Thursday, November 30, 2006

Elina Ahlander

Last week while I was in Sandviken I wandered into the local public library to go online. There was some sort of public reading happening and in the interval, just as I was leaving, a girl began to sing with guitar and harmonica. The rather murky film clip does not do her justice, but I predict that sooner rather than later there will be more clips of this singer on youtube and various opportunities to download her music.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

This day last week we were taken to Högbo Recreation Area for the cosey cabin fika and for a tour of local craft workshops, which included a glassblower, a blacksmith and this exceptionally expressive ceramic dollmaker's studio.

Wesley circulated all the ARION participants with the draft report today, and I have just chatted with him on Skype. He has done a really good job with it and I was pleased to hear that he was able to add several distincitve items to his glass collection during his stopover in Stockholm.

It was announced tonight that several British Airways aircraft are contaminated with the radioactive poison that recently killed a Russion emigré. They were planes that flew between Heathrow and Moscow, but have subsequently been used for other routes, including Stockholm!

ABBA Museum & Adventure

Next time I go to Stockholm I will be able to visit an ABBA museum, according to this.

Interesting that on our return to the UK from Sweden, where there is so much emphaisis on out-of-doors education in all weathers, there should be a new initiative from the government (announced yesterday) aimed at bringing the adventure back into school. Alan Johnson, the education secretary, has said, "Learning outside the classroom should be at the heart of every school's curriculum and ethos. Educational visits and even outdoor classes in schools' own grounds bring learning to life, inspiring and motivating children to put their knowledge to the test and expand their minds.",,1957476,00.html

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fika Time

Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Still flooded with good memories of the week in Sweden. Here's a lowlight shot of Hasan in conversation with one of the IT team during a cosey lakeside cabin 'fika' session late in the afternoon with a flaming open fire.
I came acorss this useful list of educational-friendly Web 2.0 applications on Miles Berry's elgg blog today:

Jabber ( provides a way for schools to host their own instant messaging system, providing similar functionality to MSN messenger or AOL-IM, also allowing voice over IP.
SquirrelMail ( is just one of a number of web-based email clients, that with a mailserver ticking away in the background, can provide a service similar to GoogleMail. There are plug-ins available for spam and virus filtering.
MediaWiki ( is the software on which Wikipedia (and a whole host of other wikis) runs, allowing schools or local authorities to set up their own wikis, perhaps as a child friendly encyclopaedia or, at staff level, for policy documents and collaborative lesson planning.
Scuttle ( allows a school to host its own social bookmark collection like, and even replicates’s API so that browser plugins will work seamlessly with this too.
Gallery2 ( at it’s simplest lets a school host its digital photo collection online, but it also allows users to upload their own photos and comment on others photographs, providing much the same functionality as flickr, but letting the school retain full control of its images.
Elgg ( provides a whole host of key web 2.0 technologies, like blogging, e-portfolio space, RSS aggregation, folksonomy tagging, podcast hosting and feeds, and social networking.
Although Moodle ( doesn’t feel very Web 2.0, with teachers remaining firmly in control of course content, a number of modules provide Web 2.0 functionality within the integrated VLE, so for example there’s support for podcasts, RSS, wikis, blogs and folksonomy tagging, and Moodle’s Workshop module provides an effective way of managing peer assessment of students’ work.

MediaWiki, Scuttle and Gallery2 sound particularly interesting. As for Moodle and learning platforms, there's a local conference about them here in East Sussex on Thursday, but my colleague Dee is attending that.

Today I heard from Honken and Felix, and obtained Bostjan's email address from Agneta.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Report Writing

Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Bostjan from Slovenia, making a point during the drafting of the group's final report - Wes at the laptop.
Everyone back in their home countries now. I had emails today from Agneta, Mona, Ayleen and Antonio. Distributed a 2-sides-of-A4 memo summarising the week's experiences at today's staff meeting. Made contact with Tideway school in Newhaven, who are using Fronter, with a view to visiting them.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

At the airport, half an hour before take-off, using Sidewalk Express to go online to sift through ACHUKA email, so uploaded this picture of Wesley Jefferson, candle-dipping in the basement at the vITalen centre, Thursday evening. Wes is an IT adviser in Hillingdon.


