In2edu I.C.T. Resources Enhancing Education & Learning

SAMR - Critical Review.

There are times when the "flavour" of the month is actually a rebalancing in education as it places an emphasis that is needed as society changes. When I started teaching, setting a prescribed set of values for a school was the biggest no-no, pupils had to 'discover' these for themselves and should not be persuaded by teachers. Today, I believe in many schools values, discussion around values and even the presentation of thoughts about individual values are a high priority in many schools. If we learn anything from Finland's "educational success" it is that their education system seems to run counter to much of the competitive, assessment driven, do more systems and philosophies that have invaded many educational systems. What I especially think is impressive about Finland is that the leadership buy in seems so uniform top to bottom and they are not afraid to keep evolving or changing (there is some debate about whether they rested on their laurels recently) but this comes from the basis of the decades of educational system improvement.

So this leads us to SAMR - seen as model of digital technologies implementation. Here is a presentation with some thinking about the SAMR model in itself and as always, like Chinese whispers we need to look at the source~creator for their feedback on how their model has been implemented and the flaws they see in this or the adaptations in their thinking to the model since it was launched.

The SAMR model was created by Dr Ruben Puentedura. What Ruben would say is that you mix the different tasks, try to work at different levels and use what works. All the levels are defined relevant to your current practice and what is augmentation for one person, can be modification to another. Having said that, people often see it as 'higher is better' therefore you should only aim for "above the line" learning. It is often seen as a model for teachers, for planning, for lessons and therefore not so relevant to PBL, or inquiry types of learning.

My Take: SAMR is a simple tool for both teachers and pupils to plan and reflect on meaningful use of digital technologies in the learning journey. While it is especially more difficult to define clearly for an individual what a modification or redefinition task may look like, the simple thinking about teaching "above the line" is important to help teachers and pupils to quickly evaluate the learning task and integration with technology. It is a bit of chicken and egg scenario, higher level use of digital technologies can lead to deeper learning and deeper learning can lead to higher level use of digital technologies. Aligning SAMR with Blooms may also prove useful in some cases. It is important to keep in mind that SAMR is not a one way journey to a "higher plane", depending on the circumstances a substitution or augmentation may be the best use of digital technologies. Taking the route to deeper thinking is based on good knowledge and skills and it is much harder to have good levels of thinking without digital literacy, the same as it is harder to read to learn if you haven't learned to read! On the other side of the coins there is a reluctance to, "Learn or Teach above the Line" as it will involve change and challenge... so an emphasis on these areas of the SAMR model may be needed to really open up learning opportunities.

  1. Finland's "educational success"
  2. Hattie meets Puentedura on Growth Mindset criticism.
  3. Critical Review of SAMR
  4. SAMR - A model without evidence
  5. The Problem with SAMR

Visible Learning in a 1:1 Class

See it, know it!
These are words that summarise my focus for 2014. An expedition in visible learning. I will have a Year 5 class with 1:1 devices and we (teacher and pupils) are the second year of my 1:1 implementation journey. After twenty years specialising in ICT training I went back into the class in 2013. As 2013 progressed we implemented a range of online learning tools including: Google Docs, Spelling City, Study Ladder, ReadingEggs, ForallRubrics, Ultranet (our LMS- Learning Management System), we Skyped, setup blogs, participated in Quadblogging, used a range of computer based software, mixed in iPad use and more.
However, as time went on I realised that we needed to tie our learning together in a far more unified and visible way. So, as part of my reflection over the break I have been focusing on thinking through concepts of visible learning. From progressions that fit with with the NZ curriculum areas, especially in literacy (reading, writing etc.), Social Studies and the key competencies. Through these progressions and learning tools, I am looking to blend the pupils' 1:1 device learning in a way that differentiates learning, allows flipped class learning and gives a balance between offline and online learning activities.

Badges Systems (Mozilla) Easy to Setup and Use

Badge systems have been receiving a lot of internet attention lately. A number of people see these as the future of learning with micro units of competencies or skills being awarded to a set of criteria or competencies in a robust but easy way. Some even ask the question will the badges replace degrees and other formal learning down the line. These awarded symbols would then flow through to a backpack (journal) where pupils can display their learning. It is hard to find a system that is easy to use, setup and manage with a number of pupils.

I had created an ICT badge system for our 1:1 laptop use that needed to use badges but I trialled a number of sites and found them far too complex to use and manage. Finally, I found forallbadges (sister site forallrubrics) and I set my system up within their website. I now have over 100 badges online tied into my badges system. The ability for pupils to self award at a lower level and for it all to be tracked is fantastic. They have an iPad app to support quick awarding of badges and token systems that can also award badges.

