Maker Education in Finland – Sisu!

This is a sharing from our instructor Maria after her trip in Finland visiting local schools. Throughout the 9 days tour leaded by the Learning By Doing Academy team and accompanied by 20 teachers and school administrators from The Mission Covenant Church Holm Glad No. 2 Primary School, we discovered, reflected and came up with cool ideas that can bring back to implement at our primary school.

Question: In this Finland trip, what surprises you?

Maria: I was amazed by the strong autonomy from students. For example, the first class I observed is a grade 2 Finnish language class. The teacher spend around 10 minutes on reviewing verb and noun at the beginning. It then moved on to a word hunting game, students ran out from the classroom to search the words hidden in different corners in the campus. When school bell rang, the students knew their way to return to their classroom and checked the answer on the board automatically. There were no scolding, shouting during the whole process. Every one is so self-disciplined! 

Students there are self-motivated the the schools provide space and choices for them to develop their own interests. In one of the school I visited, the students can organised a recess club by themselves and recruit their own members. We visited a dancing robotic club formed by 5 girls. They joined a dancing and Mindstorm LEGO competition, so they make use of recess time to practice their dance, together with guidance from teachers to learn how to program the LEGO robot to dance with them.

Finland give many support to SEN students. In one complementary school I visited, they have special classes for SEN students, with average 1 to 2 teacher to student ratio. Wow, it is very high compared to Hong Kong, where we just put our SEN students in normal class of 30 or more students. Since the Finnish education values equality, so every child is not left behind. SEN students do need special attention and help, so the school provide more help and hire professional nurse to take care of these students. But it doesn’t mean the school marginalise these students, instead their goal is to help them learn better according to their special needs, so that they will be able to return to the normal class when they feel ready, yet they can still go back to the special class when they need to feel safe. It’s all about the student!

Question: Is there maker education in Finland?

Maria: The students learn making start from early age. They have craftsmanship and sewing class from grade 1 (equivalent to primary 1 in Hong Kong).  From grade 1 to 6, they first learn basic skills and machine operation. Then in grade 7 to 9, they will have more freedom to work on personal or group projects. The making classes in Finland build a strong foundation in nurture maker mindset (can-do spirit and learn from mistakes) and skill building. But they also able to give choices to their kids. It’s true that not every one of them will love making or pursuit making into their career, but the lessons do teach the Finnish kids to be resilient, not afraid to make mistake and learn from mistakes.

Students spend 2 hours every week in the craftsmanship class. Nearly everyone of them show highly autonomy.

Students (both boys and girls) learn sewing at young age.

I visited a grade 5 class working on a candle holder which is  a metalwork project. The teacher first broke down the process and introduced each steps needed to go through to make a candle holder. Then he demonstrated before each step, and give lots of time for the students to try. The role of the teacher will then be a observer and provide advise and demonstrate when it is needed.

The student tour guide (a 9th grade boy) showed me his go cart project he is doing with his friends. I was amazed by his work and his metalwork skills at such a young age.

Question: What are your takeaways from this trip?

Maria: Sisu! It is a Finnish word literally mean gut. Sisu is the art of courage in the Finnish culture. Let me illustrate sisu in what I have observed.

The students in Finland always go outdoor for recess even though it is cold outside. I asked the teachers did the school worry that the kids will get cold or injured. They said no, because they think these are the time to let their students learn to be self-disciplined and to be tough. Both Finnish teachers and parents believe that playing outside more often can keep their kids stay healthy and stay focus in classes.

Sisu is a mindset of blending resilience, respect and courage. We all need to nurture this sisu mindset within ourselves and at school.

Question: So, what is the next step after this trip?

Maria:  The number one task is to work with the teachers who attended the trip to implement the ideas generated during the trip. Number two is to empower more teachers to lead to co-design a school that facilitate students to become self-motivated. Which I think we, MakerBay, can provide consultation on curriculum design and teacher training to different schools that want to nurture maker mindset to the school.

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Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.