Monday, 15 January 2018

First impressions of the #CBLchat book

As I read Brené Brown's Daring Greatly, I can't help but examine what I do through a lens of vulnerability. She mentions on p.46 that "sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we've developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story." I agree, but as I consider the "sharing" that I do through my writing, I feel like I am offering vulnerability to you the reader, and I yet am not necessarily in a relationship with you. I know one might say that is not what she is talking about. But this brand of vulnerability, I believe, is good. And should be talked about. In fact I believe that sharing begets risking which begets sharing.

I take a risk. As I share how it went, and survive through the aftermath of vulnerability, I am able to risk more. And see the benefits of it. Furthermore, I believe that this not only happens within a person but within a group. As one person becomes vulnerable and shares a bit of themselves, others follow suit. With this in mind, I want to open up a discussion about the first chapter of Connections-based Learning.

Our CBL journey begins by framing CBL as donning a new lens. My hope has always been to have connections-based learning accessible. Adding all sorts of do's and don't's works against the accessibility of the approach. Revealing a new lens leads to effective change. It reframes. It inspires. It helps us shift our paradigms. This new paradigm is centred around a shift from what to who. With whom can we connect to help us learn? I mention that this shift opens the door for three things:

Student Voice - allowing students to speak into another situation

Student Empowerment - allowing students to make a difference

Student Compassion - allowing students to see from another's perspective and act in a caring manner

How does this resonate with you? Is the lens somewhat familiar or is it foreign? Is it clear or is it foggy? Is it accessible or does it seem unreachable? Take a vulnerable step and share your thoughts either with our Voxer Community, using the #CBLchat hashtag on Twitter, or below and let's get the dialogue going.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

What is connections-based learning? #CBLchat

This is not a rhetorical question.

I would like to start this year off with asking you what you think connections-based learning is. I have spent many years talking about this approach to teaching. But teaching is not about one person spouting off ideas. It is about the transmission of those ideas and the meaning made within everyone else. For this post, I want to share some resources that can help you make meaning from the idea. My hope, though, is that you share your ideas on the approach as we learn and make meaning together.

Connections-based learning Wikipedia article

The CBL wikipedia article gives an outline of the approach as well as how it differs from other 21st century approaches to teaching.  It allows for others to share their thoughts, add their ideas, submit their examples. Like all Wikipedia pages, it is a work in progress that blossoms as others add to it.

Connected Terminology Post

Getting our terms straight is an important part of communication. I appreciate Kenneth Muhumuza reminding me of this post regarding just that:

How is CBL different from global ed? Isn't CBL just another version of Connected Education? How does it differ from Connected Learning? I believe I address all these questions in the "Connections-based Learning, Connected Learning, Connected Education, Global Ed. Any dif?"  post.

Connections-based Learning book

CBL on     CBL on    CBL on      CBL on
CBL on         CBL on     CBL on  CBL on

I am so thankful to have been able to paint a more complete picture of my thoughts on CBL with the Connections-based Learning book. I have tried to make this book accessible to as many as possible. Not only am I able to share examples of CBL in action with this book but in the Kindle version, there are links to Twitter hashtags (like #CBLchat and #CoConstructGoals) to allow the conversation to deepen. This is a great starting place for anyone wondering what connections-based learning is all about. is also another place to visit on your CBL journey. It outlines the three focuses of CBL: connect, collaborate, and cultivate. It shares ways to connect. It contains research and resources. It is a great spot to bookmark and refer back to.

And many more resources exist to add to your knowledge of connections based learning:

My Youtube Channel / Google plus Community / This blog

In the end, CBL is what you make of it and how it plays out in your classes. Join our Voxer chat community here: #CBLchat Voxer Community and share what you think connections-based learning is.  Or share your thoughts on Twitter using the #CBLchat hashtag. Find me on Instagram at TeachCBL. Comment below.  But please, share your thoughts!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Join the #CBLchat Voxer Community

The concept of community is an important aspect of my life. I think it is for most of us. Whether it is the nostalgia of growing up with kindred spirits (these days referred to as BFFs) or spending years watching TV shows like Friends, or Cheers (where everybody knows your name), I think we all long to be part of a group that enjoys life together. Churches work at this diligently.  Whether they call them Bible studies, life groups, small groups, community groups, the hope is that each member of the church body finds its place in a troop just the right size. Large enough to obtain a group dynamic, yet small enough not to get lost.

