BYU CES - Scandinavian Teacher Institute
Scandinavia Institute for Teachers
Utah teachers travel to Scandinavia
Bikes, boats and water. Utah educators quickly found out how to travel around Scandinavian countries. BYU Center for the Study of Europe provided one of the most enriching professional development opportunities for thirty-two Utah educators to travel to Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark in early June 2014. These educators, from Salt Lake to St. George, learned about culture, history, education, government and sustainable development while visiting Scandinavia.
While in Finland the primary focus was on education. Teachers were able to visit schools, meet with students, teachers, administrators, and government officials to gain a fuller understanding of the Finnish education system. Finland was chosen for this because it has been internationally recognized as one of the best school systems in the world. This ranking comes from the PISA test, an international test for 15 year old students. Finland was also recognized in the book, "The Smartest Kids in the World" as a leader in forward thinking education.
Utah teachers were able to meet with representatives from the National Ministry of Education, took part in teacher panel discussions at top elementary, secondary and collegiate Finnish schools. They also participated in home stay experiences with Finnish teachers in order to gain a deeper understanding of culture and schools.
In addition to learning more about education, teachers were able to learn more about sustainable development in schools, society and governments. First meeting with European Union representatives on sustainability, then the Haltia Nature Centre on environmental education, Hammarby Sjostad: Unique Environmental Project in Stockholm, tour "What makes green capital?", Swedish Center for Environmental Interpretation and finishing with the Nordic Council.
Utah teachers from elementary to college were able to gain new perspectives on educational policies in regards to quality education and sustainability. In all, through this experience Utah schools will benefit from having so many representatives for their students. Opportunities such as this are great for teachers and even better for students because their teachers will have better tools to give them learning experiences that can be applied to their life in the 21st century.
This experience has really influenced my curriculum this year. Learning about successful educational techniques in Finland put into perspective ideas that I have been thinking about implementing and reinforced projects that I already implement. These teaching techniques that the Scandinavia Teacher program helped me to better develop my grading system, international projects, movement in the classroom, and free-time.
Before going to Finland I was trying to figure out my grading system. I wanted to be able to create a system the better reflected what students know, not what worksheets they can turn in. One of the questions I had whenever we went to an educational institution was about their grading system. Since testing is not emphasized, how do they determine grades or what students know? I was never able to get a straight answer from anyone about this question. The Ministry of Education glossed over it, the University based theirs on the only test that they give, and the schools never answered the question. It was when I was given a ride, by one of the teachers, to one of the locations that I was able to get an answer. From there I was able to figure out the non-answers from everywhere else. It’s all subjective, they do give “quizzes” in the form of worksheets and other assignments, but generally the grades are given based on the teacher observations. From what I was able to gather grades were given once a term, at the end of the term. Parents can come in for a parent-teacher conference at mid-term, but other than graded assignments that have been sent home parents pretty much leave it up to the teacher to teach. There is a trust that does not exist in the United States. I realized that this grading system would not work in the United States, mostly because of the ‘trust’ factor and the culture of education. In my school district we are required to update grades at least once a week, this is so parents and students can know where students are in their learning. However, with the typical way of grading in the United States that grade does not reflect what students have learned, it more or less based on how many worksheets that student has turned in. Typically students just copy down answers and call it good, they haven’t actually learned anything. At my school we have an educational theory to help students learn, “By the student, by the standard.” This is to help teachers keep track of what each individual student has learned. However, typical grading contradicts this theory.
Visiting Finland with the Scandinavia Teacher Institute I have been able to design a better grading system. This grading system is a combination of standards based and project based grading. In order to compromise between the Finnish grading system and the US grading system I had to figure out a balance. My students’ grades are now more holistic reflecting what they know and what skills they have. The breakdown of my grading is as follows: 80% Assessments (projects, quizzes, tests), 10% Assignments (notes, worksheets, etc.), 10% Participation (behavior and class participation), there is also opportunities for students to complete Enrichment Projects (extra credit) by completing subject related projects. The assessment and behavior grades are the only grades entered during the term, the assignments and enrichment project grades are added at the end of the term. The
implementation of this grading system has been really successful. Students and parents have a more accurate picture of what is being learned. It requires students take more personal responsibility over their learning.
