Florence: An Inspiring Destination for an MFL Educational Visit

Ancient streets paved with history, and lined with stylish shops flaunting the latest cutting-edge chic: Florence is a delight for any visitor, and has just the right mix of old-world magic and cosmopolitan modernity to keep students inspired. For an educational visit, Florence, with its fascinating political and artistic heritage, will appeal to trip organisers from many curriculum subjects, not least MFL teachers. Where better for students to push the limits of their Italian language skills (and understanding of Italian society) than this culturally rich and vibrant city? Here are just some of the ways that Florence can provide a first-class MFL learning experience.

Shopping

Your students will have learned basic shopping and currency vocabulary – perhaps they have role-played conversations in the classroom – and an educational visit to Florence offers the chance to consolidate these skills. Florence is justifiably famous for its shopping opportunities, which range from high-end fashion boutiques, to old-style stationers selling quills and leather-bound notebooks, to the sprawling Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo with its cheeses, cured meats, olives, and other Tuscan treats. Encouraging your students to try as many different types of shopping experiences as possible can boost their language confidence. They will build up a layered knowledge of how commerce forms part of the life of a modern Italian city.

Culture

One of Florence’s most enduringly popular attractions is The Uffizi gallery. It is home to artworks by many of Europe’s greatest masters: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titan and more. Touring the gallery on an educational visit provides students a chance to practise talking about art in Italian, and offers wider curriculum links for students of Art or Art History. Another popular attraction in the city is the Fountain of Neptune, outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati was commissioned by the Medici family to create this imposing artwork – making it an ideal place to discuss the interplay of art and politics in Italian history. The Palazzo itself also presents an excellent starting point for conversations about history and politics of the region.

Food

Some are drawn to the art and architecture, others to the scenery, others still to the shopping – but one of the most consistent reasons visitors love Italy is the food! On an educational visit, however, food is more than nourishment: it can be a great learning opportunity for students. From its top restaurants to its caf├ęs and gelato stalls, Florence is one of the finest places to enjoy Italian cuisine, and reading the menus and ordering in Italian will help students to put their vocabulary into practice. For a truly immersive experience, trip leaders can encourage their groups to keep the dinner table conversation strictly Italian; so whether they are comparing notes on the day, looking ahead to tomorrow or simply chatting, they will be cementing their position as accomplished speakers of Italian.

Seattle Fashionista – A Profile in Online Education

Kristin Connell keeps pretty busy these days. As the manager for Shoefly, an upscale Seattle shoe boutique, she spends between forty and fifty hours a week in the shop–that is, when she’s not planning special events or jetting off to Los Angeles for a week of meetings with wholesalers.

While she values her professional experience, Kristin also knows the importance of a solid education. In order to advance her career in the world of fashion, she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. As many working students know, making a school schedule dovetail with professional responsibilities can be tough. For Kristin, the solution includes participation in online coursework. I sat down with her in her Capitol Hill apartment to get the 411 on her online fashion design class.

Mr. Smith: Your fashion design program includes both online coursework and classroom work, so you have the best of both worlds. What are you currently studying?

KC: I’m taking a few courses, but the online course is fashion sketching.

Mr. Smith: Which involves what?

KC: It’s the start of creating a piece or line of attire. You develop a basic visual concept–a sketch–for a piece of clothing. From there you can draft patterns and actually create the piece.

Mr. Smith: Could you describe your online interface?

KC: It’s basically an all-in-one website. There’s a place for you to get assignments, a place for class discussions, a link to lectures and research materials, and the grade book, which is where you can check your grades after you turn in a new assignment. That part’s helpful, because you can monitor your progress daily.

Mr. Smith: How often does the material update?

KC: Well, the syllabus pre-established at the beginning of the quarter. But the teacher can post assignments as often as he likes. The discussion boards are constantly updating, throughout the duration of the class.

Mr. Smith: Could you describe a week of coursework?

KC: The lesson plan follows the textbook, so we do a chapter each week. The teacher posts a reading assignment, discussion questions, and homework. We use Adobe Illustrator to design fashion sketches, and turn it in as an email attachment when we’re done.

Mr. Smith: How would you compare your online class to a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom?

KC: It’s actually more strenuous. It’s not like a normal class, where just showing up gets you a participation grade. The onus is on you to participate heavily. For example, with the class discussion board, you have to post often and your posts have to be insightful. I got nabbed on that a couple of times.

Mr. Smith: And compared to traditional classroom, how much classmate interaction is there?

KC: Well, of course you don’t get face time, but you have about as much interaction. It was a requirement for us. With the discussion boards, each student has to respond to the teacher’s question, and then to at least two classmates per posting to receive credit.

Mr. Smith: What’s your favorite thing about your online coursework?

KC: Well, while you do have deadlines, you can still work at your own pace. Even though we had weekly deadlines, I was able to turn in my work on the first day of the week.

Mr. Smith: How about your least favorite thing?

KC: To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of my professor, but that really didn’t have anything to do with the online format of the class.

In addition to her online coursework, Kristin also attends a four-hour pattern-drafting course each week (the brick and mortar being necessary for hands-on participation). While her schedule is tight, she remains determined: “I work as hard as I do because I know it’s worth it,” she says. “I think it’s important to have goals and to make a point of pursuing them.”

Well spoken, I think. After all, if–as Thomas Paine once observed, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly,” then busy professionals can look to Kristin and others like her, for a model. After all, Kristin and her fellow students may be determined, but they aren’t all that unusual. As far busy professionals who moonlight as students go, Kristin’s really a textbook example.