We possess a yearning to be known with all our bumps and bruises. To be accepted.  We see it in the classic coming-of-age stories.  Finding the proverbial seat in the cafeteria.  (See Mean Girls, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Karate Kid, Spiderman, A Walk To Remember, and now Wonder) At our core is a desire to connect, to know and to be known, a longing not only for acceptance but for inclusion. Community addresses this longing.

Our desire for community isn't simply indulgence.  It is how we grow, how we learn. I reference that in the Connections-based Learning book when I talk about the Kangaroo Care I gave to my preemie twins. Through connection, we thrive. It is the basic understanding of connections-based learning: we learn as we connect. We learn even more as we connect with those who are different from us.

For a number of years now, I have been part of a growing community. With an approach to teaching focused on connections, a community is vital. We connect through an app called Voxer, a multi-person messaging app. This is where we share our trials and triumphs as we connect our classes with learning partners near and far.

More than just a flash in the pan

A short connection does not attain the community needed for growth. Our #CBLchat Voxer Community allows for week to week connection. We can support each other over time. We can grow to understand each other. We can work together on collaborative projects...together.

Voices / accents / intonation

Voxer allows for voice messages. I love hearing the different accents. I wish I could support interaction in more languages however English is what we are using at this point. But not only can we hear each others' voices, we hear each others' hearts. It is not polished; it is raw, real, genuine.

A global focus

The map above pictures pins in the locations of the community's participants. My hope is that the map grows to where every country in the world is represented. Imagine that: educators coming together from around the globe to make education better for their classroom and their world.

Now I am not saying that joining the #CBLchat Voxer community is going to meet all your needs for belonging.  It might help you find your tribe. It will definitely help you connect. What I am saying, though, is that I am going to change the way that I refer to it, and therefore the way we think about it. I have been calling this a chat but I want to change one word. Call it my #OneWord for the year. The #CBL Voxer Chat is the #CBLchat Voxer Community. I think the word better represents my hope for the group.

If you are interested in joining the community, you can click here: #CBLchat Voxer Community. It does require a Voxer account (free) but I think that it is well worth the effort.  Though you can address the community with any kind of ideas around connections-based learning, to keep us conversing, I have been going through questions in the CBL book.  This gives us a weekly focus that I send out through Voxer and Twitter.

Like people, communities have their bumps and bruises. None of them are perfect. But please feel welcome to join our imperfect group of educators as we learn and grow together.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Connections-based Learning Book Available! #CBLchat

Find the book in your Amazon book store.  See: Connections-based Learning.

There is a reason I have not posted in a while.

Our time is limited.  We can't do everything and we have to make choices.  For me, I have always wanted to give a full-fledged explanation of connections-based learning.  I set my sights on writing a CBL book and gave up my blogging to do it.  But I am back.

I am so excited to be able to provide this resource as educators navigate the connected world.  I have combined a clear outline of the connections-based learning approach while sharing relevant hashtags to not only explain how to teach with the #ConnectionLens but how to get involved.  And of course I include some silliness here and there.

At the time of this posting I have been so encouraged to see that CBL is number one on the Amazon Best Seller list for Pro D books.  This is pretty surprising and super encouraging particularly because this book is about as indie as you can get.  It reminds me of those videos students make for class that say: written by Jimmy, produced by Jimmy, filmed by Jimmy... with special thanks to Jimmy. You know that Jimmy kinda played a big role in the whole thing.

The book is loaded with ideas on how to make connections-based learning a reality in your class, but also makes a special effort to connect learning outcomes to CBL. I wanted to put to rest once and for all the notion that have to make a choice between following the curriculum and making local and global connections.  You don't.

I will continue to moderate the #CBL Voxer Chat with new vigor. Each week we will look at a "Vision Checkup" question (at the end of the chapters) and dialogue about it on Voxer and as a Twitter #CBLchat slow chat.  If you want to join the Voxer chat then don't hesitate to contact me.

Thanks so much for being a part of the Connections-based Learning community.  Here's to leveraging connections for student learning!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Teamwork makes the dream work | #CBL Collaboration Lens

My son loves the dudes.  I've mentioned the love-hate relationship I have with the bottle flipping epidemic before.  I have Dude Perfect to thank for that.  But it's not just the flipping.  It's the trick shots, and the videos, and the making anything into a competition.  It's the cap flips and the 30 foot 3 pointers.  It's making me loony.  But I can't help myself.  I gotta keep taking those shots.

