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#brexit – a Unique Phenomenon for Project-based Learning

Unsettling as Britain leaving the EU is, it is bound to provide interesting material and themes for all sorts of educational projects. Not very often get the students to live amidst a societal change this big.

Big Ben

What’s unique about Brexit is that it’s future events can be plotted to a timeline with a certain probability. This separates it from say a war or other conflict, which can have some cease-fires and eventually ends, but the “schedule” cannot be known in advance, nor can the state-of-affairs when the peace finally arrives.

Although the details are still open to a large extent, we already know that the Brexit will take years to complete, requiring a plethora of negotiations and reviews both in Brussels and London. Lots and lots of things to be done before EU’s second biggest economy and a member for 40+ years can leave in a controlled manner.

Brexit opens up all kinds of possibilities for projects and online learning. Typically projects are only about the past or the present, but this time speculations and calculations can indeed be made about the future: how will the British and EU economies develop, what happens to trade and immigration between the UK and the EU, how about UK’s internal tensions, etc.

As a broad phenomenon Brexit has elements belonging in several classic school subjects, such as social studies, history, geography, mathematics, foreign languages, and economics. In addition, it opens up interesting opportunities for assessment. The students can for example make estimations on the stock market development for the upcoming months and later on they can be assessed on how close to reality they predicted and how accurate was their reasoning.

Flickr image CC credits: Natesh Ramasamy


Science Centers and Interactivity

This is the first in the series of three (or maybe four) blog posts about science centers. In addition to this post, I am thinking of topics like science centers and phenomenon based learning, startups, maker movement, and 21st century skills.

Trying to score against Sweden's virtual goalie.

Trying to score against Sweden’s virtual goalie. From Heureka’s Winter Games exhibition.

Bear with me, first a brief personal history of myself and science centers: I moved from a small town to Helsinki in the mid 90s. My parents and my little sister used to come and see me every once in a while. One of our regular places to visit was Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre. I remember the oversized furniture, immersive planetarium movies, optical illusions, and gadgets of all sorts.

Fast forward to 2003. I was living in the Bay Area for the best part of that year. Two places I regret the most not visiting while over there: In-N-Out Burger and Exploratorium. The first serves world’s best hamburgers, I’ve been told, and the latter is the famous science center in San Francisco. It is not the first of its kind in the US, but among the most influental ones. Since its opening in 1969, it has set an example for hundreds of new science centers all over the globe.

FFWD to 2016. My daughter is now 8 years old and we’ve started visiting Heureka again. As it happened, we recently went to Heureka on the same day, but not with each other. She went with her class during the schoolday. I went in the evening for the opening party of the new Winter Games exhibition.

Later that week at home we discussed our visits. I asked what were her favorite exhibits. “Biathlon and curling were great”, she said, “but bobsleigh not so much”. I asked why. “You couldn’t steer the thing but just sit and watch it go.”

(I did not try bobsleigh myself when I visited the Winter Games exhibition so I had to check from Heureka. Apparently you can steer the sleigh so either there was some temporary bug or my daughter didn’t know how to operate it.)

Anyway, that’s when it hit me: science centers are all about interacting with exhibits. It’s the single most important attribute that differentiates them e.g. from traditional museums. We both agreed that riding the downhill simulator was awesome. Sometimes we hit the safety nets but got back up and made it to the finish line.

Science centers have the capability to build complex simulators and other interactive exhibits that do not fit homes or schools. They range from purely physical to purely digital and often find their sweet spot somewhere in between. At best these exhibits exercise both mind and body.


Half a billion reasons to love bingel

John Martin, the CEO of Sanoma Learning, outlines the current status of Bingel. We are indeed just now rolling it out in Finland, starting this school year with 3rd grade mathematics and mother tongue & literature. Fall 2016 onwards, as Finland has the curriculum reform, we’ll introduce more grade levels and new subjects to Bingel. Super excited about this! Here’s me presenting Bingel last Friday in a learning games event in Helsinki:

John Richard Martin

Bingel-infographicBingel, a gamified learning platform, has become a runaway success. Since its launch by Van In in Flanders in 2011, pupils have completed more than 500 million exercises (that’s a lot, especially if you know how big Flanders is) and to mark this milestone they have created an infographic to open up some of the data around the impact of the platform.

Engagement is everything

What I really like about bingel is that pupils are motivated to use it: as with most endeavours, high motivation brings you further. 282,000 pupils at 79% of primary schools in Flanders use it. 9/10 pupls say they enjoy it whilst 9/10 teachers recommend it. Storification and gamification have made bingel attractive for pupils to use: 385 m of the 500 m exercises completed have been done at home. Now homework is fun! Interestingly, boys have done slightly more exercises than girls and I

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Familiar Tools to Learn Unfamiliar Things

When you are about to learn something new, anything familiar can push you in the right direction. Background in skateboarding is useful when you start snowboarding, ability to understand Spanish helps with your new Italian studies, and so on.

Familiar tool—or medium—can also help: if you are used to pen & paper for taking notes, you shouldn’t switch to a computer or tablet when you are trying to understand a cognitively heavy lecture.

This week we saw two cool things taking this approach. Both are to familiarize children with coding, but in a medium clearly outside coding and computers. First, Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas (of which I’ve blogged before) hit the stores. Then, another ace product was published by my colleagues at Sanoma Pro, more specifically the Oppi&ilo team: Robogem.


Robogem is a physical board game for the whole family where players steer their robots trying to collect diamonds. They use simple commands found in cards that together form more complex movements around the board. The players can even put aside card sequences and call them when they enounter specific function cards. I tried Robogem with my family and also watched children play it by themselves. Very entertaining!

Hello Ruby and Robogem are both nice examples of teaching abstract constructs in familiar and approachable ways. For uninitiated people, coding and computer programs can sound technical, difficult, even scary. However, they are not scary at all when you learn about them while reading a storybook or playing a board game with your friends.