Once prospective teachers complete their preparation, they continue to learn and improve their practice throughout their career. Teachers do this in both informal and formal ways, and teacher development programs of many types are available to them. Two presenters described resources avaialble for professional development in Finland, and workshop participants had the opportunity to discuss the opportunities and challenges of these programs.
Anna-Maija Partanen of the University of Lapland offered a look at the range of training options available to mathematics educators. For primary education, there has been a tradition in Finland since the 1960s of promoting activity-based mathematics teaching. Known as the Varga-Neményi method (for developers T. Varga and E. Neményi, 1978), this method focuses on helping children have authentic mathematics experiences that provide the basis on which they can develop mathematical concepts, progressing step by step from concrete experiences to abstract thinking.1 With this method, teachers engage by using manipulatives that allow students to explore mathematical concepts and encourage them to talk about their mathematical thinking. The method is designed to encourage children not to be afraid of making mistakes and to feel a sense of joy while learning.
The Varga-Neményi Association works to promote the use of this method in Finland and to adapt it to changing trends in Finnish schools.2 The association is very active: it offered eight courses in different cities just in August 2016. The association has had a significant influence on elementary mathematics teaching in Finland. It offers many in-service teacher training courses, but other institutions also offer training in activity-based mathematics, even though they may not use the Varga-Neményi approach.
While the Varga-Neményi Association focuses on primary school teachers, the subject teachers working with older students also have many training options. Day-long curriculum meetings and other resources are available from the Finnish Association for Teachers of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Informatics.3 At these meetings, teachers are able to participate in writing the mathematics curricula for their own regions and schools. The organization also offers professional development programs and has recently focused on the pedagogical use of information technology. Finland also has 10 “math lands,” Partanen said, which are local centers where teachers can receive training in mathematics teaching from preschool through upper secondary levels. Math lands are run by local education agencies or universities that tailor their offerings to the needs of the teachers they serve and are staffed by local teachers. In addition to offering training courses, they may, for example, have manipulatives that teachers may borrow and use to develop their own teaching materials.
Companies that produce mathematics-related tools, such as calculators or computer programs, also offer tool-specific courses for subject matter teachers to help them incorporate the technology they sell into classroom teaching. These play an important role, in part because such tools are increasingly integrated into the material that upper secondary students are required to master.
Another resource for professional development is the network of 13 regional LUMA Centres, which are located within universities.4 The first LUMA Centre was established at the University of Helsinki in 2003, and the primary mission for this center has been to inspire prospective teachers to study mathematics, science, and technology. LUMA supports teachers’ lifelong learning and their own research, and supports science and mathematics learning in many other ways, Partanen noted. With
2 See http://varganemenyi.fi/koulutus/kurssikalenteri?page=1 [accessed November 1, 2016] for more information.
funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture, LUMA offers a variety of resources to support adjustment to the new curriculum that was introduced in Finnish schools in 2016 (see Chapter 2). Regarding mathematics education, LUMA focuses on investigation and problem solving, the use of technology, and connections between mathematics, work, and life. LUMA Centres also conduct research projects related to mathematics education, and the organization has begun developing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and teacher workshops based on LUMA research.
Vuokko Kangas of the University of Oulu focused on a teacher professional development opportunity that originated in the region of Lapland in response to the new curriculum: a MOOC called Koodiaapinen. The curriculum introduced in 2016 requires that students in grades 1 through 9 study computer programming. Kangas described seven broad areas of competence that are addressed in the context of all academic subjects. One of those competencies is information technology, and programming falls under that. Teachers needed training in order to teach programming.
The curriculum does not use the word “code”; it calls for students to develop competency in computational thinking and programming. Programming is viewed as a way not only to develop students’ computational thinking but also to foster creative expression and to increase students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Many advocate that programming helps students develop problem-solving and logical-thinking skills. For all these reasons, coding is not taught as a separate course or subject area, even though covering it is mandatory. The curriculum describes levels of competency for each age group and, in some cases, links the competency to a subject area. For example, second-grade students became familiar with the basics of programming in the context of their mathematics instruction by creating animations, computer games, and interactive projects using graphical programming languages. By ninth grade, students learn to develop simple programs.
