In Finnish schools the pupils (or their parents) can choose if the child learns about one’s own religion or if he/she attends to “ethics”-lessons that are “religion-free” (they do teach about different religions, but maybe in a more neutral way…). I had a very difficult task (in my opinion) of teaching the very first lesson of the fall to a group consisting of 3rd, 4th and 6th graders.
First lessons are always hard because in my opinion, they should be the introduction to the course by the teacher who is teaching the class. I had no lesson plans from the teacher, there are no books in this class, and to make matter more interesting I had the 3rd and 6th graders for the first 45 minutes and after that the 4th graders joined the group for the remaining 45 minutes. Also the 3-5 grades curriculum differs from the 6th graders curriculum.
I honestly was at a bit of a loss. But here’s what I did and how it worked out.
I had prepared a powerpoint covering different points from the curriculum (which the teacher should follow anyways) and after each theme I had an image which we discussed. So in the first 45 minutes we covered all the points of what an “ethics” -lessons are all about and maybe looked at 4-5 illustrations by Pawel Kuczynski.
On the second 45 minutes where I had all the students in the classroom, I had printed out some illustrations that I handed out to the groups. They were to glue the illustration to their notebook and write down things they thought the illustrator wanted to say and their own thoughts too. I gave them around 20 minutes to work on that and then the rest of the class we went through each illustration together: first the group that had the specific picture could tell their thoughts and other groups could respond.
Overall I was pretty happy with the class. Some interesting points were made. Some difficulties rose because the 3rd graders and 6th graders are in a very different place in regards to ethical and critical thinking. Some of the images were too difficult especially for the younger kids. However in some illustrations more discussion time was needed: also the 6th graders’ thoughts varied a lot. Some of the kids had very intelligent and critical answers whilst some took the images at “face value”.
Here’s some examples of the images used and some points that were made by the students:
Honestly, I didn’t think this was going to be a tough one. Some ideas that came from this image was: “elves (pointy hats) are giving the kids Christmas presents” and “Chinese kids are giving some of their presents to us because they have so many already”. I think I introduced the idea of both China (the flag) and the mass production of “gifts” and other products.
A lot of talk has been going around in Europe about horsemeat being in meat products where there were mentions only about pork or beef. In Finland we do eat horsemeat so the press tried to milk the subject but it died in few weeks. However we had a long discussion about this image. At first the group of 6th graders who had this image thought it was about the farmer wanting to kill the cat. We took a closer look at the farmer and saw that he was petting the cat, and it didn’t seem he would want to kill the cat. A lot of kids had been abroad in countries where they eat cats, rats or dogs, things that we, in the western world, do not eat. I tried to make the kids think why is that and why have we chosen some animals to be our food and others to be our pets.
In the discussion my point was not to get right answers. I just wanted the students to express their ideas and understand that in ethics class there are a lot of times where there are no answers just a lot of questions. And a “right answer” might not be always right in every situation or in every country or culture.