History of robotics in Finnish schools

Robotics and coding are not new in Finnish schools. In the 1990’s robotics (e.g. graphical programming with LEGO LOGO) was a part of the technology education provided by some of the K12-schools in Finland. The organizing principle during this time was revolved around projects where universities, schools and sometimes also industry collaborated like for example the HAITEK-project, which highlighted problem based learning (PBL), constructivism and student orientated technology education. HAITEK-project was designed to introduce both local industry and coding/robotics to students with visits to factories followed with modeling production lines with LEGO LOGO. Despite the efforts in these projects, robotics/coding never experienced a more nationwide uptake, neither in practice nor in policy. As a matter of fact, coding/robotics are not part of the current national curriculum (implemented in 2004) and it does not include references to or from these projects. In the absence of reference in the formal curriculum, the current general situation has been that robotics and coding have been taught by active teachers who are interested in robotics mostly in after school activities, resulting in a situation that currently there are great differences between schools and districts when it comes to teaching coding and robotics.

New national curriculum, coding and robotics.

This is however about to change with the new Finnish national curriculum comes into effect in 2016. Though the new curriculum does not mention robotics explicitly, it has implicit references to robotics via coding that has been added to the new curriculum. In the new curriculum, coding is included as a part of the handicraft and mathematics teaching, and coding is also mentioned in the cross-curricular activities in the curriculum, which are referred under the heading: wide-ranging know-how. In the new curriculum, programming will be a mandatory on each grade level, starting from grade 1. In grades 1-2, basics of programming (e.g. learning to give unambiguous commands from one person to another) are the focus without necessarily using computers to reach the goals. In grades 3-6 coding is part of the wide-ranging know-how, and coding should illustrate students how technology and its functions are dependent on decisions made by man. In handicrafts students should learn how to use automation as part of their products, while in mathematics students should learn how to model certain mathematical problems in a graphical programming environment (e.g. scratch / scratch jr.). At the end of the 6th grade students should be able to produce a working program in graphical programming environment. In secondary school (grades 7-9 ) coding (or programming) is mentioned as a part of the cross-curricular activities and of multiliteracies teaching. Students should learn how to produce digital work individually and in collaboration with other students. In handicrafts, coding is a part of integrated systems in which coding is being used both in designing and manufacturing products, while in mathematics coding is a part of applied mathematics, and coding should be used as a tool for solving mathematical problems. Adoption of coding in the national curriculum are a first step, but in the Finnish situation this does not necessarily mean that it is implemented in the same way throughout the country as Finnish school policy gives wide autonomy for communes and schools in curriculum implementation. The national curriculum does not prescribe detailed models for schools or teachers on how to implement the coding (and robotics) to their teaching. The national curriculum is merely a framework for defining local curricula and school level syllabi. Schools and teachers may decide themselves on pedagogical practices and technological solutions to implement the curriculum. This freedom is one of the core components of teachers’ autonomy in Finland, but while it is believed to contribute to their craftsmanship, it is a cause for concern in periods of change at the same time, especially when changes include new skills that require training like in the case of robotics/coding.