Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"US Teacher Gets Finnish Lesson in Optimizing Student Potential"

I was asked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to write an article comparing the US and Finnish education systems; I was pleased to do so.  It took me hours upon hours because I wanted to do justice to the comparison. As you already know, I love Finland, its people, and I love what Finns do for their children.  I hope I've captured some of this beauty.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Music, Creativity and Problem Solving: Part IV

I just returned from the Orff Jazz Course by Doug Goodkin and it was everything and more that I could have hoped for or imagined.

In my early years I enjoyed ten years of musical instruction but it was this 5-day class that helped me understand music and creativity as never before.

If America or any other nation wishes to develop children's creativity and problem solving skills, we should be including Orff musical methods under the direction of Doug Goodkin and his colleagues at the San Francisco School and the JaSeSoi Orff Foundation in Finland. Truly, these teachers are artists in their ability to scaffold lessons and inspire creativity.  Amazing.  These teachers are not alone, either, as they've been working with teachers from around the world for many years - at our 5-day class we had teachers from Thailand, China, Japan, Canada, Germany, and the U.K.  In the next room were people from Venezuela, Brazil, and I don't know where else, but it was a rich and varied group.  And this has been going on for many years.  Such a talented and varied group!

I'm feeling anxious about compiling in video and written form what I learned in Finland before I get back to teaching my students but I had to take this class when it was offered and I'm so glad I did.  I'm better for it, and more creative, too.  :)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"The Blueberry Story"

This is a beautiful explanation for why schools can't be run like businesses.  

CLICK HERE to read the complete story in the Wall Street Journal.  

Prepping the Video

You, Finns!  You've given me so many meaningful interviews! Look at my list of useable clips (so far)  and I'm only through about one-sixth of the stack!  Either I'm going to have a movie the size of a Ken Burns documentary or I'll have to do some serious editing.   (I guess I'll do the editing.)  It's a joy to go through all the interviews but I'll have to cut some pieces...or the video will be so long no one will want to watch it!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Secrets" behind the Finnish Educational Success

I was asked to write an article for the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C., and compare the American and Finnish education systems.

It's a short and concise beginning - but I promise - there will be more:

Link to my article on the Embassy of Finland's webpage:  "'Secrets' behind the Finnish Educational Success"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Music, Creativity, and Problem Solving: Part III

Tucked in the forest of Orivesi, Finland, there stands a beautiful and warm wooden house on rolling hills, surrounded by tall trees of lush green foliage and a barn filled with egg-bearing chickens. Out back is a rectangular pool filled with well-water (unheated), a trampoline, and a pine board swing that hangs on ropes at least ten meters long. The grass is long and unfettered, a friendly dog wanders about, and the family has welcomed the five of us for drinks, dinner, and conversation.

Inside the house are vibrant and expressive artworks painted predominantly in the colors of blue, red, green, yellow, and black, a baby grand piano, a cello, and long, inviting tables for food and conversation - and with this group there will probably be ample laughter, as well.  On the table in the window-enclosed patio is a standing candelabra with half-melted candles, a set of playing cards outside their box, and flowers from the garden.  In the kitchen is homemade korvasieni (poison mushroom soup, carefully cooked and ready for eating), a cauliflower and vegetable dish, and a Thai watermelon preparation.

We were welcomed by our friends to their house after music class for an evening of relaxed conversation, a sauna, dinner, and music - and it was an evening I hope to never, ever forget - there were so many elements of the evening that were touching, inspiring, and laced with deep affection and intimacy; I was grateful for this opportunity to share with them in deep Finnish hospitality.

We started with a tour of the house and garden, the hen house (whose barn also housed an impressive array of sculptures), a ride on the tallest swing I've ever had the pleasure of riding - swinging high and fast about the house grounds and the trampoline close below - and discussions about collecting birch branches for therapeutic treatment in the sauna.  As we took turns on the swing, several people left and returned with bunches of flexible birch branches (leaves attached) with promises of the birch's ability to improve circulation and a fresh forest aroma when used.

