NTA in English

Science and Technology for all

Ivriga att experimentera17 years of collaboration between the academies and school principals with school development in science, engineering and mathematics in focus.

“Research shows that classroom teaching is the most important factor for students for developing a deep and useful knowledge in mathematics. The way we in Sweden have tried to improve classroom teaching has proved to be ineffectual.  There has for too long been an over-reliance on the teacher’s proficiency for improving the quality of teaching.  That is obviously an important factor, but in order to engage in a complex and extensive education in mathematics teachers need good support. “

The quote above is taken from an article in the journal Dagens samhälle on December 11 2013 written by Professor of Mathematical Didactics at Mälardalens Högskola, Anders Ryve.

It is not only concerning mathematics that teachers need good support to develop their teaching. This applies equally to the disciplines of natural sciences and technology. And this is what the school development program NTA focuses on. NTA offers training, tutorials and supplies kits that function as an effective support to develop teaching from an inquiry-based, investigative approach.  Since its inception in 1997, NTA has insisted that school principals should be involved in the program to ensure a long-term commitment.

An American school development concept is tested and developed

Professor Ryve continues;

“I see the need for two specific initiatives. First, we need to develop solid research-based (scientifically based) teaching materials that are not only aimed at students, but also helps teachers in planning lessons, anticipating the students mathematical thinking, acting during group work and leading full class discussions. Secondly, we must ensure organizationally that teachers in mathematics are given the chance to plan, implement and analyze classroom teaching with colleagues in the same field. Recurrent involvement by scientists is important to initiate and enrich these discussions.”

“To ensure that these efforts are effective and that the improvements are not temporary, as “sparklers” that light up and quickly fade away, scientists must take an active part in the development of schools and of classroom teaching.  This should be carried out in close co-operation with municipalities as long-term, large-scale and research-based (scientifically based) development projects. The whole municipality must be engaged in the project; politicians and operations managers, as well as principals and teachers.”

The school development program NTA has since the start been based on an overall concept that supports both the local organization and the teachers professional development. The majority of the employees at NTA have previous experiences of taking courses that were inspiring, but not helpful in their daily practice. Projects dissolving when the funding runs out, because there is nobody in charge of deploying the good initiatives, are often the case.  Many of them have also experienced projects and initiatives that have petered out, as they relied heavily on individual promoters and enthusiasts who quit or moved on to other projects.

These experiences were shared by the municipality of Linköping, when they were courted in 1996 by representatives from the Royal Academy of Sciences (KVA) and the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), who tried to interest them in testing the American development concept Science and Technology for Children (STC). By then the Curriculum Lpo94 was brand new and the syllabuses for natural sciences and technology would take another few years. It was made clear, however, that students in all schools were to partake in both natural sciences (NO) and technology from as early as year 1 of primary school. The preparedness for this was poor, as by then about 80% of the teachers in years 1-6 lacked sufficient education in NO as well as technology.

The overall concept in STC attracted the municipality of Linköping and was crucial for their decision to let a few classes test a couple of the themes as early as in 1996. The cornerstones of the concept were:

  • themes that consists of tutorials for teachers, laboratory equipment and training. 
  • organized handling of materials. The teacher gets the opportunity to devote his time to being an educator instead of searching out functional laboratory materials for his lessons.
  • continuous professional development for teachers. One day’s training is not enough for a teacher to be able to change the way he teaches. This requires recurrent occasions for teachers to share experiences with colleagues and get the opportunity to immerse themselves in various didactic aspects of Science and Technology. 
  • collaboration with academia, local businesses and other stakeholders in the Science an Technology area. 
  • support for assessment of students learning. This support provided concrete models for assessing students learning based on many different aspects, rather than just testing factual knowledge.

Apart from this, the STC in USA was furthermore devised so that the school districts pledged to create an organization where everyone, at all levels, was engaged in the implementation of the concept. The school districts had to describe in an application how they planned to develop their own organization and the activities in the years to come. Training was organized at the national level with the aim that the school districts would spread the word to school leaders, teachers and students.

The feedback from the teachers in Linköping on testing the concept was overwhelmingly positive and Linköping municipality decided to, along with KVA and IVA, to start the NTA projects in the autumn semester of 1997. KVA signed licensing agreements with the organizations which were responsible for the STC in the US. The agreement gave the Swedish project full access to STC’s themes and the right to develop themes based on the Swedish curriculum and project requirements.

Right from the start, the NTA project focused on the fact that a successful development organization requires that all stakeholders are involved in all phases; initial, implementation and development phase. The obvious counterpart to America’s school district is the Swedish school principals, i.e. municipalities and independent schools owners. Therefore no individual school was able to join the project unless the principal applied on their entire organization’s behalf.

