Sweden Week 4


So What work am I doing here? Since I seem to write these stories mostly about play.

I am working, working a lot in fact, but the work is new and fun.

My day begins at about 6 AM. The sky is glowing from the sun below the horizon. It's below freezing outside.

At 7 AM it is off to work, a 7 minute walk through Sodertalje to Tom Tits Experiment. The sun is up, the sky is blue, no wind, and cold air.

I'm one of the first to arrive, I spend the first hour answering my Exploratorium e-mail.

At 9 AM, once a week, I give an exhibit floorwalk for Tom Tits Staff. Curators, front door staff, store sales staff, and more. We get to visit exhibits and explore them together. I share things I've learned by working with similar exhibits at the Exploratorium, and I learn things myself. They have a set of water exhibits. At one exhibit you can make your own water bell, squeezing down on a plate so that water sprays out in a thin smooth sheet, trapping air and making a bell. The water bell takes on different shapes depending on how much air is trapped inside. One of the staff points out that I can pull up on the plate too, I've never done that before, the result is beautiful a water ball.

After the floorwalk it's time for morning coffee break, except I drink my usual coke and eat a chocolate chip cookie. The Deli at Tom Tit is run by Tom Tit staff, they know that I always have a coke and a cookie. The staff drink coffee, which must be the official drink of Sweden.

I also consult with museum staff. My favorite consultation involved climbing. They are going to have a climbing structure and need to set up a belay. The curator in charge of outdoor exhibits, Anna-Lena, knows that I climb and asks if I know anything about belaying. I know the answer a Swedish expert would give and say, "I know a little about belaying."

Sodertalje is populated by people from many different ethnic backgrounds, this means that there are a variety of great small restaurants. Lunch is similar to the Exploratorium, I join a few staff members and walk a few minutes to a great restaurant: Syrian kebab, Italian pizza, or Greek gyros. There is an American McDonalds but I haven't eaten there yet.

In the afternoon, I work with the Education department: sometimes attending workshops and learning new activities which I write-up on my website, check them out at Activities. At other times I give workshops.

A Web Workshop

Maria of the education department asked me to give a workshop on using the Web in teaching. I had been Eric's assistant teaching a two-week version of this course at the Exploratorium one summer. It was time for the apprentice to move up to teacher. I taught the course in two, two-hour sessions a week apart followed by a whole day session in which I taught for an hour then let the class work for an hour alternating for the whole day.

Day 1 was the use of internet browsers and a tour of the Exploratorium website and my own website.
Day 2 was the use of Claris Homepage to create websites.
Day 3 was the use of digital cameras and image processing software, Adobe Photodeluxe.

The IT staff at Tom Tits is outstanding. Martin and Claes set me up with a computer classroom like the Learning Studio at the Exploratorium. My Powerbook was linked to a projector.

My powerbook connected to a projector. Maria works on windows 95.

Each student had his or her own computer. The computers were identically repaired. Every icon on every computer was in the same place on every desktop. Even though the students were using Microsoft Windows on IBM compatibles, oh the horror! the class ran very smoothly. Everyone successfully made a homepage.

The class. Martin set up the computers. Eva, Ulla, and Maria worked at their own computers. Johan too, but he isn't shown here.

At the end of the last day of the computer class I gave a public lecture based on the Traces of Time book that Pat Murphy and I wrote. Bill Neill our photographer sent me slides of his excellent photos. I showed his slides and told geology stories for an hour and a quarter. I got an excellent reception. Little did the audience know, but they were getting a geology class just like the ones I used to teach at Oakland University. At the end I was given flowers! I had always seen musicians and actors get flowers but never science lecturers.

Flowers for a physicist.

After a full day of workshops and a public lecture I was pretty tired! I had no trouble sleeping at night for the whole weekend.

A Workshop

During week 4, I gave my first two-day workshop on light and color.

The workshop ran 9:30 to 5:30 for two days in a row: that's a lot of teaching, it reminded me of the early days of the Teacher Institute where we used to teach workshops from 8:30 to 5:30 every weekday for two months!

I decided to use materials that I could find in Sweden, that made my job much harder since I didn't know where to find things. However Eva, Rolph, Maria, Claes and many more people at Tom Tit helped me by taking me around to hardware stores, art supply stores and plumbing stores. I found some great things. The teachers usually laughed when I told them of my adventures at the local surplus, hardware, plumbing, or electronics stores.

The teachers at the workshop were from many schools around Stocklholm. Many were from Solentuna International School and from Ronna School in Sodertalje. Other people came from museums around Sweden, from Technikenshus in Lulea, and from the Experimenthus in Lynkopping. It was great to hear back from the teachers and the museum staff that they used the ideas they discovered in my workshops right away. Marianne from Lulea found the twine we levitate electrostatically at an Asian market in northern Sweden. It is truly a small world.

The workshop participants were enthusiastic and creative explorers of the phenomena of nature. I felt right at home. They were just like the best graduates of the Exploratorium Summer Institute. They had learned inquiry here at Tom Tit, the ability of the teachers to do real inquiry impressed me. I have seen the workshops at Tom Tit, they teach inquiry based science education.

The classrooms at Tom Tits are a rich teaching environment, I gave the teachers materials to explore and soon they were going beyond what I had expected. They showed me their new discoveries often using materials harvested from the shelves of the classroom. I showed them how to analyze the colors of light passed by a filter, and soon they showed me how to analyze the colors passed by a petrii dish full of water and food coloring. (I set up three overhead projectors in the classroom so they could form groups and do what I was doing, they soon went far beyond what I showed them.)

After lunch we made spectrometers. The teachers once again showed creativity making spectrometers a meter or more in length with excellent razor blade slits with which it was easy to see the Fraunhoffer lines in the solar spectrum. Using project Star diffraction gratings. (We did not look at the sun, we looked at white objects in sunlight.)

One teacher asked me about Fraunhoffer, I didn't know the answer. And set the model by admitting I didn't know. That night I went searching on the Internet and found that Fraunhoffer was a surveyor who had discovered the dark lines in the solar spectrum in 1818. The next day I shared my result with the class.

During my visit to Tom Tit I will teach 10 all day workshops, four hour-and-a-half classes a day. These teaching days are equivalent to the hardest teaching days I have ever done at the Exploratorium. In total they include more teaching than I do during an entire month-long Summer Institute.

Teachers from the Ronna school in Sodertalje attended all of my first 8 workshops! At the end they presented me with a color photobook about Sodertalje and a pot of dirt. They had me plant puffed rice seeds and add water. Soon the soil began to quake. Out of it erupted a white plant. An excellent present of an idea to a workshop teacher like me.

A present for the teacher. Note the wonderful classroom design full of stuff for teaching.

The Teacher Institute Philosophy

It is a good thing I am an expert practitioner of the Teacher Institute philosophy of "just-in-time delivery of workshops." This means that workshops are assembled from a collection of previously developed explorations with the addition of a few new explorations. New explorations are produced quickly and mature during workshops with teachers. This makes the workshops follow Frank Oppenheimer's exhibit development philosophy, exhibits arise from "working prototypes." Every activity is accompanied by a handout describing how it is done and the science behind it. These activities are then posted on the internet.

You can see my lesson plan for two of the workshops here:

I actually do about half of the activities that are listed in the plan. When one of the activities arouses interest in the teachers I spend time with them exploring that activity.

After class I go home about 6. I pick up dinner at the Konsum supermarket one block from home. They have great smoked salmon! After dinner I work on my website, which you are reading now.

Go to Week 5