On first part of homeward journey chuntering through forested Uppsala towards Arlanda airport alongside Manuel, Michaelina and Wesley.
Last night we all attended a performance by a local amateur woman's gospel choir who performed entertaining sketches with a European theme [very hard to give an accurate flavour of this event!] and then said our goodbyes.
What a good week it's been, with much to think about regarding learning portals plus their management, and the implementation of a digital frame of mind in the workplace.
It's also been a salutary example of the excellent IT that can take place with just a modest number of classroom workstations, no SmartBoard and no IT suite. We saw children routinely going to the computer to send email, participate in online conferences, update their personal digital archive or 'chat' with classmates working from home.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Last Day

Last night we were introduced to some traditional Swedish festivities. Some children sang to us in a candlelit St Lucia procession, and after a spell of candlemaking and a tour of the IT centre's sensory stimulation rooms we drank Julmust (a jind of spiced cola) and ate a special Swedish porridge or milk pudding [at least some of us did]. The evening was rounded off with a slideshow of photos taken in the nearby countryside at different times of the year.

This morning we heard from the IT admin whizzes responsible for realising Honker's vision of a fully digitallised community. They described the infrastructure of the network, database and connection protocols as they exist at the moment and then Honker told us where he hoped to get to in the next couple of years - users accessing individual portal pages, giving them one-touch connection to other information and services via portlets.

All extremely forward-looking and thought-provoking.

On the final afternoon we shared in a SPICE feedback session [it wasn't entirely clear what we were expected to contribute to this] before grouping up again to complete the first draft of our report.

Core Values

Fascinating guided tour of the Sandviken exhibition centre this afternoon. We were shown how Sandviken, the company, is a global business with factories and employees all over the world. Their business is steel and their products are used in every conceivable type of manufacturing, as well as in heavy-duty operations such as drilling and mining. The company's businessplan - as explained to us by Per-Hendrik Bergek, husband of Inga-Märit Bergek who spoke to us yesterday at the Vitalen IT Centre - is an interesting one. If they can't be either #1 or #2 in their field they get out. Hence, for example, they sold Sandviken tools about 6 years ago because they were only #5 in that market. Not an option for schools of course, but the business's three core values
Open Mind
Fair Play
Team Spirit
can certainly be applied to education generally, and many of them have been in good evidence all through this week.
The key features of an Open Mind as set out in the exhibition's audiovisual display - positive attitude to change; encouragement of new ideas; constantly renewing oursrlves - have been well exemplified by the Vitalen team and by large numbers working in the schools. It's interesting that there is acknowledgement that there are still some closed minds out there in schools, just as there are in all countries, but the attitude here seems to be that it is better to expend energy on the receptive rather than attempt to force the reluctant.
Perhaps sometimes in other countries either the pressures of a testing/assessment/inspection culture or the obligation to Fair Play [the second Sandviken business principle] encourages ICT leaders to expend too great a portion of their energies on closed minds [see earlier reference to common complaint of IT advisers].
Team Spirit is an obvious must-have and as remarked yesterday the Vitalen team has this in abundance. They act together as a team; they trust one another; they have a close relationship with teachers in schools [and as Honke indicated in his address this morning the relationship is one that exists irrespective of a headteacher's attitudes]; and there is indedstrong, but distributed, leadership.
The headteacher of the school we visited this morning said something we don't hear often enough at home. When asked how long the teachers spent in school he said that there was a set number of hours but he didn't check up. 'I've never got a good idea sitting at a desk,' he said. 'I get my ideas while i'm out walking or doing something practical. Teaching is an art - you have to give people space to get new ideas.'

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

The hotel is full now that members of the SPICE project have also arrived in Sandviken. This morning we joined them for a second school visit, half our group visiting one school and half another.

The school I was taken to is a medium-sized primary school of 220 children in the centre of the town. After a pleasant welcome of songs and tin whistle playing we started a tour of the classrooms.

The most immediately striking thing about the school was the adult-pupil ratio. In some classes there were three adults - all teachers - to as few as eighteen children. Some of these teachers were ´pre-school´ teachers and I am not usre that I have properly understood the term, as many of these were working alongside children of 10 years old.

The headteacher explained that the generous staffing levels were a consequence of the relatively high numbers of children from other countries in his school.

As far as evidence of digital competences was concerned, the practice was patchy, though it has to be said that the focus for the SPICE project is not IT and therefore there was no special effort being made by the school to demonstrate this. One ten-year old boy who had moved from England did say he used the computer much less in Sweden.

However, we saw children researching on Google and using email. And an Indian girl who showed us round was enthusiastic about the Conference forums and obviously participated in them.

The emphasis seems to be very much on children using IT as an enquiry and communication tool as required. Once again there were no interactive whiteboards in the school, though we were told one was on order.

Sandviken IT Centre

Sandviken IT Centre
Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Listening to presentations at Sandviken´s IT Centre - Michaelina from Italy in the foreground.

Antonio & Felix

Antonio & Felix
Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Two ARION colleagues from Spain.

