About 6 months ago, I discovered connected learning, and it changed the way I think about education. CL benefits students as well as classroom culture because it is interest-driven, collaborative, technological, and production-centered. As a result, it promotes intrinsic motivation and authentic learning. Perhaps you’re wondering, “What is CL?” It’s a rather abstract model of learning characterized by meaningful, technological, social, and interest-based discovery. Typically, it is used in middle elementary and up. Could it be relevant to and benefit our early childhood learners? I think so. But here’s the problem: it’s challenging to find examples of CL in ECE. After all, I certainly won’t have my Pre-Kers connecting via social media to expand agency in the classroom.
As a result, I devoted my Master’s thesis to building a working concept of how CL might look, sound, and feel in my EC classroom. I realized that not only will I need to have a solid understanding of the hows and whys of CL in my classroom, but I will also need to communicate this information to EC stakeholders who may not understand CL or its benefit to young learners. So, my research question evolved into: How can I increase awareness and support of connected learning in early childhood education? I began the process by gathering data from EC administrators, teachers, and families to help me understand current knowledge of and attitudes toward CL. I administered a specific survey tailored to each group of stakeholders. Although my response rate was lower than I hoped, I received enough surveys from the different stakeholder categories to notice several patterns in the data.
First, all participants reported having little to no understanding of CL. Most indicated that connected learning is not used in their schools, and a few said they did not know if it is used in their schools. After viewing a definition of CL and several EC examples, all participants were fairly to very open to the use of connected learning in EC classrooms. Those who were fairly open indicated concerns about time, planning, and resources. One teacher explained that his/her school intentionally minimizes technology use with young learners because “it takes away from play and outdoor time which is central to our curriculum.” Although parents and administrators ranged from fairly to very open to the use of CL, a majority expressed varying levels of concern about its effect on academics. One administrator wrote, “The bulk of [the kindergarten] schedule is language arts and math. If connected learning does not take away from [academics], then it sounds great!” The bottom line: survey results reflect a need to increase knowledge of CL and help stakeholders understand how it seamlessly meshes with “academic” work.
The data directly inform the “action” piece of my research project. I developed a family presentation, which will be a portion of my Back-to-School Night slideshow in September. It will help families learn about CL, including how their children may be engaged in it and why it is beneficial to them. I also wrote a professional statement to organize my thoughts and ideas on CL in ECE. This piece is intended to reflect the points I might cover if I were speaking with a teacher or administrator about CL in my EC classroom. Here is my annotated reference list. Please feel free to download any of the documents. Use them as-is or make them your own. But if you make changes, please consider sharing them. After all, connected learning is openly networked.
I posted the following 3 months ago, and it couldn’t be more appropriate as I wrap up my studies and look toward my new teaching job:
The practice of teaching and learning would be stronger and more united if we approached it like a garden co-op: we all get our hands dirty in the garden, and then we share a bountiful harvest.
As a Student, I do not belong to any teacher networks. However having done some research this is where i do find the most help. I almost always use the Google + networks that i have joined into via the Arcadia page or the connected learning page, and I almost always use twitter contacts as well . I also subscribe to the international Reading association and the website Edutopia. I am constantly reading different articles on the site as well as looking for my next idea. I also read some articles in the NY Times, and in the Philadelphia Inquire.
Enjoy your evening
Often when we think about teacher mentors, we visualize older teachers with decades of experience behind them. Personally, I feel that there is a lost opportunity when we limit mentor relationships in that way. I have several mentors and interestingly enough, they are at different stages of their careers as well as working in various capacities within education. As a result, I have numerous perspectives and opportunities; this makes for a well-rounded network!
Included in this amazing array of strong teachers is a lateral mentor by the name of Dena Ayers. Our career paths have been similar and yet, her expertise in certain areas is undeniable. A distinguished educator of sixteen years, she is a current instructor in the Lower Merion School District and has learned to use her networking resources wisely. Dena is an impressive teacher but she’s more than that…she’s an administrator at heart that is always available to offer solid and unbiased advice. Every teacher needs at least one mentor who will do that! Just recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing her briefly and will spare you the run of the mill questions. The one question/response I feel the need to share is the one that is most apropos to this course: What do you do to re-energize your teaching practices?
Here is Dena’s response:
“My rejuvenation or re-energy comes from a few sources. When my students have those “ah ha” moments and I hear, “Oh, I get it.” Or, when I see the smiles of confidence and self-satisfaction that really re-energizes my teaching practices. I don’t tire or give up until I see the signs of acquisition. I adjust my teaching practices over and over again until I have achieved my instructional goal and when my student has achieved the learning goal.
The other motivator for me is summer break. Yup, I said it. Summertime is the time when I do a lot of reflecting on my teaching practices. I think about the successes that we, my students and me, had. I spend time reflecting on the lessons that didn’t work out so well. It’s also a time when I can plan without the every day pressures that I experience in the fall, winter and spring. Summer allows me to relax, refocus and create.
The thing that truly gets my wheels turning is learning. Learning new teaching trends and relearning trends that have circled back around. Professional development focused on curriculum and instruction invigorates me. Anytime I get to grow intellectually creates an energy within me to keep evolving as a teacher. Plainly put, loving and living my profession is what I do to re-energize my teaching practices.”
Chapter 2 of Menoon Rami’s Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching highlights the importance of utilizing professional networks; I have to agree. As of late, my life has grown exponentially hectic (both professional and personal). With the assignment of each and every role and responsibility, it seems as though my “teacher island” becomes that much more isolated. It makes sense…when there’s more work, we have less time to connect, collaborate, and simply communicate. So keep from becoming frustrated, I choose to use online networks frequently. They fit into my schedule, I can tailor it to suit my needs, and there is always a wealth of information available. And although there is a seemingly unlimited number of resources, I have taken to Twitter believe it or not, as of late.
