Sunday, 31 January 2010

EDUCA fair in Helsinki

Yesterday I visited EDUCA, the largest educational fair in Finland. For two days, hundreds of vendors, educational organizations and interest groups had set up their booths to promote the latest trends in education.

IWBs were prominently displayed as a must in any classroom these days.

This particular company marketed the concept of ActivClassroom, but looking at these people here, I couldn't help wondering what was so active about it? Looks very much like a glorified version of the old teacher-centred demonstration devices. In my school, we will get a few new IWBs in February, and one of my goals for this school year is to learn to use one. I am interested in seeing if I will be able to find the much hyped, revolutionary, interactive element in it. New technology is only any good if it shakes stuck-in-a-rut pedagogical practises, too.

My most interesting insight at the fair came from a lecture by Professor Andy Hargreaves from Boston college. In his engaging and humorous lecture he went through some of the educational policy changes in the last 50 years, and introduced his latest recipe for school systems of today, 'The Fourth Way'. He had labelled each policy with different planets. So from the lovey-dovey Venus 60s and 70s, he took us through the Mars years of the 80s to the present Mercury atmosphere of imposed targets and data-driven accountability. And then he left us thinking about the fourth way, illustrated by the Earth.

He had been specially commisioned to do some research on Finland and our much praised educational system. His dream for us was the following: build on our heritage and reputation for being one of the most inclusive nations in the world (e.g. gender equality, including disabled students in mainstream classes) and extend this to be know as the world leading country of cultural diversity. That will be a challenge for a country that has been very homogeneous for so long, and is now finding it terribly hard to come to terms with the arrival of more and more immigrants in the last decade.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

It's a small world

It sure is a small world in this photo from a bird's eye perspective, inspired by today's Daily Shoot assignment #ds72. It seems to be that from any perspective in my life at the moment. The new year has started with a lot of serendipitious net connections - all thanks to Tania, alias @tsheko, and her legendary photoblog from last year, threesixtyfivephotos. Tania had taken part in the challenge of posting at least one photo per day for the entire year, and also uploaded them with interesting commentary in her blog. This is where I got the idea of starting my own 365-project this year. Not only did I become a member of the EdTech 365/2010 group on Flickr, but I also decided to run a separate blog alongside the Flickr collection.

Almost a month into it now, and I seem to have abandoned most of my other online activities in favour of the engaging conversations on Flickr. I haven't written anything in this old blog of mine, nor have I had more than an occasional quick glance at Twitter since before Christmas. I have had to admit that I'm not much good at online multitasking, especially with an increasing load of offline duties as well. Curiously, my online presence seems to develop in varying bouts of enthusiasm, but mostly with maximum 2 different bouts at any one time. It's good to know your limitations, as not everybody can be an almost 24/7 net communicator.

My activity in Flickr has paid off big time, though. I have made many wonderful new contacts, and right now it seems that I am jumping right into organizing a small-scare student photo exchange experiment with Tania (from Melbourne, Australia) and Marie, a.k.a. as @colemama on Flickr (from Naples, Florida). Think about it, 3 women educators from so far away, on three continents, suddenly finding each other, and, more or less on the spur of the moment, setting up a joint action plan! Isn't it amazing?

Even more amazing was that today, despite the big time differences, I managed to quickly have a real-time conversation with Tania on gmail, just by chance! It sure is a small world!

More about this endeavour as things begin to unfold.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Language teaching stereotypes

We have an annual school marketing evening where prospective new students come to see what our school might have to offer them. In our school system, it is at the age of 16 that students make a big choice between a more academic senior high school and different vocational schools. In areas where there are several high schools to choose from, there is a serious competition between them to attract the best possible students to their school.

This month we organized this evening again for 2010. After a general info session in the school cafeteria, the visiting students and their parents then go around to school to see different classroom and meet all the various subject teachers to be able to learn about studying at our school. Different subject departments go into great lengths to decorate the classroom and make their subject look interesting and attractive.

All us foreign language teachers shared one classroom - English, Swedish, German, French, Russian and Italian.

For English, apart from the candles that are there just to look pretty, there is a London taxi and double decker bus, plus all the textbooks used. Doesn't give a very vibrant and modern image of language classes, does it? Wouldn't you like to know what is actually done in the lessons, how the students learn, possibly what new technology is used to enhance their learning? How could we move beyond the old touristy stereotypical clich├ęs to present a language?