PhenoBL, the Next Branded Learning Initiative?

Phenomenal Education: Rethinking from Finland

Finland will become the first country in the world to get rid of all school subjects!

The headline certainly caught my attention. I’ve been increasingly thinking that we need to become much more skilled at understanding how subject domains intersect and apply to each other.

If we really want our students to be able to be competent – to be able to transfer skills and knowledge to new and challenging contexts – then they are going to need to know how to engage in interdisciplinary thinking. Applying one equation and one scientific application at a time isn’t the same as digging through a complex problem and figuring out which concepts will help illuminate or help create a solution to the problem.

So I followed the links to something called Phenomenon Based Learning or PhenoBL. (Ha! Maybe PhenoBl sounds better in Finnish, but the idea of a bunch of DC staffers sitting around talking about PhenoBl might be mistaken for talking about a new type of opioid drug instead of an educational approach.)

Branding aside, the idea appears to be that you take a BIG phenomenon such as climate, cities, or change and then explore it and unpack it using all the academic domains. (I did wonder if slightly more granular phenomena might increase relevance to students, such as self-driving cars, why do we have public housing, measles and their vaccines, impact of social media, or opioids.) The trick is of course is to be able to provide resources and modules so that students can dig into the core concepts and practice the skills they will need either before or in the process of exploring the phenomena. It sounds similar to what I saw at Kuna Middle School.

When I followed the links to learn out more, I found a description of PhenoBL:

Phenomenon based teaching and learning use the natural curiosity of children to learn in a holistic and authentic context. Holistic real-world phenomena provide the motivating starting point for learning, instead of traditional school subjects. The phenomena are studied as holistic entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects. Phenomena are holistic topics like human, European Union, media and technology, water or energy. This enables students also to learn 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity, innovation, team work and communication.

Much of the discussion about the schools of the future sound very similar to the conversation about modern learning environments I had heard about and seen in New Zealand.

It wasn’t clear from the website if PhenoBL is a national commitment or a newly branded effort being promoted by an organization. From what I can tell (it wasn’t apparent on the website), the person behind this appears to be a computer scientist named Pasi Silander. It appears that he understands that as form should follow function, the use of technology should follow the research on learning and development. I found the section on The Change with Digital to be pretty helpful in how digital tools can support learning.

However, the picture on that page left me wondering. Here are a group of children out in the world on a beautiful day. And instead of exploring the environment around them – all their attention is toward their devices.

Stay tuned. It will be interesting to see if and how Finland moves forward.

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