Category Archives: General

YouTubers Make Their Own Rules

So I went to Tubecon for the first time. I didn’t know just what to expect, except that there would be YouTubers and their fans. In addition, I had heard about a “drop off zone” for adults, you know, to keep us old-timers out of the way.

Hairier than average wrist of a Tubecon goer

I escaped the drop off zone and happened to catch an interesting discussion on the main stage, called “The Greatest Panel of All Times”. It featured some of Finland’s most famous YouTubers, namely Miklu, Nova, pahalapsi, and Mandimai.

The panel was moderated by another popular YouTube star, Roni Back. TheManninen from a youth radio station Ylex also participated, giving insights on what it is like to maintain a corporate YouTube channel.

It was a laid back discussion and revealed what YouTubers consider relevant and interesting. How many subscribers do you have, when did your channel take off and why, does your channel have a theme, what’s the most embarrassing video you’ve published, have you deleted videos, who are your YouTuber idols, etc.

As people are different, so were the panel members. For example self-criticism varies a lot; some typically shoot only once and publish, while others repeat until they think the clip is perfect. Also the tools they use for filming and editing vary from free apps to very professional software.

However, more intestesting were the things that these YouTubers have in common. In particular, they want to be in charge from start to finish, making their own rules. They come up with the topics, shoot the videos, edit them, publish, share, and then take part in discussions. Sometimes they can have friends appearing in their videos, but they still do all the work themselves.

Another similarity between YouTubers is that they are somewhat self-educated on their hobby. There are tutorials on the web, guide videos on YouTube (naturally), and other YouTubers offering their help.

Video as a media is becoming more and more important in institutional education. Hower, I am certain that self studies and intrinsic motivation are crucial in order to become a star YouTuber, also in the future.

 

 

When You Have Only One National Test in Your Life, Why Not Start Preparing for It in Style?

Penkkarit

Soon-to-be graduates starting their exam preparation month by driving around on a truck while throwing candy to spectators

One distinctive feature about Finnish education is the lack of standardized national tests. The first national test for roughly half of the population is the matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary, approximately at the age of 18-19.

Today (February 16th) is the day when the class of 2017 starts preparing for the exams. In about one month they return to their schools and start taking the tests one day at the time: mathematics, English, humanities, etc. By the end of March they are done and then nervously wait for results, which are due some time in May.

However, studying is for later. Today is about having fun. Festivities (in Finnish called “penkkarit”) started already around noon by driving around town on a truck in funny costumes while throwing candy to passers-by. Then the party continues through the day (and night).

Testing is nothing new to these soon-to-be graduates. They have been taking tests since the very early grades in primary education. It is a common misconception of Finnish education that there are no tests. On the contrary, teachers assess their classes all the time with tests of various kinds.

The important thing is that normally tests are not mandated nor standardized. The teachers just choose to utilize them because they are good teaching tools. They naturally help in assessment and giving grades. In addition, and as importantly, they are good for the actual learning.

For video footage of penkkarit through the years, check here.

Flickr image CC credits: strandhe

Skateboarding as a Model for Student-Centered Learning

That's me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

That’s me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

If you haven’t yet watched Rodney Mullen’s TEDx talk, stop what you are doing (including reading this blog) for 18 minutes, and check it out below.

Ok, now we can continue. I hope you liked the video. If you are  a non-skater, I must emphasize that this is the man who has, maybe alongside Tony Hawk and Danny Way, invented most of the tricks and their key variations which constitute modern day skating.

When I was skating, virtually every day from early 80s to early 90s, these guys as well as Natas Kaupas, Mark Gonzales, Ray Barbee, Matt Hensley, Guy Mariano, and Jason Lee were my heroes. Many of them have since stretched their creativity beyond skating. Jason Lee has turned a Hollywood actor, Matt Hensley plays accordion in a popular punk band Flogging Molly.

