Taking Action

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.

It’s a wrap!

My final make, a curation of gamification resources, evolved into a collaborative endeavor.  All semester long, I’ve been telling my husband, a secondary social studies teacher, about connected learning concepts and resources.  In particular, we were both drawn to gamification, and he’s currently planning a full-on gamified structure for next year’s classes.  As I began to work on my final make, I realized it would be a much stronger resource if we collaborated.  We both have accumulated a variety of gamification resources, and when we combine them in one place, the result is a more comprehensive curation that’s appropriate to teachers of different grade levels.  As we continue to learn more about gamification, we intend to add to the collection and keep it as relevant as possible.

The website curation is interest-driven, production-centered, and openly networked. It organically grew from an interest I developed over the semester, which led me down my own specialized rabbit hole of learning.  It’s also peer-supported.  My husband and I collaborated, sharing ideas and feedback as well as making joint decisions. Furthermore, it’s openly networked. The curation compiles a variety of resources for teachers of all grade levels, and it’s free to all who are interested.

I view the curation as an equitable contrast to many teaching resources I have come across (or not) in this class and also in my practice.  Oftentimes, it’s hard to find the good stuff!  Many people don’t think about it and keep work to themselves, some intentionally shield their work, and others try to profit from it (Teachers Pay Teachers, publishing a book, etc.).  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, but I personally believe that if I have a great idea or resource, why wouldn’t I want others to freely access it and benefit from it?  The practice of teaching and learning would be so much stronger and feel more united if we approached it like a garden co-op: we all get our hands dirty in the garden, and then we all share a bountiful harvest.  I’ll put my best work out there, and I’d love to view and utilize your best work, too.

image

It’s a pop-up, not a box!

I’m thinking about connected learning, early childhood education, and pop-ups, and one thing comes to mind: the cardboard box.

The cardboard box is the king of equity.  It’s readily available, infinitely flexible in use, and can be acquired for free; just ask nicely at your local grocery or appliance store.  Cain showed us the ultimate pop-up arcade (check out my post about him).  Cardboard box pop-ups belong in the carefully-planned early childhood classroom because they are the perfect blank slate for imaginative, young minds. Children become decision-makers, architects, artists, collaborators, and problem-solvers – and this is just in the creation of the pop-up.  Once finished, the children use their pop-up to delve deeply into a topic of interest. The teacher extends learning by reading stories and introducing concepts related to the topic.  Children can make cardboard props to support their developing understanding.  It’s a sustainable cycle of learning propelled by interest.

I gathered a set of cardboard pop-up ideas for my classroom, and these makes are my favorite.  I’m particularly drawn to #10 because it’s so flexible.  It shows an infant playing, but I know my kindergarteners would love this, too.  If this thing can physically hold up, I can see interest from infancy through first grade or so.  Furthermore, a child can utilize many different kinds of toys with this pop-up; the dramatic play possibilities are endless.  Oftentimes, the most utilitarian materials –> the most imaginative play –> the deepest learning.

It’s a pop-up, not a box!

I’m thinking about connected learning, early childhood education, and pop-ups, and one thing comes to mind: the cardboard box.

The cardboard box is the king of equity.  It’s readily available, infinitely flexible in use, and can be acquired for free; just ask nicely at your local grocery or appliance store.  Cain showed us the ultimate pop-up arcade (check out my post about him).  Cardboard box pop-ups belong in the carefully-planned early childhood classroom because they are the perfect blank slate for imaginative, young minds. Children become decision-makers, architects, artists, collaborators, and problem-solvers – and this is just in the creation of the pop-up.  Once finished, the children use their pop-up to delve deeply into a topic of interest. The teacher extends learning by reading stories and introducing concepts related to the topic.  Children can make cardboard props to support their developing understanding.  It’s a sustainable cycle of learning propelled by interest.

I gathered a set of cardboard pop-up ideas for my classroom, and these makes are my favorite.  I’m particularly drawn to #10 because it’s so flexible.  It shows an infant playing, but I know my kindergarteners would love this, too.  If this thing can physically hold up, I can see interest from infancy through first grade or so.  Furthermore, a child can utilize many different kinds of toys with this pop-up; the dramatic play possibilities are endless.  Oftentimes, the most utilitarian materials –> the most imaginative play –> the deepest learning.