Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why the journey?

I guess in order to start my story you need to know that I love to travel and experience new cultures. As a teacher I have looked for opportunities to go to new places and bring these experiences back to my students. I believe we can all benefit from this and I hope to install an openness and appreciation in my students for other countries.  If we all tried to understand and accept the differences among us don’t you think we would live in a much better world?

Hiking in Scotland
Okay so on to my new adventure, Finland. I applied and received a Fulbright Distinguished Teaching Award. This program is run by the US State Department. US teachers go to other countries and teachers from other countries come here. This is an effort to improve our global understanding of one another and impact our teaching both in our classroom and outside of it. But again…why did I choose Finland? Many of my friends think I am a bit crazy! Why would I want to travel to Finland in the middle of the winter? They have 5 hours of daylight or less (depending on how far north I travel…and I plan on going north!), and its cold!! Well let me explain it to you.
A few years ago I watched a video called the “Finn phenomenon” at an SAU workshop. About 30 years ago Finland’s educational system was so-so. However, since that time they have transformed it into one of the top international educational systems. In the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, Finland ranked 5th in science whereas the United States placed 28th of the 65 participating countries. Not only is the Finnish educational system one of the best in the world, their children spend less time in school than our children and they rarely have homework. How do they accomplish all this? Well that is what I want to find out!
Four years ago I staring teaching a science methods course to pre-service teachers at UNH. In other words, I was teaching students who want to be elementary teachers how to teach science. This made me really look at my craft, and decide what I think are the most important skills our students should develop. To me science is far more than the actual content. Although I think the content is fascinating! It is about teaching students how to make observations of their natural world, ask questions and learn how to answer those questions, often through experimentation. I want them to think critically, problem solve and communicate what they discover.

While in Finland, I will be exploring how they prepare teachers to teach science. I will be auditing some courses at the University of Helsinki and visiting as many classrooms as I can get into. Along the way I hope to experience Finnish culture first hand, meet people, explore their beautiful environment and hopefully see an aurora borealis! I am very excited for this adventure to begin and I plan on documenting my trip through this blog. I hope you enjoy it.