Thursday, December 12, 2013

Professor goes to Norway to visit the king

photo of Sylvia Munsen and a guard at the palace
Munsen, wearing the traditional
Hardanger bunad folk costume,
with a guard at the palace.
Last month, Sylvia Munsen had a private audience with H.M. Harald V, King of Norway, after receiving the Medal of St. Olav earlier this year. She is a professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership, and the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Endowed Chair of Elementary Arts Education.

The medal is one of the highest recognitions in Norway that can be given a foreigner.  She was awarded it for promoting Norway through her work in education and with children’s choirs.

A lot of preparation went into the audience. She brought gifts with her: a CD of her Ames Children’s Choir singing in Norwegian from their Norway tour and a Norwegian cookbook she had written for children. After she arrived at the palace, security took them away for screening. 

She was met by palace guards and called in, where she signed the guest book—after the ambassador from Saudi Arabia.

It was enough to make her excited and a bit nervous, but when the meeting with King Harald came, it was surprisingly relaxed. “I felt completely at ease with him from his first handshake.”

They spoke mostly about the student teaching program she launched 13 years ago, when she was at Iowa State. The program has expanded in the last two years to include students from Utah State University.

photo of Sylvia with her nominators
Munsen with Stein Elling Schille and Asbjorn Skar,
who were both involved in the student teaching
program at Kvinnherad.
They nominated her for the award.
Student teachers travel to Norway for seven weeks each semester and teach in English both in their subject areas and also in English classes, sometimes leading conversations in small groups. 

In Norway, English is a core subject, Munsen said. By the time students finish fifth grade, they’re fairly advanced. Those who were taught by American student teachers in the program scored especially well in national tests.  

In 2010, 8th grade students in Rosendal scored 8th best in the country for their skills in English – a remarkable accomplishment for a community of only 1000 people. 

“It’s not only improved the English of the students, it’s improved the English of the teachers,” she said. “Everybody in the teachers’ lounge now speaks in English.”

The United States has many families descended from Norwegian emigrants, Munsen said. She comes from that tradition herself, and she learned a lot about the old country as she grew up in the Midwest.

Working in modern-day Norway—and meeting its king—has given her a feel for the contemporary country and the things American educators can learn from their colleagues in education there. (Norway scores higher than the US in math and science.)

“The king said that when he’s talking to people in the (American) Midwest it’s always about the old country,” she said. It was nice for them both to talk about Norway as it is now. 

Related post:   Sylvia Munsen receives high honors from Norway

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