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[00:00:00] Antonio Santiago:
We want children to have critical thinking skills. We want them to know about the world, how it operates and be able to discern what is true and what isn't. But some teachers might feel unprepared for that. After all these concepts can be difficult to teach. Teaching is difficult. And many teachers feel prepared to teach some subjects, but not others.
Hey folks, you're listening to "That's Child's Play!" Brought to you by Kide Science, the podcast for all things. Early childhood play-based STEAM education. I'm your host Antonio Santiago. And in today's episode, we're joined by a co-founder of Kide Science and former educator. We're going to talk about teaching science for people who aren't comfortable with science.
Story-based pedagogy and what it's like being a children's show, celebrity in Finland. So without further ado let's get into it
Today's guest is an entrepreneur, a teacher and a children's TV show host.
[00:01:16] Aino: My name is Aino Kuronen, a nd I'm a teacher by education. Studied at the university of Helsinki to become an elementary school teacher. But my journey took me to be. Founder of Kide Science. Accompany that. Does. Early. Childhood science education.
[00:01:34] Antonio Santiago: Aino's a former teacher and while there are many out there who knew their whole lives, they wanted to teach there's others like myself. And I know who.
To us, it happened almost accidentally.
[00:01:46] Aino: I was a bitlost after high school about what would I want to do? And I swore to God that I would never become a teacher because all my family.
is teachers, b ut then. Life just happened and I ended up being a special needs assistant in one of. Schools, my mother worked at. And I absolutely loved it. So that was my. Journey to work with children and then having that experience of. Having a positive effect to someone's life.
In that way was the thing that kind of took me to t eaching and education.
[00:02:22] Antonio Santiago: I know, we hear a lot that becoming an educator is quite difficult in Finland. How did you just stumble upon it?
[00:02:30] Aino: Idon't knowif it's specifically hard to become a teacher, at that point when I applied to become a teacher, it was really popular. So like getting into the university. It needed quite lot of preparation, but in the end I think.
The problems everywhere, like wherever you are in the world is the same you try to help the children to learn and try to help them find their individual. Positive. Life paths, what they are interested in, so I think that doesn't really change whether you're a teacher in Finland or anywhere else.
[00:03:03] Antonio Santiago: And what made you fall in love with teaching specifically special education so much?
[00:03:09] Aino: There was. Many things. I think the first one was that. I found my own strengths. Education.
In the end is just interaction and trying to.
Find a way to communicate. I was actually Working with really. Severely. Disabled children. And that was really trying to learn their thinking, trying to ,
interpret. what they are trying to say, because there were a lot of ' children who couldn't speak, but they did express themselves in many ways. So trying to find that in them, understand what they're meaning and making sense , of life. And helping to facilitate that process was super.
Encouraging. The connections you make. As. An educator. To another human being. Is really strong. And every child leaves a little mark into your heart, kinda. You remember them like always. I have these little twinkles somewhere. In me.
I remember these. individuals. So it's really heartwarming to be a teacher.
[00:04:14] Antonio Santiago: I mean, I can just hear the passion.
Like you just sound so passionate about it. And there's this kind of mythology that being a teacher is a bit like the holy grail because here it's work-life balance, but the education system is also really great. What about that? Wasn't appealing to you.
[00:04:34] Aino: I have to say Finnish teachers in general are. Quite respected the profession is . Looked highly at. And the one thing that is really alluring to become a teacher, is that you can have this kind of how do you say forever career? So if you get a contract to school,
You might get like a place for a school forever, so you're never gonna lose a job, basically. And I think what was the biggest thing for me is that. I'm definitely a kind of planner and a designer and I want to make things well. And the teacher's life is quite hectic.
That was one thing I don't think a Finnish teacher's life is a holy grail. Sometimes You have a lot of children in the classroom and somebody trips, and then you're like, you have to do at the same time teach and then help a child who has hurt their knee
and , , for me, The side of planning, teaching, and, using a lot of time for that and being able to. Focus on the theories behind.
Having a lesson, it's just, I really loved that part of it. I think that was why I didn't end up. Getting there, but at the same time, I would definitely.
Be a teacher at some point, I would just want to have a really strong colleague cooperation. And that's something that is done in many schools in Finland. So I think that's one thing that's tempting to me.
[00:05:53] Antonio Santiago: Now Aino. As a founder at a story-based pedagogy company. Can you define pedagogy for me and the distinction between pedagogy here and pedagogy across the world. There's. A clear definition, but it's nice to hear what a person's perspective is on pedagogy. Before hearing them talk more about it.
