 cities around the world.

The main idea behind the project is that students are grouped in pairs and are forced to represent a country. The topic of this year’s debate was malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. The students must research their country’s stance on the topic, the current measures that are being taken to combat these diseases, and solutions to these problems. Furthermore, the students must write a position paper articulating these ideas and defend their ideas in a debate format. Needless to say this is a difficult job for any student, let alone a student who has to do it in their second language, English.

In preparation for the conference, Jim and I first started teaching parliamentary procedure which basically means the rules of debate. At the conference, the language is very formal and there are specific rules that must be followed. For example, the way in which a question is asked depends on the type of question. If a student cannot hear a speaker, then they need to say “point of personal privilege” can the speaker please talk louder but if a student has a question regarding something another delegate stated they need to say “point of inquiry” can you please clarify what is meant by educational programs.

After teaching the rules of debate, Jim and I had to split the students into countries. Each school was allowed to bring 22 students representing 11 countries to the conference. However, Jim and I were working with two third year classes. In total we had close 50 students from which we had to select 22, so initially we assigned four to six students per country. In January, after reading sample position papers and hearing the students present opening speeches we had to cut almost half of the students. This ended up being a very difficult task because for a couple of countries we had three really motivated students who were doing solid work and could have really benefited from the conference. However, I kept reminding myself that it was a good thing that so many of my students were well qualified and excited about the program.

With the cuts made, we continued teaching about debate, revising position papers, and working on opening speeches. This took a lot of time and effort. Students in the Spanish school system students are not required to write papers and do a lot of critical thinking. For most of my students, this was their first research paper (it only had to be one page single spaced) and they are equivalent to sophomores in high school. While some had trouble finding reliable sources, most of our time was spent teaching basics related to writing mechanics such as having an introduction, transitions between paragraphs, and citing sources appropriately. I spent multiple nights grading papers, and while doing so I gained a greater appreciation of why grading strong papers is easier than weak papers. Some of the drafts that were turned into me were so incomprehensible I wouldn’t know where to begin with revisions and suggestions. Plus, the definition of plagiarism seems to be a lot looser so I found myself writing is this your own words on almost every paper that was turned into me. In the end, the papers improved a ton. In fact, we had four very strong papers and had to select one to turn in as our best paper from our school. The paper we selected ended up winning the Best Position Paper award in comparison to the 9 other bilingual schools who participated in the conference.

The conference was split into two days. On Tuesday, we had the opening ceremony in the Asssemblea de Madrid which is the Communidad de Madrid’s government building. This would be comparable to holding a conference in the state legislature chambers.

Assemblea de Madrid

All of my students went home after school, ate lunch, and changed. I was completely surprised by how well they dressed after seeing them in their normal everyday clothes. Almost all the boys wore ties and sport coats and the girls had on skirts and dresses with heels.

My students all dressed up

At the opening ceremony, all of the sponsors spoke and a student from my school who participated in the conference last year spoke as well. Afterwards, our director (equivalent to a principal in the US) took all the kids out for soda. I thought this was such a nice act that the kids will remember for a long time. Instead of calling for the bus to pick us up right away, she marched the kids into cafeteria restaurant and ordered 22 cokes for the kids. This reinforced the idea that doing something small can really make someone’s day.

On Wednesday, the conference began early in the morning. The students were split into five committees depending on region. I was the secretary for the Eastern European committee and I got to see two delegations from my school debate. One of the delegations completely surprised me and actively participated which I was not expecting. Overall, my students felt pretty comfortable and enjoyed the debate. They told me that they were glad they participated in the conference and felt proud that they could debate in English.

After five hours of debating, there was an awards ceremony. There were 30 awards that were given for the ten schools. My school won 8 awards!!! I felt so proud of my students. While it is not fair to compare the number the awards each school won because the students come in with different levels of English, this is still a huge accomplishment. It reinforced to my students that hard work does pay off and that English is a useful skill.

at the awards ceremony

Overall, I am really glad I got to participate in the global classrooms program. It provided me the opportunity to lead my own classes and design the lesson plans and handouts. Furthermore, it teaches the students critically thinking, research, and paper writing skills that are often lacking in the Spanish school system. In addition, it makes the students more aware of global issues and it lets them use English in practical situation instead of focusing on verb conjugations.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Holy crap, I can’t believe I am writing this blog post on March 1st. I officially have three months and 1 week left in Spain. I don’t know where the time has gone. There is still so much I want to do and so little time.

This past week has been a whirl wind. I spent Friday through Monday in Granada and Sevilla (see previous post) and then came back to Madrid on Monday. I worked Tuesday and taught a couple of private English lessons and then Wednesday morning I left for Andorra. I was in Andorra from Wednesday until Saturday evening for a Fulbright midyear conference.

The conference and the location were amazing. Andorra is a landlocked country in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. Andorra does not have a commercial airport, is not a member of the European Union, and is entirely duty free. Other interesting Andorran facts are that Andorrans have the second longest life span at 83 years, their official language is Catalan, and it is the 6th smallest country in Europe following Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino (in Italy), Lichtenstein, and Malta. Andorra gained independence in 1278 and its borders have remained practically unchanged since then. Before the introduction of the euro, Andorra accepted Spanish pesetas and French Francs because Andorran currency was very rare and it currently uses the euro. The population is 80,000 people, and there are about 90 Americans living in Andorra. Therefore, when the Fulbright group of 80 Americans arrived, we almost doubled the American population. Its main industry is tourism and there is Andorran university. Students have the option of attending French, Spanish, or Andorran school systems. If a family wants their child to attend a French or Spanish university they generally choose that school system. The Andorran school system is multilingual which means classes are taught in Spanish, French, and Catalan and English is taught as a foreign language.

Andorran Landscape, set in the Pyrenees Mountains

As for the conference, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other Fulbrighters who are living throughout Spain and to reflect on my time in the country. Unlike our orientation, the mid year conference was for the most part helpful and productive. We were able to discuss our concerns and try to come up with solutions. Plus, it was interesting to learn about others research and challenges they have experienced. We also had time to visit some of the Andorran tourist attractions and many representatives for Andorran government were present at our opening and closing ceremonies. One of the best parts about the conference was the weather. It was sunny and warm. Everyone in Spain told us it was going to be freezing but when we were there it was quite warm and we only needed our jackets at night. We also stayed at a really nice hotel with a great lunch and dinner buffet, and by the way we ate you would think we were starving in Spain. Most of us have gotten sick of our cooking and we rarely go out to eat, so having multiple main course options in addition to tons of desserts to choose from was quite a treat. The first day we arrived I think everyone went up to the buffet at least three times but by the second and third day we cut back.

Turn Left for France, Turn Right for Spain

Enjoying the Mountains

Next week is the model UN conference. I am really excited for it because my students have been working really hard and I think they are going to do a great job. The model UN project is great because it forces my students to use English in a real and practical setting, teaches them how to do research, and it makes the think critically. After the conference I will be sure to write up an article explaining how everything works in more detail.