Monday, 29 January 2018

#CBLchat and #TeachSDGs

When my good friend Fran Siracusa mentioned that I should chat with Ada McKim, I knew it would be a meaningful experience. I really had no idea, though. I didn't know it would lead me to join a movement to spread the message of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as a Global Goals Educator Task Force member (now considered a Founding TeachSDGs ambassador). I had no idea it would send me flying 11,000km to meet with passionate Model United Nations educators in Doha, Qatar. I didn't have a clue it would start me at the inaugural meeting of the #MUNImpact movement founded by Lisa Martin and a crew of dynamic MUN enthusiasts who are making waves to ignite MUN groups all around the world for positive action. And I didn't realize I would begin to look at everything I did in my class through a lens of this global "To Do List" affectionately known as the Global Goals.

I want to share an amazing moment I had with you. Speaking at the Qatar Leadership Conference in Doha, Qatar was a 2017 highlight for me. As I was considering what my workshops would look like, I couldn't help zero in on the particular global goal on which Lisa Martin wanted the conference to focus: SDG 5 - Gender Equality. Not having been to Qatar before, I had some nervousness about sharing a message of women empowerment with the students there. And I felt extremely inadequate to do it. In fact, when I would tell my colleagues that I was going to the Middle East to talk about gender equality, I would always get this look of "You?" with the following words: "I'd be careful if I were you."

There was one thing I knew and knew well, though. Connections-based learning is not just a teaching approach. It is, as I explain in the Connections-based Learning book, a lens with which to view your actions. I am really used to being inadequate in the classroom. Stem cells, innovative power production, Mars, creating circuit boards, 3D printing: all these I have needed to teach to my students. The only way I have been able to do that well is through connecting with experts. Could I connect to experts to prepare to share Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the Middle East? Of course.

I began by connecting with Mareike Hachemer, a fellow Task Force member. This is the kind of connection you make when you are completely unconnected to the field. She is an amazing Global Goals speaker and activist and has crucial relationships that span the globe. She connected me with Miriam Mason-Sesay, a champion educator for women empowerment in Sierra Leone. I also Skyped with Yazeed Al Jeddawy, a fellow educator I knew from Yemen, considered one of the least gender equal countries in the world. He in turn put me in touch with Hind Aleryani, another champion for women empowerment. Finally, I connected with Stephanie McAnany, our first TeachSDGs ambassador who had done some work in Ghana and had shared with me a powerful story about her work there. I was able to gather soundbites from these conversations to share with the students in Qatar.

But there was no way I was going to go into a workshop like this and tell people what to do. Not only is that a bad way to help people grow in a certain area, but it never really works anyway. I have to give credit to Mareike when she mentioned the idea of sharing scenarios with the high-school-aged workshop attendees. In preparation, I also gathered 10 actual scenarios where women around the world were treated differently than men. During the workshop at the Qatar Leadership Conference 2017, I shared those ten scenarios with the students: women considered half of a witness in one country, childhood marriage in another, experiencing pay rate discrimination in another, experiencing vulgar remarks or violence. As the students grouped up around these scenarios, I would ask them these three questions:

What obstacles does this woman face?

Rank this situation out of 10 in terms of gender equality
1-horrible to 10-perfect

What would you say to this woman?

I remember clearly the thoughts one group shared out during my session at the conference. The scenario they were given went like this:

All your life you have been told that you are simply not as smart as the boys.  “No girl can be,” they would say.  You are one of the few girls enrolled in school.  There were just 10 girls enrolled in your school but now there are only six as four left due to pregnancy.  Now at school, you hear something different.  Girls are just as smart as boys.  It is hard to accept this.  You feel pressure to quit school and go to work harvesting rice. What is your reaction to this situation?

Several boys had this scenario to discuss and when they shared out, they expressed how wrong this view of women was. They considered this a 1/10 in terms of gender equality and would say to the young girl: "This girl faces the obstacle of a lie. Girls ARE equal to boys and she should not go work in the rice field. We would say to her to stay in school. Keep fighting. Get your education despite the pressure."

But it wasn't the boys report out that was so memorable for me. It was the reaction of the girls surrounding them. There were smiles. There were nods. The girls looked emboldened, validated, vindicated. And I realized that it is this generation that we have to help see the damage that is done when half of the population of a community is suppressed. The rest of the discussion went the same way, each group sharing their disdain for the inequality. Each group nodding in agreement. I ended my Champions of Gender Equality session with a single word on the screen: YOU. You are a champion for women and it is your actions that will make a difference.

