Coming Home

Friday, April 13, 2018
Just as a setting sun concludes the day, my time in Finland has come to an end.

I have put off writing this blog post for a while. Sitting here now typing these words means my time in Finland has come to an end. An end that exemplifies the time old bittersweet paradox perfectly. When I left home back in December, I could not have guessed the mixture of emotions I would feel these last few days in Helsinki. Such a range of emotions compels me to reflect on my experiences.

  • I am honored. Honored that the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department selected me for the Fulbright program. There are so many amazing educators across the nation who deserve this recognition. I hope those deserving individuals will apply to become a Fulbright Teacher soon.
  • I am thankful. Thankful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program. Thankful to have such a loving family. They have selflessly taken care of “life” in Kentucky so I could focus on my research.
  • I am grateful. Grateful to my school district, Simpson County Schools. The district has supported me every step of the way. The administrators and teachers at my school have given me encouragement, support, guidance, and the opportunity to pursue professional growth.
  • I am eager. Eager to return home to the ones I love and the life I left behind. I have so much to tell and show people about my journey to Finland. My friends and family will be a perfect audience.
  • I am excited. Excited to bring my research and observations of Finnish education to the great state of Kentucky. There, dedicated teachers are performing at the highest levels. They give students new learning opportunities that embed the latest innovations. My colleagues are also eager to continue improving students’ education.
  • I am uneasy. Uneasy about leaving a place I have come to know for so long. I will soon have a new schedule, a new routine, and new customs to abide. I cannot help but feel troubled about this transition. Fortunately, I have the greatest support group in the world. 
  • I am hopeful. Hopeful to use all that I have learned in Finland to become a better educator. My research and inquiry project have opened my eyes to new possibilities. I have spent hours scrutinizing my own teaching style in hopes of discovering how to integrate innovative practices. This have given me a fresh perspective and a boost of motivation.

I have officially lived four months abroad. Most people spend less time visiting a new country, but many others spend way longer. I am pleased with my amount time to study in Finland. I have seen new places, experienced diverse cultures, researched innovative teaching practices, made new contacts, and found a renewed passion for my career in education. I intend to channel my experiences and accomplishments into my practices as a teacher. I am ready to share the great things I have seen in Finland with contemporaries in my school and across the country.

I thought I understood the Fulbright mission when I applied for the Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program over a year ago. I knew what it said, but I now I really know what it means. Fulbright’s purpose is to expand international collaboration through exchanges of talent and knowledge. I have absorbed new ideas, useful tips, and a fresh perspective from my interactions with people in Finland. I hope they feel the same.
You really don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Hey, isn’t that a rock ballad from the 80’s? Anyhow, I have tried to think of all the times I have been surprised in Finland. It has been a lot believe me. Each day brought something new and interesting, usually subtlety and unexpectedly. I have also tried to think of all the things I will miss. Just like I did not realize all that I would miss from home when I left four months ago (i.e. attending college basketball games, driving through the countryside), my longings for Finland will come later. Until then, here are two lists that I know will get longer with time.

A list of surprises:
  • Short and dark winter days 
  • Long and bright spring days 
  • Going from sunny skies to heavy snow fall 
  • The accessibility to large quantities of coffee 
  • Continuing a regular routine when there is a blizzard 
  • Finnish hospitality and friendliness 
  • Invitations to dinners, birthday parties, and special events 
  • School’s enthusiasm for me to visit 
  • Professionals walking around the office without shoes on 
  • Finns’ strong connection with nature

A list of longings:
  • Finnish sunsets 
  • Riding the tram 
  • Sauna 
  • Karelian pastry 
  • Walks along the bay 
  • Free admittance to museums with my year pass 
  • Visiting Tallinn, Estonia 
  • The way the snow brightens the night 
  • Long bus rides to different cities 
  • Spending time with fellow Fulbrighters

It is time to say farewell. I look forward to returning to this blog and reading through my journey to Finland. Who knows? I might feel compelled to write new posts. And I am definitely coming back to Finland one day. Maybe this time in June or July. Yet, while back in the states, I have a feeling I will “see” reflections of Finland when I least expect it.