And you must’ve heard of Tony Hawk who has built a hugely successful video game franchise on skating. Tony still rides, by the way, he just tried out whether he can still pull off a 900 on a vert ramp at the age of 48. Turns out he can:

So, skateboarding aligns with innovating, as you saw from Mullen’s TED talk above. I’d like to continue with this, drawing connections between skating and education, in particular student-centered learning.

Central concepts in learning are motivation, practicing/drilling, testing, and assessment. You have to be motivated to learn in the first place, then you have to practice, practice, practice, and finally test & assess whether you learned or not. And then iterate or move on.

In skateboarding, the motivating aspects are very intrinsic. You want to show yourself and your pals that you can land a trick. That’s it basically. It most likely hurts a lot before you can master it, but finally it is there. Then you can improve the style, create some variations, etc. But the bottom line is that there are very few external motivators, especially if you are a non-pro skater who doesn’t make a living from winning competitions and scoring sponsorship deals. The same applies to student-centered learning. The student really wants to learn something and this calls for…

Practice/drilling. Mullen didn’t mention it in the video but the saying goes that “innovating is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. This means that the heureka moment is only but a small part of coming up with the finalized innovation. For skateboarding, I would say that the ratio is even sadder, something like “0,1% inspiration and 99,9% perspiration”. It is easy to imagine all sorts of tricks, but really landing them is something else. I still feel sorry for my shins, although it has been 20+ years since they had several daily confrontations with plywood.

Assessment. In skating, most if not all assessment is self-assessment. Sometimes your skating buddies can watch you try something and then give hints: “you’re going too slow for the rail”, “put your front ankle like this”, “kick with back foot for the late shove-it”. These hints can help, but in the end it is up to you to implement them. While airbourne, you are supposed to do several things with your body simultaneously in order to successfully land a flip or a 360 or an ollie impossible. Only you can teach your muscles, hence self-assessment.

Finally, testing. In skateboarding, testing plays little role, if you don’t count the myriad of micro-tests you perform to yourself to try out whether your little plan to complete a trick works out or not. There are no standardized tests. Even competitions have no formal expectations of types of tricks that you have to perform in order to score well. This is what drastically separates skateboarding competitions e.g. from figure skating competitions.

Skateboarding will most likely enter the Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 games. This is one step towards the standardized testing model of skateboarding, of which I am not a big fan. And I am not alone. I am not one of those who deny skating of being a sport or a hobby, claiming that it is a way of life. However, I definitely think that you take something very essential away from it if you start to evaluate tricks according to some predefined and explicitly stated template.

By the way, I bought a deck last summer, to my calculations 21 years after I last owned one. I’ll leave you with your’s truly performing a 360 no-comply in summer 2015:


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Finnish Schools – a Commentary

A promotion site of Finland, called this is FINLAND, just published a nice article about Finnish schools, going through some common claims and myths along the way. The article aims especially at the upcoming curriculum, set to kick in starting August 2016.

Truth

Many of the points I agree with 100%, such as debunking the persistent misunderstanding that in Finnish schools there is no homework. This of course has never been true, nor will be in the new curriculum

I feel that some points deserve further analysis and commentary. Let’s start from the beginning. Ninni Lehtniemi, the author of the article, starts by treating the following claim

Claim 1: Students will no longer study in their classes at all. Teaching will be “phenomenon-based”, meaning that teachers will work “experimentally” with schoolchildren outside the conventional school setting.

and responds, with the help of Anneli Rautiainen, head of the Basic Education Unit of the National Board of Education: “yes and no”.

I think two things get mixed up here. Phenomenon-based learning (or project-based learning, which is more commonly used term in English), is more about crossing traditional subject boundaries than being in or out the classroom.

School projects are not new but they will indeed be more explicitly stated in the upcoming curriculum than they have been before. If the project benefits from going outside, of course it makes sense to do so. But in principle, projects can be conducted and phenomena studied also inside a classroom, with proper learning materials and technology.

The next claim:

Claim 2: Classrooms will be abandoned and replaced by open marketplaces where children will “buy” the subjects and courses they feel are suitable for them.

Response: “yes and no”. There are two things blended in this claim: abandoning the physical classrooms and making subjects & courses optional. Either can be done with or without the other one.

