How should education be organized in an ideal world?

The basis for compulsory school education in Sweden goes back to 1842, but before that from 1723 it was the parents’ responsibility that all children learned how to read and write. The current school system has not changed much since the end of the 19:th century when the main motivation was that we needed an educated workforce for the factories as part of industrialization. I.e., the main motivation was not political in the sense that everybody should be educated, but rather financial, to support the industry. Since then, the school system has changed somewhat in how it is organized, e.g., responsibility moved from state to city level and we have many more schools and universities, but the educational format itself is still the same. In the end, it is just a group of children sitting together in the classroom and learning a specific subject at a specific time. 

How could education instead be organized? Do we need to put every child/student in a specific group based on age even though we know what people and specifically children learn at different rates? There has also been talk about using modern technical tools in education for a long time and some progress is made, but here it is mostly a question of moving the learning material from physical to digital format. In the end, it comes down to: What is the motivation for learning from a societal perspective?

In an ideal world, everybody should learn everything they need to live a successful and prosperous life in a modern society, but unfortunately not everyone is motivated by the same things and can not learn at the same pace. 

Right now, there is a big push in Sweden for life-long learning mainly motivated by new growing base industries like modern iron/steel-production and battery factories for electrical vehicles. These are mostly industry jobs with specific requirements and do not always fully match available educational programs. Instead, special cases with MOOCs and specific short programs are created by universities, but the main educational effort is still on the classical education. 

The educational system overall needs to be refined/changed to support a life-long learning thinking where the learners are not finished learning at the stage they end their learning at. Most see a person that has finished a program at university level to be “finished”. Changes could include the following:

  • Compulsory learning time for everybody every year. In Sweden we have compulsory vacation, which the employer must pay and why not use the same principle for learning where we all get 2-4 weeks paid learning time.
  • Educational financing at university level should be shifted to include more of the life-long perspective and not only focus on basic educational programs. 
  • On compulsory level (year 1-9) followed by secondary school, the learning should be more integrated where several subjects could be read together and with shifting learning groups where the classical class is removed (we need to think about the social impact though).
  • The school system should utilize technical tools to support the learners where technology is used to identify learning levels and learning motivation and adapt both the curriculum per student and the learning system itself. The tools would provide clear and direct feedback to the learner and help the learn more and finally help them get more motivated to continue to learn.  

So, why is change so slow or non-existent in the school system? How can we make something happen?

/Peter Parnes 

What makes a good school? Is it the teachers?

When I look back on my childhood education, I cannot really say much about the school itself. Most of the things I remember relate to other children and not at all to what I learned (children can be cruel). 

I do remember a few things though and they all relate to making me as a student be seen and recognizing me as an individual and not as just one among many. When I was in lower grade school (age 7-9), I would come early to school before all the other children and stand outside the window of my classroom until the teacher (she was there early preparing each morning) saw me and invited me into the classroom where I usually did math calculations. I do not remember anything we talked about or even who she was (I wonder if she still is alive and if she would remember me?). 

Another memory is from the final years in compulsory school (age 13-15). We had a big drive in Sweden for computing in school and just like Bill Gates (as mentioned in an earlier part of this course) I had access to my own room of computers (as the teachers did not know how to use them). Ps. Did you know that Sweden invented its own computer, called Compis just for learning in schools? Anyhow, I and another student got our own key to the computer room, and we could spend as much free time as we like in there. This together with having two parents working with computers (this was in the 80s) cemented my interest in learning programming. What has this to do with if it was a good school or not? Well, I think it was a question of trust where the teacher trusted us with our own key and that we would not break anything. 

If we take this to my own students (I am professor in computer science and I teach mostly software engineering in larger projects on advanced level) at Luleå University of Technology, I think a key part of making a good school (university in this case) is to make the students be seen and not just see the students as a big mass of bodies. I try to connect with as many as I can, and I do this by engaging early with them. E.g., I do guest lectures for our new students, meet many of them before they even come to university as part of recruitment events, I engage in their online channels (earlier Facebook and now Discord) where I try to help when I can. 

I have also experimented with several different efforts to help and support the students. I started a mentorship program for first year students where the students were divided up into groups of about 5 and got assigned to another engaged teacher for regular meetings outside of their normal schedule. This was fully voluntary for the students and the idea was to support those that needed it with not only schoolwork but also with social issues. The outcome was not that good as it in the end turned out that those students that needed the extra help did not show up for the meetings. 

Another effort that is much more successful and is still ongoing, is my project #include with the goal to support our female students within the CS area and help them continue and conclude the studies. This started in 2014 and we have done many events together, like social dinners, study evenings, mentorship programs, alumni gatherings and just creating a feeling of togetherness to support them during their time at the university.     

To conclude, I think it is important to make the students be seen but at the same time we have reality around us. We as teachers have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of energy to spend on our work. At university level it is a bit different from compulsory and secondary school level, where I am just a part time teacher while others are full time teachers. Around us we all have budget issues, teachers moving between jobs (and many leaving the teachers jobs all together), other mean students and it might be hard to get a continuation as a student with just one teacher. 

