Learning for working

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Angelika greets us this morning from the Oberstufenzentrum – Kommunikations, Informations und Medientechnik. The OSZ is a gymnasium offering more career focused education and vocational subjects. It is clear from a tour of the school that they focus on media, with more media equipment than I would expect to find in a TV studio! The school has both full vocational and dual students and offer the university exam, the Arbitur.

Media equipment

We start with Angelika introducing three students from the school aged 25, 23 and 18.  Most schools like this have a small percentage of mature age students.  The first student talks of how he didn’t identify with his first attempt at a Gymnasium and much prefers the opportunity to have lots of options.  The second student, who has returned to study after being musician (he had recently had a top ten hit in Germany).  He enjoys the project based learning which occurs.

Around the school

Angelika and the students talk a lot about behaviour and how much time is dedicated to managing it.  Sitting in the middle of a deprived district of Berlin it is known for difficult students.  They do a  lot of work on setting rules and expectations, getting to class on time and creating a working climate.  Walking around the school it certainly doesn’t feel like a place that needs working on culture and students seem engaged. When we walk into an editing class, students are working in groups on a project and are assisting each other on their work. The equipment in the room is well planned so they can work in pairs or small groups but still have access to everything they might need.

Striking Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today we arrive at the Robert Junke Oberschule, an integrated Secondary School (ISS) named after the Austrian writer of nuclear weapons.  This school, which is an integrated version of the Hauptschule, Gesamtschule, and Realschule offers vocational classes such as woodwork, metalwork, textiles and home economics as well as basic education such as German, English and Physics.

Art seen inside Robert Junk Oberschule

The interest for us in today’s visit was not only about the school but the fact that our visit fell on a strike day.  In Berlin there are two types of teachers, the public servant teachers and the contracted teacher.  Historically there had been a deal made with teachers that they could be seen as public servants, have job security, good pensions and better pay if they agreed not to strike.  More recently teachers who have been employed do not have these luxuries or securities and were therefore striking to get more even benefits.  Interestingly those who striked were reimbursed for their day’s wages by the union which they pay €30 a month.  It was also interesting to see a strike so close to an election but as in Australian, schools are controlled by the Länder (Similar to our State Government) and this is who they were striking against.

Unfortunately, due to the strike we didn’t get to see any classrooms and work with the students, but it was interesting to hear about the work they did with bilingual learning at the school. Students have an opportunity to take all of their classes in Polish or German and can choose to take their exams in either language. The school of 950 is well known in Berlin for its Polish program with some students travelling an hour to school each day.

Images of the school

In Berlin there is free choice of schools so it is important for schools to offer something above and beyond..  For the Robert Junke Oberschule their intake each year is made up of 60% of those students with the best marks, 10% of students who have special considerations for attending a particular school (which sounds a little like vouchers but they rarely take any students in this scenario) and 20% are chosen from a hat. There are minimum grades required to come to the school with 1 being the highest score and 6 the lowest.  Robert Junke sit at 2.6 putting it in the higher range.

We heard from Thomas, the principal about class sizes. He made mention of Hattie’s research, which was not the first time it had been mentioned in Berlin or Copenhagen.  Although Thomas took a different view and was disgusted with Hattie’s research suggesting class sizes don’t matter.  He is determined to have smaller class size. For some in our group they were surprised to hear of Hattie’s popularity in Germany but Thomas explains he is so well known in Germany because everyone can take something from his data, policy writers can say the money doesn’t make a difference but teachers can use it to say they are important in education.

Once again there is very little technology seen in the schools.  The teachers do not know how to use the technology so they don’t bother with spending the money. Thomas believes in putting money into student well being instead and shows us the rooms they have created for students to rest and relax.

Student rest and relaxation room

Our afternoon visit today was to the Technology University Berlin where Dr Stefan Wolf spoke to us about the vocational stream in Germany.  The Dual system of Germany is world renowned for its comprehensive education of basic skills as well as in company training.  Students study German, English, Maths, Political Science and then subjects from their learning field.  With the very low youth unemployment rate in Germany it has been seen as a huge success although Stefan was skeptical of the system due to the difficulty in getting companies to take on apprentice students where only 20% of companies offer an apprenticeship. “It is a policy not in real practice.”

Stefan said it was not an expectation that apprentices stay on with their company when they finish their apprenticeship. It fact it is rare for this happen and most apprentices find a full time job for another company.

