Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Fulbright Orientation











(Photo Credit:  Fulbright Center)



One wonders if good ever comes from war, or if good comes despite it; if the anger and aggression that occurs between people can be remembered long enough to change our social behavior into one that prevents these atrocities, and to bring us forward as a united people whose first priority is to let all of our children and families prosper without threat of danger.

One has to wonder.
Senator Fulbright must have wondered this, too, because in 1945 he introduced a bill to support the exchanging of students between the United States and other countries in the fields of education, culture, and science - to increase the chance for peace - and to pay for these exchanges with the money from World War II surplus equipment. 


Maybe, just maybe, it could help.

This is how the Fulbright Program began 67 years ago.  To date it has provided opportunities for more than 307,000 participants in 155 countries to observe and share in each other's "political, economic, and cultural institutions;" to exchange ideas and to work on joint projects to improve the general welfare of the world's people.

I remember the first time I went to the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles; it sits atop some of the most valuable land in Los Angeles and you can see the Pacific Ocean for perhaps 235 degrees.  It was the first week the museum was open, the gardens had just been planted, the paintings had just been hung, and there was a newness and excitement about this grand new museum finally being open to the public.  It was a fabulous and inspiring experience to see the buildings, the view, and the artwork it showcased.  Our group went home renewed after spending time in its beauty.  

Yet someone wrote something in the newspaper about how the money should have been spent elsewhere - on housing for the homeless, on feeding the poor, or some other well-deserving social project.  These are all very good causes and I believe in them, but in this case it bothered me; there is also great value in renewing and inspiring the human spirit.  The Getty Museum on the hill did that for me and it continues to do so for thousands of people per year.  Who can put a price tag on inspiration when these people go home with a new and refreshed attitude and this can translate into inspired work in their own communities - for the homeless and otherwise? This has tremendous value!

On 18 January 2013, the Fulbright Center in Helsinki welcomed the American Fulbright grantees to their country.  Among them were the four American teachers in Finland under the Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching Program. Laurie is studying the Saami culture, Amanda Siepiola is studying problem solving in primary school, I am studying scientific problem solving in primary through secondary school, and Karen Lee is studying how problem solving is taught in vocational schools.



I believe the same can be said about the Fulbright Program.  The value of the money invested can never be calculated to enable us to understand the full value of people meeting people across cultures.  I guess a better question to ask would be, "What is the cost to the human race if we don't have the Fulbright Program?" I hope I never have to know.

When I was accepted in the Fulbright Program I was so excited - beyond words! I also knew I would have to leave behind some very talented and deserving students I still wanted to teach in my classroom;  we know everything has a cost.  In the fall when I told my students I would be leaving for the rest of the year - only to return the last day or two - they were not happy. I teach 10th-12th graders at El Toro High School in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in southern California. We built a program and an atmosphere together and all of us felt it strange for me to be leaving in the middle of the year.  Teachers don't usually do that - they stay until the bitter end and then when the summer comes, the students are ready to let us go.  Not this time.  For me to leave in mid-year did not sit right with them... until I explained to them what the Fulbright Program was all about.



(Photo Credit:  Fulbright Center)


When I told them about the Fulbright Program they sat quietly, listening, with some nodding their heads.  Others looked down and smiled - the shy ones. When I told them the part about building peace and understanding between cultures, they understood.  They were behind me.  I felt so much love from them before I left there are no words to describe it, but at this point they wanted me to go; they believed in the cause.  

They were willing to pay their own personal cost to make this happen.


Terhi Mölsä (in red), Executive Director of the Fulbright Center, talking with Fulbright Grantees and Fulbright Center employees during the Fulbright Orientation, 18 January 2013. (Photo Credit:  Fulbright Center)





What most people don't see, and what teachers have the benefit of seeing, is the passion and desire of our young people to build the most beautiful world.  Their eyes are wide open, they care, they're willing to work for it - and they are willing to pay the price to make the world a better place - but they don't know the steps to open the doors, they don't know whom to talk to, and they don't know how to build a structure that would be most successful.  As adults, we don't always know that, either, but we need to be able to try. That is our job. 