From project to operating organization

KVA has since the start of the NTA project hosted the project office. The Academy is very involved in school issues and puts great effort into supporting successful projects as long as they can stand on their own. Thanks to the Academy’s positive attitude to sustaining a project through many years, the municipalities involved got time to discuss and organize a transition to the operational phase.

The first step was taken in June 2003 when 34 municipalities and the heads of four independent schools decided to form the economic association NTA Produktion och Service (NTA PoS). The purpose of forming the association was to ensure the part of the school development concept that directly affects the principals’ NTA organization. The association was given the mandate to educate, support and inspire the members’ coordinators and educators so that they in turn could develop their local organization. In a national network of coordinators, who over the years have been supplemented with regional networks, a platform was formed for the members to share experiences with one another and also to cooperate to get a cost-efficient organization of the training courses that are mandatory in the NTA.

 In parallel with the association’s operating organization, the two academies continued their commitment by forming the project NTA Utveckling (NTA U), which was given responsibility for further developing the themes, developing new support materials, evaluate the school development concept and to participate in international collaborations.

The two parts of the NTA, the operating organization and the new project, worked very closely together, which ten years later facilitated the last step, to deploy even the development and evaluation of the NTA.

From July 1 2013, the association which is now renamed NTA Skolutveckling, is commissioned by the KVA to develop, operate and evaluate all activities related to the school improvement program NTA. Both the KVA and the IVA remain committed partly by appointing representatives to the board, partly by the scientific council which, among other duties, has the mandate to examine the quality of revised and newly developed themes. Members of the council are appointed jointly by the KVA and the IVA.

In just over 16 years, since the original NTA project started, more and more municipalities and independent schools have joined the school improvement program. At the end of 2013, 116 municipalities and 28 independent school principals have understood the power of coming together to create better conditions for the local school development.

The school development concept NTA

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NTA provides various types of support for members’ school improvement. The support can be divided into two categories;

Support for members’ community-based efforts to improve school development in the long term

 Even before a municipality or independent school principal applies for membership, the school development concept is firmly established at all levels of the local school organization. An NTA coordinator is appointed to function as facilitator, to further the development work and ensure that participating teachers/educators have access to the material, the tutorials and courses that are part of the concept. That creates the conditions for a long-term work that does not rely on individual enthusiasts.

Education for coordinators

To strengthen the coordinator in his role, the association organizes a yearly national networking- and educational conference. The conferences are mandatory for all coordinators. At the conference in 2013, 140 NTA coordinators could choose from a program of events such as; basic coordinator training, technology in years 1-3, entrepreneurial learning and natural sciences and technology in preschool. Two of the lectures were filmed and then posted on the NTA’s website.

The national conference is complemented by a regional conference organized in cooperation by the respective regional coordinator and one of the members. At the regional conferences experiences are shared between members. They also feature some educational elements and usually a visit to some locus related to natural sciences or technology. In the autumn of 2013 regional conferences were organized in the municipalities of Danderyd, Höganäs, Jönköping, Karlstad, Vilhelmina and Vänersborg.

Education for educators

To meet the members’ needs for theme educators, a yearly basic training course for aspiring educators is being organized. In order to become an educator, the teacher/educator must be qualified to teach in the age-group which relates to the theme and have experience from working with the theme in a group of students. At the training course, which comprises of four days plus time for preparation and evaluation, the prospective educators get to meet scientists and didactics who illuminate relevant areas. They also get the time to discuss and plan the structure of their first theme training course.

In the spring of 2013, sixteen teachers participated in the training course to become educators in the themes related to elementary school and fifteen preschool teachers underwent training in order to educate in the pre-school themes. As soon as they have submitted their plans for approval, held their first theme training and reported it, they are accepted as trainers and join the ranks of the approximately 300 active educators in the country.

In addition to the basic training for educators, the association also strives to regularly offer the educators in-service training. Thanks to a project, which in 2013 was financed by the National Agency for Education, educators and coordinators were able to attend at training day called “NTA and assessment”. A support material for the training course was developed for trainers and coordinators to use when they hold their own local courses in in-service training for NTA-teachers. A total of 157 coordinators and educators attended one of the six training days held at five different locations in the country.

Training for members’ development groups

Those members, who continually anchor the school development program in the local organization, run the least risk of losing momentum due to personnel changes or losing out on the financial support to school development in natural sciences and technology.  Establishing the program is facilitated if the member has a development group which includes representatives from various levels of the school organization. If you also have representatives from local businesses, academia and/or other local initiatives in the same field, the group will be a platform for impelling a strategic development. Since the autumn of 2009, the association regularly offers a two-day training course for the members’ development groups. 49 members have at one time or another during 2009-2013 participated in the basic training course, which focuses on the connections between what is processed in school and in the surrounding community, the mission and that the groups start their planning of activity on a local basis.

