Finland’s education system is considered one of the best in the world. In international ratings, it’s always in the top ten. However, the authorities there aren’t ready to rest on their laurels, and they’ve decided to carry through a real revolution in their school system.
Finnish officials want to remove school subjects from the curriculum. There will no longer be any classes in physics, math, literature, history, or geography.
The head of the Department of Education in Helsinki, Marjo Kyllonen, explained the changes:
“There are schools that are teaching in the old-fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginning of the 1900s — but the needs are not the same, and we need something fit for the 21st century.“
Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math. And by taking the course ”Working in a Cafe,” students will absorb a whole body of knowledge about the English language, economics, and communication skills.
This system will be introduced for senior students, beginning at the age of 16. The general idea is that the students ought to choose for themselves which topic or phenomenon they want to study, bearing in mind their ambitions for the future and their capabilities. In this way, no student will have to pass through an entire course on physics or chemistry while all the time thinking to themselves “What do I need to know this for?”
The traditional format of teacher-pupil communication is also going to change. Students will no longer sit behind school desks and wait anxiously to be called upon to answer a question. Instead, they will work together in small groups to discuss problems.
The Finnish education system encourages collective work, which is why the changes will also affect teachers. The school reform will require a great deal of cooperation between teachers of different subjects. Around 70% of teachers in Helsinki have already undertaken preparatory work in line with the new system for presenting information, and, as a result, they’ll get a pay increase.
The changes are expected to be complete by 2020.
The following resources—from Facing History and our partners at StoryCorps—are designed to help your students gain critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance, and a sense of civic responsibility.
Set the stage. Before you begin the classroom activities below, download “Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations” and review the suggestions for creating a classroom contract, providing opportunities for student reflection, and facilitating discussion about sensitive topics.
Consider the impact of identity. Use activities in this lesson to help students determine how their identity contributes to the way they respond to other people (and how other people respond to them). This will be useful preparation before discussing difficult topics.
Use #WhoWeAre videos in the classroom to build community. StoryCorps partnered withUpworthy to create a series of real-life stories told by everyday Americans. These animated videos are designed to build bridges of understanding between people and help us recognize our shared humanity. We encourage you to view all of the stories and think about which will best resonate with your students. You can view the whole collection here, but three to start with are:
After showing a video to your students, provide some time for silent reflection through journaling or using aThink-Pair-Share teaching strategy. Students can create identity charts for each of the people in the story, or use the following questions to frame a classroom discussion or as a prompt for a Big Paper silent conversation:
- How are the people in the story different from each other? How are they similar? What challenges did each person overcome?
- What was at stake in the story? What was gained and what was lost?
- What choices did each person face? What do you think were the different factors weighing on their minds? What do you think of the choices each of them made?
To finish the discussion introduce the concept of the Universe of Obligation. Ask students to individually create one for each of the people in the story and think about how it has shifted through their experience. To finish this exploration, ask students to create their own Universe of Obligation. Then as a class, create one for the United States. Does everyone in the class—or in the country—agree on what the country’s Universe of Obligation is or should be?
Strengthen community at home. Encourage your students to participate in StoryCorps’ Great Thanksgiving Listen, by downloading the StoryCorps app and interviewing an elder or loved one about their story. StoryCorps has created a Teacher Toolkit and multimedia resources page to support classroom participation. Help students build context for understanding the 2016 election by asking their elders about their memories and experiences in past elections. Use the “Elections and Civic Engagement” Great Questions list, available on page 18 of the Teacher Toolkit or in the questions section of the StoryCorps app.
For more helpful tips, read StoryCorps’ Facing Today blog, “The Anatomy of a Great Interview.”
According to Vanderbilt University, service learning is defined as: “A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.”
Wikipedia explains service learning as: “An educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service in order to provide a pragmatic, progressive learning experience while meeting societal needs.”
That second definition is easier to comprehend, but it still feels more complicated than it needs to be. How about this: In service learning, students learn educational standards through tackling real-life problems in their community.
What Does Service Learning Look Like?
Community service, as many of us know, has been a part of educational systems for years. But what takes service learning to the next level is that it combines serving the community with the rich academic frontloading, assessment, and reflection typically seen in project-based learning.
In a service-learning unit, goals are clearly defined, and according to The Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, there are many kinds of projects that classrooms can adopt. Classes can be involved in direct issues that are more personal and face-to-face, like working with the homeless. Involvement can be indirect where the students are working on broader issues, perhaps an environmental problem that is local. The unit can also include advocacy that centers on educating others about the issues. Additionally, the unit can be research-based where the students act to curate and present on information based on public needs.
Here are several ideas for service-learning units:
- Work on a Habitat for Humanity building site.
- Pack up food bags for the homeless.
- Set up a tutoring system or reading buddies with younger students.