We took turns enjoying the sauna and dipping into the cool water from the well, and went inside for korvasieni, the now-unpoisonous mushroom soup. This soup is creamy and buttery with small bits of chewy mushrooms now the consistency of perfectly-cooked calamari.  Between the swinging, the sauna, the korvasieni and vegetarian dishes, and the conversation about life, music, and education, we were hours into the evening - but without darkness falling, who was to know?  It was a delightful evening filled with ample conversation from interesting points of view and we were merely progressing through time. At some point the father and the 17-year old daughter stood up from the table - he proceeded to sit down behind the baby grand piano and the daughter, in a lovely evening dress, sat on a chair close by - and played for us a flowing and melodic piano/tuba duet.  I've never heard a tuba played so beautifully and I was inspired by the care in which the daughter approached and played this instrument.  She was an artist and the act of playing the tuba was her passion.

After such a life-changing week at the music course, it was clear that I wanted to continue this musical exploration when I returned to the States so I asked Doug Goodkin, sitting next to me at the dinner table, about the upcoming Intro to Jazz course at the San Francisco School.  I expressed interest, but also my concern, that perhaps I wasn't ready to be participating in such a group.  Doug suggested an audition at the piano - for me to play alongside him as he played - with the promise that he could make me sound "good." Terhi encouraged me and even promised me a free plane ticket if I failed.  (She must have known me well enough to know I couldn't turn down a free ticket for playing poorly!) Terror rose up inside me because this exemplified everything that brought me to my knees:  performance, playing music, vulnerability, and embarrassment.  I didn't want to do this but I also knew I had to - plus, it was "safe" amongst these friends - and Doug would be playing louder (and better) than I.  Still sitting at the dinner table, he said, "Let me know when you're ready."

When I mustered up the courage I asked if we could close off the wall between the two rooms by shutting the accordion-style doors - but I could not get the doors to budge.  Doug proceeded to sit on the left side of the piano bench and I sat on the right, and to my horror, our friends followed us into the room and sat around, ready to watch and listen.

I asked them to leave but they would not; there was no easy way to push back against the momentum of the events leading up to this moment.

Doug started playing some jazzy progressions on the piano - joyfully and enthusiastically - making it sound easy, rhythmic and enticing.  He encouraged me to play by repeating, "Don't worry!  I'll make you sound good!"  He gave me only one note to play - a process that's designed to make improvisation easier for someone like me - and I think he gave me the A key.  After a few strokes I told him it was "boring" so he gave me both the A and the C.  When I told him it was still boring, he let me play the A, C, and B-flat.

I won't go into detail about what happened but I will say that a few times my playing seemed to "work," but most times it did not. When Doug said, "Have a conversation with me" and played 4-6 notes in sequence - and I was able to reply in a musical conversation - it was fun!  I was able to play a little bit of rhythm with varying accents and some phrasing - but what I was playing would still be considered a beginner mix.  He seemed okay with whatever I was doing - even though my playing was hesitant and apologetic - and he told me I was allowed to join the Intro to Jazz class.  (Oh my gosh!)

When we finished playing we looked down and to our surprise, there under the piano were our friends - reclining themselves on the floor UNDER the piano!  Doug and I had been so involved in what we were doing we forgot about where our friends had gone or what they were doing - they were enjoying the vibrations of the piano's sounding board as it came down through their bodies and into the wooden floor of the house.  It was then that I remembered this experience from my childhood and I said, "I used to do that when my mother played the piano!" He and I dove under the piano and Terhi sat down to play some classical music. (Listening to music like this is "heaven" as long as the notes that are played aren't too high.)  I placed both of my hands directly above my head and onto the sounding board so I could feel the vibrations moving through my body and I said, "Doug, try this!" and he placed his hands on the sounding board, too.  I sat up and put the top of my head between the supports and up against the piano's sounding board and I said, "Doug, try this!" which he did, also.

The Finns have challenged me, have nurtured me, and have surrounded me with warmth.  None of this growth, or any of these experiences, could have happened if I had stayed within the comfort and safety of my own home.  Perhaps this week, and the hospitality and generosity of our friends and hosts for this memorable evening, best encapsulates what can happen when one leaves their "normal" life in order to meet new people, become ensconced in a completely different culture, and opens oneself to a new way of life.  Here, in the rural countryside of Finland, with two Americans who had never before met and six musical and artistic Finns, joined together for a delightful evening of friendship, conversation, music, and laughter.  I would wish this for all people.  Thank you Fulbright, thank you, Finland, and thank you to all the beautiful people with whom I shared this week and this evening - you know who you are.  :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Music, Creativity, and Problem Solving: Part II

For years I've joked that if there were a thing such as reincarnation I would love to come back as a jazz and blues singer - but the reality is - I don't believe in reincarnation and I have a vocal range of about four notes - even if I did have an impressive vocal range I'm too inhibited to "belt out" those fabulous songs. What I think I crave is to be able to express myself musically without fear. Those jazz and blues musicians seem to play without inhibition and to me that is an incredible and beautiful expression of self. For years I've felt a love of musical expression welling up inside me but I continually trap it down and hush it; it's been safer to keep it there - but not so comfortable.

