How Do We Do a Better Job of Cultivating Young Readers?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / / Global Search for Education The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “How do we do a better job of cultivating young readers? “

 – here is my response:

Reading could be modern

”The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” noted philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the early 1900s. When there are no words, there is no understanding. Through language we control our lives. A man without words does not solve math problems, explicate his existence, let alone feelings.

People learn new words by reading. Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s news article (3rd of March, 2016) revealed astonishing figures: teens who read books knew up to 70,000 words and teens who didn’t read knew 15,000 words. The article tells the literacy and interest of reading of Finnish children and young people. The message is grim; At the age of junior high school, girls’ reading skills are clearly above the boys’ skills. The PISA study confirms this. Up to one fifth of the fifteen year-old boys are weak readers.

But then the tricky question. How to make young people read? First they need at least one good reading experience, or if they don’t yet have it, they need good tips for good books.

Pia can even make the boys to read

In Finland the libraries support strongly the teaching of literature. Jaana Lindfors, the teacher of mother language and literature, says that Pia Rahikainen is the pearl of Kirkkonummi library. Rahikainen brings the books so alive that the students get an compulsive urge to read them. Giving tips or as we say book talk, can tell a teacher a lot about her students.


Photo: Maarit Rossi

The story in the book can be tough but it’s always fiction. Fiction can be a foundation for conversations of painful subjects because it puts you aside of the reality. By talking about Harry Potter you can talk about yourself. A good book talker – tipper – also finds out her listeners’ backgrounds. If somebody is afraid the strategy is different than the one among the “heavy” readers. The main goal is to get a good reading experience whether it’s the first or the hundredth time. Lindfors remembers one boy who after a good tip grabbed his lap full of books Pia had recommended. His mother wondered how it was possible to get an athletic boy to read so much.

The reading idols – come out!

When using the idols those who have succeeded in sports or in music are traditionally in the front row. They don’t need spokesmen. The literature needs. The need is acute because there are surveys that one fifth of 9th graders  boys can’t fill their job application. Mikko Toiviainen, working in the book- and music branch, is worried because the lack of words in the boys’ world means that their world is quite narrow. His campaign #evenboysread is seeking for reading, street-credibility role


Photo: Jaana Lindfors

models. Toiviainen knows that reading affects straight to your ability to think, to your capacity for empathy and to your development in social skills. The campaign has reached many Finnish celebrities. The main target is that reading would become as sexy as mending the mopeds.

Thanks to Jaana Lindfors and Pia Rahikainen that I was invited to follow the 7th graders book talk. It’s great that the school and the library together seek means to keep the Finnish literacy on the top of the world.

What Are the Best Examples You Have Seen of Teachers Using Social Media to Enhance Learning?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / / Global Search for Education The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “What are the best examples you have seen of teachers using social media to enhance learning? “

 – here is my response:

Social media is a global campus

I have heard people blaming school to be an island isolated from external world. However, the world is breaking into the schools in real time, thanks to smart phones which can be found in almost every student’s pocket. If a media-critical-adult is experiencing information as overloaded and overwhelmed by a flood of news, what happens to the child? A tricky challenge for the current school is how to teach a child to read the media.

In Finland, the school is not alone with this challenge. We have an education partner YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) News Class – media education project, where students practice journalist work under the guidance of professional journalists. This   co-operation benefits all parties. Teachers will get diverse teaching material for the media teaching and the students learn real media work. And YLE will get a new dimension to their operations, the young people’s perspective of the world’s phenomena. Finnish teachers also have an access, first in the world, to use the free YLE News Class Triplet service which produces teaching material to classes every weekday morning. This service is intended for primary and secondary schools.

My colleague Jaana Lindfors from Kirkkoharju school collaborates News Class now for the second year. Lindfors can’t think of a better way to teach media literacy as letting the young people make News stories themselves. This operation has made her students social influencers. Last year was an election year in Finland and the students were right in the heart of policy making – with the help of YLE. The Prime Minister and Minister of Defence took part in Kirkkoharju News Class election interview. Also Mr President was interviewed. The open-minded questions of the young students brought a refreshing perspective to stagnated political jargon. The interviews were published on YLE website and TV broadcast, and they got glowing comments in social network. This year Kirkkoharju School’s News Class will make a radio program which they have brainstormed together.

When it was announced that I’m one of the top 10 finalists in Global Teacher Prize competition, Hanna Visala the news class producer from YLE knew right away that Kirkkoharju school is ready for action. News Class members Pihla Jokinen and Leo-Pauli Moisio were sent to Kartanonranta school to make a story. The 9-graders interviewed my 6-graders and as a result a News insert was ready to be published in YLE website ( News Story is an excellent example that the students can learn the media activities also from each other.

