Tuesday, 1 May 2018

#CBL leads to #Individualization, #Differentiation, and #Personalization



Donning a #ConnectionLens is only the start of an educator's connections-based learning journey. Educators around the world are connecting. They are using connection platforms. They are breaking down the walls of their classrooms. But that is not enough.

I have made a case that connecting our classes opens the door for students to develop empathy. It provides students with up-to-the-minute knowledge. But if they don't do anything with the empathy that they have developed, if they don't do anything with the knowledge that they have gained, if they don't respond to a connection, a vital part of connections-based learning is lost.

That is why my favourite part of the CBL experience is asking students what we are going to do in response to hearing from our learning partner:


"Now that we know what we know, what are we going to do about it? 
What are we going to MAKE about it?"

This returns the onus of learning back to the students and opens the door to individualization, differentiation, and personalization.

Individualization

Individualization is matching the speed of the learning with the students. If the learning outcome is based on connection, the typical teacher-imposed-timeline for concept attainment is thrown out the window. The teacher truly becomes the guide on the side as students develop their response to the connection. Students can take time to pause, follow a rabbit trail, delve into a topic of interest deeply, or dare I say skip over parts that don't interest them.

In connections-based learning, students #CoConstructGoals right at the beginning of the CBL. It is the responsibility of the educator to construct those goals with the student as they #CoDesign the connection response. Learning outcomes were considered as the learning partner was established. It is way too late to be establishing learning outcomes while students #CoOperate. They need their autonomy. They need time ... and check-ins to help them along their path.

But Robinson, we have deadlines. We have report cards. The semester ends for goodness sake!! Yes, but student learning never does. Might I direct you to our CBL with Karishma Bhagani, creator of the low cost water purifier. The end of the semester did not end the learning for my students. Or what about our CBL with the Dominican Republic? Second semester classes were working with first semester classes to build and send the solar lanterns to the Dominican Republic, Macedonia, and Kenya. The course was over for some and yet the work, and the learning, never stopped. Semesters should not dictate the learning timeline; students should.

Differentiation

As a guide on the side, the teacher is tasked with being the linchpin to support groups and individuals as they pursue their response to the connection. Each response is individual to the student. In no way can the teacher take over. It doesn't make any sense in this context. Differentiation, tailoring the instruction for the learner, is the only way that this can work. Learners may need to be connected with other experts to accomplish their goals. Learners may need to be guided to where they can attain needed skills. Let me assure you, as learners develop their own responses to a connection, they will be all over the map. As students developed their response to their connection with the Dominican Republic students, students went off in all kinds of directions. And I wouldn't have it any other way!


Personalization

Personalization is where students drive their own buses. They pursue their own interests. As students make a connection with a learning partner, they are encouraged to respond in their own way. This "freeing up the student" allows the learners to follow their own path to a response. The door is opened for innovation, creating, campaigning, advertising, and fundraising.

I love it when a student enthusiastically follows their own path but I believe a connection opens student's eyes to consider others as they do it. The connection is needed to keep the personalization from becoming completely insular. How can our students consider the needs of the class, community, and globe as they follow their path?  This is where a sharing the Sustainable Development Goals can guide the students as they inquire and innovate. There are so many possibilities, so many needs, exposure to the SDGs expands the horizons of the students as they consider their response to a connection.


As educators, it is our delight when students find their passion and follow their interests. My desire is to see more and more educators allowing for more and more students to do just that. As we seek to connect with learning partners in the community and around the world, and allow our students to respond, we naturally encourage individualization, differentiation, and personalization. How do you see this playing out in your classroom?

Monday, 9 April 2018

Put on your #ConnectionLens


In February, a couple hundred students at my school made connections with individuals in their community. We called the task, simply: Community Connection. Students connected with professional photographers, music teachers, swim coaches, optometrists, neonatal intensive care nurses, website designers, oil and gas engineers, financial advisers, litigation lawyers, personal trainers, rugby players, dentists and dozens and dozens more professions.

My lifework has been making a case for educators to look for a who as they attempt to achieve learning outcomes, to bring in the human resources available as educators teach their students, to see human connection as the best way to teach the whole child. The learning outcome we were addressing with our hundreds of grade 9's was: Explore volunteer and other new learning experiences that stimulate entrepreneurial and innovative thinking. Donning a #ConnectionLens means that exploring experiences like these leads educators to ask: who can we engage as we learn?

