Finland to set an example in everyday mathematics

Teaching maths rarely makes the headlines, but in recent weeks, things have been different. In the Finnish media, more and more stories have been told of pupils measuring floor space with shoes and building cubes out of sticks.

Behind all the media attention is Maarit Rossi, maths teacher and CEO of the Paths to Math application. She was announced as one of the top ten finalists for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. This is sometimes called the ”Nobel prize for teachers”; the winner of this prize will be announced at a prize gala in Dubai on 13 March.

Maarit is pleased to see that her nomination has made maths teaching a topic of public debate.

”Many people learnt to hate maths at school. It is immensely sad, since maths skills are the key to managing your own finances and, thus, your life. This is why maths teaching must change – now!”


Need for new teaching methods at home and abroad

During her studies at the university, Maarit Rossi first began to wonder about the old-fashioned teaching methods in maths. When she started teaching, she became even more perplexed.

”In many other subjects, teaching methods have been modernised, and the focus has shifted to pupils and phenomena but, for some reason, teaching maths has remained incredibly theoretical and old-fashioned. Unmotivated pupils have just been told that ’you will need all this one day’. But it is not enough for young people! They want to know how they can use their skills right now. They want to be creative and explore.”

This is precisely the reform that Maarit herself had been striving to promote for decades as a maths teacher and a developer of teaching materials. She began to develop the Paths to Math application which is aimed at international markets, because she sees that the basic problems in maths teaching are the same in Finland and around the world.

”We need to increase the social and functional aspects of teaching maths, and we need to clarify its connection to everyday mathematics. Pupils should gain experience and routine in solving mathematical problems. That way, we can build their self-confidence, make them believe that they can do it. It builds the foundation for courage to use mathematics later on.”


Helsinki region offers both peace and city life

Varkey Foundation will present the winner of the Global Teacher Prize with one million dollars. Should Maarit Rossi win the prize, she will donate part of the money to a research project under way at the University of Helsinki which explores the educational use of electronic learning materials.

”There is not much scientific research in this topic, so more information is desperately needed.”

Maarit grew up in Turku but, since the early 1980s, she has been living in Kirkkonummi and, more recently, in Siuntio. She has also become familiar with the neighbouring city of Helsinki. Maarit enjoys the cultural diversity, tolerant atmosphere and cultural activities in Helsinki.

”I entertain many international guests and love being able to offer them two distinctly different experiences. At home in Siuntio, we can enjoy the natural peace and quiet, but after a 40 km drive, we are in the middle of the hustle and bustle and cultural activities of the capital city. It is a fantastic combination!”


Education creates the basis for success

Maarit Rossi is excited and looking forward to the Global Teacher Prize Gala. Whatever happens in the competition, experiencing the gala will be marvellous.

”I am happy that the gala will bring together teachers from all over the world. After all, the Varkey Foundation started this award to raise the teachers’ professional profile. Education is the basis for civilisation and economic success in societies. An educated people will not turn to terrorism or endorse racism, because they are able to see the broader connections between issues and find other solutions to problems.”


Text: Piia Raitavuo

Picture: Jyri Laitinen


Maarit Rossi nominated Tuomo Lähdeniemi as a future maker of Helsinki.