Sunday, May 29, 2011

Study Abroad: The Weather.

When you study abroad through the Study Abroad program at St. Mike's you will almost certainly experience weather different from that you experience at St. Mike's and, perhaps, your home. There will be hot and cold, dry and wet, humid and arid and a mixture of just about everything. What will be most markedly different will be the weather patterns. In other words, how will your daily life be affected, or not, by the weather?

This picture taken by Prof. Jeff Ayers this week shows the Winooski river in major flood mode; a result of large amounts of rain falling over a very short space of time. This happens frequently in Vermont during the Spring just as we get significant snowfall in the winter. The weather in Vermont is also predictable because we have more of a continental climate.

In the UK, the climate is a maritime climate which means that it's quite often difficult to say exactly what the weather will be like during any 24hr period. When it's windy like it's been for the past three days it goes from bright sun to cloud to steady downpour to 'drizzle' and back to bright sun all in the space of twenty minutes. It can then cycle through this sequence for a whole day every twenty minutes especially if it is windy.

So you do what the British do which is to grin and bear it, keep a "stiff upper lip" and carry a brolly if you are going anywhere important. If not, just get a little wet and dry out during the sunny periods. The other picture above is of a camper van rally I went to this weekend in southern Scotland. There were over 500 families with their VW camper vans in the almost constant rain having an incredible time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Study the US from Abroad

One of the neat things about the Study Abroad opportunities at St. Mikes is the chance to see the US through a different lens. The British newspapers today are full of accounts of President Obama's address to the British Parliament yesterday. To say that he has made a great impression on the British media would be an understatement. Eloquent, stylish, elegant, and sincere are words used by writers in The Times newspaper where not a single word of dissent or criticism could be found. Michelle Obama also won the hearts of the Brits when she took a group of girls from a north London school to Oxford University for the day to show them what they could achieve if they believed in themselves.

Daily conversations with people also reveal what the average person thinks about the US. Gone are the days when most people think about Americans as loud tourists with cameras hanging round their necks in loud checked shirts and pants. There seems to be a much more realistic view of the average American although myths do still persist. A fellow passenger on a train last weekend, while lamenting the difficulties of train travel, said to me "Of course, your trains in America must be so much better than ours". Sadly, I assured her that the British trains were infinitely better than their American counterparts. If only we had public transport in the US that was in any way as good as it is in the UK life would be so much easier.

There is also much more news about the US in the UK papers than vice versa; the recent tornado disaster in Joplin getting major coverage in the Times. On the other hand significant American influence exists in the form of Subways, KFCs, Burger Kings and McDs on almost every High St. where latterly one would have found the ubiquitous fish and chip shop.

But, thankfully, there are still fish and chip shops one of which I will be visiting for supper this evening.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Study Abroad Some More

Well I'm still "studying abroad" in the UK and have been pretty much focused on the news these past few days. It's still just under a week until I return to the US and St. Mike's but the Icelandic volcano is still spewing ash. All flights in and out of Scotland were canceled yesterday but all seems back to normal today. It's interesting how we assume things these days that 50 years ago would be unthinkable. It's so easy to assume one can just hop from one continent to another that when something like this happens one tends to feel quite put out. We shouldn't though; we should continue to marvel at how amazing it really is.

Several discussions with my eldest niece in Scotland at the weekend reminded me of just how different the education systems can be in the the US and the UK. There are even differences between the school systems in England and Scotland. Perhaps the greatest difference between the US and the UK is that many schools in the UK tended to continue and develop the progressive movement of the 60s and 70s. Many schools retain the open plan system where students engage in a variety of educational experiences free of the restraints of the traditional classroom. Students can choose when but not what they learn. In theory, this allows students to optimize their learning so that their learning becomes more efficient and meaningful. Making all students learn the same thing at the same time in the same place all the time has long been questioned as not being the best way to learn. Sir Ken Robinson has questioned this "Industrial model" of education for years.

