Brussels Study Trip: Blog 2

**Note: If you missed “Blog 1”, click here.

After months of planning and reading, we’re finally here.  The weather was perfect today, and since we had no institutional visits scheduled, we did typical tourist activities- Grand Place, Manneken-Pis, double-decker bus tour of Brussels, and of course, waffles.

I am very excited to see how my students grow on this trip.  All of them are in Model UN and are interested in international relations and global issues, but I really want to increase their understanding of and appreciation for the EU and transatlantic relations.

For this post, I asked them to write a few words about their initial observations of Brussels.  Stay tuned for more throughout the week.

Ali B.
After completing our first day in Brussels, we managed to see a whole array of different things within the city. My favorite thing we did today was go on a bus tour to many significant landmarks throughout Brussels. Although I was at first wary of the tour being overly “tourist- based”, it was a terrific way to learn and experience many sites we otherwise wouldn’t go to. As the bus drove up to the Atomium I was immediately shocked at the stature of the building. Pictures could never prepare a person for how large it truly was. Also on this tour we were taken past gardens, cathedrals, and homes of past influential people of the city. After the tour we walked around Grand Place, where the surrounding buildings were unique with details along the sides. I expected Brussels to be much smaller overall. Although there are tourist based spots, a majority of the city is maintained as it’s initial state. I’m excited to learn more about Brussels history as the trip continues.

Andy K.
Throughout my entire life I have wanted to visit Europe and finally this gave me a chance, and it hasn’t disappointed. From the narrow winding streets to the prestigious churches towering over the city, this place is truly a unique one. Since the minute I have gotten here, I have been surprised by a number of different aspects of the city. For instance the massive emphasis on multilingualism is something I have never witnessed in the United States. Yes we have many different languages, but it is new to me for so many citizens to speak a variety of languages. More than anything though, the clash of historical and modern architecture gives the city a look that is very new to me. You can notice it anywhere, with modern day company buildings set right next to buildings built over 500 years ago. Today was only the start of the comparison of the many similarities and differences between the US and Brussels. However due to the longevity of buildings, cobblestone roads, and slight differences in how nearly everything is run, Brussels is clearly a city unlike any I have witnessed in my life.

Bailey A.
Today we arrived! Right off the bat I was impressed by customs, the lines were very short and the questions reasonable. This was very exciting because we were able to get out of the airport in under an hour to start our day. Once we started exploring I was very impressed with everyone’s mastery of languages, I didn’t get to use my French at all. I’m very glad we arrived on a quiet day, so we could get oriented without traffic adding new stress. We took a very interesting tour bus to the Atomium, and were able to see a lot of the major attractions without all the hassle. On that note, I was expecting the Mannekin Pis to be bigger! It was very cool nonetheless and I can’t wait to see more of the city while learning more about the EU.

Cat G.
Currently I’m running on very little sleep, but Brussels is absolutely gorgeous.  I love the architecture of all the buildings, and it’s so cool hear so many different languages when walking around the city.  We went to the Grand Plaza and it was absolutely astounding, I also really liked the tourbus ride we took of the Brussels, it was really cool to see all the different parts of the city.  So far I have had two Belgian waffles and one Gelato Cone and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m really excited to talk to the Sweden Representative to the EU tomorrow because I really admire their feminist foreign policy and I want to know more about how they use it when interacting with other countries, especially those with differing societal values.  I’m also really looking forward to sitting in on the EU council, and see how it actually operates from a first person perspective instead of just reading about it.  Today (and yesterday) has been a really wild, really phenomenal day and I’m really excited to see what tomorrow and the rest of this week has in store.  Bonsoir from Brussels!

Greta S.
Before coming, I was expecting to be most shocked by not being around only English, but I was actually way more surprised at how European everything is. Seeing the old buildings and statues and the stone streets is something I never really get to see in the United States, and seeing such a stark difference from the moment of walking on the streets was amazing. The bus tour was fascinating and showed me places I would have otherwise never known about, and walking around the Grand Place was beautiful. Even the hotel room feels new and makes it that much more special. It’s surreal to think that I’ve actually left the country and that I’m actually in Brussels, but it’s so incredible and I am so happy I’m here.

