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Jason Wolfe

Speaker Curator / Teacher, TEDxTokyo

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In education, Finland is usually at the top & the USA near the bottom, but what is the middle or upper middle doing?

Like many other situations we like to focus on the extremes, and although learning from the best is not a bad idea, I would like to learn a little from the pretty darn good.

What are all those countries located in the upper middle area doing to get themselves where they are? Something tells me they aren't just avoiding wat the USA is doing and emulating Finland.

If you can, please share some of your stories and knowledge on what is working for you that other teachers and educators could mull over.

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    Apr 26 2013: Hi Jason,

    Really interesting, I'd like to hear more, but I have to say that I am a bit skeptical, or at least unsure. The risks of totally decentralising the system can be, among others, a decline in quality. If most parts of the curriculum and ground rules are kept though I also see the benefits - there's always a difference between communities and integrating social or just local issues into policies can have a positive result, as long as it doesn't include superstition and exclude reason. Hiring and firing may be a bit prejudiced though. But I don't know much about New Zealand so I shouldn't jump to any conclusions...
    I didn't include the parents' role in my first reply to your question as I took it for granted that the parents must be informed, have possibility to give feedback and participate in their childrens' education and future.

    One final thought or request - could you define education utopia? Or dystopia, they would be on opposite poles.
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      May 14 2013: Hi Anna

      Sorry for the late reply. I have had a busy few weeks.

      I may have been a little excited about the system in NZ, and a tad sarcastic, when I labeled their system as utopia. Utopia is perhaps not the right word at all as it is perfection and if there is anything I have learned from jumping into a career in education is that it is very much a 'now' thing and always changing (not to mention looking down on what was considered the right thing in previous generations).

      Maybe not utopia, but a great system for me is getting the parents involved with the education system, from hiring and firing to partial curriculum development is great. As a parent and a teacher this sounds both wonderful and terrible, but I think with the right system it could be great. That's why I am curious about NZ's system...Also, in my perfect system, there is a focus on environmental education, limited standardized testing (none if possible), a lot of group work. Finally, I think tying education to things outside of education is important...keeping it real and grounded in what is happening outside of school.

      Obviously, I could elaborate a lot, but I think that gives a decent overview of what my thoughts are.
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    Apr 25 2013: What is the middle or upper middle doing? Maybe not as much as Finland ;) Or Japan, obviously.

    Here are some thoughts in response to your question, based on personal experience. What might be beneficial:
    (a) giving teachers time, possibility to constantly expand their knowledge and share their experience with other teachers while not strangling them with too much bureaucracy. The latter should and has to be there to keep track of what is happening, but if it becomes so time-consuming that teaching itself becomes job no.2, it might get risky
    (b) gentle, subtle controll of the teachers with regard to results, method, input and, last but not least, feedback from students
    (c) Q&A sessions during lessons (the teacher should be able to provide A's to the Q's, see point a ;))
    (d) variety within a structure, relevance, balance between quality and quantity (a good reference for what quality is http://www.unesco.org/education/gmr_download/chapter1.pdf)
    (e) reminding both the students and the teachers why they are doing what they're doing
    (f) no-nonsense policy (zero tolerance for violence or harmful, uncivil behaviour. Must work both ways on a student-teacher-student axis and on student-student axis)
    (g) not all teachers are mentors, not all mentors become teachers, but education still needs both.
    A good but heartbreaking story here (rewind to 01.00)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20Jdg1KzxMM
    • Apr 25 2013: Expecting teachers to come up to par with their hands tied behind their backs by their--haha--leadership and then punishing them for the stupidity of the--haha--leadership is downright American. What more can teachers want? Sarcasm off.
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        Apr 26 2013: Hm. I wasn't thinking of America but of education in a broader sense. Education system is never a desert island among other political issues, all of them are interconnected. If a student is hungry and/or threatened by an armed, aggressive community there's very little a teacher can do. Other social problems in the system are not the teacher's fault either. In other words - first things first.
    • Apr 26 2013: You didn't speak of armed or aggressive to begin with. You wish for things and when engaged, you change the subject completely. Your teachers sure teach funny things.
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        Apr 26 2013: No, I didn't, because that wasn't the topic of the conversation. The topic is in the question in bold at the top of this page. In my reply to your post I went from speaking in broader sense to speaking of details, exemplifying and reacting to what you brought up i.e. America.
        Could you elaborate on the first reply, please? I'm getting confused here.

