Friday, April 26, 2013

Final images and thoughts

Sadly, my time in Suomi is nearly over. I want to share a few final, somewhat random images.
First, my office mate in Viveca 549, Mr. William Nketsia.  William is a doctoral student from Ghana working on a dissertation regarding inclusive education--strategies for including special needs students into regular classrooms.  William lent me his bicycle for which I will always be grateful.

On my way home I visited the art museum one last time. Remember, the theme is the convergence of art and science. Here are some of my favorite images created on cell phones:

Not only are the images interesting in both media and theme, some of the installations are quite humorous!  For example:

Here's the WC:)

Recall that I posted a picture of an "instant cafe" when the weather warmed up for a couple days. While we get sunny spells now, the weather is more rainy and cold than sunny and warm, so....

The cafe disappeared; it will return when the weather invites being outside again.

Finally, here's a peek at a secondary school English class in the computer lab.  The reasons why Finnish schools are so successful, I learned, are incredibly complex, tied not only to teacher training and formation practices, and pedagogies, but also the profoundly different cultural values the Finns live with each day.  As a consequence, the foci of my study of instructional communication must broaden to include the cultural frame in which the observable instructional interactions take place. This also leads me to believe even more that US policies of increasing testing, infusion of technology, and surveillance of teachers completely blocks our inclusion of cultural values as a factor in local educational contexts. Basil Bernstein said that, "Education cannot make up for society." True. And that idea can be read in reverse: society (read "culture") can augment education, as I believe it does in Finland. Also, society can inhibit, limit, diminish the process of education. This idea we never discuss in the US. These images could be of almost any 8th grade class in the US at any moment. What matters most in these classrooms is not visible--communication codes, cultural values--and that's what our research needs to make visible so we can do well by our children. 

Now, off to London!  Kiitos paljan, Suomi!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Off the beaten path...near home

Over the weekend I took a walk, veering off the main streets near my apartment, to see the neighborhood in more detail.  I found a very strange swamp (with an nice walkway installed, of course!).  Take a look:

An example of traditional wood frame houses in Jyvasykyla.
These buildings are just about 400 yards from house above (interesting decoration on the wall, eh?)

May Day coming!

May 1st is a major holiday in Finland and preparations are already underway.  My office is located next to the sports fields and arena, so there is some open space nearby so the carnival is being set up there for the holiday.  Obviously, the weather can be beautiful!  However today I was caught in a  rain shower while the sky generally looked like this.  Fortunately, the shower was short.  All things in moderation here....

May Day is still a celebration of workers. Labor unions organize a parade and speeches delivered by union and political officials celebrating labor and value of the unity of workers. Our Labor Day has became "the last holiday before fall" or "picnic day" or "party hearty day!"  It is this sort of commitment to workers that has led to a very sizable (in relative terms--there are only about 5.5 million Finns, remember) and strong middle class in Finland.  It is interesting to me that labor in the US is under constant attack by both corporations  AND many state governments; the federal government is no advocate--Mr. Obama's supposed commitment to labor is without evidence.  So, on May Day, Wednesday, May 1, join your union if  one exists for you to join.  

Still trying to impress

This is silly, but perhaps some didn't understand just the location of my meeting a week ago....
It's up there; you know what I'm sayin'?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunday out in Finland

My colleague and his family hosted me on Sunday for a traditional Finnish meal and little walk in the woods.

We started with a traditional, regional dish from Matti's home region of Kuopio called kalakukko which is a loaf of dark rye bread stuffed with fish.  A kind of Finnish pasty. It apparently functioned the same for Finnish workers as an English or Welsh pasty did for the miners and factory workers of the UK--traditionally a self-contained lunch for workers. It is a loaf of rye pastry stuffed with fish and rice.  Other fillings such as potato can be used, but the fish, muikku, is traditional and favored. I had two pieces :0
(Sorry for the blurry photo, but the only one of kalakukko. You can see the fish stuffing.)

Then he served boiled potatoes and a beef, pork and onion stew.  It was delicious, too. Very filling. These dishes are made of what could be had throughout a Finnish year before modern transport made more fresh vegetables available. After he had a longin berry pudding that was a kind of longin berry polenta with cream on top.

 Longin berries grow prolifically here and are a red, more acidic berry similar is many ways to our cranberry. Finally, he served up a blueberry pie and coffee!

After dinner and a long chat, we took a walk in the woods near their home.

The typical nordic pine forest and a lake in the distance.
Reminds me of the mermaid in Copenhagen, only the gaze is a sea of trees. 
Matti, professor of education and vice chair; Susanna, THE department of  medieval studes and their son.

Almost home...for them.
Altogether, a great way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More images from Jyvaskyla

When the sun comes out, so do the people!  Here's an "instant cafe" in front an apartment building.