Until then, as they say in Finland, Moikka!

A new day brings new opportunities. Life after Finland looks bright.
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3… 2… 1… The PBL Toolkit Has Launched

Thursday, April 12, 2018
For several months, I learned as much as possible about Finland’s phenomenon-based learning (PhenoBL) instructional practice. The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program has been one of the greatest professional development journeys of my career. Without Fulbright and the support of my local school district, Simpson County Schools, I would not have been able to investigate PhenoBL to such a great extent.

There are so many advantages to applying key elements of phenomenon-based learning to everyday instruction. PhenoBL challenges students to explore interesting topics and solve real life problems by investigating the topic from multiple vantage points. PhenoBL is a type of inquiry. Inquiry is the process of exploring questions using evidence collected from research. Information gathered is considered with and against existing models and theories. The insight students gain from their examination leads to new understandings and potentially new possibilities.

How do you capture the essence of inquiry-based learning? Inquiry is something quite abstract. It is more than solving a math equation or diagramming a sentence. My Fulbright inquiry project seeks to make inquiry-based learning (i.e. PhenoBL and project-based learning) more accessible. My goal is to make this style of instruction easier to grasp and implement by breaking down the process and visualizing its potential.

There are many product formats my inquiry project could take. I toyed with the idea of creating a documentary, a dynamic slideshow, a booklet, and sample instructional designs. Yet, I did not want to limit myself to just one of these options. I wanted to incorporate them all. I decided that the best way to share all of my work in Finland is through an interactive website.

A website usually contains multiple formats of information. Examples include textual explanations, video clips, graphic representations, and links to external sources. With this kind of deliverable, I am able to embed several types of information in one location. Best of all, a website enables me to continue adding new content as I learn more about inquiry-based learning from experience. Advancements in technology and innovation in pedagogy are rapid. I intend to help educators “keep up” by updating the site frequently. I am passionate about the style of learning I have pursued in Finland. I want nothing more than my Fulbright project to thrive well past my program dates.

The time has come to launch my inquiry project. Begin the countdown…

10 seconds to liftoff.

7 seconds remaining.

5 seconds.

PBL=Project/Phenomenon/Passion Based Learning

The PBL Toolkit is a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate platform for anyone interested in starting or enhancing inquiry-based instruction. The online toolkit contains information from research and observations. There are links to resources and downloadable files. The website features multimedia content and blog articles concerning inquiry-based instruction.

I truly hope you find the PBL Toolkit useful and encouraging. Project-based learning, phenomenon-based learning, and passion-based learning have so much to offer. It is worth the effort to learn about, plan, and implement these methods in the classroom. PBL encompasses the categories that I would argue all educators see as vital: interdisciplinary teaching, student-led instruction, cooperative learning, strategic use of technology, and the development of global competencies.

Please visit the PBL Toolkit. Explore the pages and open the links. Watch the videos and examine the graphics. Let me know about your own PBL experiences and ways you think I can improve the online toolkit. Together, we can transform education for the next generation.
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In and Out of Finnish Schools

Sunday, April 8, 2018
Students relax but focus while taking notes.
The highlight of my Fulbright experience has been visiting Finnish schools of all varieties. Observing classrooms, interviewing teachers, and discussing life in Kentucky with students have given me a better understanding of what education is like in Finland. You can read all about Finland’s education system on the internet. There are countless articles, research studies, and charts that describe what makes Finland so unique in terms of teaching and learning. After all, they are a world leader on international assessments. However, I quickly realized that no two schools in Finland are the same. While different schools adhere to the same guidelines and principles, individual districts have the autonomy to customize their curriculum and daily structure in order to best meet students’ needs.