We are fortunate that we already have a structure in place that bridges the cultures between nations and it already successfully exchanges about 8,000 people per year.  Not all of these costs are paid for by the United States, either.  In Finland, for example, for every dollar the U.S. provides for the Fulbright Program, Finland provides nine.  We truly are their guests.

  Fulbright teachers meeting with Eija Kauppinen (far right) from the Finnish National Board of Education (Photo Credit: Fulbright Center)



So I have to thank the the Fulbright Center in Helsinki, the United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C., and to the University of Eastern Finland for putting together an exceptional program for us in Finland; for us and for our children.  Thank you to Clint Harwick and the Saddleback Valley Unified School District for allowing me to take advantage of this opportunity.  And thank you, absolutely, to my students. I feel very supported and involved in a program that is professionally run and personally accommodating. Thank you for believing in peace, for helping us build understanding between cultures, and for understanding that as newcomers we don't even know how to ride your bus system without assistance.  Yes, we come as needy Americans but we are learning;  we're learning about you, about what you feel is important, and about how welcoming you are to complete strangers.  

It is very warm in this cold, Nordic country, indeed.



Fulbright staff, grantees, volunteer and alumni
Fulbright Orientation 18 January 2013
(Photo Credit:  Fulbright Center)




A special note:  We have two direct descendants of Senator Fulbright working in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. Do you know who they are?


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Those Strong (and Friendly) Finns!


When I woke up this morning I didn't know this couple existed; that would change dramatically within the next few hours.

I woke up later than normal, which is not a good sign for me.  I normally wake up at 5:00 or 5:30  just because I'm rested and ready to start the day.  Today I woke up much, much later.  I knew I wasn't sick;  I was getting too relaxed on this Sunday morning; I slept in because I had nothing concrete planned for the morning and honestly, this woman from California is still getting used to the dark hours of the Finnish winter!  It's very relaxing here!  I got myself motivated and ready for the day; I was determined to go cross-country skiing and I wanted to go further than I had gone yesterday, and the day before - and I wanted to start skiing while it was still light.



I started in Aavaranta, along Tuula's normal walking route, but I wanted to take one of the cross-country loops she had told me about.  I knew where the cross-country loops crossed/paralleled our walking road but I didn't know where they ended, I didn't remember how long the loops were, and I'm still learning to read the Finnish signs!  Yet how badly can one get lost?  Seriously!  Look at the map!  If you lose your way you either end up at the the lake, or the main road, or in downtown Joensuu.  There is no great risk!




I skied into the woods; at a road crossing a group of six or seven people skied past me and down another trail in the forest.  I followed them! They obviously knew where they were going!  and they were people!  It was Sunday and I hadn't been with people since Friday!




They were fast!  There was no way I could keep up with them - and I now I have my own personal reason for calling them "The Strong Finns!"  The Finns are incredibly STRONG in their cross-country skiing skills!  I was passed by every age, every weight, every height person there was in the forest.  They passed me with no effort, no heavy breathing, and I just kept sliding along...and tried to stay out of their way!



Soon those skiers were off in the distance and around a corner and I continued in the traditional way of cross-country skiing, in the tracks, sliding happily through the woods.




In the forest there are trails that lead off to the left and right at almost every turn in the trail.  Some trails have ski tracks but mostly they do not.  These forest people know where they want to walk and they make their trail through the forest.  (Only some of these trails have I taken the time to walk down.)


But now I was getting lost, well, as lost as one can be in this little paradise.  So I thought I would ask a Finn for directions, knowing that I may be breaking one of the Finnish rules about talking with people you don't know in the forest.  I thought I 'd better find out where I was going - and a practical request was usually met with kindness from the Finns.

