Many U.S. states are similar in population size and demographics to Finland, and education is largely run at the state level. In the economically depressed forest region of North Karelia — on the Russian border — where we spent much of our time, the unemployment rate is nearly 15 percent, compared with under 5 percent in America and our home state of New York. However, the U.S. child poverty rate is four times higher than Finland’s.
Delegations and universities from China and around the developing world are visiting Finland to learn how to improve their own school systems.Singapore has launched a series of Finnish-style school reforms.
n Finland, we heard none of the clichés common in U.S. education reform circles, like “rigor,” “standards-based accountability,” “data-driven instruction,” “teacher evaluation through value-added measurement” or getting children “college- and career-ready” starting in kindergarten.
Instead, Finnish educators and officials constantly stressed to us their missions of helping every child reach his or her full potential and supporting all children’s well-being. “School should be a child’s favorite place,” said Heikki Happonen, an education professor at the University of Eastern Finland and an authority on creating warm, child-centered learning environments.
How can the United States improve its schools? We can start by piloting and implementing these 12 global education best practices, many of which are working extremely well for Finland:
1) Emphasize well-being.
2) Upgrade testing and other assessments.
3) Invest resources fairly.
4) Boost learning through physical activity.
5) Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.
6) Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.
7) Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.
8) Shorten the school day. Deliver lessons through more efficient teaching and scheduling, as Finland does. Simplify curriculum standards to a framework that can fit into a single book, and leave detailed implementation to local districts.
9) Institute universal after-school programs.
10) Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.
11) Launch preventive special-education interventions early and aggressively.
12) Revamp teacher training toward a medical and military model. Shift to treating the teaching profession as a critical national security function requiring government-funded, graduate-level training in research and collaborative clinical practice, as Finland does.
Finland consistently ranks high in the PISA results for many reasons. (What is PISA? Click here to read a guest blog written by Andreas Schleicher who is the Director of PISA). They don’t push curriculum that isn’t age appropriate, their teachers are highly qualified and the field of education is respected as one of the top professions.
Additionally, Finland has a much more flexible education system than the US. The U.S. has constant carrot and stick programs as well as a great deal of accountability and mandates. Teachers, leaders and students in Finland feel as though they have a voice in their schooling.
family involvement and wealth as the most important factors, many of the articles focusing on the strength of the Massachusetts education system also state that there is an achievement gap they have where their impoverished students are concerned.
the issue of over-testing students, and the pressures of standardized testing.
in the long run, we as a nation might want to pay attention to Massachusetts because their education system is consistently strong, and they treat education and their teachers with respect. Although Finland is a great country to visit and learn from, it seems as though we really don’t have to go that far to see educational greatness because we have it within our own country too.
Sahlberg, an education scholar and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0, answers the theoretical question in his article’s title, writing in part: “I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning.”
more about Finland Phenomenon in this IMS blog
A typical Finnish teacher teaches just under 600 hours a year, whereas the average American teacher teaches students over 1,600 hours annually.
Our teachers in Seattle meet about two hours a week for common planning, like you do in Finland, but the big difference is that in our two hours we are supposed to receive professional development, but teachers in your country get to create their own professional development to further their school.
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.
Garry’s Mod(GMod) is a sandbox game like Minecraft but instead of building and exploring, students use a fun physics engine that simulates things like gravity and mass. They also use a virtual toy box of assets from Valve Software’s popular games. The tool is a step up in complexity from the elegant simplicity of Minecraft, but with Garry’s Mod,students are exposed to physics concepts while having madcap fun.
Kerbal Space Program has a robust physics engine too, but it’s more focused than Garry’s Mod. Players purchase rocket parts, put them together, and then see if they can get a ship into orbit, to one of two moons, or even to another planet. These aren’t easy tasks, so play is focused on trial and error testing, and, like Minecraft, seeking help from the community is part of a successful strategy.
Sound Shapesis a visually stunning platform puzzle game set to a rich musical soundscape. Even better: students can create and share their own levels – like interactive sheet music — using sounds and objects unlocked by playing the platform game. It’s an accessible entry point into musical composition as well as game design, and provides an experience that builds on the creativity of Minecraft while offering something wholly unique for music lovers.
For creative kids who want to get their hands dirty, check out DIY, a site where students can find things to build, instructions for how to build them, and ways to share their creations with others. All projects are aligned to 50 skills that run the gamut from outdoors to indoors, and feature various challenges to complete and cool badges to earn and display.
Computer programming is a great next step for students who love to mod Minecraft or toy around with the redstone resource (which simulates basic logic and circuitry). One solid entry-level tool is Stencyl, a game creation program focused on codeless, cross-platform game making. By snapping blocks of code together, students can create games that can be published and played on a variety of platforms including mobile phones.
Minecraft has introduced a lot of youth to games as well as the critical thinking, problem solving, and creation skills necessary for self-motivated learning. The games and sites on this list have the potential to extend that learning, providing fresh outlets for self-expression in the digital world and beyond.