Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Getting connected: Finding Experts

I recently had the pleasure of sharing Connections-based Learning with my alma mater.  It was great walking back into the high school with its quadrangular layout and large spacious halls.  I strolled into the library where I would present and the smell took me back to carefree high school days.  A buddy and I would spend our free blocks in the theatre.  If you can imagine it, we would rarely be on the floor.  We would hop from armrest to armrest up, down and across the banks of seats.  The biggest challenge was when we hopped over the aisle into the next bank of seats, from armrest to armrest without skipping a beat.  Thinking about it now it was recipe for ankle pinnings and neck collarings.  For us then, it was something to master, a challenge to overcome, a way to demonstrate expertise.
Every time I have shared Connections-based Learning with educators, I have videoconferenced in an expert.  I not only want teachers to learn about connected encounters but to experience them.  This time we had the pleasure of bringing in Melissa Lavoie (blog: https://adventuresineduteching.com/).  Melissa is an engaging passionate connected educator working as an educational technology special assignment teacher in Timmins, Ontario.  She shared a wealth of ideas and experience with us that ranged from Google Apps for Education to inspiring connected experiences.  I believe the big take-away for the Centennial High School staff was the three places to find experts that Melissa shared.
When I first heard about the digital Human Library, I knew that I had to share it with as many people as possible.  I immediately signed up and put the link on the Connections-based Learning site. When I got to connect with the Founder, Leigh Cassell, I realized how special this endeavor really is.  I ended up featuring one of her stories in a post on Inspiring Creative Connections.  The digital Human Library has hundreds of experts in nearly any subject area available to be signed out by teachers and classrooms to share their expertise with students.  It also has links to hundreds of free multi-media tours.  It is a one stop shop for getting connected and leveraging those connections for learning.  Using the dHL to connect students with experts allows for an amazing experience, but Melissa shared with us how she took it one step further and used a dHL expert to share with teaching staff. 
For a professional day, Melissa brought in an actor to a staff via videoconference.  The actor shared with the educators not only his story as an actor but got the educators on their feet (and a bit more comfortable in their skin) doing warm ups and improvisations.  Melissa was able to bring to the staff an expertise that she didn't have, a connection that got even the most resistant moving by nature of the authority and experience of an expert.  The experience also shared the power of the digital Human Library use itself.  The educators walked away having been stretched both physically and mentally.
Making popsicle stick bridges is a great way to teach compressive and tensile strength and the advantages and drawbacks of certain geometric shapes in construction.  Students love heating up the hot glue guns and bringing their structural ideas to life.  I have done this exact activity with my Science and Tech 11 class.  But when I heard about what Melissa did with the activity, I realized how a connection can expand just about any learning experience.  Melissa used the VROC connecting platform to find Professor Francesco Tangorra, a civil engineering instructor from Algonquin College in Ottawa, to join the class with which she was working. (Story on p. 24/25 here).  Virtual Researchers on Call is a platform that connects STEM professors and professionals with Canadian students for interactive learning.  What the engineer did was amazing. 
As each student brought their bridge up for testing and applied weights to the structures, Prof. Francesco would be observing via Google Hangout.  When the structure failed, the engineering instructor was able to tell the students where and why the structure broke.  He would share his wealth of knowledge and experience with the students expanding their ideas about what makes structures strong.  The students were completely engaged in the project and came to better understand the artistry and science that goes into making bridges.
The final platform Melissa shared about that connects students with experts is Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.  This platform is focused on Science, Adventure, and Conservation.  Melissa shared about an encounter where students were able to experience river rafting through the platform.  Amazing!  Each experience is stored as a Youtube video in the Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants Youtube channel.  Check out some of the videos as they really give you a perspective on how engrossing this platform is.  Give your students the opportunity to go to the bottom of the ocean, a turtle hospital, a bug zoo, Iceland's glaciers or many other locations with this far reaching platform.
One of the four CONNECT facets of Connections-based Learning is Question Experts.  In this day and age with innovative platforms such as these, experts in any area are not far from the students.  I encourage you to take advantage of this connected world and share ideas from willing experts with your students.  Keep me posted about all your incredible connected experiences by sharing in the comments or tweeting out to #CBLchat.

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