When student work is recognized outside of school, it becomes more real

rotary2017aStudents excel in many different ways.  Music students show their talents in concerts, athletes show their skills on the playing fields and entrepreneurial students win their competitions for the best company.  And, while it is true that our top academic students receive top grades as rewards for their work when their work is published and recognized outside of school … it is even more appreciated.

Each year, we are lucky enough to have students’ work recognized by our local Rotary club.  In an annual essay contest, year 2 students submit pieces of writing to a jury for selection.  This year, we were lucky enough to have four students recognized


for their outstanding achievement in Swedish.

Students and teachers were invited to an awards breakfast where they read excerpts from their work.

This year’s theme was civil disobedience and civil courage.

Some of their essays are included here:

We are proud of these students and what they have accomplished with their writing. Thanks goes to their teachers who have guided and coached their development.  And, of course, thank you to the Djursholm Rotary Club for recognizing their work and making it more “real.”

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Grow Trees Grow … Graduation 2017

A day filled with photos, memories, smiles, tears, stories, speeches and song … it was truly a day to remember!

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Songs at lunch …

Kristy’s speech:

The day has finally arrived … your graduation day.  All of your hard work and daily efforts for 12 years has led to this day.  There are very few things you do once in your life, graduate from high school is one of them.  This is indeed a special day.

You have already received a great deal of advice, you have the knowledge and skills from your many courses, you are ready.  I know that some of you are nervous, excited, happy, melancholy and anxious … Today, it falls to me talk to you about what is on the other side, the other side of that great big door you will run out of today.

It’s like you are tree.  You started as a small plant way back in 2005. As an eager little plant you started your growing journey of classes, games, fritids, study trips, mentor meetings, exams, avslutning ceremonies, friendships, conflicts, sports, music, art – all of these activities, all of these phases are part of the growing process and are what has brought you here today.  You have had many garderners (teachers and family) who have made sure that you have had sunlight and water and space to grow.  

During these 12 years, as a plant you have now grown to become a tree.  Some of you have grown in crooked ways with funny branches, some of you have needed your branches clipped from time to time to help you grow further.  Yet, all of you have become real trees – some of you are fruit trees, some are flowering trees and some of you are evergreens.  The reality is we are all different, as trees we all grow in our own way.  This is the beauty of diversity in our forest.

Today, at 14.00, you will run out of our school for the last time, you will cross over to the other side.  To our side … As a graduate, as an adult, as a tall tree, there are a few things you should know …

  1. One important point to remember is that as a tall tree you are responsible to shade and aid smaller trees, help them … share with them your knowledge, shade them from too much sun 
  2. Also, good to know, is that when the wind blows and when storms come (and they will!) know that your trunk will hold, you will still stand no matter what … the trick is to dig your roots in.  You see your roots are your values.  Whenever times are hard and we are challenged, it will be your values that see you through.  As time goes on, your roots will grow deeper.  
  3. You should also know that on the other side (adulthood), all trees work together.  Our network of roots intertwines beneath the surface – this makes us all stronger.  You see no matter which type of tree, we all rely on our values to get along and build our forest together.  Above ground we can look very different, but under the surface, we are all alike and need each other
  4. This is important to remember when and if you pull up your roots and move elsewhere to study or work … no matter where you live, dig your roots in … be active and kind and caring and honest … these “roots” are valued no matter where your tree grows
  5. Trees never stop growing … so even if you grow crooked or all your leaves fall off, forget your responsibilities, there is more to come.  There will be many opportunities for you, some you will miss and some you will realize.  Don’t fret over the missed opportunities, trees never stop growing.  With time, new branches and new chances always present themselves.

Now, I know you join me in thanking the “gardeners” who have supported you along your three years here.  They have watered, taken care of and pruned (when needed) to make sure that you had the perfect growing environment, the perfect learning environment.  Gardeners, all of your hard work “digging in the dirt” has really paid off.

And, on behalf of all of us, know that we are so proud of you.  We are so proud of your accomplishments.  We are proud of the trees you have become.  

