It had taken a year of planning, numerous Skype meetings and collaborative application form writing, but we had finally arrived in Norrkoping, Sweden to meet educators from Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Co-think is an Erasmus + KA2 project exploring inclusive practices in teaching computational thinking to primary school children. As part of the project Danish, Swedish, Finnish, British and Dutch children will take part in simultaneous hackathons and their teachers will have the opportunity to share practice and co-deliver computer science lessons across the 5 countries.
Norrkoping is an attractive ex-industrial city in southern Sweden. We were hosted by Ektorpsringen Primary School and the municipality of Norrköping.
During the visit we learned how the 5 European countries are approaching the drive to put computer science and computational thinking at the heart of primary education. Finland, the UK and Sweden have made computational thinking an explicit part of their national or local curricula, whilst Denmark and the Netherlands value and teach the approach without it being compulsory. During the two days of our this first transnational meeting we explored links between growth mindset and computational thinking and identified practices supporting girls into computer science. We looked at data showing the decline in female students studying computer science and technology-based subjects in higher education. We discussed why in rich countries, there are such big socioeconomic, ethnicity and gender gaps in studying computer science based subjects.
Our time at Ektorpsringen school highlighted some interesting cultural, pedagogical and linguistic differences between the English and Swedish education systems. Although our meetings were conducted in English, we were struck by the effect language might play on teachers’ understanding of their role. In Swedish there is little distinction between the words for ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’. ‘Lära ut’ – literally learning out means teaching and ‘Lära sig’ – means to learn or to teach oneself.
Some of the things we noticed about the Swedish school were:
- There was no fence around the school.
- The atmosphere was open and trusting.
- Children don’t wear a uniform and wear socks indoors.
- There were fewer display materials and fewer resources than in English primary schools. Facilities included a Lego room and professionally equipped textiles and design technology rooms
- Class sizes were smaller – only 20 to 24 children
- The timetable is relaxed
- The Edu-care after school care system integrates better with the school day
- Children work a lot fromtextbooks.
- Teachers work 35 hours in school, 10 at home or school
- Teachers have communal offices to do their planning and in as well as desks in their classrooms
Top left: Children don’t wear shoes in school.
Top right: the school’s facilities were impressive; a design and technology workshop, craft and textiles workshops and a theatre.
Bottom right: Rowan Roberts, London CLC’s computer science specialist teaching and learning consultant with Luke Parker, assistant headteacher at Hitherfield Primary School, Lambeth.
Bottom left: Rowan feeding back at our gender and computer science workshop.
Luke, Assistant headteacher from Hitherfield Primary who is partnering with us for the Co-think project, had an fascinating discussion with some Swedish teachers who asked searching questions about the English education system. They expressed concerns about our strict testing culture, use of data and inspections, about school uniform, large class sizes and teaching children to read so young. But they did perceive that we are good at teaching maths and using resources. One particular question resonated;
‘Why do you test them so much? Don’t the teachers know the children?’