Open education day in Zürich, Switzerland

During open education day in Zürich, Switzerland on March 18th, 2014, I visited Schwamendingen  to learn about how people, who live there, learn. During the day, I experienced several examples of high quality personalized education with students of different ages – from 6 to about 15 years of age – and with different interests. Some examples:

  • In some areas / places / situations, students sat at tables and on chairs that were adapted to how tall they are.
  • In some areas / places / situations, learners had decided themselves whether they want to work / learn individually or in groups. 
  • In some areas / places / situations, education participants decided themselves whether they would prefer to use computer to learn. 
  • In some areas / places / situations, I saw students develop questions themselves about what they wanted to learn, asking fellow students their questions, and listening  to what they heard. 
  • In most areas / places / situations, teachers were good at acting as coaches, for example by going to individual students who wanted help, helping those students individually, and praising students for what they do well. 
  • At more learning events, I experienced that moderators / educators evaluated events – including apprenticeship events that students had worked on – by asking students / learners to express how the particular event had been for them. Students gave their feedback in various ways, for example by giving thumbs up or down with their hands, saying out loud what they liked, and/or expressing what additional help they needed to learn / do better.

At a painting event during which students aged 6-7 years participated, I saw an example of great use of creativity: A girl was, like her fellow education colleagues, painting a box. She had chosen the colour turquoise for the paint she was using to paint her box. As most of the other students, she used a brush to paint. But only at the start. A couple of minutes into the painting task, she switched to using 2-3 brushes simultaneously, then switched a couple of minutes later to using both hands to paint – without using any brush. To me, this was a good example of “out-of-the-box thinking and doing”. The norm was to use one brush to paint the box. This girl, however, let her imagination play and tried out several other ways of doing the work. And, as I could see, she really enjoyed what she was doing and was thriving using her creativity. In this situation, I found it great that the teacher let the girl go ahead – thereby supporting the creative initiative – and later simply helped the girl clean her hands.

The experiences I had this day were not all positive, though. I experienced some differences regarding how teachers think about education / learning / development. An example: Considering that many kids / children / young people use their personal mobile electronic devices such as smartphones / laptops / tablets to a very high degree – and also are very good at using these devices as well as various apps – I was very surprised that in several areas / places / learning environments, students were not allowed to use their personal mobile electronic devices. Witnessing how students were not allowed to use their personal mobile electronic devices such as smartphones, and also witnessing that there was no open, free wlan in any of the several areas / places / learning environments, I visited throughout the day – something which was also frustrating for some teachers – I could not help thinking about this highly popular TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson asking the question: Do schools kill creativity?

The Internet is certainly not everything. For example, large parts of social competence continue to be something we need to develop / practice when working with children through face-to-face interactions in various physical places, i.e. where people live their lives. And doing sports, for example, also continue to be important, for example to help avoid obesity, strengthen muscles, learning to compete and to collaborate with sports partners / team mates. The Internet is, however, a highly important and powerful tool that can help people develop a number of different skills in more and more nuanced ways. And with the development of the Internet, we’re experiencing that many more interactive possibilities have arisen that help people have exchanges in various ways and thereby learn a number of things from each other. Think, for example, about all the interactions going on between young people using WhatsApp and other apps / websites that people use to communicate with each other. We’re living in times during which technological changes – not least within information and communication technology – are happening at relatively high speed and are having an increasingly important impact on how we live our lives. The Internet is changing / transforming how we work, how we learn, how we live, how we relate to each other, how we think. Therefore, the Internet needs to play a central part in how education is done, i.e. be an integrated part of roles that educators play.

Involving people

Contributing to UNBOSS, I learned, for example, that one key to creating more value for more people is by involving external people, for example using blogs / social media and other crowdsourcing technologies.

Preparing for this week’s Social Media Gipfel, I came across this flashmob that ballet dancers did in Zürich. Noticing that the flashmob is one the popular videos on the Opernhaus Zürich YouTube channel, I asked Christian Holst at this week’s Social Media Gipfel what thoughts he and his colleagues have regarding doing similar initiatives – and thereby bring ballet, opera etc. to, for example, city squares and the like. The initial thoughts I had, which led me to ask the question, were that I would think initiatives like this would contribute to adding more colour to life in cities, encourage people to, for example, become even more interested / involved in learning about music, dance etc., and also give people special opportunities to share surprising, happy cultural experiences on social media.