A couple was approaching on their skis and I tried to say as politely as I could, "Anteeksi. Mikä tapa on Aavaranta?" ("Excuse me.  Which way is Aavaranta?")  I pointed in one direction and they said, "No," and pointed in  the opposite direction.

Oops.

The cloud cover was so dense it was impossible to see the direction of the sun - and during the Finnish winter the sun is always in the south so it's easy to navigate; I had gotten turned around with the twists and turns in the forest.


From here we started a conversation that was a mixture of Finnish, English, German and a few words of French; we laughed and we became friends.  Before long, they invited me back to their house for coffee. What a treat!  I agreed.

I told them my name and they introduced themselves as Saima and Kalevi Haapala.  They also live in Joensuu, but more easterly of me, at least when they aren't living in the tundra of Lapland during the summer.

Saima stayed with me as we skied and Kelavi skied quickly on and left us behind.  He was going as fast as a twenty year old!  (Another Strong Finn!) Saima could have gone much faster but she kindly stayed with me so we could arrive at their house together. (I later found out I am the same age as one of their daughters.  Saima is another Strong Finn! I think this very strong couple is in their 70's.)


They welcomed me into their home and showed me their family pictures, as well as the pictures from their log cabin and sauna near the northern boundary of Norway.  They even showed me a picture of a salmon they caught that was almost 11 kilograms! The Haapala's were lovely, and kind, and we laughed a lot together.

Saima went into the kitchen and made us coffee, prepared on a table with homemade traditional Karelian foods, baked goods, sweets, and dill (spiced) pickles.  All of the foods were homemade; they were so delicious.  I told Kalevi he was a lucky man (for having a wife like Saima).  He agreed.  He called me the "the girl who always is laughing."  His wife laughed, too.

We spent a few hours together and it was lovely.  They were filled with joy and I appreciated their kindness, of welcoming me into their home, and for offering me their friendship.

I excused myself before it got too dark; I knew I'd have to follow my memorized landmarks to find my way home.  (By the way, I made my way home without even one wrong turn on the forest trail!)




I stopped at Tuula's house, met her daughter and grandchildren, said "Hei!" to Leo, her husband, and stayed for just a little while.  They offered to let me stay for some food but their family was together and I felt they needed their "family peace," or time together, as a family.

What a lovely day.  Thank you, Saima and Kalevi.  Thank you, Tuula and Leo.  Thank you, Fulbright, for allowing us as people, and cultures, to learn about each other and spend time together.








Saturday, January 26, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown's State of the State Speech



"In the right order of things, education—the early fashioning of character and the formation of conscience—comes before legislation. Nothing is more determinative of our future than how we teach our children. If we fail at this, we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify.

In California’s public schools, there are six million students, 300,000 teachers—all subject to tens of thousands of laws and regulations. In addition to the teacher in the classroom, we have a principal in every school, a superintendent and governing board for each school district. Then we have the State Superintendent and the State Board of Education, which makes rules and approves endless waivers—often of laws which you just passed. Then there is the Congress which passes laws like “No Child Left Behind,” and finally the Federal Department of Education, whose rules, audits and fines reach into every classroom in America, where sixty million children study, not six million.

Add to this the fact that three million California school age children speak a language at home other than English and more than two million children live in poverty. And we have a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable. That is the state of affairs today.

The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child.

We seem to think that education is a thing—like a vaccine—that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students.

Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work – lighting fires in young minds.

My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level—with school boards. I am asking you to approve a brand new Local Control Funding Formula which would distribute supplemental funds — over an extended period of time — to school districts based on the real world problems they face. This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice."

Governor Jerry Brown
January 24, 2013
http://gov.ca.gov/home.php


Thank you, Governor Brown.
Janet English


Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Weekend with the Sydänmaanlakka Family



The whole idea of the Fulbright program is to increase global understanding between America and the world's people.  This weekend the American teachers were invited to spend time with our Finnish friends the Sydänmaanlakka family in Kerava, north of Helsinki.  They are a Finnish family we met during the Fulbright orientation in Washington, D.C. last August when the Sydänmaalaka family were first starting their portion of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching program; they moved from Finland to Maryland for August - December 2012 so Marianna could conduct her Fulbright research project and their three children could attend American schools. To get acquainted again, the Sydänmaanlakkas served us coffee with cookies.




