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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Planning for Finland

My Finland trip is almost here! I can hardly believe it. It seems like time goes so darn slow sometimes but then you're just days away from the trip of a lifetime and you wonder how time got away from you.

I am so incredibly excited for this trip. I'm not looking forward to the flight (recall I have flown a total of twice in my life...round trip to DC last March and I was not a fan -- flight was a short one but it was very windy and I did not enjoy it). Alas, this flight is about 8.5 hours, then a 3 hour layover and another 3 hour flight. Hopefully it's better....with the time difference, I'll be wanting to sleep most of the time hopefully.

The trip is going to be absolutely amazing. We are slated to see Temppeliaukio Church, have a lecture at the University of Helsinki Department of Education, visit a school in Helsinki and a day care centre (their spelling) there too. Overnight ferry to Stockholm and we'll go to Vasa Ship, have a guided sightseeing tour and dinner and then meet with teachers from Stockholm also. There is a little bit of free time but not a ton....and honestly some of that will be spent working on grad school because I still have to do the work even though I'm overseas. :) 

Planning for a sub for that long is not amazing....it's so much harder to leave things for someone else to do. My sub is amazing and has subbed for us for years and I love her dearly, but she isn't me. I just don't want someone else teaching certain things because they won't do it how I do (controlling much??). Alas, I decided to leave a bunch of test prep and games and review things for the kids to do while I'm gone. Fun but educational. Downside?

The moutainous stack of paper! :(

Of course this IS for six days so I guess it could be worse....and there are books piled in there also but still!! It would be so awesome if we had 1:1 iPads...zero copying! Just uploading everything to EdMoto or whatever...oh well.

I'm gonna have a great time and it's gonna go by in a flash!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Upcoming (Good) Changes

Isn't it funny how, as adults, we get called into the principal's office and we kind of get weak-kneed one wonder if we're in trouble? (C'mon, it can't just be me!)

Today I went to Mr. Principal's office to ask him about something and he said "well I needed to talk with you, have a seat". Instantly I wondered if I had made some faux pas (because that's kind of normal for me -- I'm a bit of a rebel if you haven't picked up on that).

Anyway the news was good at least. Mr. Principal asked me if I would consider a grade level change for next year and I very happily accepted. (It's pretty awesome to be ASKED, can't say that has ever happened before....because it hasn't.) I will be teaching 3rd grade next year. :) I am STOKED about it because while I love 4th grade, I'm ready for a change.

I am also heading back to my old room that I had when I taught 2nd grade. I miss that room for so many reasons. And let me tell you....since that room was mine, 3 other people have been in there and they just haven't decorated it correctly! :) I love that room because it faces the north end of our school so we don't get blasted with the sun in our eyes and I can keep the shade up and still be able to use my ELMO. (Not possible in my current room.) 

I am super happy and grateful. As much as I craved stability and didn't want to get shuffled around, there are other circumstances at play that have made it so I would prefer to switch grades. I'm very grateful that I can do that but remain in my building because my heart really does belong to this school. The only downside is that I will probably never see my 5th grade colleagues ever again except at staff meetings. Our schedules are so crazy that it is really difficult to connect with our other colleagues from other floors.

Alas, it is what it is and I may just have to make a field trip up the stairs a few times to say hello to my old pals. I'm so, so incredibly blessed to be able to make this switch and be happy about it. I do believe being asked my opinion about it is a huge part of it. Usually I just get told what to do. I feel respected being given a say in the matter.

It feels kind of weird to know this early what I'll be doing next year but I'm excited about it. I am going to plan a day to watch my 2nd floor colleagues do their rotation schedules since they have it all worked out in a crazy but efficient way. Somehow I have always missed 3rd grade in the grand scheme of things....I have had everything else 2nd-6th except 3rd. It's really a good fit because I know where they are coming from and what they need to be ready to do when they leave me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Today I had the opportunity to be on an interview panel in my school. I have never been able to do this before. Our human resources department is overhauling some of the ways that they do things and are giving more say to the schools and school personnel in hiring staff for their buildings. It hasn't always been this way. I'm not honestly sure why that is but I'm really excited about some of the changes that they have made because the more voices you have coming from people in the particular school and at that grade level, the better you'll be able to see how a person would fit into your staff and community.

While I can not (and would not) divulge particulars about the interviews, I did want to share some thoughts after being on the "other side" of the table.

1) Preparation is everything -- I think this might seem like a no-brainer but after seeing the interviews today, it really stuck out to me. You can never be too prepared. You always have to anticipate that something might not go as you had thought it would and be able to improvise. We have to do this in our classrooms too and it's important to remember that if you're asked to provide a demonstration lesson in an interview.

2) Know your standards -- It might be tempting to just slap some standards down on the lesson plan and call it good, but I think it's important to own them for that particular lesson. This is true even in your own classroom as you plan and reflect upon whether or not you have met your target objectives. It's important to not only know your standards but to be able to speak to what you want kids to be able to do with that standard.

3) It isn't just about who you know -- While that may be what gets you into an interview initially, you have to rock the interview. Be confident. Own your answers and choose your answers wisely. Providing examples really helps the interview panel to understand you better too. Buzz words are fine but only if you truly can back them up with evidence of how (and why) they matter.

4) Ask Questions -- I think this is the one that really stuck out to me the most. Not only that candidates asked questions but the actual questions themselves. It was really interesting to note the differences in the questions that the candidates asked us about our school and the position. I never thought about how important that is until I sat on the other side of the table.

Not a huge epiphany-inducing list but since I have never felt the most confident in my own interview ability (since I've had so few as a teacher), I found it very helpful to reflect on not only what we asked but how the candidates answered them. I will say that I do think confidence comes across in what you say but also how you say it. If you're unsure of an answer, I think that is valid but you have to own that and be able to explain why you're unsure. 

I'm really, really glad that I had the chance to be on this panel. Not only because it was really good experience but also because this person will become my grade level partner for the rest of the year since Mr. 4th Grade retired two weeks ago. I'm excited to see how it all pans out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Those Lil Monsters

I have been totally MIA. Sorry! Things are super, incredibly busy and blogging is the absolute last thing on my mind. Conferences, snow days, my teaching partner retiring, finishing up a grad class and starting another. I've been busy.

Alas, I wanted to pop on and share this picture because it makes me giggle. I'm glad I snapped a picture of it even though my resource colleague thought I was off my rocker when I did so.

We have lots of glass on our doorway areas into our classrooms. I have covered mine for the last few years as it really cuts out on the kiddos distractions when other people are passing by in the hallway and whatnot. My homework spot is hanging on the inside and on the outside I put various things over the years (last year it was my Question of the Day board). This year I had frogs and caterpillar cut outs to represent the kids but some got ripped or torn so I ended up taking them down.

I found these little monsters at Dollar Tree and since my theme has been monsters, I couldn't resist them. No names on them because it was the only pack and didn't have enough for all of the kids. The Oldest put them on the window for me last Friday when she was finished with her college classes and helping in my room for the last 30 minutes of the day (I'm her ride home so she helps until we leave).

Of course they shut the heat off over the weekend so things end up falling off the walls and stuff. When I got to school Monday morning, this is what I saw outside my room: 

It kind of looks like they were having a party and jumped off the window. (Seriously aren't they adorable?!) I walked up and saw this and just started giggling -- kind of embarrassing since when I giggle like that I sound like Betty Rubble. But it was a good way to start a Monday considering my alarm didn't go off and I didn't wake up until after my girls were already supposed to have been on the bus (oops!). 

The Lil Monsters had a party and didn't invite me. Rude! :)