Connecting the Learning

My friend Brendan, whom I got to know through a couple of the education-focused MOOCs I’ve participated in over the past few years, started a Google+ Community called Summer of Connected Learning 2014.  In the description of the community, he says it

exists to facilitate a course/series/conversation hybrid that’s coming out of the desire of many people to transform education, starting with those most eager for something different.

The problem: A substantial number of students feel like they *aren’t learning much* in school, and find 19th and 20th century style “factory model schools” out of place given *how their minds work* and the *digital era* we’re living in. Information, media, dialogue, and conversations are all over the place, but many people are isolated and unhappy, whether coping within “factory-model” school and work structures, or trying to find their way outside of them. Many people are now talking about these disconnects, but so many people, across roles, ages, and locations, find themselves “stuck in the system,” with nowhere to turn, or wondering what steps to take outside of it. The idea of #clsummer14 is, over the summer, quite a few people will have more time than during the traditional school year, and more people will be at a possible transition point in their learning journeys than during the traditionally-defined school year. So, this community is for any related discussion, related threads, posts, articles, and videos, scheduled hangouts and featured scenarios for people to brainstorm solutions, share stories, and provide and discuss advice.

As I’ve participated in the Community itself and in the periodic Google Hangouts it sponsors, I’ve discovered a substantial number of young people (and their families) who are dissatisfied with factory-model schooling, looking for alternatives, and quite often cobbling things together for themselves.  Some are still “stuck in the system,” as Brendan puts it, but others are moving out, tentatively or boldly, pursuing self-directed learning either in addition to or in place of the factory-model schools that don’t fit the ways they learn best.  It’s been an honor to get to know them and to be part of the conversation.

Over the weekend, thanks to a number of these conversations, I started thinking about what a more formal summer of connected learning might look and feel like … and I remembered some groundwork I’d done for a proposed online professional-development course called “Advanced Differentiation,” a course that would have helped teachers connect their students’ interests and passions with problematic or important academic content.  Money has been tight in These Parts for quite a while, and there’s a Shiny New Initiative to provide professional development to teachers on a Fancy New Platform.  So it’s unlikely the course, as we’d envisioned it a year or so ago, will ever happen.

But why not use that groundwork, the research and the links and some of the content I’d originally envisioned for teachers, as material for self-directed learners?  Why not help them make the connections for themselves?  I sat down early Sunday afternoon and wrote this document, half expecting a highly critical response from the connected learners I’d be talking with later in the afternoon.

But they loved it.  And they wanted to do it.  And H, who needs to pass the math portion of his state’s high-school completion exam, found a connecting project within about five minutes of conversation.  “What do you really love doing?” I asked him, “Or what are you interested in?”  On the list was a desire to be more physically fit and a long-held interest in the history of sports.

I think we both saw the obvious connection at the same moment!  Anyway, H will be designing a project that helps him deeply learn the math as he collects and analyzes data about his increasing fitness.  L’s little brother, who “does nothing but play video games and watch how-to-play videos,” turns out to be interested in metallurgy, of all things.  Perhaps he’ll join in with a project, too, when he’s ready.  And J, who’s in constant conflict with younger siblings?  She hasn’t found her connecting project yet, but perhaps it will have something to do with resolving those conflicts as the siblings find common ground around something.

And last spring, B, N, and their friends did their best work in the Latin Family when they connected C’s long-held interest in cosmetology and hair care with the Tres Columnae Project storylines about Roman weddings.  “Obviously the girls need their hair done,” C said, “but how did they do that?”

Connections were everywhere over the weekend.  A much-beloved former rector, returning to the church as guest preacher and celebrant, gave a sermon about the importance of community, compassion, and re-creation.  I “just happened” to see a former student as I was sitting and working at the Local Coffee Shop … and then I “just happened” to see a friend I needed to catch up with.  Another friend seeks someone to help friends of theirs who are struggling with a difficult family situation … and I “just happen” to know somebody in That Area who probably has the skills (and the time) they need.  A friend has moved to Washington, DC, and “just happens” to have shared interests with other friends who are already there.

What’s up with all the connections and all the learning?

“Just close my door,” Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y has said, “and let me teach, and try to ignore all this nonsense because this too shall pass.”  That’s a survival strategy, of course, in a potentially toxic environment … but all too often, Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y will also close the door to potential connections and potential learning in other parts of life.  As we all strive to build and sustain joyful learning communities this summer, I hope we’ll all be willing to open the door and see the connections and connect the learning even when it seems scary or uncomfortable.

I wonder what amazing connections, insights, and discoveries await us all today!


Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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