Finnish Classroom 360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-image of a 6th grade classroom

Students conduct experiments at the
University of Helsinki's, LUMA Center.
A focus on students’ individual needs is what all Finnish schools have in common. Teachers and administrators prioritize students’ overall well-being and development. By focusing on social and emotional learning skills, students are better able to collaborate with peers and excel academically.

Below is a snapshot of the Finnish education system. As you can see, there are no “dead ends.” After 9th grade, students gets to choose their path. This choice is not a one-time deal. Students can change plans and many educational programs “cross” school lines which keeps their options open. Students have the opportunity to pursue their interests and develop the skills they desire.
Eija Kauppinen, Counsellor for Education, Finnish National Agency for Education, Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching 2010-2011

Upper Secondary Education (Grades 10-12)
During 9th grade, students apply for upper secondary schools if they wish to continue their formal education. Upper secondary education is typically three years, but students have the option to complete their degree in four years. Most students graduate at the age of 19 since they begin school a year later in Finland compared to the U.S.

While most schools in Finland are public institutions, some have programs or reputations that appeal to students with certain interests. For example, there are high schools (lukios) that specialize in art, music, dance, or media to name a few. Therefore, some schools are quite competitive to get into. However, if students are not accepted to their top choice, there is no need to fret. Students realize that generally speaking, all schools in Finland are equal in terms of quality and resources. Students know they will receive a good education at any school.
High schools have facilities to support students' learning. This schools has a school library, equipment for healthcare training, and a fully functional kitchen for students interested in culinary arts.
A general high school education might not be the calling or best fit for some students. There is another option: vocational training. Trade schools are not second rate to high schools. Students can expect to receive advanced training in a variety of fields from healthcare to video production. After graduation, students use their degree and certifications to enter the workforce or to attend a university or polytechnic university. At vocational schools, degree paths are customized based on students’ individual strengths and ambitions. During their three years of training, students often gain work experience through internships and apprenticeships. Both general upper secondary education and vocational training prepare students for more than a score on an exam or a signature on a certification. They prepare students for life beyond their days in school.
Helsinki Vocational College specialize in audiovisual training. Programs include photography, video production, 3D design, and video game development.
Basic Education
Grades 1-9 in Finland are obligatory and comprise what is known as “Basic Education.” Students generally begin first grade at age 7 and complete ninth grade at age 15.

Lower Secondary (Grades 7-9)
Normally, lower secondary education (yläaste) (think junior high or middle school) is situated in a separate building from lukio and primary grades. Two other Fulbright Teachers and I had the opportunity to visit a junior high school together. Birger Holm, principal of Espoonlahti School, organized a tour that showed us all the great things happening in middle grades.
Students can expect to receive an education in a wide-array of subjects. Students take wood and metal working, textile crafts, home economics, physical education, music, and other courses dealing with art and design.
Primary (Grades 1-6)
Since I am an elementary school librarian, it only makes sense that the majority of my classroom visits were at primary schools (ala-aste). For many of these grade levels, students have a classroom teacher who teaches multiple subjects. Students sometimes switch teachers for special classes like wood-working or music. In most schools, students get a 15-minute break after each 45-minute lesson in addition to a scheduled recess period. In some classrooms I have visited, students claim to never have homework. Students from other classrooms claim they have 30 minutes of homework each night. In some classrooms, students are allowed to complete assignments in the hall or in flexible seating options. In other classrooms, students have assigned seats. There is no one-size-fits-all for how education works in Finland. It varies. This is expected given different student populations and various teaching styles. So, instead of me explaining Finnish education in general, I will show you what I know based on personal observations.
Many schools are early adopters of new educational technologies like virtual reality, 3D printing, and interactive projectors.
In most schools you will find flexible seating options.
This 7th grade class is finalizing their Lego League project which they later presented to a panel of judges at a local competition.
Before high school, all students take a textile class as seen in the bottom left picture.
Helsinki English School had a phenomenon learning week where activities and projects revolved around the theme: "time." These 1st and 2nd graders are creating their own grandfather clocks.
This 6th grade class is conducting research on a country they would most like to visit. Students analyze maps, create a travel guide, and explore the destination using a virtual reality headset.
Finland's New Curriculum
Even though the Finnish education system is consistently ranked at the top of international educational benchmarks—despite minimal homework regimens and no standardized tests, apart from a nationwide matriculation examination for students when they are around 17—the curriculum has been tweaked further to keep it relevant (Source—Straits Times).

One of the major components of Finland’s new curriculum are transversal competences. Study, working life, and active citizenship require a command of different knowledge and skills as well as competences in combining these. Each subject promotes transversal competence skills. When you speak with Finnish teachers, the conversation tends to always lead to students’ overall well-being.

There is so much to say about my schools visits in Finland that I could write a book. Hey! Now, that's an idea!

So, what’s next? What am I going to do with these pages of notes and ideas swirling around in my brain? Well, I have used my observations to develop my final Fulbright Inquiry Project—a website for how to integrate project/phenomenon-based learning that will launch soon. I might not be able to detail every single school visit these past four months in one blog post. But I can share more about my classroom observations via my website. The site has a blog section where I have and will continue to add articles that highlight specific aspects of what I have learned in Finland. Stay tuned for the release of my online toolkit!
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From Russia’s Saint Petersburg

Sunday, April 1, 2018
The distance between Helsinki, Finland and Saint Petersburg, Russia is approximately 188 miles. That’s it! To think, my school in Kentucky is 169 miles away our state capital in Frankfort. But in Europe, you can travel under 200 miles and find yourself in a different country with a unique culture. For months, I have shared an 833-mile border with Russia as a temporary resident of Finland. It was only fitting that I pay my new neighbor a visit.
About St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. It was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great (Source—Google Travel Guide). Today, the city remains Russia’s cultural center for reasons found throughout its rich history.
Leaving Helsinki for St. Petersburg
Don’t You Need a Visa?
If you are not a national of a very select number of countries, you do need a travel visa to visit Russia. However, there is one small, but very important exception. If you are traveling to St. Petersburg for up to 72 hours on a ferry or cruise ship (on the condition that you are sleeping on the ship and are accompanied by an authorized tour guide) from Helsinki and Tallinn with St. Peter Line, you do not need a visa (Source—Visa-free travel to Russia). This was my ticket to Russian territory.

Here was my schedule for traveling to and from St. Petersburg: 
  • Depart Helsinki at 6:00pm on a Friday
  • Arrive in St. Petersburg the following day at 8:00am
  • Go on a city bus tour from 9:30am to 5pm. 
  • Return to ship and depart St. Petersburg at 7pm 
  • Arrive in Helsinki and disembark Sunday at 8am 
    • You can also stay overnight in a hotel visa-free if your time does not exceed 72 hours.

Ice fishing on the Baltic Sea of St. Petersburg

Many people from Finland and Estonia enjoy the experience onboard the ship more than the shore excursions. Cruising is a popular leisure activity in Finland. The ship has a magnificent buffet, restaurants and cafes, live entertainment, shops, spa, and yes…sauna. These amenities are appealing, but I set sail to see St. Petersburg with my own eyes.
I learned later from my tour guide that the locals say St. Petersburg has only 60 days of sunshine all year. I must be lucky because I awoke to a bright and cheery (yet cool) morning at our port in St. Petersburg. You must always know what the weather is doing at this latitude because you can assume nothing. Just last week I walked home from the gym with sunrays beaming down. When I got to my apartment, the sky dropped with snowflakes. I couldn’t believe it. I had tracked St. Petersburg weather forecast all week and conditions were quite favorable.

The first stop on the city tour was by (I mean “on”) the River Neva. The water was still frozen so we took a little a stroll atop the ice. At this point sits two magnificent sphinxes that are roughly 3,500 years old. According to, “They once stood on the Alley of Sphinxes in front of the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For nearly two centuries, however, it has been the waters of the River Neva rather than the Nile that reflect in their bottomless eyes.”

