Why Scandinavian schools are superior (and what we can learn)

Nordic schools (Finland included) captivate American educators. What makes them so strong?

scandinavia-schoolsThirty-five years ago, back when most schools around the world were still preparing students for their 20th century futures, a clutch of Scandinavian countries were reworking their curricula to include more creativity, collaboration, and communication — today’s so-called 21st century skills. It was an effort grounded in the region’s welfare-state mentality, which values inclusiveness and cooperation for the common good, according to Hans Renman, a former educator from Sweden and the founder and CEO of Scandinavian Education, a consultancy and think tank.

While Scandinavian countries generally perform about average in PISA rankings (Nordic neighbor Finland is an outlier), they have made significant strides in creating equitable conditions for all students and were early adopters of technology and one-to-one device programs. Comprising just 0.3 percent of the world population, these countries, and their graduates, have often punched above their weight in music, game-design, and technology innovation (think Minecraft, Spotify, Skype). In advance of his ISTE 2015 talk, “The Scandinavian Miracle,” Renman recently spoke with us about what schools can learn from Sweden and her neighbors and why America may have won the lottery when it comes to the future of education.

What is education like in Scandinavia? Can you describe some of the differences between the countries?

Renman: That’s one thing to bear in mind here — you can’t talk about “Scandinavia” at all at a systems level. It’s different countries. You have Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and often Finland goes along with it. They’re different countries with different cultures and languages. No one understands Finnish even though they’re close-by geographically. It’s more accurate to say the U.S. education model even though there are differences between the states. However, it’s possible to draw some lines connecting the Scandinavian countries.

For one thing, there are national curricula in Scandinavian countries that every school has to follow, and there’s no exceptions to that. The school systems are also very student-oriented. There’s a lot of talk about inclusion, democracy, and equality. The teachers unions, too, are very strong. Also, the education system is free in all these countries, even the university education, and it’s publicly funded. Even if you’re born in a very socially tough situation, it’s still easy as anything to become a professor from an economic point of view — you don’t have to pay anything — which is of course interesting.

In Sweden, we have a much more extensive voucher system than they do in the rest of Scandinavia. Sweden and Chile have the same kind of extreme voucher system — no other nation in the world has that. That’s strange knowing that Sweden is a social democratic country. In Denmark, they were early with digital strategies and learning and have a lot of official monetary support for that. While Finland, the PISA superstar, is much more traditional in education, even though they keep saying they’re on the brink of something. And then we have Norway, one of the richest countries in the world thanks to oil — kind of the Saudi Arabia of the north — and I’m not impressed by the Norwegian education system at all, especially not from a digital point-of-view. I call it petrol-coma — they have so much oil, they don’t need to bother about anything. It’s really a strong sense of, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”

Next page: The Nordic keys to success


IPEVO introduces IW2 wireless interactive whiteboard

New IW2 offers educators an affordable wireless interactive whiteboard for digital learning

interactive-whiteboardIPEVO has launched the IW2, a wireless interactive whiteboard system intended to enhance digital learning methods. The board is priced at $169.

Using wireless technology, the IW2 transforms flat surfaces into an interactive whiteboard, allowing teachers and students to draw and annotate in real time.

“I teach environmental science to about 60 students, and I use the IW2 daily in my classroom,” said Nick LaFave, teacher at Clover School District in South Carolina. “For example, I use the IW2 to annotate web pages and images, or write and draw on a blank background. I especially like that it’s very easy to save my annotations. Students have also found it easy to use for labeling diagrams or working through calculations. It creates a more visual, hands-on experience, which actively engages them in the learning process.”

Next page: More about the wireless interactive whiteboard


The Learning Counsel launches assessment tool and survey

Education leaders, curriculum and technology directors are invited to participate

assessment-toolResearch shows district and school leaders often hit similar barriers in digital curriculum transition.

To help them in this transformative period, the Learning Counsel has announced and launched its 2015 Digital Curriculum Strategy Assessment Tool & Survey.

On top of the confusion of available devices and software to the education market, there is no immediate and codified solution for how these digital “things” are to be vetted, purchased or used.

