By: Andrea Hein and Carol Logan, Harris College communications interns
The Department of Kinesiology and Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences will host Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland, as its 2013 Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair. Sahlberg will present a public lecture titled "Finnish Lessons: What the U.S. can learn from education reforms in Finland" at 7 p.m. on March 20 in the Brown-Lupton University Ballroom on the TCU campus. There is no admission fee for the lecture. Register at Harris College
Sahlberg also will conduct workshops throughout the day on March 19 (for university leadership) and March 20 (for K-12 leadership) on educating our students differently at the University and K-12 levels. Topics will include assessments, physical activity/creativity, equality and ethics.
The United States has steadily dropped in reading, math and science status over the past 20 years, and the country currently muddles along in the middle of the pack on national and global assessments. Physical education programs have declined in schools across the country due to the belief that if we stay in the classroom longer, evaluate teachers competitively and teach students what they need to pass standardized tests, the children will become better learners. As a result, our children are becoming more sedentary, obese and less academically skilled.
Debbie Rhea, professor and associate dean for health sciences and research in Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences, recently returned from a sabbatical to Finland, where she gained insights into the strengths of its education system. In the past decade, Finland’s students raised their scores on PISA assessments (global math, science and reading assessments) from F to A+. Finland is currently ranked second, third and sixth in those three assessment areas as a result of changes they made in the classroom over the past 10-20 years.
Rhea shadowed a program in Finland designed to offer a more focused educational experience in the classroom. Fifteen minutes of each hour of the school day is spent in physical activity. Hourly outside games and recess integrated into the school day allow students to conduct themselves in an orderly manner, and also maintain excitement in learning.
Rhea has returned with a passion to put what she has learned into practice in the public school system of Texas. She is establishing a pilot program for up to three independent school districts in north Texas. Currently two independent school districts have indicated they will participate, and a third district is close to a decision. Three elementary schools in each of the participating ISDs are expected to participate in the pilot program, with the remainder continuing on the current curriculum path and serving as a “control group.” The program will begin with K-1st grade, with an additional grade added each year through ninth grade.
Rhea has been meeting with legislators, school superintendents and other interested groups, and anticipates the pilot program beginning in fall 2014. The pilot program consists of four steps:
1. Increase the amount of physical activity in the schools
2. Create equality across content areas; add ethics as a content area
3. Assess students differently, with state/federal assessments given twice (at the end of fifth and ninth grades)
4. Restructure the school day (less hours in the classroom for K-6 students; extra time in play/creativity)
TCU’s College of Education will take part in training the instructors, superintendents, teachers, administrators and team players of the system at the three participating school districts.
“We will know within two to three years, based on an evaluation piece that we will implement, if this is effective. We will measure burnout, self-esteem, cognitive pieces, obesity rates and learning disabilities,” Rhea said.
Rhea will work closely with the schools. “As the director of this program, I will orchestrate and organize the different pieces to make sure that everything is getting done from the top position. I will play more of a visionary role,” Rhea said.
The intended outcomes of this program would be increased math, reading and science scores; increased social responsibility with less discipline problems; increased creativity and problem-solving skills; increased confidence in learning and self-esteem; less teacher burnout; and increased teacher respect. In addition, Rhea and others involved with this new program hope to see healthy weight changes that positively impact young children.
To learn more about how this pilot was developed, visit www.drdebrhea.blogspot.com
. For more information on Pasi Sahlberg, visit www.pasisahlberg.com