From Finland to Tanzania


During September 2016, Matias Hynynen, an IT teacher from Helsinki working as a volunteer in Arusha kept a blog during a visit to his school by 2016 Global Teacher of the Year Finalist, Maarit Rossi. This is the second of three extracts.

Unlucky Friday?

Sometimes there are unlucky days. Usually it is Monday, but maybe it’s different here in Africa. Anyway it all began when my phone was updated. After that it didn’t work. It took me two hours to get it back in business. After that our car broke down. So I didn’t have high hopes for our lesson. I felt a bit nervous.

Friday’s lesson was about metric units and unit changes. Maarit started by showing a square meter on the floor and how to measure it. Then teachers had to build a cubic meter.

Some groups did it with sticks and the others with strings. Then we discussed about how to measure a cubic meter and how to understand unit differences when talking about length, area and volume. After that came a short theory session.


Getting out of the box

The next task was to draw small squares. Teachers had to find out how many ways a square can be divided to two equal parts. Simple but challenging. It took a long time and teachers were really concentrating on it and needed “outside the box” thinking. I tried myself but found only a couple of solutions. Typical box thinker! The way out of the box is not easy. Then the teachers could check their solutions by cutting objects out of paper. A really practical way.

Math soup Monday

Last night Maarit started cooking. I had no idea what she was doing but the recipe was simple: a pan full of dried peas and water. No salt or pepper. Just keep it in the fridge she said. Luckily it was meant for our teachers. Monday morning was peaceful before we got a call from school. Where are you? Everyone is waiting here! The schedule was different this week because it was a holiday in schools. We grabbed Maarit’s ”soup” and rushed to the lesson.

When we got to school all was revealed about the “soup”. Teachers had to build 3 dimensional objects using peas (which were now soft) and toothpicks. How many different geometrical objects can you get using 12 or less toothpicks? It took some time to get the idea but after that teachers really put in the effort trying to find new objects. Again a really practical and fun way of learning geometrical solids.


Tomorrow we are doing mathematical art from solids we made. So exciting!

Physics + Arts + Math =  FUN

If I had written this headline a couple of days earlier there would have been a question mark at the end. I am leaving it our now because now I know it is not needed.

Our last lesson was about building 3D solids from cooked peas and tooth picks. The peas had now dried and turned really hard so the solids were firm and safe to handle. Maarit divided the teachers into three groups. Two of the groups practised logical exercises with Maarit and I took one group out to paint the solids with spray paint.



After the paint had dried the group got two thin iron bars and a rope. Their mission was to build a structure for the mobile.

After the structure was done they had to attach our “solids” onto the bar to make a mobile that stayed in balance.

That required teamwork and a basic knowledge of physics. Otherwise the mobile would be unbalanced. When it was ready the next group came and started painting. I really enjoyed it even though I had to concentrate on everything properly.

Other exercises followed, but for the last two days our plans changed because of national exams for which the teachers were required. On Friday it will be Maarit’s last lesson.

The Last Day

Friday came and it was Maarit’s last lesson. Only a handful of teachers could stay because the majority had to go and take pictures for their teacher ID cards. So we gave diplomas out at the beginning of the lesson. Teachers were really sorry about having to go. The order came from the government so there was no way to avoid it.

Our two weeks together ended with pictures, hugs and thanks. Teachers really enjoyed the and during my next (and last) two weeks in Tanzania I will be asking teachers if their ideas about teaching have really changed.


Matias Hynynen

Special Education Teacher at Laajasalon opisto, Helsinki Area, Finland



For more about Maarit Ross’s approach to Mathematics, see


Feature Image: Students in Class, Arusha, Tanzania


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