News Class members Pihla Jokinen and Leo-Pauli Moisio are ready to interview my  6-graders with Mikko Laine from YLE, photo: Hanna Visala.

The News Class will actively utilize social media. They know that information sharing is contemporary culture rather than pledging information. It is possible to learn to read the media and enjoy it. The 26th of April is the News Class day and on that day, the news graders are strongly present in the national and social network.

By this blog post I want to encourage teachers to open the doors and look for partners. By reading this you are utilizing social media and if you are interested to know more, please follow the News Class events at #uutisluokka.


The Cornerstones of Mastering Math 4/4: Practice

What is the reason that most students think that math is only memorizing and practicing endless list of formulas?

Earlier and sometimes even today schools put too much attention to mechanical practice. I agree that you have to have routine in math which you can get only by practicing. We need to have perseverance so that we don’t give up too easily. Individual questions, applications, quizzes and tests are important, but if that is building the only learning environment, the mathematics is too far from student interest and life.


Successful Math pedagogy is a question of balance. Instead of having the same structure for each lesson, lessons should include Learning by Doing, Social Learning, Interdisciplinary Math and Practice. With different approaches teacher can support and develop such skills as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.

As a teacher I know that students love to work together face by face but they also want to practice alone their personal skills with different technology approaches. Teamwork can be best practiced when you are a member of the group. When you want to find the routine or sharpen your skills, then you may want to work alone and the technology can lead you longer in your skills than you ever thought.

Learning is a personal, nuanced and complex human activity – and there’s need for multiple paths and approaches.

Math is not a list of rules to be remembered. Math is a tool to look at the world that really makes sense. Math is not anymore boring but challenging, stimulating and even FUN.

What Are the Best Examples You Have Seen of Teachers Closing the Gender Gap in Education?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / / Global Search for Education The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “What are the best examples you have seen of teachers closing the gender gap in education? “

 – here is my response:

I try to get students used to work regularly in different groups with a different assembly.  When you use regularly some method to build the group, it is really easy for students to accept it as one of your operating model.  In my class students are sitting in the groups of four. I also tend to divide the students into groups randomly. I number the group tables and have four same number pads for each group in my number pouch. When students are coming into the classroom they pick up a number pad from the pouch and go to the group which the number shows. Depending of the age they are pleasantly tense or slightly aloof with whom they are working. It is important that the schools deliberately mix the genders in the classrooms, train students to work in diverse groups and so support the growth and equality understanding.


Students are sitting at the table number four.

The most important way to close the gender gap especially in Math is what is happening during the lessons.  When the lesson includes learning by doing, social learning and/or interdisciplinary Math, students have possibility to talk and debate in groups and find solutions together. Interdisciplinary Math and real-life related themes show students that the math is meaningful. Students need to be engaged, to get positive experience and even have fun during the Math lessons. Generally Math lessons are more a bunch of routine computation exercises without real life connection and especially girls feel it cold and disconnected from their life.


Girls and boys are building together the model of a cubic meter.

During my Fulbright to George Washington High School New York I met my partner Cecilia Villabona. I admired the way how she was guiding the teachers how they should regard the different genders in the classroom. During the “Learning Walk” teachers could visit others lessons. A group of teachers was sitting in the back of the class and made their observations of different things like how well the teacher took into account both sexes in her/his teaching.This was a perfect way to make everyone notice if you are purposeless expanding or closing the gender gap. I took the Learning Walk method into use in my school in Finland.

I have noticed during my career that a temporary effort or campaign to close the gender gap is not the most effective way and don’t necessary have the lasting impact.  We need to use practices which we use regularly or permanently in our schools. How do you answer for the following questions concerning your school. Is the structure of the student groups always the same or is it varying? Are your school and teachers aware of this practice in his/her classroom and practices on the school level?

The Cornerstones of Mastering Math 3/4: Interdisciplinary Math

I have seen many math lessons around the world and it seems that math teaching has not changed during the last 100 years. How can students be prepared with this old fashion way for the future jobs that drive nation’s economy? How can they solve big global problems like poverty, unemployment and climate changes?

Math is too much separated from the real life problems. Practicing mechanical tasks is effective on a short term, such as for the next exam. As time passes they forget what they have learned and often can’t figure out how to apply the strategy to the real life scenarios.

If we are trivially repeating one assignment, how can we learn to use processes creatively in new situations?
What if the lesson start with a problem related to students’ life or to their known world? What if we can bring the real life situations and problems into the classroom. What if you need knowledge from more than one subject to be able to solve the problem? What if you need to arrange and combine the information in a new way? This way math can become meaningful for the students.

