Working to play
The digital race can adopt some extreme forms in Sweden. In Göteborg Felix Kjellberg, alias PewDiePie, 24 years old, sits at his computer more or less 24 hours a day. He has become famous for his Youtube channel which has more than 30 million followers. What is it that makes him so fascinating?
He films himself playing computer games and has already become a multimillionaire. His videos have been viewed four billion times. Ask how this is possible and you often get the same answer: the long Scandinavian nights and the necessity of internationality – Sweden is a country with a small population. The increasing participation of adults means that computer games have become a popular movement.
Computers in schools
IT has become an important symbol of modernity in Sweden. Schools everywhere have been outfitted with computers and their use is prescribed by the curriculum. To what extent the work with computers is really integrated in to the of process of learning is dependent on the individual school administrations and teachers. Online school portals are installed everywhere to continually document class timetables, homework, the latest results and absences from class for parents and pupils.
With their own passwords, parents can access the information and pass it on. In this way, it is hoped that parents take a more active role in the school life of their children. In addition to this, there are diverse studies, statistics and continual discussions. There are no computer-averse schools. A major problem though, which has not however been linked to the use of computers, is the continual downward slide of Swedish schools on international performance comparison tables.
Computers in Waldorf schools
Over the last two years we have as a group conducted projects at various Waldorf schools in Sweden. We did so in creative mathematics in the form of maths festivals in the Stockholm region and in Göteborg. Everything said about this subject today may well be overtaken and look quite different tomorrow. The use of computers in these schools was mostly limited to the writing of texts and the looking up of pertinent information on the internet. Faint interest from the teachers and a general uncertainty has led to discussions about how to handle computers and tablets in a Waldorf environment, something which takes time. Computers may have been purchased and computer rooms with an internet connection may have been installed, but this does not automatically mean that the work itself will be sophisticated and well-structured. Often, the computers themselves can encounter problems, either due to a lack of time for the necessary care or a lack of computer know-how. Basic or advanced IT education for teachers is seldom offered.
The Swedish education authority (Skolinspektionen) does not differentiate between different methods of schooling and education. Due to this, changes in the curriculum also apply to Waldorf schools. The question is how the work done by pupils on a computer can be incorporated into regular lessons in a meaningful way.
Handicraft and computers
One of the most important guiding principles for Waldorf teachers is the structure of a piece of work. Content and form are combined in the work process. Either, having found the content, a relevant form is then sought, or vice versa. Finding both simultaneously is also a possibility. This takes place in revision, the bread and butter of the creator. It is especially true of woodwork when the work slowly begins to take shape. There tools, workbenches and a good group ethic as well as the scent of the material can be an inspiration. Coordination is put in to practice.
On the computer there is no physical material but programmes, and with their help results are produced on-screen. These programmes have to be learnt. In terms of methodology it is most advantageous if the step-by-step leaning of a programme can be combined from the beginning with the development of an idea. It is possible to find a video or text tutorial on the Internet that offers a solution to just about any problem. In most cases, other people have already posed the same question and various answers can be found on the Internet.
The answer to the question of what is more genuine or worthwhile can be found in the working process and the task itself. Realness, in the educational meaning of the word, emerges through that which the pupils and teacher experience, learn and take away from the process together. Whether a so-called virtual reality, a pure reality or a mixed reality is created at the end is a secondary consideration.
Working on a computer is a rare skill
Young people communicate quickly and easily with computers. They continual discover new things and tell each other about them. Learning through virtual reality is a new challenge. Pupils know a lot about computers and can skilfully navigate around them. What they often cannot do, however, is work on a computer.
Doing creative work on a computer has therefore to be an important goal for the school. This timely diversification of learning as part of a well-balanced timetable would result in more advantages than disadvantages.
The goal: an ebook
This spring a potentially interesting project was undertaken at the Rudolf Steiner School in Göteborg. The four-week-long maths main lesson had, to all and intents and purposes, already been planned. But it turned out rather differently. I let the class play around and try out an interactive programme on the computer. The programme dealt with linear functions and basic problems, such as the solving of equations or the charting of geometric shapes. The spontaneous interest could not be ignored. From this came the idea of creating a digital main lesson book. To this end, I prepared an example and presented it on a large screen. Ebooks can be leafed through on-screen.
A discussion with the class about this goal and the time and labour involved led to making an attempt at this.
Working with the play drive
Individual work on separate computers was a prerequisite. Every pupil was given a small USB drive on loan on which they were to name and save all documents and pictures. But how to retain the play drive of the children while still doing work? The solution lay in self-made tutorials which I gave to the children in paper form. As software I chose Open Office 4.2. The free programme has a number of advantages, such as being able to easily switch between text, calculations and drawings, and the ability to make easy use of mathematical formula tools with a simple programming language. Every day the children received a new tutorial and, with its help, were able to learn the most important tools.
When somebody required some more time, they were allowed to take it. It became apparent that a lot of pupils wanted to advance far too fast to their goal. The habitual cursory clicking did not lead to progress. A tutorial, however, sets out every individual step, and it has to be followed. And so page after page was written, sometimes in quite different manners. A cover, an introduction, a table of contents and several sections were obligatory and specified through tutorials. Then each pupil was allowed their pick of several subject areas. There was a palpable feeling that the class started to appreciate the creation of the book more and more with each passing day. Several texts were revised, pictures and photos they took themselves were incorporated and mathematical formula tools were employed. It was possible to set certain pupils more difficult exercises, such as creating geometric projections in 3D software. Other pupils received more help and easier exercises. The regular change to direct teaching was also a prerequisite so that the children would not become one-sidedly tired.
The final product was a PDF document, consisting of multiple pages, that was then imported into a flip programme by the pupils. This is how the main lesson books were created. Finally, on the last day of the main lesson, the links were sent by text message to the pupil's mobile phones. The school then also published several of these main lesson books on its website. Here are the links to the digital main lesson books:
About the author: Franz Peter Waritsch works at Swedish Waldorf schools as a specialist teacher. Co-founder of the Waldorf Academy in Göteborg, Maths Studio and maths festivals in Sweden (contact details: waritsch(at)me.com)