The good news for the week is that I was granted tenure at St. Mike's which means I will be blogging long into the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Study Abroad is A Broad Study

Every time I return to the UK I am always reminded of Aldous Huxley's words that the UK and the US are two countries separated by a common language. Even the keyboard I am using has things in different places and different symbols such as this one; £. The flight went well yesterday, or was it the day before, apart from a two hour delay leaving Burlington. To everyone who gives me a hard time about four-hour layovers at Newark, it often pays off as I had no moments of panic about making the connection to Manchester.

One of the first things to think about studying abroad is how to get to the other country. It's usually much easier to fly to an airport other than the major airport for that country. For example, I nearly always fly Continental into Manchester because the airport is so much easier to navigate and far less crowded than Heathrow. Continental also flies into Bristol which is only 20 or so miles from Bath where the ASE Study Abroad program is. The public transportation system is absolutely brilliant so you can get anywhere quickly and easily. Some major cities such as Leeds even have free public transport.

Studying in the classroom of the College you attend overseas is only a small small part of your actual study. You will end up studying the entire culture of the host country. You'll learn about different foods, clothing, the habits of the people, the weather and geographical differences such as how light it stays in the evening. You'll also explode some of the myths associated with that country such as the US idea that 'all British food is bland' and it 'rains all the time'. Believe me it doesn't and a real Cornish Pasty is one of the tastiest things you'll ever likely to eat.

One of the most important things to remember about being in Europe is how close together everything is compared with the US. The typical British home like Pete and Jean's (above) takes up a fraction of the space of a typical US home so villages and towns tend to be smaller in terms of the space they take up. This makes it much easier to get about and see more. Bath, for example, is less than an hour from London and probably not more than three hours from Paris via the 'Chunnel'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

End of Another Semester

One of the neat things about being a college professor, or a teacher for that matter, is the sense of closure one gets at the end of each semester. Life goes on, of course, and there are other things to be done, but there is always that sense of having completed another discrete unit of one's life. Grades are in, papers have been returned, course evaluations have been reviewed and wonderful Thank-you notes from students have been read.

In addition to the the Baccaluareate and Commencement ceremonies there are also the end of term parties such a retirement parties and Department parties. Sadly, I had to miss the Education Department party at Prof. Anne Judson's house last Friday as I had raging tootheache. The party is a chance for everyone to catch up on each other's lives outside of St. Mike's and to get to meet new family additions and significant others.

The members of the Education Department at St. Mike's are a great group of people with widely diverse backgrounds and life experiences and all are experts and leaders in their own particular fields of study.

The summer for us is a time for learning such as attending a workshop or teaching a summer graduate course, and a time for professing, or to be more accurate, writing for publication. It's a time when we can think about our ideas and experiences and turn them into journal articles, books or conference presentations so they can be shared with the rest of the world.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My 25th Graduation Ceremony

Today I attended my 25th Graduation ceremony; my 6th at St.Mike's. Once again it was a wonderful experience full of the pomp and circumstance one expects, but this year there was something special. From the words of the student speaker as well as several other introductions one got the feeling that this was a very special class, the class of 2011. Several speakers spoke of the sense of unity between all the graduating seniors, the sense of bonding that has taken place during the past four years between members of this class. Whether it is because they have been more active socially through MOVE and the many service learning opportunities they have I don't know but it's just a good feeling to know that they really do care about each other; they really are friends.

I'm off to the UK tomorrow to visit family and friends for a short time. Pete and Jean, the lifelong friends I stay with in Appleby in Westmorland, are two people I met when I was an undergraduate at College in Bristol. When we meet at Manchester airport on Wednesday morning it will be like we hadn't seen each other since yesterday, as opposed to the two years it's been. Most of my FB friends are old college pals now scattered around the world.

Friendships forged at College seem to be the most firm and lasting; probably because for many of us, College was the best time of our lives.

