#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

 

Scratch: Learning by Remixing

Scratchcat

I came across an interesting Medium post about the visual programming language and framework Scratch. The post said that some 30% of pupil projects in Scratch are remixes. In other words, three in ten projects build on top of existing ones.

There’s nothing surprising here. First of all, reusing and -mixing existing projects is made easy in Scratch. Secondly, building on top of existing code is an age-old tradition and a common way of working in the programming community. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from developers on how to avoid reinventing the wheel.

What’s interesting, instead, is that remixing actually teaches new concepts. The writers of the above-mentioned Medium post had done research on Scratch community and found out that kids started to use concepts they had never used before but were exposed through remixing.

What to make of this? To me it means that remixing and reusing is not brainless copying & pasting. No, it is an active process of taking existing material, investigating it, enriching with own additions, and releasing for others to remix even further. Standing on the shoulders of giants, paying forward, adding value, etc. There are many ways to describe this process.

How about expanding this beyond programming projects? Are there “traditional” school subjects or activities where remix culture would fit? I am thinking for example written essays. Remixing essays could create an interesting Wikipedia-like network of written content.

This is against the grain; plagiarism is a known problem in this day and age, when stealing answers from the web is ever so easy. Dealing with this comes down to assessment. In addition to the essay, maybe the student could at least be assessed with additional questions to verify how well she understands the core topics in her essay. If she could answer to such questions, then it wouldn’t matter if she had used someone else’s content in her writing. Because she had learned, right?

 

 

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

Class Charts to Boost its International Expansion

Class Charts

Great news today from my Class Charts friends Duncan and Gintas: their company Edukey just announced an investment round from TES Global! I once wrote about five edtech startups and claimed that you are going to hear about them in the future. Well, today is that future for one of them.

TES is a UK-based provider of various services to teachers. Class Charts being a seating chart tool for teachers fits their portfolio perfectly. The same goes for Edykey’s other major product, Provision Map, which addresses special education needs.

Edukey will utilize this investment to expand internationally, expecting to grow its current user base of 350k teachers and 4m students significantly. I wish the best of luck to Duncan and Gintas, the hardest working men on edtech!

 

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

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.