Sunday, 31 January 2016

5 Steps to Sharing the Process


Now that educators are dialoging more about Connections-based Learning, a common question that surfaces is around assessment.  If the focus is encouraging students to ask "Who can I learn this from?", what considerations should be put into place to guide students down the path of learning?  What process sets the student up for authentic assessment?  What does that assessment look like?

In an approach to teaching that focuses on connection, feedback from multiple sources would seem to make sense.  In Connections-based Learning, the facets of Share the Process and Feedback Meaningfully encapsulate the CBL learning progression.  In this post I will focus on the facet: Share the Process.  Here we see how a CBL begins and how it supports students along the way toward their presentation of learning.  The assessment here is all formative.

I see five parts to Sharing the Process.  A task that opens the door to multiple points of entry is the first part of setting up a CBL.  At this point, students make a proposal as to with whom they are going to connect and what that connection might look like.  Students are asked to make some group guidelines about their collaboration and as the CBL continues, time is allotted for regular peer and teacher check-ins.  Finally the process is shared live and/or electronically.  Keep in mind, this represents half of the CBL process.

To add lucidity to the steps of a CBL, I offer an example used in my Science 9 class.  The learning outcome was to:
"relate electrical energy to power consumption." 

Here are the five parts outlined.

Connection criteria 

The connection criteria is meant to guide students in a general way to make some choices about learning. The topic is offered and the students are given examples regarding with whom to connect. The desired criteria is shared with the students and they are encouraged to ask themselves: are there people in the community, organizations or experts that can help us do something about this topic?

In the Power Connections example, students were asked to brainstorm experts or organizations they could connect with to solve a problem or promote awareness surrounding power use.

Learning Proposal

In order to make sure students are on the right track, a learning proposal is required.  Students answer questions such as:

- Who in the community, what organizations or which experts will help us do something about this topic?
- what information are we hoping to find?
- what solutions are we hoping to offer?
- what innovative ways to connect and present learning are we planning?

The proposal isn't just a quick answering of some questions.  Students are to put as much effort into the proposal as they do the presentation.  Formative feedback is given regarding the proposal and all proposals are available for each other to see.  I like to put the proposals up on the bulletin board to help us keep focused on where we are all going.

Collaboration Reflection


Facilitating effective collaboration is paramount in any group work.  Here a look at Crockett, Jukes, and Churches 21st Century Fluencies (2011) would be beneficial.  In the Crocket et al. Collaboration Fluency, a checklist is included that causes students to reflect on how the collaboration will go.  In CBL, the students agree on what guidelines they will follow as the CBL continues. Again, this opens the door for formative assessment, allowing the teacher to make comments on the agreed upon guidelines and decide on what mini-lessons are required to facilitate great group work. 

Progress Check-ins  

Throughout the CBL, providing peer and teacher check-ins is important to guide students along the way and to increase effectiveness of the process. This is not simply asking "How is it going?" but offering assistance as the students make their connections, develop questions to ask experts and organizations, and develop ways to share what they have done. An important question for the teacher to ask oneself is: What connections do I have that can move the group forward?  

Process Sharing

The process and learning is shared. This provides yet another feedback opportunity as students, teachers, principals or parents either make meaningful comments on presentations uploaded to student digital portfolios or make "questions, comments, or suggestions" during live presentations. The learning isn't over as students need to respond to comments made. I will outline that in Part 2 where I will discuss Feedback Meaningfully.

Why does CBL focus on the process?  Here is a good example of why:

Boti and Michael proposed an amazing idea.  They would contact companies that sell generators and connect them with homeless shelters hoping that the companies would provide free generators to these shelters. 

How can I honour and support their idea even if it might not work?  Focusing on the process opens the door for this. 

The boys made many attempts to connect but no one responded. When process is focused on, setbacks do not mean failures. The process and learning can still be shared and celebrated.

Innovative ideas that take risks can still be approved, honoured, and supported because everyone can share their process.

There is something special about watching students seek connections and take charge of their learning.  Engagement is high. Authentic learning leads to authentic feedback. And giving and receiving that feedback is pregnant with learning possibilities and brings us to Feedback Meaningfully.



Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st-century fluencies for the digital age. Kelowna, B.C.: 21st Century Fluency Project.


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Can we teach too cutting edge?

Student: "What is the most recent advancement in stem cell research?"

Researcher: "The process I just described to you."

The stem cell researcher had just explained to my class the process of making hiPSC (human induced pluripotent stem cells) from skin cells.  This is an area that she is an expert in, a process for which Shinya Yamanaka recently won a Nobel prize, a process that allows researchers not to have to rely on embryonic stem cells to do their work.  And the students were hearing about it from someone with a PhD in the field, who works with stem cell technology herself.

I don't want you to miss the preciousness of this moment.  The student who asked the question didn't want to hear what had happened in the past, even recent past.  He didn't want to have to wade through the 30,800,000 results that would come if he typed stem cells into a search engine.  The student wanted to know what is happening now.  And he got his answer.  In a field where advancements are happening almost daily, he got the most current answer.  Real-time. With diagrams, even.
  • How do you make the medium that sends messages to the pluripotent stem cell?
  • What types of diseases can be treated with stem cells?
  • Since Dolly, has there been any other cloning of sheep or other animals?
  • Do the hiPSC's act exactly like embryonic stem cells or are there differences?
Even. . .
  • Is there any truth to what South Park shows us about stem cells?
(which she answered beautifully)

Even. . .
  • How do the people you work with feel about the stem cell controversy?
(you're not going to find the answer to that in a textbook or article)

Each student got their answer.

And all this came to my students . . .face to face.

I share that story because the experience galvanized my resolve to explain the importance of Connections-based Learning with the world of educators.  Skyping in a stem cell researcher into my Science 9 class was an amazing, worthwhile learning and connecting experience.  Connecting with experts is one of six facets of CBL: Question Experts.  This facet opens our students to the cutting edge of what is going on in our planet.  But it also opens the door to the hearts of others around the world, and in our own backyard, who are involved in what we are studying.  It humanizes the "scientists": real people who are seeking answers to the most current questions of our world.  Stem cells aren't just "out there" for my students, now.  They are something Charis, our expert and now classroom friend, is working on.

Moreover, this was a connection birthed at a Christmas dinner party with kids running around playing hide and seek and making up dance performances.  I didn't do anything special to make this connection other than to keep my ears open as I go about, listening for possible connections for my students.  And asking my students to do the same.  That is the beauty of CBL, asking ourselves as educators: "what connections do we as a group of 30 people have that can help us learn this concept?"

30 people.  Not 1.  There's a lot of possibilities there.

With the connections my students are making with experts, they have the most cutting edge information at hand that they can share with others.  Some of the connections I helped them make.  Some they made on their own.  Here are a few others:

Skype helps students study Mars rovers

Students work with real life companies for a connections-based learning project

Can we share information and ideas that are too cutting edge, too recent with our students?  Do we want anything less for them?