Tag Archives: global connections

Joining the #Learning2 Family

Well, it has been far too long since I’ve made time for a reflective post here! There are so many posts I still want to write – about the amazing design thinking experience I had at FUSE14, the hubbub of ed tech tools and ideas that always come from attending ISTE, my experiences teaching two new summer classes on Raspberry Pi and coding, and my work facilitating a four day faculty workshop at my school. It was a busy summer (and a hard one)! So busy, clearly, that I haven’t had a chance to write about it … yet.

But instead of trying to rewind, I want to first share some reflections about the wonderful experience I just had at the #Learning2.014 conference at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If you haven’t heard of Learning2 … yet … check out this page about its history and start following the hashtag because there will be a second conference in Bangkok in just one week!

As one of the Learning2 Leaders (L2Ls) at the conference, I had the privilege of arriving a few days early so I could participate in additional prep and professional growth with the other L2Ls and the advisory team. I think this is one of the many things that makes the conference unique and particularly meaningful. If you are going to speak and present at the conference, the advisory helps to make sure that you have an in-depth understanding of how the conference will work, what your role as a leader will be, and then helps you tweak and improve your own work before everyone arrives.

I was able to practice my five minute TED-like “Learning2Talk,“done in the presentation-zen style multiple times for the advisory audience and get critical feedback to help make it stronger. I also had an opportunity to work one-on-one with another L2L so we could share, review, and provide feedback to one another on our three hour Extended Sessions. One of my favorite parts of the pre-conference was hearing a quick elevator pitch from each L2L about what their session would be about and then providing feedback, ideas, and resources to help support that person. Not only did I get some great tips when I shared my own session but I was able to get ideas each time another Leader shared her or his presentation that I could use at the conference or back in my own school!

This type of time and support for presenters is awesome because it makes it so much easier to continue growing as a speaker and educator and it also helped to develop a deeper community of practice among the L2Ls that I hope we can continue to build and pull on in the future (hint hint). I wish every conference provided and even required this type of experience for its presenters.

Once all of the L2Ls had practiced and improved their presentations and prepared their spaces for the different sessions, it was time to kick-off the conference!

Learning2 is made up of 6 core components:

  1. Learning2Talks
  2. Extended Sessions
  3. Nutshell Sessions (45 min. versions of Extended Sessions)
  4. Workshops
  5. Unconference
  6. Cohorts 

In addition to these pieces, there is an emphasis on, and time set aside for, social connections that are woven throughout each day.

This social dimension is designed very purposefully because one of the principles of the conference is to “put participants first” and another is an understanding that “learning is a social act.” Therefore, making time for all of the participants to talk, reflect, share and even rest is critical. This was demonstrated multiple times during the conference when the organizers made changes in response to participants’ requests (e.g., changing bus times to accommodate requests to arrive/leave at different times and creating a “mindfulness centre” for participants to pause and be mindful).

Another way that participants get to drive the conference is by running workshops and suggesting and facilitating unconference sessions. This allows time and space for attendees to share their own areas of expertise and also to have a forum to talk about questions and ideas that might pop-up during the conference. For example, I attended an unconference session about social media in early elementary. It was proposed by an attendee who heard about the idea of social media being used with young children and want to hear from other people who were trying it and what the benefits might be. It turned into a great conversation and through Twitter, I was even able to invite a kindergarten teacher I know who uses social media extensively with her students, to join the discussion virtually!

This week, as I’ve been recovering from jet lag and trying to get back into my usual school routine, I’ve used moments lying in bed at night or in-between classes to reflect about what was so meaningful about my Learning2 experience. I’ve concluded that two elements really made it into one of the best conferences I have attended: an almost perfect learning menu to select from each day and the community.

Similar to going to your favorite restaurant, Learning2 has a menu of 6+ options that you can choose from and each one is great but has a unique flavor and might meet a different person’s tastes or interests. There’s something for everyone and probably a few options that might push you outside of your comfort zone, but that’s what learning is all about, right? 🙂 For example, you can go in-depth and work hands-on for three hours into just one specific topic or you can answer burning questions you have in a cohort session or you can get bite-sized pieces of new knowledge and ideas from the poster sessions. There’s something for everyone, allowing the conference to meet so many different learning needs.

Then, there’s the community. This is really the cornerstone of Learning2 for me and I think many other attendees. The Learning2 community is powerful because it’s inviting and passionate. Although the conference has been running since 2007, there wasn’t the exclusiveness to it that I’ve seen at other conferences. Too often, it’s hard to break into the group if you’re not a “groupie” of the conference. Instead, Learning2 was all about networking, branching out, and meeting new colleagues who you could connect with and then stay in-touch with later through social media. It was about having time to engage in those passionate conversations about teaching and learning and the best tools to help meet varied goals and needs of different contexts.

