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The Human Factor

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Finland can boast an extraordinary success. Their sixteen year olds came top in math in the OECD PISA study. Amongst the stream of teachers crossing the Baltic to try to understand their success, is Nigel Bispham, a Deputy Head Teacher from Cornwall. He's going to visit Jukka's Sinivirta's math class. This morning Jukka's class is tackling equations for the first time. He's hoping for one of those special moments, when a new topic dawns on his students. "I think it's a little sign when the people says, 'Okay, now I've got it.'" Martinlaakso school on the edge of Helsinki is a typical Finnish secondary school. Teaching just over four-hundred pupils between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Nigel Bispham's Science & Community College in Camborne and Cornwall dwarfs them. With over twelve-hundred pupils below the sixth form. The Finns get the best math results in the world, and I simply want to find out what is happening in the classroom How do they do it? Finland's sixteen year olds are the top performers in mathematics, amongst the thirty OECD countries. They outrank the traditionally strong Far East nations. Jukka has invited Nigel to sit in on his double maths lesson. (Jukka) I already saw some relief, "Okay it's this simple." (Nigel) It's starting to click. Do you think it will click for all of them? (Jukka) I'm moving around to see it, to ensure it. (NIgel) Right, okay. (Nigel) Jukka tell me about the conversation you had with this student. (Jukka) He was just guessing, just, could it be like this? (Jukka) And now we have the trouble where it didn't match the company of the scale, it didn't have the 2x+2, it only had the 2x and we corrected it now. Now we're looking, "Yes, now you've got it right." (Nigel) Jukka is teaching a class of twenty-two. Far smaller than the thirty to thirty-five Nigel is used to. And Jukka's class is not streamed, this student has already tackled equations. He's working three pages ahead of the rest of the class. Nigel:You don't mind working on different stuff? Nigel: It doesn't matter... Jukka: Also my situation now and then gives me some extra support with the basics. When we're discussing about what happens here, I don't have to give the answers, he does. or somebody else, but... (Student) Mmm I'm trying to find out what this "x" means. (Jukka) Yes... (Jukka) Now you have a problem with the right side, what is it? (student) Mmm I don't know. (Nigel) Fascinating! He's straight ahead of other pupils, being given some extra lessons, all he is doing is working a couple of chapters ahead of everyone. (Jukka) Ehh, actually no. Yea yea yea, of course, ya ya ya, you're quite right, well done. (Nigel) He's doing a very good sorta plate spinning job. He's got kids right at the top end obviously excelling, but then others who are only -- just keeping up. (Nigel) Do you like maths? (student) Uhh... no. (Nigel) No. So it's something, you find it hard? It seems like most of them, very much like UK peoples find maths just too hard. and they are thus less interested, yet ultimately they are going to get much better -- results than our (UK) peoples. I don wonder if it has something to do with the fact that their not streamed, and they just simply got to keep up. -Streaming and class size, two issues Nigel wants to discuss with Jukka after the lesson. But first, Jukka wants to hear Nigel's impressions of maths in Finland. (Jukka) What was your idea of about the piece of results? (Nigel) I mean I'm totally in awe of the standards you achieve in mathematics. You are basically you are leading the world by the standards that your pupils achieve. I was reassured to find that the pupils are just like the pupils that I have at home. I hope you don't mind me saying but when I asked them they said, "No I don't particularly like maths", "I find it hard", "I find it difficult". -One detail in the International survey that's caught Nigel's eye is that Finnish students -- get far less stressed when they're given maths homework. (Nigel) In countries like Japan and France, 50% of the pupils reported that they feel tense, and anxious about doing maths homework. Only 7% of pupils in Finland said that -- they felt tense. I mean you are 50% higher again than most countries. How do you keep them going? (Jukka) I'm not sure if I have the one simple answer, actually this mornings newspaper was interviewing us about a philosopher who had an idea that all the Finns, as a national -- skill we are a bit of a philosophers, we like to sit down and think. And maybe it's one of the little explanations, but also the spirit that this is a nice place to come it's good to see not only your good friends, teachers, and get together to do good work. (Nigel) It seems like something magic must be happening. (Jukka) We are very proud that we have achieved good results in mathematics. (Nigel) It's refreshing to see that you are just a normal teacher, but what I don't think -- is normal, what I think is special is the personal side. The "human factor", is I think the thing that has overwhelmed me more than anything else, your system the whole ethos of your system, the size of your school, the size of your classes enables you to keep the "human factor" and at the end