First the classrooms: they are already now a lot more flexible and modular than they used to be, so I don’t think that they will be altogether abandoned. Rather, we will see more innovative use of classrooms and technology in them.

Then the “buying” of subjects: this is a question which divides opinions. On one hand, we want to allow pupils & students to follow their passion and concentrate on the things they are truly interested in. On the other, we would of course like to preserve the general level of education across subjects. As the children progress to upper grade levels, they naturally get more choices to specialize.

Claim 3: Schoolchildren will make “bad” choices that will affect them into adulthood – for instance if they opt for more mathematics instead of a language course, or vice versa.

Response: “no”. I agree here totally with Ninni and Pasi Sahlberg, who commented on this claim. Although it might sound a bit idealistic to state that “here in Finland we treat all subjects as equally important”, there is a fair point to this.

My own justification to this stems from the life after school. Worklife and the skills needed in it changes so fast that no basic education can keep up. That is why we should give a broad education and organize careers so that people can engage in lifelong learning and professional development.

Claim 4: Pupils will themselves decide which level of achievement they want to aim for, and they will be set assignments enabling them to achieve such grades. There is a risk that students capable of high grades will only aim for low grades, so they can have an easy time.

Response: “no”. Agree completely. Let’s again divide this claim into two. First, regarding who sets the “level of achievement”: as Anneli Rautiainen points out, learning goals are stated in the curriculum, not by the pupils.

Secondly, about the risk that the smart students would only aim at low grades and lay back after they’ve done. This can happen no matter who sets the goals. Some smart students want to go citius, altius, fortius, whereas others are happy with their minimum acceptable performance. And all the shades of gray in between.

It is the question of motivating pupils to give their best, not about who sets the goals.

Claim 5: Schoolchildren will no longer be divided into conventional groups of learners, but will instead hang out in their own cliques according to their interests.

Response: “no”. Agree and this is important. Differentiation takes place within a class. The classroom has a heterogeneous set of pupils with varying interests and skill levels. We want to unite rather than separate. This of course demands a lot from the teachers and learning materials, but it is something we just have to do.

Claim 6: The brightest students will no longer fare so well, because cramming will be neglected.

Response: “yes and no”. This is partly related to Claim 4 above, regarding what will happen to the smartest students after the curriculum reform. Again: “brightest students” is not a homogeneous group of people; some of them (like to) learn by cramming, whereas others use other methods.

Naturally, knowing things by heart becomes less and less important since information is at our fingertips. However, core information structures, causal relationships, and general knowledge are still needed for critical thinking, media literacy and other relevant skills.

Claim 7: All provenly effective teaching methods will be abandoned, and schoolchildren will end up just messing around.

Response: “no”. Of course they won’t, this is a weird claim. This is not a revolution where all good methods will be forgotten. It is rather an evolution, where old means will be complemented with new ones to produce the best ends.

Claim 8: Homework will not be set at all.

Response: “no”. Yep, mentioned this already in the beginning of this post. Homework has always played a role in Finnish education and will continue to do so.

Claim 9: There will be no more tests and exams.

Response: “no”. Yes, there will be tests and exams also in the future. But it is important to clarify just what kinds of tests. Matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary education (highschool) is the only large-scale national standardized test in Finland. Has been and will continue.

However, teachers conduct tests all the time while they teach. A test is a tool for learning as much as it is a tool for assessing. Teacher has a lot of freedom running her class. She can choose to test often or rarely, inform about an exam in advance or surprise the pupils, use ready-made tests or create her own, etc.

Claim 10: Teachers will have to be super-adapters, able to teach from this autumn onwards using completely different methods, and dealing with new subjects like coding.

Response: “no”. At the expense of repeating myself: this is evolution, not revolution. Nothing will be completely different. Still, there are plenty of new skills also the teachers have to adopt. But the change won’t happen overnight and resources must be allocated to train the teachers to keep them on top of their game.

Edit: I had missed the last two claims when I first published this post. You can find them below.