What does this have to do with my research project about problem solving?  When I walked into the music class in Espoo and experienced the exercises the teacher had her students perform, I felt my brain doing calisthenics I hadn't experienced in any other class - my whole brain seemed to be activated as well as all the parts of my body.  In all the schools I visited in Finland, I found elements of the music class to be the most engaging in overall problem solving and it made me wonder - what is the connection between the Orff methods and problem solving, and how can these techniques be used to inspire creative, innovative thinking in our students and adults?

A very good question - so let's proceed....

If living a "normal" life has the tendency to close down one's openness to new ideas and creative, innovative thought, and music through the Orff method seems to open up those barriers (at least that is my experience), is there a place to combine the two in our educational processes to help children grow toward creative and innovative thinkers by combining music and the sciences?

I think so.

If I am this reserved in playing music, are there other aspects of my creativity that are being stifled because I'm afraid to express myself? What about other people?  With so many people telling me they are amazed I moved to Finland for six months and how they don't think they could have done it themselves, I have to think that restraining oneself - even in the face of a embracing a wonderful experience - may be a common occurrence.

There have been days in the past few years when the house is quiet and I sit alone at my piano - and I surprise myself at the emotions that come out of me when I play the keyboard - it's pretty intense, actually, as it comes from such a deep and reserved place.  I have to wonder - why am I so protective of this musicality and why don't I let these emotions out through music? or in other ways?

These are the questions that drove me to the JaSeSoi ry Orff Level Courses at the Orividen Opisto in early June. I took the 6-7 hour train ride from Joensuu to Orivesi and stepped out onto the platform of a wooden and historic rural train depot on a sunny, spring afternoon.  A woman with a rolling suitcase (and what turned out to be a drum) was also walking across the parking lot, looking around as if she, too, needed to find her way. I said to her, first in Finnish, and then in English:  "Excuse me, do you speak English?  Are you going to the music class?"  We ended up sharing a taxi and we were both glad we did - the road to the school would have been longer and more uncomfortable with our luggage than either of us wanted to experience.

The Orividen Opisto is a small campus in the countryside of Orivesi with a few large-sized buildings, a few medium-sized buildings, a gym/performance area, dorms, a restaurant, and a pond with a fountain and gazebo; it's a lovely spot for an arts and music school.  Throughout the afternoon the 80+ music teachers from around Finland converged on this spot to learn how to be better teachers for their students.

My journey in Finland began about five months earlier, which included two months during the deepest parts of winter where I visited schools but most afternoons and weekends were of significant isolation, and another three months of traveling to schools around Finland by bus, by train, by bike and by foot - and as the temperatures warmed, so did the people - they came out to interact and play!  In retrospect, I spent a significant amount of time by myself over the past five months and I was well adept at opening myself to new experiences, new people, a new language and culture, and I was used to being open and receptive to all that Finland had to offer;  I had trust for her people and their actions;  I felt at ease.

Our first activity in the morning was so simple - yet so difficult...for me.  All 80+ of us were standing on the floor of the gym, most people wearing clothes comfortable for movement; music played over the sound system.  Our task was simple - take a scarf and create four dance moves with the scarf and repeat them in sequence.  We did this separately, but together on the gym floor, and I assure you, no one was looking at me - but it felt as though I was completely exposed.  Every move had to be forced as I had to push past my inhibitions to move freely in this open space.  In contrast, my new friend, Sanna, was completely joyful with the exercise and went through cycles of throwing the scarf up in the air and trying to catch it with her head, diving across the floor, laughing and exclaiming how much fun she was having.  I wanted to be Sanna, or at least, to find the freedom of creativity that Sanna knew how to embrace and love. As I watched Sanna and the joy she experienced, and compared it to the tension I was feeling, I realized how closed off I had become to undefined musical experiences - because every movement felt so uncomfortable I had to force myself - FORCE myself - to do it.

