Home » 21st Century Learning » Filling in the Blanks in Finland

Filling in the Blanks in Finland

Image Credit: berryberryeasy.com

By: Paul A. Solarz

Not speaking Finnish can make learning somewhat difficult when observing lessons at the Helsinki Normal Lyceum, a grades 7-9 school led by Markku Pyysiainen and Olli Maatta.  During a recent chemistry lesson, I had to think critically to determine meaning and use the resources around me to ask for clarification to “fill in the blanks” regarding what I didn’t understand.  Those are just two examples of the 21st Century skills that today’s students need to develop before entering the work force, and those skills are what I am focusing on while studying the education system here in Finland.

Here is the complete list of 34 skills that I focus on in my classroom.

For me, one of the most valuable “take-aways” that I got from today’s observation was the use of a coaching team to improve instruction.  I was able to observe a student teacher conducting a lesson on how medicines are made and how to use them safely.  At the back of the room sat the actual chemistry teacher (mentor teacher) and four additional student teachers.  All five were taking notes, discussing what they saw, and watching the students’ behavior.  The mentor teacher was my translator and gave me some background on the students and the lesson itself.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay to hear the post-observation discussion, so I have decided to create that discussion, making sure to suggest how one could integrate 21st Century skills into the lesson!

Sample Post-Observation Discussion:

Always start with the end in mind.  What are your goals?  What do you expect your students to be able to do on their own after today’s lesson?  What do you want your students to understand and be able to apply independently to new situations in the future?

Based on my observation, I believe that these were the Content Objectives that the teacher focused on during instruction:

  • Know that some plants can be made into drugs, both legal and illegal.
  • Understand that drugs can cause side effects.
  • Read and understand a prescription drug label.

I see that there are a few 21st Century skills that can be integrated into this lesson quite seamlessly.  Here is the list.  See if you can identify where each skill is utilized in the lesson below (an explanation of behaviors associated with each skill can be downloaded from this page):

  • Communicate clearly
  • Collaborate with others
  • Think Interdependently
  • Apply Past Knowledge to New Situations
  • Think Critically
  • Make Judgments and Decisions
  • Solve Problems
  • Reflect and Synthesize
  • Access and Evaluate Information

With these goals in mind, what assessments could I create to see if my students met each goal?  What formative assessments can I use to inform my instruction throughout the lesson?  What summative assessments might my students be ready for?  Here they are:

  • Formative Assessment(s):
    • Whole class question: What are some plants that can be made into drugs? (Low Level)
    • Whole class question: What are some side effects that drugs can have? (Low Level)
  • Summative Assessment(s):
    • A blog post in response to the following questions (see a sample blog post for a different activity here):
      • What did you learn from the activity?
      • What do I want you to transfer to real-life from this lesson?
      • If possible, capture a portion of your process on video or photo & upload it to your blog entry.

What activities will the students participate in during the 75-minute period that will lead them to achieving our goals?  Here is what I would do:

  1. Prior to the lesson:
    1. Create scenarios where students are given a list of symptoms they are experiencing, prior conditions that they have, and the prescription drug label of the medicine that has been prescribed for them.  Purposely create some that will be safe for the patient and some that are unsafe based on the factors you want the students to understand.
    2. Post scenarios around the room – spread them out so that students can’t overhear each other’s conversations.
    3. Create a form online or on paper for students to fill out as they circulate.
  2. Inform students of the goals for today.  Let them know that their learning will be monitored and that their success is important.
  3. Consolidate the information that needs to be presented to the students down to 20 minutes of lecture and note-taking.  Be sure to walk around the room while talking, and check students’ understanding by asking the following questions. (An engaging way to have students respond would be to create a Today’s Meet page where students can post their answers for all to see.):
    1. What are some plants that can be made into drugs? (Low Level)
    2. What are some side effects that drugs can have? (Low Level)
  4. As a whole group, have the students brainstorm all possible safety concerns regarding medication.  If they can’t come up with all of them, teach it to them.  I would imagine some would include: drug interactions, misdiagnoses, etc.
  5. Tell the students that they will be looking at scenarios where they have been prescribed a drug, but that some of the prescriptions are unsafe for the reasons identified moments ago.  They need to determine which prescriptions are safe and which are unsafe.  Share with them that being an informed patient can protect them even though doctors are normally correct (to ease any worry).
  6. Explain remaining directions to the group and check for understanding.
  7. Partner students up randomly or heterogeneously to research the safety of that prescription for that patient using the pre-selected materials that were used in the original lesson and any additional resources that students deem necessary.
  8. Circulate and assist with directions, but not with critical thinking.  Allow students to struggle and use their resources.
  9. If students finish early, ask them to make new scenarios with their partner that you can use in future years.  Be sure that they determine if the drug is safe or not and to cite sources for you to double-check their work.
  10. For those who have fallen behind, it’s ok if they don’t get to all of them.  Check their understanding and monitor their attention.  Assist with confusion or re-direct if necessary.
  11. Once most students are done, go over the answers together as a class and explain why each prescription is safe or unsafe.
  12. Depending on time, students will blog about the following questions now or for homework:  What did you learn from the activity?  What do I want you to transfer to real-life from this lesson?  (If possible, allow students to capture a portion of their process on video or photo & upload it to their blog entry.)

When this lesson in complete, students should have remained engaged for a 75-minute period, created long-term understanding of the established goals, and developed the 21st Century skills that are necessary to be a successful member of _____________ (you fill in the blank).


  1. Olli Maatta says:

    Excellent postlesson plan, Paul. I’ll absolutely pass that to Ms. Tiia Karpin to be discussed with the student teacher. I especially like your notions on 21st century skills. As educators we realize them to differ depending on whose list we’re quoting. How does my list look like? And yours? Have you designed a set of skills collaborating with your students? Does our mindset allow us to reshape the objectives according to what we as teachers see happening during the class? Are there any other ways of looking at a successful learning opportunity apart from what the 21st century skills approach is offering? I might get a bit ambiguous asking when we as captains of the school ship unset the sails and let the crew spend more time on land?

    My personal stellar experience with any group of students consists of particularly unidentifiable set of actions resulting in a shared notion of life as school and school as life. Of course, in order to reach such rare states of mind in class both the teacher and students have agreed to carry their responsibilities. For students it means taking full advantage of the planned learning opportunity. Thus, a valuable learning experience is a continuum of empowerment reached by understanding, unhostility, listening, representing individual values, seaching for solutions together, compromising,devaluing competition and victory and orally describing happiness.

  2. psolarz says:

    I love your perspective Olli – I would love to hear the skills that you might add to my list! I absolutely see the lesson plan as the starting point, but as the lesson plays out with the students I definitely agree that the skills to focus on might change based on opportunities presented.

    I feel that it is so important that the teacher create a lesson that can allow for these skills to happen. In order to do so, I believe that the teacher needs to become more of a participant in the learning process and allow students to show leadership as they work with their peers. This might mean that the teacher introduces and explains the difficult content, but that students work with each other to clarify meaning and dig deeper. My hope is that by putting more of the responsibility into the students’ hands, I am providing them with opportunities to develop those 21st Century skills that they will need when they enter the workforce.

    See you later today, and I’d love to continue the conversation!

  3. Caz says:

    Wow… I need to sit with you during an observation! Great post… I think “coaching” could be in your future!

Post your thoughts here

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: