Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More on Finland's schooling

In 2006 I presented at a conference co-hosted by universities in Sweden and Finland and it was there that I first heard about the success of Finland's schools and the international PISA testing that studied 15 year old students throughout the world. Patrik Scheinen, dean of the University of Helsinki Graduate School of Social Sciences made a presentation at that conference on PISA and the Finland results. When I met Patrik again more officially in 2008 at the University of Helsinki, he told me that he was actively searching for links between educational Sloyd, craft training and the success of Finland's schools, but from the standpoint of social sciences, proving a direct causative link would difficult, or even impossible. Sloyd is part of the compulsory curriculum in all Finnish Schools, so it would be difficult to measure its value since there are no schools without Sloyd to provide a comparison.

Here's the link between Sloyd and the Finnish success story, but it is not something you discover by testing in the social sciences, and it has to do with much more than just the presence or absence of wood shops. Uno Cygnaeus was the founder of the Finnish Folk Schools and also the originator of Educational Sloyd. He had been selected by the Russian Czar to develop a national system of folk Schools as an expression of gratitude for Finnish cooperation during the Napoleonic Wars. Cygnaeus looked to Friedrich Froebel for inspiration and developed Sloyd as a way of extending the hands-on learning principles of kindergarten into the upper grades. The projects were designed to foster a sense of partnership between home and school that exists in Finland to this day. In the spirit of Froebel's Kindergarten, teachers and schools in Finland were given a sacred mission to perform on behalf of the nation's children. Today, as in the 1860's Educational Sloyd is still a part of Finnish education. You will also find other things from the Froebel model... laboratory science at all levels of education, outdoor education, and a profound respect for the role of teachers in society. The Smithsonian offers yet another article on Finland's Schools asking,Why are Finlands Schools So Successful? Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School principal Kari Louhivuori answers the question this way, "This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life."

Educators from all over the world are studying Finland's schools and marveling at their well documented success. Educators from the US are coming up with excuses as to why their model won't work here. We, it seems, want to turn education over to machines instead to save money. But don't buy that. The hands offer the opportunity to engage students at all levels. Put the hands in play, and education with real learning will follow. Create every possible opportunity for the arts, for laboratory science, for crafting things from real materials that serve to reinforce the connection in learning between home and school. What we would discover and achieve as a result would be teachers who are offered profound respect, classes in which every child matters, and education that would be world class as our nation and our children deserve.

You might know if you are a regular reader of this blog, that woodworking in American Schools started for the same reasons that Uno Cygnaeus invented Educational Sloyd, to extend the Kindergarten progressive method throughout education. We forgot that, abandoned wood shops, and American education fell into decline despite all the money and technology we've thrown its way. Of course we cannot simply transport a whole culture of learning from one country to another. We cannot suddenly create a culture in which teachers are respected and empowered as they need to be. But we can put a handle on it, get a firm grasp on learning, acknowledge how we learn best and begin to get a grip. Put the hands in action in each lesson, and at every level and we will witness a revival in American education.

Today the first, second and third grade students made Sloyd pencil sharpeners in the CSS wood shop, as shown above and at left.

Today I started my new finger counting strategy with the kids to help them remember the sequence of steps in the project. As I described the steps, I asked them to start counting on their fingers. The thumb and little finger are touched for the first step, then the next fingers are touched in sequence, and the thumb is held up for step 5. I explained to my second and third grade students that the intraparietal sulcus is the part of the brain which does both counting and controls the movement of the fingers. My objective was to get students thinking of the steps in the process, and to get them to remember them without me needing to remind them what to do next. Don't you just know that the system worked? As I did the steps in my demonstration, I could see their fingers counting along, and when they started work, there were very few questions as to what to do next. I suspect this same strategy would work whenever there are complicated orders of operation to follow, like in advanced math, and this is certainly a way that you can test the Wisdom of the Hands for yourself.

Make, fix and create...


  1. This reminds me a lot of Montessori. My mother was a Montessori teacher for 35 years, and I was a Montessori student until age 9.

    One of the topics it starts out with at the earliest age is "practical life", where 4-year-old kids are using child-size versions of kitchen tools to prepare food and do other basic tasks of living. Very hands-on.

    In fact, now when I teach hand tool woodworking, I use very similar methods. Get the tools in hand and just play with them, turning wood into shavings and sawdust to get the feel of it and develop the control. Develop the raw skill first before worrying about actually building something with it.

  2. I think this sentence can be expanded:

    "We, it seems, want to turn education over to machines instead to save money."

    Some want to turn education over to machines in order to make money.