On the table were mugs from a Finnish book series called Muumimuki (Moomin in English), a book favored by the Finns because children enjoy a wonderful story about interesting characters and the adults find their own adult humor in the message. The Sydänmaanlakka's gave each of us our own mug.




From the left side of the table is Marianna (Finnish Fulbright awardee) and Olavi Syänmaanlakka, American Fulbright awardees Laurie Eldridge, Amanda Siepiola, and Karen Lee, and the Sydänmaanlakka's daughter, Iiris.  

When Marianna was in the United States she studied how teachers use iPads/technology to teach their curriculum.  While in Finland, Laurie will be researching how the Finnish indigenous people, the Saamis,  are taught their native culture through art, Amanda will be studying how Finnish pre-school children are taught problem solving through creative play, and Karen will be studying how problem solving is taught through the Finn's vocational school curriculum.




Iiris (age 16) and Saana (age 14) Sydänmaanlakka







Marianna and Olavi listening to their daughter tell how she wrote the former Finnish president Tarja Halonen about her concerns about climate change.  (Iiris received a personal letter back from the President's office.)





Otto (age 11) and Saana Sydänmaanlakka watching TV.




What's left of the korvapuusti - Finnish cinnamon rolls




Olavi making mätivoileipä, a Finnish specialty.  Mätivoileipä consists of dark rye crackers topped with sour cream, salmon eggs and finely sliced red onion.  These were incredibly delicious - and I say this from the perspective of someone who always stays away from fish eggs.  No longer will this be true!  This combination is very, very tasty.


The ingredients of mätivoileipä.





In the morning we went to the local recreation area to try sledding, or what they called sleighing.




Olavi brought along some hot chocolate, fruit juice, and reindeer sausage to cook on the grill when we were done playing on the hill.  




Cooking reindeer sausage with wooden sticks over the campfire.




Another surprise - enjoying the tasty treat of reindeer sausage!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The River Pielisjoki



Joensuu, or "mouth of the river," was founded by Czar Nicholas I of Russia in 1848 along the Pielisjoki River. Joensuu is home to the University of Eastern Finland.  These pictures were taken from the downtown area of Joensuu, looking across the Pielisjoki River, on Thursday, 17 January, 2013.











Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Length of a Shadow



As the saga continues about the earth's (tilted) path around the sun, here's another comparison for you southerners.


I was walking out of my office yesterday and was pleased, not only to see the sun - but to see the sun shining above the buildings!  I could see the very long shadows that occur in the northern part of our northern hemisphere.  I ran into the science building to borrow a meter stick - door-to-door, but no luck.  I found Tuula's door open and in my excited state ran in to see if she could help.  She was meeting with a student and didn't have a meter stick in her office so she directed me to her cross-country ski pole, right there, leaning against her cabinet.

I ran outside and tried to stick the ski pole in the ice.  No luck. Then I tried again.  Nope! Then slowly, again.  And it stuck.  Barely.

It was beautiful to see the shadow so LONG!  With my camera dangling from my neck I laid the other ski pole end to end to end and found the ski pole was making a shadow eight times its height!  I was overjoyed! (I was nearly jumping up and down in that parking lot.)

Even though I don't know the height of the ski pole, you get the idea.  Yeah, baby.  The sun is THAT low in the sky.

The amazing Dennis Grice was again the wonderful friend and made this set up at St. John's Lutheran School in Orange, CA. so we could make a comparison.  Thank you, Dennis!