Driving Across the United States is Surprisingly Fun and Educational

Formerly being a airline travel enthusiast, I never considered driving across the United States until an unfortunate incident forced my ex-fiance and I to change our travel plans. We had flown out to Las Vegas, to attend a business convention late one night. The next morning, I turned on the television, only to find that planes had flown into the World Trade Centers in New York. It was 9/11, which devastated us and everyone around us. At Caesar’s Palace, all the tvs were tuned to the tragedy, instead of the usual horse racing or other sporting events. You could hear a pin drop as everyone watched the tragedy unfold, live. The convention closed early due to the horrible tragedy. We were given t-shirts as we left the convention center, in memory to the people who perished in New York and Pennsylvania. Fortunately for us, my ex had already rented a van to get around with, as rental cars sold out quickly when all the planes were grounded. In Las Vegas, the airport is right in the city limits, very close to the Strip. With the planes all down, all we saw was an occaisional military jet fighter circling the city now and then. It was eerie and a reminder of the possible danger to the area. We left and drove over to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, our spirits lifted as we visited the coastline, stopping at lovely places like Balboa Island for lunch, Laguna Beach (full of interesting boutiques and restaurants) and Dana Point, where we stayed in a beautiful oceanfront hotel. Later, we went over to Burbank, and attended the second taping of the Tonight Show, with Jay Leno. The experience was surreal, nobody felt like comedy, so the show was subdued. Jay wheeled out a motorcycle that he was going to auction off for charity, and Arnold Schwartzenegger, Tom Cruise and others came to sign it. Being in the studio was fascinating, the temperature in the large room was cold, to keep the many hot stage lights from bursting, one of the producers told us. We had front row seats, because we got in line very early. If you go, make sure to go much earlier than told to, because it takes a lot of time to park, and the line to get in is very long.

After leaving downtown L.A. we drove around Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I liked Beverly Hills, seeing the beautiful homes was my favorite. Signs were posted everywhere saying that forest fires can happen and gave a daily rating to how much of a chance there was of having one. Interesting. Some movie stars’ homes were on regular streets like yours and mine. Others were high up in the mountains, shielded by gates, high walls and ominous “keep out” signs. I don’t blame them, with all the crazy people in the world. All the posh shops were nice, but a shopping spree there was out of the question unless we won the lottery and were rich like the Hilton family – one piece of clothing could be the cost of a new car or even, house in downtown Beverly Hills. Wow. We drove all over, taking pictures, stopping at fast food places like In and Out Hamburgers and Krispy Kreme Donuts. We also stopped in lovely ethnic restaurants to eat Mexican, Thai and Indian food. The Mexican restaurants were my favorites, most were authentic and gave large portions.

We drove through the desert, going back east, saw Hoover Dam, which was immense. Because of the tragedy going on in New York, everyone there was on edge, so we weren’t allowed to stop on the bridge, just drive past it and park elsewhere. It was very scenic to see the dam, built long ago, with Art Deco influence on the well-built bridge and buildings. It was incredibly hot but the heat was dry, not humid. We drank gallons of soft drinks and bottled water to keep from being dehydrated. The vistas of tall mountains and large amounts of water being pumped by this powerful dam were really fascinating for this midwestern girl.

Our next state to visit was Utah, land of amazing rock formations and mountains. We only saw the southern part but what we saw was breathtaking. Bright red rocks jutting out of the ground, tall mountains and an endless night sky full of stars. We parked on the side of the road and watched the sky for an hour, deep in the desolate parts of the mountains. Without city lights (or any other civilization, for that matter) we could see everything, including the Milky Way. It was both beautiful and surreal at the same time. Utah is loaded with natural wonders and incredibly scenic.

Next, we drove to Colorado. It was so scenic driving up and down the mountain roads of this colorful, beautiful state. The whole state is a photographer’s dream, especially with all the colors of the fall.The aspen trees were turning yellow, since it was now autumn, and the huge mountains all around us took my breath away. It felt and looked like the Old West to me. We stopped at an old mining town, even got to eat buffalo burgers (made of yes, real buffalo meat, which was good). If we’d had more time I would’ve spent a week there, but my ex had to get back to his job so time was limited.

Just east of Denver, everything got amazingly flat. Prairies are desolate and finding signs of life off the highway were few and far between. When we saw a gas station, we’d stop at it, because who knew how long it would be until the next one came along. People there were very friendly. We stayed overnight in a lovely old-fashioned hotel, and ate at the family restaurant next door. True Americana at its best.

We started seeing hills again in parts of Iowa, which we weren’t in for long. Next came Illinois, where we stopped in Chicago. Having been there many times in my past, we stopped at places I liked, like WaterTower Place, the theater and the art museum downtown. There is a lot to do and see in this impressive city, just do it during the summer, because the winters there are cold and brutal. Chicago is a big city, with a long skyline as you drive past it. Much bigger than my hometown of Cleveland.

Late at night, we arrived at my home, in the outer suburbs of Cleveland. The trip was a success, even if it was marred by tragedy, we made the most of the situation. It took us a week to get home, and someday I plan to do it again, but this time with more time on my hands. If you want to see what America is really like, rent a car (try not to use your own, due to the major wear and tear this kind of travel does to a car) and plan places to see before you go. We did this trip without planning and it was still a success. We’d driven through lovely state parks, past amazing scenery and met wonderful people. Next time I do this, I’ll go get a triptych at the auto club and plan it to see more of the off-the-beaten-path places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley. Driving is a really great way to see the details of our great country up close and personal, so make sure to give it a try.