        Sorry for the "delete"-line in this thread, I forgot to push the reply button, my reply got misplaced.
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      Apr 26 2013: Thanks for your elaborate reply Anna. You make some great points.

      I am at a conference now about language learning and just learned a lot about the New Zealand education system that is totally decentralized and the parents of the kids at the school take an active role, i.e., form a board of directors that dictates most of the school's policy, including hiring and firing as well as parts of the curriculum. Sounds like education utopia and I am excited to learn more.

      My Ryan appears to jump to conclusions...at least two time in this post anyways. I am also confused by his first reply.
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    Apr 25 2013: I am sorry you have not gotten any responses yet to your question.

    What I have noticed in searching for comparative information about practices rather than outcomes is that OECD is launching a new publication series called Education Policy Outlook that will assemble and analyze pedagogies and strategies member countries have in place in an effort to distill best practices across the OECD countries.
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      Apr 25 2013: That sounds very interesting. I am definitely much more interested in the input than the output.

      Thanks for sharing.
  • Apr 24 2013: I look one day and my posts are gone, look the next and they are back. I apologize for saying such negative things to you and Ted. I just love eating crow in the morning.
  • Apr 23 2013: Jealousy only harms you. I see you hate the proof, so you cried on teds shoulder. You belong to their flat earth society. Tell us one bit of new thinking no one else has ever offered. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't. Keep whining to Ted little boy.
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      Apr 24 2013: Jim you have completely lost me here...the proof? Are you talking to me or TED? Confused...
      • Apr 24 2013: From missing posts one day, to posts I submit to Ted and they reject about new thinking, such as space junk, I am confused. Ted claims to support new ideas, but I see so little, even from Ted talks. I do see intelligent thinking, but very little new thinking.

        2 part

        Science claims space is a vacuum, while science also claims its not!
        By Jim Ryan

        The speed of light test done in a vacuum over 20 miles is not what the test between the earth and moon show, because man can achieve a totally closed and complete vacuum, while space cannot. Space has trillions of tons of dust, if you believe in star nurseries, as science claims, coupled with billions of miles of gas clouds, trillions of tons of plasma, from the billions of suns and their ejections, trillions of tons of cosmic rays that all tend to divert and break up light, from as close as the moon, as science proves.

        There is no vacuum in space, the kind that man can bring about on earth, ENTIRELY DEVOID of matter, because that is the only way that test could show light traveling at 186,00 miles per Test/ speed of light theory



        If science really wanted to test speed of light theory, science could add a simple laser light to any of its probes and when the probe got say a million miles away from earth, it could send its laser light back to earth.

        The most recent earth to moon and back, light test, showed that only single photons made it back to the collectors. Do scientists really expect light to travel billions of light years through space and be more than just single photons?
      • Apr 24 2013: Trillions of tons of matter is all through out space, according to science.

        Science claims space is a vacuum.

        vacuum[ vak-yoom, -yoo-uh m, -yuh m ]
        noun
        1. a space entirely devoid of matter.
        2. an enclosed space from which matter, especially air, has been partially removed so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere (plenum).
        3. the state or degree of exhaustion in such an enclosed space.

        To have star nurseries, --plural, as science claims and it takes dust beyond measure almost, to create a star, never mind many stars in many nurseries, as science claims, science contradicts itself terribly.

        MISSING DARK MATTER LOCATED - INTER-GALACTIC SPACE IS FILLED WITH DARK MATTER

        On many science web sites, science claims there is almost no matter in space.

        Researchers at IPMU and Nagoya University used large-scale computer simulations and recent observational data of gravitational lensing to reveal how dark matter is distributed around galaxies.

