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

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Co-construct Learning Goals | #CBL Collaboration Lens

Bottle Flipping is sequestered to the back deck in the Robinson household.  If you don't know what I am talking about, see this Dude Perfect video:

It is all the rage.  I see it at soccer practices.  At breakfast.  In my class.  In the car.  I am not sure, but I think it actually can cause parental madness.

But I can't ban it all together.  To see someone work to perfect something must be pondered as an educator.  It is the equivalent of kids developing their skateboarding skills, practicing that ollie over and over and over again until they get it just right.  It causes me to ask myself what causes this drive.  And how can I utilize this for learning.  When we tap into students' own drive, learning is transformed from blowing on embers to managing a blaze.

This is the second in a series of posts that look at the Connections-based Learning Collaboration Lens.  In the previous post we examined what it means to empathize local and global needs.  Now that my students have discovered needs that they want to address in response to the Dominican Republic provocation, the next step is to bring out students' own learning goals.  Here is where bottle flipping meets school.  Can we tap into students' own interests while guiding them in meaningful directions? Can we construct learning goals together?

Co-construct Learning Goals

In our Engineering Brightness CBL, the students were asked to ponder the connection.  An answer to the light poverty in the Dominican Republic is a natural response.  Hearing about the need for safe efficient light sources leads to students to consider how they can help.  In our case, after brainstorming and discussing the Dominican Republic connection, the students were to write down their goals for learning.

I comment on these goals encouraging students to elaborate, press into, or try a different direction for their goals.  Often students have ideas on what they want to do, but I encourage them to develop what they want to learn.  As I do this, I keep in mind my own goals for this CBL.  In this case, my goals stem from the competencies that I selected from the new British Columbia curriculum.  They look like this:

Students also get to make their own rubric that looks at the focuses of the  CBL Collaboration Lens, considering ideas such as Design, Network, Create, and Celebrate as they construct their learning goals. Later, this rubric will be used to self-assess after the students receive meaningful feedback on their digital portfolios.

You might notice that below each rubric strand is a place for evidence.  When I ask the students to do a final evaluation, they need to add evidence that supports how they assess themselves.  I take a copy of these Co-construction sheets and then give them back to the students.  They can use these sheets to guide them as they develop their proposal and carry on with their work.  Will their own goals engage them as much as bottle flipping?  Time will tell.

The proposals the students came up with are amazing.  I am going to outline them in the next post: Dream a Proposal | #CBL Collaboration Lens.  Here is a little taste of what one group came up with:

Consider partnering with us as we fight light poverty in the Dominican Republic

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Empathize Local and Global Needs | #CBL Collaboration Lens

My Science 9 students are well on their way with their Connections-based Learning to help the bateyes of the Dominican Republic with the problem of light poverty.  I shared how this CBL came to be in Doing Something Beyond Ourselves.  At that point, I had a few ideas on where I wanted to take my students, but it was all speculation.

Now the students have been unleashed.  Connections do that.  They catch students right where heads meet hearts. They reveal a compassion that might hide dormant without prompting.  Connections fan the flames of empathy and lead to action.  Learning becomes a necessity, not an assignment.

We had two amazing Skype chats focused on light poverty.  You can find a taste of these chats on these student posts:

The Connections-based learning Collaboration Lens helps educators steward the connection.  It is one thing to make an amazing connection with the community, an expert, an organization or another group of students.  It is quite another to maximize it for learning.

I want to share how we used the CBL Collaboration lens to take us from connection into response.  It starts with the Design focus and specifically Empathizing local and global needs.

Empathize local and global needs

Seconds after our Skype chat was over with Eladio, Dennis and the students from the Dominican Republic, we were talking needs. Now the needs might be a little more obvious when we are talking about the people living as sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic.  There might be one or two hours of electricity a day.  There might be none.  And if electricity is available, it is during the day.  Light at night is a real issue and affects both learning and safety.  It was hard to hear about people dying in fires as a result of candle and kerosene lamp use at night from Dennis during our Dominican Republic Skype chat.

But empathizing needs looked vastly different for the SSEP CBL my students did.  In that case, our experiments would never get on the Space X rocket if they didn't address a need.  The need gives meaning to the action.  It gives meaning to the making.  The need has to be there. Without it, why bother.