Joe G.
Today we arrived in Brussels, and promptly walked from our hotel to the Grand Place where we had lunch. I was immediately taken by the beautiful architecture and scenery surrounding us on all sides; the narrow streets, old buildings, and cobblestone sidewalks created a feeling of intimacy, a closeness shared between the city and I. We continued exploring the city on a bus tour, stopping at major landmarks, and niche neighborhoods along the way. The rich social and cultural history and influence held by this city is as far-reaching as it is intriguing. The Belgian people I have encountered have been open, friendly and helpful. There is much more of a feeling of connectedness, of respect, and of empathy here than in the U.S. It has already become very clear in the short time that i’ve been here that Belgians are proud of themselves and of their city, and I think justly so.

Julia P.
Whew! What a crazy, fantastic, awe-inspiring 24 hours – at this time yesterday our plane was taxing to the runway. After an 8 hr flight with movies & meals, we got into Brussels Airport around 9am Belgium time- 2am Wisconsin time!! But even though we were running on four hours of sleep (or less), there’s just something about this city that’s so energizing (well…except for dragging our suitcases up cobblestone hills). I loved the way old and new blend in this city- red roofs and intricate carvings mingle with glass and steel in the most interesting and amazing way possible. I also enjoyed the Grand Plaza, with the gilded buildings and little cafes hinting at a Parisian background it was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. But there’s no way one can see all of Brussels on foot as well as the double decker bus we took around Northern Brussels- which was fantastic, and featured the Atomium and gelato cones as well as many beautiful basilicas and churches. After that though, we all very much appreciated a nap before heading out to get the famed Belgian Waffles which were all they are hyped up to be. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep in a bed (!!) before heading to the EU Council  and the Sweden Representative to the EU tomorrow. I’m excited to observe the inner workings of the council! Additionally, I’m interested to see how Sweden got their foreign policy up and going in the first place (from idea to reality) and how this policy has effected their relations with other countries- especially those in the middle east who tend towards the opposite side of the gender equality spectrum. All in all, with the birds chirping and live music strumming outside my window, and a view of intricate marble carvings sheltered by a classic European style tiled roof, I’m amazed by the crazy, fantastic-ness of this day and can’t wait for tomorrow! Au revoir!

Katie B.
During our first day in Brussels we did a lot of sightseeing and walking around the city. A few things that I found especially interesting were l’Atomium, le Mannequin Pis, and the unique balance seen with the abundance of tourist attractions in a beautiful, historical city. Finally getting to see l’Atomium in person was amazing because it is just so much larger than expected. It was really astonishing to stand underneath it and appreciate that it’s not just a sculpture but a functioning museum. I loved getting the chance to see le Mannequin Pis as well because it is such an infamous fountain head that has such a cool history and tradition behind it. It’s always amazing to see art in person that you’ve only seen in pictures. Lastly, I thought the fact that the city is equal parts waffle shops, souvenir stores, and bus tours, and beautiful statues, homes and parks, is really wonderful and makes Brussels unique.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Brussels Study Trip: Blog 1

I’ve written before about the role teachers play in transatlantic relations (see, for example, this post and this one), and I teach about the EU in my classes, but this year I wanted to take it a step further- I decided to take my students to Brussels. For one week (July 8-15), I’ll be taking eight students on a study trip to learn about the EU and transatlantic relations.  During that time, we’ll be visiting the following places:

  • The EU Council (thanks to Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and Dominique Bryan for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU (thanks to Anna-Charlotta Erikson for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European External Action Service (thanks to Nicole Meijer for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European Parliament (thanks to Kirsten Jongberg for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European Committee of the Regions (thanks to Katie Owens and Francoise Dumont for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • Sweden’s Social Democrats in the European Parliament (thanks to Helena Strandberg-Luthi and Elisabeth Gehrke for helping to coordinate this visit, and thanks to MEP Jytte Guteland for agreeing to meet with us)
  • Deutsche Welle (thanks to Steffi Rosenbusch and Maximilian Hofmann for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • US Mission to the EU (unfortunately, they had to cancel our visit due to last-minute obligations)
  • #EUTweetUp (thanks to Jon Worth and Katie Owens for helping to coordinate this)
  • The House of European History
  • Bruges

To help them prepare, we met once a month, read a number of articles/papers, and visited the websites of each of the places.  I also created a Twitter list of the places we’ll be visiting and some of the people we’ll be meeting.

