Monday, 12 March 2018

#CBL - The Future of Education

I was super excited to see connections-based learning in the news recently. Global Teacher Finalist 2018, Barbara Zielonka, was sharing with hundrED about her use of connections-based learning in the article: Connections-Based Learning Should Be The Future Of Education. hundrED searches out education innovations and establishes 100 innovations to highlight each year. hundrED declared, "Connections-based learning is one of the most useful tools a teacher has at their disposal, but many feel they don’t have the time to utilize it – or don’t realize that they could!" Barbara Zielonka has been part of my PLN for many years and she had the opportunity to share about her love of connections-based learning with hundrED. Here is a quote from the article:

‘Connections-based learning is a pedagogical approach where teachers connect their students to experts, communities and organizations so that they can learn from each other,’ explains Zielonka. ‘We live in the 21st century, and connections play a very important role in our lives. We need to take advantage of this connected world we live in. Connections-based learning gives my students real-world experience that cannot be recreated in any other way.’

What she put so eloquently is at the core of my desire for connections-based learning. That connection would be harnessed for learning. I love hearing about the CBL work going on around the world. Barbara Zielonka is a truly connected educator. One of the amazing works that Barbara created was a global collaborative project called "The Universe is Made of Tiny Stories". I remember her request for participation in September 2016 as she used the connection platform that Leigh Cassell, Nicole Kaufman and I created to connect educators for projects like Barbara's. We created Connected Learning Partnerships (CLPedu) to spurn on #classpartnerships helping classrooms connect around the world. I love how Barbara used CLPedu as one of the platforms to help her find educators to join this amazing global endeavour.

The CLPedu Educator Badge

In "The Universe is Made of Tiny Stories", students from all around the world would create a multimedia presentation in the form of a digital story. As students shared their stories internationally, they would connect and become part of a global community. They were learning digital media while developing digital citizenship. The site Barbara made in conjunction with the project is amazing. It is full of assignments, links, and teacher resources. Here is a video summary of how the project went:

The hundrED article goes on to talk about how using connections-based learning has affected Barbara's teaching practice. Lessons became much more exciting as her students connected with "entrepreneurs, volunteers, ICT experts and CEOs from all over the world" And students learned how easy it is to reach out an connect "effectively and consciously".

The article brings up a few good points that beg responses. First, is CBL the future of education? I believe so. With this fast-paced world, there is no way a teacher can be an expert at everything. Students will need to connect more and more outside the class to access that expertise. And collaboration cannot simply stay within the four walls of the class. Students need to collaborate globally to address some of the huge issues facing the world. CBL is crucial. In fact, I actually believe that there could be a day where we don't use the term connections-based learning. We just call it learning and leveraging the connected world is just commonplace. Until that time, though, I soldier on sharing the importance of connections with as many as possible.

The second point to address is the statement: "many feel they don’t have the time to utilize it – or don’t realize that they could!" I appreciate this statement. In fact, it is why I wrote the Connections-based Learning book. One of my hopes was to address the idea that some might feel that they have to "add" CBL to one's teaching load. They don't. As I explained in the book, CBL is about a way of seeing. The #ConnectionLens causes us to seek out with WHOM we might connect to achieve a certain learning outcome. The #CollaborationLens helps us see HOW we might collaborate with learning partners to maximize learning. And the #CultivationLens reminds us WHY we do what we do. We don these lenses as we look at our curriculum. And it opens our eyes to understand that we don't have to do everything, to be an expert at everything as educators. We have to be linchpins to lead our students to the necessary learning partners and connections that can help do amazing things.

The article ends with some great examples of schools using connections-based learning: "if you’re excited to get going with connections-based learning, check out Education Cities, Liger Leadership Academy or Microcampus – all of which make the most of connections-based learning." I am very thankful to both Barbara Zielonka and hundrED for sharing out CBL and drawing attention to how vital an approach CBL is.

Child with telephone image used with permission from hundrED

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The impact of connection with your students

I start chapter 4 of Connections-based Learning by sharing my experience with one of my students, Amanda Todd. In that opening vignette, I reflect on both her life and her death. I tell of the challenges we had in the class. I tell of her heartbreaking story of online bullying and harassment, widely covered in the media. And I share my own reflections: what our connection taught me. Death is a tragedy on its own, but her story causes us pause as educators. I have had students pass away before. But not like this. A tragedy like this leads those around to shine the spotlight on themselves.

I truly believe I connected with Amanda as her grade 7 teacher. Sure, she would often give me the "you're not going to make me do that work. It is just not going to happen" look. But she did it with a smile. Really, she did. We had a lot of laughs. And in the challenges she had with her work, her message to me was basically "you know this is not the way I learn. I am social. I learn while interacting with people. You should know that." And so we worked at it, as a team: parent, principal, learning specialist, youth worker, teacher, and student.

As I reflected on my experience years later, a personal lesson reflected back. When we look out over our classes while teaching the formula of a circle's circumference or ohm's law, we have no idea the inner turmoil that some students are facing. We can't help but consider: does our influence as educators help the core of our students? In the words we whisper to our students daily through our actions and our interactions, are we whispering words of encouragement? Support? Inspiration? And do our students have someone in whom they can confide when things go sideways.

Connection is worth it.

The CBL Community question for this week is: how have instances of deep connection with your students affected you? Another thing I learned from my interaction with Amanda was how important it is to have students be part of the lesson creation. When a student is saying "you are not going to make me do that work", they have a point. When we #CoConstructGoals with our students, we include them in the planning. It is not "the teacher's work" that they are completing, it is their own.

I feel like I can open the doors wide for my students now. What do they want? Do they want to connect with a stem cell researcher? We can do that. Do they want to connect with an online gamer? We can do that. Do they want to represent their learning with a video, a play, a song, a cake? We can do that to.

You guessed it. A plant cell cake from one of my grade 9's!
Our students hold a wealth of possibilities for our own growth as educators. How have the connections you have had with your students affected you?

Visit for resources regarding awareness and prevention of bullying and cyber abuse. plus materials on mental wellness and healthy living. One resource that caught my eye was the: Global List of Helplines. In this globally connected world, we need to start thinking bigger. I love how Carol and the Amanda Todd Legacy folk are doing just that as they direct teens around the world to helpful resources.