On the way home today around 3:30, it was  -7 degrees F/-21 degrees C and the beauty of the lake called to me again. I saw the sun low in the sky and I couldn't resist spending some time experiencing the beauty of the day.  This shadow is a lot  longer than it was at noon time yesterday - what's your guess?  I don't know,  25-30 meters long?  I have no idea -  I didn't stay and check because I wanted to get inside and get warm!


" They Are My Responsibility "




There should be a distinction between what we want students to learn for the short term and skills we want them to be able to achieve for a lifetime.  

If we agree to meet for coffee next Tuesday at 1:00 at 14 Main Street, hopefully we will both remember the time, the date and the address so that when the time comes we'll be able to get together.

If I instead I ask you to draw me a map from how to get from a new area to 124 Main Street, without ever letting you see the area or a map, that would be more difficult - you would have to walk down all the streets in the area, measure the distances and document the landmarks in order to create that map. In this scenario, there's a good chance you will not only remember our appointment, but you will also probably remember the area in so much detail that you could describe it to any visitor who needs directions.

The first task takes a moment to remember.  The second task would take you time to learn and develop the skills to complete the task but it will be time spent developing the way your mind thinks, reasons, makes comparisons, and then communicates what it has learned.


In school if a student is asked to remember facts to take a test, the chances are that when the test is over the student will have trouble retaining the information he/she just "learned"because the purpose of the work has already been fulfilled.  In contrast, if a teacher spends time to take that student through a learning process, the test will be just a mark in the road where the student was able to show the teacher what was learned so far.  The first is temporary learning, the other, hopefully not.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a master of proportion.  When he designed houses he knew the basics of his craft but his intuition helped him know how to DESIGN STRUCTURES OF BEAUTY.  It was this sense of artistry that set him apart from other architects.

A great teacher knows the same.  A great teacher knows the difference between teaching the basics, as if directly from a textbook, and bringing the student's mind alive by engaging it in learning.


Today I had the pleasure of observing a teacher who is dedicated to doing the latter - to bridging the gap between what students need as "skills" and what they need to become deep and meaningful thinkers. In essence, he's creating an unstructured, inspired learning environment in what is traditionally a very structured math classroom.

Remember back in school when you had to work on those pesky equations and convert them into lines on graph paper?  Something like 3x + 2 = y?  If I'm bringing back bad memories, I'm sorry, but maybe that's why this is important to read.  When I was in math class I had to graph what seemed like hundreds of  equations and I never knew why I was doing them ... or their purpose...until many years later.  (Bryan Jossart, where were you when I needed you?)

In Lasse Eronen's analytic geometry class he was using a different method with his 15-year old students - in essence, he was making his students "walk the neighborhood, measure the distances and document the landmarks" - and then find out how they were all related so they could understand the concept.

Students were able choose what they wanted to work on - he called it a "buffet" of choices - and figure out how they related to one another - without any prior instruction other than knowing 3x + 2 = y!  Some examples of what they could choose from were how an equation relates to a line on a graph (by drawing or by using a graphing calculator), relating a word problem to an equation, relating an equation to another type of equation, or relating a graph to another graph.



I asked one girl what she thought of the lesson and she said, "It's good.  It's hard but I like it."  Work like this is difficult; at first students can get very frustrated - especially when they are used to traditional learning methods of reading and answering questions from a textbook.




Lasse understands the work of learning to think is hard, and he understands that 75 minutes is a long time to work on these problems without a break.  He lets the students leave the classroom when they want to take a break, and many go to play billiards for  five or so minutes in the common area and return to do more work when they are ready.  Lasse noticed a great benefit in this freedom, especially for the students who are less motivated.  He said (paraphrased), "For students who sit in the class and only do two problems in a whole class period - two problems that shouldn't take very much time - I have learned that if I let them take breaks they will structure their time better.  They may complete five problems, then take a five minute break at the billiard table, and come back and do five more problems.  Overall, they're more productive."

I asked Lasse if this laborious thinking process was helping his students achieve what he wanted them to learn and he assured me that most of the students were already showing a deep understanding of the concepts.

