Finnish teacher writes math book for Japanese kids

Riika Pahka does math drills with her daughter Aura
Riika Pahka does math drills with her daughter Aura

Akiko Yoshinaga / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Riikka Pahkala, a former primary school teacher in Finland, recently published an arithmetic drill book for Japanese children in the lower grades of primary school.

The book contains techniques commonly used for teaching arithmetic in Finland, which has been ranked top in the world in the Program for International Student Assessment that is compiled every three years for 15-year-olds by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development since 2000.

“Rikka-sensei no Tanoshii Sansu–Tashizan, Hikizan” (Ms. Riikka’s Enjoyable Arithmetic–Addition and Subtraction) contains basic arithmetic taught in the first to the third grades in Japanese primary schools, including addition and subtraction from zero to 100, how to compare the size of figures and how to distinguish even and odd numbers.

The book aims to entertain as it educates. For example, one practice exercise suggests children collect 100 1 yen coins, grains of rice or pieces of candy to concretely grasp the concept of the number. It is illustrated by a popular Finnish artist.

The goal is for children to understand arithmetic as it relates to real life. One question asks: You are planning a party for 10 people, but you have only seven cups and six pieces of cake. How many cups and pieces of cake are you short? Another question is: There are 15 toy cars at a toy shop. If you buy six toy cars as gifts for your friends, how many cars will be left in the shop?

Pahkalas book contains activities such as this one titled let's wipe out pirates
Pahkalas book contains activities such as this one titled let

According to the 2006 PISA survey, Finland was ranked second in applied mathematical skills (Japan was ranked 10th); was top in applied science skills (Japan was 6th); and second in reading (Japan was 15th).

Pahkala, 39, taught for 10 years at a primary school in Finland and obtained a license for special needs education from Helsinki University. Since her husband was transferred to Japan three years ago, she has been living here with her son, 11, and daughter, 6, and sometimes holds lectures and writes about Finnish education.

When Pahkala was a teacher, she held supplementary after-school classes for students who had trouble keeping up with the rest of the class and she checked their progress through e-mail with their parents. In teaching arithmetic, she says she tries to connect it with children’s daily life.

“When I taught what a unit is, I showed my students by measuring a liter of juice in the classroom to show them the actual amount of one liter,” she said. “It’s important for kids in lower grades to get a concrete grasp of figures.”

She recommends using the drill book to review what is taught in class. “I want them to gradually gain a good grasp of arithmetic,” she said.

Pahkala is scheduled to give lecture at a primary school in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Nov. 7, and plans to exchange ideas with Japanese teachers afterward. “I’d like to learn more about classroom education in Japan,” she said.

The book, published by Gakken Co., is available at bookstores for 1,365 yen including tax.

(Oct. 27, 2008) Yomiuri Shimbun

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