Sweden (Part 8 – Gothenburg schools, Lin Edu & Edtech products, Science Park & RI.SE)

Immediately following our meeting at Lin Education, we boarded our coach and headed towards Gothenburg, which is about a five hour drive from Stockholm. We stayed in Gothenburg for two days and nights and visited a few more schools, another Lin Education office, and the Research Institutes of Sweden (RI.SE).

Fridaskolan

We arrived at Fridaskolan at around 9:30 the next morning (and it rained). Fridaskolan is probably my favourite school out of the all the schools we visited (the Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium is a close second, though). The school building is surrounded by large glass windows, letting natural sunlight in. There is a big grand staircase that leads down to the school cafeteria right by to the main entrance.

As soon as we arrived, we enjoyed a time of Fika which was strawberry panna cotta served with tea / coffee. There were also some students selling smoothies to raise funds for their next school trip! The students can take turns to sell snacks and food at the cafeteria every week to raise money for whatever causes they choose – I love this idea!

Most of the classrooms and activity rooms are located above the cafeteria level with a lot of open spaces as well. The class sizes are quite small with no more than 20 students in a class. Students are also allowed to work in the open spaces outside the classrooms during the lessons as well. There is no bell indicating the beginning or end of a lesson because every level follows a different schedule and timetable. They even have lunch at different times. We got to visit science, design and technology, English, and art classes.

The student that led the school tour for our group could speak fluent Mandarin as well since her mother is Chinese and her father is Swedish. She greeted us and even explained a lot of the things in Mandarin, I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could barely understand her!

After the school tour, we headed back down to the cafeteria and enjoyed another delicious free school lunch. Seriously, I’m amazed that free school food can be this good! I also loved seeing the kids sitting on the staircase to eat their lunch as well! It was absolutely adorable!

It was still raining when we had to leave and I was surprised to see that students still played outdoors in the pouring rain! This would never happen in Hong Kong! Schools have a rainy day recess arrangement and all outdoor activities would be cancelled, automatically resulting in indoor or classroom recess.

I absolutely fell in love with this school and secretly wish that I had attended school there when I was young!

Lin Education – Seminar and exchanges with Edtech companies

We visited the Lin Education office on both of the days that we were in Gothenburg. The first day, we were given a seminar by an educational scientist who had been doing research projects in schools and conducted a project called ‘Purified by Fire’ with over 100 students. Students were given various tasks to complete through an online platform. They had to conduct their own research – both online and by exploring local historical locations – to complete missions. They interact with different actors and characters in the game and can play it whenever and wherever they want. It is next level gamification! It was so interesting to hear about the project and how students responded to the experience. What a fun and exciting project to be a part of!

This Lin Edu office was very unique and well-designed as well, the ground level provides a lot of space for comfortable seating for social gatherings and meetings, including a ping pong table, two spiral staircases on opposite sides leading up the employees’ desks and work stations, a meeting area that is linked by a ‘glass bridge’ opposite the work stations, and of course, an area for Fika, fully equipped with a kitchen counter and sink, coffee machine, fridge, cupboards and even a dishwasher! Seriously, why can’t HK offices be like this?!

On the second day, we got to listen to several Edtech companies present about their products and services. I was most impressed by Lexplore, which uses eye-tracking AI technology for reading assessment and intervention. I was selected by the group to test it out and read a sample passage and answered comprehension questions while it tracked my eye-movements. It was really quite amazing!

The other Edtech companies were very innovative as well but I won’t go into detail about them. If you are interested, the links are provided below with brief descriptions.

Soundtrap – An online collaborative platform where people can create music or audio recordings together.

Strawbees – Prototyping, coding, robotics and construction kit using ‘Strawbees’ to connect straws together. Provides activities and solutions for developing skillsets for the future through hands-on exploration, electronics and programming.

Sensavis – Interactive and visual learning tool that can create personalised learning videos, let students learn by exploring and discovering, activate learning by including students in the learning process.