The activity we created for students simply made sense:



We asked students:

1) Choose someone who is involved with something that you are passionate about.  This could be a job, a volunteer role, a skill, or a hobby.
2) Connect with this individual and plan a time when you can interview them in person or using technology during the first week in February. 
3) Converse with the individual asking them the questions such as "Why are you passionate about your job?" and "What advice would you pass on to someone interested in what you are doing?" , as well as your own questions. Either record the responses or document them in written form. 
4) Create a post on your digital portfolio account outlining what you learned from the interview and how it connects to you. 

Now I have to give credit to my colleague Phil Barrington for this amazing connections-based learning assignment. As we collaborated together, he passionately suggested this idea and wouldn't take no for an answer despite the seemingly colossal endeavour it seemed to be. Imagine: meeting with students from a dozen classes, telling them that they had to find a connection, interview that person on their own time, and blog about the experience. Add to that the work to read through the hundreds of blog posts and comment. It was pretty huge.

But it was so worth it.

So much learning went on. I loved going through the posts with my colleague Brian Barazzuol and hearing the unique encounters students had as they connected with individuals who were engaged in the their passions. Students learned about hard work, difficult life choices, and dealing with obstacles. But they also learned about success and how to set goals and make it happen. I think one of the coolest responses a student made was to interview Kristopher London, a former D1 basketball player turned Youtuber. Here is a bit about Kris:


The student post (here) includes a conversation about passions, obstacles, and depression. The post knocks the learning outcome out of the park. Not only did the student hear how someone he looks up to turn his passion into his lifework but who knows what possibilities this connection could open up for the student. All this from an Instagram cold call that the student made to seek out a connection.

In chapter 5 of the Connections-based Learning book, entitled #ConnectionLens, I ask educators to strive to see the possibility of human learning resources around them. I share four connections to consider. Connections with: the community, experts, organizations, and classrooms around the world. I love how the Community Connection put two of these focuses together: #CommunityService and #ExpertLearning. I also love the skills that students practiced as they accomplished this task. Many students had to make cold calls and found positive responses to the question: "Hey, do you mind if I interview you?" The #CBLchat Community question for the week considers that skill: Consider a time when you had to cold call in order to make a connection. What did you learn from that process?


Consider adding your voice. Join our #CBL Voxer Community. You can share your thoughts there, tweet them using the #CBLchat hashtag, or comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts and experience regarding cold calling in connections-based learning.


[photos: Interview (modified) by Arielle Lilley via flickr,Interviewing“, by Sara Parker, “Interview“, by Alper ÇuğunBy: Alper Çuğun, “ licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]

Monday, 12 March 2018

#CBL - The Future of Education


I was super excited to see connections-based learning in the news recently. Global Teacher Finalist 2018, Barbara Zielonka, was sharing with hundrED about her use of connections-based learning in the article: Connections-Based Learning Should Be The Future Of Education. hundrED searches out education innovations and establishes 100 innovations to highlight each year. hundrED declared, "Connections-based learning is one of the most useful tools a teacher has at their disposal, but many feel they don’t have the time to utilize it – or don’t realize that they could!" Barbara Zielonka has been part of my PLN for many years and she had the opportunity to share about her love of connections-based learning with hundrED. Here is a quote from the article:

‘Connections-based learning is a pedagogical approach where teachers connect their students to experts, communities and organizations so that they can learn from each other,’ explains Zielonka. ‘We live in the 21st century, and connections play a very important role in our lives. We need to take advantage of this connected world we live in. Connections-based learning gives my students real-world experience that cannot be recreated in any other way.’

hundred.org

What she put so eloquently is at the core of my desire for connections-based learning. That connection would be harnessed for learning. I love hearing about the CBL work going on around the world. Barbara Zielonka is a truly connected educator. One of the amazing works that Barbara created was a global collaborative project called "The Universe is Made of Tiny Stories". I remember her request for participation in September 2016 as she used the connection platform that Leigh Cassell, Nicole Kaufman and I created to connect educators for projects like Barbara's. We created Connected Learning Partnerships (CLPedu) to spurn on #classpartnerships helping classrooms connect around the world. I love how Barbara used CLPedu as one of the platforms to help her find educators to join this amazing global endeavour.

The CLPedu Educator Badge

In "The Universe is Made of Tiny Stories", students from all around the world would create a multimedia presentation in the form of a digital story. As students shared their stories internationally, they would connect and become part of a global community. They were learning digital media while developing digital citizenship. The site Barbara made in conjunction with the project is amazing. It is full of assignments, links, and teacher resources. Here is a video summary of how the project went:



The hundrED article goes on to talk about how using connections-based learning has affected Barbara's teaching practice. Lessons became much more exciting as her students connected with "entrepreneurs, volunteers, ICT experts and CEOs from all over the world" And students learned how easy it is to reach out an connect "effectively and consciously".

