Connected In The Middle #etmooc #midleved


If I’m conversing with my global partner, my partner is my teacher.

After the conversation and chat in the webinar for  #etmooc, I needed to reflect on how connected learning looks at the middle school level. And, of course, Denise, in a comment on my blog expressed hesitant interest — hesitant only because we are both so swamped at school. The thing is, though, we both know how important this is for our students and their futures.

From Alec’s list of questions, I pulled out these because they fit with our middle level need to think about assessment and our students’ futures:

  • How important is connected learning? Why?
  • Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of learning? If so, how?
  • What skills and literacies are necessary for connected learning? (and how to assess?)
  • How do we develop these?

For hours I’ve been letting those questions sift inside my mind. Then I read this tweet from  Lorraine Boulos@RaineCB

I’ve been following Jackie Gerstein @jackiegerstein for a long time; she always has the best information for guiding educators to include inquiry, passion, and connectiveness in the curriculum.  With the Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, those concepts are within reach of most schools, even with limited connections. Discussing the Digital Divide / Gap is for another day; this post is for moving middle level education forward. And the questions above are starters, along with Jackie’s article: Connectedness or Lack of in Education School.

I’d like  to invite middle level educators to respond to the questions and to begin developing resources to share so those who are already there can share with those of us getting there! Our Diigo group is: Connect In The Middle. I’ve already added Lorraine’s tweet and Jackie’s article.

Here are my first draft responses to the questions.

1 How important is connected learning? Why?

Connected learning allows participants to expand their ideas by learning about the ideas, perceptions, and influences of others. When students (adult or otherwise) listen (read, watch, hear) and interact as others explain their ideas within the context of the author’s world, the listener understands another perspective and how that perspective developed. The world grows — and the listener may revise his/her own thinking, or at least begin to share perspectives. Whether learning about taxes, dinosaurs, or punk rock, the participants’ connections evolve. We all learn and grow.

One year my class participated in the first ever asynchronous international debate. We debated with Beijing students. My students were awed by their ability to speak English and the knowledge they had. Another year we joined with a private school in Tennessee, and the students in both classes discovered that despite their different accents and their different place-views, that many enjoyed the same  music, sports, and hobbies. People at first different, and people at first strangers, became real to them. That understanding of humanity brings all of us together; it’s a small world we live on — this social knowledge built world-wide, classroom by classroom, might help bring our world’s people closer together.

2 Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of learning? If so, how?

Connecting in small ways begins the process. Connect students with blogs. Students decide how to: share learning from the class, survey each other, develop topics to explore. Teachers compare common objectives and ask students to collaborate on projects that meet the needs of the participating schools and students.

Connect with pictures. Share posts of pictures of learning or topics. Discuss the images. If each class submits images on a topic, students could then remix them into something new to share. Remix could be by schools or by groups from each school, collaborating on Google Docs or wikis.

Google Hangouts provide face time and conversation as well as sharing to an audience projects from their classes.

These are a few ways that are possible. They can be tweaked according to the needs of the participants: access, time, objectives, tools.

Speaking of tools, a few could be: Diigo education groups, Google Apps for Education, Mapskip, Education VoiceThread, Education Edmodo, Collaborize Classroom, blogging platforms such as Edublogs or Kidblog.
3 What skills and literacies are necessary for connected learning? (and how to assess?)

When connecting with others online, the importance Digital Citizenship is a first step. It could also be the first project: What are the expectations and responsibilities of collaborating online? How the students create the answer to this would be open.

Students quickly learn how to write clearly to be understood and how to phrase ideas for clarity and conciseness.

Students need communication skills: clear speaking and writing, active listening, response skills of timeliness, civility, content-specificity.

Students need critical thinking skills: flexibility in their own thoughts, analysis and synthesis of content, objective evaluation, bias detection (on their own and others).

Students need collaborative skills: after communicating and thoughtful analysis and evaluation, students need the skills to promote their own ideas, consider others’ ideas, and comprise to create a better product — with acceptance that all are authors of the new idea.

4 How do we develop these?

Use them. Live them.

Many students are already posting and sharing. My granddaughter in high school was reading a book she hated for English class. So, she posted on Facebook what she was interpreting from the book, and through the comments and conversations with her online friends was able to proceed, somewhat more happy and also less hesitantly. Without Facebook, she may have faked her way through, because face-to-face, she probably would not discuss a book she hated. But sitting at home, complaining to herself, she made the effort to share and learn.

We know that the only way to truly learn something is to jump in and do it. We can be told, we can watch, but it is the doing that makes the learning ours. So we owe it to our students to rethink our work with them: how can what we need to teach be remixed into authentic projects that demand the application of the skills we need to teach? How can we connect learners so they are applying the skills we need to teach?

Notice that I repeat “we need to teach.” That’s because we as teachers do have curriculum we are required to teach; sometimes that curriculum may not be what the students will need to learn. Do you think, as we move to transform our curriculum towards connected learning, that some of what we are required will be less important, and that the skills listed in question three will become obviously more important — especially for our students’ futures. It is their passions that drive them toward what they want to learn, and our task may be to open their ideas as to what their talents and passions really are.

How would you answer these questions today? I plan to return to them as I ponder the path to take in my classroom, and hopefully with other connected teachers/learners.



on “Connected In The Middle #etmooc #midleved
4 Comments on “Connected In The Middle #etmooc #midleved
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  2. Sheri,
    Yes. We know it’s important to connect our students. My main reason is so that they know someone is listening to them, so they’d better articulate just what they are thinking. This will (hopefully) help them learn how to curate their information and really get their thoughts together before they make any judgments or generalizations in their writing for the world.

    My only issue, really, is the access I have to technology. Until my classroom has Chromebooks or 1-1 technology, my connections with the “outside world” is so limited. The times we can get the laptops or iPads I have to prioritize writing our polished pieces, or peer reviewing students’ work. So many teachers at our middle school are vying for technology, it’s great, but ridiculously difficult to get it in the classroom.

    I will not give up, however. I will keep trying to connect my students with others via blogs, and Skype/Google Hangout, etc. I am not deterred, only detained for now.

    • Joy, I love this: “deterred, only detained for now.” I’m sure that is how many educators feel, so if we can help each other plan around the deterrents and work through some collaborative projects — even if they are sporadic, at least we will be moving forward. Skype and Google Hangouts are great ideas for teachers and classrooms. Are your students able to bring their own devices? We have a guest network, and that has been a great way for students to use their technology for more than just music, Facebook, and games. They are reading and researching in class, using Google docs and wikis, and completing work on their own devices. This is so important for us to understand: the world is different; it’s in our pockets — let’s make it a positive and safe one with lifelong learning! Glad you’re here.

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