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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lessons in art, history, culture, teaching--all in one class

It's been a few days since I last posted since most of what I have been doing is either meeting with people (not too visual and too complicated to report in this forum) or dealing with things at home: NETS and a comprehensive exam for which I've been preparing. (Doing laundry, shopping, cleaning the apartment, etc. also take considerable time.)

Today was interesting as I observed an art class. I'm seeing a very different interpersonal style than I often use and observe with my colleagues at home. What I see here is little interpersonal phatic talk nor much by way of introduction or context construction for the lesson. Instructors just enter the room, and start the class.  Sometimes they talk a bit to provide some needed information; sometimes pose a question, or indicate a student or group has the floor and they start their presentation or activity (seems to be a very high context culture.)  So, with that, the instructor first gave the students some inexpensive manila paper and pencils and started.

 She had the students do some "looking" and talking about what they saw out these bay windows in the building where we met...
Designed by Alvar Aalto
then she showed them pictures of the campus from different eras and discussed what they reflected in terms of styles of eras (most you could see from the window, too).

But rather than focus on technical details of the architecture, she talked about the sense of history and community they represented (and explained why Finland is so keen on building preservation) and what all that means in each person's own life. With that, she then sent the students out to take pictures of buildings and sketch them (using pencils and manila paper--nothing high tech there, except the students' phones which were all cameras, too). The assignment was very open-ended; she just wanted to give the students a bit of a focus and let them do what they thought was most relevant to themselves.  I asked her later about evaluation and she said that such assignments, even the course as a whole was pass/fail.  I noticed that all the students engaged the task, took pictures, drew sketches and reconvened when she'd asked. Without direction, they easily shared their sketches with each other, even though some were very child-like.

The instructor said that the pictures were important because they documented this moment of existence which is meaningful and when compared to similar pictures from other times, the comparison gave new and increased meaning to both the images and the eras. The approach was very philosophical and thought-provoking.  It gave new value to the pictures I've taken on our trips and those I take at home.
Here are a few I took of the buildings nearby as they indicate different eras of the university:
This is one of the first buildings of the campus some 150 years ago.
A change of style marked the first decades of the twentieth century
The most significant architectural development in Finland it seems springs from the work of Alvar Aalto, Finland's greatest architect.  Here are some shots of just one of his many buildings on campus:

A very relaxing cafe
One entrance to the building
The furniture you see is 50 years old, still used and in perfect condition  (not from Ikea)
We then all got on our bikes and rode downtown to the art museum. Presently the theme of the museum is the relationship of art and science.  There were interesting exhibits exploring things like colors produced by nature through rust and corrosion, by fermentation, etc. There were interesting paintings in the form of pixelation.
Beautiful art made of corrosion
Colors from bio decomposition...

Almost unrecognizable up close...

Distance "reduces" pixel size and the image gets clearer.
Finally, the museum has a large installation piece that represents the story of a middle class family in Jyvaskyla in the late 60s/early 70's who take in a relative's slightly wayward son.  If you look closely, you can see some of the effects of the young fellow on family life...
The experience was a kind of creepy voyeuristic one, but nevertheless, very interesting!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finnish Premier League Football

Sunday, my friend asked me to go to Kuopio to see his favorite football (soccer) team start the season.  A trip and a game was too much to pass up. Kuopio is about 150 km/2hrs northeast of Jyvaskyla. The countryside varied from very flat, with lots of birch trees, fields, and lakes near Jyvaskyla to more rolling hills and fir trees.

Kuopio and Jyvaskyla both field teams in the Finnish Premier League.  The football is top quality, but the overall size seems almost lilliputian. Here's a picture of the stadium:
If you run your eye up the mid-line to the top of the stands, you'll know where I was sitting. Excellent seat!

