With a 20-year academic career at the Faculty of Science, Professor Maija Aksela is known for her inspiring, innovative and inclusive efforts to promote science education in the natural sciences as well as related teacher training and research in Finland and abroad.
Under Aksela’s direction, LUMA Centre Finland, a network of 13 science education centres, has been established in conjunction with 11 Finnish universities, carrying out a national mission assigned by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The mission of science education in the natural sciences is the enhancement of scientific competence.
Boosting science education
The toolbox of research-based science education includes science classrooms, clubs, camps and birthday parties, as well as science videos and online journals. Of equal importance to science education is the provision of inspired teacher training in order for teachers to be able to educate pupils into people who understand science and use its methods. Collaboration with the families of children and adolescents is another integral component.
One of the strategic objectives of the University of Helsinki is to improve the current science education and expand it, through new initiatives, to engage the entire University community. As evidenced by the establishment of the professorship in science education, the goal is to promote science education and science communication.
Currently, a steering group appointed by the rector of the University of Helsinki is drawing up a strategic plan for science education and preparing related operations for the next strategy period.
A powerful cycle of research, practice and education
Maija Aksela, who describes herself as a catalyst, says that she strives to engender opportunities for future professionals to learn and to make the world a better place. Science education advances critical thinking, problem-solving skills, inclusivity and creativity.
“It’s important to get learners to wonder, enquire and call things into question, just like natural scientists do. The questions ‘why’ and ‘how’ are central to scientific thought and to the promotion of understanding of all kinds,” Aksela says.
In fact, a multidisciplinary research group headed by Aksela has produced a number of international publications and theses on science education, including doctoral dissertations, of which Aksela has already supervised 15 to date. Current research topics include the modelling of contemporary research and future issues in the natural sciences, as well as questions pertaining to climate change.
Aksela considers inclusivity, reliance on research and multidisciplinarity key to science education. Operational models are established in an agile and engaging manner in interaction with students, scientists, children, pupils and the elderly, future and current teachers, families as well as specialists active in professional life, with everyone learning from one another. Indeed, Aksela’s motto is “Together we are more!”
In Aksela’s line of thinking, research, practice and education go hand in hand. She thinks that new solutions and pedagogical innovations required for a sustainable future, such as online courses, can be discovered by examining the practice and theory of science education. Science education also works well as an element of higher education. Together with the practices of continuous learning and teacher training, science education is disseminating the latest knowledge all across Finland.
According to Aksela, skilled teachers play a crucial role.
“The impact of each individual teacher lasts roughly a century; first during their own activity and then, later on, through their former pupils and students. It’s very important for teachers to have the most recent knowledge of the fields of science and how to provide instruction on them.”
Continued involvement in science education
The duty of a professor is to carry out and supervise scientific work, provide education based on it, follow developments in research and participate in societal interaction and international cooperation in his or her field. This is nothing new to Aksela.
For now, Professor Aksela will also continue serving as director of LUMA Centre Finland as well as its LUMAT Science Research Forum. In addition, she will continue serving in roughly 10 national positions or international projects related to LUMA operations, such as the post of editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Math, Science and Technology Education, which she founded.
At the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science, she contributes to subject teacher training in mathematics, physics and chemistry as the deputy director of the degree programme. At the Department of Chemistry, she heads the teacher training unit and its science education activities, including the prize-winning ChemistryLab Gadolin.
An award-winning academic
Aksela’s research career got its start in Canada in the field of computer-assisted modelling (today known as computational chemistry). She is also a trained subject teacher, with experience in the profession after working as a teacher for six years as a young adult. Aksela has published more than 350 articles, some of them co-authored with scholars from 12 different countries. For her contributions, she has been awarded over ten national or international awards, including an award for the natural scientist of the year and the State Award for Public Information.
Professor Aksela is interested in international science education, and she has repeatedly been invited to give addresses to her scientific community, in addition to which she has been an active member of the networks of the scientific journals in the field and has contributed to international cooperation through the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, working groups of the European Commission and ALLEA working groups relevant to the field. Aksela is one of the invited founding members of the University of Helsinki’s Teachers’ Academy and a member of the national Teacher Education Forum.
Aksela’s hobbies include spending time outdoors and photography, painting, music and visits to her summer cottage. She is interested in different cultures and ways of thinking. At the moment, Aksela is looking back on the past and present highlights and achievements of LUMA science education by writing two books on the topic with her community.