Thursday, 31 December 2015

New #CBL Infographic

I believe it was Plato who said that no person can go into the same river twice. Not only has the river changed since the first entry, but the person has changed as well. 

A few months ago, I changed the name of my blog from "On the side of technology" to "Connections-based Learning". I'm not sure of the effects of a name change in Blogger, but for me, it helped clarify what I'm working on.

I started this blog with a focus on tech in the classroom. It was only a few years ago that I did the unthinkable (at that time and place) and allowed students to not only use their cell phones and tablets in class, but to use them for learning. I was "on the side" of using technology in the class. I also thought that the name leant itself to other blogs ... "on the side of..." whatever else I was into. 

As my learning morphed and changed I was really taken by what this connected world did for propelling my thinking. When one is faced with an almost endless supply of ideas on social media, it's hard to ignore the disparage between the status quo and the "what could be".

I want that same thing for my students.

I want them to be able to see what is really out there and be compelled to:
- embrace it
- change because of it
- have an effect on it

Connections-based Learning was born out of my desire to take Project-based Learning to the next level. The true learning that comes from a genuine project is through relationship. How are we fostering these connections in the class in everything we do, not just the projects we take on?


The Connections-based Learning infographic and the Whiteboard Interactive video have been ways to take a snapshot of what this new focus on learning is about.

Serve the Community. Plant a garden where there isn't one. Sing at a retirement home. Work on making the environment better. 

Help Organizations. Raise money for non-profits. Test out products for startups. Hold workshops for companies. 

Question Experts. Email questions to experts in a field. Have projects that ask students to seek out experts. Skype in experts into the class.

Share the process. Present to the class your findings, whether your connections panned out, or didn't. Record your learning in a portfolio. Share what you're doing with the rest of the school. 

Show the World. Tweet out the learning. Get feedback from outside the class. Seek out a genuine audience.

All these action steps, my classes have done and I can attest to the meaningfulness of the activities and significance of the learning. 

But to the last of the 6 facets: I had "Work as a Team". This was a carry over from my project-based learning focus: students working in groups to achieve project goals. I want to capture something else, though. Yes, I still think that group projects are worthwhile for many reasons. But learning activities don't have to be in a group. Sometimes it's me who brings in the expert. Students collaborate to create questions but it is different than the standard group project. I want students to read and respond meaningfully to each other's learning blogs. This is also a different focus from group work. So I've changed the sixth facet to "Feedback Meaningfully" using feedback as a verb. It's a little clunky but it gets across the point. There's probably a better way of saying it out there. Maybe you've got a suggestion?

Defining Connections-based Learning is a work in progress. But I think you know it when it is happening. It is defined more by classroom feel and student buy-in.  True experts are sharing with your class. Students are involved in making a difference. 

I am ready to take CBL to the next level. I am hoping to find some educators out there who have been looking for a way to push their learning, a way to describe the changes in their teaching as a result of wading into this connected world. Are you ready to jump into this river with me?  Connect with me if you are. 

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015: Year of the Digital Portfolio

A reflective quiet has blanketed the Robinson home.  It's not something I expect to last. 

The bustle of family over for the holidays, the excitement of presents under the tree, the fullness of church events . . . all over for now, giving me a moment, albeit a small one, to reflect on my learning in 2015.  The benefits of blogging are that not only do I have snapshots of learning to go back to, but the people have weighed in on their weightiness.  I not only get to see what has been important to me, but also what has been meaningful to others.  With that in mind, I will reflect on the top 4 Connections-based Learning posts of 2015.

Digital Portfolios: Where to start Part 2

I spent a lot of time this year reflecting on digital portfolios.  What started as a simple question on my blog blossomed into a whole series on starting digital portfolios.  I didn't want the focus to be on the nuts and bolts of it but more to take even a further step back: what needs to happen in ourselves as educators before we jump into the world of digital portfolios.  Part 2 was by far the most popular of the posts as it looked at what awesome educators were doing with their portfolios.  It also gave me a chance to talk about the different platforms and apps that teachers were using. Digital Portfolios: Where to start Part 1 emphasized the need to develop one's own portfolio while Digital Portfolios: Where to start Part 3 demonstrated how digital portfolios transform our teaching.  This was a great series to work on as I got to seek out the amazing things that were happening with digital portfolios far and wide.