We proceeded to another dance where all of us held hands and went through group dances usually performed at Finnish wedding ceremonies; I was surprised to see the Finns looking directly at each other - and me. I was shocked, actually.  In the five months I spent in Finland I didn't have this many people in total connecting and retaining eye contact with me - or so it seemed.  Their looks were deep and deliberate and I found myself getting teary because I had missed having prolonged eye contact. It was such a gift.

We proceeded with other Orff methods which included percussion games through claps, stomps, snaps and other sounds, as well as chants and the playing of Orff instruments that made it easy for even the beginning musician to participate.  Sometimes we did repetitive rhythms in rounds while other times we played drums or xylophones or simple dance steps - always as a group, or groups within groups so that the entire "piece" could be played together.  I think the artistry in teaching these methods comes from understanding how to scaffold a lesson so that students feel as comfortable as possible within each step but still challenged to perform and experience something new.  For me, I felt comfortable with the instrumentation - it was the improvisation that was difficult, but I found that the scaffolding and the repetition within the exercises tended to make all the steps much easier, and at the same time, more of a natural progression.

It was still exhausting to let myself go and try something new and I had to deliberately force my actions past my restraints toward creativity.  The progress was happening, but it was definitely a work in progress.

By the time lunch ended, I was so exhausted I went to lie down and I contemplated staying in my room and not participating  - who would notice my absence?  During the morning we had danced, we had sung, we had played drums, we played the xylophones - and slowly, these activities were becoming more and more enjoyable - and I kept envisioning Sanna and her joy at creating her own art - without reservation and without fear of judgement. Without conscious intent, I found myself getting back up and going back to class; I would not improve by staying in my room.

By the next morning I was starting to see that the most successful musicians were those who were unafraid to make mistakes, that mistakes were normal, and that the people who were trying without great concern were those who had the most fun.  I wanted to have fun;  I started to let go.

It was that evening that Sanna put together a ukulele jam session, complete with grilled Finnish sausages.  One of the women played her accordion so in total our group had fifteen ukuleles, one accordion, and about twenty-five singing voices.  We played together for several hours and by the time we finished we were marked by mosquito stings, the sun had dimmed slightly past midnight, and everyone headed off to bed.

It was then that I started to feel the music come from me, rather than to me.

It was a beginning.

(To be continued.)

For more information about Orff methods:

In the United States:
In Finland:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Music, Creativity, and Problem Solving: Part I

It's been almost four days since I've returned to California and after two full days of work, a lovely graduation ceremony for my high school students, and a deeply needed day of rest to help me recover from jet lag, I'm starting to feel my strength return - my creativity reawakening and looking to express itself - and today I will direct my creativity toward keeping my promise - my promise to share what happened in one very special Finnish classroom.

I'm listening to, "Credo," a song based upon a poem by Onerva, a feisty 20th century Finnish feminist poet and put to music by Maria Ylipää. (CLICK to play).  My friend translated this song and I remember it meaning something to the effect of, "No painful experiences are in vain," and "We can all grow from that which hurts us." I'm not sure I agree with this sentiment but for those who can get past painful experiences, perhaps this is true.  We all have painful experiences that close us down to new ideas, new experiences, new relationships, and maybe it's the struggle that makes us more insightful, more willing to forgive, and more apt to understand the pain of others.

In art as in life, it depends on the person and their interpretation of their experiences that creates beauty or disaster...and perhaps there is reason why children look at us with open eyes while many adults close themselves off to the unknown; we've had painful experiences that make us less open and less vulnerable.  Time and time again, we are taught that life's new and unpredictable circumstances can hurt and we start to close the doors to potential pain.  Unfortunately, it also hinders one's ability to move forward with fresh ideas and an open mind - not a good way to solve global problems or fix an education system, for sure. Are there ways to unlock our creativity once it's been blocked?  When I walked into this one Finnish classroom, little did I know that this teacher would guide us through musical activities that would ultimately make me more open, more creative, and more innovative in my thinking - and start to shed the barriers that keep me from expressing my own musicality.