Today, when you run through those doors, what you will hear are cheers of joy and “go, VRG, go”.  Please know that what we are really saying is “grow, trees, grow”.

Songs (and dances) in the aula …

And, then they were gone.

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Best of luck – Class of 2017









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Remembering “Studentbalen 2017”

A lovely evening had by all … prom2017l

led by toastmasters, Melker and Sara, the class of 2017 celebrated in style at their prom last Monday.

Endearing and heartfelt speeches, fun and entertaining videos, as well as some well-deserved awards, and, of course, a delicious dinner at The Opera Terrace –

A fun-filled evening with students and staff … a great way to celebrate 3 wonderful years!

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Sometimes, the most powerful learning takes place outside the classroom and in the connection between people

Sometimes I observe the most powerful learning in the most unexpected place.  A couple of weeks ago, I visited some students doing field work at another school.  What I expected to see was far exceeded by what I came to understand …

grade aid.png

GRADEAID UF is a student-driven, non-profit organization developed to provide gradeaidboyshomework support and tutoring to students struggling.  Three students from VRG Djursholm created GRADEAID as their UF (Ung Företagsamhet/Junior Achievement) company for 2017.   Their mission is …

GRADEAID UF Mission:  is to help raise the knowledge and motivation of students who today are not meeting the criteria to pass school.  By providing free homework help, the company wishes to encourage young people to come to school, raise their knowledge, as well as give the students an insight into what managing school can mean for their future.  The long-term vision of the company is that all young people will be able to contribute to a better Sweden by realizing their fullest potential by seeing themselves as an important member of our society.

gradeaid1Basically, their plan was this … to visit Järvaskolan each Friday morning during the spring term for 2 hours.  They provide tutoring to students who are willing to come to school early and study for these two hours.  The school provides breakfast and the VRG students provide the tutoring. This was a good plan, but what has happened has become so much more . . .
– the students from VRG and Järvaskolan have really bonded and talked about many topics beyond their studies
– the three boys from VRG have been so inspired that they have now inspired many of their other friends to follow along and act as voluntary tutors
– the GRADEAID tutors have also been employed as paid tutors during Saturday school and holiday school provided by JärvaskolanIMG_5253
– and now at the end of the year, as a prize to the students who have attended the most homework sessions, VRG and Järvaskolan students will participate in social activities together outside of school.
When I talked to my students, I realized they did not come up with a sustainable idea for their “company” before mid-December.  And, even then, they were unsure if it would work.  Yet, once they began working with the young people at Järvaskolan their idea quickly shifted from theory to practice.  What they were maybe not expecting was to be so affected by what their efforts one morning a week could mean in results.  Many of the Järvaskolan students are now working towards passing grades and are engaged and excited to come to school on Friday mornings.
IMG_5243.JPGThe real reason I went to visit this field work was to discuss with the principal at Järvaskolan how we could continue this cooperation and the vision of these three students.  While every UF company must “close” by the end of the year, they have asked VRG Djursholm to inherit the mission and continue their work.  So, we met together with Helya Riazat and some of her staff to discuss the details.
What I expected to observe when I visited these students was a UF company in action (one that got started rather late).  I expected to see VRG students tutoring younger students from another school.  I expected to see a positive learning experience.
IMG_5235What I saw was true engagement from all students, sincere, meaningful relationships and joy.  What I came to understand was the impact these three students were making.  What I observed was the profound respect and effort my students were making to realize their UF company’s mission.  They were not doing this for a grade, they were doing this because they believed it was really important.
And, what I was most reminded of was that often the most powerful learning takes place outside our classrooms and in the personal connection between people.  
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Remembering Culture Café 2017 / Kulturkafé 2017

Thanks to all of our Music and Art profile students who “stole the show” during our Culture Café 2017 …

Watching the concert:

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and listening . . .

Then, we were able to walk through the exciting art show:

The whole afternoon was filled with inspirational images and sounds, as well as a real sense of #VRGANDA.