The Connections-based Learning post called #FamilyBloggingMonth came in as the third most read post of 2015.  I have to admit that I had great hopes for province-wide participation in this event.  I had grandiose ideas of families breaking down walls and coming together around their blogs in the month of November.  That parents and children would spend most of the month in a veritable virtual group hug loving on each other as they came to a deeper understanding of each other's inner child.  That dogs and cats would put aside differences and join paws with the blogging mice and unite in the spirit of connection as they barked, purred and squeaked out a chorus of "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

It didn't play out that way. 

Moreso, I found that it was a chance to share with colleagues and a few of my connections on Twitter the importance of getting parents to read and comment on student blogs.  I did squeeze out a post from my own father in Remembering Education Past and made sure I got my own students to share their blogs with their parents AND get their parents to comment.  But you watch out for November 2016.  Practice up your Kumbaya and Trust-fall skills because #FamilyBloggingMonth is not going away.

Meaningful Comments: Why?

Well the whole #FamilyBloggingMonth thing got me thinking that we can't just say to our students: "Comment on each other's blogs, please" and watch magic happen.  We have to teach them how to do it.  That started a series of posts on commenting.  I went through the who's, why's and how's of commenting, sharing ideas and actual comments from my own school as I facilitated comment learning for multiple classes.  Once again, a great learning experience for my students and myself.

Who needs a Digital Portfolio?

The second most read post in 2015 was about me sharing my own digital portfolio story in Who needs a Digital Portfolio?.  I had to write this post.  We were sitting around the table as educators at my school talking about how to instill the importance of digital portfolios in our students.  It became very plain to me that my own story was the perfect testimony for this.  My digital portfolio made a difference in my life.  It got me my job.  I don't know how to make it any more plain.  It is worth it.

This post has been excellent to have to share with students at my school.  You might want to share it with your students.  It communicates better than simply saying, "Class, you have to put effort into your digital portfolio."  My story plays out for my students as they see me day after day, doing what I love.  Hopefully that can be your story as well.

As the quiet fades, and the bustle begins, I can see that for me 2015 was the year of the Digital Portfolio.  What was 2015 for you?

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

#CBL Behind Bars

"Do you ever get days outside the prison?"

The tweet caught my eye.  I had stumbled upon what I would call David Billiikopf's version of Connections-based Learning as I was scrolling through my twitter stream.

I had to check this out.  I looked deeper.

There was some activity going on here that shocked the pants off me.  Could I have really stumbled on student conversations from the comforts of the classroom to ones behind bars?  I had.

A prison teacher, David Billikopf, was having his students communicate with Terje, a teacher from Norway.  The students locked up in a juvenile correctional facility were learning about Norway while the Norwegian students were learning about the life of a student inmate.  Amazing.

Of course. I had those internal questions: How can they maintain prisoner confidentially, is online management of behaviour an issue, basically ... How can you do this?  But they were doing it.  And doing it beautifully.  You can read all about it here: Our Twitter Class Adventure Continues or follow the #norwask hashtag.

Questions posed by the students

It didn't stop there.

Mr. Billikopf's students began sharing poetry with their counterparts. Here is one shared over twitter:

The response was so meaningful.

And the story will continue.  This is why human connection is so powerful.  The interaction is genuine.  A relationship builds.  People are humanized.  Crafting what is said and done becomes important.  And learning happens. . .important, individualized, meaningful learning.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Connections-based Learning in action

Learning begins with a good question.  Preferably one you have absolutely no answer for.

In Connections-based Learning, the process starts with a desire for students to seek out meaningful connections.  The first action is to ask a question that opens the door for those connections.  I wanted my students to learn about re-world electricity use, so I asked this:

Basically I asked: "With whom can you connect to learn or do something about electricity?"  I was shocked at how far my students would take this. . .all the way to Poland.


A Skype chat with an employee in a Polish electrical company where
we learned that 80% of Poland's electricity comes from fossil fuels
One group had a connection with someone who worked in the power industry in Poland.  A Skype chat was set up and the class not only learned about Poland's electricity situation but about Poland itself.  The real-world connection brings an understanding of what is going on currently, not what was happening at the time the information was written.  CBL also gives the students a chance to speak into another's situation.  Questions were posed as to what Poland's future plans were to get them to move to more renewable energy sources.  Our students got to share there concern about the environment and encourage the seeking out of better ways to produce electricity.