The article brings up a few good points that beg responses. First, is CBL the future of education? I believe so. With this fast-paced world, there is no way a teacher can be an expert at everything. Students will need to connect more and more outside the class to access that expertise. And collaboration cannot simply stay within the four walls of the class. Students need to collaborate globally to address some of the huge issues facing the world. CBL is crucial. In fact, I actually believe that there could be a day where we don't use the term connections-based learning. We just call it learning and leveraging the connected world is just commonplace. Until that time, though, I soldier on sharing the importance of connections with as many as possible.

The second point to address is the statement: "many feel they don’t have the time to utilize it – or don’t realize that they could!" I appreciate this statement. In fact, it is why I wrote the Connections-based Learning book. One of my hopes was to address the idea that some might feel that they have to "add" CBL to one's teaching load. They don't. As I explained in the book, CBL is about a way of seeing. The #ConnectionLens causes us to seek out with WHOM we might connect to achieve a certain learning outcome. The #CollaborationLens helps us see HOW we might collaborate with learning partners to maximize learning. And the #CultivationLens reminds us WHY we do what we do. We don these lenses as we look at our curriculum. And it opens our eyes to understand that we don't have to do everything, to be an expert at everything as educators. We have to be linchpins to lead our students to the necessary learning partners and connections that can help do amazing things.

The article ends with some great examples of schools using connections-based learning: "if you’re excited to get going with connections-based learning, check out Education Cities, Liger Leadership Academy or Microcampus – all of which make the most of connections-based learning." I am very thankful to both Barbara Zielonka and hundrED for sharing out CBL and drawing attention to how vital an approach CBL is.

Child with telephone image used with permission from hundrED




Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The impact of connection with your students


I start chapter 4 of Connections-based Learning by sharing my experience with one of my students, Amanda Todd. In that opening vignette, I reflect on both her life and her death. I tell of the challenges we had in the class. I tell of her heartbreaking story of online bullying and harassment, widely covered in the media. And I share my own reflections: what our connection taught me. Death is a tragedy on its own, but her story causes us pause as educators. I have had students pass away before. But not like this. A tragedy like this leads those around to shine the spotlight on themselves.

I truly believe I connected with Amanda as her grade 7 teacher. Sure, she would often give me the "you're not going to make me do that work. It is just not going to happen" look. But she did it with a smile. Really, she did. We had a lot of laughs. And in the challenges she had with her work, her message to me was basically "you know this is not the way I learn. I am social. I learn while interacting with people. You should know that." And so we worked at it, as a team: parent, principal, learning specialist, youth worker, teacher, and student.

As I reflected on my experience years later, a personal lesson reflected back. When we look out over our classes while teaching the formula of a circle's circumference or ohm's law, we have no idea the inner turmoil that some students are facing. We can't help but consider: does our influence as educators help the core of our students? In the words we whisper to our students daily through our actions and our interactions, are we whispering words of encouragement? Support? Inspiration? And do our students have someone in whom they can confide when things go sideways.

Connection is worth it.

The CBL Community question for this week is: how have instances of deep connection with your students affected you? Another thing I learned from my interaction with Amanda was how important it is to have students be part of the lesson creation. When a student is saying "you are not going to make me do that work", they have a point. When we #CoConstructGoals with our students, we include them in the planning. It is not "the teacher's work" that they are completing, it is their own.

I feel like I can open the doors wide for my students now. What do they want? Do they want to connect with a stem cell researcher? We can do that. Do they want to connect with an online gamer? We can do that. Do they want to represent their learning with a video, a play, a song, a cake? We can do that to.

You guessed it. A plant cell cake from one of my grade 9's!
Our students hold a wealth of possibilities for our own growth as educators. How have the connections you have had with your students affected you?


Visit AmandaToddLegacy.org for resources regarding awareness and prevention of bullying and cyber abuse. plus materials on mental wellness and healthy living. One resource that caught my eye was the: Global List of Helplines. In this globally connected world, we need to start thinking bigger. I love how Carol and the Amanda Todd Legacy folk are doing just that as they direct teens around the world to helpful resources.