During our time there, my students and I will be sharing our experiences via social media and this blog.  To begin with, I had them write a paragraph about what they hoped to gain out of the trip.  Here are six of the responses:

Katie B.
I am so excited that my first time traveling to another country is to Brussels for this EU study trip! This trip is so full of wonderful opportunities and I’m so grateful I am able to participate. One thing I am especially looking forward to is our meeting with Sweden’s representative to the EU. I admire Sweden’s feminist approach to foreign policy, it is so comprehensive and well thought out and their execution is incredibly effective. I really think it is one of the main reasons they are such a successful, democratic, and advanced nation, so I hope to ask a lot of questions and gain a lot of information from that meeting. I am also really excited for our day trip to Bruges! The history behind art and architecture fascinates me, so Bruges, with its rich history and and gorgeous architecture, has been a dream destination of mine. There are so many wonderful things planned for the trip, and I can’t wait to go and experience it all next month!

Andy K.
In my entire life I have never been more excited about a trip and the prospects that it holds. As someone who is deeply passionate about politics, I relish at this amazing opportunity that this trip will give me to explore international relations.  I may not always agree on everything that the European Union does, however I must grasp a deeper knowledge on how it functions productively while balancing the wants of sovereign nations. Within this, I am specifically curious on economic policy and trade. For instance how does the EU ensure that trade agreements are beneficial to all member states with each individual state having diversified economies? Questions like this fascinate me and I hope I can get answers about them. On a different note I am looking forward to immersing myself in the culture of Brussels. For many years I have wanted to go to Europe and finally this trip gives me the chance to personally experience it. In conclusion I can’t wait for the knowledge that this trip will equip me with and the lifelong memories that I will make.

Julia P.
I’m super excited to not only see the past- the beautiful buildings and streets of the city- but also the future. I look forward to meeting with representatives from Sweden and the US missions to the EU and NATO to talk with them about what is happening now and their plans to change the world. I’d love to ask them how the Trump presidency has changed their personal experiences and/or altered their jobs. As this is a field I am considering for a career, I’d also like to ask them what their job entails on a day to day basis. Additionally, I hope to gain a broader, more internationally based knowledge on US issues. Living in the US can make a sheltered view on these topics, and I’m very interested to see how the international community views things such as border control, refugees, and healthcare. Lastly, I hope to also get to know the city of Brussels itself, and really experience the culture and pulse of this beautiful city. I’m looking forward to the trip!!

Bailey A.
You are not often given the chance to widen your worldview when living in a small town, inside a liberal bubble, in a state people in the rest of the country can’t even point out on a map. These exact reasons are why I jumped at the chance to visit a place with a nearly continental government, an institution the likes of which have never been seen before. Traveling abroad is a wonderful opportunity and learning experience, especially when combined with in-depth learning about world politics in the current political climate. It deeply interests me to learn about how everything is juggled between institutions, getting regional support, working on better trade, cooperating with volatile neighbor countries, countries making unpopular decisions, and foreign policy, while still managing to agree and be a leading world power. These are ambitious goals that are completely achievable with a strong system like this, and I can’t wait to see how they all fit together. I am also looking forward to speaking with Sweden’s Representative to the EU. Next year one of the three countries our Model UN team is representing is Sweden, and I can’t think of any better way to learn about Sweden than from one of the people who knows it best. I am really looking forward to meeting some of the people who make this whole operation work, while visiting such an amazing and historic country.

