Circuits and the Arctic Circle

I am an American science teacher spending four months in Finland on a Fulbright grant. I’ve been visiting many Innokas schools and was asked to share some posts from my own blog.

Despite studying Finnish for over a year, I had never learned the word piiri, which translates to “circuit” or “circle.” During my trip to Lapland to visit the Ylikylä School in Rovaniemi, I became familiar with both translations.

arcticcircleArriving during the weekend, and armed with a rental car wearing studded tires, I had the opportunity to be a tourist. On my way from the airport to town, I made the mandatory stop at Santa’s Village. I finally figured out that all the signs for napapiiri were not directing me to a town of that name, but rather to the Arctic Circle.

My original plans didn’t include dogsledding, thinking it to be the touristy Lapland equivalent of a Central Park carriage ride. But another Fulbrighter highly recommended it, so I decided to give it a try. I’m mighty glad that I went, especially as I had the sled to myself and got to drive for the whole 2 hours through snowy forest.


Following the recommendation of a teacher in Oulu, I drove to the town of Kemi to check out the snow hotel. I don’t quite see the point of sleeping there, as I’ve spent enough cold nights in tents and lean-tos to know what it feels like to crawl out a warm sleeping bag in the morning. But it was worth the visit to walk around and see all of the carvings in the rooms and the restaurant. And there were very few visitors, so I usually was the only one in the room.








On Sunday afternoon, I got back to the reason I had come northward, as I worked on a lesson I’d be teaching the next day. The plan was for me to teach first graders (age 7) about electric circuits. IN FINNISH. I had spoken to a number of classes of older students who were studying English, but this would be my first time trying to communicate (and teach physics, no less) in Finnish.

I basically used the same lesson I do with my 9th graders when I’m introducing circuits, giving kids a bunch of different challenges that get progressively harder. It gives them a chance to figure things out on their own, and it forms a basis for future lessons on the “why” of their discoveries about how to connect the bulbs in series and parallel. AND this particular lesson would be easy to do using pictures and just a few words. While the first graders took a little longer and sometimes needed hints, they got through all of the challenges. I think they enjoyed the activity, as the next day they asked if they’d be doing physics again.

This was the final challenge.
Instructions for the final challenge



IMG_5643When spending time with this class, I also got to observe how creative scheduling can be used to give support to students. There are six special education students who benefit from having their Finnish lessons in a small group. To allow the teacher to have time with them, students in the class do not all have the same schedule. Some students come in during the red “A” block, while others come for the blue “B” block. The class also has an assistant who helps when the entire group is together (and who also provides skiing lessons!). A special education teacher also sometimes takes students who need help with a particular subject.

IMG_5755During my second day, the students used what they had learned about building circuits to design some sort of device that uses a light and and a switch. Their teacher, Anna-Kristiina, had to explain this part of the project to them, while I just demonstrated how to make a switch using aluminum foil. Every classroom I’ve visited has a document camera, something that’s very helpful when demonstrating things like how to clip wires in a circuit. I wrote a grant two years ago to get one in my own classroom, and I’m not sure how I ever taught without it.

Wiring the robot's eyes
Wiring the robot’s eyes
Painting the robot
Painting the robot
Building a lantern
Building a lantern
Finished product
Finished product
Explaining how it works
Explaining how to turn on the lantern
Building a book light
Seeing how the switch works
Writing instructions
Writing instructions for the book light
The light turns on by toughing the dog to the car!
This is an “answering light.” Instead of raising a hand, you simply place the bear in the car to make the light go on, signaling the teacher. They definitely win for creativity! 

During my days with the class, I also observed their other lessons and got to talk to some of the other teachers.  I’ve been in enough schools to start noticing commonalities among them. Finnish schools all give students a good deal of freedom, and they all are places where learning is designed to meet the needs of the students. There are no standardized tests, and there is no pressure for kids to learn things at a faster pace than is natural for them.

Because art lessons are usually taught by the regular class teacher, Finnish classrooms often are decorated with student work.
Because art lessons are usually taught by the regular class teacher, Finnish classrooms often are decorated with student work.
Kids are given books free of charge. High-quality workbooks are used much more than photocopies of worksheets.
Kids are given books free of charge. High-quality workbooks are used much more than photocopies of worksheets.
I've seen kids checking their own work in many classrooms.
I’ve seen kids checking their own work in many classrooms.
Everyone wanted a turn at the spelling game.
Everyone wanted a turn at the spelling game.

Most of my upcoming school visits will focus on the higher grades, but I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent with the younger students. It’s been useful to see the whole range of grade levels, and it helps me understand why the gap between the weaker and stronger students is much smaller than in the US.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s