In his classroom at Charles City, Iowa, High School, Al Bode uses technology and an unorthodox pedagogical technique to help his students learn Spanish.
At first glance, one notices right away that his classroom is a little different from the rest. For one thing, the room contains no student desks, but only couches to sit on. For another, the teacher himself doesn’t even have a desk.
Bode said students learn better in a more relaxed, home-like atmosphere. In addition, as he walks about the room, he is sure to include all his students in the circle of couches that surround the interior of the room. This way, everyone can be involved, he said.
“Teaching in the round is great because there are no back seats,” Bode said. “Students must respond in full view of their classmates, so they have to be prepared.”
Bode, who has been teaching in Charles City since 1967, recently has been recognized for his exemplary methods of bringing the world home to U.S. classrooms through his program, Intercambio (Spanish for “exchange”). Intercambio is part of the National Peace Corps Association’s Global TeachNet program, designed to directly implement the global perspective into U.S. classrooms.
The program consists of student exchange of eMail, combining technology and Spanish as a world language. Some students have actually gone to the foreign countries and visited their student counterparts. Students also create their own web pages to tell about themselves. This, in turn, creates a cross-cultural understanding among high school students.
“All of my advanced students take part in the program, as well as some of the mentorsmentors are students whose schedules do not permit them to take regular advanced foreign language classes,” said Bode. “It is just a fantastic opportunity to be able to take advantage of the technology we have today and incorporate that into our classroom environment.”
Through a “cultural package,” third- and fourth-year Spanish students send a box filled with items and memorabilia from the school and community to a class in Mexico. Explanations of the cultural package are included and written in the target language.
Through eMail, students in Charles City and students in Mexico discuss and evaluate the package. To further facilitate the discussion, a mutually created, bilingual, 10-item questionnaire is incorporated. This allows for both schools to ask questions about the differences and similarities between them.
The web site that Bode has created to enable his students to integrate the classroom into their own homes (see link) has been well-received by everyone.
A sub-heading directs the user to information about the program, its purpose and goals. The teacher’s site also is a portal to student web pages, classroom photographs, and other information regarding Intercambio.
“Students are able to access this information at home, anytime and anywhere they have internet access,” Bode said. “It really helps keep them motivated. This way, if [students are] absent, they can still know exactly what we did that day in class, because they can look at the schedule and do the same things at home. They have no excuses.”
Bode stresses that the site is there for everyone to use.
“It’s not just for my students. That is why it is on the internet,” he said. “We have hits from France, Sweden, Germany, Turkey, and many other countries around the world. We’ve had about 17,000 hits in the last year.”
The site itself contains 100 megabytes of information, or “enough information to fill about 120 copies of Moby Dick,” said Bode.
“It is just fantastic for the students and the school,” he said. “I just want to expand from the classroom, into the students’ homes, and into other classrooms world-wide. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Al Bode’s Spanish home page