Tuesday, March 31, 2015

3.25.15 University of Helsinki Library

On March 25, we visited the University of Helsinki Library. What a beautiful building! It was designed for space and functionality. We started with a short lecture and presentation and then had time to wander and explore.

It's a beautiful library. The design was focused on use, how it would be used and by whom. Students had a say in what features would be part of the library and their ideas were incorporated into the plan. 

Despite it being a university library it is open to the public and often has high school students there studying for their matriculation exam. There are 180,000 alumi of the university. The library serves more than 40,000 students.

They have 1.5 million books (many of which are e-books) and 150 staff at the Kaisa building we visited. In total they have 4 campuses and 11 faculties work from those campuses. The Kaisa library has roughly 8,000 visitors per day.

Over 357,000 e-books are accessed in one year across the libraries. They are going to more of an e-book and e-journal system similar to the USA. 

It is a law that citizens have access to the library. The library system means a lot to Finns. I expect that is because school and knowledge is so important to them as a culture. 

I did not take a ton of pictures in the library because there were students there studying but it was really awesome. I want to go study there just because it was so awesome! They have study rooms with doors that students can rent out to work in with partners and groups. They also have spaces that are electronics free, you aren't allowed to bring in phones or laptops because they are SILENT rooms. It was really pretty neat.

 This is a view of the entrance area, looking up. From the 4th floor and up, they have stools around the rings and students and set up laptops and such and study there. Very cool!

They love their spiral staircases in Helsinki. I love them too! Here's me in the library with the awesome staircase.

Monday, March 30, 2015

3.24.15 Finnish Department of Teacher Education Lecture

On March 24th, our tour group had a lecture at the Finnish Department of Teacher Education. It was very informative and we learned a lot of great information from the woman who gave the lecture. 

The levels of their education system are a bit different than ours. Level 0 is pre-primary which is for age 6 (this is kindergarten to us). Levels 1&2 consist of all of primary school (grades 1-6) and part of secondary school (I believe it goes to grade 9). For high school they can go to traditional high school or choose to go to a vocational school. They can go on to the bachelor level in college with just vocational school. There is a matriculation exam at the end of high school OR vocational school so that they can get into college level. There are many, many more paths to get into college than the options we offer here in the US. 

In Finland, they spend about 6% of their GDP on education (roughly equivalent to the US percentage-wise). Consider how much bigger the US is than Finland and you'll see that they don't spend a ton of money on education, yet they far surpass us in results of national standardized testing (the PISA is usually the one used).

A primary school teacher in Finland works roughly 667 hours per year and a subject area teacher (ie middle/high school in US) has 592 hours per year. I didn't figure it out for the secondary level in the USA but for elementary in the US, we spend roughly 900 hours teaching per year (based upon the time with students that I have). They have small schools and they vary in size. Almost half of their schools are under 100 students total and about a quarter of their schools have more than 300 students.

Primary school teachers teach grades 1-6 (age 7-13) and are qualified to teach 13 subjects. Secondary teachers teach grades 7-12 (age 13-19) and teaches usually one major and one minor subject.  With just the basic education teachers get (their training), this allows 96% of principals and high school teachers to be fully qualified and 94% of primary teachers to be fully qualified. 

To become a primary teacher in Finland, it is 5 years of education. They spend 3 years on a BA and 2 years on an MA. If you stop at the BA level, you can teach kindergarten (which is preschool to us, ages 1-5). They major in education and minor in school subjects such as math, Finnish, biology, etc. Primary school teachers are eligible to become doctoral candidates because you can not teach at the primary level without an MA. 

To become a secondary school teacher in Finland, it is also 5 years of education. They spend 3 years on a BA and 2 on an MA. They major in one subject and minor in one or two other teaching subjects, they also minor in education (which is where they get the pedagogical information). 

The education program is based upon research and they are always changing it based upon their own research practices and the research of others. It is difficult to get into the education program because it's very competitive. Dr. Paivi who gave the lecture told us "it is very nice to be a teacher in Finland". They are very well respected and thus people want to be teachers as they are revered.

There are almost 1800 applicants per year into the teacher program but they only accept 120 for primary school. They have an entrance exam that all applicants take along with an interview for about 25% of the applicants (based upon the exam results). Many do not pass the exam because it is extremely difficult (therefore the things you see on FaceBook about how many teachers get in are because of this). Those that do pass are then interviewed and selected from there.

It's a little different at the secondary level as they only get about 800 applicants and have a bit more than 400 who get accepted each year. There are more positions available than are filled at this level. They also have an exam and interview. 

Anyone who wants to be a cooperating teacher has to take and pass a special course in order to supervise and support a teacher in training. (What a concept! I could argue that needs to be done here since I often cringe at what people have told me their CTs have made them do or how they have been treated.) 

At the primary level a teacher candidate has 120 lesson hours they need to complete (they do them in pairs) which are supervised with both a pre- and post-observation. I love that they have both a pre- and a post-observation. 

The school year in Finland is 190 days and runs from mid-August to the first Saturday in June. Although we also learned that despite their school year being a little longer, at the primary level the school day usually runs from 8-1. Those hours also include recess and a lunch break. So they are getting maybe 3 hours of instruction per day....yet they still kick our collective butts on the PISA. 

Overall it was a very informative and interesting lecture. It's amazing to see how other countries do things and compare them to how we do things.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


The Husband insists I am an international super star. Sure felt that way this morning when our tour dropped us off at the airport. Only 4 of us went to the first terminal and the other 13 were going on to a different one. They clapped when we got off the bus ;)

It was truly the most amazing trip. I could be European. In fact, I had a man ask me for directions and I felt quite sad when I had to admit I had no idea how to direct him because I'm American. :D (Do you enjoy my more formal English?)

What a trip. I have some great goodies for my kids and got a souvenir for the fabulous sub who has been me while I have been away. She will also be me tomorrow for jet lag purposes. Additionally I did not bring my laptop on this trip, only my iPad so it was a huge pain trying to do any school work. (Fortunately my professors have been amazing about it once I told them where I was.) So much of tonight (after seeing my kids and hubby of course) will be spent on homework and likely a good portion of tomorrow as well. Gross. Not how I'd like to end this vacation but whatever.

Then it's three days of school and Good Friday so no school and then spring break. We are going to the new aquarium in Michigan. It will be awesome to spend a whole day with my family after missing them this week.

About an hour until my plane takes off and then 8 long and boring hours on the plane (where I will alternately sleep and read for class) and then hugging my family!

Thursday, March 26, 2015


We have had such an amazing time here in Helsinki! Today is our last day here and we will be getting on the ferry in about 30 minutes and heading to Stockholm.

It's been so, so amazing here. We visited the University of Helsinki Department of Teacher Education, an amazing primary school with a wicked spiral staircase,  and a daycare. Their "kindergarten" is ages 1-5 and preschool is 6 year olds so backwards from the USA.

I have learned so much and am sad to leave. The next couple of days in Stockholm will be less teaching focused but that's fine. I have had a blast and I'm so glad I came.