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What it is like to be an entrepreneur … one student investigates

(Guest blogger:  Cedric Bratt)
simenextOn Tuesday the 23d of May, I visited an event called SIME next. SIME next is the largest IT-event for youths in northern Europe and it is great! Now the event wasn’t only about IT; it was also about entrepreneurship and how you can find your true interest in life.
The guests holding the presentations on the event were among others Johannes Hanssen, a mental advisor who held one of the most interesting presentations at the whole event about fearjohannes and finding your true self. He talked about how important it is to find your passion in life because if you work with something you do not really love, you will give it up when the going gets tough.
Another interesting guest was Mikael Spreitz, an ex-criminal who now is one of Swedens biggest actors. He has been convicted over 40 times and it would have been even more if he did not come to a critical point where he realized that he had to change. It was at an airlock maxresdefaultat the mental hospital for criminals he realized that he did not want to live the life he was living. So he changed, first he worked for the police but then one day a colleague approached him asking him if he was interested in doing an audition for a role in a big Swedish movie. He told him, yes and surprisingly he acquired the role even though everybody around him told him he could not do it. What I learned from him is that: it is never too late to change and make the right decision. He also talked about how you should never ever give up if you want to do something, do it, it does not matter what anybody else says.
Overall SIME next was a very interesting event and there were many fascinating guests with gripping life stories. I learned a lot about what it means to be an entrepreneur.
To be an entrepreneur means hard work, a lot of hard work, you will work day and night without ever knowing when you will be paid. But it is also a fantastic profession because you will work with your passion and sometimes passion is all you need. As the host of the event said it; “when it comes to being an entrepreneur you are either celebrating with champagne or crying in your basement, there is no middle in between.”
cedric bratt

Cedric Bratt

Natural Science, Class of 2019

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How to use time in the best way? #droptheschedule

At our school, May is a crazy, chaotic month.  IMG_0112

Students and teachers have worked for 10 months learning new skills, developing abilities and growing knowledge in each course.  With one month left, we are all trying to focus on finishing strong where every student can show all that they have learned. Many different activities are planned – exams, presentations, projects, study trips, debates, national tests, pitch contests and much, much more.  While our focus is clear, the question of how to organize is the trick.

How can we use time in the best way?

Our answer – #droptheschedule.

For three days, we drop the regular schedule and allow teachers to use the time in chemlabexamwhatever way serves the learning in their course.  Some courses need long periods of time, some courses need only a few minutes, but only a few students at a time, some groups need all day for a study trip . . . we try to find the most efficient and effective way to use one of our most precious resources – time.  We call these three days – Resource Days.

What happens during Resource days?

In Chemistry 1, students have done a 2-hour lab (practical) exam.  Students are given an open lab where they must understand the problem, draft their plan, run their experiment and report results.  Students’ lab practical skills are the focus of this exam.  Mastering good lab skills are essential for Chemistry 2.

IMG_0100In all math courses, students have takenIMG_0098 their national tests.  And, every day, we offered all day math support lessons, “mattestuga“.


In Economy, students have participated in a “Shark Tank” type pitch contest.  Each student team pitched their business ideas to guest judges.  For this competition, we were happy to welcome guest judges.  Having judges from the “real world” makes this contest more authentic.

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9C71200A-0BDD-4B02-9E20-3B0024A8CAC2In Biology 1, students spent an entire day at Tyresta National Park.  Studying how an ecosystem develops after a fire, students were able to see first-hand important aspects of sustainability.  Read more about this exciting study trip here>>

Students in Sports went swimming.



Social Science 1 students prepared, presented and debated political party ideals.

Year 3 students gathered to practice their student song and trained their waltz dance moves in preparation for their upcoming ball.

Psychology students took their final exams and completed their final analysis.

In addition, many students met one-on-one with their teachers to get feedback and prepare their final assignments.  Student groups met to work on group projects.time-management

It was definitely three busy days.  Actually, it was a bit chaotic.  Yet, when we want to achieve the most effective use of time, we have to let “need” steer.  Different students need different support, different courses need different circumstances.