Dude perfect represents something to me, though: teamwork.

If it was just Tyler Toney, taking the shots, it wouldn't have caught on.  It's the synergy.  It's the team.  It's buddies working together to work against each other to make something happen.  I love the Dude Perfect team.  They are real with their strengths and weaknesses.  They capitalize on both.  And they make something special together: something motivating, something engaging, something inspiring.

Something to get me to make a 2-story no-look cap flip.

Think about the last time you worked on something as a team.  Did it go well?  Were you happy with the product, the process, the experience?  Did you feel as though you had come to an understanding with your teammates?  Or did you decide to never work with them again?

Working in groups happens day in and day out in school. From long term group projects to 30 second think-pair-shares, students are often working in groups.  But how often do we as educators give students tools to help them do groupwork effectively?  We can't simply throw students together and hope for the best.

Teamwork is a skill.  After a semester of developing teamwork skills, the teamwork I see at the end of the semester is different than the teamwork I see at the beginning.  Students seem happier with the team.  They seem more effective.  They seem to come up with better responses.

Strategize a Collaboration Plan

No one goes into a partnership without first discussing the terms.  How can we ask our students to do just that?  A collaboration plan is crucial as students embark on Connections-based Learning.  In the CBL Design process, students reflect on the collaboration at the beginning of the process.  This was crucial as we responded to the dire conditions in the bateyes we heard from Eladio, Dennis and the students from The Community For Learning school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  The students had empathized the needs, co-constructed learning goals with me, and developed a proposal to address light poverty.  The next step was to establish how the team would function.

Answering questions such as what strengths do we bring to the group, what non-negotiables do we have, and how do we see the work load divided must take place to guide the collaboration.  Using our OneNote Class Notebook collaboration space, students ironed out some group parameters by answering some guiding questions.

They then signed the plan, demonstrating that they were committed to these ideas.  Opportunities for guided collaboration must continue throughout the CBL.  Having digital and actual time and space for collaboration is crucial for developing teamwork.  Whether it's brainstorming questions for Skype chats:

or gathering a list of materials to create 3D printed lanterns

collaboration is entered into by the students, but monitored and guided by the teacher.  Finally, it should be reflected upon by each student, as they bookend their learning.

When teamwork skills are built, there is no telling what students can do.  I am amazed at what these students created to address light poverty in the Dominican Republic as they worked together.  And I love the sentiment above: 

"we can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it"
Thanks for walking with us as we attempt to tackle light poverty.  Support us in further attempts by visiting our My Class Needs page.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

How to Tackle Light Poverty

On November 21st, 2016, I wrote a post called Doing Something Beyond Ourselves.  In it, I outlined an idea that I wanted to press into: meaningful making in connections-based learning.  Provoked by a connection, the natural response is to ask "what are we going to do/make about it?"  Admitting my own lack of electronics skill, I went about making connections to facilitate my students to get involved with battling light poverty.  We went through the whole CBL process as we connected with collaborators in New Brunswick and the Dominican Republic: design, network, create, and celebrate.

What follows is what my students created in response to our connection with students in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and the Engineering Brightness group with Ian Fogarty in Riverview, New Brunswick.  I am very proud of where the students got to: prototyping, fundraising, light building, connecting with other schools.  It was a pleasure to work with these students.

When a connection is made, the possibilities blow open wide.

I encourage you to look at these student "Artifacts of Learning" posts, see what they have accomplished, hear what they have learned, and comment on their thoughts.

Lantern Housing Design


These students prototyped their own light, designing and 3D printing the lantern housing.  They created top and bottom, ready to add the light components.

Gavin's Post  Liam's Post  Owen's Post


Janna's Post  Angie's Post  Sabrina's Post

These students connected with other schools to raise money and awareness for light poverty.  Right now schools around our district are getting involved and raising money to help the cause of light poverty.  Other students put on a Photo Booth to raise money.  They created a video to advertise the event.

Social Media Campaign

Electricity Production Design


These students developed an innovative technology to use kinetic energy to charge the lights.  These shake-able lights could be carried around by a person or an animal to charge and then used at night.  In these posts is a video that asks for future students to continue working on the idea.