- Clean up a local park or beach.
- Launch a drought and water awareness campaign.
- Create a “pen pal” video conferencing group with a senior citizens home.
The Breakdown of a Service-Learning Unit
It’s not enough to help others. Deep service learning isn’t afraid to tackle the rigorous standards along with the service. You might find it helpful to split your unit into four parts:
1. Pre-Reflection: Have your students brainstorm in writing the ways in which they can help their world or their local community. Check out Newsela, CNN Student News, or their local papers for articles on current events and issues of interest to get in informational reading, as well.
2. Research: Guide your students in techniques to help them search wisely and efficiently. They should conduct online polls (crowdsourcing) and create graphs to chart their findings. Students should summarize their findings using embedded images, graphs, and other multimedia elements. (Try an infographic tool likePiktochart.)
3. Presentation: Have your students present their findings to the school, each other, and outside stakeholders. They can develop posters to promote their call to action, write a letter campaign, or develop a simple website using Weebly. Students can “go on the road” with their findings to local schools and organizations or produce screencasts for the school website.
4. Reflection: Ask your students to think back on what they gained from journeying through this project. Have them reflect on the following:
- What did you learn about the topic?
- What did you learn about yourself?
- How do you now think differently?
Assessing Service Learning
Another element that tends to make service learning unique is that multiple stakeholders assess students:
Community assessment: The community partners can get their say as well by assessing the students. They may even get voice in developing the rubric or criteria for evaluating the students.
Teacher assessment: Along with evaluating students on the content, you might additionally assess them on how well they accomplished the writing, graphing, researching, or speaking.
Student assessment: Your students might conduct self-assessment as a form of reflection. They also may assist in developing the rubric that other stakeholders use to assess them.
What we’re talking about here is a form of engagement. It’s about leveraging the need to do something good in the world as a means to help kids hit their learning objectives. It’s about teaching empathy as well as literacy. It’s about teaching compassion as well as composition. It’s about teaching advocacy as well as algebra.
November 9, 2016
I know yesterday was a rough day for many. Popular words on my FB feed included grief, depression, shock, sadness, disbelief.
When times are tough, it might seem tempting to try to find the “eject” button and apply for Canadian citizenship. Or take advantage of California’s new legalized marijuana resolution to check out on a 4-year high.
But as many commentators have already pointed out, what is really needed is for us to step even further into the ring and do our best to all move forward together.
Which is why I wrote this post. To do my part to offer a tool to navigate your mind and spirit during a paradigm-shifting event such as this election might have been for you.
I have seen many great articles and blogs that have attempted to soothe the depressed spirit with a “it’s not as bad as you might think” message. They logically point out that Donald Trump won’t be able to make large changes in a political system such as ours… or that no matter who won, half the country would have been upset and so why does it matter if it’s your side or theirs… or that this sort of thing has happened before in US politics, and it didn’t sink us then so why would it sink us now?
These are all great arguments that bring a lot of comfort. The perspective that I want to add is how to accept what has happened so that you can build strongly upon it and make your presence in this nation count moving forward.
And we’ll do so with a lesson from Improv Comedy.
You may have noticed that Improv actors use a technique called “Yes, and,” which is the concept that you accept whatever move your partner just made, and build on it. For example, at my improv class last weekend, I was partnered with a classmate Jake, and we were told that we should improvise a scene with a car. I wanted the scene to be one of a girl getting driving lessons from her father. But before I could speak the words to frame the scene, my partner jumped in and had us be two bank robbers fleeing the scene of the crime. Not exactly what I had in mind. I was miffed.
But instead of resisting that plot line, I accepted it. I did my best imitation of a frantic car chase (which, to be clear, I am utterly terrible at. Cross that one off my list of potential careers.). And by embracing the scene I now found myself in, I was able to add the fact that I was a junior bank robber, and I was getting bank robbing lessons from the “big boss.” I ended up introducing the element of paternalistic instruction that I wanted; it was just with a gun in my hand and a sack of loot at my feet. The scene was fun and funny, and a big hit.
Contrast the “Yes, and” with the “No, but” approach. Had I responded to my partner that “we’re not bank robbers! You’re my dad and we are taking a driving test,” then the scene would have come to a screeching, awkward halt. My partner would have been offended, I would have been indignant, and I promise you that no one would have laughed.
The key to the “Yes, and” is acceptance. Acceptance means that you don’t waste your energy trying to resist something that you cannot change, and instead embrace it. Yes, embrace it. That doesn’t mean that you would have chosen it, but rather that you recognize that that is where things are now, and you commit to being fully receptive to what is. I
t’s only in that receptivity that you can really understand a situation enough to plot your “And.” This is something that we learn in the Serenity Prayer:
“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.”
The “Yes” is the serenity of accepting what is. The “and” is the courage to make a change. And the wisdom comes in linking the two.
