Eleven High Schools in the Midwest Participated in Euro Challenge 2014

Eleven high schools from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin participated in the 2014 Euro Challenge.

GlobalFest 2014

GlobalFest is an annual event that celebrates world languages and cultures, and encourages middle and high school students to make connections with the global society.

U-46 Teacher Travels the Globe to Enhance Her Lessons

Elgin Area School District teacher Chris LaRue spent two weeks in Turkey in 2013, a trip that was almost entirely funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium

Read two teachers' experiences during the 2013 EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium.

TED Helps European and American Educators Connect

The Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), held from February through May, gives American and European educators an opportunity to meet virtually to discuss educational issues.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nordic Models of Education Course Development: Part One - Welcome to Sweden, Arctic adventures, and the central role of nature in the identity of Sami children

Jeremie and Betty representing the Orange and Blue!
By Jeremie Smith

Jeremie Smith, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Global Studies (CGS), is collaborating with University of Illinois’ alum, Betty Trummel, to develop a new College of Education study abroad course,
Nordic Models of Education. The study abroad course, designed especially for pre-service teachers and other College of Education students, will debut during the Spring of 2018.

This course development is supported by the Center for Global Studies, the European Union Center, and the College of Education. Jeremie and Betty are currently on a course-planning trip in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Jeremie will write blog posts during the course development trip to share his experiences and preview the course.

After being greeted by our two of our Swedish hosts, Ingrid and Curt, at the Lulea airport, Betty and I went to their home for a dinner of locally sourced food. This “welcome to Sweden” feast included reindeer, lingonberries, fresh root vegetables, and a very thin wafer-like bread. It was a delicious meal after the four long flights I took to get to Lulea (Champaign to Chicago to London to Stockholm to Lulea).

Snowmobile=essential arctic transportation
During dinner, Ingrid, a retired teacher, described her decades of experience as an elementary school teacher in Lulea and explained how experiential learning experiences are a hallmark of the education of children in Sweden. Her students were accustomed to taking many field trips and engaged in multidisciplinary project-based learning at a very young age. We also discussed how cultivating independence in young children is a central aim of elementary education in her country.

The next morning, Betty and I embarked on a road trip to the family cabin of Gunnar Jonsson, a science teacher-educator at Lulea Technical University. This drive took us 275 miles north, passing the Arctic Circle marker and stopping at the Sami Cultural Museum in Jokkmokk. Though small, this museum had an extensive collection of artifacts and explanations of the cultural relevance of the cold climate, reindeer, and the traditional homeland of the Sami people which spans across northern sections of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (often referred to as “Lapland”). As we continued, we ran into a bit of a late April blizzard, which is evidentially not uncommon in the Arctic. When we arrived near Gunnar’s cabin, located on the glacial lake Tornetrask, there was too much snow to approach the cabin by car, so he met us at the road to take us the final 4 km to his cabin by snowmobile.

During dinner, we had edifying conversations about one of Dr. Jonsson’s research projects that included a comparison of how different communities of children perceive nature and their relationship with the natural world. The methodology of this research focused on drawings produced by 8-11 year olds in several countries, including Sweden, Denmark, the USA, and Australia. For this task, he asked students to draw a response to the prompt, “What will your life look like in 30 years?” He showed us several drawings from different communities of children which focused on home life and their future jobs.

Swedish child's perception of their future in 30 years (Focused on work and home life)

Sami child's perception of their future in 30 years (Notice the cactus and the ecological bubble in which snow is falling.  This reveals a strident fear of climate change hurting the Sami way of life.)

Most fascinating were the several drawings from Sami children, deeply rooted in nature, and often featured reindeer, frozen landscapes, fish and other animals. One drawing was particularly memorable because it expressed a clear concern about the impact of climate change on the child’s way of life, depicting reindeer skulls in a desolate, cactus-laden scene and a bubble in which they could preserve the cold climate and Sami way of life. This theme of concern about how climate change will impact the natural world, people, and cultural traditions of the Arctic region was ever-present as several people mentioned it to us and it was the subject of a special exhibit at the Sami cultural museum.

Jeremie and Betty with Gunnar's cabin in the background
After dinner at Gunnar’s cabin, we talked for several hours about education policy, teacher training, and other matters related to public education and did not notice the time pass as the late night sun was shining brightly. That evening was my first experience with the extraordinarily long days one can find in the warmer months of a far northern region. I realize now it is one thing to know intellectually that the sun would be a near constant companion and another thing altogether to experience the disorientation of such long days.

The next morning, by a fortunate coincidence, the biggest annual ice fishing competition in Scandinavia was being held on the lake. After watching the more adept fishermen vigorously drill holes in the meter deep ice and lay down to peer into the clear glacial lake water, I tried my hand at ice fishing with no success. Take my word for it, ice fishing is both more fun and more difficult than it appears.

Jeremie learns how to drill the ice holes and tries ice fishing (without success)

We then proceeded to Abisko National Park, in the northern most region of Sweden. There, we investigated the possibility of rental cabins for University of Illinois students next year and guided tours/science education workshops with scientists working at the park. Driving back to Gunnar’s cabin, it struck me that the region is stark, foreboding, and beautiful beyond description.

In the next few days, we will visit local schools and Lulea Technical University’s teacher education program. I am grateful for the learning opportunity and am keen to share with other educators that join us for the study abroad course next spring.

Author's Note:
If you are interested in reading more about Dr. Gunnar Jonsson’s research, I recommend the journal article, “Too Hot for Reindeer, Voicing Sami Children’s Visions for the Future” - http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10382046.2012.672668

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