The artwork on some buildings is interesting, brightening the cityscape whether overcast or sunny. Continue to the end and arrive at the university.

The next two remind me that I am in a Nordic country.  Immediately below you see a ski run and the structure to the right is a ski jump.   This view is from about 1/2 mile from my flat.

Even in late April, the lake is still frozen.  Even with the sun shining, when the wind blows over the lake, it is very cold.  And it was very windy, today!

This bridge is an emblem of the university. It corresponds to our Guy West Bridge.

One of the stranger bits of public art I've seen....front....and


"I didn't know you were at the top of a flippin' mountain!"

Friday was, in fact, exhausting.  Not only was it the end of the week, but I did an observation at an elementary school in the morning, worked in my office for part of the afternoon, then biked to my final meeting on the campus extension across the lake.

The elementary school observations have been very interesting. The experience was quite recognizable as "schooling." The structure of the lesson, the sorts of materials used (books, paper, pencils, talk, smartboard, chalkboard) were the same. One of the major differences is the small class size. While the homeroom classes are about 25 students, there is sufficient time, space and support (yet) for the teachers to break out sections of classes. The one I observed today, English language, had about 12 in it because the teacher who partners with another split the class--one day a week they meet as a whole and the second, the half-sections. The elementary students have a "college style" schedule so that for some, this was their first class of the day at 10:00 AM. Consequently, some are finishing the day at 4:00 PM.  The number of classes in a day varies, from day to day. The open times during the day allow instructors to meet, plan, grade or run an errand, if need be.  Primary and secondary teachers' work lives are more like university instructors in the US than like those our teachers experience. However, a number of teachers stated that the existing conditions are changing due to budget cuts.  The teacher I observed worries that the resources for splitting classes will soon disappear.  That's unfortunate.

There seems, though, a qualitative difference in what is happening in Finnish schools.  They are quite successful even though moment to moment operations look a great deal like schools in the US. A noted sociologist of education, Basil Bernstein, commented that "education cannot make up for society."  He was talking about the fact that the backgrounds, resources, environments of some children work against their success in school.  Given what I've seen of Finnish culture, so far, and a few weeks doesn't make me a great expert, it seems that there is kind of self-organization to this society that is often missing in the US. People are expected to be good citizens in public; they take care of things for the most part. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the furniture in many of the university buildings is 50 years old and looks like new. The laundry room in this building is pristine, nothing like the apartment laundries I've experienced.  Perhaps, here, society has a role in promoting (the opposite reading of "making up for") education by itself being better organized, less chaotic, less time-deprived, and more committed to supporting a highly professional cadre of teachers. Such analysis doesn't lend itself to much more, perhaps than some correlational studies perhaps, but I think I'm on the right track in my theory :)

OK. So, off to the office to do some reading, and abstracting some essays; parsing out an an observational tool from one; planning next week; keeping track of email. My final meeting was at 3:30 PM "across the lake."  One can see the campus buildings across the lake and it looks like one can see them all.  I left a half hour to go from the office to the meeting--what thought would be twice as much time as needed. I only need 15 minutes from my flat to the main campus, so how could it take 30?

Starting from my office it looks to be an easy trip (and on the page, it's all "down hill" :).  My first brief problem as a detour, missed route because I couldn't see the pathway under the freeway.  That wasn't so bad; a local guy got me sorted out and on the way.  When I arrived at the end of the bridge, there is a massive building ahead and a stairway that looks like it was modeled on the pyramids.

You can see it on the right of the picture.  I knew this wasn't the building; it looks like I just swing around the back of the hill, so I set off kind a behind the guy in the lower left....

Needless to say, I was starting to run late, was a bit in a hurry and when made the first turn, I was faced with an Alpine incline the top of which I could not see.  It was a thigh burning, lung busting run up the hill. I made it to the meeting perfectly on time, although barely able to speak.  My Finnish colleagues, valuing promptness, started on time! What I wanted to say was, ""I didn't know you were at the top of a flippin' mountain!" but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.  As I pealed off my coat, they gave me a very thorough handout they'd prepared; I gasped a thank you; as I staggered to a chair, they began outlining the features of the online program I'd come to discuss.  I nodded approvingly as I tried to get my breath, and discretely blow my nose (you can imagine fountain of stuff that freezing air being sucked, in large volumes, into the sinuses can make--sorry folks, but that's biology!), and get my head to stop spinning.  I appreciated that they didn't make a big deal of my ablutions, but, hey, they were supposed to be all impressed that sixty year-old had made the Kessel Run at light speed--on a bicycle!  Alas, as Finns,  they focused on the task a hand and no mollycoddling. Joten, nyt hommiin.