Hands-on learning & sustainability in action

Our time in schools both in northern Iceland and the Reykjavik area revealed some very cool components about the Iceland education system. Many classes are team taught (often with two teachers focused on different subject areas), which allows schools to keep teacher-student ratios low (about one teacher to every ten students or so, even at the high school level). There is a lot of trust and responsibility placed in students’ hands. And teachers are given a good amount of freedom and time to innovate in their classrooms and to collaborate with their colleagues. We also learned schools in Iceland typically wrap up classes by around 1pm to allow students time to then participate in activities, clubs, and sports.
In Akureyri, you may remember, we visited the Árskóli Sauðárkróki, a school serving students ages 6 to 16. There we spoke with Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson, the chief innovation officer for the district. Ingvi was instituting the first one-to-one iPad policy in Iceland, along with numerous other technology initiatives. We observed students in several classrooms, for example, working in small groups using a Sphero-like robot to identify verb forms.
In Reykjavik, we visited several different schools. We met with tenth graders and their teachers at Hólabrekkuskóli; visited the University of Iceland to speak with a glaciology professor in the Institute of Earth Sciences, and also teacher candidates in the School of Education; and then traveled out to a unique eco village in Solheimar to meet with university students from around the world who are participating in a semester abroad focused on sustainability studies.
At Hólabrekkuskóli, we enjoyed conversing with students who are finishing up their primary school studies and preparing to move on to “college.” College in Iceland is different than in the U.S.; it begins when students are 16 and prepares them for university or to move on to a career. It’s a little like high school in the U.S. The students in the class we visited had been interacting with the Changing Earth site and curriculum, and asked us questions ranging from what it was like traveling across the highlands in Iceland, to what we thought of Donald Trump as president :). We sat down after class with their two inspirational teachers, Anna María K. Þorkelsdóttir and Engilbert Imsland, to talk about their educational philosophies, their school, and Iceland’s education system in general. A clip from our interview with Anna María and Engilbert appears above. They are both proponents of project-based learning, maker spaces, and encouraging students to follow their passions and learn to solve problems creatively using real-world settings. We agree!
Later that same day we traveled to the School of Education at the University of Iceland to meet with teacher candidates. Aaron had been invited there by Tryggvi Thayer, a program manager at the school and current PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota (!), to present on adventure learning and showcase some of his innovative educational projects across the years.
Our final educational foray during our Iceland expedition brought us to a unique eco-village in Solheimar, just over an hour outside Reykjavik. There we met with university students from around the world who are spending a semester in Iceland delving into sustainability studies and discussing ways they can personally and professionally make a difference in the world. We were incredibly inspired by the positive energy and thoughtful inquisitiveness of these students, along with the beautiful campus of the eco-village. There, folks come together to live and practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability. From greenhouses where they grow their own food, to programs that promote independent living and community for individuals with disabilities and that provide comprehensive life skills for ex-prisoners, the Solheimar eco-village offers a positive and practical role model for sustainable living in action. Thank you to Augsburg University student Hannah Arvold for the invite to visit! We wish we could have spent more time with everyone there.
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