A New Direction for the LET Programme

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Second Mentoring Session: Beer/Mead Workshop

Yesterday we conducted a beer and mead workshop with our mentees.¬† The workshop was designed to be informative, practical, and of course fun! The workshop started with a presentation with some background on beer and and mead, the different types, their properties and how they are brewed. The second half of the workshop was a hands-on session where we brewed some mead. Overall the workshop went well and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The goal of the workshop was to spark an interest in a new fun hobby/skill. I that was accomplished as everyone participated eagerly and one of the mentees even got his own beer kit later that same evening. If anybody is interested in the presentation or the recipe for mead please click here. Just keep in mind, that the power-point and the recipe are not my own work; rather they were gathered from a variety of miscellaneous sources and I merely put them together. And remember, please enjoy responsibly. ūüôā

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First Mentoring Reflection (as the Mentor this time)

Its been a while since my last post but things have been pretty hectic this year with my thesis. None the less, I look forward to continuing the blogging tradition with this mentoring process. Here goes:

It is pretty well understood; perhaps even common sense, that mentoring is an important way for learning; for transferring one set of skills from one person to another. In fact, that‚Äôs how Nash & Shaffer (2010) start their article on mentoring; explaining just that. They go on to highlight sociocultural and Vygotskian (also popular within LET and SRL, coincidence?) theory to reiterate how modeling plays a vital role in development and learning. However, they do not go much beyond that. This study forced children to play a souped-up version of SimCity for four hours a day for half a summer! That research resulted in two conclusions: (a) that the imitation of modeled behaviour is one important step in the process of internalization; and (b) computer games grounded in valued real-world cultures are ideal for 21st century assessment because of their usefulness in measuring frames. Frames are ‚Äúthe combination and interrelated set of values, knowledge, skills, epistemology, and identity that that professionals use to see and solve problems‚ÄĚ (Nash & Shaffer, p.175, 2010).
These conclusions about the importance of mentoring are already well established and redundant. Additionally, This study didn‚Äôt really make a distinction between training and educating. Yes, modeling is a valuable resource for learning but it can also be easily reduced to drudgery: to reliance on mimicry; especially under these contexts of promoting ‚Äėframes‚Äô. This study uses games as a form of job preparation. Education should be more than just copying an ‚Äėexpert‚Äô to be more proficient problem solver at a job. That is totally appropriate in an apprenticeship programme but not when the broader since of education is the goal.

In relation to my mentoring I hope to act as a model for my peers. But not in the since that they mimic what I do and develop a ‚Äėskill‚Äô for succeeding in LET. Rather, they will learn what I did, assess it, repeat it, adapt it or disregard it. I hope to give them firsthand knowledge of what they are about to go through and give them the tools so that they can make their own informative decisions.

For the second article in this reflection I read ‚ÄėBeing and becoming a mentor: school-based teacher educators and teacher educator identity‚Äô by Bullough (2005). This article heavily contrasts the above article by embracing the humanity within the process of education. Bullough (2005) acknowledges that, for better or for worse, the act of teaching is a human activity that emerges from one‚Äôs inward ness and thus understanding identity formation is key for becoming a successful mentor. To do this he provides a qualitative and emotional account of a teacher struggling with her identity changes in her local context. There are several key conclusions to take away from Bullough (2005) analysis. Primarily, ‚Äúto achieve identity as both a mentor and an educator requires a ‚Äėstructural collaboration of arrangements that support sustained interaction about teaching and that have the potential to produce, over time, collegial collaboration‚ÄĚ (p.153). This sustained interaction should evolve beyond a ‚Äúcommunity of compassion‚ÄĚ. A community of compassion is great for emotional support as it acts as a ‚Äúretreat from the world‚ÄĚ but it does not promote change or growth. This compassion must also be supported by a ‚Äúcommunity of inquiry‚ÄĚ where there is a safe environment to challenge, work together and ultimately be ‚Äúthoughtfully and helpfully critical‚ÄĚ.

This article is much more refreshing and relevant to how I see the mentoring process. I am personally not fully aware of which identities I hold to myself and how they may influence my role as a mentor but I am consciously aware of fostering both a community of compassion AND a community of inquiry to make sure that both the mentors and the mentees can take away the most out of this situation.

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3D Printing with Grade 3s

For my Technology Enhanced Learning Course my group and I were required to create a unit tying in 3D printers to any aspect of the curriculum. This was a very interesting project and we were all very interested but at first we were also daunted by the task at hand. None of us knew anything about 3D printers or its software or their pedagogical appropriateness. What particularly worried me was that we would be using this technology just for the sake of its novelty and not taking in the pedagogical and learning goals into account. As a result we treated it no different from any other educational technology and made sure that we had a solid plan in place before utilizing it. Coming up with this plan was harder than it seemed. We brainstormed a variety of ideas but couldn’t quite agree on the appropriate course of action. With the help of our associate teacher, Markus Packalen, we finally decided to integrate 3D printers with a narrative unit.