[00:06:17] Aino: Oh, wow. that's a good question.
I would say it's how we. Help. Children. Learn. So it is those different kinds of philosophies and methods of how we can support an individual finding there. Best self.
I would say how Finnish pedagogy differentiates if we look globally, in early childhood education, what is really strong as play. everything starts from. Children. Having the right to be children and playing. And the other thing is that.
Individual and their abilities is highly valued in the Finnish pedagogy. Meaning that instead of thinking that okay. Every child needs to learn all of the presidents of Finland and, it- n ot like that, but more okay, what is the thing you are interested in? What is something that makes you.
Love life as a human. And finding those strengths. So I think that's one thing. And really being super skill-based. So thinking, learning more as a lifelong process. Where. Learning is a means of finding yourself. And not that you can repeat some facts that somebody has said you should.
[00:07:27] Antonio Santiago: Love life as a human. Wow. It's hard to think of kids as autonomous humans with passions and wants and needs on an individual level. So that's an awesome philosophy to have. Can you walk me through where you got the bug for being a pedagogy nerd.
[00:07:45] Aino: I was at the university of Helsinki.
Studying to become an elementary school teacher. And I was struggling a bit. I felt that. I probably don't want to work. . In a, a basic classroom, I felt I wanted to be part of Education to teach as well. But I didn't see myself as a. Like 40 years being an elementary school teacher in a, in somewhere. So I was a bit struggling with that and discussing with my friends about it.
And then one of my friends forwarded me an email. About this project. I know you would love this. Like you need to do this. She had been in the science clubs teaching as well.
And then I was like, Ooh, science education. Okay. well, I'm not sure about that. Because I was more like the history. Gal.
[00:08:34] Antonio Santiago: Okay, folks, to give you a picture of, Aino, imagine teachers you had in middle school. She's always wearing something cool and flowy and is super inviting to talk to you and just gives off that vibe that a literature or history teacher.
Most of us have had in the past has. Where everyone feels welcome to chill in their class between periods. Because the overall environment is cozy.
If, you know, you know, it's a little bit different from the science teacher vibes. P S shout out to Ms. Burnett and Ms. Collins.
[00:09:09] Aino: But Then I went and looked A bit more closer there. And it was all about using drama and storytelling and all of these things. I felt quite natural to myself.
So I was like, okay, I'm going to give it a try. And then Jenni interviewed me and I became a science club teacher. And there. I think I experienced. That kind of a learning environment that I wanted to create for my students. It was so motivating. We use quite a lot of time, to
make the science clubs as a good learning experience for the children. I just loved it. I loved the.
facial expressions on children when they're like, oh, this is why this is happening. That was the beginning of me. Joining Jenni's this project.
[00:09:56] Antonio Santiago: Context time! Aino is referring to Jenni Vartiainen the researcher and other co-founder of Kide Science. The research on story-based learning started with science clubs Jenni and teachers would hold after school science clubs where students would participate in story-based science lessons. And they would conduct observational research based off of those lessons.
Aino, what was planning those like was it different from a normal science class?
[00:10:27] Aino: What was a bit different? There was that. We had two teachers for the class. So we did the planning together. And then we had really strong guidelines from the research okay. What is better than having a specialist there to help you making the planning as good as possible.
, it was a cooperative process between me and the other science club teachers. And
We commented a lot on each other's work, so it was also designing the learning environment and everything. And I think. And every day. Elementary school teacher or an early educator, they don't have that time to design a lesson. I guess that's the biggest difference.
[00:11:07] Antonio Santiago: Just like on a meta level. For research purposes. What is learning? Like how do I know if a child is learning more effectively with play-based learning?
[00:11:19] Aino: Learning is making meaning. Let's talk about the president's you wouldn't actually learn. About the presidents, if you wouldn't. Build any individual connection to that topic. And make any meaning to your life from that topic? So I think that's something what was a lot.
Talked in our education was that learning is meaning-making trying to build those connections to your own life. And what does it matter to you? , this thing that we are learning here and trying to find your individual. Thing from that topic. Other thing is I think emphasizing the lifelong learning and that fact that.