Yes, it does take extra administrative resources, but the results are worth it.

How can we use time in the best way? #droptheschedule



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Learning in the great outdoors!

(Guest blogger: Hanna Forsberg)

9C71200A-0BDD-4B02-9E20-3B0024A8CAC2Elever som läser kursen Biologi 1 tillbringade en heldag i Tyresta nationalpark söder om Stockholm. Tyresta skog är vår närmaste nationalpark och är mest känd för sina urskogsområden, vackra tallmarker – och den stora branden 1999. Eleverna vandrade till brandområdet och fick en guidad tur av en av Tyrestas medarbetare. På vägen dit fick vi anledning att diskutera bland annat naturtyper, indikatorväxter och biologisk mångfald. Till och från brandområdet passerade vi även två stora bäverdammar, eleverna utsåg bävern till “djurvärldens arkitekt”.

Vår guide i brandområdet berättade om gott och ont med skogsbränder, brandekologi, 84703CA3-68E6-4053-BF3A-80A9415C8BFCartspecifika anpassningar och succession. Själv delade jag ett minne från då jag träffade på ett team från Danmark som fotade ett modereportage i den dramatiska, brända miljön. Tidigare hade även rockband ansökt om att spela in en musikvideo där, det fick tillstånd till detta, under förutsättning att de inte spelade någon musik som kunde störa djurlivet…  Vår guide var även expert på bävrar och berättade mer om deras fascinerande liv.

B5CBA71F-EAC1-4AEB-92BB-FEB17D31A9DAUnder promenaden tillbaka till Tyresta by hade vi tyst vandring under en period för att uppleva naturens alla intryck, det gick då att höra både uggla och lom.

I Tyresta by fick vi en visning av Naturum, Nationalparkernas hus. Vi fick lära oss mer om Sveriges natur, våra 29 nationalparker, ekosystemstjänster och värdet av att bevara den biologiska mångfalden. Visste du till exempel att våra myrmarker renar det som blir vårt dricksvatten?

Innehåll ur kurs Biologi 1 som behandlades under dagen:8D515140-10A1-4E94-B37A-92C6CAFEF13A

* Ekosystemens struktur och dynamik, samt ekosystemtjänster.
* Naturliga och av människan orsakade störningar i ekosystem med koppling till frågor om bärkraft och biologisk mångfald.
* Kunskaper om biologins betydelse för individ och samhälle, i synnerhet ekologiskt hållbar utveckling lokalt och globalt samt olika sätt att bidra till detta.

Dagen bjöd på en mils vandring, duggregn till och från, ett gäng glada elever, nya upplevelser och kunskaper.

Biology 1 students spent a full day in Tyresta National Park in the south of Stockholm. Tyresta forest is our nearest national park and is best known for its woodland areas, beautiful pine fields – and the big fire in 1999.

829F8C68-3CE8-48E8-8CF3-99BDF6DB72B6During the study visit, the students walked to the fire area and had a guided tour with one of Tyresta’s employees. During our hike, we were able to discuss the natural habitat, plants, and biodiversity. To and from the fire area, we also passed two large beaver dams. The students appointed the beaver as the “animal world architect”. Our guide told us about good and evil with forest fires, fire technology, species-specific adaptations, and succession. I, myself, shared a memory from when I met a team from Denmark who photographed a mother in the dramatic, burned environment. In the past, rock bands were also asked to record a music video there, given permission for this, provided they did not play any music that could disturb wildlife …

Our guide was also an expert on beavers and told us more about their fascinating life. During the walk back to Tyresta, we had quiet walking for a period of time to experience all the impressions of nature, so it was possible to hear both owls and lamb. In Tyresta, we received a view of Naturum, the National Park’s museum. We learned more about Sweden’s nature, our 29 national parks, ecosystems and the value of preserving biodiversity.

Did you know, for example, that our marshlands clean what becomes our drinking water?