So, folks, what has to happen now is that we all must become skilled Improv artists. Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Yes, and what will you build upon it? What will you add to the scene? The future of our country will be shaped by all of our “Ands.” If there is one thing I have learned from Improv Comedy, it’s that some of the best scenes come from those Ands. What will be yours?
Write me a note and share your thoughts!
At Two Rivers Public Charter School, they taught us how to problem solve, and they made it relevant. Here are four tips that engaged me in my learning that you can adapt in your classroom:
1. Give Your Students Hard Problems
In the real world, we’re not going to have nice problems that will be easy to understand. We are going to have complex problems that require a lot more preparation than most math, science, or English classes will give us. The challenges in the real world won’t be simple, and the problems that are supposed to prepare us for that world shouldn’t be either.
2. Make Problem Solving Relevant to Your Students’ Lives
In the seventh grade, we looked at statistics concerning racial murders and the jury system. That’s something that is going to affect students later in life, and we got a chance to look at it from a mathematical perspective. Problems like that are actually relevant to us, and they’re not things we’re supposed to just memorize or learn. They are things from which we can take very important life lessons, and then actually apply them later on in life.
Related Article: Solving Real World Issues Through Problem-Based Learning
In the eighth grade, we wrote policy briefs in relation to gene editing and presented them to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. We talked to researchers who worked with CRISPR-Cas9 (a gene editing tool used to modify specific genes in organisms), and we studied how gene editing is evolving and how we can use this modern technology for science applications. At the same time, in English, we read The Giver by Lois Lowry and analyzed whether the society in the book was ethical to gain an understanding of what ethical means and how it’s applicable in real situations, like gene editing.
This wasn’t something where we were being told, “Somebody’s going to buy 60 watermelons at a store.” This was actually happening in real life, and the only people really discussing this were people whom it wasn’t even going to affect. This science won’t come into widespread use until much later, and we’re going to be the first ones who are actually in danger from the possible consequences of it. By presenting our policy briefs, we had a chance to make an impact and get our voice out there at only 14.
3. Teach Your Students How to Grapple (It’s More Powerful Than Perseverance)
Grappling is like perseverance, but it goes beyond that. Perseverance means trying again and again, even after you’ve failed. Grappling implies trying even before you fail the first time. It’s thinking, “First, I’ll work with it independently. Okay, I’m really not understanding it. Let me go back to my notes. Okay, I have solved for the first part of it. Now I have the second part of it. Okay, I got the question wrong; let me try again. Maybe I can ask my peer now.” Grappling is working hard to make sure you understand the problem fully, and then using every resource at your fingertips to solve it.
4. Put More Importance on Student Understanding Than on Getting the Right Answer
I am graduating from Two Rivers with a practical view of the world. I don’t think that many students come out of middle school saying, “It was great.” And I don’t think many students have had this introduction to our society and its benefits and drawbacks. I’m also coming out of here with incredible problem-solving skills and the ability to look at any problem and have 10,000 ways to solve it in my mind already—because we don’t just memorize functions or the periodic table. We understand why, and we work to understand how to solve a problem instead of just getting the answer.
As students preparing for the real world, it is so much more impactful for us if our learning is relevant and challenging than if it is just about memorizing the right answers.
IN THE HILLS ABOVE SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A day in the life of Matias Barrera looks a bit like that of many other private-school students. There is the rigorous college preparatory curriculum. And a dining hall with local organic beets, plus a cook who whips up fresh salsa.
But at 9 o’clock on a recent Sunday morning, he and some classmates stuffed themselves into the back seat of an aging pickup truck cab and set out to gather a week’s worth of firewood. Later, other students chopped some of it.
Then, at the appointed shower hour, several others built fires to heat the water tanks that do (or do not) ensure a comfortable bathing experience for the 81 students who live in unheated cabins here.
Finally, at a chapel meeting in the early evening, Mr. Barrera regaled the students and faculty members with a talk about how he wondered if the place was a rehab facility when he and his family arrived.
At the Midland School in Los Olivos, Calif., $49,900 buys a school year’s room and board and a shot at Stanford and Harvard, just as a fee in the mid-five figures would at Andover or Exeter. But at Midland, it also gets teenagers a lesson in wants, needs and the slippery continuum stretching between them. It is the very lesson that many grown-ups wish we’d gotten long ago.
Staggering as that price is, it would be a whole lot more if the school required janitorial services or a larger fleet of kitchen aides. But it doesn’t, since the students more or less run the place. And that is fitting for a school where the founder, Paul Squibb, declared back in 1932 that he wanted to create an institution free of the clutter that comes from affluence and the need to keep up with whatever everyone else has or does.
Eighty-four years later, that philosophy manifests itself in a campus that would almost certainly make the Top 10 list for most spartan among the nation’s private secondary schools. And when it comes to the most elemental needs — food, light, heat — the students play the largest role in providing them.