Doing It Right

Yesterday we had a series of presentations from the team behind Sandviken's IT development strategy. Although there was a degree of disagreement about how transferrable in practice the model of organisation would be in the participants' home countries [the Spanish and Italian members seeming to think that social and cultural differences were particulaly favourable to Sandviken's success - a view which fails to take account of neighbouring Gavle's allegedly less advanced development], all ARION members did agree that the Sandviken team had done everything right from an early stage:
  • They started early - 1994 - and have not been in a hurry
  • There has been a charismatic visionary figure driving the programme forward, with a combination of humour and sound progressive pedagogy
  • Bureaucrats and politicians have been fully behind the initiative from the start, so that necessary funding has been forthcoming
  • Use of funds and deployment of budget has been determined by long-term vision
  • The IT leader has made a series of key and varied appointments to the team, showing a knack for identifying ideal motivators and innovators
  • The appointed group has continued to work as a team, maintaining their motivation and enthusiasm over a number of years, indicating that they have been sensitively led by their director, a quieter, more reserved character than the visionary forward-driver, but no less crucial a factor to the programme's success
  • They have selected software platforms wisely and made forward-thinking decisions regarding procurement, licensing and availability to schools
  • There has been an evident acknowlegement that success in ICT is dependent on a range of support mechanisms - technical, network, intranet, website, inset - and ample signs that such support has been actively available throughout the period 1994-2006
  • The email and conference platform FirstClass is being deployed in a planned and exceptionally well-managed way, leading to good levels of participation in the various forums - and there are 1.5 team members dedicated to developing just this element of the IT programme
  • They have forged effective partnerships with other services such as the public library
  • They provide a significant training course [24 hours delivered over 3 months] to all teachers coming to work in Sandviken
  • They have not been overly obsessed with hardware; indeed, the equipment levels observed have been modest compared with UK schools in regard to Smartboards for example

This mornng we visit another school, along with members of the SPICE group.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Daily Massage

Daily massage
Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Really interesting visit to Kungsgarden school yesterday. First of all we saw the youngest class in the school (where the course organiser, Mona Wiklander, works) learning to read and write JUST using computers. They did no handwriting with pencil and did not follow the usual letter by letter introduction to the alphabet but, with the help of speech-enabled sofware and capitalising upon the largely phonetic base of the Swedish language, they quickly progressed to producing lucid paragraphs of text that they could then read back. That in itself was impressive enough. Even more surprising was the fact that when they started to use handwriting the following year, the results were far neater than those of a control group who had started school with the traditional introduction to letter formation. The question is whether or not this radical approach to digital competence could be replicated in England, where formal schooling begins two years earlier.
In the afternoon we visited a class of older children and discovered how digital tools and competences were being utilised to enable distance learning. In this class of 10-12 year olds [years 5 - 7] students are allowed to elect to spend up to one day a week learning from home. On the day of our visit, six children were learning at home. We asked if the parents or any adults were there with them. The answer was almost certainly not, but that both school and home were comfortable with that. And all six of these were from the younger end of the class - in other words, Y5.
'FirstClass' is the software used as the backbone to the system, enabling constant contact between teacher, home learners and fellow pupils via online chat and email.
These radical approaches to the development and utilisation of digital competences are underpinned by the fact that the curriculum in Sandviken's schools is goal based, not content based. Yesterday we were shown the curriculum document - a thin pamphlet. The learning atmosphere in this older class was reminiscent of that generated by the best English schools more than twenty years ago, prior to the national curriculum, when independence and learning attitudes were more important than content.
We couldn't help but notice other admirable aspects of this school, not least the high professional competence and relish-of-their-work exhibited by the teachers, most of whom had been working at the school for many years.
There was also a remarkably relaxed attitude towards matters such as risk assessment. Two examples:
Every class at Kungsgarden spends a whole day each week no matter what the weather in the forest or by the lake, accompanied by just two members of staff [both teachers; there are no TA's in Sandviken schools].
The oldest class have weekly woodwork lessons in a workshop equipped with power tools. Enhancing this work is a project run by a group of local retired men, who take the children fishing, get them to design and make sheaths for knives, etc. We assumed that at least some of these retired folk were grandparents of the school-children. They are not, so we assumed that there was a need to carry out police checks, a notion responded to with a degree of bemusement which demonstrated the social divide between the uptight British scared-to-get-blamed culture and the much more relaxed Swedish approach.
A UK language assistant working at the school confirmed this, saying that when she first arrived she was amazed that various outside activities were undertaken [in all weathers] without any need for signed permissions from parents. She also pointed out another commendable feature of the Swedish education system: when children from other countries enter the school there is a legal obligation to provide them with ongoing teaching support for their native language, as well as the more expected 2nd language support in Swedish.
The standards of wriiten work achieved by the children in the two classes observed reflected the fact that Swedish children begin formal education two years later than English children. And yet the evidence suggests they catch up at secondary school; something which we hope to see demonstrated on one of our next visits.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Common Perspectives