I then moved on to use forallrubrics which is also amazing. The two sites are two sides of the coin making for great rubrics, rubric tracking and then you flip to award efforts. Simple easy to use rubric designs, tracking back into a combined workbook with self and peer assessment also catered for. You can then specify a badge that can be awarded via the rubric when a certain level is attained. The oral presentation rubric below was one we used for student led conferences that I held recently in my class. The following day the boys self-evaluated and then we discussed their award. We could alter and make notes about changes as needed… they loved getting the badge if they had made the required level which we all had previously agreed upon as a class. All the boys badges and rubric assessments get captured in their LEarning Journal which provides a great way for them to reflect on their learning also.

Other features of forallrubrics are: sharing (via creative commons), printing to PDF, result analysing at a simple level, ability to tag, ability to make multiple notes, ability to award weightings in rubrics, easy reordering and changing of rubrics, easy duplication of rubrics or sections within rubrics AND FREE!

Highly recommended!

Things to watch out for as time passes on:
Will you be able to export your badges from one system to another?
How robust is the system on passing badges to Mozilla backpack?
How easy can your data be exported? For individuals, groups and whole school?
How easy is it to share and collaborate your rubrics?
Can you tie in rubrics to Learning Standards easily?


Musings about Finland's Education and Learning Success


Twenty years ago, Finland was under the international educational average in testing and had large gaps between affluent and poor schools. Today, it tops the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), a test of fifteen year olds covering literacy, maths and science. Finland is a small country of five million, with industry comprising of services 65%, manufacturing and refining 31.4% and rates reasonably well in innovation indexes also. It is a strong welfare state with high taxes, a high respect for education by Finnish parents and society in general with surveys demonstrating Finns trust public schools more than any other public institution, except the police.

Recently, I spent a couple of weeks, on and off, looking at videos, reading blogs and investigating various websites that had information to convey about the successes of the Finland education system. The most prominent feature of Finnish students’ performance in PISA, is its constant high level of results combined with small variance. Finland stands out with its weak performers, scoring in all domains, 66 to 91 score points above the mean for the lowest 5 % of students. Their top 5 % surpassed the OECD mean of its group only by just 31 to 47 score points. It was interesting teasing out the factors that I think have combined to produce their high international results. My perspective is from the context of New Zealand education, a country that has also scored highly on these same international tests.

Society Statistics
  • Family statistics 2010 66% married couples, 22% co-habitating couples, 12% one-parent families
  • Crime statistics Generally, on the low side in most categories
  • Child poverty statistics 4% child poverty in Finland. Very low compared to other countries.
  • Current % of government (public) debt to GDP is 48-50%
  • Median age 41 years (the oldest of most European countries)
  • Low infant mortality, high productivity and relatively high taxes
  • Happiness index 5th on table, Happy Life Years 9th on table (see World Database of Happiness)
  • Judged to be the world's least corrupt country (Transparency International)

Finland's Education History
In the 1960's, a 9 year plan was adopted with the goal of "education for all". Significant teacher training was carried out, especially to accommodate whole age cohort teaching (a Finnish teacher in the primary area will teach the same children from 7- 16.) The system was government centralized with a detailed curriculum prescription. By 1985 municipal and school level freedom was allowed around a core curriculum. The Education Law of 1999, established a new evaluation policy with sample based NBE-implemented evaluations in key subjects, obligatory for the sampled schools but also available by fee for others for internal use. This lead to local flexibility and diversity with a strong emphasis on basic literacy and numeracy concurrent to provide wide-range education for all.
Finland, possibly has a narrower focus in the breadth of its curriculum than other countries. PISA examinations are similar in contract to the style of the curriculum that FInland focuses on which may also give its pupils an advantage in the PISA exams.
See also this very good overview of the history of education in Finland.

