“Let the pupils be creators of their own learning material rather than consumers. Let them find answers by themselves and learn from each other.” – Sigmund Brenna, Norway

A common theme we see here at Daily Edventures is that innovation is truly a personal journey. Some come to innovating through technology classes, others have mentors that have helped them learn new teaching methods, and who encourage trying new things. For Sigmund Brenna, an ICT supervisor who also taught in the classroom for 14 years, music and the outdoors taught him to think differently and experiment. “I was especially involved in music projects like concerts, composing music and different types of performance,” says Brenna. “This is something that I have brought with me in my present job concerning use of digital tools in music.”

Brenna’s experience as an outdoorsman not only translated into his classroom, but also helped him land in his current career. “I often brought my pupils out for trips in the ‘wilderness’ and used nature as my classroom,” says Brenna. “Environmental problems and challenges were a frequent topic in my teaching. When we started using computers and Windows in the ‘90s, I immediately saw the big potential for using ICT in the classroom. I tried out different software, and we started communicating with schools in the UK and the USA by email. It was a thrill to see how my pupils learned English by communicating with their ‘pen-pals.’”

Brenna now creates many different types of innovative learning environments for the students in his region. For several years, he has been the pedagogic leader of a sciencecamp for secondary students in the remote valley of Hessdalen. In fact, some of his students played a starring role in a National Geographic film about the “Mystery Lights of Norway.” “The opening scene from this National Geographic video is a rare capture of the Hessdalen phenomena made by 15-year-old pupils from our region,” says Brenna. “They used advanced equipment and they worked together with scientists from different parts of the world. This one example has shown me how far we can get in creating exciting and innovative learning spaces for our pupils.”

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/science-technology/ngc-mystery-lights-of-norway/

Here, Brenna shares his philosophy of mixing ICT with real-world assignments to engage his students, and his view on the trends that will help shape schools and students for the 21st century.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Many pupils have taken part in exciting projects using different types of technology. It has developed their ICT skills, and many of our teachers have become more innovative in their way of teaching.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I’m part of several professional networks both national and abroad, and I’m sharing my experiences and ideas whenever I have the chance. My goal is to show teachers how easy it is to be innovative in your teaching.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

My passion is to take the pupil’s ICT skills seriously, and to give them assignments closer to the “real world” than the typical school assignments they usually get. Here are some examples:

  • We have a network of partnership schools in Croydon, London. We use the learning platform Fronter as our main tool, and our Norwegian pupils can learn English in an authentic environment. The pupils work together in digital classrooms and exchange information about language, culture, geography and personal interests. They work with discussion forums, collaborative writing and digital storytelling.
  • I believe in letting pupils contribute to the local society and be proud of what they do. We had a project where primary school pupils worked for our tourist office, promoting a book about the historic sites in our district from the Bronze and Iron Age. The students made digital stories from the sites, and published them on a national website for cultural heritage. The pupils were also assigned by the Norwegian Mapping Authority to test a new digital map. They used GPS to find the coordinates for the historic sites, and plotted these into the map. I just love projects where pupils can be entrusted with a real piece of work and to see them succeed.
  • The inspiration for my next project I got from the MS Future Vision video where two pupils from different parts of the world are working together on each side of a glass wall. I had for several years been telling my teachers that with ICT we can have a “glass wall” in our classrooms – meaning we can create digital learning spaces. Together with Microsoft Norway we want to find out how far we can get connecting the pupils from two schools in two different countries by web-technology. We will let them work together and have fun using videoconference equipment, collaborative writing, making digital stories together, etc. The project is called “Window to the World.”

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Lack of digital understanding and competence among school leaders and teachers, and lack of classroom leadership.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

We are using a lot of resources to facilitate adapted learning in our schools. We spend money on hardware, software, learning platforms and training of teachers to ensure that our schools have the right tools for a quality education.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

We used to say, “Culture eats vision.” School leaders must have the courage and the will to break old patterns in order to create good and innovative learning spaces.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Because of the “digital revolution” we have access to a vastness of tools and possibilities that we didn’t have just 20 years ago. I don’t think ICT is the answer to all questions
about education, but I’m convinced that it’s one of the main keys to innovation.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Let the pupils be creators of their own learning material rather than consumers.

Let them find answers by themselves and learn from each other (“Peeragogy”), and leverage CSCL (computer supported collaborative learning).

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

I find the “flipped classroom” very interesting.

A trend to be cautious of is to fill the classroom computers with so much pre-fabricated so-called learning software that it hinders the pupils’ creativity.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A laptop with Internet connection (alternatively a smartphone), because it’s the basic tool for connecting with a whole world of learning spaces. (If we disregard the environmental consequences of such a huge production of devices.)

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About Brenna Sigmund
Twitter: @sigmundb

Birthplace: Fredrikstad, Norway
Current residence: Fredrikstad, Norway
Education: Teacher (4 year education in teachers college)
Website I check every day: My Facebook account
Person who inspires me most: Arne Krokan
Favorite childhood memory: First time going abroad on an airplane – to London.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): India
When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning. I have a very funny dog, and she always makes me laugh and smile. I also joke and laugh together with my colleagues every day.
Favorite book: The Bible
Favorite music: The Beatles
Your favorite quote or motto: “Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should in fact be replaced by a computer.”

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