Presents: Personalized learning is making a difference

Name: Ville Sahimaa
Years of experience: 7+
School name: Munkkiniemi School
Place: Helsinki, Finland
Teaches: Math, Physics and Chemistry

We interviewed Ville Sahimaa in his summer holiday to discuss about personalized learning, math and self-esteem among junior high and high school students and about how one teacher can change learning methods to match his students needs and abilities and to create a big difference.

What lead you into Education?

Ville is teaching almost 7 years at Munkkiniemi School in Helsinki, Finland. He teaches math, chemistry and physics at Junior High and in High school. He is passionate helping students to take responsibility of their own learning and is interested in creating new pedagogical solutions that bring the curriculum alive. In 2016, he created an online learning environment (Opi matematiikkaa) for Junior High School math. His dream is to help other teachers to enable personalized learning in their classrooms.

One thing was that I wanted to work with people and the other thing is that I love challenges. Education is a big challenge and you need always develop your skills because you can never be a perfect teacher. You can always try new things. For example, several years ago I started running and then I thought, well, I can do more, and started triathlons. I wanted to challenge myself, and I feel the same way in education. That’s one thing that motivates me. As a math teacher, I remember that I had a class teacher on fifth grade, and I finished my math book in two months. My teacher was wise enough to let me study at my own pace and that was important for me and motivated me to continue learning and later I got interested to pursue profession as a math teacher.

How did you develop yourself as a teacher and what tips would you have for others?

I think that the most important platform for me today, is Facebook. There are several Facebook groups that I’m part of, and I share materials that I have created and tried in my classroom and I get ideas from other teachers. The problem is that on Facebook often, ideas tend to get lost and I think that Freeedcan help in that- cause you can have everything in one place and that’s easy to search for materials. I read a lot of books and articles and some research material that I mainly find on social media.

I also make sure I do one course a year- some MOOC or other courses. And always try out something new in my classroom. At the moment I’m doing a MOOC made by University of Helsinki on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. It’s very interesting and it’s free!

What is your most successful experience in the classroom?

Six years ago I started to think that the traditional system I used in the classroom didn’t work as well as I wanted. And I started to think how could I make it possible for all my math students to study at their own pace. It was meant to be like a little experiment of few weeks, but quite soon I realized it was working so well. At first, I used a learning management system with varied examples and theory that my students could watch at home or during the classes from their mobile phones. Then I recognized it is quite time consuming to write all the math equations and to prepare all the materials so they can make progress. As a full time teacher, I didn’t have much time to do that – so I started making videos. That was faster.

I recorded my first videos and put them on the learning management system we had in school. The videos worked absolutely better than just written theory. When I wanted to share my materials with other teachers it was too hard to do it because of the system I was using. Then I started to create my own learning platform and share my materials there. That’s how I started with my own website for teaching math.

Who is using your materials today?

Several schools in Finland use my math materials. Also in our school some colleagues are using it. And of course I myself use it with my students.

What are the main challenges you face in the classroom/ educational system today?

One challenge that I recognise is the well-being of students. I am interested in that and I’ve read articles that many students are not so motivated in school and it effects negatively their personal life. Many times they are stressed. I think it is not enough that students learn the material well It’s important that they learn to love learning too. That is a big challenge nowadays.

Another challenge in Finland’s educational system is that teachers don’t get paid for being innovative and creative and trying new things. We get paid mainly according to the number of lessons we have in a week. Due to that as a teacher you teach as many classes that you can, and it doesn’t leave you enough time or energy to develop materials and methods. And if you want time, that means you have to give up teaching hours- and quite a lot of money. Then, one more challenge is that even though our curriculums have the idea of phenomenon-based learning, and trying to mix all the subjects together, it’s hard to do that in the classroom because in most schools we still have our own slots in a timetable for each subject at a different time of the day. The idea is good but it’s so hard to implement it in the classroom in junior high school.

Our educational system is very good, but we have to keep on developing it so that it will be good also in the future.

Any passion projects you would like to share?

I think it’s really important that the students develop responsibility for the the project they are working on, like studying math. At the beginning I started making videos for my students on math, and also created test sections so that you can check independently what you have learned. At the moment I’m working on making exercises in different topics in math. And I believe that in one year any student can learn high school math with my website without any other materials, or books. You can find all my materials here:

The idea is that you watch the videos on your mobile phone, do the exercises in your notebook and then you can do a test to see whether you need more practice or can move on. By personal learning, the students learn to ask questions and take responsibility for their own learning and become their own teachers.

What is the ideal school for you?

First of all, students can have their own individual learning paths and they can learn at their own pace. I think that’s important, for example in math, students quite often think that they don’t know math and they can’t learn math, but the question is: is the pace just too fast? What if they had their own time to learn it? Is it important to be quick and to know the answers to all the exercises straight away? I think it’s much more important to have the ability to try again and be perseverant. I think many students have a bad self-esteem and they think they are stupid because they have the experience that they can’t do math. And that’s not true, it’s in their head, and we’ve created a system telling them that.

In my dream school we’ll have more emphasis on well-being of the students. Also I find important the leadership level of the school. In many schools in Finland we have a lot of focus on management instead of pedagogical leadership like: dreaming together and sharing vision. I think the good thing in the Finnish system is that as an individual teacher you have a lot of freedom. So you can do pretty much anything in your classroom- what you think is wise. But as a system I think we need more cooperation and to aim to the same goal.

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