Students, in pairs, would have to create a simple narrative with three parts (a beginning, middle and end) and ultimately present this narrative with characters they created with the 3D printers. We broke up this task into smaller phases.             FiDCIM102GOPROrst students created a story board so as to create a vision of their whole story, including the characters involved and the setting. Secondly, students transferred their drafted characters digitally using 3D print design software, Tinkercad, where they created 3D representations of their characters. Next, students printed their creations using the printers. While this process was going on students made a backdrop for their story. Using cardboard and Styrofoam students cut out and painted a setting for their story to take place. Once the characters and the settings were printed, painted and completed to students’ satisfaction, the students used ipads to film their story; creating a mini-film of their original storyboard. Here is a collection of the videos made by the students:

Students were very motivated and engaged through-out the whole unit. Both girls and boys actively navigated and mastered the new 3D print design software and eagerly made their characters. Students worked individually and in pairs as they helped one and other during the design phase. This was most apparent during the actual printing phase. The printers we used were from a local Finnish manufacturer: MiniFactory. They worked very well but due to their initial release it is going to some time and a few updates before all the bugs get worked out. For us the biggest challenge was that the printer printed the object in layers from the base up. As a result, characters’ extremities had to be touching the base and could not be protruding in waving or saluting manner or else the printer’s molten plastic would have nothing to hold on to while it solidified. For a good visual reference on how it prints watch the video below:

This however was quickly over come by the students as they would digitally dissect their characters in half, producing a mirror image on the base of the printer there by allowing the printer to print arms, legs, and long ears by layering vertically the molten plastic bit by bit. If you notice closely, the Pikachu on the left has a vertical line along its midsection. That is because these two halves were created separately, with the flat part along the bottom of the printer, and then joined together post-printing with adhesive.10169456_489075701220751_6820907714809746394_n

 

 

 

 

As the project was nearing to a close I was worried about the success of the project in relation to whether or not we met our learning goals and whether or not the use of 3D printers was justifiable and pedagogically worth it. I grew especially concerned not only because of the cost associated with the printers but also the amount of time it took for us to get started and overcome the growing pains associated with using such a new technology. After all, given the assignment structure a similar result could have been achieved using plasticine or clay or even Lego as opposed to the printers.

When I approached Markus with my concern and whether or not he would continue with this project in future years he reassured with a  most definite yes. He maintained that fortunately in Finland the schools curriculum provides teachers with a high degree of pedagogical freedom and as a result we can take on projects that may be time consuming but offer valuable learning opportunities. In this case the use of technology as a learning tool and an effective integration platform that promotes learning by doing. Additionally, the 3D printers and their software taught the students a brand new form of digital literacy that is only going to become increasingly prevalent in the near future. With this project, students were required to brainstorm, problem solve and think critically in order to create want they wanted to create all with very few traditional lectures. Clay and other alternatives have the advantage of increasing students’ dexterity and eye hand coordination but are already heavily used in art class and would not motivate and engage the students in the same way as 3D printers. Additionally, through the creation of the story setting students were able to engage in some of those essential skills that traditional art materials encourage.

Overall the project was a success for both the students and I. We all got to share novel environment and hone new skills. The students reinforced their knowledge on properties of a narrative and learned the skills needed to see their design come in to fruition and I learned how to pedagogically utilize the latest technology has to offer.
For those that can read Finnish, here is an interesting article describing this specific project:
http://www.soveltaja.fi/teemat/suomi-2-0/pelle-pelottoman-paja-leonardon-ateljee/

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Business Kitchen

Last Monday our mentoring sessions led us to the Oulu Business Kitchen. In summary, the Business Kitchen is a place for entrepreneurial collaboration, where individuals with business ideas are able to find the means to develop their ideas. Even if you don’t have any business experience (yours truly), the business kitchen provides the resources and the networking to learn such skills. I had previously been made aware of this organization but to be honest I was mystified by it and largely intimidated due to the fact of my ignorance of that field and they seemingly hostility present between the education world and the business world. However, after my experience today I have seen how the Oulu Business Kitchen provides a platform for innovation that can improve education goals (among others) in the context of entrepreneurship.¬† In the following school year, I will definitely consider the Business Kitchen as a way of complementing my studies here in Oulu.

