Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hanging with the Cool Kids

I have been really lucky to spend this past week hanging out in classrooms talking with teachers and students about the things they are learning and the Finnish school systems.

One of my favorite classes was the English-Level 3 kids. They are two weeks away from being done with classes and going on a month long "study break" to prepare for their matriculation exams. I was talking to a couple of boys after class and asked them how much of the month they were going to really use for studying and they turned to look at each other, then responded "maybe half." I love the honesty of young people!

These matriculation exams are the only "high-stakes test" in the entire Finnish system and the students know to take them seriously. University is very competitive to get into and so they know that it is important to do well and the responsibility is on them to study and prepare. It can take 2 or 3 times applying to University to get in, but that is seen as normal so students already have in their mind the things they can do in their gap year- travel, do an internship, military service, go to open University, go to vocational school or even go back to school to get higher matriculation exam grades. There are no dead ends in this system (more on this to come later!). According to everyone I ask, young and old, it is not seen as a poor decision to not go directly in to University after high school. So even this high-stakes test doesn't have the pressure attached to it that some of the US tests do!  

These ladies are playing a game that is helping them review for their exam. Students take turn rolling the dice and then landing on a square with point values. In each square, it asks them a question they have to respond to in English. For example, "something you should have done last week." The student then has to respond with a complete English sentence  If their partner says it is correct, they get the points. There are three levels, each with different types of tasks. These ladies were a blast to hang with. One question was, "Why are you being so difficult?" The response, "Because it is my job!" I love teenagers!

These two guys were trying to use me to cheat and ask me the answers. During level three, they have to make a phrase using the word or expression that was in the box. The word was "dare" and the boy on the left said to his partner, "I dare you to go up to the front of the class and start singing saying the American told you to." I think they have a pretty good grasp on the English language!
Here are a few shots from around the school. In this school students get ipads in their first year of high school and all the teachers get one too! Before classes start, students hang out in the hallways getting last minute homework or review done, before teachers come to open the doors. Unsupervised of course- gotta love all the luottamus

I also got adventurous this week and took the regional bus to Petäjävesi Lukio (high school) and the campus of Jyväskylä College, Crafts and Design which is located across the parking lot from the lukio. This town only had 4,000 people so it is a small school with about 150 students total in the upper secondary school.  Small town, small school- I was excited to see equality in schools in action!

Pause in the school observations story for a moment- This town is about 45 minutes outside of Jyväskylä and I had to be creative in figuring out which stop to get off at. Because I was on a regional bus, the stops don't flash above to let you know when you should get off. And the stops don't actually have signs that name the stop. So I boarded the bus at the bus station (instead of the stop outside my house) so I could A- figure out which bus to get on (I had no idea what the bus would even say on the outside) and B- start to count stops. So armed with my gps on my phone and my paper print out of stops, I tried to keep track of which ones we were passing. Granted, the bus only stops to eiher pick someone up or let someone off so I had not idea if we were passing stops or not. About half way through the trip, I realized we were only picking up young people and they must be on their way to school. I was two stops off my count, when they all got up and got off the bus. I figured I had nothing to loose so I got off with them and followed them to school. Love it! Without them I might still be on the bus :)  

The lukio or academic high school
This school is amazing! I saw English, Advanced Mathmatics and PE while I was in the lukio and spent time in the vocational school too. There are about 100 students in the vocational school and about 80 adults (you can go back to vocational school as an adult to change your career- again, no dead ends). They have programs for Textiles (read fashion design- do you know how many of my DC students would LOVE to study fashion design in high school!), metal working, photography, and wood working. Each vocational school has a different focus and so this is where you go if you are a crafty person. Here are a few shots from the day.

The vocational school- each vocation has their own house

This was a scene right out of Project Runway!
Beautiful design sketches were being turned into incredible clothes!

There was a girl working on this loom and was in such a
grove she didn't even notice us coming in.

This poster (in Finnish of course!) outlines the course requirements for the three years in the photography school.  The courses in gray are the academic high school courses that students must take- 30 credits of core and elective studies.  Students just go across the parking lot to the to take their classes with students who are on the academic track. No differences in the level of difficulty when you take them with the same students! The photography students can decide if they want to specialize in photo journalism, art photography or studio in their final year. Years 1 and 2 are about the theory, darkroom skills, legal rights and on the job experience with working photographers. If students decide they don't like photography, they can change their mind and do something else.  

These are the photography students that started this year-
only 40 get in and they have many more applicants.

One student in metal working made this for
her final project- I would buy it!

You only see boys in this picture, but the class is half girls
and half boys! 
Made by a 2nd year woodworking student- her designs
and creations.  She was so proud of the work she has
accomplished and really proud of her learning.
This is no Ikea :)  Made by an adult education student for
his two boys.
Yard art for the center of the campus- made by students of course.

In Finland, there are not enough spaces in vocational schools for all the students who want to attend making it very competitive to get into the specific school you want. Vocational schools are also becoming more popular and therefore more competitive. Bottom line- grades matter here too! Most students come out of vocational high schools and go into a Polytechnic College or College of Applied Sciences for additional training and so students are motivated because they are doing what they love and they are working toward a goal. Can't beat that!

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