Neva River (St. Petersburg) - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

More images along the River Neva:
Church on Spilled Blood
Our next stop was at the Cathedral of a Savior-on-the-Spilled Blood. This church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.

We then headed to the famous St. Isaac Square. Located here is St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Adjacent to the church is the building where Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky once lived. Dostoevsky is most well-known for writing Crime and Punishment.

St. Isaac Cathedral with Dostoevsky's former residence on the bottom-right.
The final destination of the tour was to the Hermitage Museum complex which consists of the Hermitage Theater, Old Hermitage, Small Hermitage, and the Winter Palace. The State Hermitage Museum is the second largest museum of art and culture in the world. It boasts of three million pieces of art including works by Leonard da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt. It was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky (Source—Wikipedia).

Hermitage (St. Petersburg) - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Hermitage. Use you cursor to scroll around the picture.

Below is a 360-degree image of “The Small Throne Room” in the Winter Palace where you can see the throne once occupied by Catherine the Great.

Throne Room of Winter Palace (St. Petersburg) - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Clockwise beginning top-left: Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, da Vinci

There was so much to see at the Hermitage that I would need another two weeks to appreciate it all. In fact, it would take much longer than that. Our tour guide informed us that if a person spent one minute viewing each item in the collection (during opening hours) it would take 11 years to see it all. I would happily take any extra time to see and explore St. Petersburg further. One day just wasn’t enough. I am glad I made the voyage to this impressive Russian city. Though time was short, the memories will be long.
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Berlin and Beyond

Sunday, March 25, 2018
The bear is a symbol of Berlin.
The morning after the Fulbright Finland Forum, I boarded a plane for Berlin for yet another forum. Fulbright Germany’s annual forum is the biggest Fulbright event in Europe with more than 550 grantees. To get to the seminar, I ventured through the streets of Berlin. I would quickly learn the subway system, find great places to eat, locate major sites, and experience Berlin as a tourist and as a Fulbrighter. I found Berlin to be a city full of history and vitality that made each day as exciting as the last. My 10-day itinerary was ambitious. What can I say? I wanted to get the most out of my first trip to Germany. The tours and landmarks were amazing, but so were the local cuisine and marketplaces. The best part of Berlin was the professional development I received from attending the Fulbright seminar and visiting two public schools.

Berlin Seminar

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Use your mouse to move the image and see Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

The theme for the Fulbright event was “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Think Bob Dylan! The focus of the seminar was on how to deal with change as constructively as possible. As international partners, Fulbrighters have great potential to impact social change. The Berlin Seminar was four days of thought-provoking and inspiring panels, workshops, excursions, and seminars.
Berlin Wall

For one day of the forum, participants embarked on a guided tour in or around Berlin. There were 22 tours to choose from. It was extremely difficult to select just one. I finally agreed on Tour 5: Borderwalks – Borderless: Walking Where the Wall Once Stood. Our guide was living in West Berlin during the Cold War. He was in the city in 1989 when the East finally opened the wall. It is a fascinating piece of history and difficult to fathom that it happened not that long ago. We walked the former “deathstrip” between Checkpoint Charlie and Postdamer Platz. The guide told us stories of how Berlin was violently split in 1961 and how one lived in the divided city. So many people have their own stories and thoughts about the wall. Today, there are memorials and exhibits all around the city to keep us from never forgetting what happened.
Teufelsberg, Germany - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of Teufelsberg, the site of an abandoned U.S. listening station during the Cold War that is now a place and inspiration for graffiti.
The Third Reich

Topography Terror is where the Nazi Gestapo (secret service) was
located. It has since been destroyed but the cellars where detainees were
interrogated are still there. You can see the Berlin Wall in the background.
Later in the week, I scheduled another walking tour called, “Final Days of World War 2.” I realize it is not a pleasant topic. Still, we should understand the past. What better way than through the places where so much of it happened? From 1933 to 1945, Germany was under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler through the Nazi Party. We retraced the route of the final Soviet assault on Berlin in 1945. Near the Brandenburg Gate we saw the Soviet War Memorial where many of the Red Army’s soldiers are buried. We stopped at the location of Hitler’s bunker where he spent his last days. The bunker has since been filled in and is now a parking lot.

