Bishop Lynch High School teachers Beth Burau and Kristie Wainwright (Bishop Lynch Class of 2006) were one of ten teams selected nationally to participate in the Goethe-Institut Chicago’s first “Sustainability in German Class and in STEM Classes” program. “It was an honor to be selected,” said German teacher Burau, “and represent Bishop Lynch and Texas.”
This ten day study tour and program focused on sustainability (Nachhaltigkeit in German), what it means in Germany, what it means for our students, and how it can be taught in our schools and communities. Sustainability means utilizing our resources to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is built on three pillars: environment, economy, and society, with education as the driving force in the center of these pillars.
As a cross-curricular effort utilizing teams made up of one STEM teacher (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and one German teacher from each school selected, the teachers had a chance to learn and share outside of their content comfort zones. “Being completely immersed in the German culture was a challenge in the beginning, but by the end of the program I found myself following along in German conversations better than I thought possible,” explained Wainwright. The German teachers, in turn, learned a lot about science.
Highlights of the program, created and organized by Anja Schmitt and Meike Gerboth, included a discussion on the cultural aspects of sustainability in Germany and the USA with author Ulrich Grober, visiting German high schools and colleges that emphasize the importance of and application of environmental stewardship, and meeting with policy makers at the European Commission and a German Member of European Parliament in Brussels.
Based on the studies and discussion in Germany, Burau and Wainwright created lessons integrating sustainability into both of their curriculums, German and Biology, and presented them at the program’s conclusion. Additionally, they will continue to work across department boundaries this year, implementing interdisciplinary lessons and activities with their students.
“Getting the opportunity to work outside of the science box was really fun,” said Wainwright. “I got a chance to be a student at the same time I was a teacher – learning about the German culture, learning about sustainability in Germany, and learning about the science of sustainability with other members of the program. Beth and I then took the knowledge we gained and created a ‘melting pot’ lesson combining science with German culture. This lesson will teach both the German students and my science students about sustainability in school, at home, and within the community compared to those in Germany.”
During a school visit to Max Planck Gymnasium, a college-prep 5th-12th grade school in Saarlouis, program participants heard from teachers, students, and school administrators on how their school came to be a model for integrating “sustainability” across the curriculum. “I remember one of the administrators saying that this was an opportunity for them to become ‘agents of change.’ Looking around at their campus, which had fair trade food in the cafeteria, outdoor classroom spaces, recycling bins designed by students, and more, showed that they really do practice what they preach,” recalled Burau.
“Visiting with experts and learning about Germany and the EU’s plan to implement more sustainable techniques was fascinating. Even seeing the changes already occurring in Germany from the solar panels on homes to the wind turbines in the fields and recycling bins in every room, not only gave me hope but inspired me,” said Burau. “They don’t just talk about sustainability. They live it and practice it every day.”
Frau Burau and Ms. Wainwright’s “Top Ten” Experiences:
- Discussion on “Language and cultural aspects of sustainability in Germany and the USA” with Ulrich Grober, author of Sustainability: A Cultural History
- Visiting German high schools and colleges that emphasize the importance of and application of environmental stewardship
- Meeting with policy makers at the European Commission and Birgit Collin-Langen, German Member of European Parliament, in Brussels
- The conversations and content sharing with other program participants, which represented schools across the United States
- Extension of the BL family throughout our travels. Alumni outreach in Germany -- Meeting up with Rebecca Buhner (’09), pre-trip contact with former German students, and Burau traveling with a former student Kristie Wainwright (’06). Friar Fred even came along to experience Germany!
- The German immersion aspect – learning habits, experiencing culture, and living the language
- The time we had to create our project on Sustainability (Nachhaltigkeit) in a wonderful professional working environment
- Visiting many historic churches throughout western Germany and attending mass in German
- Coming away with a renewed vision of the changes we can make as a community regarding sustainability
- The food! Guten Appetit!