Seaweed is turning into food and networking

When the Álka-network opens the doors to their new projects there is great demand for the seats among the students studying to become teachers in the Nordic countries. The latest project was about algae, its health benefits and the positive impact on the climate.

“We – the educators, are pretty much on the same level as the students,” says Ane Fleischer, coordinator of the network Álka, who recently did the project ‘Algae - Innovative options for health and sustainability’. Ane Fleischer has in cooperation with seven teacher education institutions from six Nordic countries tried to find out how algae can benefit the Nordic diet – and, at the same time, investigated what it takes to gain knowledge about algae and seaweed for the pupils in the Nordic schools.

She is a teacher at the Teacher Educations in Nuuk and, here, the production of raw seaweed and algae is rather trouble-free.

“In Greenland we just collect the seaweed and algae at the beach, where there are huge amounts,” says Ane Fleischer.

It is the next move - the processing of the seaweed for food, which can be a challenge. Nowadays there is a small production of seaweed for food in Greenland. Ane Fleischer hopes that it may grow. She calls the seaweed a “thankful product”. Perhaps because seaweed and algae are cheap products. A cheap product that is also easy to work with in the classroom. The latter is hugely significant, because it is all about the schoolchildren’s knowledge. The Nordic teachers are cooperating in generating this knowledge – and they are doing so in a well-established network.

An old network with new knowledge

For allmost 20 years, natural science educators at teacher educations from respectively Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, The Faroe Islands, Finland and Greenland have worked together on different projects, educations and mobility. They call the network ‘Álka – natural science at Teacher Educations’ (Álka), and every year the network has been able to develop research- and development projects that have been supported by Nordplus.

It requires a lot of effort, and two years before a project is initiated, the host country puts on its thinking cap.

"We have always worked intensely with the subject for a long time before we send off an application," says Ane Fleischer.

The story in the network commits, because the Álka network’s ambition is to always create projects about the latest news. It is ambitious, because the natural subjects develop quicker than the universities have seen before.

The background is that the technological development and the possibilities in knowledge sharing across nations and industries have helped speed up the research. That kind of development is clearly shown where there is potential growth or solutions to global problems – and as the latest – the algae might be a part of the solution.

Climate change in classrooms

Anne Pellikka from the Faculty of Education in Oulu, Finland is relatively new in the network and she is clearly aware of the fact that the projects have to be a couple of years ahead of general development.

“We are dealing with big issues such as climate changes and sustainable food production – and then we have to do something on a small scale too. We have to do things that students can produce in a classroom,” she says.

And that is what is good about the concrete project with algae and seaweed; the perspective is long-term and the main purpose is to professionally prepare the students.

“As educators at the teacher educations, we show our students the possibilities – which pass on to their pupils – so that they one day might start an algae production or continue to research,” says Ane Fleischer.

Homemade algae chips

It might not be that long. The students from Greenland have already worked with different forms of production and different kinds of food.

“In the beginning they dried algae out in the free but then the entire harvest rotted. That happened twice and they were very frustrated but then they came up with drying it in the oven,” says Ane Fleischer.

Before the project with the algae and seaweed was finished, they were able to produce both crispy chips, spices, dietary supplements, addition to bread and a fine tea.

“It tastes good,” says Ane Fleischer, unable to hide a big smile.

The joy is rooted in the fact that the students used a lot of professional, scientific knowledge during the production. Even the harvest of seaweed offered scientific challenges.

“They found tide tables, and they were to find unpolluted areas and select the kind of seaweed and algae that were most suitable to produce the different types of products,” she says. 

Ane Fleischer is particularly happy that the students and teachers from the entire Nordic region became aware of algae production and the differences in nature across the North.

The students travel along

The Álka network is special because the students and teachers participate as equals in the projects. Both when demonstrating concrete examples in the classrooms and when the participants meet physically. To Ane Fleischer, the common sharing of knowledge across ages and professions is extremely important.

“In the seaweed project we – who are the teachers – were almost at the same level as the students when we started the project. This is in itself an eye-opener for a lot of students,” she says.

Anne Pellikka addresses the ambition of sharing knowledge with others in a trustful network with both new and experienced colleagues as essential in shaping the students.

“They get used to working internationally and being part of this network during their studies is shaping their growing teacher identity,” Anne Pellikka says.

She sees the latter as essential in a globalised world. Her students are often not used to traveling abroad.

“For many of them it is their first time abroad. It is really a big thing – and some of it is almost mind-blowing,” she says.

We are alike - somewhat

This is also big to Anne Pellikka – but in another way. To her, considering how the network can share knowledge is a permanent thought.

“To me, it is the sharing of research and the ideas about teacher education that is the great thing about Álka, and I often think: How can we share this?” she explains.

She is especially pleased that the students are becoming better at spotting the differences in culture, and she is sure that, because of the students’ ability to see the differences, they become aware of their own role.

 “Even though we are Nordic countries, and we are supposed to be alike, it is important to see how big the differences are,” she says.