Holocaust Memorial
Berlin is a city that remembers. In 2005, a memorial was opened to the murdered Jews of Europe. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs, each unique is width and height. As you move toward the center of the memorial, you find yourself surrounded by towering concrete slabs. Even though I could see an exit in every direction, I felt isolated. There are many emotions that one experiences when visiting this memorial. Some say it resembles a graveyard, others think it is a maze. Either way, the memorial causes you to interpret, reflect, and question.

School Visits

After discovering so much of Berlin’s history in the 20th century, it was a time for a change in pace. Time to visit some German schools! I was able to schedule visits to two public schools in Berlin. This was a wonderful opportunity to compare German schools from what I have seen in Finland. Plus, every school visit helps me to reflect on my own teaching practice and discover ways to improve.

My first visit was to John F. Kennedy School, a public primary and secondary school. It was established in 1960 under the name "German-American Community School" as a school offering integrated, bilingual education for both German and American children, to foster cultural exchange between young natives of West Berlin and children from U.S. Armed Forces families. Today, it is a highly sought-after school. Students apply to attend this public school but space is limited. The majority of the more than 1700 students are German and American with about 10% from a wide variety of other countries.
I had an excellent visit at JFK School due to the itinerary prepared by one of the vice principals. She created a detailed schedule that allowed me to visit several classes from across grade levels and subject areas. My notes are lengthy and my mind is still spinning with thoughts and ideas from my observations.

Here are some major points from my visit at JFK School:
  • Class periods are 45 minutes
  • Lunch is 45 minutes
  • Recess is 45 minutes
  • Teachers can leave after their last class
  • Most teachers do not have extra “duties” like bus or car rider duty
  • Students are tested by the state in ELA and Math in 3rd and 8th grades 
  • Students take other mandatory exams in 10th and 12th grades
  • Most teachers spend 21 hours a week delivering instruction
  • Some students learn math in a languages that is not their native tongue: German or English
  • Students have a “Mother Tongue” class where they learn reading and writing in English or German
  • In 5th grade, students get an elective class (i.e. Art, Sports, Legos)
  • There is no Kindergarten in Germany but some schools have an “entry class” before the first grade

I was also able to visit a more traditional German public school with the help of a fellow Fulbrighter. Tegan Jones is a Fulbright English Teacher Assistance who currently works at Robert Reinick Grundschule School in Berlin. On Fridays, she leads a special lesson where she teaches the 6th grade students a song in English to help them improve their language skills. Students have already learned a whole host of English songs, and they really enjoy it. On the day that I visited, students learned the song, “8 Days a Week” by The Beatles. Students discussed the non-literal meaning behind the song’s title. I asked a student sitting next to me if learning and performing songs improved her English. She adamantly said yes because it gives her the chance to pronounce new words in the same way as the musician who could be British, Australian, or American.


The City of Potsdam
On my final weekend in Berlin, I took two excursions outside the city. My first excursion was to the city of Potsdam which was once home to Prussian kings and the German Kaiser. We saw how royalty left its mark on the city's streets as we wandered past Cecilienhof Palace, King Frederick William II’s Marble Palace, the Dutch quarter, and the UNESCO-listed Sanssouci Palace and Gardens. We also went to the courtyard of a palace that was the location of the Potsdam Conference which decided Germany’s fate after WWII.

