Imagine a place in which…

  • Every child has a constitutional right to a free education in accordance with their ability and special needs, and in which equity is a central premise of the education system.
  • Both mothers and fathers receive many months of paid leave when they have a baby, adding up to about a full year of time between the two.
  • Free, universal education and care are available to all children from age 1 until they start formal education, with preschool teachers who are well trained to support each child’s social, cognitive, linguistic and physical development.
  • Teaching is a high-status profession, with every teacher having a master’s degree from a rigorous program in a research university that accepts only 10%-15% of those who apply to the teacher education program.
  • There are no teacher shortages and 90% of teachers remain in the profession for the duration of their careers.
  • Teachers, schools, and local education agencies have autonomy for the curriculum and pedagogy, within very broad guidelines set nationally.
  • Teachers are treated as professionals and are expected to work collaboratively with their peers and to foster collaboration among their students. Value-added measures of teacher performance are unheard of and don’t make any sense.
  • Meals and transportation are provided for all students at no cost to their families; there are no distinctions like free-and-reduced-lunch-eligible made among students.
  • Assessment is ongoing and used to guide students learning, without any high-stakes standardized testing until the end of secondary education at age 16.
  • Compulsory education ends at age 16 but 90% of students continue their education, choosing either a general education to prepare for college or a vocational pathway to prepare to enter the workforce. Both the general and vocational tracks can lead to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
  • Education is free at all levels, from pre-primary to higher education, all the way through to Doctoral degrees.
  • While students spend less time in school and engaged in homework than in most countries, their performance on international comparisons, specifically the PISA assessments, is very high.
  • The education system is based on trust and responsibility at all levels, including trust in students to be active and engaged learners.

No need to imagine, just go visit schools and meet with students, teachers, principals, and leaders at the National Agency for Education and in Parliament in Finland, as I had the privilege to do as a member of the CoSN delegation.  An eye-opening trip showing how a system based upon very different premises than ours in the U.S. can succeed, and thereby encouraging us to reconsider how our education system needs to change to prepare our students for the global digital-age world in which they live.

How much is pedagogy, how much culture?

I was about to post right after our first day in Finland but hesitated because the two observations I  was noting seemed to have some obvious link that was eluding my tired brain.  I’m glad I did because first thing next morning Olli-Pekka Heinonen, General Director, Finnish National Agency for Education, made the link for me.

The two anecdotes, from our visit to Olari High School, were:

1-We met with a group of obviously very successful and enthusiastic high school teachers.  They told us they sought student input on how they taught and what projects were pursued.  When we asked them how they as teachers were assessed, they looked at one another confused, and finally said they weren’t.  They finally did note  that from time to time  they met with the principal to review how things were going, but that was the extent of “assessment.”   If clear problems arose they were addressed, but no regular system of teacher accountability existed.

2-We were also fortunate to run into a rather reflective student who had spent the past year as an exchange student in Des Moines Iowa.   His exchange year in the US was at the same level as his previous year in Finland. So he was returning for his final year after his classmates had already graduated.  On one hand, he said he was struck by just how similar what he was studying in Iowa was to what he had previously studied in Finland.  On the other hand, he noted, a very different approach by his teachers in the two countries.  His US teachers were more directional and on top of how each student was learning.  His Finnish teachers treated students as empowered and independent.    His conclusion was that Finnish teachers were very good at challenging students to be responsible and autonomous, but that hid US teachers probably saved some kids from falling between the cracks.  He conceded he probably was the kind of student who benefitted from a bit of prodding from his US teachers.  ( I must admit his capacity for candid self-reflection did seem part of his Finnish education)

General Director  Heinonen’s presentation focused on the missing link in these two anecdotes and the glue that holds the whole Finnish system together-trust. The national government trusts municipalities to run good schools and meet national curricular goals, but how they do it is up to them. Municipalities trust principals to run schools effectively and don’t intervene unless a major problem arises. Principals trust teachers to have autonomy in their classrooms, and perhaps most importantly, teacher challenge students to be partners in the learning process and to take responsibility for their own education and academic achievement.

While all this  has deep pedagogical implications, its roots probably lie in cultural perspective.  Finland relies on trust.  The US just as deeply believes in measurable accountability. (My personal bias is that at times in the US we believe the wrong indicators are better than none, and that measurement is always the path to improvement.)  These approaches reflect the populations and expectations of their societies.  On the other hand, it seems  that both cultures could gain from flexing a bit out of their comfort zones and  learning from one another.