I would go as far as to say that Learning2 was about becoming part of a family, a large, diverse, and geographically spread out family that loves to share, reflect, learn, and connect. It’s also a family that loves to have fun and that joy, of being together and learning together, was pervasive throughout the conference.

So, if you have a chance to attend a Learning2 conference, I highly encourage it and if it’s a bit too far for you to travel (at least until they are up in running in Europe and the Middle East), then jump in and join our active #Learning2 community on social media! Thanks again to everyone who helped make the #Learning2.014 Africa experience so memorable and for inviting me into the family.

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Misadventures in Connected Learning … But That’s Not All!

Before the second week of #etmooc “Connected Learning” slips away, I wanted to write a post reflecting a bit on the prompt: “Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of (connected) learning? If so, how?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by dennisar

I definitely think that our classrooms can support connected learning and that technology can make the “how” much easier and more feasible to facilitate that learning. To me, connected learning involves engaging students in real-world applications of skills and knowledge. One way to do this is by asking students to try and solve problems that people face everyday, such as concerns with the environment (Inspiration from GOOD.is) or building prototypes to help the elderly more easily navigate outdoors (see the FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge).

I also view connected learning as a motivation to teach my students tools that can empower and enable them to be change agents. With these tools, students can build meaningful connections across different mediums, connections that not only facilitate learning but establish relationships. This means introducing ideas of digital citizenship and cyber safety at very young ages so students can begin using tools that they will likely continue to use as they grow older instead of tools that they will quickly grow out of (e.g., teaching 2nd graders how to conduct safe and effective Google searches versus restricting them to KidRex and allowing kindergarten students to tweet with other kindergarten students in class).

But most importantly, in my opinion, connected learning translates into global connections and collaborations for all students and teachers.

With modern technologies like Skype, Voicethread, Google Translate, Twitter and other (a)synchronous tools, it can be simple and free to connect students, even if their time zones never overlap or they speak different languages. There is no longer a need for expensive web conferencing technologies and with web 2.0 tools, students don’t have to wait weeks for a reply from students in another country. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be scaffolding and encouraging global connections in every classroom, starting with our youngest students. These connections can blossom into meaningful relationships where students can share experiences and learn together about the cultures, perspectives, and knowledge of each community. That feels like true connected learning.

The Global Classroom Project Logo

So what does that look like in the classroom? At my school, I have slowly been working to build some of these local and global connections so students can engage in more connected learning. While we have had some success, we have definitely had a few misadventures as well.

We tried signing up for an Elementary Mystery Skype project created by some  educators who had seen it done with older grades. Three of my teachers signed up, willing to take the risk and do something they had never done before, but although all three were paired with another teacher, none of them heard a response back about setting a date to actually Skype. After following many inspiring #kinderchat teachers, I talked with a kindergarten teacher at my school about having her class join Twitter. We sat down and discussed how it could work, we wrote up a detailed letter to parents, we planned how to introduce it to the students but since their initial Twitter “launch” the class hasn’t been able to get other classes to tweet back. I think the kids are beginning to feel like tweeting means sending a message on the computer and never hearing back. Whether it’s been via Skype, Twitter, or even email, we have found that making that connection with another teacher and class can be much harder than getting the technology or other preparations in order.

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

Luckily, we also have some success stories to share. Thanks to the Global Classroom Project database, I was able to connect our Spanish teacher with a class in Spain so her students could Skype in English and Spanish. While moderating a #globalclassroom chat, I connected with another educator who wanted her students to be able to share their experiences of a Quaker meeting. This led to two of our fourth grade classes Skyping with their fourth grade and discussing their religious practices, as well as the similarities and differences in their schools. Comparing lunches and “specials” was a big highlight. Through Twitter, I was also able to set up a Skype session between a Canadian class and one of our first grade classes – our students were shocked to see all of their snow! And in a few weeks, we have a session scheduled with NASA for our youngest students, who are studying space, to hear about “Humans in Space,” one of the offerings in their Digital Learning Network.

So, while the actual “how” of connected learning can certainly be a challenge, I think it is doable. My students have been able to use a range of web 2.0 tools that have enabled them to develop deeper relationships within their individual classes, between their class and other classes at the school, and between our school and other schools. They are becoming more comfortable with the idea of leaving messages through various platforms and receiving comments and messages back from parents or other students after a pause (which can be tough to understand when you’re only 5 or 6). Teachers are beginning to consider ways we can connect with other students and classes in other parts of the world to enrich their units of study and make different topics and concepts more concrete while also more making them more complex. I hope that with time, patience, and perseverance  our connections will continue to grow and with it, the connected learning that we are all able to share.