My students went through a whole CBL process as they designed their Engineering Brightness learning experience. The first thing was to reflect on the connection, ponder the needs they discovered, and develop the learning goals they have for themselves.  Here are some student samples:

With students discovering needs through the connection, the next step is to Co-construct Learning Goals.  I will continue to share as this CBL develops.  Look for the next post: Co-construct Learning Goals | #CBL Collaboration Lens.

Consider partnering with us as we fight light poverty in the Dominican Republic.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Doing something beyond ourselves

The last time I made an electronics project was in grade 9.  It was a light tree.  A large metal box would hook up to a stereo receiver and pick up the analogue audio signals.  The box would translate the signals into different frequencies which would light up one of the three different coloured lights hidden underneath light globes.  It's gone now, but I kept it around for decades.

There has been something stuck in my mind for some time: meaningful making in Connections-based Learning.

It is so natural.  When provoked by a connection, the natural question to ask our students is:

Now that we know what we know, and have seen what we have seen, and have met whom we have met, what are are we going to do about it?

But also:

What are we going to MAKE about it?

I found the perfect connection to develop my chops in meaningful making several months ago.

I met John Howe in Denver Colorado at ISTE 2016.  He is a pilot, a Smart Exemplary Educator, and a big proponent in STEM education as a STEM institute director. He was presenting in one of the digital playgrounds in front of a bunch of engaged educators.  During his presentation, he shared this video on Engineering Brightness.

I was floored.  This was it.  If ever there was a meaningful making endeavor, building lights to combat light poverty was it.  I stuck around after and asked John about this Engineering Brightness company.  He was clear to say that Engineering Brightness was "more of an association".  He shared about this association and the grass roots nature of the association between the handful of classes involved drew me in even more.

Addressing light poverty. Printed circuit boards. 3D printing. Soldering.

All this was well beyond my capabilities.  You know my experience with electronics: nothing since grade 9.  Add to that I had no supplies, no Makerspace, no 3D printing experience.  The only thing I could do was what I have been teaching my students all this time: make connections.

Really, to do anything amazing, you have to make connections.

I immediately made a connection with a fellow Canadian who had some experience in Engineering Brightness.
Ian Fogarty is an award winning high school teacher, a past NASA researcher and currently co-director for the SHAD network (to name only a small part of his impressive portfolio).  He lives on the other side of the country but he was quick to try to help me out.  We chatted over Skype and he shared his story and passion.  A few weeks later, I was surprised by a package he sent to me: a light prototype.

Meanwhile, I began a connection of another kind.  I sought funding for materials through My Class Needs and Fuel Your School.  Here is my "fund me" page.

At this point, the funding level is low.  In fact, I am not sure if I will get any funds in this way.  But should a perceived lack of funds stop the process?  Not without pressing deeper into the connections.  I added connections from teachers at my school.  Abraham and Ollie, two of our Industrial Design teachers, were quick to come on board.

Most recently I made a connection Eliadio Jimenez Made and his team in the Dominican Republic.  It began as this simple tweet.

I now have a Skype chat set up with Eladio, Dennis (also in the picture), and some of their students.  They will share some of the conditions of the communities surrounding them with my students and give me the chance to ask: so what are we going to do about it.

The idea here is that I have no idea where this is going to go.  And the much bigger idea is: that is okay.  If we are wanting to ask our students to step out of their comfort zones, share their work in portfolios, make meaningful connections, and do meaningful things, we must be willing to do this as educators ourselves.  Blog posts shouldn't only contain the successful, but the not-yet-successful, and the I-hope-this-works, as well.

I am excited to see where this goes and am enjoying the journey and relationships built on the way.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A Journey into Space

Our district has been given a microgravity experiment chamber and cargo space aboard a rocket travelling to the International Space Station.  That rocket will dock with the ISS and deliver the experiment to the astronauts living in the microgravity environment.  While there, an astronaut will carry out the specific instructions of the experiment. Finally, the experiment chamber will be loaded up for transport back to earth.  Meanwhile, the same experiment will be completed back in British Columbia.  The control group and the experimental space group will be compared and the effects of microgravity on the contents of the experimental chamber will be analyzed.

Sounds fictional doesn't it.  But it is actually true!  The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) allows students to participate in a real-life science process.  And real life science is competitive.  There is one spot for which hundreds of groups compete.  And I have students who really want to have that spot.

It is an amazing opportunity!  The big question is: how do we best steward this opportunity?  How do we maximize our talents?  How do teams in my class get to be the ones who have their experiment taken to space?