This winter I visited a school in Espoo, Finland because Howard Sklar, a childhood friend who was now married, living and working in Espoo, had invited me to his school. He arranged for me to meet and observe science teachers, which I did, but it was also suggested I try to visit Terhi Oksanen's music class.  In a kind twist of fate, Terhi walked by and invited me to join her class at 1:00.  Without reservation, I said, "Sure!"  I had learned that problem solving was occurring in all areas of Finnish curriculum and I was looking forward to seeing what Terhi did with her students.

In my childhood I was given music instruction that included  reading music, practicing scales, and playing someone else's compositions - I also marched around in the field band with about three hundred other enthusiastic young people.  We had an inspiring and all-involving music program at our high school and our directors were fabulous, but our view was limited - we followed the musical direction of our directors and composers and we kept in line.  In Terhi's class, she taught the basics, as well, but this is where her lessons changed: she allowed and encouraged students to experience music as it comes from one's own creativity - and I learned that this method can twist and changes one's relationship with music - literally and figuratively.

Terhi used body motion, body percussion, and simple instruments to allow her students to explore the essence and the implementation of music, not just the creation of other people's music. What I later realized is that as a student in Terhi's class I was able to start releasing the constraints of years of musical instruction, and it allowed me to see that those constraints were keeping me from exploring music for myself.  In other words, my own desire to explore rhythm and patterns of my own creation had been halted by the rules I had been taught as a child - an unintentional result of very good and well-intentioned musical instruction.

For decades, however, I've been frustrated because I wanted to shed this overcoat of rigidity and had not known how, or been able, to do so.

After I left Espoo I took the 25-minute bus and 5-hour train ride back to Joensuu, and Terhi and I kept in touch; I returned to Espoo the next month to interview her about how she teaches music and how she incorporates problem solving into her lessons.  I was fascinated with the Orff-Schulwerk methods she used and she told me she had learned these methods from Doug Goodkin from San Francisco.  Once again, here was a Finnish teacher telling me about how she was using an American teacher or American educational research for her work with students - and time and time again I was shown that American education used to be on the right track with our educational research and teaching until the focus went away from learning ... and toward achieving high test scores.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to further this musical exploration by attending the JaSeSoi ry Orff Teacher Training in Orivesi, Finland, with 80+ Finnish music teachers.  I knew I could only stay 2.5 days of the 5-day workshop but at least I could experience a part of it.  This class turned out to be extremely difficult for me but in the end it was far more inspirational and fulfilling than uncomfortable.

But it wasn't easy....

(To be continued.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

The "Little" Things Aren't So Little

Last Sunday - my last Sunday in Finland - my good friend walked me back to my apartment; we walked slowly down the street and had some last, thoughtful discussions along the way.  During the winter she had given me some home-harvested black currant juice when I caught a cold and I had preserved it in the freezer so it wouldn't spoil when I began traveling around the country to visit schools. Now,  too late in the game, I could not enjoy it...I would be leaving on a double prop plane in the morning.  She offered to come to my home to pick it up so down the street we walked, past the houses I had seen many times in the snow, in the rain, and now the bright, almost 24-hour sunshine; past the hidden garden items now exposed from the lack of snow and the fiercely-growing organic mass that seemed to be taking over the houses.  Green was everywhere - a very enthusiastic green that grows almost 24 hours a day at this time of the year - it almost feels as though you can see it growing while you sit on the porch watching it.  If I were in Finland right now I know I'd be finding a way to measure the growth of grass and estimating its total mass of growth in this area - no doubt, a HUGE number.  Call me a nerd, but nature amazes me and its ability to combine sunlight, rainfall, and CO2 to make all this beautiful growth astounds me.  There are some days I wish I could photosynthesize and simply go without eating lunch... but not many.

My friend and her family live five minutes down the street by foot and one minute on bike - a bit more if I take the time to weave my bike lazily down the street and sing while feeling the air against my skin.  These friends have had me over for dinner countless times over the past six months - always involving kindness and respect, organic fruits and vegetables from their summer garden, carefully preserved in the cellar over the winter and lovingly prepared for their dinner table.  I'm not sure how I am so fortunate to have been included in their family dinners but my appreciation runs deep.  Their hospitality and friendship are genuine, kind, nurturing and so welcoming;  it is because of their generosity that the months of isolation during the Joensuun winter were far less difficult.

