Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Friend's Day

Today has been one great Valentine's Day!  In Finland, it translates to Friend's Day and that is a holiday I can get on board with! 

I got to hang out with kids in a junior high today and was greeted with hugs from several young ladies of grade 9 at Vaajakoski School.  They were giving out free hugs in celebration of the day and very curious about American customs in schools around Valentine's Day.  They decided they like the Finnish way better and couldn't agree more!

Then I got treated to an afternoon performance.  Granted it was in Finnish, but it was a story anyone would recognize. 

Girl meets a sweet boy.

Girl meets a bad boy.

Girl chooses boy that is not good for her.

Girl gets in fight with friends.

Girl gets nice guy in the end.

The best part was the live band played the soundtrack to the show with two very brave girls singing the love songs.

And as ALWAYS, I got a very special valentine in the mail from my parents!  
The cherry on top was going out to dinner with a new friend and eating maybe the best meal I have had since I got here.  Yummy!

Can you guess what it is?

I feel all the love and friendship this day is meant to be full of!  
And I hope that each of you feel the same today and everyday :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Critical Thinking Needs No Translation

I had a chance to hang out in a chemistry classroom at Cygnaeus Lukio with an amazing teacher who has been teaching for 29 years. I was a little nervous going into this observation because I know next to nothing about chemistry and I know absolutely no Finnish. But I didn't want to miss the opportunity to be in a science classroom. This high school is the toughest one to get into in Jyväskylä and so I was excited to see what the hype was all about. 

Side-note: After compulsory education (grades 1-9) students receive a score that is combined based on their grades from classes in grades 7-9. That score is then used when applying to either upper secondary schools or vocational schools. Each school has a certain score that you have to have to apply. The scores are from 4-10. The schools in Jyväskylä have a range from the top school (Cygnaeus Lukio) at 8.42 to Tikkakosken Lukio at 5.67.  The four schools in the middle are mostly in the 7-8 score range. I am working on getting into some of the lower ranked schools to find out what this really means. More to come later...hopefully!  

I think my greatest lesson from the observation had nothing to do with chemistry. Although the lesson was amazing- kids were working in groups and experimenting with chemicals and milk to create some sort of plastic (I warned you I don't know chemistry!). I realized how fun it is to hang out with students who are thinking!

This teacher didn't give answers, she gave hints.  Students learn from labs at least once a week and the class I observed had students from several different schools enrolled. They were paired together in groups and given limited instructions.  They were expected to have read the theories in the book prior to class and would be simply testing them to see if they are true while they were in class. The teacher only talked during 18% of this class. That means students were working, testing, talking, recording and testing again the majority of the class. I was lucky enough to sit with a group who was willing to try their hand at English while they completed the lab. I heard them drawing conclusions, using different methods to sove a problem, and listen to the different perspectives offered from the group members. I was amazed not only at the chemistry vocabulary they knew in English, but the ability to demonstrate their critical thinking skills in a second language.  I was impressed!

Each group was given a blank piece of paper, an eraser and the lab equipment. As they worked together, that eraser came out to work on theories and results to make sure to accurately record what they were finding out as a group. The teacher routinely laughed and enjoyed her class as they worked to reach conclusions. I don't need to know chemistry or Finnish to understand that these students were learning.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wanna Dance?

I scored the hottest ticket in town to the high school dance!  There were 410 couples (yes- that's right 820 17 year olds all dressed up in one spot!) and each family was only allowed 3 tickets.  I was one lucky girl!  I went with Marja and her husband.  Taneli, her son, was dancing the night away and I couldn't have had more fun watching!  Here are some shots from the night. 

As you can see this is not your typical American high school dance!  Each of these couples have been practicing the waltz, the tango, and other traditional dances during their PE classes in prep for tonight.  Each school came out on to the dance floor while the live band played.  
Then they danced 6 traditional songs together.  

After those dances, each school was given the opportunity to perform a dance that was choreographed by students.  
This is where the personalities came out!  