Alhan's Post  Josh's Post  Ben's Post  Zac's Post

CBL Historians

These students created a video to curate the activities and learning that was happening with the teams.

Ella's Post  Clare's Post  Ria's Post

Lantern Production


These students were able to re-create the Engineering Brightness New Brunswick students' design and make a fully functioning light.

Kaleb's Post  Olivia's Post  Evan's Post

These students all helped in other capacities to tackle light poverty: creating Powerpoints, participating in Skype chats, supporting other teams, finding other methods of creating lights, and bringing an awareness to light poverty.

Thanks for walking with us as we attempt to tackle light poverty!  Support us in further attempts by visiting our My Class Needs page:

Monday, 26 December 2016

Dare to Dream | #CBL Collaboration Lens

1.3 billion people don't have access to sustainable lighting.  The immediate danger isn't the carcinogenic nature of kerosene lamps: people are dying in fires due to flame based light use at night.  My Science 9 students got to hear firsthand of the conditions in areas dealing with light poverty.  In a Skype chat with Eladio, Dennis and their students from The Community For Learning School in the Dominican Republic, we heard about the conditions in the bateyes.  These workers in the sugar cane fields live with little to no electricity; accessing safe light at night is one of the many struggles with which they deal.

In Doing something beyond ourselves I share my dream of meaningful making with Connections-based Learning. Connections-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that leverages the connected world.  After making a connection, the most natural response is to ask "how can we help?".  We design the learning experience by first seeking out needs.  I share how we sought the needs in the Dominican Republic bateyes in Empathizing the Local and Global Needs. The students and I then created learning goals together (See: Co-construct Learning Goals) as we sought to meet those needs.  The next step in CBL Design is to develop a response to achieve those goals.  At this stage, students dream what they propose to do and to make.

Dream a CBL Proposal

Time must be given for students to dream up a response to the need and to flesh out what their response could look like.  Through the inspiration of a real need, brainstorming sessions, and group discussions, students develop their plans.  We used OneNote Class Notebook to collaborate and share ideas.  We also Skyped with Ian Fogarty and his students and learned about Engineering Brightness, an association of teachers hoping to address light poverty by STEM based making.  I then ask students to make a polished document or blog post that outlines their proposal.  Finally, students share their proposals to the rest of the class to further refine, get help for ideas, or to combine ideas.  For me, proposal day is just as important as when students share their final products.

Engineering Brightness Student Proposals

"Create a more efficient source of light for countries that have light poverty using electromagnets" - Alhan's Proposal

"Make a solar powered light but also teach them how to make it so they can fix it if they brake it and also they can make even more if they need them so they are self sufficient" - Liam's Proposal

"one of our goals, would be for Kaleb to start creating a model of our light source in his Industry and Design 10 course, to give us an idea of what it would look like. We could get help from outside sources of the school, with the connections that we have made from the Skype calls, or even with a new source." - Olivia's Proposal

"Fundraise enough money to supply Alhan's group to make shakable lights and be able to teach our friends in the Dominican Republic to make lights as well" - Ashiana's Proposal

"We could do a bake sale and possibly pair up with another group and maybe work with Citadel Middle School and their leadership team to raise money at their school. - Clare's Proposal

"Raise awareness about the light poverty in the Dominican, and also raise $1000 dollars towards buying/making lights to send to the Dominican Republic" - Sabrina's Proposal

"Our plan is to make a power point on everything that has happened during this project and what other people are doing. To also try and spread awareness for light poverty." - Brynne's Proposal

"We were thinking about working with solar power, because it’s safer and easier to charge the light, we also thought that it’s really interesting and trying new stuff. We are now connecting with a company called Liter of Light to get some ideas" - Maria's Proposal

The above links are just a few of the proposals students shared out to the rest of the class.  Each student works out loud sharing their proposals to allow for meaningful commenting.  I encourage you to take a look at the proposals and make a meaningful comment.

It has been amazing to watch these students' dreams become a reality.  As they connect, design, build, and campaign, they must work as a team.  Part of the CBL design is to plan to work together.  I will share how we do that in a post: Teamwork makes the dream work.

Thanks for walking with us as we attempt to make a difference in light poverty.

See previous CBL Design Posts:
- Empathize Local and Global Needs
- Co-construct Learning Goals
Consider partnering with us as we fight light poverty in the Dominican Republic