Finland Curriculum Reform: School as a Learning Community

Today the CoSN International Delegation visited the Finnish National Agency for Education to learn about the design and implementation of the new Finnish Curriculum Reform 2016. Ms. Gun Oker-Blom, Director at the Finnish Department of Education, shared the history, process and goals of Finland’s latest curriculum reform movement. The renewal process involved all stakeholders, particularly education providers and education personnel. Parents and students were also encouraged to participate in the curriculum redesign process.
At the core of the Finnish Curriculum Reform 2016 is the overarching concept that school is a learning community. The model of school as a learning community is supported by four guiding principles:
1. The Changing Role of Students
The expectation is that students work together and actively participate in exploratory and creative learning.
2. The Changing Role of Teachers and Teaching
Learning is the essential concept behind the work of every teacher.
Teachers work together and build learning entities (communities).
3. The World of Change
Essential elements of our changing world, including the environment, globalization, the economy, the world of work, technology and the diversity of society, are all viewed through the lens of the impact on children’s environment.
4. The Changing Concepts of Learning and Competence
In designing a new curriculum for all Finnish children there was an understanding that the new curriculum must be “wide and transversal, ethical, and sustainable”. There is a strong emphasis on interaction, learning to learn, and ultimately working with knowledge.

Expectations and Impressions – Making Connections to Norwegian Education

Having first hand on knowledge of education in varied countries from past delegations and global interactions, the high rankings and excellent regard for the education systems of Norway and Finland along with my own District’s ongoing academic redesign work, were key drivers for my participation in the current delegation. This being said, learning about innovative policies and implementation approaches to ICT (EdTech) in schools, while also gaining insight into the larger industry and workforce development efforts of the countries is an essential aspect of understanding the overall learning ecosystem. Although it was certainly not a given that expectations for what I wanted to learn would indeed be met and while our time in Oslo has come to an end, we still have much more to experience in Helsinki, Finland.

As I arrived in Oslo seeking to increase my understanding of the use of ICT and curriculum integration for enhanced learning in Norway, my hope was to observe teachers and students in action, while discussing policy and practice with Norwegian leaders. At the same time, I am seeking to better understand instructional and support differences between Norway and the U.S., specifically Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh where we have been seeking to Remake Learning. Remake Learning Logo GraphicWhile gaining insight into the depth and breadth of the developing skills and knowledge students must master as we prepare them to live and work in the 4th industrial revolution, this is clearly a very lofty goal that cannot be fully accomplished during a relatively short visit.

In thinking about similarities to Pittsburgh’s journey to remake learning, the delegation began with a visit to the Elvebakken Upper Secondary School, which in 2006 was experiencing some achievement struggles. It was these struggles that led decision-makers to move to the school to a merit based admission system for both its general and vocational studies programs. Today the school is very popular and its stated goal to “be the best school for each student” in combination with a culture of “Yes” when it comes to having student voice and choice in learning, has led to increased achievement. It is this aspect of student voice and choice, which resonated with me as my own District has been working toward increased personalized learning, as have others in our region through thePittsburgh Personalized Learning Network twitter profile Pittsburgh Personalized Learning Network. In implementing personalized learning, it is clear that it works better when students are motivated to be in the school, but at the same time the Norwegian system starts preparing students at an early age for this level of autonomy through its limited use of grades in favor of focusing on active project based learning in combination with student formative assessment. One difference with the Elvebakken skole was that they require students to collaborate in groups of four on all work, and the students we spoke with concurred that it can be difficult at times, but they have gotten used to working like this and find that it does help them. Coincidentally, I just read the Hechinger Report, about a recent study that says “working in a group might be the best way to help kids meet individual goals”.

Emphasis on formative assessment was further visible during our visit to the Teglverket skole, where more traditional approaches to learning are now being expanded through the integration of instructional technologies, ICT and digital skills development. From my high-level view of the Norwegian approach, it appears that it is their focus on formative learning in combination with collaborative and active project based learning that may be a key to some of their success. Understanding this, the principal of the school, while citing the work of Fullan, Hattie, Robinson, Directorate research and others, explained how they have focused their EdTech initiatives on hands on learning and digital tasks that help students to demonstrate deeper knowledge and understanding while also balancing screen time with other active approaches.Photo of 4 chairs by Ed McKaveney Additionally to further ensure teacher and student interaction, books were purchased for specific courses, but they are kept in the library for loan, to emphasize that the textbook is a resource, not the curriculum, and it further helps to keep the teacher focused on the individual child, not the text. Teachers are then given time to plan with each other, while being encouraged to seek out other resources and tools in support of learning.

