My Thoughts about Connectivism and Where We Really Are.

24 Oct

Asking Questions About the Pakistan Flood

“We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change out attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.”

-Stephen Downes

October 18, 2010

Huffington Post

That quote was posted during Tuesday’s class by Alec from the Huffington Post.  I first read it in the context of the class and what we are learning about how education can be but then I stopped and re-read it from the context of where education is, and specifically I am thinking about in my classroom with my students.

In this class we are learning about the possibilities of PLNs and social networking in the classroom.  What I have been struggling with in regards to this is that I do not believe that my school board or my students are ready for this approach to learning and that has really been bumming me out lately.  I have been professionally, personally, academically and emotionally bummed and to top it all off, I have had a virus since the end of August! So I did a few things about it, I added a  mental health day to my weekend (which I needed seeing as how I slept for 12 hours and Friday was the first day that I did not cough excessively), I went shopping, caught up on my yard work, hung out with my husband, watched movies and got a massage (oh, and caught up on my work for this class.) The result: not so bummed.  This has left me with a new perspective on things, including this quote which, four days ago, I may have looked at with cynicism and have instead decided to look at it by asking myself, what does it mean for me, right now, within the context of what I am able to do with my students and in my classroom?

In the last two years I have had students that did not want to be in my class and parents that agreed and tried to pull them out.  Not because I am a terrible teacher but because I encourage students to take charge of their own learning and be responsible for what they achieve from their year in my class and I do this through my Constructivist approach to learning.  I have been trying (with some success, I have to say) to develop a classroom that is deeply engrossed in Inquiry and Project based learning that features both curriculum content, social justice issues and global awareness. Not an easy task, let me tell you.  I have also made it a goal to use any and all available technology to support this perspective in my classroom. (It is my opinion that you can not have an effective inquiry and project based classroom without technology but some would disagree).  So when I enrolled in this class I expected to learn about some more Web 2.0 tools to use to support this as well as some discussion about social media in the classroom.  What I did not expect was a whole new concept (PLN) to be thrown into my wonderings about what makes effective learning.  I started off on a mission to incorporate this into my already expansive quest to reform education.  I was hit hard with the realities of it all; the red tape, the skills and experience of myself and my students, the availability of the actual machines to make it happen and I became bummed.  So needed to back up and take stock of what I am doing to facilitate this concept right now, slowly, at a pace myself, my students, my colleagues, my employer and my parents can handle.  So here is a run down of what I came up with in response to how my students are creating education for themselves:

  • They collaborate with each other daily, in every subject.  It may not be on Twitter or Facebook or a Google Doc (yet) but they are doing it and it’s a start.  To facilitate this I have tables instead of desks so they can look at each other and most of our projects offer them the choice of working with others or alone.
  • Their learning is connected.  We try not to separate things into separate subjects.  We try to make their Science, Social Studies and Literacy connect so that they are faced with a large concept not small separate tasks and I think that this helps them connect their learning.
  • True to Constructivist theory instead of teaching my students facts, I am constantly teaching my students to ask questions about what they read, view and hear.  That is the #1 skill needed in my room, how to ask good questions.  From there, they are in charge of what questions they ask and how they find the answers them.  Talk about being in charge of their learning. In fact, I am starting a project with them this week based on this assignment that will hopefully lead them in all different directions ranging from the obesity epidemic to the distribution of wealth and how that relates to food, depending on what their questions and interests are.
  • They can choose how they acquire and present their learning to me in most assignments and I strongly encourage them to use technology as it is so much more interesting than a poster and offers them a much broader audience. In terms of acquiring knowledge, internet resources are just so much more available, expansive and up to date than the print resources that they have access to.  Sorry to all you who like kids to still use books for research but I have given up on that.
  • They have multiple opportunities to communicate with me outside of school; email, Facebook (only as an experiment for this class right now), our website, our wiki and just the fact that I have all of those things connected to my Blackberry.  When I was in school, not that long ago, there was no way to do that.  The first thing I remember was taking ECOMP 355 and thinking it was cool that Alec responded so quickly via email (well, cool and I was a little concerned for his social life) 😉

Now that I approaching what I am doing and what I am learning to do from a “non-bummed” perspective, I see that although we may not be ready for this quite yet, we are starting something and someday, we will be there:


14 Responses to “My Thoughts about Connectivism and Where We Really Are.”

  1. October 24, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Hi Danielle,
    Your blog post has really resonated with me…my adult students often strongly resist any and all attempts on my part to teach from a Constructivist position, preferring to be told what they need to know and what they might expect on the exam! You have given some very real examples of how you create a learning environment that encourages students to experience for tehm selves the excitement of becoming more self directed ( and remain true to your philosophy of learning in the midst of oppoistion) Thanks. and the video was truly awe inspiring. 🙂 Linda

    • Mary McNabb November 18, 2010 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Linda,
      Your students sound like mine and their parents and most of our teacher aides. We have a lot of work to do as educators to help people understand what learning is really all about.

  2. courosa October 25, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    Nice, Dani. I really like how highlighted these key ideas from your own practice – and here’s hoping that you will have to deal with less red tape in very near future. Keep it up!

  3. geoffallemand October 25, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Great blog. Great assignment. Thought you may be able to use this idea (if you haven’t seen it already): Where children sleep –
    Also in Life magazine as you can see.

  4. patriciacone October 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    I wish I could have had you as part of a PLN last year when I stumbled about trying to incorporate these kinds of learnings into my social studies classes. Not having anyone else in my immediate or virtual life to share ideas and critique what I was doing was immensely stressful.

    One thing about “constructivist” learning I wonder about is the lack of apparent boundaries on the knowledge. If one is in graduate school, one becomes used to the idea of pursuing knowledge, adding to one’s knowledge base, asking questions, debating points of view, and constructing new knowledge. Is this ever an appropriate model for students who desperately NEED to have boundaries (beginning, middle, end) for a “subject”. I remember a zillion years ago when I started teaching, students would look at their French textbooks, and say, “Look how much I learned this year.” Many students need to know when they’ve “arrived” and “completed what’s expected of them.” Also, many if not most of them are taking the class because they have to not because they have some kind of intrinsic need to learn. How do we convince these students and their parents that the “21st century learning model” is necessary for survival in the 21st century?

    • Mary McNabb November 18, 2010 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Patricia,

      I have been working to incorporate more Constructivist approached into my Social Studies too. The students (10 and 11 year olds) struggled with it (but most of them expect to struggle with school work). I was surprised though when 1 of the teacher aides (who I thought was well-informed) came to me asked for the pages in the text where she could find the answers to our inquiry questions. I thought I had been quite clear about the approach but obviously I was wrong.
      I do think that Constructivism lends itself to some subject areas more easily than others. It works well for some topics in Social Studies. I do find that I have to transmit knowledge about timelines or things can get very confused. But I haven’t seen it work well with Math which is not a subject I’m comfortable with. The one teacher who did use this approach well found it was very, very time consuming and there’s always the question of study a few things really well or touch on many topics surficially.
      Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

  5. Theresa Murray (@tamurray) October 25, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Your thoughts hit home with me in many ways. I, too, am working to incorporate much more discovery and student centered activities. It’s an uphill battle to persevere when the students just want to read, take notes, take a quiz and maybe have an assignment in class related (but not too hard so they can whip it off in 5 minutes). This year, having 4 new textbooks to go with my 4 preps with three offering concurrent college credit for the first time, gave me the chance to really toss aside my ideas and jump into new areas.

    First, in business law, I decided that when were were discussion dispute resolution I would have the class team up and create their own mock trial. I tried to offer little information so that they would explore and see what was out there. This was a challenge and I will ear do some things differently next year with this assignment. Gasp, I asked the students to help me realize what worked and what didn’t. Many were stunned that a teacher would ask such a question and then listen to their thoughts. The whole 4 new books is overwhelming and will help me grow as an instructor in the end.

    I get the red tape and the community not always being ready for some of what I would like to do. I call this taking baby steps. Last year, I was able to successfully get several web 2.0 tool sites unblocked and am using them (and have gotten a few others to try some as well). I let students email me with questions and with work they need to get to school.

    My students are blogging to reflect on what we are doing. I remind myself that we are preparing students for the future and for life. They will have to get along, know where to look for information or how to ask for what they need, and they might even be able to use their resources to find an answer.

    You seem to have a very clear vision of where you want to go. I am hopeful that in time you will get there and have much less red tape.

  6. Lyn Hilt October 29, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Danielle, great post! I especially enjoyed reading about the ways you’ll incorporate constructivist principles into your work with students. The fact that you recognized you can’t do it all at once- that you have to work within the comfort levels of yourself, your students, your school & community – that is admirable. The opportunities you’re providing for students to collaborate with one another (and the world), ask questions, engage in the creation of projects that demonstrate their learning… you and your students are embarking on an exciting journey! Kudos!

  7. Nicole October 31, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    I think this approach is awesome. I always found it cool when my classes would overlap. I’d be reading about history in Wester Civ., and I would find out in French class that these events affected the French language in x ways. Then I would go to English, and I would see how some of those French words influenced our language. Those sorts of things always fascinated me!

    I think people, in general, though, fear change. If something is safe, it is better than trying to find a better alternative. We have that pesky saying, “Why fix it, if it isn’t broken?” Perhaps, that’s a good saying for those considering plastic surgery, but not for educational practice. Education should reflect the time and the culture, and authoritative, disconnected education does not reflect our democratic, rapidly changing society. It’s sad that parents can’t see the value in a Connectivist/Constructivist education, and that students are too lazy to give anything outside of their comfort zone an honest try.

    Plus, our nation is obsessed with competition, efficiency, and gate-keeping. Qualitative work is often harder to assess, to define, and to rate than its quantitative counterpart. This means that people will have to spend more time, and they won’t be able to simply mark people (yes, I mean people, not tests) by their scantron scores.

    I, too, wonder about Connectivism, as I ask my college students to do “real world” writing, writing that will be seen and judged by people outside of our classroom.

  8. Mary McNabb November 18, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Hi Danielle,
    Your blog really hit home for me. I was beginning to think I was the only teacher struggling with incorporating student responsiblity for learning and how to impliment Constructivism. (I know I’m the only one in my school.)
    I spent time putting together a website last year, but only 1 student looked at it regularly and his contribution was to tell me that I wasn’t keeping it up – so I guess there’s room for me to do some teaching about how to interact using technology.
    It’s a steep learning curve for those of us choosing to climb and I think the journey will be better if we form networks of people traveling the same road.
    Thanks for the encouragement.


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