Representatives from the five countries involved in TfaST travelled to Karlstad, Sweden, from April 7-11th 2019. We were hosted by Camilla, Helena, Johan, Anna, Karin and Katarina from Rudsskolan School in Karlstad.
The wider municipality of Karlstad has about 90,000 people living there, with 60,000 in the city itself. Karlstad is set on a network of waterways, including the Klarälven, Sweden’s longest river, and Lake Vänern, Sweden’s largest lake.
Our week-long workshop began with a welcome dinner in the city on Sunday night, followed by our first experience of the school the next morning. We were taken on a tour of the school by groups of students, who had very good English! We were treated to a mini-concert by three students and their instruments, which included some Abba, and the Swedish national anthem, which we really enjoyed. We saw the staff room, which is really comfy and cosy, where teachers go for their break, and to have ‘fika‘ (a relaxing coffee and cake break). This is a Swedish tradition that the rest of us would like to take on board!
Our project meetings during this week were focused on sharing the experience of teachers in all countries of their Computer-Mediated Connections (CMCs). The manual for this method of Sustainable Communication can be found here. All teachers had conducted at least one or two Skype sessions with a colleague in another country, involving their students and working towards incorporating a Bridge21-style activity into the sessions. Teachers saw lots of positive outcomes from these CMCs in their students, including increased confidence, ownership of work, and communication skills. There were some challenges described too, including time management/organisation issues, student participation and technology not always working as planned. This workshop aimed to get teachers sharing their experiences, and working together to design ‘best practice’ CMC activities, to try and overcome challenges and maximise the benefits of the approach.
We were also delighted to get the opportunity to view some student project work in the school, based on themes relating to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Students had been working on group projects focused on Food, Water, Effects of Climate Change and so on. They displayed their projects in the school, and our visiting group got to see them and ask questions. They had some excellent ideas for sustainable planning in their city and the world. We were all impressed by their knowledge and communication skills!
The Swedish teachers also organised a great learning excursion for us visitors on the Tuesday! First, we visited the Centre for Climate and Safety at Karlstad University, and took part in an interactive workshop; we had to try and save a town and its inhabitants and services from flooding, in real time. This tool for learning about flooding risk is called Floodville. Next, we took on the challenge of Riskville, where in teams, we set about planning a city and responding to its changing needs according to effects by climate change. All these activities encourage communication, creativity, collaboration, thinking critically, and took a curiosity-driven approach to problem solving – very much what we practice in Bridge21 and our Erasmus Plus projects!
In the second half of our day out, we took a bus ride a short distance away from the city, into the forest, with our new tutor, Katarina, who works in the ‘Naturskola’ (Nature School). It was a wonderful experience for us. Katarina gave each of us a laminated card with a picture of a different animal on it. We all helped to pull boxes of supplies along a forest path, using a rope that connected us together. On the way, we had a task – to find out which animal each of us had been assigned, without using the animal’s name. This encouraged conversation and questioning. On arrival at a beautiful, remote lakeside spot, Katarina had us split into teams, with different roles for each team. The common goal: to prepare lunch for our group of 20. My team was tasked with making a fire – we did this with the help of Kenneth, Katarina’s colleague. Some sticks and a spark later, and we had a roaring fire. Other groups were chopping vegetables and preparing pancakes from scratch, as all the ingredients had been provided. We cooked up a feast over the fire, and ate in contentment, while taking part in some entertainment devised by another group. Everyone had their part, and enjoyed the fruits of the labour.
Currently Sweden has 70 nature schools and thousands of pupils participate in “outdoor days” every week, with multiple benefits to the students and the teachers. We enjoyed our one day as pupils of Naturskola, and wish we could do it more often!
That night, the happy bunch of project partners met in a local restaurant in Karlstad, where they were treated to more music and a quiz, led by Hans, a Maths teacher at Rudsskolan. It was a lot of fun and the camaraderie built very well among the group throughout the week. Our group will continue to make connections, both among ourselves and with our students, and work on our project goals until we next meet in Marinha Grande, Portugal in September.
Written by Jane O’Hara (Trinity College Dublin TfaST team)