Next page: How educators can use the assessment tool


Girls Thinking Global unveils new website and documentary

New website, documentary, and other initiatives on display

girls-globalGirls Thinking Global has debuted a new version of its website, to showcase GTG’s most important projects, emphasizing the organization’s GTG Collaborative as well as its first documentary, The Heart of Everything: Jungle Mamas – Changemakers in the Amazon.
The site’s extensive improvements include the option for organizations to join the GTG Collaborative, which is designed as a gathering place to share best practices, knowledge, and expertise between nonprofits working with adolescent girls and young women.
“Girls Thinking Global is driven to connect global change-makers to empower and educate adolescent girls and young women worldwide. We are pleased that the new website will make it easier for them to connect, expand their services and share their stories,” said CEO Kathy Hurley. “It is our vision is to cross-pollinate a global network of organizations serving girls and young women to leverage resources and we are very excited that our website improvements provide these collaborative tools.”
As part of its mission to share stories and inspire change, Girls Thinking Global has produced its first documentary, The Heart of Everything: Jungle Mamas – Changemakers in the Amazon. The documentary explores the “Jungle Mamas” of the Amazon rainforest, who are combining western midwifery and obstetrics with the best practices of Achuar motherhood. The English-language version is now available on the website, and Spanish-language and native Achuar-language versions will be available in coming weeks. GTG has created Conversation for a Cause events as a way to discuss their documentary (and any future films) and engaged attendees on key issues affecting adolescent girls and young women around the world.
“The documentary is a fantastic way to spread the news about work being done to help women and girls around the world. We’ve already hosted a couple of Conversations for a Cause events to engage and educate viewers about the changes we can make together to improve the lives of at-risk girls around the world.” shared GTG president Deb deVries.
Material from a press release was used in this report.



Sony expands projector line with lots of new models

New models feature high brightness and compact design

sony-projectorSony is adding new models to its line of professional projectors, with each designed to deliver high image quality, high brightness and enhanced flexibility. The update includes three projector additions to its 3LCD series, each with a brightness of 4,200.

The new compact projectors include the VPL-EW348, VPL-EW345 and VPL-EX345 models. The VPL-EW348 model has a built-in HDBaseT interface for easier connectivity and reduced total system costs. HDBaseT capabilities allow installers and integrators to reduce their number of cable runs by transmitting video, audio, control and IP over a single Cat5e/6 cable for up to 328 feet (100m).

Sony is also introducing two 3LCD laser models (VPL-FHZ65 and VPL-FHZ60) to expand its growing line of Z-Phosphor laser light source projectors. WUXGA (1920 x 1200) laser models deliver brightness of 6,000 lumens (VPL-FHZ65) and 5,000 lumens (VPL-FHZ60). The new laser models are designed to deliver enhanced picture quality with new features such as “Reality Creation” and “Contrast Enhancer.” A laser light source means there’s no lamp that needs to slowly warm up or cool down.

The new laser models’ quick turn on/off requires only approximately 7 seconds for the brightness to ramp up after turning on. There is also a quick reboot mode available which allows users to reboot the projector in just one second.

Additional information about the new projectors can be found online.


Anatomy of a successful Chromebook rollout

Best practices and PD tips for going one-to-one with Chromebooks

chromebook-rolloutWhen Lyle Evans looks around his district and sees that its year-old one-to-one Chromebooks implementation is running smoothly, he can’t help but think back to a time when Chesterfield County Public Schools’ technology vision was just beginning to formulate and gel. “Our blended learning philosophy dates back about four years,” says Evans, the Chesterfield, Va., district’s assistant superintendent, human resources & administrative services. “Long before Chromebooks, we knew we wanted to deliver the best in face-to-face learning supported by instructional tools.”

Concurrently, Evans says the 65-school district was also looking for new ways to “extend” the classroom and student learning time outside of the traditional four walls. And while the district was already using three to four computers per classroom and a number of Dell laptops, it felt that getting more devices or laptops into its students’ hands would help advance some of its educational goals. “We started to think about our strategic plan,” recalls Evans, “and it became clear that we needed to move to a one-to-one initiative as quickly as possible.”

As a first step in that direction, Evans says school leaders and the district IT team investigated its device and laptop options. After reviewing those options, he says, “it came down to the Chromebook versus the laptop.” The former won out based on its economics (roughly $158 per student via a lease-purchase agreement + a $50 computing fee that students pay), the fact that the district’s current network could support the devices, and the Chromebook’s short boot-up time.