The question for the CBL Voxer Community this week is how does the connections-based learning approach help you to #TeachSDGs. This experience sums up my answer. I see a perfect marriage of connections-based learning and teaching the Sustainable Development Goals--both in my class and personally.  The Sustainable Development Goals gives us the curriculum. Connections-based learning gives us the conduit. The SDGs give us the mandate. CBL gives us the power. In fact, I ask you: how can we make a difference without making a connection?

You can find out more about MUN Impact and check out some more of my experience at the Qatar Leadership Conference in this THIMUN Qatar article called: THE POWER OF GATHERING THE PASSIONATE AT #QLC17.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Meaningful Connection Experiences

I wrote the Connections-based Learning book to paint a more complete picture of CBL. Part of that was to create questions for reflection that would promote discussion of the ideas within the book. Chapter 2, entitled, Why Connect?, guides the reader through the effect connections have on us and the effect they have on the world. In the chapter, I share about a student who beautifully illustrates the impact of her connections-based learning work. She said that it "is not only making an impact on the world but it is also impacting me as person". She goes on to describe the two sides of that coin: how the connection was helping her make a contribution, but also how it changed her personally. That is what I want for all my students. That is the meaningful nature I seek in all my classes. Of course I don't always get there with every student but that is the goal.

In chapter 2, Vision Checkup question three asks you to reflect on meaningful experiences you have had with your students and how connection has played a role. The act of reflecting on meaningful experiences we have with students is to tease out those powerful moments where something really special happens. My hope is that these moments happen on a regular basis in my classes and with those with whom I work. I truly believe that as a class connects with experts, organizations, the community, and classrooms around the world, this will happen.

I mention in the CBL book one powerful experience for me was the moments after my students had connected with The Community for Learning in the Dominican Republic.  How they set their sights on helping out and making a difference. Another powerful moment was when my Science and Tech 11 students brought in and interviewed a student cancer survivor for our medical innovations unit. What a meaningful opportunity for both the cancer survivor and the class. Another moment was when one of my student groups hit top 30 experiments for a chance to have their experiment flown to the International Space Station. I share about those moments in the Microsoft Education Transformation Story: A Journey into Space. What a blast it was!

I am about to have an interview with Noa Daniel on her Personal Playlist Podcast where she asks her interviewees to choose three songs that represent us: a nostalgic song, an identity song, and pick-me-up song. Though I won't reveal my identity song until the podcast plays, I want to share about it a bit. This song walks a person through life's moments and how fleeting they are. Different stages in life come and go and you can't go back. We have an opportunity to offer our students powerful moments or pointless moments. When the students are able to connect, I believe that helps those moments become powerful. That is what I wish for my identity: powerful moments for me and my students.

Monday, 15 January 2018

First impressions of the #CBLchat book

As I read Brené Brown's Daring Greatly, I can't help but examine what I do through a lens of vulnerability. She mentions on p.46 that "sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we've developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story." I agree, but as I consider the "sharing" that I do through my writing, I feel like I am offering vulnerability to you the reader, and I yet am not necessarily in a relationship with you. I know one might say that is not what she is talking about. But this brand of vulnerability, I believe, is good. And should be talked about. In fact I believe that sharing begets risking which begets sharing.

I take a risk. As I share how it went, and survive through the aftermath of vulnerability, I am able to risk more. And see the benefits of it. Furthermore, I believe that this not only happens within a person but within a group. As one person becomes vulnerable and shares a bit of themselves, others follow suit. With this in mind, I want to open up a discussion about the first chapter of Connections-based Learning.

Our CBL journey begins by framing CBL as donning a new lens. My hope has always been to have connections-based learning accessible. Adding all sorts of do's and don't's works against the accessibility of the approach. Revealing a new lens leads to effective change. It reframes. It inspires. It helps us shift our paradigms. This new paradigm is centred around a shift from what to who. With whom can we connect to help us learn? I mention that this shift opens the door for three things:

Student Voice - allowing students to speak into another situation

Student Empowerment - allowing students to make a difference

Student Compassion - allowing students to see from another's perspective and act in a caring manner

How does this resonate with you? Is the lens somewhat familiar or is it foreign? Is it clear or is it foggy? Is it accessible or does it seem unreachable? Take a vulnerable step and share your thoughts either with our Voxer Community, using the #CBLchat hashtag on Twitter, or below and let's get the dialogue going.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

What is connections-based learning? #CBLchat

This is not a rhetorical question.

I would like to start this year off with asking you what you think connections-based learning is. I have spent many years talking about this approach to teaching. But teaching is not about one person spouting off ideas. It is about the transmission of those ideas and the meaning made within everyone else. For this post, I want to share some resources that can help you make meaning from the idea. My hope, though, is that you share your ideas on the approach as we learn and make meaning together.