If there is one thing I know from my work with Connections-based Learning, we can't do this alone.  We used the Connections-based Learning lens to guide us as we created our experiments.  The Collaborate component is not meant to be a prescription but is to be used as a guide to leverage the connected world to learn.  Each facet reminds us how making connections can be part of the learning process.  To create a great SSEP experiment, making connections must be part of the plan.

CBL Infographic by Sean Robinson and Leigh Cassell

Immediately we got down to the business of design. 

Using pages in our OneNote class notebook, students grouped up and began to brainstorm ideas about possible experiments.  What do we as a global community need to know about microgravity?  What are we curious about regarding gravity?  What even wacky ideas do we have that we could try? OneNote documents were created for groups of three students and each student would add to the document from their devices.

On another OneNote class notebook page, students were asked questions about some of the non-negotiables of their collaboration.  Goals and collaboration principles were established.


As students searched through websites to see what has gone before, some contacted groups who had previously participated in the SSEP.  Here is an excerpt from one of the students blogs:

Some connected with Simon Fraser University students to guide them as the students teased out meaningful questions to explore in a microgravity environment.  As they emailed back and forth, students were able to build ideas about possible experiments.

Students we able to attend an SSEP gathering at Heritage Woods Secondary where they made even more connections with experts.


Before the creation of an experiment could take place, students needed to develop competencies and skills in certain areas.  I had to teach some students about the effects of different acids while some needed to learn about bacteria.  We used agar plates to gather and experiment on bacteria.  Students also examined what had gone on before during the SSEP flights.  Each group studied a previous mission to glean important information to guide them in their own experiment.  In the end, the students created an experiment of their own and began to write up their proposal to submit to the SSEP committee.


Students continued to document their process.  They took pictures that they will later publish on their blogs.  They kept track of emails they sent and information that they received back from collaborators.  And as much as possible (this is a competition) they worked out loud, making connections with university students, other teachers, and the teacher librarian.  All this will be published after the competition in their digital portfolios where students, teachers, and parents can read and comment.

Soon the winning experiment will be chosen and we will find out if one of our groups will be sending an experiment into space.  Regardless of the outcome, participating in the SSEP experience was amazing and throughout the process, learning happened.  That learning will be celebrated and shared out to support future SSEP participants.  Moreover the meaningful learning relationships students made will be connections they can tap into for the future as they curate their learning network.  This is Connections-based Learning.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Connections-based Learning, Connected Learning, Connected Education, Global Ed. Any dif?

Let's set the matter straight.

We all have some intuition about the fact that the 21st-century connected world has opened doors to new ways of looking at teaching and learning.  We all feel like there is potential to tap into.  We might not know how to do it, but we often catch wind of something amazing going on.  We are asked to make our teaching more relevant, more personal.  We may not feel like we have the tools to do it, but we feel the pressure with this felt potential.

We also know that this potential goes beyond simply what technology offers.  It is the human element that makes the difference.  It is not enough that online games are more engaging, that apps are more intuitive, that our devices are more powerful.  We recognize that education is about the heart.  Therefore, it is not about the games, apps and devices, but more the doors those games, apps, and devices open.  What, in the end, do they do for us?  And how do they help us get to a place of meaning.  Really, in education these days, the question has to be: what matters?

I have been trying to share an approach to teaching that can give us a framework regarding answering that question: forming learning relationships needs to be the foundation of learning.  Learning must be based on making human connection.  I have called it Connections-based Learning   I also recognize that there are many terms out there that have been used to add meaning to the idea of connecting our classrooms.

The first order of business should always be to define the terms.  What I would like to do is to look at the terms surrounding connection in education to help us reach some common language.  The terms Connected Learning, Connections-based Learning, Global Education, and Connected Education are not synonymous.  They each have their focus and I will attempt to give each term a solid spotlight in order to clarify the connected landscape.

Connected Learning

Connected Learning is a type of learning based on student personal interest. Connected Learning - an agenda for research and design states that "Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement." - (Ito, M. et al., 2013).

It is a perfect marriage of peer involvement, interest pursuing, and academic engagement. The focus of the process is not on a certain structure (Ito, M. at al., 2013, p. 45), but more that students' learning happens in the context of pursuing shared interests and goals.

It has a focus on educational reform which includes addressing and eliminating ethnic achievement gaps. The desire is to "bring together in-school and out-of-school learning and activity." and form deeper bonds between different spheres of learning.

