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Innovative Norwegian teacher shares his recipe for success

Make sure students understand the material before rushing ahead!

Math skills in Norwegian schools have been declining despite an increased focus on the subject over the past 15 years. Thankfully, we can learn something from one innovative teacher in Oslo.

In most Norwegian schools, less than 20% of students achieve high scores in math. There are exceptions however, like at Engebråten Lower Secondary School in Oslo County. The school is well-known for its emphasis on math and science, but some of its teachers decided to teach even more in-depth math two years ago. The students were surprisingly enthusiastic. Now 10-20% of ninth graders are following an accelerated math curriculum, equivalent to the first year of upper secondary school.

Skage Hansen (Picture by Signe Dons)

Skage Hansen has been teaching math for 14 years. Inspired by research on how math is taught in Southeast Asia, he completely rearranged the way he teaches:

  • He supplements traditional homework assignments with videos lessons
  • He makes video for each topic in the curriculum
  • He makes different versions of the lessons for different skill levels
  • He stores these lessons in a video repository, allowing students to watch them as often as needed.

Skage says, “The great thing about using videos is that students get to choose the ones at their level, increasing the skills of students of all levels.”

Norwegian Minister of Education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, agrees with Skage’s teaching practice and sites a British study supporting a similar approach:

“Researchers concluded that the students learned more when they were able to concentrate on understanding one topic completely before moving on.”

Norwegian Minister of Education: Torbjørn Røe Isaksen (Picture by Vegard Wivestad/NTB Scanpix)

Skage’s videos are in such demand that he has made them available to other schools on his website getSmart. The website houses videos in Norwegian and English. Video clips for Engebråten’s entire secondary school curriculum are available there, and can also be accessed through the itslearning app library in Norway.

Skage remarks, “Our school has always been a bit ahead of the curve. We expect that students have mastered the four basic arithmetic operations in elementary school, so we tackle problem solving and in-depth study from day one in eighth grade.”

“We do some repetition, then we work systematically through the secondary school syllabus. When we’re finished with arithmetic, the students have already gotten a whiff of upper secondary school curriculum. Then we start algebra and equations. They use the skills and knowledge they’ve built up, and repetition becomes natural.”

Skage and students (Picture by Signe Dons)

The ninth-graders in Skage’s class enjoy learning through instructional videos. Some of them are two years ahead of average ninth graders in Norway. Edvard Sandvik (on left, above) has a sister in the third year of upper secondary school and he’s quickly catching up with her in math.

Skage has also developed decks of cards in English to teach everything from basic addition and subtraction, to algebra and linear functions. Currently, his cardGames are being used in 30% of Norwegian schools and throughout the rest of Europe. They are also used in Africa, China and Chile.

For more information, please see GetSmart.

This article is a summary of an interview with Skage Hansen and an article published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. Read the full article in Norwegian here.

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