Instead of disconnected single tasks, interdisciplinary mathematics includes larger theme sections like climate, shopping, household, nutrition and health. In wider thematic entity we can broader the understanding of the usefulness of mathematics in students’ everyday life.

For example plan a outdoors game on the school’s playground. You can move on the game board by the rules student have done themselves or rules like the Star of Africa game.


Students can do the question-answer pairs about the history of their municipality etc. In our school students were working during art, history and math lessons to finish the theme. All classes could play the game during recess or lessons.


Another example of an interdisciplinary theme:

There was a civil war in Mozambique during the years 1976 to1994, and total 1 million people fled to neighbor Malawi. The refugees lived in 145 villages and camps which were spread over 12 regions. Students have to solve how to transport and share the food to refugee camps based on the information they get. This theme was done with the help of Finnish Red Cross.

Today due to conflicts in several countries there may be refugees living near many schools. We have to prepare children to be global citizens in a world where humanity faces challenges such as combating radicalism and terrorism, overcoming poverty, building functional communities, and growing up to be engaged and responsible citizens.


The Cornerstones of Mastering Math 2/4: Social Learning

The qualities needed in the future life and jobs are for example being able to find, analyze, and use information in new and unfamiliar situations. We see also lists of those most needed skills and many list include problem-solving and team player skills, detail-oriented and the ability to prioritize.

We teachers want also to prepare our students to believe in themselves and to be curious about the surrounding world. We want them to take charge of their own learning so that they could reach their full potential.

Social learning

One student has a figure and she/he tells to another what to draw. The drawer is not allowed to show what she/he has done. Students have fun while practicing math vocabulary and trying to understand each other!

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a French scientist, stated that assimilation and accommodation require an active learner, because problem solving skills cannot be taught — they must be discovered. Learning should be student-centered in the classroom, an accomplishment through active learning.

How to develop and support these skills at school and during math lessons? One way is to work in groups which strongly support many qualities of the social learning. Most of us have experienced that the team can be stronger than its members total.

Math can give students an experience, which strengthens their confidence to solve problems and develop their own critical thinking. Working together they can talk, test and interpret solutions. We can give them a learning environment where they enjoy working on problems. Learning situations where students are working and solving problems in groups facilitate them with the opportunity to discuss math – and adopt a “math language”. Social learning includes activities like action tasks in groups, board games, cards and dice games.

Social learning

In this activity students are investigating dependency between two variables.

The Cornerstones of Mastering Math 1/4: Learning by Doing

It doesn’t matter what age people are, they enjoy when they are doing something and the joy is even bigger when they realize that at the same time they are also learning! The younger the students are the more important is that they can touch, look and test the properties of the possible object.

How many edges are in a cube? Third grade students need a model of cube in their hands so that they can see and count the edges. Most of the six grade students can tell the number of edges without seeing the model.

How many cubic decimeters are 200 cubic meter? Unit conversations have been taught on the 5th grade but 6 grade students did not have any idea what to answer! Once students built a model of cubic meter with sticks they could give the answer by deciding and understanding the size range of answer.


Examine the Platonic solids and determine how many faces, edges and vertices leach of them has. Students from 7 to 8 grades need to build most of Platon solids to be successful in this research.

You can give more demanding research to the older students. What is the pattern in the number of faces, edges and vertices in Platonic solids? Some of 9 to 10 grade students start their research by drawing the solids, but still some students like to build some models.

We think mostly that learning by doing is building models using paper and scissors. Learning can also happen when students are for example measuring. With paper and scissors student is often investigating alone, but also in many cases you can build groups where students are working together. Then the mathematical talking come to more important role. Students’ talking should be important part of learning situations. They use their own language, test it with their classmates and after practicing they begin to use more precise math words.

Different groups got different tasks. They had to estimate first and then measure their object. Here students are counting the number of raw macaronis. Students don’t even realize that they are learning because they’re so interested in what they’re doing.


When learning by doing is a part of learning environment you can see how students are focused, fully attentive, motivated, engaged, and enjoy their work.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a French scientist, taught about discovery learning; the idea that children learn best through doing and actively exploring.

It dawned on me, my way of teaching math was wrong!

I was sitting in Leeds when it happened, I realized ‘I have taught math wrong for over a decade!’

I had joined a group of science, math teachers and professors to visit Leeds University, UK, because it was famous for their research of science teaching. It was explicitly based on a constructive view of learning.

I was placed in small groups, forced to solve problems working together. Talking, testing and finally coming to a consensus within our group. I was amazed, even choked when the Finnish professors in our group did not have the right answer to the problem! I could see that they were facing the same situation as me and many other teachers.

