I have been working on the Connection Lens book pretty steady for about a year and a half. Because my time is limited, my writing time takes the place of my blogging time. My books, I feel, have a reflective tone and they do somewhat fill my reflective practitioner niche, but nothing really takes the place of blogging for a powerful reflection experience.
So here I am.
What an amazing time we had on Saturday November 7th, 2020 during the Connection Lens book launch. I was so please with the number of friends, colleagues, CBL faithful, and new folk that joined the event. John Hollingsworth, comedian, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker was the consummate host, keeping the event going smoothly, asking tough questions, keeping us focused. Writer of the book's foreword, Dr. Jennifer Williams beautifully shared her connection to me, CBL, and her Teach Boldly passion. Ziauddin Yousafzai, writer of the book's afterword, told a bit of his story about his work in Swat Valley, making connections for his work promoting girls' education. The Connection Lens articulated his view of how education should be. Theresa Laflèche explained her connection with the book as editor and homeschool parent. The speaker lineup did not disappoint.
Here is a recording of the event:
The launch did what it was supposed to do. Not only did it introduce the book to the world, but the event launched the book to an Amazon #1 Best Seller in Educational Reform. I am pleased about this, not for the acclaim, but that I really think these ideas need to get out there. I am excited for anything that can help spread this work to the masses to better the educational landscape.
Thanks to everyone at the launch, and thanks to you, for your interest in CBL. As I mentioned at the launch, you can really help the work by doing three things:
1) Pick up the book from Amazon
- For a price of a Starbucks coffee you can help support the work of connections-based learning and bring the power of the Connection Lens to your sphere of influence. Visit your country's Amazon site and search for "The Connection Lens" or go directly to the Amazon.com site here: bit.ly/CBLbook2
2) Use the book
- Read the book. Use the material in your work. Start a book club and read it with your colleagues. Put these ideas into practice to develop your own connection lens.
3) Review the book
- 5-Star reviews are a great way to get these ideas noticed. Connections-based learning is a grassroots initiative that is bottom up, not top down. The more positive reviews, the more we can get our message out there: human connection makes a difference.
Here is a taste of the book:
And again, thanks for your support. Together we can make classrooms a place of meaning, motivation, and a chance to make a difference for children everywhere.
I am very excited to share with the CBL blog devotees a first look at a special opportunity. I have been hinting at a new CBL book in the works and it is finally here. Connections-based Learning: A Framework for Teaching and Learning in a Connected World started the conversation on leveraging connection in our teaching. But the three lenses of CBL needed drilling down. I began work on a book that would focus on the first of the three lenses, the Connection Lens. Entitled The Connection Lens: Teach with the Power of Human Connection, this new work helps any educator begin approaching teaching with a mindset of connection. The book will be available starting November 7th, 2020 and I want to launch it with a bang. Head to bit.ly/CBLparty to sign up for a spot to join the release party.
Now, more than ever, we need to harness human connection and so I am excited to get this book out. With a foreword by Dr. Jen Williams and an afterword by Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father, the ideas in this book are well supported by researchers in the education community. The online book launch party over Zoom planned for November 7th is at 7am Pacific Time and I would love to have you join this event. Educators around the world will be joining myself and friends to hear about this new work. This early time is to accommodate a global audience. Daylight Savings Time changes on November 1st so please check carefully what 7am PST/10am EST would look like for you on November 7.
Use this link to register: https://bit.ly/CBLparty and share the link with your friends and colleagues. Keep in mind that I only have room for 300 so register as early as you can.
On the leadup to The Connection Lens launch party, I will be offering the eBook of the first book in the CBL series for FREE!! Visit your preferred Amazon site and search for "Connections-based Learning" between Saturday, October 24th and Wednesday, October 28, 2020 to pick up Connections-based Learning: A Framework for Teaching and Learning absolutely FREE!
Here is my talk about CBL at EdmodoCon 2019 in Miami, Florida entitled Let There Be Light: Empowering Students Through Connections-Based Learning. Much thanks to Edmodo for giving me the opportunity to gather together with some amazing educators and share my thoughts at the event.
It was my first digital dance off. There was flossing, electro-shuffling, orange justice-ing. And of course: some dabbing. And through it all, a connection was forged.
My first Empatico experience was a wonderful testament to the power of connection to develop empathy. Empatico, an initiative of the Kind company, is one of the easiest ways to connect your class for #ClassPartnerships. The platform facilitates not only with whom you connect, but how. It is like a dating service that not only sets you up with a great match but books your restaurant reservation, drives you to the rendezvous, and loads you up with snappy conversation tidbits to make you shine. Whether you have never connected your class or you are a connections-based learning veteran, if you have students ages 7-11, you have got to check out this platform.
Not sure who to connect with? Easily solved! Empatico uses info from a few quick questions to connect you with the right learning partner.
Not sure what to talk about? No problem! Empatico offers eight different topics to choose from. Each topic opens the door to your students sharing a bit about their neighbourhood, their home, their life.
Not experienced in Skype or Google Hangouts? No worries! Empatico has its own connection platform. It is as easy as clicking a button.
I am very fortunate to know Kristen Abeywardene. When I proposed setting up her grade 4/5 class with the always free Empatico app, she got down to business right away. She signed up that afternoon. Empatico used her activity choice (Local Landmarks), student age, and times available to connect us with a class in Hermosillo, Mexico. Our students prepared info to share about their chosen landmarks: Riverview Hospital, city hall, Rogers Arena. Meanwhile, the class in Hermosillo was doing the same.
When the time for the connection came, up popped a notification. As I said, connecting was as easy as clicking a button.