Notable Features

Philosophy as I summarize
  • No pupil should be left behind
  • Equity
  • Trust
  • Free education, including university and polytechnic

Education Statistics

  • Typical class size 18-20
  • Teachers work about 40% less class hours than US teachers do. Average 570 teaching hours a year for teachers in Finland (1,100 hours in the US)
  • 27 % of students having received some form of special support for their learning during basic education.
  • School year 190 days
  • Average spending on education compared to other OECD countries.
  • Zero illiteracy
  • Homework is minimal with an emphasis on extra-curricula
  • Pupils spend the fewest hours in the classroom
  • Finland has more than 4,000 comprehensive schools, 750 upper-secondary schools, 20 universities, and a great many other educational institutions.
  • 99 percent of students now successfully complete compulsory basic education, and about 90 percent complete upper secondary school
  • Two-thirds of these graduates enroll in universities or professionally oriented polytechnic schools.
  • More than 50 percent of the Finnish adult population participates in adult education
  • Comprehensive network of libraries
The Flavour of Education in Finland
  • Informal atmosphere in the schools.
  • No formal exams and ranking of schools. The outcomes of all Finnish nine-year comprehensive schools are followed by sample-based surveys. The results are published only on the system level. Formal examination grade 9 (leaving high school) the National Board of Education makes occasional assessments in other subjects and at other grade levels in representative samples of schools and pupils and, lately, longitudinal assessments in key subject. There is no separate school inspection and inspection visits to school are no longer held. Self-evaluation and external examination are emphasized. Emphasis on formative assessment.
  • In Finnish culture, significant political conflicts and sudden changes in educational policy have been rare
  • Teachers and schools are autonomous from state education system. Devolution of power.
  • Teachers are trusted to do their best as true professionals of education. They are entrusted with considerable pedagogical independence in the classroom, and schools have likewise enjoyed significant autonomy in organizing their work within the national curriculum.
  • Finnish teachers set high standards.
  • Flexible, school-based and teacher-planned curriculum along with student-centred instruction, counseling, and remedial teaching.
  • Schools coordinate with social service providers.
  • Teachers all require a masters degree with thousands turned down for training each year, 10-15% of those who apply are accepted. They see teaching as a life-long career. The teaching force is 100% unionized.
  • Starts with preschool (kindergarten), school starts at seven. The emphasis is on, "play". In 2006, 63 % of three-year-olds were in day-care, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
  • Finnish high schools have two clearly separate streams with both academically oriented general upper secondary schools and vocational institution. Most young children will stay with the same teachers for their entire education, up until 16 when they go to high school.
  • Free daily school meals
  • Right to attend closest school with school based curricula
  • Performance based funding for universities and polytechnics based on: Effectiveness (job placement and further studies); Processes (dropping out, % ratio of qualification certifications holders to entrants); Staff (formal teaching qualifications and staff development).
  • Emphasis on broad knowledge within a depth of curriculum rather than a wide curriculum. Equal value to all aspects of individual growth and learning: personality, morality, creativity, knowledge and skills.
  • The phonetic character of Finnish language makes decoding easy, leading to easier literacy success.
  • Finland emphasizes research and development (around 4% of GDP).
  • Each family gets three free books on birth of child…. for parents and child.
The Gotchas
Cost: the teasing out the figures of the Finnish education finances may enable others to see the split between education department costs and school costs (frontline). It will also be important to see how education budgets integrate with funding from other areas such as Social Services. Secondly, Finland is a homogenous society. It has not had significant migrant or multi-cultural change over last twenty years. However, recent immigrants have become part of Finland's current success and Finland certainly out-performs other homogenous societies.

Off the top of My Head

Relationships, however, are the deal-breaker in the success game. Relationships have driven a systematic reformation of the Finnish education philosophy. It started with leadership and co-operation between professionals to change a failing education system and the ongoing change has had a lack of political interference to derail it. Relationships also drive the start a pupil has in education, from the play in pre-schools to formal "primary" schooling (ages 7 to 16). Having the same teacher, who gets to know their pupils intimately (what happens with the personality conflicts I wonder?) over the eight years they teach them, means that relationships become core to the child-teacher-parent partnership. Relationships between parents, teachers and pupils show a general trust and professionalism.

Possibly, due their tough environment and limited natural resources (except for large forest reserves), Finns have made a priority of investing in education. It seems they still have a strong family emphasis that must contribute to the stable and measured start that their children get to schooling. Finally, the lack of formal testing allows schools to develop programmes of learning that balance competition, equity and child-centred needs within the values they wish to emphasize, time is spent on learning and not on testing. For those in management who worry about this… just look at Finland's results and see that it works.

Resourcing and relationships summarize the keys of success in Finland. It would be interesting to explore further how, with an average OECD spend on education, Finland has free education, pays teachers well, provides free meals, gives teachers excellent non-contact time and has class sizes of 18-20. Although it is a state with high taxes, Finland does seem to have a stable government debt to GDP ratio of 50% at this point in time.

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