These friends reminded me, once again, that it's the little things in life that actually are the biggest, that mean the most, and that make life so beautiful - like having a friend bring you juice (and much needed vitamins) when you don't feel well or asks you over for dinner during the long, dark winter.  Kiitos, my dear friends.

That Sunday, as my friend walked away holding the frozen black currant juice, I didn't want to go back inside; I stood at the door and watched her walk away.  I didn't know when I would be able to see her or her husband again, I didn't want to go without seeing them, and I didn't want this period of my life to end. I will miss them and will hope for more time together in the future;  I hope this will be true.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Ride and a Promise

It's time to get real, I mean, really REAL.  Even though it's difficult to leave Finland I truly am excited to see my students back at El Toro High School and tell them, truly, how proud I am of them for being such upstanding, creative, and diligent students.  Take for instance my students in Bull's-Eye, our video production class, who have put on a 7 minute +/- show for a student body of more than 2600 students EVERY WEEK, a DVD yearbook with the FilmEd Academy of the Arts, put on a music/dance show for more than 800 people with our print media class, and at least two pep rallies.  They are truly phenomenal...and then add on top of that Elodia Gonzalez, their teacher who joined them since January - she clearly could have no idea what she type of work she got herself into when she accepted the job and from what I hear she's been great!

And to my science students - I can't wait to see you!  I have wonderful reports about your progress and I look forward to seeing you in person.  (Yay!  Operation Warmth!) There hasn't been a day that I haven't thought about you and the Bull's-Eye kids;  I am so fortunate to know you and to work with you.  You give me hope in the future each and every day.  Truly.

I took my last ride around town today on a bicycle - holding an ice cream cone.  It was a long, purposeful meander through the streets of town to say "Good-bye", around the fountain in the park, by the thawed and flowing Pielisjoki River, by the university and my former office in the Regia building, by the Verona restaurant where we used to have lunch, the elementary and secondary schools where I met so many interesting students and teachers, some university kids playing "floor ball" in the elementary school's play yard, and back down the long forest trail to my apartment by the lake.

The weather is so pleasant - I'm wearing a light sweater but it's only needed in the shade, if at all.   There's a light breeze, the birds are singing; it couldn't be a more beautiful day.  The environment couldn't be any more different than when I arrived on the 5th of January.

There's one story I have tucked inside me but I haven't been able to share it because I don't yet know how to do it justice.  I came to Finland to research how scientific problem solving is taught but one of the most compelling classrooms I attended was a music class.  Yes, a music class.  When I left the class at the end of the day I told the teacher, "I don't know what just happened to me, but something big just happened."  In fact, I'm still trying to determine the far-reaching effects of the skills this teacher employed to help her teachers grow in problem solving skills, in creativity, in collaborative and communication skills, and in finding one's own courage to express oneself.

For some reason I'm still not ready to tell the story, but soon I will be.  Soon.  I promise.  I want to do it justice; the words are still forming.  Soon.  I promise.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Transformed Through Music

There are times in one's life when you realize you have been transformed; Finland has given me that experience, and more specifically, the JaSeSoi ry Orff music class for Finnish music teachers, has done that as well.

After experiencing this class, I firmly believe that if all music teachers were trained in these methods the atmosphere of schools would improve and the potential for all children to achieve would improve, as well. Let us not forget the power of music to heal and to bring us together as creative, inspired individuals. 

Music teachers "jamming" in the evening around Finnish sausages (makara) cooking on the grill. CLICK HERE to see and hear the Ukulele and Accordion "Jam" Session

Performing at the end-of-course show

Elisa Seppänen demonstrating (phenomenal) Orff music methods with students. (Elisa is one perceptive and talented teacher, I have to say.)

Practicing methods to be used with students.

Our inspired teachers:  Markku Kaikkonen, Sanna Purokuru, Juuso Kauppinen, Soili Perkiö,

Doug Goodkin, and Terhi Oksanen.

At the end-of-workshop show, Elena and I performed a piece simply called, "Thank you."  She tap danced to Koechlin's "Sonate Für Oboe Und Klavier" and I read a message to the participants thanking them for letting me share in this beautiful and life-changing experience.