After some introductions, students began to share. The student presentations were on their school laptops. I held the laptops in front of the screen as students described their landmark to their Mexican learning partners.
The students from Mexico did the same. But the conversation moved well beyond landmarks. Students began seeing what they had in common and began connecting. When the students began dancing in front of the camera as they shared their favourite dance moves, I really saw how a simple connection can spawn empathy. There was laughter, agreement, understanding.
What is empathy? Simply put, empathy is "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another" - Oxford Dictionaries . Clearly, these students were building a mutual understanding. They were seeing how they were alike. They were sharing feelings.
With empathy, there is equality. Developing sympathy is good. But it conjures up an image of inequality, like ivory tower folk looking down on the poor peasants below wondering what can be done for them. When we empathize, we share feelings. We see our commonalities. We develop a #BetterUs.
In connections-based learning, one of the aspects of #CoDesign is #EmpathizeNeeds. The idea here is that through connection, we feel the needs of another. And we come to understand how to respond. The Empatico platform sets students up to do just that.
"every time I share a person with my students, I have meaning, I have motivation, and I have a chance at empathy" - p. 91 Connections-based Learning
I encourage elementary educators to visit the Empatico site and get connected. And let me know how it goes!!
I don't have a great memory. I can enter a room and be clueless as to why I came. And yet I remember stories from decades ago as if they were yesterday. Building tree forts. Ducking behind the fence as my buddy threw lawn darts at me. Getting stitches. Why do I remember those things: because I have reviewed them over and over. I have reflected on them. Sure, as I tell the stories to my own kids, some of the details have evolved. (the darts really did happen, though). But without reflection, the ideas grow cold. With that in mind, here are a few of the more memorable CBL experiences I had this year.
This was a great year of connections-based learning for me and my students. I remember the first week of school, I connected my students with Saul Mwame, a Sustainable Development Goals activist from Tanzania. I really had no definite purpose for this other than connection. Sure I thought he could shed some light on the lack of electricity in Tanzania. But it was the connection that was important.
Months after that first semester class is done, I see the ripple effects of that connection in my last semester's students' tweet supporting Saul's goals.
Nothing can stop you, can it? :) Made my day reading this article, makes you certain that sometimes people have bigger problems than you.
"Nothing can stop me but me. I dream that one day I will establish an aerospace university in my country": https://t.co/8cah9BOGwe
How can I stop connecting my students when passionate purposeful flames are fanned. I can't.
And what an honour it was for me to connect with champions of gender equality around the world as I prepared to speak at the Qatar Leadership Conference 2017. I couldn't have done it without connections. It speaks to the crucial nature of the CBL #CoOperate focus:
Another highlight for me this year was to watch what mentorship can do as we connect our students with the right guides. Microsoft Vancouver approached me to find some students that would be interested in connecting to utilize the MS Vancouver Garage resources: both tools and personnel. This gave students a chance to really press into the CBL #CoCreate Focus:
The human element is huge in these instances. If I asked students to educate themselves in coding and design through YouTube they would not have gotten as far as they did with a human connection. We went through the CBL #CoDesign focus to not only tease out our direction, but guide our work.
Such great progress was achieved between the time we spent time to #CoConstructGoals to the proof of concept demonstrated at the BC Tech Summit. Here is one students' goals at the beginning of the connection:
And here is a video of the product demonstrated at the BC Tech Summit:
What has been your memorable connections-based learning this year? I would love to see your tweets, hear your stories, listen to your Voxes (join the: CBL Voxer Community!!) and read your reflection posts!
We have been seeing a lot of educators make connections with their classes around the world. Some have developed #ClassPartnerships on a global scale through the innovation project spearheaded by Koen Timmers:
You have experienced the power of connection. You have seen the effects on your students and their learning. You have built meaningful connections that have made a difference for your students and possibly even the world around. Keep it going! In fact, I would ask that you consider other connections as you take next steps. #CommunityEngagement
Now that you have made some connections around the world, are there connections that need to be made right back in your own community?
- Are there needs to be addressed in your own school?
- Are your students mentoring younger students with the learning they have gained?
- Are there ways of connecting your class with another in the school to work on something cross curricular?
- Are there needs in the neighbourhood that your class can address?
- Is there a way your class can serve the local community?
Are your students getting into things of which you are not the expert? GOOD! That is the way it is suppose to be. You are a linchpin now. How can you facilitate connections with the expertise your students need to go to the next level?
- Into what topics is your class delving that an expert could add up-to-the-minute discoveries to the learning?
- Is there a coding expert with whom you can connect your students as they develop software?
- Is there someone that can help them MAKE in response to a connection?
- Have you tapped into the expertise that is present in the parent community?
We must keep mindful that there are others that are working on the same goals as us. When I speak of organization support, I am thinking of a two way street: how are we supporting the organizations that need our help? But also, how can organizations assist us in achieving our goals?
- Are there organizations in which your students are passionate?
- As your students consider the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, are organizations that they can work along side to address needs?
- Have you seen a group offering mentorship opportunities in a certain area?
- Is there a way to partner with local service groups to have a positive impact?
Maybe you have been connecting with mentors, experts, and organizations, but you have not made a connection with other classes. A great way to open the door to empathy with your students is to connect them with other students. As I mention in the CBL book, the more we connect with those who are different from us, the more we develop who we are.
- Is there a way your students can collaborate with another class as they pursue a certain learning outcome?
- Are there connections your class already has through apps like Belouga that you have not pressed into?
- Is there a way that your class can work with another on a common topic, interest, or goal?
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 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.
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 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?