Monday, 5 February 2018

Share your Incongruence


In the Connections-based Learning book I share a story of teacher peril where a parent was ticked off at the lack of effectiveness my teaching was having on his son. These are the kinds of situations that we don't like to talk about as educators. It is easy to share out classroom successes, where students demonstrate leaps and bounds in their learning, where classes show initiative in creating effective responses to the inequality or poverty or a need that they see. It isn't as easy to share out a failure. And yet in order to grow, we must reflect on our failures as well.  That is why I love this picture:


It is isn't that I like showing off failed 3D printing attempts or that I'm interested in illustrating what a 3D printing fail looks like. I love what this picture represents to me because it came from a student post, a reflection where the student courageously shared his own failure. This is the bravery, the reflection, the vulnerability necessary to spark betterment. This is showing how we must #WorkOutLoud to advance learning by sharing successes but also sharing failures.

The thought for the CBL Voxer Community this week is a reflection on the effects of the incongruence between our teaching philosophy and our practice. It is one thing to espouse giving up control to one's students. It is quite another to actually do it. It is easy to pontificate the need for connections in our teaching. It is something else to actually connect our students.

Here are three thoughts regarding sharing our failures:

Reflection is crucial

If we gloss over our failures, we are bound to repeat them. How often have we made the same mistake over and over again? May I suggest that we never really acknowledged the mistake in the first place and got help. Accountability. Help. Insight. All these are needed for lasting change. We need to honestly reflect on our work and be willing to share. One more thought: often we are asking our students to do just that with their portfolios; shouldn't we be willing to do the same?

Feedback helps

When we share out mistakes, we are opening ourselves up to feedback. We get another perspective. And people are often willing to help when you bring down your guard. Feedback is attuned to the product shown. When we truly share, we get the most relevant feedback. When we don't share, we are relying on our own self assessment.

We are all human

It is tough on the psyche when all we hear about are the successes of other people. Whether it is the stream of effective teaching activities on Twitter, the moving life moments shared on Instagram, or the personal successes shared on Facebook, it is overwhelming. Honest sharing brings us back to reality and reminds us that life isn't all unicorns and rainbows. We are all on a journey and our sharing should reflect that.

Here is a picture of the final product created for our lanterns to address the light poverty in the Dominican Republic. The students stayed at it and after many attempts, got it just right.


Where are you working to align your ideal with your practice?

Monday, 29 January 2018

#CBLchat and #TeachSDGs


When my good friend Fran Siracusa mentioned that I should chat with Ada McKim, I knew it would be a meaningful experience. I really had no idea, though. I didn't know it would lead me to join a movement to spread the message of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as a Global Goals Educator Task Force member (now considered a Founding TeachSDGs ambassador). I had no idea it would send me flying 11,000km to meet with passionate Model United Nations educators in Doha, Qatar. I didn't have a clue it would start me at the inaugural meeting of the #MUNImpact movement founded by Lisa Martin and a crew of dynamic MUN enthusiasts who are making waves to ignite MUN groups all around the world for positive action. And I didn't realize I would begin to look at everything I did in my class through a lens of this global "To Do List" affectionately known as the Global Goals.


I want to share an amazing moment I had with you. Speaking at the Qatar Leadership Conference in Doha, Qatar was a 2017 highlight for me. As I was considering what my workshops would look like, I couldn't help zero in on the particular global goal on which Lisa Martin wanted the conference to focus: SDG 5 - Gender Equality. Not having been to Qatar before, I had some nervousness about sharing a message of women empowerment with the students there. And I felt extremely inadequate to do it. In fact, when I would tell my colleagues that I was going to the Middle East to talk about gender equality, I would always get this look of "You?" with the following words: "I'd be careful if I were you."

There was one thing I knew and knew well, though. Connections-based learning is not just a teaching approach. It is, as I explain in the Connections-based Learning book, a lens with which to view your actions. I am really used to being inadequate in the classroom. Stem cells, innovative power production, Mars, creating circuit boards, 3D printing: all these I have needed to teach to my students. The only way I have been able to do that well is through connecting with experts. Could I connect to experts to prepare to share Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the Middle East? Of course.

I began by connecting with Mareike Hachemer, a fellow Task Force member. This is the kind of connection you make when you are completely unconnected to the field. She is an amazing Global Goals speaker and activist and has crucial relationships that span the globe. She connected me with Miriam Mason-Sesay, a champion educator for women empowerment in Sierra Leone. I also Skyped with Yazeed Al Jeddawy, a fellow educator I knew from Yemen, considered one of the least gender equal countries in the world. He in turn put me in touch with Hind Aleryani, another champion for women empowerment. Finally, I connected with Stephanie McAnany, our first TeachSDGs ambassador who had done some work in Ghana and had shared with me a powerful story about her work there. I was able to gather soundbites from these conversations to share with the students in Qatar.



