Creating Connected Classrooms

I've been learning about the concept of connectivism in education. For those of you new to this term, I'll try an apropos definition: "Connecting to a network of people from which we can learn and share ideas." We are inspired by individuals that build learning networks of people with whom they can use as soundboards, get more readers to their work and create collaborative learning communities from which to learn. We are taken aback when students venture down this path as Will Richardson notes when he met Laura Stockman, an 11 year old who gets service initiative ideas from "her readers."

Are Connectivists Outliers?
 It seems like such students are outliers which brings me to a question: Can teachers create connected classrooms where everyone has connections? Certainly they can invite experts in through skype chat, or tweet critiques back and forth. They can post invitations on educational networking sites like Ning and Edmodo, but do individual students walk away with a budding friendship, or merely a passing memory with a person they saw on a screen? Some students are probably happy to say to their parents: "I skyped with an expert in class today" and some others may friend them on Facebook or write them a personal tweet and see the value of continuing a dialogue with this person as they are an expert in their field. It is here that the trail tempers off and the water gets murky about whether or not this leads to student learning.


As a middle school teacher, my students are still very young with regards to content knowledge. Would Richard Dawkins (probably the most renowned expert on evolution) take the time to talk to my class that has a surface level understanding of gene sequencing, neutral genetic adaptations and very little understanding of chromosomal biology? Perhaps I'm overly optimistic thinking that my 11 year olds have such interests. Perhaps we should save connectivism for high school students that start to indicate interests in careers of study. I've written Mr. Dawkins tweets along with many others like him who have inspired my work as a teacher, and usually, my efforts fail to get a reply back. But sometimes I do get a bite.

I recently tweeted Adam Sadowsky a blog post that I wrote wherein I was referencing creativity and the work that my students did last semester on Rube Goldberg Machines. I showed my students a video of Mr. Sadowsky's TED talk and the concepts of creativity, remixing and remaking. Surprisingly, Mr. Sadowsky wrote me a lengthy email back with URLs of projects that his business (Synn Labs) is developing. I put some links onto our school Moodle site and have started encouraging my students to view his work, comment, and develop connections. Through doing this, I feel that I, a digital immigrant, could facilitate connections between my students and experts in the field so that my students can learn from them and develop partnerships for the future.    

Twitter as a Connecting Tool
After the success of connecting with Mr. Sadowsky, I'm starting to apply what I've been doing with Twitter and my math students to have them connect with experts in the realm of finance. I'm in the process of finishing a unit on percents which I have turned into an overarching unit on finance. Students have tracked investments and developed an investing philosophy based on their experience of tracking a stock, savings account, CD and small business start-up.

Over the next 48 hours, students will formally formulate their investment philosophy with a blog URL with links to their investments which they can tweet to our twitter hashtag chat. Once that is out there, I'm planning to invite a dozen or so experts at finance through Twitter to join our discussion and provide their "2 cents worth" on the viability of what we are doing, student's investing philosophies and hence provide experts with whom my students can connect. The idea of my students taking an interest in following financial gurus like Warren Buffet and Suze Ormond is dizzying and I like to think that by following such people that they will have a steady stream of advice and information long after they have left my classroom.

I believe that we are just starting to discover the applications of Twitter as a connecting tool between students and experts in the field. It's beguiling to think that a mere math teacher, I can connect my students to engineers, architects, graphic designers, financial experts and others in related fields. As a science teacher, I can do the same with biologists, physicists and paleontologists as well. Students can read tweets from authors, politicians, presidents, and the other influential people of the world. We may throw our net over a huge area and not get many connections, but if we're persistent, we will get replies from an interested few and foster connections that may lead to apprenticeships, fellowships and partnerships.

 World Without Borders-Learning Well with Others Will Richardson Edutopia      

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