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.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Connected Learning Partnerships

In Getting Connected: Finding Experts, I shared three platforms to find experts for Connections-based Learning.  Connecting with experts is an engaging way to provide the most recent information and technical expertise to learners.  Whether it is having a stem cell researcher share about the latest with pluripotent stem cells, having a structural engineering professor explain why popsicle stick bridges collapsed, or bringing in a banker to advise on entrepreneurial projects, the expert provides cutting edge information with proficient and experienced knowhow.

But connections-based learning is about so much more.

When students are partnering with other students, a different facet of learning is taking place.  They move from reception to reciprocation.  When my students partnered with Matone de Chiwit, one aspect was assembling ideas on a shared Padlet.  We got to see the ideas that the Florida students were working on and add our own.  Inspired by this interaction, here is what we did.

So when Leigh Cassell approached me with the lofty goal of creating a list of educators willing to partner with learning endeavors from every country in the world, I knew that this had to be done.

Learners partnering locally and globally can lead to so much.
- empathy for others
- synergetic accomplishments
- comparative research
- positive relationships
- a global worldview

...and so much more.

So with that partnership between Ontario (Leigh, and Nicole Kaufman who joined the quest) and BC (me), came Connected Learning Partnerships.

The concept is so very simple yet so powerful: create a spreadsheet of interested educators across the globe who are willing to partner with others.  The only thing we request is that if you are approached with a connections-based learning idea, that you respond back: "Sure, let's do it." or "No thanks." 

The reception has been amazing.  At the time of this post, we have enrolled educators from:

Abu Dhabi, Cayman Islands, Iceland, Ghana, Canada, United States, Norway, Sweden, and Sierra Leone.

From the CLP document:

If you are interested in becoming a member teacher and/or school, you will need at least one staff member to complete the registration form. There is no limit to the number of staff who can register from your school. The more teachers that register, the more opportunities that are created for connected learning partnerships!

Please help us grow the CLP Program by sharing this document with your colleagues around the world. The CLP Contact List will go live beginning September 1st 2016. If you have any further questions, or would like to provide us with some feedback, please feel free to contact us by email.

We would love to have you add your name to the list.  We would love to have you share the document with others.  We would love to have champions in other continents help us to connect with others around the globe.

Join us!

See it here at
Connected Learning Partnerships

Current CLP countries