Reflecting on the Social Media Gipfel, which I think is an interesting initiative, I find it valuable that moderators Olivia Menzi and Marcel Bernet keep talks relatively short and want to encourage interaction among participants. In this regard, I came to think that one or more conversation exercises such as the ones embedded below might be interesting to use to encourage even more interaction at an event like this. A concrete possibility, I thought of, could be to moderate 3 minute chats / exchanges in 2-person groups right after a talk / presentation. A question from the moderator could be: “Please talk, for 3 minutes with the person sitting next to you, about what is important to you in the talk / presentation you just heard.” After this 3 minute chat / exchange in 2-person groups, the moderator could ask a couple of people to shortly say out loud what they had talked about with the person sitting next to them.

Open education day in Zürich, Switzerland

During open education day in Zürich, Switzerland on March 19th, 2013 – an interesting initiative that invites external people to experience how education is done in different environments and thereby contributes to unboss education – I discovered several examples of good teaching. Reflecting upon what I observed, I also came to think about a few ideas to make the way education is done even better.

1. Individualization of education
In a couple of handcraft workshops, that I took part in, I noticed that teachers were good at individualizing education. Each student worked on his or her own tasks – at a speed and level of difficulty that suited the individual student. Teachers as well as fellow students helped each student individually – either by going to the individual student or by letting the individual student come when he or she needed help. I noticed that the individualization of education encouraged the individual students to take lots of initiative.

2. Use of information technology
During open education day, I saw very few smartphones, laptops, and/or tablets in use. Also, I saw very few students or teachers using the Internet, for example to search for information and/or communicate with others. That surprised me a lot. During the day, there were several situations during which students could have benefited from using the Internet. In a music workshop, for example, students could have searched the Internet to find out what a bassoon is instead of waiting to have the opportunity to get the answer from the teacher.

3. Encouragement of creativity
In a couple of handcraft workshops, I experienced that teachers were good at encouraging participants to use their creativity and explore new possibilities about what they could do with materials that were there. It may have been, I imagine, due to one teacher’s encouragement of experimentation and artistic expression, that – at one point during a workshop – a couple of students spontaneously started singing. I found it awesome that the teacher spontaneously praised them and encouraged them to keep on singing.

4. Encouragement of cultural diversity
I experienced how individualizing education can strengthen motivation to a relatively high degree. An example: In a cooking class, the teacher had the idea of asking students, whose parents come from several different countries around the world, if each of them would like to cook a meal that is characteristic of where their respective families originally come from. This idea by the teacher proved to be good: Several students showed a strong motivation to cook such a meal for their fellow students. For me, this showed the importance of how food can serve as expressing culture and to connect people in positive ways.

5. Moderation of 2-person exercises
In an English workshop, the teacher moderated several different 2-person conversations during which everyone was involved. The exercises initiated by the teacher resulted in a relatively high degree of activity and had a positive effect on the learning that was happening, for example because the exercises encouraged students to think and express themselves.

6. Use of clean energy
I was surprised to see that no buildings, which I saw during the day, had solar panels on the roof. Besides having the possibility to produce clean energy and thereby reduce costs of energy, I imagine that having solar panels on the roof would have a strong learning effect on students – and perhaps encourage students to become interested / even more interested in energy.

7. Sports / physical activity
In a singing workshop, I found it great to see how the teacher encouraged students – in creative ways – to use both arms and legs to accentuate the rhythm while they were singing. Judging from the many smiles on the faces of the participating children, the children were happy about this initiative by the teacher.

In a few locations, I noticed how students liked to play football during the breaks – including in the long break in the middle of the day during which rooms and buildings are locked. I also noticed that because many football fields do not have barriers on each of the 4 sides, the ball tended to often go very far when the students kicked the ball. Something similar happened when I was – years ago – doing a similar education as these children. As I was visiting my mother in Denmark last Christmas, I noticed that the school, I attended at that time, had come up with quite a fine solution to solve the problem of the ball running away: They had made a hole of the size of the football field – thereby solving the problem in an intelligent way. They had even painted the ground of the football field blue. See photo below:


What is flowing in you?

Listening to Yiruma’s beautiful song “River flows in you”, embedded below, I came to think about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow. In this 5 minute video, Mr. Csikszentmihalyi explains that “flow is a state of mind or a state of experience that we feel when we are totally involved in what we are doing.” Mr. Csikszentmihalyi mentions that people, who have been in a state of flow explain it as “being completely carried away, almost like being in a river, and the flow of water takes them on.” People, who have been in a flow state of mind, say that they are very focused, and that the skills they have are fully involved in overcoming the challenge they are faced with. For more tips on how to prevent stress and increase motivation, click here and here.

Sculptures by the sea

Reading this blog posting, I learned about an article about the Sculptures by the sea exhibition in Sydney, Australia. Sculptures by the sea is the largest free-to-public outdoor sculpture exhibition spread out over a 2-kilometer (1.3-mile) coastal walk from Bondi to Tamarama beach in Sydney, featuring over 100 sculptures by artists from Australia and across the world. Below is a photo of one of the sculptures: