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.

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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.

Make it pop!

Thoughts on seeking equity in connected learning:

1.  Use laptop carts as a computer lab pop-up.  Their mobility makes their use flexible and therefore more suited to connected learning. Students can arrange themselves in a manner that best suits their work, and they can give themselves space from other groups.  Considering current budget issues, I feel like a laptop cart would gain a lot of “bang for the buck.”

2.  Prioritize early childhood education and set a foundation for connected learning.  We need to place all early learners in a carefully-planned environment that nurtures the skills they need to succeed in school. Teachers must tap into children’s natural inclination to connect and play as well as scaffold them to new discoveries.

3.  Use connected learning as a tool to help keep kids in school.  Many older students find school irrelevant and are unmotivated. These students are put off by traditional teaching methods, and they are learning very little.  Utilize connected learning and give them a voice.  With an interest, a purpose, and permission to discover, these students may begin to find relevance in school.  

4.  Value all learning and thinking styles.  Some students thrive in fast-paced, participatory situations such as Twitter chats.  Others prefer to quietly reflect for some time before composing a blog post.  Give all learners a chance to experiment with various modes of participation, but respect the preferred mode.  Really, it’s ok for students to frequently use their preferred mode.  That’s real life; we find what works, we use it, and we get even better at it.  Preferred is efficient and therefore frees us up to focus on challenging content.  It’s even enjoyable for many of us.

5.  Things that “pop” are the great equalizer because all people are primed to attend to the new, the unusual, they gory, the unbelievable, the gross, the unknown, and the impressive. Somebody singing on a subway?  How unusual; I think I’ll listen.  Multi-car pileup on the Turnpike?  There’s a gaper delay going the opposite direction.  Engaging lesson hook?  Students pay attention (until you return to being a “sage on the stage”). We need to go beyond piquing our students’ interest to maintaining their interest through connected learning. When learners draw upon shared purpose, interest, peer culture, and production, they’re bound to discover more things that “pop.”

What happened to play?

As the push for rigor in kindergarten continues, many of our pint-sized learners find themselves in a high-stakes learning environment.  They shuffle from lesson to lesson, standard to standard, but we only have so many hours in the school day.  Something has to give.  Unfortunately, the children’s most natural and productive learning activity gets squeezed to a minimum: play.

Free play is production-centered, interest-driven, and openly-networked. The link between home, school, and community is strong.  Playmates learn to contribute to a shared purpose, and they practice negotiating their roles in different peer cultures.  

Play is also academically-oriented.  It is a process and a product of learning.  It serves as both a sense-making activity and a medium to exhibit new knowledge.  It’s infinitely flexible; the teacher can carefully construct the environment and materials to spark play with specific content or ideas.  Free play is the young child’s connected learning.

Check out this infographic again, but read it through the lens of a kindergarten teacher.  It describes a kindergarten that values play, authentic learning and the individual child.

The captain of his ship

“We spend a lot of time talking with students about agency.  Connected learning is about activating their voice.” High school student Charles combined his passion and desire to help others to take up a cause that mattered to him.

When today’s youth are passionate about social justice issues, connected learning is an inherent part of the process.  They seek connections with others who share similar interests and purposes.  They use social media to mobilize, document, give and receive feedback.  As they learn more about their purposes, they continue to share and connect with peers, developing peer culture within their communities.  Charles’ story illustrates the effect of connected learning and peer support on an individual’s social identity.  His engagement in connected learning led to complex decision-making and resulted in a plan to affect real-world change.  For Charles, connected learning is social action.