of the day, surely that is what education is about. -Now it's Nigels turn. He wants to discuss some specifics with Jukka. He's going to start right at the beginning of the lesson. What's really interesting about the start of the lesson is the peoples all stood up -- almost without prompting, you (Jukka) stood up and then you bowed to them. Can you tell me a little bit about that? (Jukka) It has been my habit through the years because I think that the future of Finland. is standing in front of me. So, I give my respect to them. (Nigel) That is incredibly touching and I feel, I'd like to take that home and do that. It was the first lesson on equations. (Jukka) Yes... (Nigel) I notice that you spoke to the class for almost twenty minutes-- in introducing the subject, is that usual with classes? (Jukka) It's quite usual, not necessarily that long, but I knew we had a double lessons, so I could start with a little longer introduction. (Nigel) We couldn't do that, I mean I'm a good communicator, but I would die on my feet talking to thirty pupils. I was particularly interested because you are doing Algebra for the first time by the two girls at the front. And I watched them starting the exercise and it just wasn't happening for them. They really were at the point of drowning. You gave her the first example and she sat down and wrote down something which was -- transparently wrong to obviously wrong to you and I, but you gave her a lot of time. Tell me about how you worked with her. (Jukka) I was trying to give her more questions, not the answers to kind of stimulate her to get the picture. In this case particularly it's important because she is a person who gets a bit irritated -- quite easily. "Well I don't like it, because it's too difficult." She can get a bit angry. "I don't like it." But afterwards, please be patient, try once again for my sake, please. And she'll try it once again and, "Oh! Okay!" and the spirit is there. (Nigel) In the second-half of the lesson they had moved on and they were doing -- the same activities that the child that had the extra lessons, the gifted child, was doing. (Nigel) I'm particularly interested in this resilience that they didn't give up. What concerns me in our education system is that we would have possibly lost her, she would have kicked against that and said "No, I can't do it!". You've got a way of keeping her going through just the spirit and culture you have here. -Nigel's got one final question for Jukka. This is a mixed ____ class, would you be allowed if all of the teachers of maths in your school wanted to teach set the classes into streams, would you be able to do that? (Jukka) Ehh... actually that is a very fragile thing politically. The politicians in Finland tend to think that it's so nice and democratic that everybody -- can learn anything. That's why it's not really allowed to have this levels for the classes. (Nigel) Are you happy with mixed abilities? (Jukka) Not in all cases. I would be happier if the group would be smaller. I would prefer something like fourteen to sixteen pupils in one classroom. Then it's good to be mixed, then you might notice that we just saw here, they were -- kind of peer-to-peer tutoring, the pupils were helping each other. Not only giving the answers, but really supporting - take a look at this -- and maybe understand that and so on. And this happens in mixed cases, like I said when it's something like fifteen pupils I'm happy if it's mixed, no problem with that. (Nigel) How would you feel teaching a mixed class of thirty to thirty-five pupils? (Jukka) It would be a nighmare, really, I couldn't do it. (Nigel) Would you carry on teaching? (Jukka) Uhh, mmm, possibly not. (Nigel) You'd actually stop teaching? (Jukka) Yeah... Because really the future of the pupils, the work that is done here is so much more important for me than the idea of mathematics (Nigel) that's very interesting... (Jukka) I think I'm something that is really taking care of the future of Finland -- and if it doesn't work I would give up really. -Nigel arrived in Finland expecting to find a key to the country's success in maths. What Jukka showed him was something more fragile, the depth of the relationship -- between teacher and student. It's a lesson that Nigel wants to relate to his own experience in Cornwall. - It does actually make me stop and think, "Why aren't we at the top of the table?" I think it is to do with the culture and the attitude for learning. Jukka was without doubt a really caring and committed teacher. He's passionate and his belief in the pupils really shines through in everything he does. What was particularly impressive about the Finnish system is that they had the time -- to spend with the pupils to show his belief in them. All British teachers have got those skills, but with far less opportunity for those skills -- to be at the front. We've missed the "human factor" somehow in a way that he was really -- able to just exercise it and make it work for those pupils.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 2 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 188
Posted by: egragert on Feb 16, 2011

This video explores how educators in Finland teachers teach math principles to determine why Finnish students excel on international math tests.

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