Friday, May 13, 2011

St. Michael's College Campus Glows

It's always amazing how the transformation in the St. Michael's College campus coincides with Commencement weekend. One minute the trees are bare, the gardens are patches of barren earth and the sidewalks are edged with mud. Then, as if by magic, there are gold and purple tulips everywhere, the trees suddenly provide enough shade from the warm Spring sun and new grass is sprouting everywhere along the edges of the sidewalks.

The turn of the seasons is, of course, mainly due to Mother Nature's eternal efforts at renewal but she does need help from time to time. This is where the remarkable St. Michael's College groundsmen spring into action. Just like every other human aspect of St. Mike's, the people who keep the campus glowing are a remarkably dedicated and talented group.

I always think the Spring with its attendant budding and blossoming is the ideal time for students to graduate and take the reins of their lives. For the past 21 years many people have been helping them grow their wings. Parents, grandparents, siblings teachers, friends and professors have all played a role as models, guides and mentors, Now it's time for the new graduates to spread their wings and make a difference in the world. These are uncertain times to be entering the workforce but St. Michael's has equipped them well so that they stand the best chance of success as possible.

My advice to all the graduating seniors is this. Remember, you may be leaving St. Mike's but St. Mike's will never leave you. Stay in touch and visit when you can.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rubber Band Rollers

A special class this evening marked the end of my Elementary Math/Science ed. course. For the "final" exam students are required to construct a Rubber Band Roller (RBR) which is a sort of vehicle powered by a rubber band. All you need is a cylinder of some sort, a pencil, a rubber band and some ingenuity. To get an A for the project the RBR needs to make one revolution. Anything else is an F, something that happens very rarely. But, it takes a lot more thought than you think to make a RBR make one revolution let alone travel over 20 feet as some of them did this evening.

Design Technology is an oft forgotten subject area in the elementary school curriculum even though there are standards for it in the Vital Results section of the Grade Level Expectations. Basically, it is the application of the science we know to the solution of problems. In science, the questions relate to the natural world such as what is energy, how does magnetism work, what do plants need to grow, and what causes the seasons? In design technology we use our knowledge of science to solve problems or make our lives better. Refrigerators would be bare if someone hadn't invented refrigerator magnets; we would still be using chalk boards if someone hadn't invented the white board and later the SMARTboard. Almost every gadget, machine, device, or thing we use in our lives is the result of Design Technology. Someone sat down and used some aspect of science to create something.

To make things a little more interesting in the class there are competitions; whose RBR goes the furthest? whose is the fastest?, and this year, a request from the students to have a competition to find out whose is the most creative. There were some really exciting moments especially in the speed competition where a really close run off between Olivia and Katie was finally won by Katie. The distance race was won by Molly L who managed to get her RBR to go almost right across the classroom and back again. The most creative award went, fittingly, to Corey T. our "art major in residence". Actually, all the students were winners because they approached the activity with so much caring and passion which, after all, is what teaching is all about. A well deserved A for everyone.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TW got in to TWTW

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned submitting a proposal to be accepted into TWTW, the Teaching With Technology Workshop this summer at St. Mike's. Every year the IT Department offers a week-long workshop for faculty wishing to improve their teaching with technology skills. Well I (that's me, TW) managed to get accepted amid fairly stiff competition. It was particularly competitive this year because the freebie for participants is a new IPAD2.

My proposal focused on the use of the IPAD2 with students with special needs. There are a host of Apps designed to help children with a variety of disabilities learn to read, write and a host of other skills as well as with their conceptual development. My plan is to use the IPAD2 with my son Andrew over the summer and then incorporate its use into my courses in the Fall. Many schools are now investing in ITouch technology rather than traditional laptops and PCs because of the greater flexibility it offers when the need to differentiate instruction arises.

The picture is of an elementary school classroom in a village school at the Beamish Museum in the UK. The museum is 'a living museum' very similar to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont but a lot more extensive. During the summer the school classroom, from the early 1900s is actually filled with children and a school ma'am all in period dress. There's a coalmine you can go into and old trams and trains you can ride on. There are also shops where you can buy things such as sweets (candies) from the 1900s. I wonder if our classrooms will have changed as much in the next 100 years!