Photo of Morten Søby by Ed McKaveney

While not carried out the same in every school, our meetings with the Norwegian Directorate of Education confirmed that the approaches to collaboration and formative assessment without assigning grades essentially until 8th grade, and the steady shift toward developing digital skills alongside reading, writing and numeracy are considered basic skills to be at the core of all subjects. As the Directorate presented the Norwegian Professional Digital Competence Framework for teachers and the New Curriculum 2020, that will soon be introduced to schools. To this end, the new curriculum defines competence as the ability to acquire, apply and use knowledge and skills to manage challenges and solve tasks in familiar and unfamiliar situations, in a way that implies understanding and ability for reflection and critical thinking. With this, it is clear that Norway is seeking to maintain its successes, while also shifting learning to better prepare students for the uncertain future of work.

Education in Norway– A crash course

This post is short and will provide just a couple of the topics that we have been learning about and discussing. The last few days have been busy, we visited a secondary school and met the most impressive young people here in Oslo. We also visited a fairly new elementary school where collaboration between staff is a key focus.

Today we got to see how the US and Norwegian Education Systems are set up.  It is fascinating to learn about different approaches to education and hear about the successes and challenges.  Below is a screen shot to quickly show some how the two systems stack up.

norwegian and us education


There is so much for us at each stop for us to learn.  Everyone we meet here is willing to share and listen and want to learn from us and discuss what they are doing.  For example there has been a lively discussion about computational thinkers and what this means.  Our hosts in Norway have given this a lot of thought and discussions around a common definitions have been thought provoking.  Below is a picture of the poster that illustrates some of this discussion.

Comptational thinker

More blogs  and photos are coming…..


What if educational technology leaders didn’t talk about technology?

Today, we listened to a brilliant primary school principal speak articulately about pedagogy, instructional design, school culture, educational research, and ways in which she is implementing these in her award-winning neighborhood school in Oslo. Referencing Michael Fullan, John Hattie, John Dewey, and several Norwegian researchers I’ll need to look up, she stated that her school’s goal was to prepare students for the world they will inherit when they graduate, not the world of the today.


Matching walk with her talk, she shared how she took textbooks away from students and teachers and asked learners (and educators) to instead build their own knowledge through collaborative learning, online research and inquiry, and authentic student work. They happened to use iPads, but that wasn’t the headline. In fact, she said she intentionally didn’t seek distinguished or certified status for their use of various technologies. Where there would be a Microsoft or Apple banner was instead student artwork. We toured her school and visited the library, the student kitchen, and a makerspace. There was at least as many analog learning tools as digital ones.


As part of the CoSN international delegation to Norway and Finland, my current peer group includes both IT and educational technology leaders. To date, most of our discussions have not been about devices, digital tools, or online services. We have instead discussed student learning standards, the professional learning of educators, organizational change, and emerging innovations such as computational thinking. Our background reading/viewing has been Andreas Schleicher (of PISA fame), not Guy Kawasaki.

I was frankly afraid that we would spend our time comparing notes about all the shiny digital things or about how we managed them. Instead, we have had edgy discussions about the perceived impact of immigration on schools: seeking more exact definitions of computational thinking vs. programming; and examining U.S. schools and education through the prism of Nordic crystal.

We have only begun our week together, but I’m pleased that we are leading with questions about learning rather than questions about technology. As our Norwegian friends are modeling for us, this is what we should be talking about in the first place.

Baerum large-scale one-to-one

Yesterday our delegation heard an interesting update on Baerum schools by Christian Sørbye Larsen.  Baerum schools was one of the first large deployments of one-to-one technology (iPads and tablets) in Norway. The effort started in 2015 in five schools, and by this year they have 19,000 iPads deployed.

Larsen summarized what they have learned as:

  • Leverage learning and minimizing social differences of students
  • This is about cultural change
  • Key to success is good leadership
  • Promote and emphasize on 21st Century skills
  • Must be used to amplify, fortify and magnify learning
  • Use to motivate students
  • Prepare them for an uncertain future
  • Create future taxpayers – too many youth on social services and it is not sustainable.

From my perspective, I would summarize that you have to start with the Why for a successful technology.  You have to have leadership that has a clear vision for this effort, and it must start with learning, not the technology.  And, ultimately you have to create a culture for innovation.

baerumI was struck by the final bullet about creating future taxpayers.  Probably not the language we would use, but the point is that we need to ensure that students are ready to live and work in the 4th Industrial Revolution.  That new era of work will be driven by Artificial Intelligence/smart machines.