Connections-based learning Wikipedia article

The CBL wikipedia article gives an outline of the approach as well as how it differs from other 21st century approaches to teaching.  It allows for others to share their thoughts, add their ideas, submit their examples. Like all Wikipedia pages, it is a work in progress that blossoms as others add to it.

Connected Terminology Post

Getting our terms straight is an important part of communication. I appreciate Kenneth Muhumuza reminding me of this post regarding just that:

How is CBL different from global ed? Isn't CBL just another version of Connected Education? How does it differ from Connected Learning? I believe I address all these questions in the "Connections-based Learning, Connected Learning, Connected Education, Global Ed. Any dif?"  post.

Connections-based Learning book

CBL on     CBL on    CBL on      CBL on
CBL on         CBL on     CBL on  CBL on

I am so thankful to have been able to paint a more complete picture of my thoughts on CBL with the Connections-based Learning book. I have tried to make this book accessible to as many as possible. Not only am I able to share examples of CBL in action with this book but in the Kindle version, there are links to Twitter hashtags (like #CBLchat and #CoConstructGoals) to allow the conversation to deepen. This is a great starting place for anyone wondering what connections-based learning is all about. is also another place to visit on your CBL journey. It outlines the three focuses of CBL: connect, collaborate, and cultivate. It shares ways to connect. It contains research and resources. It is a great spot to bookmark and refer back to.

And many more resources exist to add to your knowledge of connections based learning:

My Youtube Channel / Google plus Community / This blog

In the end, CBL is what you make of it and how it plays out in your classes. Join our Voxer chat community here: #CBLchat Voxer Community and share what you think connections-based learning is.  Or share your thoughts on Twitter using the #CBLchat hashtag. Find me on Instagram at TeachCBL. Comment below.  But please, share your thoughts!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Join the #CBLchat Voxer Community

The concept of community is an important aspect of my life. I think it is for most of us. Whether it is the nostalgia of growing up with kindred spirits (these days referred to as BFFs) or spending years watching TV shows like Friends, or Cheers (where everybody knows your name), I think we all long to be part of a group that enjoys life together. Churches work at this diligently.  Whether they call them Bible studies, life groups, small groups, community groups, the hope is that each member of the church body finds its place in a troop just the right size. Large enough to obtain a group dynamic, yet small enough not to get lost.

We possess a yearning to be known with all our bumps and bruises. To be accepted.  We see it in the classic coming-of-age stories.  Finding the proverbial seat in the cafeteria.  (See Mean Girls, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Karate Kid, Spiderman, A Walk To Remember, and now Wonder) At our core is a desire to connect, to know and to be known, a longing not only for acceptance but for inclusion. Community addresses this longing.

Our desire for community isn't simply indulgence.  It is how we grow, how we learn. I reference that in the Connections-based Learning book when I talk about the Kangaroo Care I gave to my preemie twins. Through connection, we thrive. It is the basic understanding of connections-based learning: we learn as we connect. We learn even more as we connect with those who are different from us.

For a number of years now, I have been part of a growing community. With an approach to teaching focused on connections, a community is vital. We connect through an app called Voxer, a multi-person messaging app. This is where we share our trials and triumphs as we connect our classes with learning partners near and far.

More than just a flash in the pan

A short connection does not attain the community needed for growth. Our #CBLchat Voxer Community allows for week to week connection. We can support each other over time. We can grow to understand each other. We can work together on collaborative projects...together.

Voices / accents / intonation

Voxer allows for voice messages. I love hearing the different accents. I wish I could support interaction in more languages however English is what we are using at this point. But not only can we hear each others' voices, we hear each others' hearts. It is not polished; it is raw, real, genuine.

A global focus

The map above pictures pins in the locations of the community's participants. My hope is that the map grows to where every country in the world is represented. Imagine that: educators coming together from around the globe to make education better for their classroom and their world.

Now I am not saying that joining the #CBLchat Voxer community is going to meet all your needs for belonging.  It might help you find your tribe. It will definitely help you connect. What I am saying, though, is that I am going to change the way that I refer to it, and therefore the way we think about it. I have been calling this a chat but I want to change one word. Call it my #OneWord for the year. The #CBL Voxer Chat is the #CBLchat Voxer Community. I think the word better represents my hope for the group.

If you are interested in joining the community, you can click here: #CBLchat Voxer Community. It does require a Voxer account (free) but I think that it is well worth the effort.  Though you can address the community with any kind of ideas around connections-based learning, to keep us conversing, I have been going through questions in the CBL book.  This gives us a weekly focus that I send out through Voxer and Twitter.

Like people, communities have their bumps and bruises. None of them are perfect. But please feel welcome to join our imperfect group of educators as we learn and grow together.