After the two presentations by the Business Kitchen representatives my mentoring group got together to solidify and conclude any thoughts or feelings way may have. Two take home messages arose. The first being was of personal note, where three of the Mentors shared their previous experience with the Business kitchen. All three had very positive things to say and explained how their roles in this enviornment pushed them out of their comfort zone and allowed them to experience new personal growth. The second message was more theoretical and incorporated the idea of collaboration and how it takes a leading role in both education and business. It can act is a bridge between this often competing roles, bringing people together to expand on ideas and there by improving the respective contexts.

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Third Mentoring Session

This was our third meeting with our group and this time we went to a University study room to have some thoughtful discussion. Largely the discussion had two main themes: the looming thesis and our future endeavors.
All in all, we treated our mentors like sponges; trying to squeeze our as much experiences and background knowledge as possible. It was nice to get some insider perspective and tips of what to do and what not to do.
We also had some inspirational discussion about the future and our passions. Fortunately, I have had these sort of inspiring conversations before and as a result I have been quite lucky in carving out a unique path for myself. None the less, this mentoring session has gotten the ball rolling again as I have realized that I no idea where I will be, or what I will be doing, in September 2015.

 

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2nd Mentoring Session

Last week our mentoring group visited the OSAO, Oulun Seudun Ammattiopisto, which is a multidisplinaty college¬† which offers students practical certificates in fvarious feild (nursing, real estate, forestry, etc). As our group has been known to complain about ‘death by theory’ from our studies; what better place to go on a field trip, to gain some practical insights, than a vocational school?! The school seemed like a very interesting place (unfortunately for foreigners, currently, there are no programmes offered in English). We visited a first-aid classroom and a nursing classroom and given the resources, teachers and happy students, it was evident that the OSAO is committed to student learning.

Our visit was led by current staff member who happened to be a LET graduate (and last year’s mentor to our current mentors). This was a good chance to see what a graduate from our programme was doing with his knowledge and experience gained from his degree. He mentioned that since¬† LET he has found the technique of incorporating blogging to his classroom to be a valuable resource in order to track, assess and ultimately harness student learning. It was nice to have this experience.

Later in our trip, we were taken to a sensory room which is predominantly used by the collage for research with children with severe learning disabilities. This cozy room welcomes all with its luscious décor, including: a full-body message chair (by far the best seat), 8 plump beanbag chairs, a heavy ball-bearing lined blanket and other stimulating furniture/decorations. This was perfect location to have a group meeting. The relaxing yet stimulating environment allowed for calm yet thought provoking conversation where we discussed; our thesises, our thoughts and feelings toward the programme and our concerns. It wasn’t very organized discourse but it was nice to see people’s thoughts and feelings out in the open.

Overall, it was a good field trip. I can tell by both their effort and their blogs that our mentors are putting a lot of ¬†energy into this mentoring process and that is very much appreciated. But the old saying holds true, ‘teachers are the worst students‚Äô and I hope that they are not deterred by our ambivalence or uncertainty to the whole process. If so, discussion is always welcomed and encouraged.

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Our Mentoring Process

After our first meeting I feel enthusiastic about the mentoring process as I see it to be a real opportunity to build on the shared experience of the 2nd year students. Since they freshly remember the first year they are in an ideal position to guide us: showing us where they went wrong so or showing us where they went right! I expect this to be a fun process where active learning may take place; where we can gain some critical insights into the practical application of the three pillars (SRL, CL, LE,) of the LET programme and further advance on our path of expertise . However, I fear the tutors may repeat what they themselves do not like in their learning process: activities/lessons where the purpose is lost and little insight is gained. I expect the tutors to guide us and not be too shy or reserved to ‚Äėpoke us‚Äô back on track if they feel the need to. I hope and am confident that meaningful learning will take place both on our behalf and on the part of the tutors.

For the first session I am happy that the tutors took the time to take us out on a field trip to the local botanical garden to discuss and thing about ‚Äėmuseum pedagogy‚Äô. This is a sign of the extent to which the tutors are committed to all our learning. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, I was unable to visit the garden. Instead, I visited the University of Helsinki Botanical Garden.

The first thing I learned about the garden is not to visit it in the winter time as, naturally, everything outside the greenhouse is dead. Looking at pictures from the link above, the site looks barley recognizable with its lush and green vegetation. But even at its peak there are some concerns to raise in terms of the appropriateness of the garden as a field-trip for children. Often, teachers take students to convenient locations where kids always go, where the school has a tradition of going or where companies offer children to go in order to market products (i.e. chocolate factories, nearby farms/milk producers, art galleries, museums, science centers, botanical gardens, etc.). This is not necessarily a negative thing, because ultimately the destination of the field-trip is secondary to the purpose of the field-trip and the location and merit of the trip should be assessed on how it delivers its purpose.