Welcome to Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

We were welcomed to Berlin by the Peter Petersen UNESCO school.  This school had always taken the Peter Petersen name but had worked as any other school in Berlin.  It wasn’t until the centenary of the death Peter Petersen in 1984 that the school began to look into its namesake and they realised a change to the way the school ran was required.  Peter Petersen was a former educational reformist who believed in a more holistic approach to education.  He promoted the use of mixed age groups and believed education should evolve around 4 basic principles of conversation, play, celebration and work.

I think schools in Australia actually take on board much of this belief of education, especially in the area of multi age groups. One thing I noticed from this school was the way they could articulate why they choose to group students, rather than Australia where we tend to group students due to numbers in the school.  Here they chose multiage groups of Prep, 1 and 2 and 4,5 & 6 as it helps build self esteem, teaches students to accept and offer help and allows the to take responsibility for their learning and the learning of others. “It is normal to be different” is a mantra at Peter Petersen school.

PicMonkey Collage

As students enter school here it is a large celebration, not only at the school but in the homes of new school goers. On the first day of school children wake to a large bag of presents such as cute stationery.  All of the family arrive to wish the child well.  When they arrive at school they are introduced to all of the students in a special celebration.

In the visit to this UNESCO school I can see a lot of similarities to Australia, especially when compared to Copenhagen.  When we had a chance to sit in a Prep/1/2 classroom for a few minutes they were learning about fire and using toy telephones to pretend to call the emergency number.  Students were in groups, the teacher using a smartboard to record ideas.  At this particular school there are 22 different nationalities with 60% of the school’s population from immigrant backgrounds.

Students arrive at school a little earlier than us starting at 8.20am and is started with a 90 minute teaching session.  At 9.50 students have breakfast and this is followed by a 10 minute silent relaxation/reflection time. Another 90 minute block takes them into their second break before school finishes at 2pm unless you are in grade 4/5/6 who will return for an extra session. The upper primary school differs in the sense that students are a lot more independent, choosing what work they are going to do and Monday morning is spent planning when they are going to do their work.

Of course our first school visit is not representative of schools in Germany and I am looking forward to seeing more, especially after hearing more about how the education system works in Germany at the Department of Education.  Germany are very proud of their education system and the low youth unemployment level they have (around 5%).  School begins at age in first grade at 6, similar to Australia but the key difference is that by the time students get to grade 6 they choose whether they will take a vocational or academic track.  From there they head to secondary school suited to their track.  The gymnasium prepares students for university and students sit the Arbitur, a university entrance exam. The Hauptschule prepares students for a vocational future as does the Realschule but with more of an academic focus. After receiving the Realschule certificate, students have many options such as entering the dual system or vocational training.

I look forward to learning more about this system of education.  While at first I shudder at the idea of choosing a child’s future at age 11 it appears  to be working successfully for Germany.


As the sun goes down on Copenhagen

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today is our last day in Copenhagen and we head off to Aarhus University to hear from Frans Ørsted Andersen, Associate Professor in the Center for Educational Research who will talk to us about comparing Denmark and Finland. I must admit when I see what Frans will talk to us about I have a little chuckle.  Even this close to Finland it seems they are just as obsessed as we are and asking themselves, why does Finland stand out?

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Aarhus University, Copenhagen

Frans’ research looks into what the differences are between school life in Finland and Denmark.  He believes the broad picture in the two countries is the same so the differences lie in the finer details. The themes, which Frans identifies as the different details between Finland and Denmark are;

1. Parents are kept at a distance in Finland

  • On the first day of school parents drop students at school and keep to a distance compared to Denmark parents who continue to be present through all of their child’s schooling.

2. Discipline is more present in Finnish Schools

  • Attention and engagement is more easily obtained from Finnish teachers due to the appreciation of the teacher.

3. Danish education focuses on the individual

  • Finnish focuses on the community

4. Finnish evaluation is based on teaching

  • Denmark tends to be based more on benchmarking

5. Teachers in Finland are more ambitious

  • They don’t give up on students regardless of their background

6. Special Education is well respected

  • In Finland you require special training to teach special needs students

It was an interesting lecture, listening to someone talk about a country I have started to put on a pedestal in relation to the way they respect students and build independent learners, while they then compare themselves to Finland, just as we do in Australia.  At least for Denmark they begin with a similar homogeneous culture.

So we leave Copenhagen and head towards Berlin for the next adventure in our tour.  I take with me the beauty of a respected youth and culture who believes in education for everyone.  It seems a stark contrast to Australia and now I think about how I may take some of this back with me to Australia.  




When it rains in Denmark it really does rain!

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

This morning we headed to Langelinieskolen, just as the skies opened up and it rained, thundered and hailed! We headed to the the old hospital which temporarily houses the year 7,8 and 9 students. Langelinieskolen has recently merged with the deaf school, which has recently seen a drop in numbers of students due to new laws on deaf students being able to integrate into all primary schools rather than attending the special schools. Students at this school remain in the same class as 6-10 year olds and then change to different rooms and teachers from age 11.

After spending some time with the students we had an opportunity to chat to Deputy Head, Hanne, about the school.  Langelinieskolen has 800 students, with 10 leaders ensuring the school continues to run well. He spoke of the fact that there is not a lot of morale with teachers and the recent reforms have made it even more difficult for teachers.  Over the last 40 years the wages for teachers has reduced, seeing many flee the profession.  Recent changes have included teachers being mandated to stay on location at school even through non contact hours.  In Denmark it was normal for teachers to go home and complete their work if they were not required to teach a class.  This is currently being changed and staff will be expected to stay at school for the hours between 8am and 4pm regardless of if they are teaching or not.  Of course this is causing problems for the admin as they now need to find places to accommodate staff with desks and computers. Interestingly where teachers have had many more freedoms than in Australia, they do not have car parks for teachers.  It is expected that you will ride or walk, or you pay for the privilege of parking!

The afternoon was spent in Christianhavns Gymnasium.  I was privileged enough to spend some time in Catherine’s class, as they presented in groups on the text they had just read about the spread of British and American English. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to students about  life at Christianhavns Gymnasium.  These students were in their first year of the senior secondary school and once again it amazed me how independent the students were.  We compared the rules and strict way of life of Australian students to that of Danish students. Edith was confused about how students become independent in Australia if the teachers are always telling them what to do.


Students in Denmark are in control of their own learning.  They take full responsibility for it and have to motivate themselves.  If they are absent from school, the student needs to give an acceptable reason for not being there.  Reporting occurs at the end of the year to students, but parents do not see the grades of students, unless of course they show them! I know this is post compulsory education here but as 15 year olds we would never trust our students in such a way. We moved on to discussing smoking and drinking and it is really becoming apparent that this is a large issue for students.  Talking to these 15 year olds they talked about drinking at parties but recognised it wasn’t peer pressured. “Everyone does it but if you don’t feel like it nobody cares,” said Freya.  Lisa spoke of how she took up smoking at 14 and got addicted.  But she has given up again. The maturity of these students is something I have not seen in students of the same age in Australia.

Our final part to the day, still at Christianhavn, we had a presentation from students about student democracy at the school.  The student voice was so apparent.  And not the student voice such as I see at schools in Australia.  These students were represented and had responsibility and respect.  They work in partnership with teachers and management and used the purpose of the school council to ensure they were not over ruled.  The student council works with the school to create a communication agreement, which sets out the rules for teachers and students. An example being that teachers must put homework due the following day on their LMS, Lectio by 4pm.  And teachers have the right to ask students to close their laptops if they are not required.

The school council had also negotiated with company who guards parties organised with the school because they didn’t stand for what the students believe in and another example of the student council in action was the school had wanted to make it compulsory for all students to bring a laptop to school.  The students didn’t believe it was fair and wanted all students to come to the school regardless of their economical background.  The students felt they lost this discussion as the rule did come in but an agreement was written to say that students could seek assistance from the school to buy a computer, a compromise at least.

Our final presentation was from two students who were part of Operation Day Work and organisation run by youths for youths.  Each year they raise money by working a day for 300 kroner, which goes to the project they have organised such as helping identify corrupt companies in the Sierra Leone diamond industry. Interestingly when asked how we could donate it was explained that this was not the concept.  IT was about educating both Danes and the country where the project was happening.  It was just as important to have students working for the day and educating them as it was to send the money to the project.  The school fully supported students and gave them a day to work on the project.

The school was clearly proud of the voice their students had and were wanting to showcase that to us.  The level of involvement from students was certainly high and they were clearly respected not just in the school but also the society.  It is a rather stark contrast to Australia where we hand feed our students and smother them with rules (A generalisation I know but I compared to Denmark it really is noticeable).  It makes me wonder how Denmark came to respect their youth so.  Is it the welfare state and social democratic background or could a change to the way we educate in Australia bring a respected youth culture?



When the sun shines through…..

In today’s school visit I had a chance to teach 24 eleven year olds from Niels Steensens.  It was a lovely experience and I had a chance to work with the students for around 90 minutes.  After looking at some images of Australia and thinking about the different perspectives the students had an opportunity to ask questions.  Although this was quite reciprocal as the three of us in the room asked as many questions of them. It was clear fairly quickly that students in Denmark are different to those in Australia.  The respect from the teacher was one of mutuality.  Not once did she make a decision without asking the students if it was OK first.  And I felt silly when I asked her if it was OK to take the student’s photos.  She turned directly to them and and repeated my question. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t considered their voice to begin with.