And then the evening ended with a parent dance where students came into the audience to get their mom or dad for a dance.  

The last dance was one in which all of the schools (all 820 teenagers!) danced together and managed not to run into each other.  

It was a fantastic evening and I am convinced prom should look more like this- 
it would at least make it more fun to chaperone!  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Best high school award goes to...

Muurame Lukio!  
(this is of course subject to change as I visit more schools!)

The Basics: 

This school is located about 10 miles outside of Jyväskylä. It is not apart of Jyväskylä city schools and operated in it’s own city municipality. The residents of Muurame are primarily academics that work at the University and is known as a wealthy place to live. The school has been open for 17 years. There are less than 200 students and about 20 teachers. The school has been one of very few schools throughout Finland to receive a certificate of sustainability for the past 5 consecutive years. This considers environmental, student engagement and entrepreneurship factors.  

A student hang out spot- most schools have these.
Muurame has games and newspapers for students to read!
But, that is not what makes this school cool.  It is the kids and the culture that is present throughout the school. I got to spend about an hour and half talking to the Headmaster, Aki Puustinen, learning all about how this culture was developed.
There is a very clear emphasis on providing a holistic education to students which involves developing a close personal relationships with the staff. This has not been the focus (or even noticeably present) in other schools I have visited.  The Headmaster spoke about the school being seen as the Muurame Lukio Tribe and it is the most important task to take care of every member of the tribe- students, teachers and parents. The school decided on their own values are (translated) Be Rapid (being able to make quick changes as needed), Be Brave, Be Creative, Have Peer Responsibility and Excellence.  The vision is to create a flexible learning community. And this culture comes through every corner of this building.

Muurame Lukio has a very active student council and has student representation in all staff meetings, parent associations and student run activities. Students make the morning announcements and are involved in all decisions.  They have an overnight school retreat once a year where students get to develop leadership skills and run the retreat. They get to tell teachers what to do! Muurame has hosted a Saturday school where families get to come to school and go through the day as their students would.  There is also a big emphasis and support for entrepreneurship  letting students dream about how to be innovators and then supporting them! There are two international students enrolled- one from Australia and the other from France. This is the first time I have seen English speaking students in a school environment. They clearly had a bunch of friends and were adjusting well. Classes are conducted in English when they attend- the headmaster looked at me a little crazy when I asked the question.  Sort of a look that said, obviously we would teach them in a language they understand!  

When we were walking around the school, Aki wanted to show me the listening lab. There were many doors that were open that we popped our head into while teachers were teaching. However, this door was closed so he paused at the door to listen if a class was in there. He then turned and said we couldn't go in because a teacher was teaching. I asked if he ever observed classes and he said, "No, I trust the teachers.  Why would I need to check up on them?" Brillant! He went on to say that he believes that what he knows best is leading the school, not math or Swedish. So his role is to encourage teachers and students to be the best they can be and to develop leadership roles. He very bluntly said, "Teachers know how to teach, that is how they got to be teachers." I stared at him blankly and had to restrain from asking for a job. What a great belief and trust he has in his teachers. This is why education in Finland is so good!    

And as if Muurame needed any more votes in their favor, there was an amazing lunch!  Free for everyone and yummy!  

 I am beginning to understand that even though schools are equal in Finland (and they truely are!) each one is a little different. This one has definitely connected with my educational philosophy and caused me to really reflect on how I can bring some of Muurame Lukio's lessons home!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Some Sunday Fun

I learned to cross-country ski for the first time and I didn't even fall down!  My friend Marja who invited me skiing said I was the best out of all the people she has taken cross-country skiing. I needed that kind of affirmation! 
But, she probably tells everyone that :)  

Marja was telling me how to go down a hill,
I barely made it up the hill!

Traditional Cross-Country Skiing

Skate-Skiing is not going to be my speciality!  

Proof that I can do it!  Now onto the track on Lake Päijänne (2nd largest lake in the country).  
I like to aim high!