Catalina G.
I am really looking forward to this trip.  It will be really interesting to gain some more insight on transatlantic relations between the EU and the US.  I would especially like to gain some insight from government members in Brussels, both a UN and EU hotspot on their reactions to the US backing out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.  It will also be fascinating to learn more about the EU in general, and to learn about how it’s going to have to function differently after Brexit because I know the EU hit some bumps in November after the Brexit outcome.  I would also like to hear more about what that’s going to mean for the EU economy and the UK’s economy.  Another huge point of interest for me is Swedens feminist foreign policy and I would really like to know more about the impact it has in the EU.

Greta S.
If I’m honest, my initial reason for wanting to go to Brussels was because I had never left the country before and I knew my parents would say yes to this. However, my reasons for wanting to go were not all superficial. I knew my parents would say yes because they never say no to an opportunity to learn, and they knew that I would learn infinitely more going to Brussels than I would from any textbook or class. By going I am going to Brussels, I can see how what I learn is applied and how it is really played out. I can also ask questions that I want to know, and can find the answer to the question I want answered, and not ones that other people want answered. I also wanted to go because I wanted to see something different, and Brussels will be very different for me. I’ve had really similar experiences to all of my friends at school and just by being surrounded by people who aren’t exactly like me will teach me about who I am. I really love learning, and by going to Brussels I will gain factual, cultural, and personal knowledge, and I’m really excited for it.

Thanks for reading.

Teaching SDGs: Results

A few weeks ago I wrote a post outlining some of the assignments I gave to my students.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since it was the first time I’ve used these assignments, and we were using an iPad app that we hadn’t used before.  Despite some technical hiccups, the students created some amazing posters and children’s books.  Below are just some of the amazing examples of my students’ work.

Posters

#1

Elisabeth B Poster

Elisabeth B.- This poster represents the Sustainable Development Goal number 7, clean energy. The difference between the top and bottom is the Before is before clean energy and After is after clean energy. In the top half, the overuse of wood is represented by stumps in the ground. The train represents the use of coal. Oil is represented by its way of extraction with the oil rig and the oil spill. The factory represents all of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. All of them are non-reusable sources of energy. In the bottom half, hydroelectricity is represented by the dam, solar energy is represented by the solar panels and the sun, and the wind turbines show the use of wind power. All of these are reusable ways of energy. With the world moving towards more reusable sources of energy, there will be less of a conflict of fighting over the sources of energy the will run out. Therefore, there will be less mining for coal, less deforestation, less production of carbon emissions, leading to a healthier planet. With less conflict, there will be more peace between countries, leading to more partnerships, and more prosperity between countries and nature. With less overuse of non-reusable sources of energy, the environment will become more healthier, leading to healthier people and economy.

#2

Molly M Poster

Molly M.– This poster represents the sustainable development goal of gender equality. Specifically, it represents the target of achieving equal pay between men and women. Within the poster, a man and a woman are both working on a strategy to earn their company money, and at the end, they both receive an equal pay of $100. By earning money and working together, the man and the woman portray peace, partnership, and prosperity which are three of the 5p’s with the preamble of the 2030 agenda. Additionally, this poster symbolizes the economic and social aspects of the three sustainable development targets. Overall, this poster is meant to bring attention to the fact that women are still not getting equal pay, and I hope that it will show how working together can help to achieve the sustainable development goals.  (Editor’s note: I also want to point out here that when Molly presented this to the class, she also explained that she wanted to illustrate that females could also do complex equations alongside males.  Additionally, she purposefully switched the traditional male/female colors on her characters.)

#3

Katie B

Katie B.– For my poster I decided to showcase the developments in SDG 16– peace, justice, and strong institutions– by using the infamous Campbell’s soup can to represent the corruption and human rights violations currently challenging the world today. The “can of worms” shows all of the crime and injustice in the world that oftentimes goes unnoticed (such as the flow of illicit warfare or the high infant mortality rate), and when opened it may be messy but it gives an opportunity for discussion that is so crucial to solving these issues. Improving the lives and well-being of people is at the heart of this goal, I show how people are directly affected in my poster by depicting the people with chains (representing victims of human trafficking, violence, the high mortality rate, ect.) and the people holding hands (living harmoniously without risk to their lives). Peace is shown through the gun–noting that a world that is unstable and has conflict and illicit warfare is not peaceful–and the dove showing the alternative option that may be achieved through SDG 16. The necessary transition from a world filled with corruption and injustice to a place with accountable, effective institutions is seen as the can opens and the good possibilities come out. This also shows what the world needs to strive for to become more prosperous. The social aspect of how this helps the lives of citizens is evident but it also will ultimately help the economy flourish because when government institutions are more strong and transparent countries will be more willing to do business with one another, and the country’s citizens have more trust in the economic system.