        Galaxies have no definite "edges", the new research concludes. Instead galaxies have long outskirts of dark matter that extend to their nearby galaxies; the inter-galactic space is not empty but filled with dark matter.

        First science claims space is almost devoid of matter and yet science claims enough dust to fill star nurseries, while suns eject plasma and more, along with all the cosmic rays and now dark matter fills space and supposedly, keeps each galaxy together.

        http://www.ipmu.jp/node/1222

        Can you or Ted refute such?
      • Apr 24 2013: Science as a whole claims that gravitational lensing is a reality. I know it to be bogus. Can you understand why? Just a cursory small read should easily tell all. I wonder how people can be so gullible, until I remember that schools only teach copy and paste.

        http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/features/news/grav_lens.html
  • Apr 23 2013: Tell us Ted, why did you censor my offerings to all runners? Was it because I can prove that I can think for myself, while adding new thinking to science? What new thinking have you ever added Ted?


    The science of running by Jim Ryan.

    Yes, I used to run 10 miles a day for about 2 years. For whatever reason, I started counting a cadence in my head, that matched the cadence of my footfalls and my breathing, which synced body and mind, helping me to get into a trance like state, allowing me to run mile after mile without stress and the last mile I could run almost flat out.

    I know they teach different things today, but give my method a try, I think you'll like it. By the way, keep your eyes focused just in front of you, on the ground.

    The cadence in running I used to use was, "one two three one", " one two three two", "one two three three", and keep going.

    It's a 4 count breathing in and then a 4 count breathing out.

    Happy running.
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      Apr 24 2013: Hi Jim

      I don't think you have been censored by anyone but I do not see how the running story you shared answers my question.

      I am looking for education examples from the middle. We here a lot about the best and the worst but not much about the middle.

      Jason
      • Apr 24 2013: From where I sat in school, teachers taught from the middle. I never experienced a teacher teaching the best. I was always taught to be the best I could be. Why would you want anything middle of the road? Is that what your bosses expect of you? My bosses always wanted the best. If you ask your children to be middle of the road, that's what their expectations of the world will be.

        You'll have to talk to middle of the roaders so to speak, I was taught to be a critical thinker and problem solver.

        Since you mention only my running post, here's my post on gravity that none yet can refute.

        Gravity

        Original work
        Jim Ryan

        Look to the space junk that NASA wants to possibly incinerate in space. It must be in a high orbit not to fall back to earth. That suggests that gravity is keeping it there. Space junk in a lower orbit eventually falls back to earth. There are two forces in gravity, one is attraction and one is repulsion. I will explain. The planets must sit in the suns high orbits, considering their mass, keeping them from falling into the sun, just as the space junk does not fall back to earth from its high orbit around the earth.

        Those like myself are not a flash in the pan, we offer new thinking on a regular basis. Sorry, I can't help you with middle of the road.
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          Apr 24 2013: Oh I see...when I say middle I don't mean 50% or middle of the road. I am a teacher and definitely give more than that and expect more than that.

          If you look at the OECD chart (see the links posted by Fritzie and myself earlier in the thread) there are lot of countries in the middle, and there doesn't seem to be that many 'points' separating them.

          My concern is that we always here about the top and the bottom, we do like to celebrate extremes, but not much about the middle (I think this is a good middle) and I was hoping someone could share a few ideas from there about what is working for them.

          Jason
      • Apr 24 2013: What is there to celebrate when not one country in the world teaches children to think for themselves?
        Can you show that the countries do teach children to think for themselves? What one new bit of thinking have you brought to the world? Actually, critical thinkers bring new thinking on a consistent basis, properly motivated.
  • Apr 22 2013: Here's another. Gravity is a push pull effect. Science claims its just an attractant.

    Look to the space junk that NASA wants to possibly incinerate in space. It must be tin a high orbit not to fall back to earth. That suggests that gravity is keeping it there, unlike space junk that is in lower orbits, everything in lower orbit will eventually fall back to earth., according to science. There are two forces in gravity, one is attraction and one is repulsion. I will explain. The planets must sit in the suns high orbits, considering their mass, keeping them from falling into the sun, just as the space junk does not fall back to earth from its high orbit around the earth. Everything in low orbit will eventually fall back to earth.