Examples of Connected Learning:

"Examples of learning environments that integrate peer, interest, and academic pursuits including athletics programs that are tied to in-school recognition, certain arts and civic learning programs, and interest-driven academic programs such as math, chess, or robotics competitions. These connected learning environments embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation." - p.8 (Ito, M. et al., 2013)

See the Connected Learning Alliance for more information

Connected Education

Connected Education has a focus on online learning activities.  The term Connected Education was first used in conjunction with personalized learning in the form of online lessons describing the groundbreaking work of Paul Levinson and Tina Vozick.  In the 80's, they created masters degree programs that could be completed online.  The term Connected Education continues to be used to describe any kind of learning that uses the internet in some capacity.

Here is a 2008 Connected Education video on digitizing lessons.  The early focus on Connected Education was to have video lessons readily and easily available for learning.

The term is still used very generally today.  You can see that in the information gathered by the New York Times Learning Network in this post: What connected education looks like - 28 examples from teachers all over

Examples of Connected Education:

In the article What connected education looks like - 28 examples from teachers all over, you can see connected education as:
- utilizing learning networks such as Edmodo
- compiling pictures that students take with their devices around a certain topic
- collaborative projects with other classes
- educators blogging about classroom experiences
- district-wide twitter chats
- creating web-based lessons
- sharing educator resources using online bulletin boards like Padlet

Global Education

Global Education has a focus on seeing the world as a whole.  Learning about the world, its needs, and what must be done to meet those needs is key.  In the province of Alberta, we have the Centre for Global Education.  This Edmonton Public Schools organization provides opportunities for students to learn about global issues and "the potential youth have to shape a common future" through online conferences and interactive sessions.  You get an understanding of Global Education as the TCGE describes its mission:

"The mission of The Centre for Global Education (TCGE) is to educate 21st Century students for a 21st Century world by providing global learning opportunities, enhanced through technology, informed by sound research and innovative teaching."

In Atlanta, Georgia there is The Consortium for Global Education. Their desire is to provide opportunities for students and teachers to help develop global worldview through school partnerships, student exchanges, and collaborative research.

The Centre for Global Education in Belfast focuses on achieving a "just and equitable world".  They remind us that part of Global Education is to influence leaders and policy makers, to support organizations that foster social and economic equality, and "to promote an understanding of the interdependency of people across the world."

Examples of Global Education:
- learning about the social and economic needs of another country
- student trips and exchanges
- raising funds for relief organizations
- campaigning for social and economic equality
- service projects that meet needs in a key area of need
- learning global citizenship and sustainable lifestyles

See: The Maastricht Global Education Declaration for more definitions on Global Education.

Here is an example of a Global Education project by The Wonderment where students changed a Guatemalan bus into a mobile library:

Connections-based Learning

Connections-based Learning is an approach to teaching and learning that leverages the connected world by connecting students with their community, learning from experts, supporting organizations, or partnering with peers.

While Connected Learning uses connection to support students' own interests, Connections-based Learning has connection running through every facet of the process. Connected Learning is a more free flowing process that harnesses a student's everyday experience while Connections-based Learning focuses on connecting students with learning or action partners.  Connected Education includes utilizing apps to maximize learning; Connections-based Learning uses apps to promote connection to maximize learning.  While Global Education often includes a true connection with others outside the classroom, Connections-based Learning must include a connection.  Global Education looks out to find the needs of the world; Connections-based Learning looks around finding connection anywhere--from home and the community all the way to the ends of the earth.  For Global Education, learning is focused on the world and its needs; Connections-based Learning could include learning about stem cells, or white water rafting, or Mars.

The infographic below clearly shares the nature of Connections-based Learning.  This infographic was created in collaboration with Leigh Cassell (see her amazing resource called the digital Human Library) who had a huge hand in the images, wording and focus of this resource.

Clarity is crucial as educators.  And without a common language, we are not truly communicating clearly.  As connected educators, let's work together to achieve a common understanding as we seek to make better teaching and learning.  Please share your thoughts!


"Connected Learning". Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Mar. 8, 2016. Web. Aug. 31, 2016.