I will be the first to admit that when Twitter first made its appearance, I used it solely for social networking of the personal kind. It was fascinating for me to be able to “follow” the movers and shakers of pop-culture. But then something interesting happened; as I followed organizations like Discover Magazine, and people like Mayim Bialik, the Twitter platform began making suggestions of like-minded individuals. My follower list morphed into a scientific resource network; it just made sense for me to create a professional account to streamline my searching process. I haven’t looked back! In fact, as I open my account I was treated to information from:
They are offering their favorite summertime reads for professional development
They are soliciting help to spread an infographic from @TigerMobiles on smartphone safety.
Open Badges (@OpenBadges)
Unveiling their 2-page layout for their latest app. This is I will have to try as students as well as teachers love earning badges as a way of validating their accomplishments!
Connect Learning (@Connect_Learn)
If you want to use technology as a tool in your classroom, it must be planned well; this article can help with that!
And just a quick search of #mathchat yielded:
- An end of year math activity where you paint multiplication pebbles.
- During the “dog days of summer” you can calculate a dog’s age (is it really as simple as multiplying by 7?).
- Research into Singapore-style teaching practices.
Notice, I haven’t mentioned anything about posting “tweets;” that was done on purpose. If you aren’t ready for that type of network relationship, it’s fine! A monologic networking relationship works well as long as you are continuing to grow. I’ve only been using Twitter as a professional platform for about a year now yet, I’m thoroughly impressed with its capabilities! Give it a shot…I’ll bet you will be too!
Hello Connected Learning Friends!
This week I was looking into new teaching networks to profile on my blog, when I stumbled across the English Companion Ning. Let me first explain what a Ning is, because it was new to me, and it’s pretty awesome from a connected learning standpoint. Ning is a social media site in which YOU can design and create your own social network. That alone is such a cool idea. There are Ning blogs for just about anything you can imagine.
So as I mentioned, I stumbled upon Ning’s English Companion community, which has all types of resources and forums for teachers to connect, share, and seek advice. The English Companion describes itself in part like a “cafe without walls or coffee: just friends.”
The site hosts a number of different groups to join for any type of English courses and subjects you may teach: American Literature, Shakespeare, AP Language, Creative Writing, teaching with wikis, etc. There are a ton of forums to ask advice from other teachers, or give advice of your own. Today I read a teacher asking advice about her large class sizes, while another was looking for useful tips on organizing her classroom library. There are also numerous links to personal blogs of English Companion members, which have resources, tips, and thoughtful reflections about teaching. The site has news, job postings, event calendars, everything in pertinent to the teaching field. It also has its own YouTube and slideshare channel.
The best part is that it’s free to join, you just need to make a log in and profile, then wait for approval from the site manager. After you’re approved, it looks as if the groups, forums, resources and materials are all fair game.
This site is definitely an easy and useful tool for connecting with other English teachers, and I hope to start contributing to it. I’m lucky enough this year to have a wonderful group of colleagues to seek advice or help from, but in previous years that has not been the case. I wish I found this sooner!
I took the 14’-15’ school year off from teaching, and I began to feel isolated from the profession even though I’m a full-time grad student of education. Few, if any, of my classmates are focused on early childhood, and I missed having social interaction with colleagues in the same cardboard-constructed, marker-decorated boat. I felt out of the loop. As luck would have it, I was forced to join Twitter. Yes, forced. My wise professor @Seecantrill required us to sign up and follow teacher networks. As it turns out, Twitter is a great platform for connecting with similarly-minded individuals.
I love that Twitter forces users to be concise; I can spend as much or as little time browsing as I want, but I can get the gist of content at-a-glance. And of course, it’s free. I quickly discovered that many national professional teaching organizations use Twitter. I have always been interested in NAEYC, a respected EC organization, but I followed them from a distance because membership is yet another out-of-pocket teacher cost. I found them on Twitter @NAEYC, and now I enjoy their frequent links to helpful resources and interesting articles.
I also enjoy following Institute of Play @instituteofplay and Connected Learning Alliance @TheCLAlliance. These organizations tap in to my interest in Connected Learning, gamification, and play. Browsing teacher networks on Twitter is like chunking work into microscopic bits. It’s interest-driven and intrinsically motivated, so it doesn’t feel like work. After a short while, however, I realized just how much these groups influenced my philosophy and vision of teaching. As I browse and read about the amazing things other teachers are doing in their classrooms, I’m continually shaping a vision of how Connected Learning might look, sound, and feel in my Pre-K classroom.
There are so many teacher networks on Twitter that individuals are bound to find numerous organizations that mesh with their philosophies and interests. It’s a great resource to turn to if you’re feeling isolated in our profession. Perhaps you’re like me and aren’t currently in the classroom. Or maybe, you’re feeling like the black sheep of your school, longing to connect with, learn from, and share with like-minded teachers who scorn that little box we’re too often forced into. Either way, you’re likely to find Twitter teacher networks energizing and inspiring. It’s nice to know there are others out there who want the same things for their students.
I recorded a video highlighting my mentor from my student teaching practicum. Unfortunately, my blog doesn’t support videos, but I was able to upload it to Google+. Here is the link. Please friend me if we’re not yet following one another! Looking forward to seeing and hearing about everyone else’s mentors, as well.