It´s interesting sharing time with people in the advisory field of IT education and hear some of their common complaints and to note that they´re the same, in essence, from every country represented in the group. All of them have had a moan about a core group of users who simply do not develop beyond the rudimentary levels of IT expertise, no matter how many times they sign up for IT Basic Skills courses. Indeed, in areas of Spain where, after a number of years, passage to enhanced payscale is dependent on having undergone a specific number of hours of inset training - I recall it was 100 hours - they have actually banned people from repeatedly signing up for the lower level IT courses.
As far as our own experience at Hawkes Farm is concerned, I think this problem only applies in particular cases with particular individuals - a case in point being the use of digital cameras and images by TA´s, though I am hoping the recent session on Picasa will have helped in that regard.
The other complaint - and it has to be said this has been strongest from the two UK participants - is the tendency of advice and support to be focused on failing schools and ineffectual teachers, with the result that there is little time and effort spent on developing expertise and practice which is already innovative. That´s what interests me about the various projects under way in Bristol. Because it is a ´failing´area with poor test results, the government is pouring funds into projects in the hope that standards will be raised. Although the projects are focused on the failing schools and areas in the city authority, they are exciting enough to be a motivation for all.

We haven´t had much general discussion of learning platforms yet, although in Spain the drift seems to be towards using Linux and Moodle. Ayleen Driver is an enthusiastic proponent of Fronter - - a Scandinavian [Norwegian, not Swedish] product.

Yesterday we had a pub style lunch in a bar decked out cowboy style. Today we eat at the school we´re visiting. I´m working on the guest PC in the hotel foyer. Last night I went online to check email in the local public library, which is huge in relation to the size of the town. And very lively. There was some form of public reading happening. I was on the point of leaving when a local schoolgirl began singing with guitar and harmonica in the talk´s interval. She only played three songs, two in Swedish and one in English, but she was stunningly good. A Swedish star of the future, I´d say. Her name - Elina Ahlander.

Time for breakfast now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Back At The Hotel

Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Back at the hotel at the end of the first day, participants reflect on the various presentations - notice the sweets on the table.
Today, after a musical contribution from The Three T's (video file available in due course) we heard from members of the Sandviken ICT team and had short presentations from each member of the group.
Despite advance warning my .swf file proved difficult to play, which caused me some embarrassment.
Every one of the presentations was very different, both in tone and content, and it makes it easier now to imagine the participants in their roles back in their home country. I am particularly interested in the work of one of the other UK participants, Ayleen Driver who, as an IT leader in Bristol has several exciting projects under way, including one in which Y5 pupils are working with PDAs.
The afternoon also featured a local cultural visit to a historical house/museum with several rooms furnished as they would have been very many years ago.
The day also included several sessions of 'fika' (coffee and cookies) which Mona Wiklander, the organiser is determined should be the case every day, and a complimentary glass of Slovenian wine, provided by the Slovenian participant.
The Swedish keyboard is different in so many ways (you need to use CTR-ALT to get the @ symbol for example, and there are keys for ö and ä) so I am having to go back and correct errors as I type. There are bound to be lots I miss.
Early in the morning tomorrow - 7.45am - we set off to visit that school where children use no pen and paper, only computers. Lessons begin there at 8am.


Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

A sample of the wholesome breakfast I had yesterday morning before a day´s sightseeing in Stockholm. I was able to fit in a short cruise along the city´s waterways, a long stroll round the old town and a visit to both the modern and the classic art galleries.

Now I´m in Sandviken, about 70 miles norht of the capital. No snow here at the moment, though there are big piles of grubby stuff left over from the last heavy downfall.

The theme of this ARION visit is Digital Competences. I had a good example of that when I arrived at Stockholm Central Station os Saturday not knowing which way to walk to my hotel. I asked a couple of platform staff, who didn´t know either, but instead of saying Ásk someone else, mate´they walked me over to a streetmap which wasn´t much help since I only had the name of the hotel and not the address. So both of them promptly got out internet enabled mobile phones and began google mapping the name of the hotel. Its location being established one of them even walked me back to the station entrance and pointed me on my way. I wonder if Swedish visitors arriving at a London mainline station would receive such devoted assistance?
Met all my colleagues for the week last night. They´re from Spain, Slovenia, Italy and Turkey - and two others from the UK. All of them are advisers or work for education departments.
We have some interesting visits lined up, including to a school where even the youngest children use no pen and paper at all, just computers.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Originally uploaded by mthorn_hawkesfarm.

Essential gear for the week's trip

Friday, November 17, 2006


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.


Setting this Blog up principally for the ARION visit to Sweden.
I fly to Stockholm tomorrow, and then take the train to Sandviken on Sunday evening.