Impactful research on education and human development.
An experiment conducted by the Innokas network demonstrated that digital devices can be powerful educational tools as long as teachers are trained in how to use them.
For the first time, the national core curriculum introduced in 2016 required Finnish schools to provide teaching in coding and cross-disciplinary skills. Teachers at primary and secondary schools must now teach not only traditional subject skills, but also cooperation, project work and problem-solving skills as well as other skills that may be of use in the future.
Coordinated by the University of Helsinki, the Innokas network helps teachers teach cross-disciplinary skills through the use of digital tools, such as programming and robotics. The network believes programming is a good way to promote creativity and student motivation.
Programming skills and a good understanding of the programmed environment are necessary in our increasingly digital society.
The Finnish Innokas network tests new devices, presents software to teachers, trains and supervises teachers and conducts related research.
Recently, the network conducted an experiment involving the use of Micro:bit computers at schools through corporate collaboration. Micro:bit is an inexpensive computer manufactured by the Micro:bit Foundation which is smaller than a credit card. It can be programmed as such or used together with other materials and devices.
In conjunction with this experiment, the Innokas network collected research-based information on how programming can be used to teach cross-disciplinary skills.
Research process: Teachers developed their own uses for the computers
The Innokas network conducted the Micro:bit experiment in spring 2017 after selecting 50 schools from among 150 applicants. The schools were from various parts of the country, from Helsinki in the south to Sevettijärvi in the north. Two teachers from each school agreed to share their expertise at their school and use Micro:bits during lessons. The participants included both class and subject teachers.
They completed a two-day training session organised by the network’s experts with a background in education, acquiring basic skills in Micro:bit use and innovation education and developing ideas for how to use the devices in their own lessons. The training included pre-designed assignments, but the teachers were also given the opportunity to think of new ways of using the devices. At the end of the training, each teacher received 10 devices to use in their classroom as they saw fit.
The teachers wrote a report on their experiences for the Innokas network’s blog. At the end of the experiment, the teachers and their pupils completed a questionnaire. The Innokas network’s researchers collected data about the suitability of programming for teaching cross-disciplinary skills and about teachers’ and pupils’ experiences of using the Micro:bit devices.
Research impact: Micro:bit now used in teaching and learning cross-disciplinary skills
The questionnaire completed by the participants in the Finnish pilot project established that both teachers and pupils found Micro:bit devices suitable for teaching cross-disciplinary skills. Pupils, in particular, said that they would like to learn more about programming. Primary and secondary school pupils believed that learning programming was worthwhile and important for their employment and future lives. It enabled the development of, for instance, groupwork and problem-solving skills.
Some Micro:bit deployment experiments outside Finland have failed. Laura Salo, project planning officer, and Tiina Korhonen, head of the Innokas network, attribute these failures to the devices being distributed directly to schools or pupils without the prior provision of training or ideas for how to use the devices in teaching.
The experiment conducted by the Innokas network showed that teachers are willing to teach programming and can do a great deal with the devices, provided they receive proper training. After the experiment, the network has continued to present Micro:bit devices as one of the available tools for teaching programming. The network can also train teachers on how to use the devices and keeps the user guide up to date.
Many teachers felt nervous about teaching programming before the experiment because they believed they lacked the necessary skills. However, the experiment boosted their confidence and raised their estimate of their skills by one grade – a statistically significant change.
The cooperation with the Micro:bit Foundation provided close to 2,000 pupils with access to a Micro:bit. After the experiment, most teachers said they would continue to use the devices. The Innokas network has organised continuing training for them and others.
Other devices tested by the network include Lego robots, Bee-Bots, Blue-Bots, Arduino, Adafruit Gemma and GoGo Board.
Finnish kindergartens, or nursery schools, offer early childhood education based on the latest research.
Finnish early childhood education differs from that provided in most other countries in that there is no competition between children or evaluation of them. Instead, the aim is to strike a balance between care, education and teaching to ensure that children thrive and are not put under pressure to perform. The idea is that children learn best through play.
The Economist, for example, has concluded that Finnish early childhood education is the best in the world because Finland invests in pre-school education and places an emphasis on children’s development and education.
This approach and Finnish education expertise are in high demand in many countries.
The challenge for education export is that individual games, books, apps or even education and consultation projects cannot deliver the Finnish model as a practical experience.
Established at the University of Helsinki, HEI Schools has created and commercialised a kindergarten concept based on educational research on how children learn and how teachers should be trained.
Research findings: Integration of education and design
The objective of HEI Schools is to make high-quality early childhood education available to as many children as possible throughout the world. The concept combines education with a design approach and a commercial model based on licensing.
It also includes tested materials that support the implementation of the curriculum, a carefully designed learning environment, training for local teachers, and educational and functional support for the kindergartens involved.
Kindergartens based on the concept are built with natural materials. The purpose is to create a typically Nordic design that is light, airy, simple and functional, and takes the child’s perspective into account. Architects are always involved in the facility planning.
The kindergartens follow the Finnish curriculum, and their approach supports children’s comprehensive development.
The ‘educare’ model used in Finland is defined in the Finnish Act on Early Childhood Education and Care as an inclusive system integrating the systematic and targeted education, teaching and care offered to children. The model combines play, care and teaching, and emphasises artistic and practical subjects, while also developing academic competences and socioemotional skills.
In the licensing scheme, Finnish experts do not run the operations in other countries, but help local partners maintain the kindergartens based on the Finnish model.
Lasse Lipponen, one of the company’s founders, is professor of early childhood education at the University of Helsinki, and the University of Helsinki is one of the founding shareholders of HEI Schools.
Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS) aids in the commercialisation of services at the University of Helsinki.
Research impact: The HEI Schools concept developed into a comprehensive kindergarten experience
HEI Schools is currently expanding to new countries. The first kindergarten was established in autumn 2017 in Baotou, China, and new facilities opened in 2018 in Guangzhou, China, and Melbourne, Australia. The next kindergartens will open in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Chengdu as well as in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.