The University of Lapland has sponsored the development of Koodiaapinen to help mathematics teachers meet this new challenge by offering free courses. The courses provide theoretical instruction to primary school teachers in computational thinking and related pedagogy. They also offer hands-on exercises targeted at students in grades K through 2,
3 through 6, and 7 through 9. Many volunteers assisted in building these courses, and there are now three available. Nearly 1,000 teachers have successfully completed one of the courses, and users have given very positive feedback, Kangas added.
Partanen described another development opportunity for teachers in Finland, Innokas, which is a network of 60 schools that are developing innovative education models, particularly in information and communication technology.5 The project, funded by the Finnish National Board of Education, was developed through a collaboration between a learning center at the University of Helsinki and the Koulumestarin elementary school in Espoo.
The primary goal of the Innokas project is to encourage creativity and innovation in the use of technology by supporting children and teachers directly and also supporting collaboration among the schools.6 Projects at these schools include activities, such as clubs for the children and participation in national robotics competitions, as well as in-service training for teachers; there is a particular focus in robotics. Partanen noted that educators affiliated with the Innokas project have developed 1-day courses for educators in other parts of Finland who are interested in developing similar networks.
Innokas is just one of the options available to support teaching and learning related to programming. Others include 1-hour “first-aid” workshops offered by the LUMA Centre, which introduce programming to elementary teachers.7 These workshops are designed to “free elementary teachers from fear of programming,” Partanen explained. One-day courses developed by University of Lapland faculty and by regional administrative agencies are available to schools and municipalities; other courses are also available.
Partanen offered some general observations about teacher development in Finland, and offered questions for discussion. Many different organizations and groups provide teacher training in Finland, and often there
are enthusiastic individuals or groups that organize and teach the courses. “Should these be more coordinated?” Many commercial companies also offer courses—“is that OK?” she asked. The National Board of Education and the Ministry of Education and Culture offer some guidance either by selecting groups to fund or by organizing training themselves. In the future, more of the funding may be allocated to local jurisdictions, which could then determine for themselves what training to provide for teachers. It is important to ask, however, whether it makes sense to leave these decisions to local municipalities. Many teachers now share ideas and opinions through various social media—“is that a form of teacher training?” she asked.
Participants had a range of responses to these comments and questions. Several participants agreed with Partanen that there is very little coordination across the resources available for professional development in Finland. In the past, one participant explained, there was central funding for teacher training, and free courses were available to every teacher. These resources allowed teachers to bridge mathematical language barriers, one person commented, which is much more difficult now. They also made it easier to introduce fresh ideas in all parts of Finland. Now, professional development opportunities are “more like a collage—not coordinated,” a participant commented.
According to one participant, all teachers are required to participate in 3 days of professional development per year, but the resources available to support this training vary, and in many cases the time is used more for collaboration than for formal training. Many course options are available for free or for a very low fee, another participant noted, but the biggest expense is the payment for the substitute teachers who make it possible for regular teachers to leave their classes. “Many teachers want to learn and benefit from these kinds of professional development programs,” one noted, but whether it is possible “depends on individuals and the circumstances.” MOOCs and weekend options are important flexible alternatives, and “more MOOCs are coming available,” another participant added.
New teachers particularly need support, one person remarked, but there is very little in-service training that is directly oriented to new teachers. The teachers’ union offers general support, but it is not subject-matter related. Another participant described a new project designed to structure peer mentoring for beginning teachers. The program provides training for experienced teachers who can serve as peer mentors and also structures opportunities for the new teachers to meet in groups and share their experiences. However, this is not yet common, the participant explained.
The discussion concluded with some comments about content areas where Finnish teachers particularly need support. One participant explained that there are many in-service courses for primary teachers on topics that are challenging to teach, such as fractions, multiplication, division, and the base-10 system. These courses are not compulsory, and often the teachers who need it the most are not the ones taking it. Teachers also need extra support learning about some elements in the new curriculum, one person commented. The 2016 curriculum has a greater focus on technology than the prior one did, for example. This participant also noted that the curriculum treats problem solving as a content area rather than as a tool and emphasizes the value of students working in groups more often. A particular challenge for many teachers, one person commented, is integrating cross-curricular emphases, such as technology, with the mathematics content that is required. Teachers are involved in translating the general national curriculum into the specifics that will be taught at the municipal and school level, one person commented, and that is an important training opportunity.