Daniela Munteanu – Chemistry

Friday, November 18, 2016

Today was the last day at the Lauder School. I have been teaching every class, every moment, without a break, the whole week as students and teacher expected to make the most of our time together. However, today I decided to stop and have an honest discussion with the students about our classes and give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Some students asked which school covers more topics in chemistry, Lauder or JDS? Others observed that “the American teachers” often smiled and despite being strict they thought we showed “warmth and kindness” just like their teachers.  Some students expressed their admiration for the American democracy and fondness for American people. Others expressed their wish to visit the United States and hoped to befriend JDS students.

I asked students to tell me what was the most important thing that they appreciate about their school, the one thing that makes their school a memorable place. Their answers varied but they were all thoughtful and showed maturity. Some students mentioned their Jewish friends while others liked the schedule, especially the 10-minute break between classes they learned to appreciate after I told them that passing time between classes at JDS is 5 minutes. Some liked their 9th grade schedule with English and IT classes only, while others liked the liberal approach to teaching and the opportunities to learn through dialogue and the more relaxed environment that their school is promoting. They enjoyed the extracurricular activities and they appreciated the administration trying to accommodate their passion, talents and interests beyond the required curriculum. They thought of their school as being “special” compared to public schools and they understood the privilege of being part of the Lauder School community.

I thought to myself that this is probably what my students would find appealing about JDS, so, my other question was about the one thing they wish they had the power to change.

Some students wanted to have computer access in every class and others thought that they were having too much math, too much science or too much geography and history and they wished to reduce these classes to half to what they are.  Most students voiced their wish to start school an hour later because they felt they were deprived of sleep sometimes because of their homework load and other times because they were spending too much time on social media. Indeed, I noticed in every class some tired students who were either fidgety or unsuccessfully trying to keep themselves awake. I think JDS students would highly agree with Lauder students, especially when it comes to having more time to sleep.

From where I stand I think students JDS and Lauder have a lot in common and while asking myself whether this is the truth or maybe I am stereotyping because I think all teenagers are the same – well, I am a teacher after all, I made some observations of my own.

Students in both school seem to have the same fashion style, taste for sugary drinks and pizza. They are physically attached to their iPhone while inattentively walking the hallways.  They best bond with their friends when texting to each other. But once removed from their devices they are engaged in the matter at hand, concerned with their academic success and worried about their future, especially college acceptance and career choices. They are surrounded by adults who love them and are concerned with their well-being. They appreciate when teachers become strict because they show that they care. They discuss ardently world politics and plan to make our planet a better place. They think only they know what it takes to bring more good and light to the world  as all adolescents  of anytime thought of themselves. I wholeheartedly wish them well!

Thursday, November 17, 2016            
The Charity Jewish Hospital, Budapest

        In the afternoon, after we taught at Scheiber Gymnasium, we went to visit The Charity Jewish Hospital in Budapest, the only Jewish hospital in Central Europe. Its main goal is the treatment and nursing of holocaust survivors and Yad Vashem laureates, but the institution accommodates ill people irrespective of their religion. The hospital offers medical and also social care home for old, incurable or people otherwise incapable of taking care of themselves.

        The short time we spent with few elderly people was very emotional. It taught me that we should value all people and of all ages but the elderly in nursing homes who often feel isolated and excluded are those who could benefit the most of our time and kindness. The Scheiber Gymnasium is the hospital’s next door neighbor and Scheiber students seem to value the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the residents of the hospital. We learned that they often visit the elderly to read to them and we collectively wondered whether our JDS students have such opportunities. I think school-age children are more eager to help in a nursing home once they learn how to become comfortable and how to interact with people different than themselves.  This is a great occasion to learn responsibility as older people become more dependent on the younger generation.

        During our visit, we had the chance to meet a holocaust survivor who had been hospitalized for hip fracture for a long time.  The doctor who accompanied our group told us that the old lady, about 84 years old, was in severe pain but every time she had visitors she was smiling wholeheartedly. Until now I thought communication is one of the barriers to young and old coming together and especially, now and here, when I am not able to understand one single word in Hungarian. Even in circumstances when we speak the same language, I often don’t know what to say to an older person. I feel uncomfortable as I am constantly looking for ways to make meaningful connections. However, with this visit, I come to realize that being together in the same room we can light up at the sight of one another and helping them by just being there is helping us understand and accept our own aging.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dohany Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary       

Today we visited the famous Great Synagogue on Dohany Street. The building is one of the most known historical landmark of the city being the third largest synagogue in the world. This Jewish temple was built between 1854 and 1859 and its architecture is Moorish in style; two towers flank the main building and are recognizable for their imposing height, shape and intricate design. Some parts of the building are in sync with the architecture of the city baring some Gothic, Byzantine and Romantic elements. Its unexpected architecture and the organ are not the only interesting features. In the winter of 1944-1945, a small garden next to the synagogue became the resting place for 2300 Jews buried in 23 mass graves.

