Freedom to choose... a structure

Freedom to choose... a structure

"Frihet under ansvar": Freedom under responsibility is one of the most important principles governing the Norwegian society. The idea is good: you are free to choose your methods of working, you gradually learn to take more and more responsibility, and as you do, your degree of accountability for your actions also increases.  Businesses thrive on this, and the flat hierarchy in the Norwegian working culture pays tribute to applying this principle.

Transforming 21st century education

Many educators support by now the notion of student-directed learning , where teaching is no longer about the teacher lecturing and the students absorbing information. We’re highly aware of the benefits from cross-curricular studies, blending science and math, for example, or incorporating music into a literature class. Thus, begging the question: Why is it still so often we rely on the same traditional model - where we separate subjects and lessons plans- to effectively teach?

Two reasons come to mind.

First, because it works, relatively speaking. We shuffle students through the curriculum, they learn lessons, take tests, and graduate with a satisfactory foundation of knowledge and skills. Adequate. Enough to survive, to continue on to pursue higher education, for the most part.

More recently, however, we have started to recognize that this foundation of knowledge and skills is not up to par. Rote memorization is not enough. We must attempt to inspire creativity and innovation, training our students to employ what they know in real-life situations. Our students aren’t as proficient in critical thinking, teamwork and inquiry - all of which are paramount for success.

Secondly, we also abide by established guidelines because we are unsure how to initiate change. Currently, we are lagging behind in adapting new frameworks that prioritize cross-curricular connections, student self-efficacy, and inquiry-based learning. As we move into the 21st century we must provide our students the skills necessary to succeed in this ever-changing global environment.

Imagination is more important than knowledge, according to Einstein.Students today require a learning environment where the skills and enthusiasm they bring to the classroom are understood and incorporated into the teachers’ pedagogical practices. If we are to sufficiently prepare our students for life in a 21st century global society, education must blend digital and conventional instructional methods into a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning.

As we approach the end of another school year, it’s a good time to consider the opportunity teachers have in ushering in a new era of educational excellence.

To be a teacher is to be a leader, a learner, and a change agent.

Inside the classroom, teachers make important decisions that impact the lives of their students on a daily basis. They try to engage with their students, while catering to learning needs on an individual basis. But in order to transform schools, teachers must be willing to go beyond the classroom. They need to become thought leaders, challenge the status quo, and not just articulate what change looks like- they must show it. By establishing a culture of change, presenting clearly defined goals, and asking the tough questions teachers are in the position to help guide the transformation.

How can this be achieved? Making small instructional changes can make a tremendous impact. For example, beginning each lesson or unit by allowing students to question the content first allows them to answer their own questions throughout the lesson or unit. By beginning with questioning, students often take more ownership in their work and have increased engagement with the content. (For questioning strategies try the Question Formulation Technique or I see, I think, I wonder).

Another small instructional change teachers can work in to their classroom is incorporating collaboration daily. By having student to student or student to teacher collaboration, teachers help students engage in meaningful conversation, questioning, and debate. Collaboration can take place with students researching the answers to the questions they create on the content, planning and carrying out an investigation, discussing content they are learning, or creating a presentation on content to teach to the class. Try using the Jigsaw strategy to allow for discussion and research or a discussion strategy like the Triad Conversation to facilitate discussions during a learning session .

Change is hard and often quite messy. Educators have to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and start asking themselves how they can be agents of change. Instead of doing more, focus on doing different. Take chances and welcome diversity. While this may seem daunting and difficult, it can also be fulfilling and exciting.


Edee is Social communicator @ Newschool.

Newschool is striving to driving change and invites you to come learn from a model that works. In cooperation with the Kaospilot Learning Design Agency, we offer a three day Masterclass workshop where 21st century learning takes the lead. More info here:




Perfection the first time around has long been the expectation within the educational sphere. When educators “don’t get it,” they brush aside the idea, try out the next, and repeat the cycle. It’s vicious and de-motivating, adding an extra layer to what is already a challenging profession.

Forget homo zappïens - digital natives still need teaching

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Myth busting time.

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.

Don´t kill the messenger. According to P. A. Kirschner and P. D. Bruyckere (in Teach. Teach. Educ.67, 135–142; 2017) , there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital.  The “homo zappïens” is a myth, just as the Yeti is.