A depiction of a real-life BCHydro interview produced using IMovie
Connecting with experts is just one avenue students can take in their Connections-based Learning.  Another possibility is to work together to strive for real-world change.  In this particular activity we had students trying to hook up generator companies with homeless shelters.  We had students contacting Me to We and Clean Energy BC, hoping to have an influence on the building of more wind farms.

I love the creativity students use to share the story of their experience.  One group interviewed our own BCHydro producers of electricity.  They put together a mock up of the interview in an IMovie that they put on their blogs.  Another group shared their interview with a BCHydro employee in the context of developing a Power Outage Safety Kit.  In CBL, it is great to see what type of angle the students use to communicate their learning.  Not every organization responds, but the requirement is to tell the story around the connection.  What was learned through the process?


An interview with our principal on our school's
power conservation actions and hopes for the future

We also had students looking to our own school, wanting to ask what we were doing to steward our energy use and what the future holds for better school-based conservation.  These students interviewed our principal and shared school priorities for energy use, plus dreams for the future, including device charging stations hooked up to stationary bikes.

Connections-based learning is about sharing out our experiences.  This is often done through our digital portfolios.  One really cool thing that came from this #CBL was that one of the students wrote an article for the school newspaper on her #CBL experience.  You can find the article here.


Connections-based Learning prizes re-world connections.  Open the door wide to leverage those connections for learning. 

Then hang on.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Meaningful Comments: Who?

In Meaningful Comments: Why?, I looked at why good comments are important and the ways they can propel learning.  In Meaningful Comments: How?, I shared the discussions in my classes on how to make good comments: ask questions, expand on ideas, and share your story.  I was reminded in that post by commenter Bruno Winck that when you disagree with the author let them know by respectfully stating your thoughts.  Of course, this is in the hopes of both of you expanding your understanding.  When that happens, it is important for the author to not take things too personally (and delete objectionary comments) but more, to see this as an opportunity to learn and grow.

In this post I want to focus on who should be commenting on each other's work.  In this connected world, work done by the student shouldn't just be seen by the teacher.

Students commenting on each other's work

Publicly commenting on another's work, as Tom Whitby commented in Meaningful Comments: How?, is a relatively new thing.  Other than in peer editing, some kind of gallery walk activity, or an audience-question-time after a presentation, it just isn't done in our classrooms.  Often student work is for the teacher's eyes only.  But I want to state that there is something meaningful about students commenting on other student's work.  When you have to make a meaningful comment, you have to understand both what the author is saying and how you feel and think about it.  The wheels have to turn.  I think all of us Ed blog readers and writers know the feeling: "This is a great post but I just don't have the energy to intelligently synthesize my thoughts and put them into words.  I'll just hit like."  Commenting requires committing valuable resources.

If your hope is to have a community of learners, then your students should be commenting on each other's work.  They need to learn together in a safe environment that promotes sharing.  They need to be involved in each other's learning.  Furthermore, it brings them to operate at the highest level of Bloom's taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating and even creating (their response).

[Bloom's Taxonomy photo, “New Blooms Pyramid“, by Andrea Hernandez licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]

Teachers commenting on student work

I've talked a lot about teacher commenting in this series particularly on how it promotes student learning.  In the comment above, it is the teacher who gets to learn.  Either way, learning comes from the dialogue.  The initial post is a shotgun approach to learning; it is the comments that target in on personalized learning.  I would go as far as to say: if you find yourself having to choose between commenting on student work and grading it, I suggest you comment.  The comment propels learning while the grade puts an end to it.

Principals commenting on student work

In this connected world we live, right from his or her office, a principal can connect and encourage a student.  In fact, they need to get in on the action.  What a way to put one's finger on the pulse of what is going on in the classes but to read and comment on what the students are doing within their classes!

Parents, other teachers . . . really anyone

What an excellent learning conversation going on here...from one student's post.  A parent, two teachers, and several students propelling each other to do and to be better.  Parents having a window into what is going on in the class. Other Math teachers chiming in on the student's learning.  Students encouraging each other along in the material.  This is what being in a community of learners is all about.


In the hopes of more genuine comments for my students' work from those outside of the school, I thought that I would end this post with a learning opportunity.  Here is a Flipboard magazine of some of my students' blogs.  Please take a moment to check their digital portfolios out and possibly expend some energy and make a comment.  I know they would love to have some of your input into their learning.