Loops Education – Brings learning objectives together in visual maps designed to engage students and makes learning collaborative.

Polhemsgymnasiet

Polhemsgymnasiet is an upper secondary school located in Lindholmen, Gothenburg. It was founded in 1829 as a branch for younger students out of Chalmers technical university and later became a technical college and upper secondary school in 1937. The school provides preparatory education for universities and has four main programmes – Natural Science, Technical, Economic and Social Science. There are three principals at the school that oversee the different programmes. The areas of development focus in the programmes include formative assessments, development of language in teaching all subjects, and digital development of teaching and teaching digital competence. They also have collaborations and exchanges with other institutions in different countries including China, Spain and Germany. There are also interdisciplinary projects where students work on developing different skills including perspective drawing, modelling, CAD, graphic design, animation, manufacturing, report writing and even public presentation. In their grade 3 programme, they will do a diploma project that includes problem solving and entrepreneurial skills, and finally participate in an exhibition. We got the chance to see the exhibition showcasing students’ architectural designs and models.

Lindholmen Science Park, Chalmers University and RI.SE

We got to take a quick tour around the Chalmers University library where 90% of the books are online. The librarian facilitates and guides students to do research rather than searching or locating books. The library serves more as a space for students to study or do group projects rather than for storing books. Many of the shelves are empty with mostly reference books.

RI.SE, which stands for Research Institutes of Sweden, promotes and encourages research and international collaboration within the industry, academia and public sectors to maintain competitiveness of the Swedish business community and contribute to a sustainable society. The institute offers unique expertise and more than 100 testbeds and demonstration environments for future-proof technologies, products and services. Their research areas cover innovations in AI, digitalisation, health and safety to transport systems, urban development, water, and even the work environment. We got to see the office and work stations of their staff and saw devices and gadgets I had never seen before!

End of Part 8

Back to Sweden (Part 7)

Continue to Sweden (Part 9)

Sweden (Part 7 – School visits, [free school lunch included]; Lin Education meeting with other school leaders)

After a few days of sightseeing and visits to education and innovation agencies, we finally got the chance to step inside local Swedish schools. The first school we visited was an international English school in Kista, followed by the Anna Whitlock Gymnasium. Finally, we got to meet with some local school leaders at Lin Education.

Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) Kista

The International English Schools (IES) in Sweden were developed with the belief that the English language is imperative in order for young people to be able to realise their full potential in the modern world. They recruit most of their teachers from English speaking countries to achieve the best English speaking environment for their schools. Most of the subjects are taught in English. The schools maintain high expectations for everyone, irrespective of their social background. They provide a secure, orderly and safe environment for teaching and learning. This is mainly achieved through ‘tough love’ and discipline. The IES schools use continuous assessment in all grade levels and provide formal feedback to students and parents four times during the school year.

We were given a tour around the school by the students rather than the teachers. I was very impressed by the command of English from one of the students that was leading our group. She spoke clearly and fluently with confidence, respect and maturity that I could not believe she was only in year 7! She answered all our questions politely and explained in detail about the various rooms we passed, subjects taught, activities, and school culture.

IES Kista is considered to be private school but it is also very multicultural with students of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds learning and playing together. The school is located in a rather ‘rough’ neighbourhood with families from relatively low socio-economic backgrounds, and the principal told us about some of the troublesome students they have had to deal with in the past. However, the school environment appeared to be safe, well-maintained and even quite prestigious. The principal and the teachers dress professionally with shirts, ties and jackets and they are easily identified because of the formal dress code, since there are no school uniforms for students. The principal said that he had enforced this particular dress code on his staff to ensure that teachers are seen as having authority and, therefore, should be respected by all students (even though many teachers dislike this dress code!).