I believe the purpose of a field trip is to get students to experience something that cannot be experienced in the conventional classroom. This Dewian idea of experience is not an automatic consequence that is had by the learner but rather an emotional or thoughtful understanding that is taken by the learner. ¬†Unfortunately,¬†as Eisner and Dobbs point out in their pedagogical review of museums, this idea of experience is largely contradictory to museum ethos which places them on an elitist pedestal and proclaims that ‚Äúmuseums ought to be “sacred groves”, quiet places for the cognoscente to enjoy profound objects without intervention, assistance, and above all, discursive language.‚ÄĚ How can a truly educational experience be had in institutions that hold the above mantra?

The University of Helsinki Botanical Garden would be interesting to someone with an already  high degree of knowledge in botany but did little to entice the layperson. If the purpose of the field trip to a botanical garden is to teach children about biodiversity and plant life a local community garden might be a better option. There, children could experience the plant life by engaging and interacting with different flora for themselves.  This is not to say that the Helsinki Botanical Garden is a poor choice for a field trip, it offers a variety of plant life that a simple community garden could not bolster.  However, depending on the purpose of the field trip, something more experiential should supplement this learning experience.

Source:
Silent Pedagogy: How Museums Help Visitors Experience Exhibitions Elliot W. Eisner and Stephen M. Dobbs
Art Education
Vol. 41, No. 4 (Jul., 1988), pp. 6-15
Published by: National Art Education Association
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193116

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SRL Critique

Over the holidays I was researching possible thesis topics. I am deeply interested in social justice and education and their intertwined relationship. During my studies so far very little attention has been paid to using pedagogy as a liberating agent. I was then thrilled to have found Stephen Vassallo who has written several papers and at least one book on critically exploring issues related to teaching and learning, especially in the contexts of academic self-regulation. BINGO!
I am not sure why this author was skipped during the Self-regulation course as he seems current and up to date with all the theories even citing Oulu’s own Sanna Järvelä. As a result I read one of his articles Critical Pedagogy and Neoliberalism: Concerns with Teaching Self-Regulated Learning  and wrote this blog entry in an attempt to summarize Vassallo’s main points in hopes of eliciting a response/discussion with my peers and educators to ultimately further my understanding in SRL theory and gain a researchable thesis topic.

In this interesting critique of SRL theory Stephen Vassallo challenges established assumptions by asking, ‚Äúif teaching students to regulate their learning reflecte conformity to an existing order or can teaching SRL be aligned with a practice of freedom?‚ÄĚ

Vassallo is heavily influenced by Paulo Freire¬† and explains how Freire‚Äôs is heavily opposed to the baking system; where students are treated like a tabula rasa and all that is needed¬† is for them to be imprinted with information. This banking system, is largely a result of neo-liberal dogma which emphasizes efficiency and ‚Äú21st century competencies‚ÄĚ which act as mechanisms of control in order to adapt learners to a pre-formulated world where they can by dominated. ¬†This domination (re)creates social stagnation as students who benefit from the power struggle and are given the choices to be able to reach the higher rungs of society and those who don‚Äôt benefit from the system (working class students) are streamed to bottom.

So where does SRL fit in with the above picture?

Vassallo admits that SRL has aspects of liberation psychology and social betterment underpinnings. In this line of thought, if the current world is oppressive then it is reasonable to assume that understanding the means in which individuals influence such a system is the first step to eventually free oneself from that system. However the problem with this rationale, and the connected SRL interventions, lies in the belief that social emancipation can result from several deposits/interventions (banking method) in which individuals are made to construe and adapt themselves to ultimately appropriate dominant cognitive and behavioral structures. Additionally, the very idea of SRL as emancipatory ignores the particular role of culture and historical contexts in determining that vary ‚Äė‚Äėemancipation.‚Äô‚Äô Instead, Vassallo suggests, that embedded in SRL are current neoliberal environments where individuals can only count as emancipated if they accept a narrow definition of neoliberal success (economic value, efficiency, productivity, etc) and selfhood.