But there was no way I was going to go into a workshop like this and tell people what to do. Not only is that a bad way to help people grow in a certain area, but it never really works anyway. I have to give credit to Mareike when she mentioned the idea of sharing scenarios with the high-school-aged workshop attendees. In preparation, I also gathered 10 actual scenarios where women around the world were treated differently than men. During the workshop at the Qatar Leadership Conference 2017, I shared those ten scenarios with the students: women considered half of a witness in one country, childhood marriage in another, experiencing pay rate discrimination in another, experiencing vulgar remarks or violence. As the students grouped up around these scenarios, I would ask them these three questions:

What obstacles does this woman face?

Rank this situation out of 10 in terms of gender equality
1-horrible to 10-perfect

What would you say to this woman?

I remember clearly the thoughts one group shared out during my session at the conference. The scenario they were given went like this:

All your life you have been told that you are simply not as smart as the boys.  “No girl can be,” they would say.  You are one of the few girls enrolled in school.  There were just 10 girls enrolled in your school but now there are only six as four left due to pregnancy.  Now at school, you hear something different.  Girls are just as smart as boys.  It is hard to accept this.  You feel pressure to quit school and go to work harvesting rice. What is your reaction to this situation?

Several boys had this scenario to discuss and when they shared out, they expressed how wrong this view of women was. They considered this a 1/10 in terms of gender equality and would say to the young girl: "This girl faces the obstacle of a lie. Girls ARE equal to boys and she should not go work in the rice field. We would say to her to stay in school. Keep fighting. Get your education despite the pressure."

But it wasn't the boys report out that was so memorable for me. It was the reaction of the girls surrounding them. There were smiles. There were nods. The girls looked emboldened, validated, vindicated. And I realized that it is this generation that we have to help see the damage that is done when half of the population of a community is suppressed. The rest of the discussion went the same way, each group sharing their disdain for the inequality. Each group nodding in agreement. I ended my Champions of Gender Equality session with a single word on the screen: YOU. You are a champion for women and it is your actions that will make a difference.



The question for the CBL Voxer Community this week is how does the connections-based learning approach help you to #TeachSDGs. This experience sums up my answer. I see a perfect marriage of connections-based learning and teaching the Sustainable Development Goals--both in my class and personally.  The Sustainable Development Goals gives us the curriculum. Connections-based learning gives us the conduit. The SDGs give us the mandate. CBL gives us the power. In fact, I ask you: how can we make a difference without making a connection?

You can find out more about MUN Impact and check out some more of my experience at the Qatar Leadership Conference in this THIMUN Qatar article called: THE POWER OF GATHERING THE PASSIONATE AT #QLC17.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Meaningful Connection Experiences


I wrote the Connections-based Learning book to paint a more complete picture of CBL. Part of that was to create questions for reflection that would promote discussion of the ideas within the book. Chapter 2, entitled, Why Connect?, guides the reader through the effect connections have on us and the effect they have on the world. In the chapter, I share about a student who beautifully illustrates the impact of her connections-based learning work. She said that it "is not only making an impact on the world but it is also impacting me as person". She goes on to describe the two sides of that coin: how the connection was helping her make a contribution, but also how it changed her personally. That is what I want for all my students. That is the meaningful nature I seek in all my classes. Of course I don't always get there with every student but that is the goal.

In chapter 2, Vision Checkup question three asks you to reflect on meaningful experiences you have had with your students and how connection has played a role. The act of reflecting on meaningful experiences we have with students is to tease out those powerful moments where something really special happens. My hope is that these moments happen on a regular basis in my classes and with those with whom I work. I truly believe that as a class connects with experts, organizations, the community, and classrooms around the world, this will happen.



I mention in the CBL book one powerful experience for me was the moments after my students had connected with The Community for Learning in the Dominican Republic.  How they set their sights on helping out and making a difference. Another powerful moment was when my Science and Tech 11 students brought in and interviewed a student cancer survivor for our medical innovations unit. What a meaningful opportunity for both the cancer survivor and the class. Another moment was when one of my student groups hit top 30 experiments for a chance to have their experiment flown to the International Space Station. I share about those moments in the Microsoft Education Transformation Story: A Journey into Space. What a blast it was!



I am about to have an interview with Noa Daniel on her Personal Playlist Podcast where she asks her interviewees to choose three songs that represent us: a nostalgic song, an identity song, and pick-me-up song. Though I won't reveal my identity song until the podcast plays, I want to share about it a bit. This song walks a person through life's moments and how fleeting they are. Different stages in life come and go and you can't go back. We have an opportunity to offer our students powerful moments or pointless moments. When the students are able to connect, I believe that helps those moments become powerful. That is what I wish for my identity: powerful moments for me and my students.