We began to think what learning really is. When are you best at learning, what kind of environment helps you to learn. That was the “spiritual” starting point of Paths to Math.

During the following years we began to develop new materials for math lessons. We tested it in our classrooms across Finland. Our material differed a lot from the common math books, which based more on behavioral way of learning. Once we knew we had it, we found a publishing house to print our material into textbooks.

One of the high points in my career was when I had a chance to tell our math ideas for eLearning material to prof. Howard Garner, upon his visit to Helsinki, Spring 2010. My conversation with him only supported our decision. We then started with Paths to Math in the cloud.


Big publishing houses want to sell books with little or no changes from previous books. The knowledge we have regarding learning changes. We have more information and an ever changing environment around us. We are in balance when schools must prove that they are still the best place for learning and developing of a child’s mind.

We refuse to let children do trivial exercises, alone in rows with textbooks, tablets or PC’s. We want to give them a different path for learning – alone, in pairs, groups or individually with the help of eLearning material in various teaching methods and learning environments.

Please feel free to sing-up for your free Paths to Math account from our web-pages. You can see first chapter in every Module.

Attitudes and stereotypes are mathematics’ worst enemy

Have you ever met a person who would proudly tell you that she/he cannot read or write? Is this a strange question? But you have maybe met a person who has told you that he/she cannot mathematics, because also his/her mother did not understand mathematics? I have heard many times from adults all kind of explanations why mathematics is impossible for them to learn or understand – and it is also clear that they don’t even bother!

How do people remember mathematics at school? Probably they remember them sitting all alone in rows and the teacher was solving an equation on blackboard and then it was their turn to repeat it – over and over again. It was often hard for them to see the connection to real life and they started to lose their motivation.

Where from the negative attitude towards mathematics originates? Family member’s attitudes play very important role and we may easily say something negative without understanding its impact to our children. Jo Boaler (2015) writes that the messages we give students can change their performance in mathematics dramatically. Students ideas about their ability and potential seems to be extremely important, more than previously have been understood.

Sometimes newspapers are presenting mathematics in their cartoons with humor that is not favorable for mathematics learning. Cartoons can also be supporting the importance of understanding mathematics (number sense) with humoristic way.


Artist drawing from the module Pre-Algebra, chapter Estimation from

Children are facing with whole punch of negative attitudes towards mathematics around their life, even from family, friends, newspapers and so on. It is not a wonder that every other students would rather take out the trash than do mathematics? Students often see mathematics boring, irrelevant or even frightening. When teachers get new students in their mathematics class they also meet the attitudes of mathematics learning. We have to consider that the problem is not with mathematics itself but part of it can be on the way it is taught.

What students think about math?

Have you ever met a person who would proudly tell you that she/he cannot read or write? Is this a strange question? Have you ever met a person who would tell that he/she cannot math, because also his/her mother did not understand math? I have heard many times all kind of explanations why math is impossible for the person to learn or understand – and it is also clear that they don’t even bother!

What is the reason that student think that math is only memorizing and practicing endless list of equations?

We have asked in the beginning of 7 th grade students to draw a typical picture of math lesson.


Drawing 1. Student and his/her classmates are sitting alone, in rows and the teacher is teaching.

Students are sitting in rows, most of talking is teacher doing, teachers shows how to solve and there is no connection between students. The emotional feelings from their faces are telling us that they are confused, don’t understand what is going on, bored and even frustrated and frightened.



Drawing 2. The student feels anxiety forward mathematics.

How do you remember mathematics in school? I remember us sitting all alone in rows. The teacher was solving an equation on blackboard and then it was our turn to repeat it – over and over again. It was often hard for them to see the connection to real life and we started to lose motivation

It is not a wonder that every other students would rather take out the trash than do mathematics? Students often see mathematics boring, irrelevant or even frightening. The problem is not with math itself but on the way it is taught.

During developing Paths to Math material and using it with students for three years, we have asked them to draw a picture of typical math lesson. The change is huge. They have memories from different learning situations, they are working together and from their faces you can see the interest and motivation to math.


Drawing 3. The drawing is from the bird sight! Formulas are correct.


Drawing 4. Student remembers different action tasks. All classmates are smiling.

Math is not a list of rules to be remembered. Math is a way to look at the world that really make sense. Students can now understand math’s procedures, properties and proofs for themselves. Math is not anymore a dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even FUN.

As a teacher you can feel that you have prepared your student with more possibilities and better probabilities to choose his/her postgraduate studies. He/she can also tell to her children that math was his/her favorite subject!

Please feel free to sign-up for your free Paths to Math account from our web- pages. You can see first chapter in every Module.