        Spending time in one of the archives of the Great Synagogue was a fascinating experience for me and the highlight of the day. My eyes wandered restlessly around the room where some of the oldest Jewish manuscripts were preserved while some of us were able to lend a hand with the English translation of Jewish artifacts for the online exhibit.

        I will always appreciate this week in Budapest because had it not been for this trip, I would not have had the chance the appreciate the richness of the history of one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe.

Tuesday, Nov 15, 2016

Today was another wonderful day at Lauder school.  I only taught two chemistry Sophomore classes, the same I saw yesterday afternoon, and we continued to talk about carbohydrates and did another lab on testing glucose in drinks from Hungary and snacks from US. We put the analysis of the lab results on hold until tomorrow because in 45-min class 23 students can only do so much.

        Few things that made me smile and realize how much teachers and students across the world are alike.

1) Some students were a bit more talkative today and little distracted and, of course, I collected their iphones and assigned new seats.

2)  One student tried to hand in a late assignment to their teacher and asked to be graded. Of course, the teacher said no.  

3) Once we started the lab all students were curious, captivated and bewildered! You immerse yourselves in meaningful conversations and then when your lab is almost done you start giggling a little too much and too loud. Why do we have to remind you to stay on task all the time? and why do we want you to engage 100% when you do a lab?!…

4) It took us, two science teachers, 2 hours to prepare two 45-min labs and another 30 minutes to clean up. By the time I left Fanni still had a lot of cleaning to do so she ate her lunch while continued to prepare the room for her next class.

5) When we rush to get to the point we might make mistakes and you always politely correct us! It is gratifying to know that you actually pay attention to us! – the fructose molecule was missing a carbon! Good point, Balazs!

I could go on and on but I need to prepare for tomorrow and reflect a little on the wonderful places we visited this afternoon. Budapest is an exquisite city, a sort of little Paris. Perhaps the Romantic architecture and Danube river give the city old glamour and charm!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lauder School, Budapest Hungary

Fanni and I taught two 9th grade physical science classes in one class period in the morning and two 10th grade chemistry classes in the afternoon.

The freshman students do not take science this year to have more time to improve their English skills, which, I must say, are commendable by their sophomore year. For their class we decided on a stand-alone concept about methods of separation of mixtures. In the first part of the lesson we focused on helping students come up with everyday examples of homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures and methods that could be used to separate mixtures such as oil and water. I must say that Lauder students are as creative and clever as any students I have seen. They were able to come up with out of the  box ideas, some that I haven’t heard before. Usually my students will suggest boiling a mixture to separate components based on their boiling points, but Lauder students thought of freezing the mixtures to separate oil and water based on their freezing points!

After lunch, sophomores worked enthusiastically on building the fructose and sucrose models for the new lesson on carbohydrates. Some groups or more zealous than others and we attributed their surplus of energy to the fact that their models made of marshmallows were diminishing in size proportionally to their working speed.

I think the highlight of the day were the messages that JDS students sent to Lauder students. My students might be a little disappointed to know that Lauder students are fast chemistry code-breaker. After they chemically revealed the blank messages, it took them but a few seconds to “read” them as they figured out that the jumble of numbers and letters must stand for either atomic numbers or the position of the element in the periodic table or, in some cases, for chemical symbols!

I hope that our work today carries on this evening at the dinner table in the homes of my adopted students.

Note to my students at home (who I miss, but whom are in good hands enjoying Mrs. Jacobs’ erudition and sparkling personality):

This evening I bought a bottle of water and even though my Hungarian improved by one word today – “igen”, I was still worried that I might get some sugary water by mistake. Then, I remembered  to read the label. Lo and behold! I was able to understand every word! Science is indeed an universal language that all of us should be able to speak.

Photos can be found here 

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