For more information about JaSeSoi ry, the Finnish organization that put on this (phenomenal) training, visit

For more information about Doug Goodkin and the San Francisco Orff Class, visit

As explained at

"Orff Schulwerk is a dynamic approach to music and movement education created by composer Carl Orff and his colleague Gunild Keetman. Proceeding from a strong conviction in each child's natural musical promise, the Orff approach draws it forth through the child's world of games, chant, song, movement, folk dance, drama and work on specially designed Orff instruments just right for the beginning musician."

UEF Laughing in the Rain

I am so fortunate to have worked with such exceptional people at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Joensuu.  They care deeply about high-quality education for the nation's children and are working diligently to train Finland's incoming teachers to work with students.  Well done, and thank you for sharing yourselves with me.  I am grateful for knowing you.  I hope to see you again very, very soon.

From the left:  Tuula Keinonen, Ilpo Jäppinen, Sirpa Kärkkäinen, me, Anu Harhikainen-Ahia and Kari Sormunen.  (Sadly, Sari Havu-Nuutinen is missing from our picture.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eight-Year Old Finnish Children with Power Tools

I can't imagine an America teacher giving an eight-year old child a power drill in school - maybe I'm sheltered and maybe I'm wrong - but I've never heard of it or seen it.  Please correct me if I'm wrong because I so desperately want to be wrong!

Here we are in crafts class, designed for 8-10 year old students.  Their teacher, Paavo Sivonen, like almost every other teacher I met in Finland, tries his best to incorporate problem solving into his lessons. In this lesson the children were learning how to work with plastic, wood, saws and electric drills. He told them a little about the tools, but not much - because what they needed to learn they would learn by doing the work themselves.  As they learned the tasks he set before them, he gave them another task; every child, at his or own speed, each with the same goal, but with different ways to get there.

In Paavo's words: "I think problem solving is the most important thing children have to learn in school. These skills of how to learn are much more important than geography or biology or history or whatever - if they know how to learn, they have the skills to learn anything."

"The atmosphere in the classroom should be that the children feel that everything is right with how they're learning," Paavo said.  "The teacher shouldn’t say, 'Don’t you do that! It’s wrong!'  That makes the children afraid and that blocks out their learning. I think (creating the right) atmosphere is very important (to the children's mental state)."

The crafts class is merely one way to get the children to learn how to use their minds. Paavo credits his approach to teaching in large part to Tim Gallwey, coach and author of The Inner Game of Tennis.

Well done, Paavo.  Your students adore you and you're doing wonderful work with your students.

(For Tim Gallwey's approach to learning and coaching,  CLICK HERE.)

Friday, May 31, 2013

What is the Most Important Component in Education?

This entire text was taken directly from the post, "The single most innovative concept in education is at least 100 hundred years old" by Bobby George and June George.

(What do you think?)

"In this wonderfully candid interview, conducted in 1995, (Steve) Jobs was asked, “Some people say that this new technology may be [the most important thing in schools]….” He responded:

'I absolutely don’t believe that. … I’ve helped with more computers in more schools than anybody else in the world and I [am] absolutely convinced that [it] is by no means the most important thing.'

What is the most important thing? Well, for Steve Jobs, no less than Maria Montessori, to be sure, it was another person. As he goes on to explain, “The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Letting the Finns (+1 Insightful German) Tell You the "Secrets" Behind Finnish Educational Success

Over the past 5 months I've been interviewing the Finns about teaching and learning scientific problem solving - well, it started with scientific problem solving and it became a project about problem solving in general because ... I found problem solving EVERYWHERE.  Stay tuned to hear what's happening in Finland!  I've enjoyed this journey and I think you will, too.
Included in these interviews:
Primary students
Lower secondary students
Upper secondary students
Primary and secondary students who have studied in both American and Finnish schools
A vocational student
Student teachers
Primary teachers
Lower secondary teachers
Upper secondary teachers
University professors and researchers
Finnish National Board of Education
Pasi Sahlberg, CIMO, Finland
and a special appearance by
Andreas Schleicher, PISA at OECD, Paris

A Finnish Summer Cottage, a.k.a.,"Why You Should Start Planning Your Visit to Finland"

I don't have any words for Finland other than "Spectacular."  You need to visit.  Period.

Kari Sormunen from the University of Eastern Finland is waving from the deck of his summer cottage.  The smaller building in front of you?  That's a Finnish sauna.  :)