My primary goal with visiting schools in Finland was to establish partnerships for international exchange projects. These projects are flexible and can be adapted into most curriculums. Working with the Japan Society’s Going Global projects, teachers are able to establish collaborations with students in other countries. For my students I have set up relationships with schools in Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States. Adding Finland to this list was one of my goals. After visiting schools in Finland, I was able to make contact with a few teachers. They became very interesting in the Going Global project because it is similar to e-twinning, but is much easier than going through the European Union. Although I did research on e-twinning and other international exchanges, I learned more details about these programs from European teachers, there is a lot of paperwork and red tape associated with these EU exchange programs. European teachers really like doing these international exchanges because they understand that the world is becoming more globalized. However, they are happy to find alternatives to the official EU exchange programs because of the extra work involved. We have begun exchange projects with the schools in Finland. The teachers from Puolimatka Jr. High School have said that they are please with the Going Global Projects. They say that it is very similar to e-twinning, but a lot more flexible and user friendly with their classes. This project connects students in almost every region of the world. I hope that future international collaborations will allow me to continue to expand so that students are able to collaborate with their peers in every region of the world.
One of the classroom techniques that we learned about was movement. We learned that in Finland they have fifteen-minute breaks every forty-five minutes. This gave me a lot to think about. I know that I have wanted students to be able to move around more in the classroom, but this insight made me review my own teaching practices as well as additional research. According the Association for Middle Level Education, “Brain research tells us that students can actively listen to their teachers for as many minutes as their age. That means, for a middle school student, 15 minutes is about the longest time they will sit still and listen before they need to get up and move.” In my school district students have five- minute breaks every ninety-minutes, this goes against best practices, which the PLC [Professional Learning Communities] tell educators to always look for. I look for best practices everywhere, especially other countries. Visiting Finnish schools encouraged me to look for opportunities to get students moving, the Korean variety show “Runningman” inspired the activities. As a result, I have created projects and activities for students to move and learn. Although some of the moving is just for the sake of moving I do not feel bad for ‘wasting time’ because through my research, it is not. Movement is good for student learning, it gets their blood flowing and helps to engage their mind. I have done the same activity with and without the active moving aspect and students are more engaged when they are moving.
As we look at free time in the classroom, we need to look at our teaching philosophy. Visiting the Finnish schools helped me to update my teaching philosophy. After analyzing
philosophies in Finland, among other countries, I have been able to see what is working around the world. The paradigm shift that I had been processing before going to Finland took root once there. I asked many questions: What does the grade represent? What is it that students really need to know? Do students really need to memorize every country in Africa? Is that going to benefit them in their life? I realized that it was more important to teach students how to use resources then using that information to think critically. Using this philosophy I realized that breaks were important. When there is down time in a classroom it is easy for teachers to assign ‘busy work’, but often times think that it is relevant because it has to do with the content. When modifying my curriculum this year I asked myself questions about each assignment; “What is the point of this worksheet/ assignment? How will it benefit the lives of my students? I figured out what students are going to get out of doing the assignment. I removed several assignments that I had originally thought was good, but now reanalyzing them I realized that they were not effective. When students have down time during class time I now have them working on projects. I have changed extra credit to enrichment projects. I have several projects for students to work on when they have time including; Korean language practice, student proposed projects, International projects (going global), and other projects depending on the term. It is important for students to have ‘free time’, there has been research that says twenty percent of time is good for schools. It gives students time to explore, create and think, which is a 21st Century skill. Google even uses this idea and because of it we now have Google products such as Google Drive. There are several articles that back up this idea. 1
I feel that the Scandinavia Teacher Institute really helped my teaching. I have been able to solidify ideas that have been building for the last few years. My teaching will continue to improve and become more organized. As a relatively young teacher I am still formulating teaching my philosophy, so this experience was an influential in my formative teaching years. Since this experience I have given newspaper and television interviews, I have presented at the Utah Social Studies Conference and at the Utah House of Representatives. This experience has directly impacted my students because of the way I am now grading and through participating in collaboration projects with students in Finland. Not only have I connected students at Puolimatka Jr. High School to students in my school but also schools in Japan, Pakistan and the United States. I was also able to connect a fellow Scandinavian Teacher Institute participant to the Going Global projects. Going forward with the lessons learned from the Finnish education system, I would be able to continue to improve education in my school and community. As work with teachers on the Alpine School District Social Studies Leadership Committee, I will be able to continue to share these lessons. The BYU Scandinavian Teacher Institute was one of the best teacher professional development experiences that I have had, it will continue to positively influence my students and community.
“Why 20% Time is Good For Schools:: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/20-percent-time-a-j-juliani
“How to Build Students’ Creative Confidence”, Suzie Boss http://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-to-build-creative-confidence-students-suzie-boss