Jul 11

Finnish Schools Ditch Traditional Subjects

July 11th, 2017 by Austin Butler

In most schools academic subjects are neatly packed into distinct times and spaces that are entirely separate from one another.

Students go from Math to English and from English to Science as if these fields of study were entirely unrelated.

But that’s not really the way things are in real life, are they? Every subject is related.

In Finland, which is known for having some of the highest educational standards in the world, school administrators have taken note. They are now completely revamping the way that school courses are organized.

Phenomenon based learning

The new approach that is being introduced to schools in Finland is called “phenomenon based learning”. This involves leading students through inquiry based investigations into a given subject through a number of academic lenses.

For example, using phenomenon based learning a class might dive into an investigation of racial profiling and police brutality.

Reading skills would be used to compare how different news sources cover the subject, looking for examples of bias.

Math knowledge could add depth to students’ understanding as they calculate and compare incarceration rates for different races.

History would come into play as students investigate the roots of this problem in society.

Finally, students might employ their persuasive writing skills in creating a webpage to educate other students about the importance of the issue.

By the end of the unit, students would have a much deeper understanding of a topic, and would have applied their academic skills from many subjects in a more authentic way than filling out a worksheet.

And as an added bonus, students will have something to show for their efforts.

Applying Phenomenon based learning to your classroom

While we don’t often realize it, individual subjects can be very limiting to a student’s thinking, discouraging them from tapping into other approaches when tackling a subject.

But when the student’s class schedules are already laid out in that way, it can be hard to get around it.

So, what can you do to introduce a certain degree of Phenomenon based learning in your classroom?

The core element of Phenomenon based learning is to give students projects rather than tasks.

This helps them to view the issue as a whole and challenges them to use an array of skills and knowledge to arrive at a final deliverable. Just like in real life!

In our iAcademy course Fundae Sundaes, for example, students are set up with an online simulation to help run the operations and marketing for an ice cream parlor.

While giving them practice with management and marketing, they are also able to hone their skills of using computer applications, formatting business documents, and designing flyers.

Another example is that of the Dream Team. This is another simulation in which students must combine marketing and business skills with computer application use to create, promote, and manage their own simulated sports team.

Not only do these activities help students practice multiple skills, but kids also love the real world nature of the examples.

Even if your school isn’t ready to make a full blown jump to phenomenon based learning, you can help you students reap the benefits of authentic cross-curricular projects in your classroom.


One response to “Finnish Schools Ditch Traditional Subjects”

  1. Excellent, compelling post! I have been a fan of the Finnish education system since they took the top spot in the PISA 2015 rankings; I am thrilled to see Mr Butler is a fan as well. The Finnish ranking proved to me that top education does not require enormous, insane budgets. Rather, it requires re-thinking.

    Another characteristic in Finnish education is that they care and nurture every single student in the basic skills. There is not the extreme focus on competition that we have in the US which, while it does produce outstanding achievers, it also discourages many into under-achieving.

    Thanks for the post!

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