It turns out that the youngsters today, although digitally active, still need teaching to become digitally literate : in using technology to support their learning they seldom go beyond a passive consumption of information(e.g. Wikipedia, downloading lecture notes or reading their social media feed). Students today indeed use a large quantity and variety of technologies for communication, learning, staying connected with their friends and engaging with the world around them, but they are using them primarily for personal empowerment and entertainment.

The non-existence of digital natives is definitely not the ‘reason’ why students today are disinterested at and even ‘alienated’ by school. This lack of interest and alienation may be the case, but the causes stem from quite different things such as the fact that diminished concentration and the loss of the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli may be attributed to constant task switching between different devices.

Which brings me to my second point.

  • Learners cannot multitask; they task-switch, which negatively impacts learning.

Remember those pesky teachers who insisted you cannot do two things at once? They are actually right.

The same article presents evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning.

What students are indeed good at , is switch quickly and apparently seamlessly from one activity to another. The key word here is ‘apparently’:

When task-switching, a person first shifts the goal and thus makes a ‘decision’ to divert attention away from the task being carried out to another task...It has been broadly shown that rapid switching behaviour, when compared to carrying out tasks serially, leads to poorer learning results in students and poorer performance of the tasks being carried out.

Moreover, those who many considered “skilled”, or the heavy multitaskers who think can listen to class, and be on Snapchat, and have meaningful conversations, actually perform worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely because they are less able to filter out interference from irrelevant cues.

Even adults are very poor at this, and this actually impairs their productivity greatly. Multi-tasking is  allegedly worse for your brain then smoking marijuana...

Why does all this matter?

  • Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.

Did you ever hear someone say that teachers of these digital natives are digital immigrants who, through their lack of digital knowledge and skills, impede the natives' learning?

Well, they are wrong. To succeed, edtech must be at the service of teaching, not the other way around.  Education software is not making teaching obsolete, but makes the craft of a teacher even more important.

This does not mean, of course, that technology in the classroom is a bad idea, rather that the task of the teacher in a classroom where the presence of tablets and laptop can be disturbing is to know when and where technology should be present. A good idea for the digitally active  students is allowing a backchannel or a chatroom where they can go back to read instructions, share links, get back on track and reinforce task setting. Another one is to add off-screen learning extensions that students love, as for example in Zinc, where teachers often use the application during the first 10-15 minutes of class to get students into “study mode,” especially after lunch, and then direct the kids to read the rest of the text offline.

Teachers hold the key to both embracing and letting go of technological advances, and learning how to achieve focus should be included in the curriculum. The naturally occurring (i.e., not learned) acquisition of the metacognitive skills necessary for a multitude of learning strategies is simply not there, and needs to be taught, just like other relevant skills.

Mihaela is knowledge curator and co-founder of Newschool, embracing methods and developing tools that help students and teachers develop skills for the 21 st century.  

Seal of Excellence

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After strenuous paperwork, we just received good and welcome news from the EU: Our application for Horizon 2020 has been awarded the so-called Seal Of Excellence. The seal is a new arrangement for projects that satisfy all demands needed in order to be approved. As the European Union has allocated all its funds in the project, the recognition in practice serves as a recommendation for national funding. newSchool have received assurance of funding from Innovation Norway.  

LeanLearn and newschool at Austin Tech For Schools Summit

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We had two busy days at EdSurge´s Austin Tech for Schools Summit.  EdTech Leaders day (September 30th) was largely attended by superintendents, directors of curriculum & instruction, and instructional technology officers. All Educators day (October 1st) was largely attended by teachers, site administrators, and site support staff. We had conversations with more than 50 educators and decision makers after testing LeanLearn, and they all provided us with very valuable feedback, some of which lead us in new directions.


We received very positive product reviews although our product is still in beta version. These EdTech leaders gave us a clear message that we also need to open up for students being able to upload their own content. We also got many request for using this tool for Project Work. So after Austin we got a confirmation on the following:

  1. We need a better interface to edit content in LeanLearn (that is why its still in beta)
  2. We will create a new version of the tool that is targeting Group and project work TeamLearn

So thank you EdSurge and all teachers & leaders providing us with all this valuable feedback that speeds up our learning dramatically. We also look forward to launching several new pilots in the Austin area next year.