Open House Ready with tech

I learned from the bottleneck at the front of my room last year that something needed to change in my open house set up for this school year. So, I worked this week to hopefully make open house as informative and free from bottlenecks of parents waiting to talk with me by my classroom door.

I have set up several informational stations in my classroom for people to walk around and visit. In order to save paper (who wants to print out stuff for every parent?) I made signs for each station and put them up in a very visible place. Each sign has a title of what is viewable at that station, as well as a short link. The vast majority of parents will have smart phones, and so they can just type in the link and can then see the information.

Here are my stations:

  • Welcome back/parent letter (this was also emailed out to all parents)
  • Our class Twitter account @HogensHeroes
  • The class “trailer” (like a movie trailer) I made
  • The syllabus which is in infographic form
  • A “get to know the teacher” presentation

Hopefully it will go well and we will avoid all the lines and waiting parents that happened last year!

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Trip over-now to bring my new knowledge to my classroom!

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The above picture was taken in a schoolhouse from the 1800s. What I think is sad is that many American classrooms still mirror this one that is over 200 years old: desks facing front with the teacher the center of attention as well as knowledge. In Sweden, the vast majority of the schools that I visited had completely thrown this model out the window. In fact, those that don’t follow this model threw it out the window long, long ago.

I’ve learned during my trip that there are many similarities between our systems of education, but also many differences. I’ve also learned that, just as in the US, schools vary so much between school districts and even between schools in the same district. Overall, I would say that each country has its strengths and challenges.

I look forward to returning to my classroom (I plan on getting in there on Monday!) to start implementing the furniture and design ideas that I gained while on my trip. I also look forward (as always) to digging in with my students and starting our new cooperative research and projects.

I am so thankful to the White Bear Lake Education Foundation for the grant to travel here. Even though I speak the language and have been in the country so many times that I feel like a could live here agin with a drop of a hat (and even gone to a whole year of high school here!), it was such an eye-opening experience to spend time here looking at everything through the lens of innovative educational practices. Who knows, I was offered jobs pretty much every school I went to…I wonder if WBLEF has a grant for moving expenses? ; )

Manilla and Fredrikshov with Victoria

I had my last meeting of my study trip today with Victoria Oldstedt. She is a teacher at two schools, Manilla and and Fredrikshovs Slotts Skola. Both schools are charter schools in Stockholm;  Manilla is on a beautiful island in a building from the 1800s while Fredriskhov is in an old castle from the 1600s.

Here is a photo album you can look at to see more pictures than just these below. IMG_1962IMG_1952

I was so happy to meet Victoria! We had our classes write letters back and forth to each other this past year a few times, and it was so nice to put a face to the name.

I got a wonderful tour of both schools and got to meet many of the teachers and staff. A few highlights were:

-the teachers lounge at Manilla decorated in a style matching the age of the building including a lovely chandelier and period wallpaper

-seeing the classrooms with high ceilings in Fredrikshov, made out of rooms from a castle from over 400 years ago

-meeting another English teacher that I will get to work with this next year (our students will also write back and forth)

-meeting one of the classes that my students and I had pen pal letters with last year

Overall it was a lovely visit on a very rainy morning. Much of my time was spent planning and talking over our plans for our letter exchange for this next year, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to come and solidify our relationship.

Soheila Ghafouri at Örbyskolan

My second meeting of today was with math and science teacher Soheila Ghafouri. She teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. She has been a teacher for 22 years; 9 of which were in Iran and 13 of which have been in Sweden. We had a great time talking about the Swedish school system. It was a wonderful conversation since we both bring our own experiences and expertise from other countries before becoming parts of the Swedish school system. You can check out the school’s website here.

The school is made up of many buildings since it is k-9 (as most of the schools are set up here). Each building houses a different group of kids and serves a different purpose. These pictures are of me in front of the building that Soheila teaches in as well as the new cafeteria building which also has some classrooms. You can check out a few more of her photos hereIMG_193134_Windwall_Örbyskolan

As I heard from everyone else here, Sweden really needs teachers. Soheila had her own thoughts as to what has caused the acute lack of teachers. It includes that students can now attend any school in the county (including charter schools) and do not have to attend the school in their neighborhood. She also thinks that the fact that teachers have a lot of administrative work to do instead of just teaching stops people from wanting to become teachers. Lastly, she thought that the pay (average teacher pay in Sweden is similar to the US) contributes to not enough people wanting to become teachers.

I also spoke with Soheila about the positives and negatives with the school system here.

Positives

There is a lot of democracy and choice for students and teachers in Sweden. As stated, Soheila immigrated to Sweden in the 1980s, and she pointed out that Iran was very strict and was a dictatorship. She said that this was even the case in schools, and teachers were told what to teach and students were told what to learn. She really enjoys the freedom and flexibility that students have here. She also thinks that, compared to the American system of funding, the Swedish system is much better.

Negatives

Soheila said that since the system was introduced where children and parents can choose almost any school to attend, teachers have felt a lot of pressure from parents to bend to parents’ desires. In one week, parents can say that want it quiet, loud, group work, individual work, etc. And, if they don’t get what they want, they will move schools. We chatted about how moving schools frequently can’t be that good for kids. However, school choice is also good. As with anything, we came to the conclusion that balance is best.

Lastly, we talked about technology. Soheila’s school has computer carts so that there are enough computers for 1/2 of the students in each of her classes. If she needs, they can pool computers. She also has a smartboard in her room. We also quickly discussed the furniture in her classroom. As I had seen with the other schools this week, the furniture was small table and chairs that could be easily moved into different configurations. I have yet to see a traditional American school desk with a chair attached in any of the schools that I have visited. Not a single one. : )

We plan to work together at some point in the next year with our classes.

