The quest for deeper learning: the world is not divided up into subjects

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For over 40 years, Ringstabekk middle school in Bærum has focused on real life education. Recently, we came to visit and learn more.

‘’It is important to understand that the world is not divided into isolated subjects. It’s good to work with lots of different subjects at the same time. If, for example, I were going to work with something in religion or write a text, I would need to bring in other things as well’’

                                                                                                    – Student, 15 years old, Ringstabekk middle school.

The quotation above describes what deeper learning is all about. At Ringstabekk middle school in Bærum, students encounter real-life problems with interdisciplinary and inquiry-based methods throughout their education.

These methods develop a variety of skills in students. Practice in foundational skills happens naturally. The school’s central interdisciplinary approaches include working on projects, stories, problem-based learning (PBL), and entrepreneurship. Teachers also use pedagogical games and simulations.

In each teacher team, teachers plan and implement interdisciplinary activities in learning periods that range from 6-8 weeks. The activities are varied and aim to challenge students’ assumptions. You can read more about Ringstabekk’s pedagogical platform here.

Students affect their own learning through governance groups

Often it is the students at Ringstabekk who present the results from student surveys to their own classmates. Additionally, most students participate in governance groups at some point during their three years at the school. These governance groups plan the content of the period blocks and allow students to develop leadership skills. According to the student survey results, students at Ringstabekk feel to a large degree that their education is varied, practical, and relevant.

One example is the 8th grade project “Social media: Sophie Elise’*s world’’. This theme was originally a suggestion from the teachers and was going to feature blogs prominently. However, students in the governance groups voiced that blogs were not as relevant for them since they spend much more time on other social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Upon hearing this, the teachers challenged the students to present how these other social media platforms could become the focus. The students responded that the learning outcomes would actually be even larger and more relevant if the project followed the platforms that students used most.

Another argument from the students was that there is much more complexity available in platforms like Facebook than in blogs. On Facebook, one can comment, like, link, tag, update statuses, invite, and even exclude others. This is a digital arena that many turn to for confirmation that they are good enough. Students argued that they wanted to produce a video that documented what they had learned on social media.

A video that documents Learning

One of the groups of students made a video called ‘On the hunt for likes’. The students not only created the manuscript, but also assigned and assumed different roles in the show. In the film, they described their dependence on receiving enough ‘likes’ on pictures and statuses and the pain they felt in the absence of enough of this confirmation. Another group of students made a video called, ‘Fake users – who they are and what they want’. Overall, the project ended with 18 different films made by groups of four students each.

Each group had to assume defined roles as a producer, director, starring role, and storyboard manager, just like they would encounter in a real film production. Students described how they had learned a lot about video editing throughout the process. At the end, the school arranged an Oscar ceremony where all of the films were shown and students voted for a winner. The teachers decorated the auditorium with red streamers and everyone dressed up.

…and things happened throughout the process

This is a recurring comment –almost like a mantra—from students, teachers, and the principal of Ringstabekk school. That unexpected things arise throughout the process is part of the pedagogy, and these are not seen as ‘distractions’ but as challenges to students and teachers.

This shows how these activities are truly representative of real-life occurrences. Students gain experience in overcoming challenges while at the same time, the school is not just concerned about what students learn, but also how they can use what they learn in unforeseen situations.

Active students provide Learning

During our visit, we asked students, “what were the most important things that you learned in the project that started off as ‘Sophie Elise’ but ended up to be so much more?”

Students answered that they learned how you have to think critically, even if at first you think it should all just be fun. Students also describe how have become more aware of what they write on the internet and that they now think twice about how they communicate.

“We were surprised at how some of the boys were such strong actors—many were even able to cry on command! The prize for the best female actress actually went to a boy!”

And what did we in Conexus learn from this visit? We saw active, engaged students who were using their teachers as resources even from the beginning stages of the activity. We saw students who participated in documenting their own learning through the filmmaking process, and we saw how reading, writing, and digital competencies were integrated into an interdisciplinary activity that focused on citizenship and life skills.

Ringstabekk school impressed us with how their students received practice in critical thinking and teamwork by making a film about the dark sides of social media. They raised timely ethical concerns about actual communication channels on the internet. And most importantly, the students spoke with excitement about the project –one that they are sure to remember for a long time.

We recommend that everyone follow how the students, teachers, and principal work together at Ringstabekk school. You can read more about the school and Principal Bjørn Bolstad’s thoughts about the school’s future (Norwegian only) here

Do you want to learn more about how you or your school can better integrate deeper learning? Get in touch with Nina Smeby by phone at 416 15 068, or by email at 

*Sophie Elise is a popular blogger in Norway (beauty/fitness).