The principal (on top of looking like a serious Viking, with his impressive beard) gave us a very impressive presentation about how he has managed to improve the status of the low-ranking school with troubled kids and is now ranking higher with improved student performance and behaviour. I was deeply inspired by a quote he included in his presentation, by Dr. Kevin Maxwell, “Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.” I think many schools, all over the world, are not teaching the students they have, and trying to teach either by using traditional methods or the strategies that worked with the students they used to have. Every child should have equal access and opportunities to learn no matter their circumstances and it is the teachers’ job to make learning equal and accessible to all by catering to their needs rather than trying to make them fit the mould that we want.

The school has started adopting the ‘one device to one student’ policy starting with grade 4 or 5 getting their own personal laptops, and will continue adding new ones in subsequent years. The laptops will follow the students until they leave school and they have the option to purchase it when they graduate.

Since the current principal at Kista was hired just last year, he has had to let go almost 30% of his staff in the first few months because they were not a good fit nor willing to follow his vision for the school. He needed teachers who want to work with the students they have, set high academic expectations for all students regardless of their circumstances, want to work with families with socio-economic problems, want to have an effect on social change and be great at classroom management, and can engage students in their subject and make them want to work and impress. The teachers that are working in the school now are all willing to do everything that is necessary to make the school and the students successful.

It was truly inspiring to see such a passionate principal and educator that wants his students to reach their full potential regardless of their circumstances. I feel somewhat disappointed in myself that I did not have his vision or passion towards education when I was teaching in school. It is quite rare to find educators like this in HK as many schools, especially the private schools, are obsessed with status, elitism and money.

Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium

We visited the Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium next, which is located in Kungsholmen, Stockholm. It is a high school (upper secondary) that only just opened in August 2018 but it is already doing an amazing job in providing high quality education in a warm, welcoming and creative atmosphere, and is currently Stockholm’s largest secondary school.

The school is named after the school pioneer and educational reformer, Anna Whitlock, who founded the first co-educational school (over primary level) in Sweden. She introduced student councils, parent days, free choice of subject, and voluntary education in religion for school children. She is also the co-founder and chairperson of the National Association for Women’s Suffrage.

The school building is newly renovated from the old Ämbetshuset, which was used as an office building for the County Administrative Board in Stockholm until 2015. The office building then converted into a school building with enough room for 2600 students. The main structure consists of four wings built around a courtyard, which has colourful concentric circles in the middle. The building maintains a part of the old architecture and structures, mixed with new renovations adapted for teaching. The old windows, doors, stairs are kept with the newly added floors, ceilings and WiFi systems.

They have a teacher dedicated to serve as the Communications Manager as well as being the Head of Student Life. The digital landscape of the school comprises of social media platforms, blogs, YouTube channels, Intranet, surveys, polls, and various innovation and pilot projects are constantly being developed.

We also got to take a tour around the school, this time led by the staff. One of them was a Chinese language teacher who had been living in Sweden for 11 years! I was surprised to learn that there were local Swedish students who were interested in Chinese culture and wanted to learn Chinese! (I need to brush up on my own Chinese!) We visited a few of the classrooms where the students were working individually and in small groups for their final projects. They were given different options and mediums to choose from for their projects. Each student had their own laptop as well. I don’t think I saw any of the teachers standing in the front of the classroom lecturing. Sometimes, I couldn’t even identify who was a teacher when I entered a classroom! They really emphasise on the ‘teacher as a facilitator’ role and self-directed and student-centred learning rather than explicit teaching or teacher-directed activities. They focus on developing skills rather than teaching of content knowledge. Students do all of their own research. The school offers different specialisation programmes for students, such as economics, arts, science, social science, and technology programmes.

After the school tour and listening to the teachers’ presentations, we had lunch in their school cafeteria. Their meals are mostly vegetarian to reduce food waste and it has even encouraged the students to eat healthier and more sustainable meals outside of school as well. Not only is education free in Sweden, lunch served at schools are free too; and the food is actually pretty good – definitely better than the lunches I had to pay for at school in HK!

