What Finland is Trying to Tell the World by Reforming to Phenomenon-Based Learning.

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Over the past 50 years Finnish education system outperformed almost all other education systems around the world. In Pearson global report on education 2012, Finland topped other countries. The report considers major factors in education, such as expenditure per student, GDP, graduation rates, etc. In (PISA) assessment Finland regularly topped the list. In the last two sequences of PISA testing, Finnish students’ performance in mathematics, reading and scientific literacy ranked them out of the top positions. However, all education reformers are trying to fathom the success of Finnish education system and replicate such success into theirs.

In his website, Pasi Sahlberg, -author of the book “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” – discussed the critical success factors of Finland’s education system. Under the title “What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about education reform” (Published in Washington Post, April 17, 2012) Sahlberg wrote about Funding of schools, Well-being of children, Education as a human right, all as issues that require attention when discussing equality-based model of Finland. School autonomy and teacher professionalism as in his post are dominant factors behind strong educational performance in Finland. Schools in Finland are delegated much power and authority embracing a loose guiding framework from the central government. Teaching is a prestigious profession that has the same status as medicine, engineering and law professions. This autonomy of schools and appreciation of teachers lead to a variation of educational practices that are effictively tailored to local needs of each city in Finland.

The Reform: Phenomenon-Based Learning

Finland will go through a new education reform that will take over in 2016. What is called Phenomenon-Based Learning will be complementing traditional subjects teaching. What seems odd about this reform, is that it indicates that Finland apparently doesn’t have international test scores as a top priority. According to The Pearson global report on Education 2014, Finland retreated to 5th place. Educationalist in Finland are more attentive to invest in what is the best for their learners and not for the test results. Thinking outside the box of tests and international ranking, Finland’s new Education reform represent a fundamental change at what might others think of as the wrong time. The reform places preparing students for careers, industry and globalized society at its heart.

The Phenomenon or Topic based learning, which is planned to be conducted over periods of time during the year and could be paced in projects, is the old new in Finland education. For more than three decades, Finnish schools had multiplicity of Phenomenon-based learning. So what new does the reform bring to the table? What will change in 2016 is that it will be obligatory for all basic schools for seven to 16-year-olds. The period length will be adaptably planned by schools. This again put emphasis on the school autonomy as a success driver for the reform.

Why Phenomenon-Based Learning?

Phenomenon-Based Learning tackle a topic from different subject areas’ perspectives. This method will entail a rich learning experience which is relevant to learners’ life. The interdisciplinary learning, can be conducted in a simple way. This is made by linking similar knowledge areas between different subjects and introducing them at the same slot of the academic year. This develops awareness on how curriculum areas intersect to compose the broader frame of knowledge.

More sophisticated interdisciplinary approach will deepen learning. This occurs when we go beyond simply linking different subject to applying what’s so called organizing centers and essential questions to plan topic teaching. Depth, integrity and coherence of learning will provoke higher order thinking skills. Learners will be profoundly motivated and involved. The more in-depth learning will enable the students compare different subjects areas and bridge them. They will be able to answer the most persistent question of “Why do we learn this?”. This will lead to a meaningful involvement putting exploration at the forefront of the learning process. One great thing about Finland’s reform is that learners will contribute to planning their phenomenon based learning experience and furthermore assessing this experience.

The other side of the coin is teachers. Teachers will have to step out of their comfort zone to embark more powerful thinking that goes beyond the boundaries of their curriculum area and intrigue a deep collegial collaboration flourishing a learning community and collaborative culture base in the school.

While Finland is proceeding with its new reform, educationist around the world will have any eye on how the reform will evolve and whether it will turn into another lesson to learn from Finland’s education. Regardless of how this reform will evolve and how effective it will be, an implicit message is sent to the whole world by Finns educationist which put it all in a nutshell “The world is transforming around us and we need to transform our education systems accordingly, knowledge and skills can’t be appreciated by learners unless approached in a meaningful way that makes their learning experience purposeful, in a context where learners have a voice in what and how they learn”

Copyright 2015 Bashaer M. Al Kilani

We are not alone in Twitterverse

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The immense and vigorous impact of social media is profoundly reforming the way we communicate. It redefines how we socialize, intellectually share and even market business. This holistic transformation has scared many educators of using social media channels and numerous schools have these channels blocked. Opponents of utilizing social media in classrooms debate that it has many dark sides and could affect the wellbeing of learners. However advocates controversy that we as educators need to look at social media as a tamable tool for sharing and having a voice for teachers and students. We are not alone in Twitterverse (Twitter global community) and we need to be able to communicate with other forms of life in it to our best.

