Monday, 11 May 2015

CBL: Connections-based Learning


When William Heard Kilpatrick first began using the term project in regards to education back in 1918, he used it the same way that project-based learning teachers use it today: purposeful acts.  These genuine projects allow for students to work together to plan, create, and present "a wholehearted purposeful activity proceeding in a social environment" (Kilpatrick, 1918).  I share about it in Teach Old-School: Try Project-based Learning.

Now I love project-based learning.  I love how the BIE has emphasized that projects need real world relevance, that they include critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, that they emphasize teacher and student working together to connect with experts and resources available to them from around the globe.

But I would like to take a moment to reflect on the connected nature of learning.

Learning in the 21st century must take advantage of the connected world we live in.  Putting the focus on connections makes for the type of learning that zeros in on relationships, Kilpatrick's "social environment".  Making a connection with the teacher is fundamental to learning.  I share about it in: I Trust You; You Trust Me and The Unmaking of the Bully.  But connections run throughout the learning in this day and age.

It's an idea that I have been working on for some time: focusing on the connections of learning. . .not simply the content nor the task.  Thus: Connections-based Learning.

I have 6 connections that I want to expand on.  This is not an exhaustive list. . .more so, a starting point: Serve the Community, Question Experts, Work as a Team, Help Organizations, Show the Class, Share with the World.  For each, I ask some honest questions.  Hopefully they spark further dialogue.

Serve the Community
Loading up a Christmas hamper to take to a local family 

This idea was brewing when I wrote: Projects that Change the World:

"Intuitively it makes sense.  While we spend the 200 days together, we might as well make a difference.  We might as well move beyond what if two trains leave their stations at such and such a time and into how could we improve the transit use in our community.  We might as well shift from find out what a wetland is to how we can save the wetlands behind the school." from Projects that Change the World (Originally published in the Fall 2014 Edition of Living Education eMagazine)

There are so many opportunities in the neighbourhood around the school.  What if we made a priority to utilize those opportunities, to help where help is needed?

Some questions for reflection:
- what are the needs in the community?
- what connections does the class and school already have with community partners?
- what resources do we have as a class that can help meet community needs?
- what are we learning as we help meet community needs?

It doesn't take much to get students thinking about the needs in their community.  One of my students began a campaign to get a new pool for the community.  Another group made a plea for more hitting in PeeWee hockey.  I've had groups go around to neighbouring schools to plant flowers.  Students simply need inspiration, permission and someone to say that they'll support them through it. The students win; the community wins.

Question the Experts
Interview with a childhood cancer survivor

When a group wanted to bring in a cancer survivor for their presentation on medical advancements, I was truly excited.  It was a win-win-win.  The students get first-hand information; the class gets to hear about the real deal; and the guest gets to tell his story. This presentation truly connected with my students.

I want to make a case for making connections with experts a priority.  Think about it for a moment: a relationship with an expert is dynamic.  Often experts have the most recent information.  They have a personal investment in the info.  And some are just biting at the bit to share it.  Now consider having a connection with multiple experts: being able to compare and contrast their views, even getting involved in their community.

- When you connect with an expert, you get a current perspective.
- When you connect with an expert, you honour the work they do.
- When you connect with an expert, you raise the engagement level.

Some questions for reflection:
- what learning outcomes do we have that could tap into an expert's understanding?
- what means do we have of connecting with experts; can we expand on those means?
- how can we facilitate our students using their own means to contact experts?

My current Science and Tech class is working to make connections with experts in the Canadian Space field.  I am excited to see where it goes.

Work as a Team
A reflection on collaboration

At my school, we are working hard to reflect on what it means to collaborate successfully.  It is not an easy concept.  And if teachers struggle with what it looks like to squeeze every little bit of synergetic potential out of collaboration, think about how tough it might be for students.  Connections-based Learning looks at what it really means to work as a team. 

Students must have time to reflect on questions such as these:
- what skills and strengths does each group member have to accomplish the task?
- how is the workload going to be shared?
- what rules do you want to have regarding your collaboration?
- what will you do if the rules aren't followed?

Help Organizations
Raising money for cancer research

It happened again.  During our Medical Advances Project in Science and Tech 11, a student came up to me and asked: "So. . .for this assignment. . .you're not asking us to really do something, are you?"  Yup.

I love that question, though.  I get to see the light go on right then and there.  And the light shines: I can really make a difference.

Some questions for reflection:
- how can we open the doors for students to make connections with outside groups and keep them safe?
- how can we support students in making connections with organizations?
- how do we deal with the disappointments that can go along with stepping out and taking risks?
- what about the students who don't want to get involved?

Show the class
A student's Youtube teaching video

I love watching students share their learning with the rest of the class.  But I want to emphasize here that it can happen in many different ways.  For Math 10, each student, in pairs or by themselves, studied a certain Math concept that we would be learning this term.  Their task was to create a teaching video.  I share about this is Flipclass 2.0: it's not about you or your videos.

To teach something is to really learn it.  Once again: win, win.  The presenters get to work through the concept.  The listeners get to be exposed to it.

Some questions for reflection:
- what limits have we been putting on what is possible in the classroom?
- do we know our students' expertise; what can we encourage our students to share?
- do we open the doors for alternate means of sharing?
- how can we use student learning to promote more student learning?

Share with the world
A student's blog post on digital footprints 

I remember sitting in a community circle as a staff during a Pro D Day as we shared one word about our hopes for our students.  Words like reflective, compassionate, brave, and curious were all spoken as we went around the circle.  When it came to my turn, I blurted out: blogger.  Many had a hard time computing this.  Was Sean making a mockery of the activity?  I didn't think so.  I did have some explaining to do, though.

My thought was that if I could get my students truly blogging, I would achieve a lot of what the other teachers were saying.  My students would have to reflect.  They would be encouraged to observe another's viewpoint as they read and commented on each other, possibly sparking some compassion.  They would have to be brave as they shared.  And their curiosities could be revealed?  Blogging isn't the end all be all, but it certainly helps accomplish a lot of what we are trying to do as teachers.

That is what I am getting at when I say: share with the world.  Blog about it, comment about it, tweet about it, vlog about it--but share it beyond handing it to the teacher.

Some questions for reflection:
- what safeguards need to be in place as we share with the world?
- what platform helps accomplish our goals?
- what should be done publically, what should be kept private?
- how do we showcase accomplishments, curate learning, and communicate feedback?  Will this require multiple platforms?

I am firm believer in Kilpatrick's purposeful acts of teaching.  And I believe that these acts can be seen in terms of genuine connections between and within the classroom and the world beyond.  I hope to live out these ideas and add clarity to what I see as Connections-based Learning.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Kilpatrick, W. H. (1918) The Project Method: The Use of the Purposeful Act in the Educative Process. Retrieved May 11, 2015 from UmassAmherst on the World Wide Web: