Students in the International Baccalaureate program at Nesbru upper secondary school learn what teacher Tor Øyvind Andersen calls ‘international-mindedness’. Courses are taught in English and the curriculum has an international focus with the intent of instilling intercultural understanding among students. itslearning is a supporting pillar in this work.
The platform makes it possible for Tor Øyvind to mitigate cultural differences and use engaging teaching resources to prepare students to work in a modern, multinational workforce. It also helps that the two organisations share a common pedagogical focus. Here, Tor Øyvind tells us how he embraced modern methods, including animations and simulations, in a subject that traditionally has shied away alternative teaching techniques. “If you look at the history of teaching chemistry, there has traditionally been one way of teaching the subject. That has significantly changed in the last decade,” he says.
Personalised learning is the buzz word making the rounds in education circles, but sometimes it helps when students also can communicate anonymously to their teachers, says Tor Øyvind Andersen, a chemistry teacher at Nesbru upper secondary school.
Anonymous surveys key to gauging student progress
This is especially true at the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Nesbru where students from different countries–about a third of the 60 IB students are non-Norwegians–come together to complete their high school education. For the students enrolled in Nesbru’s IB program, which covers the last two years at high school in Norway, the international focus of the curriculum will prepare them for a career in a multicultural environment.
Teaching students with different backgrounds presents special challenges. Tor Øyvind recalls one of his former students, a girl from an Asian country. To his dismay she never seemed to improve, and whenever he asked her if she was struggling she would insist that everything was fine. “At the time I did not realise that, in her culture, it was insulting to tell the teacher that she did not understand the curriculum,” he explains.
Breaking down cultural barriers to learning
Today, Tor Øyvind uses the itslearning survey tool to monitor students’ understanding of the learning material in addition to speaking with students one on one. “The itslearning survey tool is like a temperature meter in my classroom. I use it in every session. I survey the students asking things such as ‘what don’t you understand?’ ‘Are the assignments too easy?’ ‘Are you panicking?’” Tor Øyvind explains. “We do this on a regular basis and I end up with a clear picture of where my students are. This even works for students who are not bold enough to speak up in class, because they know they will remain anonymous. I only wish I had this tool with my former student. I think she would be more willing to share with me what she did not understand.”
Tor Øyvind surveys his students to guage knowledge and activate previous knowledge.
itslearning surveys can be used in courses and projects to discern student opinion on a particular topic. A poll can be inserted as a content block on your landing page or course page and the results can be viewed as percentages. In chemistry, Tor Øyvind also uses surveys as advance organisers to activate the students’ previous knowledge before starting on a new topic.
Everything in one place
When Tor Øyvind first started using itslearning eight years ago, he used it mainly for course management. “I posted class notices on the course dashboard. I wrote notes about upcoming topics so students could prepare beforehand,” he explains.
Today, his practice has evolved to include uploading multimedia content and practicing assessment for learning, a focus area at Nesbru upper secondary school. “The tools in itslearning fit nicely into assessment for learning. itslearning facilitates assessment for learning by making it possible to integrate tests and assignments into subjects. It puts the focus on the learning aspect, not on the final grades the students received.”
Same pedagogical focus
The IB program requires teachers to continuously assess student progress throughout the semester. A final grade is assigned at the end of the semester, but many assessment points are made along the way. “My main task as a teacher is assessing where my students are in their learning. I continuously determine where they are and then ask them, ‘where do you want to be?’ Then we discuss what they need to do to achieve that goal. This focus on ongoing formative assessment is reinforced in the IB by the recent introduction of a new component, the assessment for learning (AFL), that will be an integral part of the teaching practice in all our subjects. Through AFL students are provided with tools to reflect upon and take responsibility for their own learning. According to Tor Øyvind, itslearning is very capable of supporting this new shift with its effective ways of providing feedback to students.
itslearning makes assessment for learning possible, Tor Øyvind says. “The learning platform puts the focus on the learning aspect, not on the final grades the students received,” he says.
“I use the assignment tool a lot to provide fast feedback. In addition, the learning platform collects everything in one place. Everything is in the grade book, which gives students and teachers a snapshot of everything the student is doing in a subject. The results from tests and assignments contained there provide a very good picture of how my students are doing. Plus, the IB coordinator can access the grade book and help the students manage the schoolwork if necessary,” Tor Øyvind explains.
Simulations and animations help students visualise reactions
An atom is a difficult thing to picture. Not everyone can pull it off, Tor Øyvind says. “You have to sort of see it in your mind. It actually requires a lot of imagination,” he explains. Online learning materials can be a big help for students who struggle to visualise things such as chemical equations and reactions. So that all his students can visualise chemistry in their mind’s eye, Tor Øyvind provides his students with videos, pictures and links to useful websites. Anything to help them visualise the learning materials.
“No one can actually see molecules interacting and reacting. It’s really the simulations and animations available online that bring these abstract concepts to life. Being able to integrate those materials into itslearning is really great. The Internet is a goldmine for these materials and itslearning is a hub for storing them,” Tor Øyvind says.
Students taking responsibility for own learning
Many of the resources Tor Øyvind finds are uploaded into the lesson planner where he makes them available to his students. He also uses the planner to outline topics before they are covered in class, which he says keeps his students oriented. He publishes tasks there weeks in advance in order to allow students to prepare for class. “The planner is really the heart and soul of itslearning. It is a very nice way of keeping students informed at all times. You can put almost anything there,” Tor Øyvind explains. “It gives students the possibility to take responsibility for their own learning. The information is available to them and they can act on that information to improve their learning. I like that, and they like having everything in one place.”
Posted on March 20, 2014
by Mark Macdonald