I had the privilege of attending the Bridges Conference in Jyvaskyla, FinlandJyvaskyla, Finland this year thanks to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte’s generous council scholar program.
The Bridges conference is an annual conference that brings academic leaders together to discuss ideas, philosophy, and practice with art, mathematics, and design. The conference included two days of lectures and presentations, an art exhibit, and a cultural day. Each year the conference is held in a different city around the globe, past locations include Amsterdam, Rio, and Baltimore. This year the conference was held from August 9-13 in Jyvaskyla, Finland at the University of Jyvaskyla. Jyvaskyla is home to the Alvar Aalto museum and various buildings designed by the architect, the perfect location for an inspiring design conference.
I am a 5-8 mathematics teacher at Charlotte Preparatory School. My curriculum focuses heavily on algebra and geometry. Outside of the classroom I am an aspiring artist who frequently looks to incorporate design and art into the general math curriculum. While I find geometry easier to integrate art and design into, my goal for this conference was to gain new ideas and perspective on incorporating art into mathematics, as well as incorporating mathematics into my art.
At the Bridges conference I attended a number of fantastic presentations, such as “Constructing meaning through making and creating,” a workshop designed to demonstrate the importance of makerspace and engineering technology in the mathematics classroom. “The Golden Ratio and the diagonal square” presentation was especially helpful as I teach a number of lessons on the golden ratio in geometry. My understanding of Persian patterns was limited, but the presentation titled, “another look at pentagonal Persian patterns” was eye opening and inspiring. I frequently teach and work with tessellations in my classes and hope to incorporate Persian patterns in the future. Lastly, “the math and art of folded books” inspired me to purchase a supply of folded books to use in my own classroom and lessons. I attended a number of other presentations and found all of them to be informative and inspiring. I left Bridges excited to get back in the classroom to start integrating all that I came away with.
In addition to my time at the conference I made great efforts to explore the beautiful lake town of Jyvaskyla. It was the northern most city in my trip and the climate was exceptional compared to the extended heat of North Carolina’s summer. The air was a cool 70 degrees most days and perfectly sunny from sun up to sun down, which in Finland is 5:00am – 11:00pm. I worked hard to utilize all of my time there, exploring the local museums and biking heavily throughout town and the beautiful lake trails in Jyvaskyla.
Jyvaskyla was a quaint college town in Finland, but I wanted to experience as much as possible during my time in Finland so I also included travel to a number of other cities in the region. Before visiting Jyvaskyla I visited Tallinn, Estonia, an incredible glimpse into Europe’s medieval past and Turku, Finland a beautiful river town on the mouth of the Aura river. After the conference and my time in the lakes region I travelled to Helsinki and Paris before coming back to steamy North Carolina. I can’t say enough about how remarkable and seamless my travels were through all of these cities.
After this extensive travel and my experience attending Bridges I returned from my trip with a number of takeaways, some mathematical and some personal. My time in Finland revealed what’s possible with an extensive network of mass transit and bike trails. Instead of packed parking lots, Finnish businesses were piled with bikes. The majority of citizens in every town I visited commuted by bicycle, a feat I admired greatly and thoroughly enjoyed taking part in. Additionally, my ability to commute throughout each country was greatly enhanced by the consistent and efficient train system.
Another takeaway was insight into the gentle and friendly nature of the people of Finland and Estonia (and France!). Despite not speaking the native language in each country, I worked hard to know some Estonian, Finnish, and French, but I quickly learned that everyone was willing to also help me in English. I encountered nothing but warm, polite sentiments from everyone I encountered both at the conference and in my day to day travels.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to engage and converse with a number of Finnish educators and visit two Finnish schools. I came away with great respect for the Finnish education model. With great focus on mathematics and the arts, Finnish schools stand as some of the best in the world. Additionally, Finnish schools hold their students to rigorous standards, while also holding them accountable to meet those standards independently. The extreme independence, autonomy, and freedom that Finnish schools provide their students is something unique and empowering. I hope to foster a similar independence in my own classes.
The 2015-2016 Council Scholar Award Program is supported by Wells Fargo, UNC Charlotte, Bank of America and Carolinas HealthCare System.