So, what makes a good school comes back to what makes a good teacher. Without good teachers, we cannot have good schools. This is an ongoing process where we as teachers must make an extra effort and help the students be seen. It is our responsibility to make that extra effort to make the student be seen!

/Peter, just another teacher trying to do his best. 

What makes a teacher good?

When I look back on my own education, a couple teachers come to my mind as being “great”. 

The first example is my technology teacher in secondary school (1988-1990). He was not an educated teacher, but rather a construction engineer originally. He introduced me to the notion of not learning everything by heart, but rather we were allowed to bring everything we wanted to the tests. This was before the Internet was generally available in schools, so we had to think about what books, notes etc., we wanted to bring to the tests which in turn was a way of reflecting on our own learning which is a key part of the learning. 

Another example is my algorithms teacher during my master’s education (around 1992). This teacher was very charismatic and impressed us by never preparing his lectures, or at least he made it look like he never prepared. He came into the lecture hall, asked us which chapter we were currently reading, looked in the book for 10 seconds, closed it and then held a 2*45 min lecture by just speaking and writing on the blackboard. This impressed me as it showed that he really knew his subject. After all, he was a professor in algorithms so he should know the subject. 

So, what makes a teacher good? Here are a few things. 

  1. See and listen to the students. Take care in trying to understand what the students have trouble learning and then try to explain just that. 
  2. Show that you care. Tightly connected to point 1, but more about the emotions. Show that you want the student to learn, but also that you can be stern when needed. 
  3. Never ever lower the learning criteria. We can change much in our learning and teaching style, but we should never ever lower the criteria for passing. Students do not want to just pass, but rather see that they have accomplished something. 
  4. Pay attention to the details. Show respect to your students by not giving them material with a lot of errors. This includes everything, the learning material in the LMS, lecture notes, what you say and most importantly in the course planning. If you show the students respect through your work, then you will most likely get respect and good results back. 
  5. Connect theory to practice. Do not just give facts and theories but also connect it to real life by showing real examples that the students can connect to and by that motivate why they should be learning the subject in question in the first place. 
  6. Get the students to ask the right questions and get them to reflect on their learning. Why is a certain thing, the way it is? What did I just learn by doing this assignment? By reflection and questioning, the student can generalize and take their own learning to the next level.  

These are just a few things that can be said about what makes a teacher good. That do you think makes a teacher good? 

/Peter Parnes, a learner for life. 

Do we have to have an above average intelligence to be good learners and what is intelligence?

When I was around 16 in secondary school in Sweden, it was very popular to test one’s IQ by doing logical IQ tests. We found several books with tests in the library and soon we realized that the more tests we did, the higher IQ we got. I.e., we trained on tests and then we “competed” with others in the school and scored very good. This made me question these IQ tests and I am still very skeptical of the results from them. Instead, I like the idea of looking at intelligence from the perspective of being able to solve problems via abstraction and generalization. I.e., how to take acquired knowledge to new domains. 

In the Swedish school system, until 1994 the mathematics subject was divided up into a common and an advanced group. I was in the advanced group initially and during my final year (9:th grade) they made an advanced-advanced group with about 5-6 members which taught even more advanced math at secondary school level. Even though this was about 35 years ago, I still remember these sessions because they gave me a huge confidence boost. I have for many years argued that we should bring this system back as many children are not challenged in the mathematics subject. Should we help boost the confidence of these children and what does it do to the children in the common group? 

When I was young, I was always pushed to study and my mother and relatives, and friends of the family pushed me to study hard. Not studying at university was out of the question. At least for them. I especially remember one time when my mother asked me why I only got 49 out of 50 on a test. I took that rather negatively then but now looking back I remember it more as a joke, so I guess it did not do much damage and instead it has become a standard joke with my own children (21 and 15). 

I see myself as a very good learner. I have trained all my life to learn new things and I really love learning. What has changed over the years is how I gather information and build up knowledge. When I was young, books were the predominant form but these days, I have a really hard time reading a non-fiction book from cover-to-cover. My mind always triggers on various details, and I go off to check or expand on that thought which leads to new interesting things to read. Instead, the approach I like to take to learning is to look at problems and find the information and knowledge needed to solve that problem as a combination of all available sources (not only written text). I see myself as a good learner as I tend to be very fast in my learning, and I very quickly understand new things (technical and otherwise). 

Too conclude, I want to say: “A day that you haven’t learned something new is a day wasted.”  – Prof. Peter Parnes (that is me!)

How do we Learn?

I am currently taking a course at Coursera called What future for Learning and I thought I would share some reflections. Here is the first text.

How do we Learn? 

How we learn and how we teachers should support this learning for students has been in my mind for a long time. I have been a teacher at university level for 26 years and my personal teaching methods have changed a lot over the years. 

How much time should we spend on summative vs formative examination? I teach mainly advanced project courses and here a combination of both is very good. The students get assignments where they must reflect on their learning during the course, learn from each other via continuous group presentations and peer reviews of each other’s writings together with verbal presentations in the middle and the end of the course and a written report at the end. At the same time, I am often a guest lecturer in other courses and here I get asked to give the other teacher quiz questions for the final examination and I find this tough. Creating good quiz questions is hard. E.g., it should not be something the student could just easily search for on the Internet but rather be a question that triggers reflection and thought and this is something I would much rather do via a written assignment.  