Learning doesn't end in one specific lesson. It's more like. Building those skills that you can use forever in your life. And just, it's just one short moment. In the person's life to learn about something in some class. And then it should be an iterative process where we get back to that. Learn more about those skills and,
I think that was something that we talked a lot, so not behaviorism. So Trying to force. A dog, do something, react to something you're doing as a teacher? No more like finding your inner passion and. Your motivation
[00:12:35] Antonio Santiago: So when you're starting as a teacher, you don't feel like someone who is comfortable teaching science. That's something that I hear a lot with teachers and honestly how I would feel if I was to go from teaching English, like I was and told to teach a science lesson. Science is complicated. How do you go to science club teacher.
That went on to start a whole science learning company.
[00:13:02] Aino: I little bit touched upon it, This seeing the children getting super engaged, that was the first thing that I was able to provide these kinds of experiences that. They were laughing. Out loud while learning I saw those like facial expressions of some child. Really get it.
And having those amazing, moments of a four year old describing what is floating, it's a bigger thing you can get as an educator, and I got those a lot during those science clubs. And I think, I thought okay, Here is something super special. I want to be.
In, and I was also learning a lot. Because I didn't have such a strong science background. So I really like when I designed those lessons, I had to crystallize to myself okay, what is this topic about? Really? What is density really? And then if you try to explain that to a three-year-old, you have to really have
Actually build that from those experiences of things floating and not floating and thinking about what is the core we want to provide about this, to this child. But yeah, I guess it was like seeing those amazing. Moments of learning in children.
[00:14:11] Antonio Santiago: So basically what we're getting into here is part of a bigger body of research we refer to on this podcast and at Kide Science, the lesson starts with a message from another. Imaginary world where a character has a problem. A pre-written story is read to set up the whole thing and little scientists roll up their sleeves to solve the problem.
It's the core of Jenni Vartiainen's research and other play-based research.
teachers participate more as facilitators in these lessons. Not giving many instructions, but more like lightly guiding the students. Through their discoveries
[00:14:50] Aino: And then we had these moments. Where, when, Jenni did her dissertation thesis? And then the science clubs didn't continue anymore at the university of Helsinki. And I was like,
Oh my God, I need to continue this. This is such a good thing. And then the parents started calling okay, when is the next science club we would want to join? And it was like, Okay. I think we need to put up a company now. And it started naturally from that. I guess it was just a really natural like I found myself through these science clubs as an educator and then.
I just wanted to continue that. And that was the only way at that point to build that company and, continue with this group of people. That I believed in.
Aino, I gotta
[00:15:32] Antonio Santiago: be honest. It reminds me a lot of Montessori schools except in Montessori schools while we did learn process skills, there wasn't science, at least in my memory. It's been a very long time, so I'm not sure, but. How is it different
[00:15:47] Aino: I think there's a lot of Flink into there, especially in the early education. I think what is really how I understand Montessori is to find the individual. Motivation. And then they. The Montessori, they have more like specific tools they use and specific techniques.
But in pedagogies, we don't actually have that. We do learn many techniques like learning strategies and things like that. But in the end it's a bit like just a philosophy, like using play. And then the teacher can really u se there. Own. Professionalism, they can. There's not anybody coming to say you need to do this, that, and those things during this week, it's like you have the curriculum, you have the.
Education. Build upon that. but there's a strong connection. I think the philosophical points of view in Montessori, and Finnish pedagogy, I think is really. Similar.
[00:16:38] Antonio Santiago: It kind of hearkens back to the idea that you don't have to be a trained science teacher. To teach science.
That's pretty lovely. if you could boil down your experience teaching and this way to one piece of advice, what would it be?
[00:16:54] Aino: I think what has been really pivotal thought f or me. is my colleague Hannis here. At Kide Science, she a lways says that When you evaluate children's learning a s an adult quite often. We tend to look at the situation from the perspective of how smooth.
The situation has been. So how smooth was the lesson, did the children. React the way I expected them to react to these situations. I try to do. And then we think okay, this was a good learning experience for the children. They were. They were being nice and quiet and.
Doing what they were supposed to do. But in the end. It might be that from a chaotic. Loud. full of laughter, a situation that child gets a lot more. So at least for me. The biggest pivotal thought has been to let go of that control. And more giving space to different kinds of learners.
Using their body using their. Humor using their voice. In the learning situation. So I'd advise to at least reflect upon are you. Doing it learning first. Or are you doing it more like teaching first?
