In the recent week I have had the pleasure of taking part  in a social network for Norwegian teachers and educators called del&bruk. Formed by Ingunn and other entrepeneurs it has seen a mushrooming of new members by the day. One of the main issues predominant in discussions are the fear of sharing. The idea is to share your ideas on implementing ICT in your lessons and hopefully find useful ideas that others have posted. I have to admit that I haven’t been good at sharing specific lesson plans yet, but I am however engaged in discussions regarding past or ongoing projects in my own work. This network has given me an ample opportunity to share concerns and enthusiasm about my efforts to implement ICT in my lessons.
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An interesting article at Betchablog addresses the issue with The New Digital Divide and points out the sad fact that the ones who usually find themselves in networks like del&bruk are already into the whole Web 2.0 community and are active in an array of networks from Flickr to Twitter and bookmark using del.icou.us and attend courses in Second Life. There is a distinction between the “will’s” and “will-nots”, and the latter have many excuses why they don’t want to take the plunge. Where does the responsibility lie?

The sole responsibility relies on the individual teacher and his/her willingness to try out new digital applications and technologies in the classroom. This is the case in most schools in Norway and beyond I dare say. Personally I do feel overwhelmed myself with all the possibilities and having actually taken the plunge myself with a trusted colleague we’ve now started blogging, making digital stories and films, producing music and taking advantage of Quizlet in language classes, Tutpup in Maths and Dipity in Social Studies. It does create a lot of extra work, but the experiences we make are valuable lessons to us as teachers and it is very rewarding discussing them with others attempting to do the same in communities like del&bruk.

Life itself is in fact lived in beta, and the most important thing is to take the plunge and try new things. Teachers are often being accused of being conservative, but del&bruk is yet another example of how we do take responsibility and try to change the status of the classroom and bring us into the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how things develop and I hope I will continue to share and participate fervently.

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Time. I want to talk about time – and how to teach it. This term is coming to a close and I have had some good experiences with my 8th grade. In Social Studies we have worked on population distribution, migrational patterns and other aspects of globalization. The use of Gapminder when working on population and statistics was very rewarding. Next term I want to focus on history, timelines, cause-and-effect – and I aim to use interactive timeline utilities available online. I want students to use these resources to create their own timelines of historical events, add their own texts, but also resources from around the web.

The goal is to teach time sequencing, cause-and-effect as well as history. I haven’t still found exactly what I am looking for, but I have some ideas for sites I can use. Here’s a list of utilities I have come across. Other suggestions are welcome.

Dipity: Straightforward timeline utility for topics and events. Include photoes, videos, maps and links.

Timetoast: Simple interface, clarity and simplicity.

XTimeline: Seem to be popular, lots of other published timelines to be viewed.

Viewzi:I particularly like this one, it’s slick and fast – Timetoastand also several visual options to view other timelines.

Soundslides: This is a downloadable desktop application which does the same job. Slick and very intuitive.

Any other suggestions?

I am currently taking a course in Nordic literature through online studies with the University in Bergen, Nordisk. This semester we are reading and studying Nordic literature from the Viking Age and up to 1900, from Snorre Sturlasson to Henrik Ibsen. There’s lots to read and books are heavy as well as expensive. Of course there is the library, but I have discovered a great resource online, Project Runeberg, a sister project to Project Gutenberg, were they aim to digitalize and make older Swedish, Norwegian and Danish literature available online. It’s a great initiative.

So far it’s mostly Swedish and Danish literature, but some Norwegian editions are available. The romantic writer and poet Henrik Wergeland‘s “Digte” has recently been publihsed on this site, and it’s a remarkable feeling to flip through the 1853 edition of Digte with famous poems like “Jødinden” (The Jewish Girl) and others. Some books are scanned by the Google Book Search while others are scanned on private initiative.

Imagine having these Scandinavian clenodiums at our fingertips on our laptops? And it makes my reading easier.

In these times of grading fixation in education it is interesting to come across the outspoken critic and author Alfie Kohn. Mr. Kohn has written a number of books on the negative effects of rewards and punishments of grading. He is also skeptical of the traditional system of homework. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) he questions the need and positive effects of homework. He believes that the school and its environment is the main focal point for learning and work.

Winterlong

The debate is timely in Norway too as I encounter parents who feel overwhelmed by their kids’ homework, especially as they advance to higher levels. Every week they are given a homework plan with assignments in the main subjects. The assignments vary from reading, task solving, math calculus or research for a project or paper. Most parents feel that their kids should have homework as they did when they attended school. The problem for many families are time. The nuclear family is a minority in the Norwegian society (and other societies in the West) and a lot of time and organizational evolves around transport and logistics. How to make the proper priorities, and how to make homework meaningful?

I try to evaluate the way I give homework to my students, I try to reinvent, evolve and be original. It’s not always easy, but I think Mr. Kohn has an interesting point when he questions the benefits of homework. It does not necessarily take up much time of the kids’ sparetime, but could we try to break out of this and try to think in new ways about homework?

