In my notebook, I'm trying to keep a running log of everything that's going on in the class - the teacher, the students, the lesson... the works. Scattered generously in the margins are phonetically spelled German words I need to work out the meaning of.
Over the last few days, though, something else has caught my eye - the building itself.
I commented in an earlier post that this place was a palace. But I didn't understand that it's also an amazingly clever piece of architecture. There are windows, windows everywhere. With the weather we've been having, they've been open for most of the week. The fresh air and the natural light mean that the building is amazingly comfortable, and the fluorescent lights are hardly ever turned on.
This is light-years removed from my high school, where the windows were plexiglass arrow-slits that didn't open. The multi-million dollar Mathematics and Computer Science building at UCA has no windows at all in the classrooms - only in the professor's offices. The three sides of the building that aren't dolled-up with windows and concrete facade (read: the sides that aren't facing the road) are three stories of flat, uniform brick and mortar. You could call it a canvas, but that would be illegal - go figure.
Of course, this leads to some challenges. I was in a physics class, where the teacher was lecturing on double-slit interference. Just as I was writing in my notebook how the natural light made it hard to see the overhead-projected diagram, there was a click, and the sound of electric motors.
Sun shades were being lowered over the windows, at the touch of a button.
I don't have "gorsh, that's mighty fancy!" Arkansas country boy moments very often - but this one floored me. I stared open-mouthed as the shades came down in front of the windows. I think the teacher was the only one who saw my reaction...
This wasn't the end of the techno-wonderment, though. There are also semi-transparent sun shades outside the windows, that seem to be controlled centrally - they raise and lower with changing light conditions, and seem to do so differently on different sides of the building. There are manual overrides in each classroom, in case the teacher needs them. I talked to Andi about it - he loves the natural light in the rooms. He says it keeps everyone awake and alert, and generally makes the classroom a more pleasant place to be.
All the classrooms still use chalkboards. The math/science classrooms have a set of large-scale drafting tools hanging by the board to make drawing diagrams a snap - rulers, protractors, compasses. There's a subtle pattern laid into the boards, themselves - little tic marks that make up a grid across the board. It's very useful, but unobtrusive - you don't notice it at first glace, unlike the bright grid lines i've seen on some chalkboards here. They also move up and down the wall on rails, so teachers don't have to do the awkward "keep writing while trying not to stick your butt out" dance toward the bottom of the boards. The constant dust that has largely done away with chalkboards in the American classroom is solved very simply - with a wet sponge.
The best thing about it all was the sense that it was done to last. The doors, the chalkboards, the window shades, they all move with a certain... purposefulness that you need to open the door of a Volkswagen to really appreciate. It's all very solid.
But, in the end - does all this gadgetry make a difference? Is the same teacher going to teach better in a "better" classroom? I'm not so sure, but it's something I'm going to be thinking a lot about over the following months - especially when I go to Moldova, where the infrastructure is decidedly more... Soviet.