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Pupils in Italy excel after using Finnish maths book

Year three primary school students in the town of Lucca, Toscana beat out their peers in math aptitude after using Finnish mathematics workbooks for a year-long trial. The class voted to continue with the Finnish instructional books again this year, because maths is now their favourite school subject.

Luccan kaupungin kolmosluokkalaiset ovat opiskelleet matematiikkaa suomalaisoppikirjojen avulla.
Children in Italy surpassed their peers in maths after adopting instructional materials from Finland. Image: Petri Burtsov / Yle

Third graders in the Toscana town of Lucca will continue their studies of maths this autumn using the Finnish series of mathematics textbooks they used in a trial last year. Class maths performance beat out their peers after the trial year and teacher Patrizia Piccinini says that maths has now become the pupils’ favourite school subject.

“Can you imagine? I had to ban the class from studying maths over the summer break, so I would have time to translate the book for the next school year. The students would have wanted to study with their new textbooks already during their holiday!” says the pupils’ teacher Piccinini.

She says her pupils are crazy about maths, and it is all thanks to the Finnish textbooks. It all started last year when Piccinini decided to adopt the Finnish textbooks for a trial period after hearing of Finland’s great educational results. She didn’t think the language would present much of a problem, as numbers and symbols take the leading role. One year ago Piccinini still had no idea just how great an impact her experiment would have.

Finnish teaching methods differ

In Italy the initial study of maths is based on the learning of addition, subtraction and multiplication tables. The instructional material is full of text and, according to Piccinini, does not encourage children to pursue independent reasoning and deduction.

“Finnish instructional material relies on children’s own reasoning ability. Many exercises consist of only images and the pupils themselves have to figure out the nature of the problem to be solved,” she says.

The end result of the trial is that the Lucca year threes outperform the other groups in terms of their mental arithmetic and independent reasoning. Positive results were not limited to maths however – Piccinini's class has also leapt past the other classes in several cognitive areas, like reading comprehension and concentration skills.  

Kids intrigued by Finnish language and culture

The maths books have opened a window for the pupils in Lucca to get to know the Finnish language and culture. They even greeted a Finnish visitor to their class by singing a Finnish children’s song.

In order to understand the Finnish-language instructions, the children have learned to rely on not just their teacher, but also internet dictionaries. They have learned many Finnish words and even recognize Finnish sentence structure, without any formal education in this area.

“I bought several Finnish magazines for the children over the summer and they just tore them from my hands! The kids are highly intrigued by all things Finnish and they can’t wait for Christmas so they can write to Santa,” says Piccinini.

Support of the pupils’ parents vital

At first the idea of adapting Finnish workbooks was not embraced enthusiastically by the pupils’ parents. But when the results began to speak for themselves, the parents’ attitude changed as well.

One criticism Piccinini has often heard questions why she would use so much time to teach an insignificant and rare language like Finnish when the kids could be learning English.

To this end, she prepared a test comparing the class using English as the language of instruction and her Finnish maths textbook class. Piccinini’s class showed a considerably better propensity for learning languages, meaning that in future they will learn foreign languages more easily.  

“I will present the learning outcomes of my class at a teacher seminar in Italy. I have already spoken about it with members of the trans-European Comenius Project and it attracted a lot of interest,” says teacher Piccinini.

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