#4

Bre W

Bre W.– For my SDG I chose number 14, Life Under Water. The main goal of the entire SDG is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The goal of reducing marine pollution of all kinds is represented through my depiction of people, planet, partnership and the environmental and social developments. The reduction of marine pollution through these things is shown through the before and after side; on the before side, there is trash being dumped in the ocean along with oil which pollutes the water and kills the sea life. In addition to that pollution, the dark heavy smoke coming from the factory can also negatively affect sea life. On the after side, there is a volunteer who is partnered with Dawn cleaning the oil off of the bird and there is no trash being dumped into the ocean and the fish are lively. This symbolizes the detrimental impact that industrialization and the improper discarding of waste has on marine life. Placing emphasis on the reduction of marine pollution can ultimately improve the awareness of people concerning the welfare of marine life.

#5

Juan A Poster

Juan A.– This poster represents UN SDG #4 Quality Education. Education is the pivotal factor to success; knowledge is power, and it can give an individual the ability to have a sustainable and happy life. Yet, throughout the global community there are inequalities and inequities stopping so many from receiving an education. In countries like Mexico, where there are no free public schools many families in communities ravished with poverty, are unable to continue to pay tuitions past the 5th or 6th grade. Barriers to an adequate education are prevalent in all countries in the world. The misogyny that is infused in so many societies tops young girls from even entering a school. The deep lack of resources that halts many students from their fullest potential (transportation, hunger, poverty) is seen in developing and developed countries all around the world. To have access to a book or a teacher is necessary for quality education, yet the ability to further one’s education in an equitable manner is also needed to achieve SDG #4. In the US, undocumented immigrants are unable to apply for FAFSA; they don’t receive in-state tuition in 34 states; they cannot receive student loans unless they have a cosigner who is a US citizen; and many scholarships require proof of residency to apply. If the people in a country are given resources to an education, where their merit can establish their success, they will find prosperity and their situation (place) will mirror their quality of life. This partnership between people and an equitable education funded my political institutions will create a more unified and equal planet.

Books

Because the books were electronic documents, I couldn’t share them here, but I did take pictures as the students read them to each other (next year I want to go to a local elementary school and have them read the books to younger students).  It was interesting to see them come up with a conflict related to their chosen SDG, find a resolution to it, and turn that into a children’s book.

 

Conclusion

I was really impressed with my students’ work.  They showed creativity and a general understanding of the SDGs.  The posters in particular showed just how observant students are of the world around them and the obstacles they face as individuals and that we face as a global community.  Now, more than ever, we need to make sure teaching the SDGs becomes part of school curricula.

Thanks for reading.

Teaching the SDGs

I’ve recently become more involved with an amazing community on Twitter using #TeachSDGs.  We’re a group of teachers around the world committed to bringing the SDGs to our classrooms and communities.  In just the past two weeks or so, I’ve gained a lot of cool ideas from teachers that I want to use in my own classes, notably making children’s books and creating poems.  This is now my opportunity to give back to this community and share what I do in the classroom.

Letter to the Editor
One of the first actions we can take is to first alert local communities that the SDGs exist and that teachers play a crucial role in achieving them.  To that end, I wrote a general 200-world letter that can be used for most newspapers.

SDGs Poster and Icon Cards
I downloaded the logo and icons from the SDGs website (Note: Make sure you follow their guidelines) and sent the files to a local printer to make the poster and icon cards to use in my classroom and for our VAHSAid events.  As a result, I’ve already had interesting discussions with my colleagues and students who aren’t even in my classes.  I’ve also encouraged my students and colleagues to get their pictures taken with an icon card to share on social media.

Global Summits
Basically, this is like a Model UN conference, only much smaller in scale.