Potsdam, Germany - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of a popular street near Potsdam's Dutch quarter.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Just outside of Berlin is Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps established by Nazi Germany’s Third Reich. Today, the site serves as a national memorial to the prisoners who lived and died here. More than 200,000 people were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. We visited various locations inside the camp, like the command headquarters and execution trench, and learned about Germany during the rule of the Third Reich. In April of 1945. At that time, approximately 3,000 sick prisoners, along with the doctors and nurses who had stayed behind in the camp, were freed by Soviet and Polish soldiers. It is important to learn about the past and not make similar mistakes. I know I will never, could never, forget my visit to Sachsenhausen.
All Good Things Must Come to an End

I could go on and on about the 10 days I spent in Berlin. It was a challenge to keep this blog post under 1,500 words which is more than I usually write. I will end not with more words, but with more pictures! After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Reichstag Building (Germany's Parliament)
Schnitzel (top left) and Currywurst (top right) are Berlin staples.
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Fulbright Finland Forum

Friday, March 23, 2018
I wish I owned a net that could catch time because it is definitely fleeting! I have been fortunate to experience so much in such a short time, but sometimes I wish the clock's hands would move more slowly. It was difficult to believe that after three months in Finland, it was already time for our Fulbright Forum.
The forum provides Fulbright grantees in Finland the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from fellow Fulbrighters and other attendees.  
Courtesy of  Maija Kettunen

The first day of the seminar focused on Education and was held at the University of Helsinki. The first presentation of the 2018 Fulbright Forum was by yours truly. No pressure, right? I found comfort knowing my audience was a group of supportive and interested Fulbright teachers and scholars. My presentation, “21st Century Students Take Action with Project-Based Learning (PBL),” gave a brief overview of the inquiry process and how Finnish schools embrace interdisciplinary instruction. Individual presentations like mine were allotted 15 minutes. I knew I had to focus on my project’s major points in order to not go over time. 

Finland’s new national curriculum promotes a version of inquiry called, phenomenon-based learning. Phenomenon-based learning uses the natural curiosity of students to learn in a holistic and authentic context. Real-world phenomena provides the motivating starting point for learning which includes many subject areas. 

Phenomenon-based learning is:
  • Inquiry-Based
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Collaborative
  • Hands-On
  • And…Technology Rich

There are a number of benefits when students engage in PBL and apply 21st century skills:
  • Students’ levels of engagement increase
  • They develop inquiry skills
  • Students learn new content
  • PBL promotes students’ overall well-being 
  • And students develop skills they can use in all aspects of life.

I think my presentation was well-received. There were several questions from the audience and the discussion continued during coffee and lunch breaks. Please view my presentation’s slideshow to learn more about project/phenomenon/passion-based learning and how this method supports 21st century skills.

Two Fulbright teachers had the audience try a STEM activity as part of their presentation.

The second day of the seminar was located at Aalto University in Espoo, a major region near Helsinki. The schedule included a wide array of topics from Health Sciences to Business and Engineering. While listening to the many talks, I kept thinking to myself, “I am hearing research that will eventually be what people read in the news, in magazines, and in professional journals." The speakers were not only incredibly knowledgeable, they were passionate. It is my goal to give students at my school similar opportunities to conduct research and deliver presentations for an authentic audience. Just think of the increase in motivation. 

The Fulbright Forum was not all presentations and panel discussions. After the first day, we got to play a popular sport in Finland called floorball. This is my new favorite game. Floorball is a type of floor hockey with five players and a goalkeeper in each team. You play with sticks similar to those in hockey and a small plastic ball with holes. We were all rookies, so we did not stick to regulation play. What we did do was run full speed up and down the court whacking at the ball (and each other) in attempts to make a goal. We made up for our lack of skills with enthusiasm. It was a blast!

Courtesy of Maija Kettunen
There is so much to say about the Fulbright Forum. It was intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding. I am honored to be among the group of Fulbright grantees in Finland this term. From the comradery among Fulbrighters, you would never guess that most of us are from extremely different fields of study. This is one of the things that makes the Fulbright program so great. I have been able to explore my own research interests and learn more about the world from fellow Fulbrighters.

I would like to conclude by thanking the Fulbright Finland team for organizing such an amazing event. It is no easy task planning a two-day seminar, but they pulled it off with flyer colors. To all those involved, I give you a heartfelt kiitos
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