One pedagogical idea is that the students should get variation in their learning. There is no template for learning that suits all, neither teachers nor students. As a teacher, I want the students to reflect on their learning and go back and see if they could have solved a task differently. 

In this first part of the course, What Future for Education the key things I take with me is how the course and assignments are set up. Already in this first week, we as students get a high variation in tasks and how the material is presented. There are videos but also transcripts if I prefer to read instead (even if the transcripts are not perfect unfortunately). There is a longer text as well as other students writing via the Paddlet and forum. All this helps me learn via variation and triggers me to reflect as the material is just not one big homogeneous mass. 

Finally, I reflect that for me personally as a student the most attractive way of learning is that I can do it anywhere thanks to “modern” tools. These days, I have a really hard time learning from books (the old, printed type) but rather, I want to have different resources with me electronically. E.g., if I am waiting somewhere, then I can take 5-10 min to read, watch or listen to something or write something in a journal (electronically of course). Learning should be possible to be done anywhere and anytime. How does this rhyme with today’s school system where students are supposed to learn a specific thing at a specific time and at a specific place? 

Recept: Peters Surdegspizza i Ooni-ugn

Här är mitt recept på surdegspizza i Onni-ugnen. Jag använder en Karu 16 med gas och extra lucka fram för att få extra hög värme.

Ingredienser till 4 pizzor

  • 100-250g aktiv surdeg (jag kör lika mycket surdeg till 8 pizzor också för det blir så mycket med 2dl matning).
  • 410g ljummet vatten – Har kan ni prova att öka till 420 eller 430 men det ger en lite mer svårarbetad deg när pizzan ska formas.
  • 530g Tipo00 vetemjöl
  • 16g gott salt
  • 16g god olivolja

Gör degen

  1. Blanda ut surdegen i vattnet.
  2. Blanda i mjölet. Degen kommer att vara ganska lös.
  3. Låt vila 30min.
  4. Tillsätt salt och olja och blanda ihop tills du inte ser/känner saltet längre.
  5. Låt vila 45 min. Vik ihop degen ca 4 gånger. Upprepa 3-4 gånger.
  6. Ställ i kylen och låt vila 24h.
  7. Ta ut degen och dela i 4 klumpar på 250-260g (väg hela degen och dela på 4 för rätt mått). Dreva ihop klumparna till fina runda degbollar och lägg i burkar. Strö lite mjöl ovanpå. Det gör inget om de rör varandra i burken.
  8. Ställ i kylen och låt vila 24h.

Gör pizzor

  1. Koka en tomatsås på hela tomater på burk. Smaksätt med basilika, salt, svartpeppar och vad du nu gillar. Reducera den så den blir ganska torr. Blöt sås gör det svårare att grädda pizzan.
  2. Sätt på Ooni-ugnen. Den ska värma minst 15 min och vara 400+ i mitten på stenen.
  3. På en mjölad bänk ta ut en degklump och tryck ut den med händerna med fingrarna på båda händerna formade till ett v. Vänd på degen flera gånger. Låt gravitationen hjälpa dig genom att lägga den på knogarna en kort stund.
  4. Lägg mannagryn på en träspade. Borsta av degen med en mjuk borste. och försök borta av undersidan också genom att vända pizzan.
  5. Lägg pizzan på spaden och kolla att den rör sig fritt genom att skada på spaden lätt. Om den inte rör sig så lyft lätt blås för att den ska lossna. Häll dit lite mer mannagryn.
  6. Dags för påläggen. Låt inte pizzan ligga efter du börjat lägga dit såsen för då blir det svårare att grädda.
  7. Smeta ut tomatsåsen med en sked.
  8. Lägg på riven ost.
  9. Lägg på topping efter smak. Se nedan. Obs inte för mycket.
  10. Låt pizzan glida in i ugnen och vänd den flera gånger. Jag brukar ta ut hela pizzan med en metallspade och vrida den med handen och sedan stoppa in den igen. Kanten ska växa och få precis lagom mycket färg.
  11. Plocka ut och servera direkt! Njut!

Förslag på topping

  • Tomatsås, riven ost, mozzarella, en skvätt olivolja och lägg på basilika efter gräddning
  • Tomatsås, riven ost, lök, grön paprika, bacon
  • Crème fraiche eller fast yoghurt, salt, peppar, tunt skivat päron
  • Tomatsås, riven ost, skivad zucchini
  • Tomatsås, riven ost, skinka, ananas
  • Tomatsås, riven ost, tunt skivad lök, en god salami i tunna skivor, peperoni (Fontanas starka på burk är bra).
  • Tomatsås, riven ost, soltorkad tomat, peperoni och en skiva tomat i mitten.
  • Fast yoghurt, färsk rabarber i småbitar, socker eller sötströ – grädda och ät kall.
  • Etc. etc. etc. experimentera själv!