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Our conversations turned to different rules schools have in Australia and they were shocked to hear that in schools we had to wear uniforms, could be suspended from school and each class had a set of rules, which were strictly adhered to.  It became clear that students here had a huge respect for what their teachers asked of them, which I believe comes from the teachers also having such respect for them.  It was  an expectation that they were responsible for their own learning and that all of the students felt it was important to go to school.

Our afternoon visit was to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium where we were mesmerised by some of learning spaces. Gammel Hellerup is the former school of the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, who has recently returned to design the sports hall and field.  Ingels’ designs aim to make the best use of space and even the curved top of the sports hall is utilised as seating in the outside area.   The new football field will form part of a drama and arts centre, where the roof will become the seating for the sports field.  Take a look at the plans here.

Gammel Hellerup

During our chat with teachers from Gammel Hellerup it is clear they have had to deal with lots of changes over the last few years. The 2005 reforms which saw more autonomy for head teachers and a new financial structure has meant the leadership teams have had to deal with new and unexpected issues. I am intrigued how autonomy and choice of schools affects students in Denmark where the welfare state ensures everyone is treated equally.  In Australia I expect the push for more autonomy and school choice because of the traditionally more dog eat dog environment we have but for Denmark it seems to be more traditional for them to prioritise equality.  Maybe that’s for a later blog post!

Stormy weather in schools forces kids to stay home

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Our first outing in Copenhagen is to the Technical Education Copenhagen,  who educate 4000 upper secondary school students taking the more vocational track.  Students in Copenhagen have a choice at age 16 of following a more academic stream at gymnasium or move on to a technical HTX school which incorporates academic threads with more vocational subjects. Unfortunately we will not get to see any of the other types of schools, HHX or HF.

We visited an electrical class here and when speaking to the students they enjoy the hands on approach to education compared to a gymnasium. Students study Danish, Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Science but then take on an electrical based subject. Students in this class are happy to be in the front of the queue when it comes to applying for a job with their extra skills but can also choose to head into higher education with the HTX examination.

Looking around they are doing maths related to electrical learning and the classroom is split into a practical area where I assume they have been installing power points and tables and chairs for more theory based learning.  Each classroom also has a section for quiet study and in this room beanbags had been placed in the corner for this.


The students we spoke to had only been in classes for a short time as they spent the start of the school year on Innovation Camp, learning to “nut crack” as one student called it.  The camp focuses on problem solving and  students getting to know each other and happens at the beginning of each school year. Benny, our guide at the school believes their is a great focus on innovation at his school, but seeing innovation as improving the workplace rather than inventions.

Our afternoon visit was to the Landsorgansatonen (LO), an umbrella organisation for 17 trade unions including metal workers, retail, construction and low level public sector workers such as teachers and nurses.  75% of all Danish employees are organised in a trade union where they have a long tradition of collective bargaining, compared to around 20% in Australia.

It was one union’s (Danish Teacher’s Union) stand off with the Local Authorities Association (KL) that led to a 4 week lock out of students and teachers from schools.  The dispute started when the union did not want to sign on to an increase of working hours from 25 contact hours (from a total of 36) to allowing head teachers decide how many hours teachers receive for preparation as well as some other changes to the ‘Danish Model.’  In response the KL closed the doors to schools and half a million students for 4 weeks when teachers went back to the forced agreement.

In talking to students and locals, their main response was in support of teachers, although this Guardian article talks about a shift in parents thinking of schools as a babysitting service. There was obviously a lot of publicity and talk of the lock out in Denmark with the effect on parents and students.  Cheryl, one of my colleagues introduced me to this video clip on You Tube made by three local teachers, although in Danish you can hear the message as they sing “fucked up, shit conflict.”

New Education Adventure

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today I sit at another airport as I write this post.  The last time I did this was May last year as I waited for my flight to Rwanda, which would in turn be the catalyst for many changes in the last 12 months. The first being a new job and a move to Melbourne.  It was Rwanda that really opened my eyes to education being bigger than just my primary classroom.  Don’t get me wrong,  I understood the process education took but to make change in education I knew I needed to understand it well.  From the first years to the years beyond secondary school.  It certainly prompted my move into higher education and I have truly loved the experience (as much as I miss the classroom) and have learnt so much in the past 12 months, all of which no doubt I will use when back teaching in a school.

