SciFest field trip

I recently had the opportunity to tag along with a busload of primary school students for a three-day trip to attend SciFest in Joensuu. The students, who were from Koulumestari and Vanttila schools, were attending the festival to compete in the RoboCup Junior Finnish Nationals.


SciFest is a yearly festival that features activities and workshops for students and teachers. This year the festival celebrated the UNESCO International Year of Light. While this made for some interesting activities and displays, it also meant that the building was too dimly lit for easy photo taking! The festival included many booths with activities on topics such as computer programming, 3D printing, color mixing, light bulbs, lenses, colorblindness, and environmental issues. Many of the booths were run by students, ranging from university graduate students to those in middle school. Continue reading

Teacher training in Finland

One of the unique aspects of teacher preparation in Finland is the use of teacher training schools. The University of Helsinki works in cooperation with two local public schools, Viikin normaalikoulun and Helsingin normaalilyseo, where students do their practice teaching. I previously tried to schedule a visit to Viiki using a teacher contact provided by my advisor. After getting in touch with the teacher, I was contacted by a school administrator who said I’d have to pay 350 € per day to observe classes! I understand that they must get swamped with requests for visits. But I’m placed at the University of Helsinki for my grant, and it’s a school where students from the university are trained, so it was a bit surprising to be asked to pay for access. The challenge of arranging school visits is a common topic that comes up when Fulbright teachers get together.

I am taking a course on the Finnish educational system, and the professor arranged for those of us in the class to visit schools in small groups. Helsingin normaalilyseo was one of the options, so I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go there without having to do the legwork (or pay). We were only able to observe one class (English), but we did have some time to ask questions about how teachers are trained.

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Choices, choices, choices

Compulsory schooling in Finland ends at grade 9, when students are 16 years old. At that time, students can apply to an academic high school (lukio) or a vocational school. Vocational programs last three years and include an internship. Course requirements in high schools are also usually completed in three years, but it is possible to finish in two or to stay for a fourth year. As there are no dead ends in the Finnish educational system, students may apply to a polytechnic or to a university after completing either type of secondary education.

Source: Finnish National Board of Education

This week I visited two schools that provide vocational education as well as an academic high school. Like many high schools, the one where I observed classes offers specialized programs in addition to the general academic curriculum. There are schools that allow students to concentrate on visual arts, performing arts, sports, media, languages, or sciences. Continue reading

Walk, bike, ski, or sled?

With Helsinki being rainy and gray at this time of year, and missing all of the snow heaps my friends at home in Boston have been enjoying, I had to head north for a taste of winter. I traveled to the cities of Oulu and Rovaniemi to visit two schools. I’ll be writing some posts about the lessons I observed, but first I’ll share what I saw kids doing when they weren’t learning academic subjects.

It’s possible to take an overnight train to Rovaniemi, but I opted for the much faster plane ride.

Upon arriving at the Metsokangas School in Oulu, the first thing I noticed were the skis. It looked like I might be at a cross country ski center in Vermont. But then I saw the bikes. I’m 100 miles (160 km) south of the Arctic Circle, and kids are biking to school in February. Wow. It was quite a warm day, hovering right around freezing, but most bikes in the US at this time of year are stored in garages or basements, covered with a layer of dust, and in need of a tire pump. Most American elementary school students don’t even bike to school when it’s warm out. And the streets and sidewalks in Oulu were were sheets of ice flanked by huge snow piles.

Skis for gym class

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