“We’ve worked with laptops, mobile phones and tablets and I feel that no matter what the device is, students are always motivated.” – Paula Vorne, Finland

Paula Vorne has learned never to underestimate the potential of her 1st and 2nd grade students when it comes to technology. The Expert Educator, who presented her winning project at the most recent Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, has been amazed at how quickly her students learn to use new tools, and at how adept they are at finding creative new ways to use them.

“When we brought Surfaces to our school,” Vorne tells us, “I didn’t teach the children how to use them, I just gave [the devices] to them so that they could learn by themselves. It took about five minutes before the first one had found out how to create an account for himself on the tablet. Then he was able to teach the other students. The students were in the 2nd grade (8 years old).”

Vorne’s Global Forum project (for Cutting Edge Use of ICT for Learning), Patamäki co, taught these young students how to establish and work in a company, waking up their inner entrepreneurs and exposing them to real-life 21st century opportunities. For the project, students created a KODU learning game and tie-in products. They also experienced how to plan, produce and implement a marketing strategy through co-operative working, peer coaching, creativity and problem solving.

Vorne, who is also a contributor to the terrific InnTeach blog we’ve previously covered in Daily Edventures, sees collaboration as key to creating a positive learning environment. Whether within her classroom, or via Skype with classrooms in other countries, Vorne’s students are always working closely with their peers on projects that build skills and self-confidence.

“My students have pen pals from many different countries across the world,” Vorne says, “and even though they don’t have a mutual language, they can write to each other, and technology provides them a way to understand each other.”  Students use Bing Translator to translate the letters and answer them in Finnish. As a bonus, Vorne notes, “This project has given my children much more interest in learning English, so that one day they will write the letters in English.”

Paula Vorne’s work proves that students are never too young to learn the 21st century skills they’ll ultimately need to succeed in both school and career. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure, and be sure to check out this video showing Paula’s innovative approach at work in her classroom.

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

When I was working as a school assistant after high school, I realized that I enjoyed being with children and that teaching could be my thing. It’s important to me because I want to make a difference in the lives of the children who are in my classroom.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

The teacher who got me to apply to university was the teacher I supported as a class assistant. I saw how much she loved her job and I ended up doing my Master’s thesis on her career. 

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

In the past few years I’ve developed a lot as a teacher and gained a lot of professional confidence to make my own choices and try new, innovative things in my classroom. As a result of this, I’ve changed the whole learning environment and my way of teaching. 

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I’ve used a lot of different technology in my classroom, and each time I try to find a new approach. I also try to teach the children to be fearless with technology, even make mistakes and learn from them. I try not to give them overly structured plans on how to use technology, but I try to guide them to find their own solutions. 

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?

Learning is more fun and the children are more motivated to learn with different devices and apps. The devices also give the teachers much more variety to plan the learning activities. 

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

I think that the most exciting thing is the rapid speed in which technology develops and the variety of apps and devices increases. Will the schools and teachers be able to follow this development, adapt to it and take the best parts of this development into their daily life? 

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

The one 21st century skill that I’m really passionate about is collaboration. I’ve studied a lot about collaboration in teaching and cooperative learning. I feel that by creating/building a learning environment and planning learning activities that “force” the children to collaborate creates a great base to all the other 21st century skills.

It’s not just the learning activities but the whole atmosphere of the classroom or school community that gives the children the feeling of belonging and of being accepted as who they are. Then they also enjoy being at school and feel motivated in learning.  If you know your classmates really well and you can rely on them, you feel comfortable with them and then you can be creative and innovative. Problems are better solved with a group than alone.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I would give them some sort of device with an Internet connection. With it I feel that they would have the whole world with them. They could see and visit places that they are not able to see or visit otherwise. They could learn and collaborate with children from other countries across the world. Somehow I feel that then they could build bigger dreams for themselves. 

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

In our country there is at the moment a lot of talk about education and how it should be developed to answer the challenges of the future. There are also a lot of ongoing projects that give schools and teachers chances to develop themselves and the learning in their classrooms and schools. The National Board of Education is encouraging teachers and schools to take brave steps forward. It also gives funding to schools, for example, to purchase technology devices. 

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

We have to give up teacher-centered teaching methods and give the children more chances to learn. We have to be fearless but also wise in using technology in our classrooms and ensure that every child in our country gets the same possibilities to learn, regardless of their home city or school. We still have a long way to go but I want to believe that with baby steps we’ll get there eventually. 

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I think that the biggest obstacle has been to convince the parents that the methods that I use and the learning activities that I plan can be really good for their children, and the children will learn even if we don’t fill in books from cover to cover.

Other obstacle are the colleagues who want to teach in the traditional way. I’ve felt that sometimes they feel themselves threatened if someone does something in a different way.

But I’ve also learned that if you explain your decisions and they see what kind of results you get with your students, they get curious and maybe take an example from you. 

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I encourage every teacher and leader to be fearless and be innovative. They should also be very clear to the people surrounding them and explain to them why they think that the new innovative way is better for the children. We always have to remind ourselves as educators why we are doing this work: we are doing it for the children and their future.

How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?

We’ve worked with laptops, mobile phones and tablets and I feel that no matter what the device is, students are always motivated. They are interested in learning new tools and also collaborating with others with the devices. 

Describe your most innovative teaching and learning practices and how they are supported by technology?

I teach mainly the 1st and 2nd grades so I have to start with the basics, but after that we’ve done a lot different kind of things. The one thing I want to mention here is the international collaboration that we’ve been doing with students across the world without a mutual language. It’s amazing how children can learn from each other even though they can’t understand a word the other is saying. We’ve used non-verbal messaging but also translators to communicate with our pen pals. Skype messaging has been really fun, too, and you can do it despite the time zones. 

Describe how you use your favorite Microsoft technology in the classroom and how that impacts 21st century skills development?

Recently I’ve enjoyed using Office365 and especially SharePoint Sites with my own class but we’ve also used Sites when we’ve been doing big projects with other classes or the whole school. On Sites, you have great opportunities for collaboration and knowledge building. Sharing is easy and the students can continue their work in their free time.

Describe to us your role as a leader for technology in your school, community or among other educators?

I see myself as some kind of tutor or a tour guide for other teachers. I’ve been giving training to other teachers in my school, city and also in the nearby areas. I enjoy sharing the things that I’ve learned and giving other teachers ideas and knowledge on how to use different technologies. It’s also really nice to hear what other teachers are doing and how they have implemented technology in their classrooms.

About Paula Vorne, Primary School Teacher, Oulujoki School
Oulu, Finland

  • Birthplace: Lapua, Finland
  • Current residence: Oulu, Finland
  • Website I check every day: Twitter, Facebook, newspapers
  • Person who inspires me most: Enthusiastic and innovative colleagues
  • Favorite childhood memory: Summers were always filled with fun!
  • Favorite book: All Danielle Steel books, I love romance.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Live one day at a time.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
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