Europe-wide Global Education Congress (2002). The Maastricht Global Education Declaration. Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Ito, M.; Gutiérrez, K.; Livingstone, S.; Penuel, B.; Rhodes, J.; Salen, K.; Schor, J.; Sefton-Green, J.; Watkins, S.G. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design (PDF). Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Friday, 29 July 2016

5 Steps to Amplify Student Voice

You might not know this but the international reality TV vocal talent show "The Voice" has iterations in over 50 countries.  That means that one quarter of the countries in the world have their own version of it.  In Afghanistan it is called آواز افغانستان , in Turkey it is O Ses Türkiye, in Viet Nam it is called Giọng hát Việt. The concept is hugely popular and beats out other reality shows time and time and time and time again.

What is this preoccupation with the voice?  And what is it about a voice that makes us just want to drop down on the couch and listen?

We hear it in schools: give students a voice.  But what does that mean? What does that look like?  And is it as important as we think?

Let's think about our own experience.  How do we feel when we believe we've been heard?  How we feel when our opinion mattered?  When our words become crucial?  When our ideas change the course of an event, an organization, a life?

And how do we feel when our voice isn't heard?  When our opinion wasn't really considered?  When, despite what we say, nothing seems to make any difference?

Voice matters.

There is something that resonates deep in our core about being heard.  It is connected with being known.  We see it when a colleague shares "Well my thing is. . ." or "I have been working on. . .".  We see it when someone starts to blog.  They are so excited to share out their ideas.  And the ideas are so good.  Time and time again I see first blogs shared out to so many.  The voice resonates throughout the world getting retweeted, liked and plus one'd.  That new voice is refreshing.  Its passion renews our own.  Being heard doesn't just matter to the speaker, it matters for all the listeners.

So how do we get that in our classrooms?  Here are 5 steps to amplify student voice.


The first step is to believe that our students' voices are important.  That they must be heard.  That our job as educators is to make sure that happens.  Our beliefs pour out of us, and as I have said about many things educational, the importance of voice is 'better caught than taught'.

This belief plays out in how we teach.

Are we co-constructing learning goals with our students?  
Do students have a voice in how they are evaluated?
Are students empowered to control the direction of the class?


Getting connected: Finding Experts

A voice is nothing if it isn't heard.  I believe our job as educators is to be the linchpin for student connection.  Can we connect our students with experts in a certain field? This is not just to hear from the expert, but reciprocate.  Give opportunities for your students to help the expert, through awareness, through testing out something for them, through offering feedback.

Can we connect our classes with other students across the globe? Can we open the world for our students by introducing them to another viewpoint, culture, way of living?

Are we giving opportunities for students to connect outside the class and school walls?
Are we connecting with other educators ourselves?
Are we giving students opportunities for their voices to be heard far and wide?


Digital Portfolios: where to start?

Students need a platform to share their voice.  This is why I am so big on digital portfolios.  Is there any other way that students can share their ideas in an educational framework?  (this isn't a rhetorical question.  I'd love to hear other ways that educators are facilitating a platform to share.  Possibly leveraging students own already existing platforms?)

Do our students have a place to share out not only their learning but their thoughts?
Do our students consider these platforms as their own?
Are we demonstrating voice sharing ourselves?


Meaningful Comments: Why?

It isn't enough for students to share out.  We as educators need to visit where student voices are spoken, and interact with what they've said.  It is not enough to let them know that we came.  We have to engage with their ideas, and facilitate others' engagement as well: other students, parents, other teachers, experts.

Do we visit student portfolios regularly?
Do we take time to offer meaningful feedback to our students?
Do we consider meaningful feedback crucial to learning?


This is where the rubber meets the road.  The plumb line on the meaningfulness of student voice to us is whether we are sharing it out or not.  Blogging, tweeting, Flipboarding, Google Hangouts: all these platforms can propel student voice.

Do we have ways of sharing out our students' creations, ideas, and opinions?
Is sharing out part of the classroom routines?
Do the activities we do in the class meet our own standards such that we welcome them shared?

We all know that voices are important.  Are our students' voices being heard?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

5 reasons not to embrace Connections-based Learning

I'm not joking.

Here is a candid conversation about why not to embrace Connections-based Learning. At the risk of setting back a movement I started only a couple of years ago, employ in my classroom, share about at workshops, and blog about frequently, I really want to take a hard look at some reasons why Connections-based Learning might not be for you or your colleagues. 

As I sit here up on the top bunk in my hostel room (enduring the snoring and. . .) joining the 14,000 educators in Denver at the ISTE conference, I think about the amazing possibilities that a #CBL lens would have on teaching and learning.  But still, I will carve out my top 5 (but I am sure there are others) reasons not to embrace Connections-based Learning. 

#1 you'll have to be open to increasing your network

Connections-based Learning is actually what the name says: it is an approach to teaching and learning that is based on connections. In fact, as I have been delving deeper into what is and is not Connections-based Learning and spending time re-imagining the infographic (and in turn deepening the whole approach) with Leigh Cassell, I have become even more adamant that if it doesn't have to do with connection, relationship, partnering, and interaction, it has no part in the approach. 

That being said, educators involved in #CBL will not be able to avoid the networking aspect. Time will need to be taken to pursue connections. Effort will need to be expended to contact partners (through avenues such as Connected Learning Partnerships). These connections will have to be managed and cared for as any relationship would.  These connections would be two-way, not a flash in the pan, but more the slow cooking turkey basting variety.  And Connections-based Learning will require emotional energy to deal with the exposure to the many views and possibilities that a deeply connected educator will come across.

#2 you'll spend more time creating educational experiences

You'll have to take a look at your curriculum and ask yourself, "how can these learning outcomes be achieved in relationship? What are meaningful activities that provide the experience that will allow my students to come away with this kind of understanding.


When you collaborate on something, it requires planning ahead. You have to interact before you interact.  And when other parties are involved in the planning process, there's give and take about the what's, where's, and when's of the process. You are going to have to navigate that. 

Moreover, some of your learning outcomes might just not seem to fit with a connected experience. You'll have to figure out what to do with that. Connections-based learning will challenge you in ways you may not want to be challenged.

#3 you'll have to take risks

First there's the tech. Collaborating can include some kind of video conferencing if global connections are pursued or experts are brought in from far away. The technology has to be learned and then executed in real time. And when the tech seems to be failing, you're still on.  It's like you are hosting a dinner party and there's not enough food, uncle Larry's going off the deep end, and Sarah threw sand in her cousin's face. Can you smile, dig out some poppers from the deep freeze, put Larry in front of the TV, get Sarah to apologize while setting up a temporary eye wash station, and go without food yourself all without losing your smile?


Then there is opening the door to students interacting with organizations, experts, and partner classes. When my student Mo asked Karishma Bhagani, an NYU student hoping to bring her invention of a $10 water purifier back to needy villages in her home country of Kenya, about her thoughts on the aid western countries offer to the developing ones, I had no idea what to expect.  Would she be caught off guard, offended, made to feel uncomfortable?  Connections-based Learning will lead you into a pattern of risk taking.  How will you deal with that?

#4 you'll have to give up more control

The most effective #CBL's I have participated in have been the ones where students create their own goals around an interaction. Can you give up control to your students and have them own the learning.  They might not head in the direction you were hoping.  And do you really want your class to have the feel of some kind of campaign headquarters?  Are you okay with students heading off in different directions all at once?  Can you facilitate over orate, listen over speaking, and give up the idea of covering off your curriculum? #CBL will ask you to do all these things.


#5 you'll risk getting involved

The year is done and summer has come.  And still Hailey and her partners are working on Karishma's web page.  In fact, I remember the call home letting the parents know that their daughter was interacting with an NYU student on her own.  I had to make sure it was okay.  But I also remember our shared delight, talking about a young person who has found a passion, who has made a resolve to no longer stand aside and watch things happen. 

Would you be willing to do the same?

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Finding water on Mars

"One of the most exciting latest discoveries that we have found is evidence for water flowing on the surface of Mars today."

These were the words that Tanya Harrison spoke to my Science 9 class during a Google Hangout.  They were recorded here:

This is the second time that I had that this-is-so-amazing-that-my-students-get-to-discover-this feeling welling up inside of me this year.  The previous time was when we heard from Charis about the work she was doing with pluripotent stem cells.  I outline that CBL in the post Can we teach too cutting edge? 

And it happened again here.  Connecting with an expert not only taught us about what it is like to be the first to receive a picture from Mars, the difference between the Mars rovers, and the future of space exploration.  Our connection gave us up-to-the-minute discoveries, including the discovery of explosive volcanism on Mars that day. You can probably tell that I am still beaming from that experience.  It was incredible.

Connections-based Learning experiences bring a genuineness into the classroom.  They bolster the relationships without and within the class.  Shared experiences like helping end water scarcity or aiding orphans and widows in Ethiopia and promoting reading for pleasure in Uganda create a we're-in-this-together kind of feeling with a class.  Attendance is affected positively.  Student effort increases.  The us (teachers) vs. them (students) position that we can sometimes get into can fall away.  Students are retweeting teachers.  Teachers are retweeting students.  There are high fives.  Dogs and cats start living together in harmony.

Okay, well maybe the last thought is going a little too far.

But add to this that these students constructed their own goals for the #CBLchat with help from me.  I share about the setup for this #CBL experience in How to Design a Connections-based Learning experience. Student responses to our connection were amazing.  Here are just a few of them:


I end this post with a call for others to join me.  As we take a much needed summer (or winter for those in the southern hemisphere) break and reflect on our past year and where we want to go next year, would you consider including more out of the class connections: serving the community, supporting organizations, interacting with experts, and partnering with classes both locally and globally.  Connecting with experts is just one facet of Connections-based Learning.


Join our growing Voxer community where we share our needs, experiences, trials, triumphs.
Share your connected experiences with the #CBLchat hashtag
Sign up for Connected Learning Partnerships joining classrooms around the world, going live this fall.
Visit our #CBL Google plus community and share a post of your connected experiences
Or make a comment below.

Either way, reach out and join us as we learn about and speak into the happenings around the globe ... and even beyond!

Monday, 13 June 2016

How to design a Connections-based Learning experience

The Google Hangout hasn't even happened yet but it has been amazing to see the learning that has taken place. Taking the time to co-construct learning goals with students has allowed the ownership of the learning to change hands.  It has been wonderful to see students take ownership of the connection and use it for their purposes, teasing out what they want from it and how they know they got what they wanted.  Here I outline the who, why and how of the learning design in a Connections-based Learning activity.

Designing Learning - Who?

Our class' Connections-based Learning is around the solar system and I have set up a Google Hangout with Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist who has worked extensively on exploring Mars.  From working on the Mars Curiosity Mastcam to working on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera and the Mars Color Imager at Malin Space Science Systems, she has been contributing greatly to amassing a wealth of information about Mars.

After giving my students a short bio and directing them to her website, I asked students to do their own searching about who Tanya is and what she is all about. I wanted them to follow their own rabbit trails as they first touch on this connection.

What does she blog about?
What Youtube videos has she done?
How does she describe herself?
What are her hobbies?
What does she share on social media?

It is important for students to get a feel for the person with whom they will be connecting.  It is not just about being able to ask the right questions but more so, to start forming their own connections to the expert.  What do they have in common? What is surprising about this person?  What do they like about her?  What might be places of disagreement?

Designing Learning - Why?

Connections-based Learning is all about the why.  My desire is for my students to get out of this interaction not only the most possible, but the most meaningfulness possible: to own the conversation, to get their questions answered, to create their own goals for the interaction.  When students have been given a voice about what they will learn, their engagement rises, their attention is strategic, their excitement increases.  Eventually I am going to ask them to create a response for their interaction.  I want that response to be true to who they are and what they can offer the expert.

Designing Learning - How?

After they began to "know" Tanya (from her own presence online), I asked my students to write learning goals in response to what they know about Tanya.

Here are some of the goals:
- "I'd like to learn and have a better understanding of Mars and the Curiosity mission"
- "I want to know the difference between the Mars Rover and the Curiosity"
- I want to know "how she chose the camera she did"
- I would like to "discover what space photography is and to learn about it"
- "My goal is to successfully understand the concept of how big everything in outer space is"
"Hoping to discover what new technology has been innovated in space photography."
"Hoping to discover how Mars rovers work and function"
"To have Tanya comment on my blog post."

These are their words, not mine: learn, understand, discover.

I also asked students for a sign that they have achieved their goal.
"If I can list 3 differences. . ."
"When I can explain it to others"
"If I learn something new that fascinates me"
"When I can describe how it looks"
When "I am able to understand the difference in physical appearance and function and share it on my Edublog"
"That there is a comment from Tanya on my Edublog post"

One student said: "I would like to learn what it was like to be in the environment of making everything happen."  I asked her to explain further as I knew she was getting at something but it needed clarification.  She ended up with wanting to know, "what it was like working on the rover process and describe the environment -  and how it made you feel." That is the co-construction piece.  I need a chance to have a voice into their goals, to help them extract, refine, clarify, polish.

Once learning goals are co-created, the questions flow easily.  They are meaningful and they are not the teacher's.  They connect with the students own personal goals.  The conversation revolves around the students own curiosity and wonderings. 

Now we are ready.