Finland at the Top – II

Skill Based Subject Curricula

Although the curriculum stresses the importance of pervasive skills and knowledge, it still, quite traditionally, has separate sections for different subjects. However the genius lies in the structure of these sections. Where as in the past the key goals for different subjects have been content orientated, they are now all about skills. Here are some examples for 3rd-6th grade science:

  • To guide students in setting their own goals for studying.
  • To encourage students to set their own questions and hypothesis for basis of inquiry and investigations.
  • To guide students in planning and executing small scientific experiments.
  • To guide students to recognize cause and effect – relationships and to make interpretations.
  • To guide students in investigating both natural and man-made surroundings and to make interpretations.
  • To guide students in using ICT to enhance their learning process.
  • To serve students with possibilities to practice collaboration and self-expression
    Source: Finnish National Core curriculum for Basic Education

Of course contents have not taken a leap of absence from the curriculum. They are still there. The point is not to underestimate the value of a solid knowledge base, but rather have the main focus on skills that are practiced using the contents.

Phenomenon-Based Learning (PBL)

This is what I call “The Cherry on the Top” of the new curriculum. Every single Finnish student will participate in at least one extensive PBL project every school year. So how does this differ from Project-Based Learning as we traditionally see it? The biggest difference is that the student voice is crucial right from the beginning. First of all teachers and students join forces in identifying a phenomenon which is relevant to the students; the content for the project is created right then and there. In these projects teachers are truly facilitators, whose main role is to empower students to participate in designing the activities and assessment of the project. However it would be a waste of teachers’ expertise to say that for the sake of protecting the student voice teachers cannot bring in their ideas. Instead of teachers dictating how things will be done, they can assume a role of one of the designers with the students. And of course teachers help and guide the students in practicing and using the skills that are needed to complete the project. When the activities are planned together and the goals are set together according to the skill goals of the curriculum, there is a good chance that the students will gain ownership of the project and engage in the activities. This potentially result in deeper learning of the skills and contents practiced and studied during the project.

The picture you can see here is from a Phenomenon Based Learning – project with Hiidenkivi Comprehensive School third graders. The phenomenon was “Inventions and Inventors”, which we tackled for various perspectives. The primary task for students was “to spot a problem and create a solution”.


By Petteri Elo, Principal Consultant

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