Skarpnäcks skola

My first meeting of the day was with 8th grade math and science teacher Jeanette Thorin. I was very thankful to meet with her since students start tomorrow and we all know how hectic the day before the first day can be!

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Jeanette works at Skarpnäcks skola in Stockholm. She has been a teacher for around 20 years. She currently teaches math, science, and technology.

My conversation with Jeanette centered mostly around what she thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the Swedish school system.

Strengths

Jeanette thought that the school system here was great in its desires to include everyone. This means that students who have special needs are not kept completely separate. She also thinks that it is good that resources are spread around through the county school system to those schools who have the most need based upon student family income, number of language learners, and number of students with special needs. She also thought a strength was that her grade level of teachers got 2 days a week where they got to make the students’s schedules. This flexibility she thought was great for when teachers wanted to work across curriculum areas or had larger projects.

Weaknesses

The school system, as stated above, has a much more equal distribution of money. However, Jeanette feels like her school still does not get the technology resources it needs since its students are fairly wealthy. She has implemented a BYOD classroom since they do not have computers at all for the students.

Technology

As stated, she has BYOD and uses many of the same programs that I use in my classroom (if they are available on mobile). We are hoping that we can perhaps have some sort of combined project together; however, it may be difficult due to her lack of computers.

Glömstaskolan: teaching and learning (post part 4)

The way teaching works in Glömstaskolan is a little different than the other schools I’ve visited as well. In general, you are in charge of your own classes in your own subject, much like in the US. One large difference that I noted before is that Swedish teachers, in general, have at least 10 hours of planning time each week that is paid to have at home or wherever you want. This is on top of the 5 hours per week of planning time. If I add up the time I have before school, my planning period, and my time after school, I reach about 9.4 hours.

These teachers then do get less planning time than traditional Swedish teachers; even less than me actually. The get around 5 hours. However, they are only responsible for planning the same amount of time for their subject (around 20 hours). What this then means is that the rest of the time (20 hours) they are in school with students, but aren’t running the show.

(Really quick aside about technology in Glömstaskolan: every student gets an ipad. Also, technology is so engrained here that we really didn’t even have a conversation about. At this school, it is almost a given that the teachers are skilled at using technology effectively in their classrooms. I know that White Bear is just in the beginning of its 1:1 program, so it’s unfair to compare; however, this was a night and day experience for me. Personally, I am much like the teachers here at Glömstaskolan: technology is my language for teaching. However, I know that there are many 624 teachers that feel a large need for lots of professional development around technology in the classroom. I wonder what accounts for these differences.)

However, at Glömstaskolan the teachers teach in teams. They are not in charge of their own classroom. As I mentioned above, they don’t even have a classroom that they can call their own. Each teaching team is by grade level. They have a shared teacher office area (that is gorgeous). They then decide, as a team, what the schedule for the week and for each day will be. As a result of this and the design principles of the school, each teacher is rarely alone with a full class of students. This means that, for example, if the math teacher has taught a lesson, more likely than not the social studies teacher was near during the lesson and heard the content. That means that during work time, the social studies teacher can help out if needed since they know the subject matter. This also bleeds over into scheduling. If the English teacher needs more time for a project the students are working on, she can simply say to the other teachers that the students are going to continue working on English. There aren’t any bells or daily schedules except for when students go to their art/music/etc classes. This also means that it is very easy for students and teachers alike to use the classroom area that suits them the best. Perhaps the English class would like to learn some science words and would like to use the lab: no problem! Perhaps the social studies teacher would like students to work in break out groups in the small break out rooms: no problem!

Glömstaskolan: furniture creating the learning environment (post part 3)

Overall, the school environment was meant to mimic and to then teach students how they should and will be expected to interact with each other in the workplace of the future. Go to any huge, innovative company: they do not expect their best employees to be sitting on a hard chair with a small desk, not talking to anyone for 8 hours. Glömstaskolan wants to have a classroom and school environment that will allow children to become the future innovators of tomorrow.

In addition, I’d like to add that much would make school feel more like a “home” in which the students can feel comfortable, rather than a sterile space in which they must have good posture and feel out of place. For example, most Swedish schools, not just the one I visited, have students take off their shoes when they walk in. Then students can walk around in their socks or bring slippers or flip flops. Also, the furniture and classroom setup really makes it seem more comfortable and like home.

I want to now talk about wall space. The windows from the outside look very random, and perhaps they are. But what that leads to on the inside is great windows everywhere and at every level. What’s also awesome is that the windows are deep and the teachers I spoke with are going to encourage students to sit in the windows if they feel like it. Also, pretty much 50% of the walls are white board walls to encourage collaboration anywhere.

The furniture in the school was moveable and flexible, but heavy. This was because they knew kids would want to move furniture, but also climb on it and they didn’t want anyone getting hurt. Classrooms could have all of the following:

-hard stools

-small tables

-tall tables

-round tables

-tall stools

-soft stools

-privacy arm chairs

-stadium-like step seatingIMG_1793

These are privacy arm chairs that teachers and others can see over but still give privacy.IMG_1795 (1)

Note the windows that give light but also seating, the stools that can be easily moved, the lightweight table, and the moveable wall. IMG_1804

This is some stadium seating in a science lab-lecture hall. Sitting here is Magnus, my contact at the school. IMG_1811 (1)

Here am I with Magnus on some other stadium seating. You can see that it is surrounded by classrooms (if you look to the left). In front of me on the floor is a bean bag.IMG_1815

Here is a classroom that has windows for light and seating, tall chairs and tables, stools and shorter tables, and a moveable wall.