On Monday I got the chance to visit two top schools in Sweden, Tångvalla in Falsterbo & Stora Hammar in Höllviken both located in the Vellinge School District. The District came second in the national 2013 “Bästa skolkommunen I Sverige” or “District of the year” out of 290 School districts in Sweden and came 1st in 2012 (See full results here).
Tångvalla & Stora Hammar are located in Southern Sweden, overlooking the Baltic Sea and the Øresund Bridge, connecting Sweden & Denmark.
I wanted to visit these schools to learn more about their technology intergration and got to spend a day with Annelie Médoc, The Municipalities Special Education Technology Specialist and Björn S. Thenfors, The ICT teacher for both schools. Björn works part time in both schools assisting teachers and staff intergrating technology, and especially iPads into the teaching and learning. We spent the morning at Tångvalla in Falsterbo and moved to Stora Hammar in Höllviken for lunch to see their iPad intergration and teaching style.
When I walked into Tångvalla early on Monday morning there was a sense of collaboration in the air. Staffmembers in all of the meeting rooms discussing the day ahead and working together. That initial feeling of mine turned out to be true as teachers collaborate across subjects all day every day… not just on specific days. Technology plays a big part of that collaboration, Google Docs and shared folders are everyday words here. The technology intergration started a few years back with a “Skriva sig til lasning” or “Write to read” program in preschool and then it added up to 1:1 year 7-9 (13-15 year olds) this fall and it’s gonna be 1:1 in grades 4-9 (11-15 year olds) soon.
I met with Björn Thenfors around 9:00 and was lucky enough to spend the day with him. As soon as he walked into the building he was bombarded with questions from teachers wanting help and as soon as he opened his computer, the e-mails poured in. Being an ICT manager for two schools is obviously no easy task. But he did it all with a smile on his face. Björn introduced me to an app called xNote, where users can hide virtual messages and friends must go on a treasure hunt to view it. He sent me an xNote to my phone and hid the message out in the playground. I had to follow the map and once I was within 5 meters of it, I could read the message. Awesome app for a treasure hunt activity.
During this first year of iPad 1:1 at the school they have run into many issues and are hoping most of those initial problems, like saving, sharing, distributing apps and so on will disappear once they start using Office365 on the iPads. Björn claims the atmosphere has changed dramatically this year, especially among teachers who are collaborating now more than ever. After our little talk in his office we went to visit Robert, a Art and Technique teacher, and his 8th grade class. The were trying an app called “The Room Two” a problem solving game on the iPad.
Robert also collaborates with Ola, the math and Science teacher, on various projects and when we later returned to his classroom the students were learning about ‘moving away from home’ by planning their future apartments and putting together a budget. Ola had half the class talking about budget and money while Robert had the other half using an app called “HomeStyler Interior Design“.
Me and Björn next walked into 3rd grade to look at what they had been doing. Today was show and tell about their Minecraft city they created. The students had spent the last 3 weeks learning about the Iron Age and then spent a whole day at the end designing their Iron Age City, based on facts from that era they had learned in the past 3 weeks. They then took Screenshots of their Minecraft city and put together a 1 minute video using iMovie. I so wanted to be there when they had the Minecraft day, but the videos were cool, the students were proud and seemed to know a lot about life in the Iron Age judging by the Cities they built.
When talking with the teachers they claimed to be collaborating more than they used to and look at the timetable not in terms of weeks with 40-80 minute blocks of a specific subject, but look at the whole year and plan to have certain thousands of hours in a subject once the year is done. This has invited more collaboration between teachers and subjects and not divided the curriculum so narrowly down.
They believe that collaboration project for students should be for example a Google Doc written about a social science subject, in English, Swedish and German, sent to all the teachers who evaluate their part. Not divided work where the English part is sent to the English teacher and so on but collaboration across subjects.
My visit to Tångvalla was an interesting one. There was a collaborating, relaxing and free atmosphere among the staff which the students seemed to share. Now it was time to move to Stora Hammar school for lunch and I’ll write about that in part 2.