Saturday, April 18, 2015

Finland moves forward.

Chairs grown in chair farm.
While the US public school education languishes in the middle of the pack, Finland, the usual front runner in the PISA tests is taking a major step in education reform. Instead of teaching isolated subjects, they will move to a system similar to that long used by Clear Spring School, in which a topic or theme will be addressed through all the various school disciplines. Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system.
Integrated thematic instruction allows classes to use the interconnectedness of various disciplines to advantage in making the learning relevant to kids. With integrated studies students can see how all the various subjects inter-link to form the reality in which they live and will work. With educators from around the world streaming to Finland over the past few years to examine their success, this step forward has taken educators from around the world by complete surprise. No doubt, educators will be booking flights to Helsinki to see the new model in action. But they could save money by visiting Clear Spring School.

The point of Finland's change is to get students up out of their seats to utilize their own insatiable interests to drive learning forward. Finnish students already beat American students in reading and math in 30% less time and spend less time sitting at desks than students in any other nation in Europe. So this change is rather astounding.
Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union - which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.
I have not heard as yet whether they plan to keep their wood shops that have been a part of Finnish Schooling since the middle of the 19th century. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

What do you think of chairs being grown instead of crafted? The image above shows a chair farm in the UK. To make a chair grow to a certain shape, small trees are put into rigid constraint, pruned on a regular basis and forced to grow just so. Does that sound a bit like American education?

Make, fix and create...

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