Social media is one of the most sophisticated disruptive innovation, the latter is a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen which describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors. (http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key)

If you are looking for a repertoire of best practices and diverse experiences, social media is the mine you are in quest of. It’s a 24/7 professional development, that you can sit for at your own pace and preference. However with the massive flood of posts you could easily get drifted and lose focus. In this post, some tips will be shared to guide an educator on how to be engaged in Twitter as one of the most powerful social media channels. Teachers can extend their experience with Twitter to classroom to empower student centered learning. So how do you get to know Twitterverse better. How do you make an efficient use of Twitterverse resources and how do you keep traveling safe in it.

What is Twitterverse for you as an educator?

Here are some tips to help you getting started with Twitter:

  • Try to speak and discuss with colleagues who use Twitter. Follow their Twitter accounts and get going.
  • Follow people who have experiences in what you need, looking at tweeps bio and randomly checking on their posts will give you a good indication about their interests and specialization.
  • To find your proper path on Twitter, you need to look for hashtags of your interest and search posts about them. This will narrow the information you are exposed to.
  • Many of Twitter hashtags have weekly chats associated with them. Search for announcements about these chats to check on their timing and topic. Get engaged with these chats as much as you can as a start. In a while you will be able to stream to the chats that best suit your needs.
  • Consistency in using Twitter is important. This will guarantee that your audience (followers) and other tweeps will stay connected with you.
  • Choose your PLN (Personal Learning Network) carefully as they will be part of your digital foot print and will decide on the best you can do with Twitter

What is Twitterverse for students in the classroom?

Using Twitter in classrooms will encourage students who are cautious to speak out in class to express themselves and participate in classroom dialogue. Learners as a whole will reach the unreachable by globally connecting with other peers around the world.

Here are some tips on using Twitter in the classroom:

  •  Never use your personal account as your professional account, to avoid any privacy breaches.
  • Twitter could be used as a communication channel between teachers and students for announcement on quizzes, homework, projects or useful links.
  • Hashtag could be of a great benefit for students as for teachers. The thread will help them to communicate doubts, suggestions, or start a discussion. You can set a hashtag by adding it to a post and informing your student to add it to related posts.
  • Your students could get engaged in cultural and educational highlights related to their subject area
  • Create Twitter accounts for any school projects, let students be engaged in presenting and communicating their thoughts about progress of the project globally.
  • Inter-classes discussion about a certain topic could be started using Twitter within the same school or in other schools.
  • Discuss your plans for Twitter with school administration first, look if they have any policy with this regard to be shared with students and parents
  • School need to have parents informed about any social media plans. Benefits for learning and terms of use should be discussed and presented to them.
  • Using social media in class room shouldn’t be for socializing. It should be a medium that facilitates the task in hand

What about the Dark sides of Twitterverse?

Bully and trolling often happens in social media however, it is our job as teachers to educate students about features and drawbacks of using it and how to utilize it to their best. Modeling the proper use of social media at class, will help getting students aware of how to use it positively and safely. We can spread the awareness by having students discussing social media concerns using social media itself. This will have them as active contributors to their community. They will feel capable of containing challenges around them. Consequently this will raise their self-esteem by getting them noticed and having a voice.

Social media impact or threats can’t be stopped by blocking it in schools. It’s better to bring the battle in. If school and educators are not present in social medial then this means that someone else is writing their social media profile by promoting opposite news opinions and practices. Blocking it in school would only mean one thing that it will definitely find another path to flow in.

Social Media is here to stay, whether we like or not. Taming it will bring its pros to front to outweigh its cons. Again, we are not alone in Twitterverse. Let’s hold our self accountable to protect students race in this expansive social media globe and bring the best for them and for us.

Copyright 2015 Bashaer M. Al Kilani