“You open it up and it goes right onto the network and gives students immediate access,” said Evans. “There was no boot-up time like we typical see with laptops.”

Next page: A professional development camp for teachers


Virginia pilots online high school

Pilot will accept 100 students into online program

virginia-onlineThe Virginia Department of Education is launching a pilot program in the fall that will allow students to earn a high school diploma without stepping inside a classroom.

One hundred students will be accepted on a first-come basis. If the pilot is successful, it could be opened to more students and could become permanent, the department said in a news release.

“How this will work will vary greatly from school to school and student to student, but it will have all the requirements, all of the credits and the electives to graduate with an advanced studies diploma or a standard diploma,” department spokesman Charles Pyle told The Daily Progress.

Next page: What state lawmakers think of the program


Mystery Skype Calls Connect Your Classroom to The World

Mystery Skype calls are a great way to connect with the world

skype-mystery[Ed. note: Katrina Keene will give a related session on Mystery Skype at ISTE 2015 on Monday June 29.]

For centuries, schools have sat in silos. Teachers and students were capable of communicating only with those inside their own buildings. It was at one time not only unattainable, but unthinkable to collaborate and communicate with outside classrooms. The technology for these types of interactions had not yet been introduced to education—and even if they were, cost and practicality were barriers to implementation.

I have been an active user of “video conferencing” since the early 90’s, when this type of technology was usually seen in large businesses or colleges that were fortunate to have the funds to provide the equipment to make use of such a progressive form of communication.

In 1999, before all the Skyping, Facetiming, and Google Hangouts, I began using CU-See-Me, a video conferencing tool, which many people have never even heard of. This was a time when a little ball of a webcam sat on top of your box-shaped monitor and you had to make sure not to move too quickly or your picture froze mid video conference.

Fast forward 17 years and schools across the world have access to video conferencing through free tools such as Skype. Skype took video conferencing to a whole new level by providing educators with a platform and tools for classroom integration through “Skype Classroom,” which boasts a free extensive database of resources for use in the classroom, as well as access to thousands of educators looking to link up with other classrooms.

One of the great things about Skype Classroom is the ability to search by lesson, subject, age group or teacher in an effort to connect with classrooms around the world. One particularly fun way to connect and share ideas with other classrooms is through Mystery Skype sessions, which engages every student in the classroom as they search for clues and try and try and solve a mystery. As Skype Classroom puts it:

“Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions. It’s suitable for all age groups and can be used to teach subjects like geography, history, languages, mathematics, and science.”

Next page: 3 ways to try mystery calls


Esri releases free online activities for Earth Science

New Earth Science materials helps students map what they learn

earth-science-esriEsri is teaming up with GISetc for a free set of Earth Science materials, called the GeoInquiry Collection.

The materials uses ArcGIS Online web mapping and analysis tools to enhance middle school earth science lessons. GISetc is an award-winning, longstanding publisher of GIS curricula materials for primary and secondary school students.

The partnership is also in support of an Esri initiative to provide a free ArcGIS Online subscription to every K-12 school in the United States. ArcGIS is an online mapping program that lets users create their own custom maps using an available pool of data and statistics, both political and geographical.

The new Earth Science collection contains 15 web-mapping activities that correspond with and extend map-based concepts in leading middle school earth science textbooks. The activities use a standard inquiry-based instructional model, require only 15 minutes for a teacher to deliver, and can run on any device. In addition, the activities align with Next Generation Science Standards.

“Earth Science GeoInquiries provide a substantial change in the way we, as educators, use mapping and geographic analysis with data and concepts from across the science of earth systems,” says Tom Baker, Esri manager for education. “Broadly, GeoInquiries introduce mainstream K–12 students and teachers to the power of web mapping in a standards-based, teacher-friendly activity, complete with modern web technology, live data, and inquiry-oriented investigations.”

Activity topics include the following:

Topographic Maps
Remote Sensing
Rock Types
Plate Tectonics
Mountain Building
Ocean Features
Ground Wind and Temperature Patterns
Climate Change

Esri plans to release high school level GeoInquiries for U.S. history later this year. Teachers, GeoMentors, and school administrators can learn more at esri.com/connected.