The weather was very cold:32 F.  "Warming up" here has real meaning for the players. Take a look; notice the amount of snow surrounding the field:

The players worked hard under difficult conditions. The pitch was artificial, looked damp and heavy, yet much of the game was fast paced. The final, unfortunately for my fanatic friends, was 1-1. Here's a moment of the action:

With a kahvi and makkara (coffee and a sausage) at half-time helped me stay warm enough to fully enjoy the game, the people and the countryside.  While exhausting, the trip was well worth it!  Banzi Kups!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Club Skating Show

As you can imagine, ice skating is deep in Finnish culture.  My colleague, Matti, invited me to see his daughter's end-of-season show yesterday.  (By the way, the new season starts today.)  This is a club of what seem to be many dozens of children, ages 2 or 3 to about 15 or 16 years.  To showcase each group and  each level, they built a show loosely around the story of Eemeli.  Eemeli was written by Astrid Lindgren, who also wrote Pippi Longstocking.

I thought the skating was excellent and the efforts to put it all together in something like a narrative made it all more coherent and allowed for different levels of skating to be showcased.  The event was very relaxed and the crowd amazingly quiet--they did applaud ALOT, but with mittens on, the sound isn't overwhelming!  (Thank goodness, they didn't yelp and yell out things to their friends on the ice like, "Whoo hoo!  Mari, you rock! Whoo, hoo! Totally awesome!) These are my kind of folks.

Here are some samples to show where they start as little skaters, and where they end up.

How cute is that?
Here's what they do a few years later...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Getting around in style now

I had a wonderful surprise at the end of a tiring week.  Check this out:
Leaving the library late this Friday afternoon, I happened to see my office mate, William Nketsia, arriving on his bicycle.  I said hello and commented that I needed to get a bike, too; my legs are getting sore.  William said, "I know a guy who sells bikes--right across the road there--and will buy it back from you when done." That sounded great, so we went to the store where William seemed really at home--the owners were African , too.  I was glad he was my guide because his negotiating skills were fantastic.  In fact, he decided that the price was too high and offer to buy back too low. "Let's go; you don't need a bicycle until Monday," he said.

As we headed back to the library, he told me he lives very close to the library and the office, that he has a friend with an extra bike so I should take his!  So, I rode his bicycle home and it was a great trip.  Much easier than walking, for sure. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Guess what I ate!

I got the key to my office today, then met with Dr. Ollie-Pekka Moisio regarding our joint interests in critical pedagogy.   Dr. Moisio has written extensively on the topic; the focus of our talk was about how to implement CP.  Too often the role of critical pedagogy is limited to analysis and complaint, but often fails to suggest means to speak to power; to engage students in humane ways that facilitate transformative learning. We shared our means for engaging students. Dr. Moisio advocates use of “student circles” which are very similar to the sort of plan my son, Ian, uses in teaching his philosophy classes. Herein, groups are formed, and roles assigned to entail responsibility (recorder,  timer, monitor, etc.), questions provided to lead students to perspectives and insights, presentation of ideas).  I talked about my extensive use of contracts or task choices in my courses to facilitate personal interest and engagement.

We spent time discussing my efforts to develop a third dimension of “culture / discipline”  drawn from the literature as it broadly speaks to explorations of what constitutes a “discipline” or “intellectual clan”; the languages of such groups and the function of those languages to accomplishing tasks or limiting membership and staking out locations of power.  This third dimension will shift analysis of instructional design from a plane plotting framing and classification decisions to a more complex analysis grounding those decisions guided by disciplinary habitus.  Click here to see a rudimentary visual version of the model.

Lunch was extraordinarily delicious and unique (for me).  Check your guess by clicking here.  Is that what you were thinking?  The dish was “Game soup” of meat, potato, carrot, onion, peppercorn, and some herbs; the soup was accompanied with homemade Finnish rye bread.  Extremely simple and  delicious.  I’m still thinking about it!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today I met with a teacher in the Training School on campus to arrange observations of primary teaching. This is a great opportunity to expand the contexts of teaching in my experience. Between that and the underlying differences in values driving the pedagogy here, I expect it to provoke more complex thinking about the nature of and function of discourse in the teaching event itself as well as the construction of the "habitus" in which the students' learning and living is situated.

I took some pictures of the camps. Like CSUS, it is a mix of new and old:
One of the originals--part of a seminary at one time
A great example of turn of the 20th century architecture

A creation of Finland's great architect, Alvar Aalto