The first is the packet introducing the activity.  We are on a block schedule, so where it says three days, that’s about 280 minutes of class time.  We prepare for the summit the entire quarter (9 weeks), but I usually give them only 3-4 days in class to work on it; the rest of the time is research on their own.

The second document is just a sheet that I cut out to put on the backs of their placards to help with parliamentary procedure (I’ll send a pic of a placard to you via DM).  I also show them the two videos from a model UN conference so they can see what it looks like (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYu9mJz6S3I).  The third document are the rules of procedure (I broke it down from one of the Model UN conferences we attend).

The fourth attachment is the resolution prep guide.  Every summit focuses on two of the SDGs.  So, at the beginning I give them the most current UNGA resolution pertaining to each topic.  Then, they fill out the prep guide, and we go over it next class.

The next two attachments are the country roster and organization cheat sheet.  The last one is the rubric for the whole assignment.

From there, the students mostly work outside of class to prepare for the summit.

As an extension activity, I have the students write a letter to the head of the relevant UN body for one of the two topics, explaining their own personal opinion about what should be done to address the issues.  I’ve included the template I give them.  In the past we’ve written to the UNDP, FAO, UNEP, and UN Women.  The students get quite excited when we receive a letter back.

I am the “chair” for the summit, so I call on countries, keep track of the speaker’s list, and keep notes on what students say in their speeches.

  1. Global Summits
  2. Points and Motions for Placards
  3. Rules of Procedure
  4. UN Resolution Preparation Guide
  5. Country Assignments
  6. Countries and Regional Organizations
  7. Business Letter Format FAO and UNDP

Month-Long Units
Of the four different courses I teach, I’ve put together a month-long unit for three of them.  For World Studies (sophomores) and AP US History (juniors and seniors), I had them pick an EU Member State because I also do a lot of work on transatlantic relations and the EU (in fact, I’m taking eight students to Brussels this summer for a week to learn about the EU).  For AP classes, this unit is a nice way to end the year and have something that is academic, but not overly strenuous.  For the children’s books, I’m using The Children’s Picture Book Project lesson plan.

  1. World Studies- SDGs Unit
  2. AP US History- SDGs Post-AP Test Assignment
  3. AP Comparative Government and Politics- SDGs Post-AP Test Assignment

Children’s Activities
For our VAHSAid events, like our 1st Annual Campout to Stamp Out Child Poverty and Food Insecurity, we have a table for children’s activities.  So far, I’ve developed an SDGs Word Search with key words from each of the SDGs.  I deliberately chose not to give the definitions because I want parents to talk with their children about the terms.  Once I create more activities, I’ll share them.

#TeachSDGs
Finally, I recommend following TeachSDGs and World’s Largest Lesson on Twitter.  I’ve also created a Twitter list of all the amazing teachers who I’ve had the pleasure of talking with about teaching the SDGs.

I hope that you’ll find something useful in all of this.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Where are the Teachers in WI Government?

We know that teachers in Wisconsin can be quite political when needed (remember how many marched, rallied, and spoke to protest Act 10?)  We also know that educating our children is one of the most important services our government provides.  So why is it then, that very few teachers are in the Wisconsin state legislature?

It seems to me that if the state government really wanted to improve public education, the best people to give input are public school teachers.  To be sure, many current legislators support public education (my own representative, Rep. Sondy Pope, is one of them), and WEAC does great work advocating for teachers, but the legislature is missing the crucial voices of teachers themselves.  Of the current ninety-nine representatives in the WI State Assembly, only one has ever taught in public schools, and in the Senate that number is zero (based on the information in their biographies).

So, where are the teachers in WI state government?  We are the ones who see the effects of cuts to education funding every day, and we are some of the most dedicated public servants- working long hours, caring for their students as if they were our own, and even spending our own money on classroom materials.  Who better to speak up for public education in Wisconsin than teachers?  Is it that teachers don’t run for office?  Or perhaps they have but were defeated?  If we really want to fix public education, we need to stop talking about it waiting in line for the copier or in the lunchroom; instead, we need teachers to run for office and win.

Thanks for reading.