Lin Education

The last stop of the day was Lin Education. This organisation was founded in 2008 with the vision to provide schools, preschools and municipalities with computers and tablets. They also provide supporting pedagogy to work together with their digital devices. They have offices and staff in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Oslo, Karlstad and Umeå. They have also opened an office in Norway in 2017 and hope to cooperate and learn from different countries and organise more staff development trips. Each year, they organise over 1000 educational initiatives on learning, school development and digitalisation.

The staff at Lin Education organised a meet and greet with other Swedish school leaders and we got to network and share and compare the education systems in Sweden and Hong Kong. Some of the delegates from our HK team also shared what they are doing in their organisation and schools related to STEAM education. Then we broke into small groups to discuss about the challenges, practices and resources we have in each of the subject areas within our school communities. We realised that both Sweden and Hong Kong have similar challenges and there are also some areas we could learn from each other, for example, Swedish schools offer a lot of outdoor learning experiences and have more opportunities to see and observe things in real authentic environments whereas HK students are quite limited and rarely get to experience what they read and see from their textbooks in real, everyday life, especially in the area of science.

After all our discussions and reflections, we wrapped up with a round of Fika and bubbles and got to mingle with everyone!

The thing I was most impressed with at Lin Education was the layout and structure of their office. They have a large open area for group meetings and presentations, colourful furniture and even a kitchen island with a big coffee machine and popcorn maker! They make space in the office for employees and visitors to gather together and socialise with a cup of coffee and delicious pastries and baked goods. The whole atmosphere makes working and collaboration more enjoyable and productive.

End of Part 7

Back to Sweden (Part 6)

Continue to Sweden (Part 8)

Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here is my book review of ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss:

eatsshoots
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Sticklers unite! I never thought I’d enjoy a book about punctuation as much as I did. I could have easily read it in one sitting but I took a break after the introduction because it felt like it would never end! I mean, it was over thirty pages long! The chapters that followed were much more interesting and entertaining, and deeply informative. I never imagined that I would get excited reading a book about punctuation!

Truss writes with humour, conviction, authority, and shamelessly shames those who don’t know the difference between a comma and an apostrophe (yes, they exist!), and misplace apostrophes in contractions, plurals (unnecessarily adding them, i.e. banana’s – banana’s what?) and possessives. She explains, in great detail, when and how to use various punctuation marks with numerous literary examples. She even provides a historical background for each of them! I was surprised to learn that George Bernard Shaw once campaigned to reform the spelling of the English language (most notably ‘bomb’ into ‘bom’, because, well, it just saves time!) and even to abolish the use of inverted commas and italics font for titles.

I’d thought I knew the difference between a colon and a semicolon, but after reading the twenty-nine-page chapter titled ‘Airs and Graces’, I learned that there was more to their story than I had originally thought. I did try teaching the colon and semicolon to my students once and immediately thought better of it, then swiftly removed the items from the syllabus. It’s one thing to say you understand the difference, it’s quite another to teach it. Well, I never tried again. One of the reasons Truss says people use for not mastering the colon and semicolon is that “The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man”, which literally made me laugh out loud and choke on my own saliva! And I definitely will be rereading that chapter again, more than once if I have to!

Punctuation has always fascinated me; I even campaigned to include punctuation worksheets and exercises for students during my time as an English panel-chairperson (though a somewhat short-lived role). It deeply frustrated and irritated me when students (and even my fellow colleagues, who were native speakers, mind you!) consistently misused you’re/ your, it’s/ its, they’re/ their and the like. I highly recommend this book to them!

Well, I tremendously enjoyed reading all about punctuation – the history, function and usage – and how important they are to language and communication. I will surely be paying close attention to punctuation from now on (not that I hadn’t already before). I did, at times, find Truss rather obnoxious and snobbish, arrogantly sitting on her high-horse while silently mocking or yelling at greengrocers, editors and a poor old pen-pal named Kerry-Anne. It can come off as either incredibly pretentious or utterly hilarious.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments.

Get the book here!