Double bill

At an end note I’d like to recommend a riveting comment from a Norwegian girl who’s a high school student. She criticizes all the bad karma around the Norwegian school debates these days in the aftermath and hangover of the PISA-tests. She says Norwegians hate not to be on top in international rankings and that our politicians tend to panic. These tests are important, but they only measure a fraction of what schools teach their students. What about social and moral behavior, ethical values like respect, debating skills and skills to question – in essence – how to become decent people. Ms. Tømte writes:

Den norske skolen har altså utviklet seg fra å være en autoritær institusjon til å bli et lærested der voksne og barn snakker samme språk og har det samme fokus: Å gjøre folk av oss.

Thus has the Norwegian school developed from being an authoritarian institution to become a place of learning where adults and children speak the same language and have the same focus: To make us into decent people. (My translation).

And this relationship requires mutual respect – and authoritarian teachers don’t easily acquire this in Norwegian schools, but teacher who do earn their students’ respect have moral authority based upon a wide and substantial knowledge base.

Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: “Did you have a radio when you were young?” or “Is it true that you didn’t have a mobile phone when you were at school?”

This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn’t. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.

This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children’s rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.

Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.

This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends’ loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:

“When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they’ll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world.”

The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child’s upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children’s activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.


We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.

Last semester I experimented with digital learning tools in my Norwegian lessons and made some interesting discoveries. I set out to spur a greater initiative in the students’ writing abilities and I sought out Blogger for this purpose. As of 2007 Kunnskapsløftet, a recent school reform (one of many in recent decades I might add…), five basic skills are embodied within all subjects. Writing, reading, listening, speaking are all obvious ones, but two new skills for the 21st century have been added: mathematical skills (in all subjects) and digital.

Being able to use digital tools in the Norwegian subject curriculum is necessary to master new text forms and ways of expressing oneself. This opens up new learning arenas and allows new possibilities in teaching reading and writing, as well as the production, composition and editing of texts. In this context it is vital to develop the ability to critically assess and use sources. Using digital tools may support and develop the pupils’ communication and presentation skills.

Kunnskapsløftet, Norwegian curriculum

Most of the students thrived in the blogging environment, or web-publishing. Within a secured and closed network we opened for creative writing in a totally new and interactive way. And it gave me, as a teacher, a genuine access to their writing process and development of their writing skills. And not to forget, the students acquired new digital skills in simple html and blog editing through links and photo publishing.

Enter January and I embarked upon yet a digital challenge. By the means of digital cameras, multi-purpose mobile phones, Macs and PCs alike, iMovie and Movie Maker, Bluetooth and a small amount of paper and scissors the students made their own commercials. What the students ended up making was quite impressive. Through the process they had to learn one of the many unused programs on their shiny Macs like simple iMovie in the iLife suite and also use the curricular knowledge of denotations and connotations in order to explain their train of thought when planning an advertisement campaign.

With the kind permission from two of the students I have posted one of the commercials for Coca Cola Zero.

For Norwegian readers, or any possible readers at all, I’d like to recommend the eminent blog tenketing.net on interaction, peer-powered content, design and technology.

I have been walking a lot during this year’s first month. It’s nothing revolutionary, nothing new. It gives me time to listen to great music – and space and time to think. Recently I’ve been thinking about my profession.

I’m a teacher. Norway’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, announced in his New Years speech that Norway has to put more emphasize on education since Norwegian students and pupils alike are falling behind in European tests like PISA. Media goes bananas and tells us that our kids are lazy, dumb and not motivated for school. Furthermore, school is a joke, a playground, a place to keep our children when we work and make our way up the career ladder. And even more importantly, society blames the politicians and politicians blame schools and their teachers. There is no more discipline, teachers are not well educated and they cannot handle our children in a responsible way… Reform panic has created mayhem, it’s all chaos. Doom’s day is here.

I agree, something IS definitely rotten in Norway.

We’re too well off. We’re a playground. We’re the laughing stock of the new century. And why? We have the fatal impression that we’re all well off because of our newfound wealth. This leads to the ill conclusion among many that they’ll be okay whatever work they put into school. Look at our university system, it’s easy to sleep through it and get by, and if you flunk? Well, you’ll be okay. Of course, a handsome few make the best out of it and excel within their fields. It’s not all bleak. But many, many kids lack motivation, they see the world of consumerism around them and they are fed up on new iPods and flatscreens every Christmas. What’s the point of learning about history and science when you’ll be a real estate agent like your father? Next, parents are shying away from their real responsibility here. Unfortunately, it’s often the men. 3 out of 4 parents who are involved in their kids school are mothers… Where are the damn fathers? Are they really too busy for their own kids’ education?

The responsibility is shared for the situation. It’s society’s problem, it’s my problem and it’s your problem. We’re all in it knee deep. The irony is, we live in high times, salary is good and there’s cash flow for most people – and when a country runs well, especially in Norway we doze off in the global race of educational excellence. Look at India and China, there it is a matter of life and death. A matter of happiness and desperation. If you don’t succeed in your field you’re out of the game.

In Norway, we have the impression that we’re all in the game. Problem is, we’re stuck on level 1 for now. And who will suffer? Our kids, and then our society.

I’ll try to do my best, try a little harder everyday, teach our kids to excel, to be good citizens and above all – good human beings. And I’ll keep on walking.