Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Empatico Connections-based Learning Dance-off

It was my first digital dance off. There was flossing, electro-shuffling, orange justice-ing. And of course: some dabbing. And through it all, a connection was forged.

My first Empatico experience was a wonderful testament to the power of connection to develop empathy. Empatico, an initiative of the Kind company, is one of the easiest ways to connect your class for #ClassPartnerships. The platform facilitates not only with whom you connect, but how. It is like a dating service that not only sets you up with a great match but books your restaurant reservation, drives you to the rendezvous, and loads you up with snappy conversation tidbits to make you shine. Whether you have never connected your class or you are a connections-based learning veteran, if you have students ages 7-11, you have got to check out this platform.

Not sure who to connect with? Easily solved! Empatico uses info from a few quick questions to connect you with the right learning partner.

Not sure what to talk about? No problem! Empatico offers eight different topics to choose from. Each topic opens the door to your students sharing a bit about their neighbourhood, their home, their life.

Not experienced in Skype or Google Hangouts? No worries! Empatico has its own connection platform. It is as easy as clicking a button.

I am very fortunate to know Kristen Abeywardene. When I proposed setting up her grade 4/5 class with the always free Empatico app, she got down to business right away. She signed up that afternoon. Empatico used her activity choice (Local Landmarks), student age, and times available to connect us with a class in Hermosillo, Mexico.  Our students prepared info to share about their chosen landmarks: Riverview Hospital, city hall, Rogers Arena. Meanwhile, the class in Hermosillo was doing the same.

When the time for the connection came, up popped a notification. As I said, connecting was as easy as clicking a button.

After some introductions, students began to share. The student presentations were on their school laptops. I held the laptops in front of the screen as students described their landmark to their Mexican learning partners.

The students from Mexico did the same. But the conversation moved well beyond landmarks. Students began seeing what they had in common and began connecting. When the students began dancing in front of the camera as they shared their favourite dance moves, I really saw how a simple connection can spawn empathy. There was laughter, agreement, understanding.

What is empathy? Simply put, empathy is "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another" - Oxford Dictionaries . Clearly, these students were building a mutual understanding. They were seeing how they were alike. They were sharing feelings.

With empathy, there is equality. Developing sympathy is good. But it conjures up an image of inequality, like ivory tower folk looking down on the poor peasants below wondering what can be done for them. When we empathize, we share feelings. We see our commonalities. We develop a #BetterUs.

In connections-based learning, one of the aspects of #CoDesign is #EmpathizeNeeds. The idea here is that through connection, we feel the needs of another. And we come to understand how to respond. The Empatico platform sets students up to do just that.

"every time I share a person with my students, I have meaning, I have motivation, and I have a chance at empathy" - p. 91 Connections-based Learning

I encourage elementary educators to visit the Empatico site and get connected. And let me know how it goes!!

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