Claim 11: Learning difficulties will not be found, because pupils will be responsible for their own achievements.

Response: “no”. Of course in the end it is up to the pupil whether or not she decides to study. However, the role of the teacher is very important. The teacher, equipped with appropriate learning materials and tools, is capable of assessing the pupils and noticing potential learning difficulties.

Claim 12: The new curriculum will consign Finland’s excellent results in the international Pisa ratings for education systems to the dustbin of history.

Response: “maybe, but so what?” I’ve been in this business for five years now. One thing that has still amazes me is how different local curricula are. That is why I am not a big proponent of measuring children across countries in the first place.

Flickr image CC credits: Simon Doggett

 

#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 Center as an Ecosystem Hub

This is the third and (at least for now) final part of my science center blog post trilogy. Previous posts were about interactivity and  project-based learning.

ecosystem

In my first post I emphasized interactivity and how that separates science museums from traditional ones. Museum goers not only passively look at exhibits. Instead, they become active subjects by operating the exhibits.

Maker movement brings the interactivity phenomenon even further. Rather than allowing the visitors to interact with ready-made exhibits, why not give them components, modules, and tools to tamper with? They can then build their own exhibits for themselves and other visitors to enjoy.

Maker culture is connected with robotics startups. Hardware components are becoming cheaper and more powerful, creating new opportunities for all kinds of gadget creators. For example, who would’ve thought ten or even five years ago that you could buy a computer with $35? This is nevertheless the case currently with Raspberry Pi. My point? A science center can partner with startups to provide broader offering than it could alone.

In modern business the mantra goes that you should focus on your core strength and do the rest via partnering. This applies to science centers, too. Decades ago centers built their own factories and operated in a somewhat self-contained fashion. These days it is possible to leave the large scale manufacturing to subcontractors, and concentrate on innovating and maybe building the first prototypes.

To sum up: science centers are including other players in their ecosystem. They let visitors to interact with their exhibits and this can be boosted with allowing them to make, tweak, and tune the exhibits. They can partner with technology startups to expand offering and create mutual value. Finally, they can streamline their processes via subcontracting.

Flickr image CC credits: USFWS – Pacific Region

Science Exhibitions Can Explain Complex Phenomena

This is the second post in my series of posts about science centers. Read the first one about science centers and interactivity here.

Glasgow science centre*

Glasgow science centre*

In the upcoming Finnish K-12 curriculum, set to launch August 2016, project-based learning (or phenomenon-based learning) is going to have more emphasis than it has in the current curriculum.

Project-based learning is often juxtaposed with “traditional” learning consisting of subjects such as mathematics, geography, foreign languages, etc. In project-based learning, instead of absorbing chunks from isolated subject silos, the students address larger real world problems. Solving such problems calls for interdisciplinary knowledge and skills.

My educated guess is that project-based learning will not take over the entire K-12 education. Most lessons will remain subject-specific. Subject is a great common demoninator for grouping certain kinds of things together. School subjects were not invented by accident, they actually make sense!

However, trying to understand complex phenomena is great for enriching the knowledge learned via individual subjects. Working on large problems is great for applying the knowledge, refining it into a set of skills. This is the case for project-based learning.

Organizing project-based learning at school is not trivial. It calls for flexible learning materials, co-operation among teachers, and new ways of assessment, among other things. Could science centers and exhibitions help in this?

Like art museums, science centers often have temporary exhibitions to complement permanent ones. A temporary exhibition addresses a certain theme and is typically open for a couple of months or even years.

Having a quick look at some of worlds most visited science centers, I can find for example the following temporary exhibitions:

Without going into details of the above exhibitions, it is relatively easy to think of them as starting points for learning projects. They address large and multi-level phenomena; you can approach for example cats, dogs and other animals from several angles, putting knowledge from many disciplines and subjects to use.

Taking the class to a science center can spark project-based learning. As it will be more relevant in the new curriculum, maybe science centers and the government’s education officials could even work together in planning exhibitions?

* Flickr image CC credits: Graeme Maclean