Saturday 4-13-13 Well, we’re off. We were a little late taking off but not bad. It’s just after 4:00 Saturday now and we are in the air with the beverage service about to start. The seats are crazy small and the guy in front of me has decided to recline so I am typing this with my keyboard only about six inches from my chest! This should be interesting. I am so lucky to be traveling with my sister. She can talk to anyone anywhere and we already met a gentleman from Paris who lives in LA and travels back and forth regularly.
I’m going to watch a movie now called Cloud Atlas. The preview says it “explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future.” Isn’t that what education is really all about. We all hope to make an impact on someone else’s life and, in turn, impact the future. This whole trip is about how one education system is impacting the lives and future of the children of their country. Interesting to think how similar or different we might be.
Sunday 4-14-13 The flight ended up being pretty miserable. “Reclining man” did so the ENTIRE way. At one point I asked him if he could sit up a little because I couldn’t even open my mini laptop and he did, for about five minutes then he said sorry he was going to sleep and went back to full recline. I think his seat reclined further than any other on the plane except for those seats that inclined like a bed! I’m a tall person so I was unable to move much for the nine hour flight to London. Add another five or six hours on for the next leg of the trip and I was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived at our hotel. With the time change it was 6:00 Sunday by the time we arrived. Colleen and I ended up having some grapes, crackers, and tuna in our room and going to bed after our itinerary meeting rather than venture out for dinner. Helsinki still has snow on the ground but it’s mostly “old snow’. It was a thirty minute drive from the airport and the eight of us on the same flight got a van taxi. Not a bad ride. The hotel is very European, as you might expect.
Monday 4-15-13 - We’re up at 5:30 and about to embark on our first day’s adventure. We’re going to the University of Helsinki in the morning then we’ll get a walking tour of Helsinki this afternoon. It should be fun. I’ll write more later.
Met in the lobby to take the bus ride to Elielinaukio Bus # 315 for the one hour bus ride to Espoo : School visit, Karamzininkoulu in Vanhakartano , Espoo: the principal, Mr. Jouni Horkko, classroom visits in small groups, coffee with teachers, lunch in the school cafeteria.
We enjoyed a presentation and slide show from the principal, whom they refer to as the head teacher or the head master, of a primary school. In Finland administrators are required to teach as well. Mr. Horkko teaches 5 hours a week and he said since he is Christian he decided to teach religion because he enjoys it so much. It was interesting to note that while in the U.S. we can barely mention religion in the schools it is a compulsory subject in Finland. Students can choose the religion they study, usually their own religion or if they are not affiliated with a church they study ethics. It seems that character education and learning to get along with society is a major focus at the primary school level. Students also take such mandatory classes as wood shop, sewing and knitting. Here is a picture of their wood shop, they start in here by 3rd grade.
Visit to Donnerska Skolan (the Swedish High School) and the Swedish Upper Secondary School
There was less of a tour at this school. We did have a good opportunity to talk with teachers and students though and that was valuable. I didn't realize we would spend that much time however and felt a little unprepared but it worked out. It was nice to hear about things from a student perspective. I asked them what they thought was the secret to the PISA results and they stated that the test just seemed easy. They felt that since they were not always pressured to take big tests like this they did not feel stressed and that perhaps that helped as well. Students in Finland do not have the school social connection that American students do. They enjoy being there with their friends but they go to school to learn and seem to be less distracted at school than many American students are. Being the minority language I asked if there was any stigma of going to the only Swedish speaking school. They told me that they didn't feel there was. After school they all just hung out the same. They did feel that speaking Swedish gave them an advantage though as far as being able to communicate in businesses.
Some interesting facts about the schools that we learned- the custodians and support staff are hired by the municipality and not the school. The food and school site as well are paid for by the municipality. We did not that the students were taught not to waste food and we saw that they measured the food waste and posted the amount. At my school we force students to take a certain amount of food whether they want it or not and we have a huge amount of waste. It seems almost criminal at the amount of food that id thrown away daily and it only teaches the students not to value the food they are given. Students in high school also have to buy their own books. Since upper secondary school is not mandated supplies are no longer provided by the school. We were told that at the university level there was strong library support so books could be borrowed. I didn’t hear for sure if the high schools had the same kind of arrangements.
Earlier I had mentioned that there was not a big push on technology. We had a speaker at the high school who told us of several projects that are being tracked by the ministry of education and studied for “best practices”. The use of technology was largely involved in many of these projects with the vision that Information Communications Technology (ICT) is a resource that puts “the whole world within the student’s reach.” Apparently ICT is much larger than my initial impression.
Winter swimming! What were we thinking!? I almost didn't do it but then I figured you only live once so what the heck. It was the coldest I have ever been in my life! The water was 1 degree Celsius! I let out a scream that almost kept Naomi from participating. I think the best part of it though was the bonding experience. In fact, this whole trip has been an outstanding bonding experience. We have a lot of talent in our cohort and I am so blessed to be able to share and draw from their experiences.
Seventh Day: Sunday, April 21, 2013
Depart for home
Up early and on to the airport. We were not able to confirm our flights or check in online so we wanted to be sure to get in early. We ended up being fine though. On the way to the airport we asked the taxi driver to take us by the “Rock Church” since we had not had an opportunity to see it. It was smaller than I had imagined but it was obvious how it got its name. The return flight home was MUCH nicer. The seat next to us was open so I moved over one and had nobody in front of or behind me. That made it more comfortable. Unfortunately the movie monitor in that seat was broken so I had to watch the movies using my original seat. I worked out fine though. I slept very little and watched a couple of movies and some TV shows.