Editor's note: this article has been updated to include new information and images sent to us from Principal Jeppesen of the Telefonplan School in Sweden.
By Harrison M. Campbell
As a pre-service teacher in my Introductory Professional Term I’m expected to include within my plan-book a section on school information. On top of this I also need to reflect upon the layout of my assigned school; what effect does it have on students? Does it allow for easy classroom changes? And so on. This question is an extremely valid one because as we are learning the learning environment has a direct impact of students’ abilities to learn within it.
Many schools, not all but many, have a traditional classroom set-up of desks in rows. At my school this is still the dominant set-up but a number of classes such as art have started to set up small group tables. And the science classrooms have begun to experiment by grouping desks around lab stations.
It would appear then that schools are changing focus, playing with the idea that group work and collaboration will foster greater learning. I would argue that in many cases this is true.. We are all aware that education is a living and changing profession but in what direction is this change occurring? Well, I’ve recently become aware of a very unique school in Sweden called the Telefonplan School. Located in southern Stockholm this school has not only changed the layout of their classrooms but gotten rid of them entirely.
The Telefonplan School is one of 8 schools under the Vittra School System’s jurisdiction. Opened in August 2011 Telefonplan offers education to students between the ages of 6-11. In Sweden these students are classified as the preparation class (6 years of age) to year five years (11 years of age). The administration hopes to expand the capacity of the school to teach up to year 9’s once the project is established. As it stands Telefonplan’s first graduates will enter the world in 2025.
Students currently enrolled at the school engage in a wide array of digital and group learning. Students in grades 4 and up have a laptop provided to them by the school. Learning happens in online modules with teachers acting as guides and facilitators. Teacher directed projects and tests help students to fully establish their ideas and provide a medium of expression.
Vittra believes that by allowing students easy access to technology they will show “Improved reading and writing skills, creativity and digital literacy”. Their belief is that students will be better motivated to learn if they have access to a wide array of information and have the ability to search and inquire about topics that interest them. It also helps to build upon Vittra’s educational model of: Knowledge, Personal Development, and Learning. Students are empowered to learn more about themselves and what interests them in a supportive environment.
According to Jannie Jeppesen, principal, Telefonplan School, "Collaboration is key to 21st century skills. It is a process and guiding them in their work is crucial. Making them aware of group dynamics and so on is vital. This is a core task for every educator. It is a process and they grow in this area in a pace that suits them."
She says the school works around a project based model and supply students with the tools and environment they need. "Students have digital tools(from 10yrs up they have a laptop each). The younger kids have plenty of laptops and ipads. We also have video cameras and other tools. They use the web for publishing their work and sharing what they do with each other. We have tried several ways of working creating awareness for what skills are needed in every learning process. Learning to learn is key."
Photos by Kim Wendt
But there has to be structure at this age level and so if classrooms are no more how does the school divide students up? And where do they go for extracurricular activity? Well, Telefonplan possesses many different learning spaces. I’ll highlight the main five:
- The Cave – (Individual Work) Here students perform individual and self-directed work
- The Lab – (Directed Group Work) Here students work in a lab setting with manipulative elements to explore mathematics, science and art.
- The Camp Fire – (Self-Directed Group Work) An open area where groups large and small can meet to discuss and work on projects.
- The Watering Hole – (Socialization and Physical Activity) A space for students to socialize and engage in physical activity, such as the dance hall, to take a break from academia for a short while.
- The Showoff – (Presentation Area) This area has a stage, walls for drawing, and projection screens for students to display or perform their work.
Each of these primary areas focuses as a meeting point and a framework for students to work in. But often it is up to the students to learn through doing and collaboration in order to meet the needs of their own education. I feel this balance between the individual and the group, the student and the teacher, and the student and their education is extremely important.
It must be noted that the school still has administrators and teachers in the central areas during all school hours if students need anything.
I feel that in this kind of context students would feel like they own more of their education and that they have a say. And even all of this is just a snapshot of the project. So much more is going on behind the scenes. As it continues I hope that Alberta educators will keep a watchful eye and consider the possibilities and pitfalls of the “Telefonplan” system.
Here is a look at one of the projects students at the school are currently working on:
About the author
Harrison Campbell is a third year, IPT, secondary education student at the University of Alberta. Immersed in all things drama, he has acted in, directed, and produced a number of plays both in Calgary and Edmonton.