[00:18:06] Antonio Santiago: I mentioned this earlier, but did you guys know that I'm in the presence of a children's show celebrity? You see, I know is one of the hosts for a children's science TV show called Tiedonjyvä it's broadcasted on YLE, which is the equivalent of something like PBS in the states or the BBC in the UK. It's a part of a show like sesame street where there's 10 minute episodes
[00:18:34] Aino: It came about. Through Jenni, she had contact at the national broadcasting. Channel And then she was like, okay I have this one teacher. I want to bring to the meeting with me. And I was like, Yeah, I'm happy to join. And yeah, we had a really nice meeting with the producers of YLE and then we, all of us got excited about okay, let's do this. And It's about early science education. So in the show, we have different children doing different science experiments with me and Yanni being the kind of narrator. So she tells about the scientific background of the things. And then I am the teacher there helping the children learn about science skills. the philosophy or the vision there is to make science learning. Accessible. And that's free for all the Finnish children. I think that's been a really big spark in my career. Being able to give that for free.
[00:19:30] Antonio Santiago: It's wild that this widening path led from a teacher who had no special interest in science to you being like one of the faces of science education in Finland. And when you're doing the experiments in front of cameras With the kids they're having really genuine sparks of joy and aha moments are these kids just incredible actors or are they actually doing the experiments
[00:20:00] Aino: They are actual kids doing experiments. what I love about the concept is that I don't have to act at all.
I'm being myself and the children are being themselves. We designed the set up and everything for them, and then they react for the first time. To the science experiment there. I think The. The producer. Is doing such an amazing job there. To Him always wanting to see the real facial expressions of the children. So they have the cameras like there.
To follow the experiment and follow the children and Getting those, like I got this thing. Expressions there. So I really love it.
[00:20:34] Antonio Santiago: Our kids constantly bombarding you since it's so widely watched here.
[00:20:39] Aino: Actually, I have only had that once. And it was one mother realized who I was and came to me like, okay. Are you, I Aino from Tiedonjyvä but otherwise I haven't had that. And I'm quite sure it's because I look quite different in the show then I look in my everyday life.
I always say that. They have put me the 40 year old clothes there.
So I look a lot more like a traditional teacher th en in my everyday life, I. I look quite different.
[00:21:05] Antonio Santiago: Okay. And in the spirit of asking every guest on the show, What's a question that a child has asked them that has left them shocked or surprised or questioning the meaning of life. I've worked long enough with To actually know what some of the questions she's been asked are. So I'm going to ask them.
I know, do birds fart.
Oh, my God.
I would say yes. They do.
And what's that knowledge based off of.
[00:21:34] Aino: My. Head. Trying to answer your question.
I was thinking there must be some gas produced in there ingestion, so they must fart.
[00:21:43] Antonio Santiago: Scientific thinking in action. And my next question for you is what is yellow?
[00:21:49] Aino: It is a specific wavelength that you can observe. With your. Eyes and The color can be seen from the combination of your eyes and your brain. Interpreting this wavelength.
[00:22:04] Antonio Santiago: Yeah. If I was a little kid, though, how would you answer that?
[00:22:08] Aino: I would not Probably try to explain the phenomenon like that. Depends on the child. If I think the child would be like really interested on me talking about wavelengths, then I might, but I would ask them what do you think.
And what kind of like exactly what you did, where is that information based on? What kind of thoughts you have there and what kind of logic you have there? And if we could find out a way to experiment on that. So painting with yellow and discussing about that.
And thinking about how people see things in general and building on that kind of Real-life experience kind of a way I would start from that.
[00:22:45] Antonio Santiago: Is there anything else you'd like to say to teachers or parents listening in on the podcast?
[00:22:52] Aino: I would want to approach those teachers. Who think that they are not good enough science teachers, that they don't feel confident on teaching science to children. Like I want to say to you that. You are not alone. You don't have to be a science teacher too. be able to experiment with young children.
You are actually, you can use those techniques you use normally with young children in science, learning too using storytelling and play and everything like that. Please do not lose hope. If you feel like that. And There's good resources for you. Just go for it.
[00:23:26] Antonio Santiago: Alright, I went to think, I know so much for coming onto the show and talking to me, it was a lot of fun. That's it for this episode of "That's Child's Play!". If you're interested in knowing more about the play-based STEAM, early childhood education or lessons and resources. Give the show notes a look. We've also got a Facebook group that is listed in the show notes to talk to other teachers about what you're listening to Or anything that you've got in mind? Regarding play-based steam education.
Well, everyone. Thanks so much for listening to "That's Child's Play!" See you next time!