“Working to meet basic needs, and not just having those needs met, is itself an essential human need,” according to the dean of studies, Lise Schickel Goddard, who channeled the legacy of Mr. Squibb in a history of the school this year.
Midland students are among a shrinking number of California residents who don’t have to worry too much about where their water comes from, since the school sits atop an aquifer that is ample to supply its needs.
Power, however, is a central concern, and a curricular one, too. Each year, the sophomore class is responsible for a new solar installation intended to draw another 3 percent of the school’s electricity needs from the sun.
As for food, about 50 percent of the produce that students and faculty members eat comes from the 10 acres of land that they farm organically. Most of the meat comes from pigs and cows they raise. Students work in the kitchen, too, along with the cook and a few other employees.
And then there’s the matter of warmth. The cabins have only basic wood stoves. Upperclassmen often do without them, given how much space they take up.
The shower fires, however, are perhaps Midland’s best-known ritual, the thing that many visiting college representatives want to see. It doesn’t take much to get one going as long as there is plenty of wood at the appointed hour. But if the day’s six fire-starters shirk their duties, it is their classmates who suffer. They can, and do, give a form of demerit to one another (resulting in additional work duties) when necessary.
“What I need now is directly correlated with what everyone else needs,” said Duncan McCarthy, a senior. “It’s not that I need a shower. Everyone does. That was not the case at school before, where all I needed to do was homework.”
Faculty members maintain a loose oversight on the various work duties and will hear appeals when there are disagreements among the students. “But with showers, there is no faculty supervision whatsoever,” said Lynda Cummings, the director of college counseling, who also lives on the school grounds but does not have to have to fire up her own shower. “If a kid doesn’t do the job and everyone gets a cold shower, do I care? Not really.”
Midland does not value suffering per se. But turning teenagers loose with axes, fire, kitchen knives and live animals in the service of heat and food is, to its leaders, no different from nudging them into an Advanced Placement class. “All of us are pretty poor judges of the limits of our ability,” said Christopher Barnes, the head of school. “So we try to push them past the limits of their experience while staying within the limits of their ability.”
The trick is doing so without being reckless, which entails its own complex calculations of wants and needs. The cabins have sprinklers mainly because of those wood stoves, but no other running water. Students who ring the bell that wakes everyone up and rules the schedule wear ear protection, but they also may ride around on their bikes without wearing helmets.
Jose Juan Ibarra, a graduate of the school and now a faculty member, still has a scar on his shoulder from an aggressive bout of teenage wood gathering. And in an accident in 2002, a student who was riding in the bed of a pickup truck a few miles up the road from the main part of campus was killed.
As always, most discussions of wants and needs (and Midland grown-ups do not shy away from any of them) eventually come around to the following question: How much is enough? How much risk to take? How much dessert — which is a want and not a need, but it’s something that Maggie Tang, a junior, nevertheless whipped up for everyone 47 times during the last school year.
How much internet? Not much or just enough, depending on whether you’re a teacher or a student. The school confiscates phones, but service signals are nearly nonexistent anyway and the school’s Wi-Fi network steers clear of the cabins. Still, the outside world intervenes via Amazon.
“We have a handful of students who are very affluent and who don’t think anything of just ordering anything they see,” Mr. Barnes said. “It has transgressed this boundary that Paul Squibb tried to create by being five miles up the road.” After one particularly egregious $400 fashion purchase arrived, the head of school gently asked the recipient about its appropriateness.
And finally, how much, for lack of a better term, fanciness? Over the years, grateful alumni have inquired about sprucing up the place, perhaps with a tennis program or a swimming pool. But the school wants nothing to do with such things, which are neither simple nor cheap to maintain. Better, it believes, to put money into the financial aid budget, which serves 56 percent of the student body, with an average scholarship of $33,553.
Even so, I couldn’t help wondering whether the Midland gestalt wasn’t all so much rich hippie pablum, what with the dogs that some students bring to school (who must pass their own admissions test) and buildings that are partly open to the elements. Recent Stanford and Harvard admissions aside, is it mostly a place where parents send their children for a sort of spiritual delousing?
Midland faculty members and administrators have heard it all before. Mr. Barnes, who is new on the job this year, says he believes he may have a different problem. The place is so serious about living its truth that it may be scaring off some families. It is not quite at capacity, and he would like it to be.
But when he was running the hiring gantlet and talking about all of that, he received a clear message that he was not to fool with the bathing ritual. Midland students are very protective of their shower fires.
Mr. Barnes and his family spent a few years on a small sailboat with no shower before they came to California, so he was pretty sure he knew how those teenagers felt. “If you can narrow down your sense of need,” he said, “you can buy yourself an incredible amount of freedom.”