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I wanted to open with stating: “as a high school environmental science teacher, it is required in the curriculum to discuss how connected different environmental systems are, what we do in one, affects another”… but then it occurred to me that being an environmental science teacher only represents one branch of courses that involve connections… a social studies class observes and applies connections between the past and present…. a health science class observes the connections between nutrition and homeostasis. Connections are everywhere. This isn’t a revelation, it is reality. Enhanced reading goals call for students to connect their content between chapters and prior learning… we look at challenging our students for higher order thinking and it asks to create connections or use “simple” knowledge (which is growing exponentially) and apply it to real problems. An inquisitive mind looks to the next question or connects new information to old and teachers are, after all, in the business of creating inquisitive minds.

Conversely, we want to create digital citizens who are connected. Connectivism seeks to address the acquisition of knowledge through networking and “pattern recognition”… but where is the connection between connecting content (“pattern recognition”) and being connected (networking)? “Pattern recognition” would pertain to the connections made within a classroom discussion… oranges and lemons both have citric acid in them… given that pattern, it kind of sounds like citrus fruits that I hear about (connecting two separate subjects together while connecting to background knowledge). Networking addresses the vast connectedness of the world we live in today. As informed educators, of course we’d want to utilize both. Reinforced by the constructivist research supporting students combining prior knowledge with experience, we can see the value in connections to prior knowledge. We need to create that connected-digital-citizen student, and I believe it can be through connections using our curricula.

A cynic may argue: I can make connections, but how do I create a connected student in <class name here>? Buy into the idea, make the curriculum yours. There is clear writing as to what the outcomes are, but manipulate it. Interpret it. Speaking to teachers, how many times have you find an activity you loved and then had to think, “how can I connect this to the curriculum?” And you manage to do so, quite easily? Curriculum in Saskatchewan is progressing to an organic system. To quote myself (classy, I know), in an assignment while completing my undergrad degree, “curriculum constantly adapts and changes, it’s never complete, education has no ranges.” While the explicit, written document may not change in the conventional sense, there is a reason no class is taught exactly the same. Much like the biblical scriptures of yore, it is subject to interpretation to connect and find personal meaning and relevance… and the “no ranges” addresses the vastness of our networked world…
(Many would argue some of the new curriculum is too vague and may fail to prepare them for next level courses to which lower-levels are prerequisites, however if you can create a ‘connected student’, this may seek to combat discrepancies in how outcomes are taught class-to-class and simply teach a strong, connected learner).

There may be the perception this may not suit your style of teaching, but perhaps styles need to be refined. Versatility and clarity in organized chaos are the keys to engaging the connected student. Patience, humbleness and a calm composure lend itself to adapting to where thirty different directions of learning go. An educator able to make connections in chaos can create meaning and connected learners.

“Chaos is the breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order.
Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.
Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything.” – George Siemens

Creating the connected student calls on many digital understandings however, utilizing and critiquing different sources to establish a personal learning network doesn’t happen overnight and it can’t be left unattended… it is ongoing. Its prolonged growth requires the choice and freedom of the student, but how do you ‘enforce freedom’ to make them responsible? A quote that comes to mind is: “Freedom gives the inclination to be responsible.” In order to create that freedom and inclination, you need to let the student connect to the content to make it relevant, then they may want and understand it.

To connect to my previous blog, however, all of this depends on having a class in which every student has a computer and the resources to be connected. Without the funding for this, it makes it difficult for all this to become a reality. Example below, a grade seven student outlines their learning network. This shows created connected students is able to be done, but all the kids have laptops?! And a classroom leopard gecko?! Get outta here! My class just has fish!

Granted, we had this cute critter named “Frodo” last year:
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We connected him to the need to maintain intact habitats and abiotic and biotic factors required for the healthy functioning of a terrestrial organism.

I feel I can connect everything to anything. And expect that same of my students.

Questions/thoughts?
How many connections do you make in your class?
What are some examples of connections and how does this translate to our connected world?
Is there a class you don’t think you can create a connected student in and why?

Author’s Post-Writing Note: if interested, hit CTRL+F to open up the find bar in your browser, and see how many times the term “connect” is used.

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