Core Content from Biology 1 addressed during the study visit:

* Structure and dynamics of ecosystems. Energy flows and recycling materials, and also ecosystem services.

* Natural and man-made disturbances in the ecosystem linked to questions about bearing capacity and biological diversity.

* Knowledge of the significance of 894241B1-7C61-45ED-B723-E8F7935D36FCbiology for individuals and society, especially ecologically sustainable development locally and globally, and various ways to contribute to this.

The day offered a mile of hiking, drizzle on and off, a bunch of happy students, new experiences, and knowledge.

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Variation in the “how” and authentic tasks are key to student motivation

thinking-emoticonAs a school leader, I think a lot about what motivates the students at my school. Of course, our work is greatly informed by current educational research on this topic. Yet, I am left to ponder how does this scientific evidence translate into our classrooms? After countless conversations with students and teachers and nearly 75 walk-through observations this year, I have begun to draw some conclusions.

I believe student motivation at my school is influenced by many factors:

-the balance between challenge without overload and self-confidence

-relationship and level of trust between student and teacher

-real and relevant tasks

-variation in the “how”

-the element of the unexpected; curiosity

Here is one example of what student motivation looks like in Social Science:

Students in Social Science 2 have studied a module of their course about Climate Change.

The task was called the World Climate Project.

After a thorough introduction to theories and resources.  Students were divided intoparis groups each representing a different country that had signed the Paris Agreement and were also amongst the largest global CO2 emitters. Each of these countries has different social, political and economic situations and are affected by climate change in different ways.

spetscountry.jpgThe task was to research relevant information about the country in order to develop a realistic climate policy for that country. The research and presentation were developed in teacher-led coaching feedback sessions.  

Each group presented their country’s proposal for the class.  

The country presentations were assessed by both the Social Science and the Natural Science teacher as many concepts, theories and important points relate to both courses.IMG_0070 (1)

In the next two weeks, all groups will take part in negotiations with other countries over policies and solutions. The purpose of the negotiations is to reach consensus on how to reduce emissions and reduce the rate of global temperature increases. Some of the questions that will be central to these discussions are:

  • What should the global climate change and emissions targets look like?
  • How can different countries contribute to achieving these global targets?
  • What kind of measures should be taken in order to achieve these targets?

The “HOW” …

The project consists of the following stages:

Part 1: Research of country and development of climate policy.  

Part 2: Presentation of country climate policy (group presentations)

Part 3: Participation in UN-led climate negotiations (whole class)  

This unit of study directly relates to the course core content:

Teaching in the course should cover the following core content:

  • Contemporary political development in society on the basis of historical ideological conditions, such as human rights, nationalism, colonialism and gender equality, in relation to the distribution of power and economic conditions. Issues of the freedom of action of players versus structural conditions.
  • Critical examination of sources, interpretation, and assessment of information from different media and sources when working with complex social issues. Referencing sources in accordance with established norms.
  • Oral and written presentations in different forms, using different techniques common in the area, such as debates, articles, reports and essays.

And, the grading criteria:

  • Students can discuss causes, and also political economic and social consequences of different solutions to social issues. Students can give arguments for their viewpoints and evaluate the viewpoints of others.
  • In their work on social issues, students can search for, examine and interpret information from different sources.
  • Students can with certainty and in a structured way, express their knowledge of social studies using different types of presentations.

How does this example relate to my conclusions about student motivation?

Consider this:

  1.  Students were challenged to think beyond the details of climate change.  They were required to consider the application of the details for their own situation and set that in the context of a comparison with other countries.  While difficult, the students had the coaching of their teacher throughout the process.  They also discussed with their Natural Science teacher for further support.  Presentations were in groups of three and practiced in advance.

-balance between challenge without overload and self-confidence

-relationship and level of trust between student and teacher

2.  The Paris Agreement is a current agreement being debated.  The realities of different country’s situations are what defines this debate.  By “taking on” one country’s perspective, students had to set aside their own opinions and work even hard to understand those of their country.