This rationale is exemplified in two ways. First through the manifestation of interventions and the teachers who are taught to think they possess the types of epistemology that is deemed necessary to escape oppression. Even if one assumes that these interventions are liberating in nature, Vassallo directs the reader to Freire‚Äôs critical theory on relationships of dependence and states that these initiatives creates learner dependency on both the instructors and the situational demands to institute these personal changes. As SRL is largely derived from Bandura‚Äôs sociocultural theory it is imperative to note that, ‚Äúfrom a sociocultural perspective, adaptation is not individuals changing themselves to ‚Äė‚Äėfit‚Äô‚Äô an environment, but acting and interacting with others to give form to it.‚ÄĚ Vassallo goes on to source Hadwin and Oshige (2011) and solidify that the ‚Äė‚Äėnotion of adaptive learning extends beyond individual self- regulation and instead to the community of practice‚ÄĒthe way learning communities adapt and evolve as personal, social, and cultural influences come together‚Äô‚Äô (p. 249).

Secondly, Vassallo points out that SRL theory lends itself nicely with middle-class culture as children from these classes are described as being comfortable with interacting with adults as equals, possessing verbal agility, and being attuned to their learning needs. Working class children, on the other hand, are less likely to, ‚Äúnegotiate with adults, operate with a sense of entitlement, and shape external conditions to meet learning needs.‚ÄĚ ¬†SRL initiatives are heavily dependent on these conventions and therefore can be said to ignore the needs and conditions of working-class. Researchers of SRL seem to be aware of this as they often admit to exuding marginalized students from their samples under the sections of ‘limitations of research’ and ‘areas for further research’ in their papers.

In conclusion, using Freirean theory, Vassallo argues that contrary to theorists’ (Boekaerts and Corno, Järvelä , Zimmerman, etc.) beliefs SRL theory  is entangled in practices of conformity to a particular social order.  I will conclude this entry with a conclusion paragraph from Vassallo’s paper:

[the above] researchers, who operate from vastly different philosophical traditions, converge on the possibility that SRL can be integrated into an educational goal that is tied to the mitigation of injustice. Although this possibility makes sense, SRL too often is discussed in terms of individual goal pursuit and adaptability to contextual demands. SRL is not mobilized to consider the asymmetries and contradictions in curricula, nor is it mobilized in reflexive ways. SRL reflects what Duncan-Andrade (2010) calls learning to earn (the pursuit of knowledge for personal gain and learning to function well within a capitalist structure), a commitment in contradistinction to learning for freedom (challenging the prevailing logic of injustice and creating a new social order). It is not just the ends towards which SRL is directed that call into question the compatibility between teaching SRL and critical pedagogy. It is also the homogeneity and prescription of selfhood that is endorsed in SRL pedagogy, as well as the commitments to efficiency and productivity, which are foundational neoliberal commitments that are dehumanizing.

This above article is complicated and this is my attempt and both understanding its contents and sharing it. Personally, I feel that Vassallo uses particular strong language that may be too accusatory and harsh to describe SRL and its intentions. As I¬† know some of the SRL educators and researchers I know for a fact that there is no malice or socially stagnate agenda which can be derived from reading Vassallo’s work. That being said, this critique is refreshing and is important to further refine SRL research in order for it to improve. I want to be part of this discussion and hopefully engage in some primary research to demonstrate this improvement.

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Solo Phase IV: Assessment and SRL

  1. Planning

a)      Describe your solo phase task.
My solo phase task includes reading and comprehending the articles and lecture materials. To demonstrate this I must define and describe three main ideas from each of the articles on aspects SLR. I will ask questions about things I do not understand, will highlight things that I think are especially important and will connect it to other relevant topics.

b)      What topics and concepts are related to your task?
In this week’s session the ideas surrounding the various specific strategies behind assessment of Self-regulated learning.

c)      Set a goal for this work period.
Due to the fact that the final exam is fast approaching, I want to finish the solo phase sections as soon as possible so that I can meet with my group and discuss with each other during the collaborative phase sooner rather than later.

d)     How confident are you that you will achieve your goal?
Very confident.

2. Read Articles and Make ICE notes and concept Definitions (CLICK HERE)

3.      Reflection

a)      Recall your Solo phase planning. How well did you succeed? Why?

I think that I succeeded because of the significance of this assignment to this course and the significance of this course to my long term goal: completion of my masters. The completion of my masters is a relevant goal for me because of my belief that with the completion of my masters I will have developed a wide range of practical strategies to implement in my future classroom.

b)      Describe one challenge that you had during your task performance.
This week my challenge was on making sure that I developed a solid understanding to the practicability of applying the discussed concepts.

c)      What did you do to help yourself when facing a challenge?
I made sure to ask various questions in order to seek lots of feedback.

d)      What could you do differently next time?
In comparison to my last solo-phase I now realized that I should seek pursue feedback more diligently. As suggested by the above authors, opportunities to actively interpret feedback are key to the learning process. Thus I will make a conscious effort to  personally meet with my instructors in order to clear up any unresolved questions or  unclear concepts

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