    Some planets will sit lower in their gravity wells than others, depending on size, mass and distance from the sun.
  • Apr 22 2013: Here is one of my thoughts, to prove what I claim.


    The science of running by Jim Ryan.

    Yes, I used to run 10 miles a day for about 2 years. For whatever reason, I started counting a cadence in my head, that matched the cadence of my footfalls and my breathing, which synced body and mind, helping me to get into a trance like state, allowing me to run mile after mile without stress and the last mile I could run almost flat out.

    I know they teach different things today, but give my method a try, I think you'll like it. By the way, keep your eyes focused just in front of you, on the ground.

    The cadence in running I used to use was, "one two three one", " one two three two", "one two three three", and keep going.

    It's a 4 count breathing in and then a 4 count breathing out.

    Happy running.
  • Apr 22 2013: When Yours or Finlands schools teach you to think for yourselves, let us know. Until then, you do better at memorization than most, that's all. If you can think for yourself, tell us, what have you given to the world that no other has?
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      Apr 22 2013: Hi Jim

      I live in Japan, where most schools are geared towards entrance exams and thus rote skills and memorization are very much at the forefront. When you memorize for a test, there is a lot of cramming and long term doesn't really come into the picture.

      I am wondering how you would define "think for yourself" and its role in education. I am curious.

      Jason
      • Apr 22 2013: Recognizing that others may have things to offer is a sign of an intelligent and cautious mind. That's good to see. I would say look to your school years, to see that you dare not challenge a teacher or you'd be where? Look to the system and ask yourself, did that system look for the best in each student and work to bring that out like my mother or does the system get angry with those that are different or seemingly, defiant?

        We all lived the exact same things in school, depending on the school, the money, time, dress, jobs of the parents and so on, for the que's in how each is to be treated by the teachers or nuns. By such, learning is reduced to the least common denominator, instead of the best, which is to find the best each child has to offer and help them to enhance that. I went to a rich catholic school, even though we were economically poor. My mom worked 3 jobs to raise 5 kids and to give us the best educations. It's too bad the schools were ppoor in heart, mind and spirit.

        How many teachers have you seen, that taught the most timid of children, to help themselves and how did they do it? Think about it, perhaps you can offer an answer.

        There's more, but I'll await your input to here, as you show interesting qualities. However, unless you, we, are taught, it's darn near impossible to know.
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    Apr 22 2013: Hi Fritzie,

    Thanks for your response and this link. I quickly skimmed it, but I have seen these numbers before.

    Rereading my question, I think I should have been clearer. I mean education as a whole, including both as a profession, cultural acceptance, as well as student learning.

    Two articles about 'problems' with the American Education system have come across my news feed recently. They are:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/teacher-resignation-letter-gerald-conti_n_3046595.html

    and

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-turner/a-warning-to-young-people_b_3033304.html

    Meanwhile, during the last few months Pasi Sahlberg keeps coming back in to my circles (I even bought his book Finnish Lessons http://www.amazon.com/Finnish-Lessons-Educational-Change-Finland/dp/1470826151

    http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/shows/2013/02/17/finnish-schools/

    and

    http://www.stevehargadon.com/2013/04/thursday-interview-success-stories-from.html

    In regards to your PISA rankings from the OECD, I am not all that convinced that giving 500,000 15 tear-old students around the world the same test in reading, science and math really measures education and long-term skills. The difference of the top and bottom do not seem too drastic as well. Although I don't like this measure I do like this picture ranking the countries more http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-education-rankings-maths-science-reading

    Did I make my question clearer?
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      Apr 24 2013: That chart in the Guardian is the same one I linked from OECD, except the Guardian adds colors.

      I think your question is clear that you are interested in what various countries not at the top of the charts are doing.
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    Apr 21 2013: I think your information is not quite correct. Here are the data from OECD comparing by country and subject: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/46619703.pdf