-real and relevant tasks

3.  In class lectures, coaching sessions, research, discussions in Natural Science class, group presentations and class debate … different steps in the process allow for different approaches and development of different skills.

-variation in the “how”

4.  The country presentations are now complete.  The students are eager to move on to the debate because they do not know how it will end.  They know how they want it to end, but they are unsure if it will work.  They are motivated to participate to get their proposed solution agreed upon by all.

-the element of the unexpected; curiosity

Wondering if this unit of study is typical for this class and if they are motivated to learn more than in a traditional setting, I reviewed an external survey of students in the Stockholm area where they commented on the learning at their school.  

In each statement:

-The teaching motivates me to learn more.

-My teachers cooperate for my learning.

-There is variation in how we work during my lessons.

this class answered much more positively than their counterparts in other Stockholm schools.

enkät spets

spets skl vt2017

These student survey results mirror my observations and discussions with this class. The students said they really “get excited about their country’s ideas” and are “really ready for debate”.

We all understand that motivation is a key component of learning.  If we can identify (and agree on) what ingredients are needed to incite motivation, then we can work systematically to design the learning to ensure that it happens.

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Blended Learning is the what, Instructional Design is the how

img_8286I recently participated in a lively debate about how can we help our students learn best?

The debate was centered on the topic of blended learning – what it is and how can we use it to make learning effective and efficient.  It was evident to me after following the debate that there are many different opinions and ideas floating around.  And while this is a healthy and important debate to have, I want to spend a few minutes discussing how I view blended learning at VRG and make clear why I believe this approach can help our students learn best.

First of all, let’s talk about the “what” and then work backward to the “how”.  Adapted from the Clayton Christensen Institute definition, we define blended learning as:

blended learning vrg

What does that really mean?  This means that if we are doing it right, blended learning activities will enable our students and enable our teachers.  Our students will experience their classes to be more relevant to their interests and needs and abilities. Our teachers will experience a structured, effective way to utilize all the tools in their toolbox to see and support and teach every student.  In reality, one blended classroom will look very different from another.  There will be a blend of lecture and discussion and collaborative exercises.  There will be a blend of group and individual tasks.  There will be a blend of online and face-to-face activities.  The blend will be determined by what the teacher deems best for the specific learner.  We will know when we have the blend just right when the teacher has more one-on-one time with each student and each student feels seen, supported and challenged.

We use this illustration to think about our vision for Blended Learning.


If this is the “what”, the next question is, of course, the “how”.  Early on in our pilot studies, we realized this was the important question.  That was when we began to discuss the process of Instructional Design.

instructional design

The teacher is the leader of the learning.  The decisions the teacher makes determine the roadmap for the student.  Finding the balance between all of the aspects mentioned above is what makes the roadmap effective.  Designing the structure of the course (pace, path and place) and determining which aspects to emphasize makes the roadmap labweek4befficient.  Many important interactions occur when learning is present:  when and how the students should interact with the content; when and how students interact with the teacher and their classmates; when and how students interact with reflection to connect new ideas to their already existing knowledge.  By understanding best practices in instructional design, we can draw a roadmap for each student to make the most of every interaction.

Good instructional design requires teachers to get and give continual feedback. In traditional classrooms, the feedback processes were too slow and time-consuming.  This forced teachers to make decisions based on “the average” of a class.  In a blended learning classroom, teachers are empowered by an understanding of each and every img_0043-1student’s progress thanks to effective edtech tools.

I realize now we should spend more time talking about the “how” and less about the “what”.  Teachers are the key to student learning.  How they design and teach their courses are key to successful student learning.

To be clear, we are focused on offering blended learning empowered by efficient and effective instructional design. img_9677

Want to see what a blended classroom can look like:

Blended Learning in a Physics Classroom

Creating Blended Learning Environments

Want to read a summary of our work over the past two years?

(in Swedish) En digital kursstruktur för synlig undervisning och ökad elevkontakt #CanvasLMS

Want to discuss this more or join our debate?  Comment below.


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