When I asked him if he had to get permission to teach in this manner - he grinned.

"This freedom is the beauty of Finland.  When the students are in my classroom, they are my responsibility."
- Lasse Eronen -



-----



Background for math enthusiasts:  Two years ago he taught these same students about equations like 3x + 2 = y.  He may even have taught them how to take a word problem and form an equation from that word problem, but that was a long time ago. The students were never taught anything like y = 3x + 2 or  x/y = 4.)

Sample problems from this lesson:







Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finding Similarities in Our Differences



I went to two classes at the secondary school yesterday – in the morning I attended an English class for 16-year olds and in the afternoon I went to a science class for 17-year olds. 


In both classes, the students were well behaved, attentive, and doing their work with respect.  When it was time for the science students to get their microscopes, they did so without problem.  When the students were asked questions they did so with focus and intent.  They were relaxed, and participatory. Several students had their shoes off with their thick woolly socks poking out from under the desks.


At 15-years old, Finnish students are done with their compulsory education and can either continue with secondary school, go to a technical/vocational school, or not go to school at all. Any or all of these choices is acceptable but they are encouraged to participate in some sort of continuing education.  The young people can change their minds later – even much later in their lives. The students I observed were in secondary school by choice; they had the goal of continuing their academic education, and, I imagine, going to the university for further training.

I wondered if students felt pressure to go to college like they do in the U.S. and I had the opportunity to ask a 23-year old man this same question. He said no, he couldn’t remember ever being pressured to attend a university but he always felt he would pursue a higher degree.




Clearly, the American education system and the Finnish education system, and cultures, are quite different.  Many people have asked if what I learn here in Finland can be transferred to the American system of education; it’s a very good question.  



What I observed today is that the teachers had time to teach their concepts in a relaxed environment, they had time to work with their students and they did not focus on rote memory; the teachers used a high level of comparing/contrasting to get their students to learn new information. I also sensed an underlying (almost intuitive) commitment on the teachers’ part to get students to learn the knowledge in ways relative to the students’ own lives. 

Here are two examples:

In English class, the students were asked not only to learn vocabulary words in their English class, but to determine how these words and meanings are used differently in British English and American English, an important distinction in the European Union. They also read a story about Amelia Earhart and how she found the courage to pursue her dreams.  The teacher was emphatic about telling the kids that they should feel good about themselves and pursue their dreams and not to be shy about it - which is not typically Finnish. She encouraged them to go about getting their dreams by "going through the gray wall!"  (What is the gray wall? I didn't know so I asked her about it later; she said it refers to a very important Finnish story called, "Sisu," which is about using perseverance and doggedness to accomplish one's goal.)

In science class, the students evaluated what would happen in a lake environment if the pH level in the water changed over time due to acidification. They studied not only the causes of acidification, but also what would happen to the individual plants and animals within that ecosystem if acidification increased.  What would survive, what would die, and what would happen in their own local ponds and lakes?  I would not be exaggerating to say the teacher used 8-10 different charts and graphs with scientific data to discuss the concepts from many different angles - and each chart was given substantial time to discuss the concepts. 



When the students left the classroom, not all the chairs were pushed in and several students chose to leave papers on their desk and not clean up after themselves.  

After school, there were students smoking just off the school campus and others in the school hallways clearly rebelling against the system. I've heard these students would more aptly be the 7th and 8th graders - those who were here still completing their compulsory education.

In many ways our children are the same but the conditions they are in are quite different.  I'll be sharing more in the days to come.






Monday, January 14, 2013

Color in a Land of Black and White



I'm too tired to write anything but I felt this picture needed to be shared. I had a wonderful day with teachers and students in their classrooms and I'm already learning so much - in very subtle and powerful ways - about how Finnish teachers interact with their students.

I had no idea of the beauty of people or location I would find in Joensuu before I arrived; it is nothing short of spectacular. No matter how long I'm here, the time I spend here will be too short.