Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Currently April

I haven't done a Currently in awhile and I'm kind of late to the party but oh well...better late than never, right? :)

Listening - We are resolutely loving our Spring Break here. It's chilly outside so the girls are playing the Lego Movie game on PS4 in the next room. I swear if I hear "Everything is Awesome" one more time..... 

Loving - I am totally loving being on break. No schedule, no demands. It's pretty awesome. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything but I don't even care. I'm happy to be able to relax. Let's face it, I barely have time to do that (ever) when school is in session.

Thinking - Despite being on Spring Break from school, I still have grad school to deal with. Ugh. I'm over it already. I just have zero desire to finish the projects for this class. I will obviously but that doesn't mean I have to like it :)

Wanting - I would do anything for a Fountain Diet Coke right now....seriously. Except get up and drive to get one haha Anything else though :)

Needing - My poor feet are begging to wear sandals and flip flops but until I have pretty feet again, it's probably not going to happen. Of course...getting a pedicure means I have to get up and leave my house....maybe when I finally do I can get myself that fountain Diet Coke too....

EGGS-plain - Nothing fancy. When I started this blog I decided that it should definitely be something I can relate to...and I am definitely caffeinated (hello Diet Coke). I am not a coffee drinker and never have been. You really don't want to be around me if I haven't had my beloved DC in a day or two. 

Head on over to Farley's blog and link up...it's never too late, right? :) 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Break

As of Thursday at 3:45 pm, I am officially on Spring Break :) Yay!

It's hard to be sad about not going anywhere for break when I just spent a week overseas. I'm good with a Stay-cation.

Most years we don't do much for Spring Break. I'm fine with it. We either stay home or go to our cabin. It's not warm enough to go there yet since we don't pay to heat it. It would be too cold and no one wants to go back to school on April 13 and be sick. Especially not me since I am the state testing coordinator in my building and it's pretty vital I am there for questions and support. Mr. Principal is available too but let's be real....he is often in meetings or observing or dealing with students who need a moment. It's smart to have a classroom teacher who can be a support too.

It would be even better if I had a student teacher right now but what're you gonna do? :) Everyone kind of panics about this test but I'm not. It's just a test. And for now at least it matters very little to my evaluation so I'm not going to stress it. My kiddos have practiced on the sample items Michigan released and it gives me pleasure when they turn to me, smile and say, "hey we did this with you!" and feel some confidence. That's what matters to me. I don't want my kids to be stressed.

So we decided that we would not ruin people's break with a meeting about the test. Instead we will jump to it when we return (because 5th grade starts the 14th). I decided it was more than fair to let everyone have their break and we can panic and stress when we come back (not that there is a need to panic).

We will spend most days here at home this week. Might take a couple excursions to local places but mostly....just chilling. I'm all about that. I need to finish up this grad course so I can enjoy my Spring Break from being a student too (that's in two weeks).

All in all, it'll be relaxing and relaxing. Just what I need before the strain of the last few weeks of school and the testing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

3.25.15 Friisila School Visit (Espoo, Finland)

On March 25th, we visited a small primary school on the outskirts of Helsinki in the community of Espoo. The school is very small with 120 children and 9 teachers. Probably the most interesting thing for me to learn was that in all Finnish schools, principals also teach. In this school, which they told us was "special", the principal teaches 16 hours per week. In all other Finnish schools, principals are required to teach at least 2 hours per week.

The school itself is extremely charming in it's design with a "bee nest architecture" (their description) and hexagon shaped rooms. The classrooms are very, very small (I would say my room is easily triple the size of any of theirs) but they do not waste any space AT ALL, utilizing the hallways for multiple purposes and ensuring that no excess space is going unused. It was quite interesting. I have been adamant for quite awhile that I would like to start my own school and this school provided me with much inspiration to what I would like my future school to be like. Who says I can't bring Finland home to Michigan? :)

Come along as I show you how they do things on the other side of the Atlantic pond.

This is the outside of the school. If you didn't see the edge of that swing set, you might not even believe it was a school, right? It's very low-key and blends into the surrounding environment.

This is immediately inside the entryway. It's a hallway and also the cafeteria area. They utilized the corridor as a multi-fuctional space by making it the cafe. The chairs also hook onto the underside of the tables for easy clean up underneath.

This super fun mural (notice the bee hives!) is just inside the doorway too, right before the cafe hallway begins.

This is inside a 2nd grade classroom. The rooms are teeny!

More artwork from inside the same 2nd grade room.

Front view of the 2nd grade classroom.

I love how they use the windows as extra wall space since the room is so little.

This is a 4th grade room.

Same 4th grade room. It's really not big at all. There is no extra "stuff" that we Americans tend to flood our rooms with.

My favorite part -- I LOVE these stairs. I am totally replicating this in my school some day :)

Why do they surpass us in everything? They use their whole brains. Primary school there is grade 1-6 and from 1st grade they have "wood crafts" (wood shop) and sewing class. They are hitting every aspect of learning styles from the very beginning. This pig was done by a 2nd grader independently with a sewing machine. Let me point out I'm 36 years old and can barely use a sewing machine but these 8 year olds did.

The hallway area where they hang up their coats. Notice the shoes underneath. They do not wear shoes in the classroom -- they wear stocking feet. We asked why and were told it keeps the floors from getting all dirty after the kids have played outside. I'm down with that!

Entry door. It's just fun so I took a picture.

Long view of the cafeteria area from the other side of the hallway.

They truly waste zero space. The library is in the hallway and is just a series of books on shelves that are labeled by level. No need to waste the space for a whole room, instead bookshelves are placed throughout in various hallways.

Even the sinks and utility area are in the hallway so as to not need to waste another room for that sort of thing. It might seem kind of weird at first but in reality it's quite charming.

Upstairs (at the top of those awesome spiral stairs) is a circular area that leads into some classrooms. In the hallway area you'll find many spots like this. Kids can just come out to work or read or study.

More coats/shoes

This was in a 6th grade class. I just liked the guitars so I snapped a picture :)

Every space is used for something. There is truly no wasted space. Everything serves many purposes.

I absolutely loved the visit to this school. It varies a little school by school in Finland because they have a ton of autonomy. When we asked the principal about teacher evaluation, she told us it doesn't exist. Their prep programs are such that once you get a teaching post, you know what to do and therefore, you do it. Everyone supports everyone and there is no need to check up on people. Yes, they discuss goals and progress but it isn't tied to unrealistic accountability as it is in the States. 

Additionally, one girl in our group asked about standardized testing and the principal said that when you give children a standardized test, you're trying to control them. I realize how very true of a statement that is. We are trying to control kids here in the USA and make them all fit into the same box, which is just not realistic. 

Their motto is "As long as we have children we have hope" and I think that is something the United States needs to think about. They go to school from 8-1 pm for the most part (although a couple of the students I did speak with told me that two days a week they stay until 2 or 3 and take extra classes but that's optional)...that 8-1 schedule also includes at least 45 minutes of recess and a lunch break. Yet they kick our butts on the PISA when their 15-16 year olds take it. 

We are doing it so, so wrong here in the USA. I'm pretty ready to learn Finnish and go teach there instead.

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.