Caitlin Ballard, M.S.
Finland is a world leader in education and health outcomes, ranking 8th among 50 countries in childhood and youth fitness levels. In comparison, the United States ranked 47th in the same study. Finland is consistently recognized as one of the most top performing countries in the world. Additionally, Finland provides equal opportunity to higher education, innovative teaching methodologies, high quality curriculum, and advanced pedagogy strategies to keep students active and engaged.
Integrating physical activity into the classroom, lesson plans, and curriculum has been proven to increase academic achievement, simultaneously students will become more engaged by participating in an interactive classroom. Finland's physical environment in and outside of the classroom promotes physical activity. Inside of the school, they provide yoga balls, standing desks, and obstacles to promote movement and decrease sedentary behaviors. Outside of the classroom, there are open fields, playground equipment, obstacle courses, sidewalks in which most students ranging pre-primary to secondary school (K-12) use as their main source of transportation to and from school. Health education is valued in Finland, starting as early as pre-primary school (pre-school). Students are taught the basics of nutrition, physical activity, healthy relationships, hygiene, and mental health from an early age which serves as the foundation of what is built on throughout the school system.
While abroad in Finland, twenty five pre-service teachers and researchers will visit schools, teach health education lessons, meet with Finnish Ministers of Education, and research current policies using the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model as guidance. The WSCC model represents ten components that should be incorporated in schools in order to help students reach their full potential. Of the ten components, students and researchers will focus on three: physical activity/education, health education, and the physical environment. Pre-service educators will be encouraged to observe what they witness in the classrooms, schools, playgrounds, and overall environment of Helsinki, Finland. While observing, pre-service educators will note Finnish students and teachers attitudes, knowledge, engagement, and incorporation of physical activity/education and health education. After each observation, researchers will conduct focus groups to determine pre-service educators' attitudes and competency levels in meeting the needs of their future students and/or patients. The focus groups will serve as an opportunity for pre-service educators to apply what they have observed to their own future careers and personalize lessons learned while abroad in Finland.
Exposure to Finland's innovative teaching methods, high quality curriculum, and advanced pedagogy may increase competency levels among pre-service educators. Analyses of common themes, lessons learned and competency levels will be reported. Focus groups will ask specific questions regarding how each student will incorporate physical activity/education and health education into their future careers as well as their confidence in doing so. It is imperative to equip pre-service teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to produce an environment where every student can learn and thrive.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/wscc/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Childhood obesity facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
Lang, J., Tremblay, M., Leger, L., Olds, T., & Tomkinson, G. (2016). International variability in 20 m shuttle run performance in children and youth: who are the fittest from the 50- country comparison? A systematic literature review with pooling of aggregate results. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 1-12. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096224
World Health Organization. (2015). Finland curbs childhood obesity by integrating health in all policies. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/2015/finland-health-in-all-policies/en/