The Finns are pretty bemused by Americans’ preoccupation with whether to put iPads in every classroom. If a tablet would enhance learning, great. If it wouldn’t, skip it. Move on. The whole thing is a little tilting-at-windmills, anyway.
That was the gist of the conversation one recent morning at the Finnish Embassy in Washington, D.C., where diplomats and experts gathered to celebrate the country’s education accomplishments as Finland turns 100. And Americans could stand to take notes. (Yes, from Finland—again.)
Coding and programming are now part of the curriculum in the Scandinavian country, and they’re subjects kids tackle from a young age. But unlike in some parts of the United States where learning to code is an isolated skill, Finnish children are taught to think of coding and programming more as tools to be explored and utilized across multiple subjects.
That mindset aims to accomplish a couple of things: to make coding and programming accessible to kids with a variety of interests, and to show students why understanding how technology works is relevant to their lives by linking its use to a multitude of activities.
Linda Liukas is a Finnish programmer, author, and illustrator who has worked with teachers in Finland (and a few early adopters in the United States) to make technology less of a mystery to both instructors and students. She’s created a whimsical character named Ruby (and penned a series of Hello Ruby books) who can guide even very young children unwittingly through the basics of programming in a variety of school environments. If kids are in a physical-education class, students can act out the concept of a loop (essentially a sequence) by putting on a favorite tune and repeating a series of dance steps. Clap, clap, stomp, stomp, jump! The class can learn about different types of loops by adding other specifications—say, having students close their eyes—to the sequence or modifying it.