In 2013, the NTA, supported by the National Agency for Education, could for the first time develop and offer an in-service training course for the development groups who had already passed the basic training course.  Fourteen development teams were present when the Seminar for development teams step 2 (SUS2) was carried out in October. Two issues were especially highlighted in the courses Criteria for quality within the NTA and Interaction models between the school and local employment.

Starting in 2014, the SUS2 will be included in the operations organization. Step 1 and step 2 for the training groups will be offered alternately every other year, as Step 2- 2014, Step 1-2015 and so on.

When the training course is targeted at coordinators and educators the association pays for facility costs and costs for lecturers. Members pay for food, accommodation, travel costs and his/her time. When training development teams, the association also covers costs for room and board.

Support for teachers/educators to use approaches that benefit student learning

The association offers all members tools for teachers’ and educators’ professional development in natural sciences, technology and mathematics. They are based on themes that give concrete examples of how to work with a inquiry-based, investigative approach that takes account of children’s/young people’s knowledge and previous experiences, while they simultaneously, in different missions, get to investigate phenomena with scientific methods. The educator/teacher gets didactic support for how the children’s observations and results can be utilized in the discussions and conclusions and for how to monitor their acquisition of knowledge.

Educators’/teachers’ professional development is crucial for the appliance of the work procedures of the themes in groups of children and classes. That is why the NTA is constructed to provide continuous professional development, which each member’s NTA coordinator is responsible for organizing and managing.

Step one in the professional development is the mandatory Introductory training course. It gives educators/teachers an orientation on how the NTA operates and is organized, but above all, they get a first introduction to working in various NTA themes.

The next step is also mandatory. Before teachers/educators work with a theme for the first time, they must take a Theme course in the current theme. The Theme course is a one-day course where participants get the opportunity to perform most of the tasks included in the theme while they discuss how they can solve different practical issues in the classroom. Various didactic issues are raised at the training day including how to help children/students communicate the theoretical content of the theme, to ultimately create the conditions for a deeper understanding in sciences, engineering or mathematics.

Each theme includes a teacher’s guide with didactic support to the teacher and copying data for students’ work. All themes have been supplemented with support to connect them to the preschool curriculum as well as Lgr 11. Initially the extra material is available on NTA’s website, but successively, as the themes are being revised, this material is worked into the revised versions. At the time for the revision of the theme addressed to years 4-6, a Theme book is developed with intriguing texts that relate to the content of the theme. In 2013, thanks to funding from the Ministry of Education, the articles from the five existing text books are made available as audio files on the NTA’s website. Anyone who is logged on to the website can download the files or listen to them directly from the website.

Most of the themes include a complete set of equipment sufficient for twenty children in preschool and thirty in elementary school. The members are responsible for organizing the handling of materials, so that thematic units are complete at the beginning of the semester.

When the educator/teacher works with a theme in a children’s group or in a class, the children’s questions and situations that arise will lead to a need for further studies both in the themes’ theoretical content as well as in various didactic issues. A lot of help can be had from the NTA’s website, where each theme has its own page with support for connections to the curriculum, support for assessment and tips on theme-related web resources of various kinds. Successively, as questions related to the themes are submitted the answers are put on the website.

The website is however not sufficient for giving the educator/teacher opportunity to immerse himself in the overall didactic issues, gain insights into how the theme’s content is linked to the needs of working life and deepen his understanding of the theme’s theoretical content. The members’ coordinator is responsible for offering continuous skills development for all teachers/educators who work with any one of the NTA themes. This can for instance take the form of Theme meetings where participants have the opportunity to exchange experiences, discuss didactic issues or immerse themselves in the subject matter. Theme meetings are excellent opportunities for collaboration with higher education and/or local business.

The NTA successively produces support materials for the members’ NTA coordinator and trainers for use in the continuous development of skills. In 2013, the members had access to the support material NTA and assessment. The pilot project NTA and collegial learning was also conducted during the same year. These experiences and the material that has been developed will be disseminated during 2014.

When NTA started as a project in 1997, there were many teachers who did not have formal qualifications to teach natural sciences and technology. When the decision to legitimize teachers was taken by the state, some of these teachers had been working with NTA’s themes for some years. The courses offered by Lärarlyftet and the special initiative for teachers in years 1-3, offered by the National Agency for Education, have not suited everyone. Therefore, the association has since the spring of 2012 teamed with Dalarna University to offer credits rewarding courses in biology, physics and chemistry for teachers in years 4-6. The courses are at quarter speed and are completely web-based, which means that the teachers who participate have the opportunity to study alongside regular work. Since the inception, 94 teachers have taken one of the courses of which 34 have been able to supplement their jurisdiction in all three subjects.