The second decision, made after my Rwandan trip, was to head back to uni to get my Masters and it is this course which brings me to the airport today.  The International Study Tour is the second subject in my Master of Educational Policy (International).  I really enjoyed learning about China, India, England and Finland in my first subject, Comparative Studies and look forward to seeing first hand how policy effects education in Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

It is hard to know what to expect from schools in these countries, well except England where I taught for 4 years, and that is one of the real joys of learning!  I have over the years visited many classrooms but this trip will be a little different as I have always had my teacher hat on, looking at what I can take back to my classroom.  Tomorrow I will have my policy hat on, looking at how the policy effects education, schools and classrooms.

Part of my assessment is to write a reflective journal on my visits so I look forward to blogging over the next three weeks and sharing my experiences. But for now I have a plane to catch!

PLE Murder Mystery

On Thursday and Friday this week I was lucky enough to run two workshops at the PLE Conference held at Monash University.  The PLE Conference is a two day conference held in two cities, Melbourne and Berlin.  This year’s program, Personal Learning Environments: Learning and Diversity in the Cities of the Future, was full of presentations looking at the use of PLEs in education and examined the use of technology enhanced learning.

A PLE, or a Personal Learning Environment includes methods, tools, communities, and services constituting individual learning infrastructures or ecosystems which learners use to direct their own learning and pursue their learning goals.

The first workshop I did was a Murder Mystery.  Although I have never participated in a Murder Mystery dinner party I love the idea of immersing yourself in a character for an evening of mystery!  So I thought why not add that to a presentation.  I hoped that by placing the participants in different situations and looking at PLEs from different perspectives would help to make clear our understandings of PLEs and the different ways we use them.  In the session, participants were able to play the devils advocate and possibly the opportunity to play a role that went against their true beliefs of Personal Learning Environment.

The setting for the Murder Mystery was the launch of PLE – a new program that brings together different tools of collaboration, work flow and networking.  At the launch were a variety of people, some who loved the idea, others who felt a PLE should not be forced upon someone and of course those who were anti technology all together.  As part of the launch I shared a few of the tools which would appear as part of the make believe program’s suite of tools.

Unfortunately for Paula Louise Evans, the CEO of PLE, she was the victim of the afternoon and the other characters spent the rest of the session trying to determine the killer. Needless to say we all had a lot of fun.  The conference participants were wonderful getting in to their characters and there were many robust conversations about PLEs.

My second workshop looked at my Personal Learning Environment.  After having participants choose a photo that best represents their Personal Learning Environment, I used Richard Olsen’s White Paper, Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning and the Collective Knowledge Construction Model to map some of the tools and networks I use as part of my PLE.

Then came the fun part as we used some craft materials to make a visualisation of our Personal Learning environment  It was really interesting to see the different ways people think of their PLEs.

I enjoyed being part of the conference and enjoyed the opportunity to see how others are using technology to enhance learning experience and enjoyed the opportunity to tackle questions such as what is the difference between personal and personalisation.  If you would like to check out any of the tweets for the conference you can do so with the Storifys of Day One and Day Two.









Mixed Messages

I have been reading about this initiative on the WISE website about lifting the public image of education in Chile.  They are working on changing the perception of education in the public and increasing the image. It has got me thinking about the messages we send out, often without thinking, which impact on the public image.

I remember asking my students in an inquiry unit, “How do I learn best” about what learning looks like.  I was really surprised by their answers.  I thought they would talk about working with friends, real life experiences, hands on learning etc.    Instead they talked of silence, sitting with one child per table and wait for it….worksheets!  Needless to say I was taken back by these responses but I could understand where these messages come from.

Growing up I was told I was great at Maths because I had good recall of my times tables. When people talked about Maths it always related to if I knew the times tables.  Of course I thought that was what was most important about Maths.  Being a good reader was determined by how long the book I was reading was.  “Wow, that’s a big book.  You must be a good reader.”

All around us we see underlying messages of what is important.  The new National Plan for School Improvement, an initiative by the Australian Government, uses an A+ in their logo. This sends the message that improving schools, and in fact learning, is all about getting an A+. Even if there is more to the plan, the message is clear.

In NSW, the ‘Teachers Make a Difference,” videos are meant to lift the perceptions of teachers in the public eye.  Although the videos are great at showing how teachers are more than someone who stands at the front of the classroom there are other messages.  The “First Day of School,” video shows the teacher meeting a student on their way into the school, both on their first day.  So instead of showing how wonderful teachers are at building relationships with students, the message becomes that teachers arrive at school at 9 am as the students are walking in.  I know this doesn’t happen but I have lost count of the times I have been told it must be great to have a job when you only work 9-3.

Maybe the greater message of how teachers change lives or that our government cares about education is more important but we shouldn’t overlook the underlying messages and how they effect how we think of teaching and education.