Connected Learning Defined

“Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.” – Introduction: Teacher Agency and Connected Learning by Antonio Garcia

Connected Learning Revisited


The Best Laid Plans

Writing for me is very cathartic. When I have a rough day, opening up my laptop and typing out my feelings is a great release of stress. Usually, I don’t save these thoughts but thought that tonight I would take one of my journals and polish it up a bit to post. I asked myself- “What is the value in the work I am doing now?” and “What comes next?” Broad but important questions for anybody to ask of themselves……….

I had it all laid out. I would graduate from college with my teaching degree and somehow, someway, even given the less-than-ideal prospects for landing a job in the teaching field (especially in Southeast PA), I would get my dream job of teaching middle school social studies. This is a dream that is more times than not met with laughter – probably disbelief that quickly morphs into a suspicion that I’m crazy. But I think that the age group you encounter is middle school is a unique and pivotal time in a child’s education and it is during this time that they are forming lasting attitudes towards learning and the value that education will hold in their lives. Is it an awkward and emotionally-charged age? Absolutely. But it is also an age during which teachers need to try and look past some irritability and questionable choices to help move these students in the right direction and set them on a path that they will follow throughout high school and beyond.

That being said, I am currently working as a special education assistant in an elementary school. I work with 5th and 6th grade autistic support students both in a self-contained classroom for part of the day as well as in the regular ed classroom. I never thought that I would work directly in the special education field but it has been a great experience that has given so much insight into how to better differentiate for learners with special needs – a vital skill for any teacher, not just the special education teacher. Particularly with the movement towards inclusion in many school districts, all teachers will need to be a blend of regular ed and special ed teacher – if not in  credentials, then in daily practice.

I am thankful that I am able to gain a perspective of where new middle-schoolers are coming from, which one day will allow me to better understand the skills that students will and won’t come prepared with as well as the expectations that students are accustomed to. I think that it is easy to assume that young learners know how to behave and how to be a good student. But this is not always the case. While students are given opportunities to be more independent and take responsibility for their actions and ownership in their work, it is interesting to watch how some students embrace this change and excel nad how some students really struggle to take control of their learning. The 6th grade teachers I work alongside are constantly re-iterating the need for organization, time management and study skills but so often it just doesn’t stick. Learning to work with varying levels of independence and maturity in my current job is experience that I am grateful for, as is learning the patience and persistence necessary to do this type of work.

Even though things career-wise are not going according to plan at the moment, going off course is not a bad thing and can open us up to new and unexpected opportunities for growth, self-discovery and professional development. So what comes next? I’m honestly not sure and this is both terrifying and liberating in that I have so many directions in which I could move but no way of knowing which way will lead me to a job and career that make me happy.

My “Map Make” of the Week!

Instead of making a traditional map that gives directions, I decided that I would create a “mind” map based off of a book that I read for one of Dr. Kimberly Dean’s ed courses junior year at Arcadia. The book, Improv Wisdom, by Patricia Ryan Madson, is a combination self-help/guide-to-life compilation of several “maxims” or rules we should follow to lead fulfilling lives. My map focuses on six of the thirteen maxims that make up the book and then includes pieces of wisdom and advice that really stood out to me. Once I elaborated on each of the maxims, I went back and made connections between each of the 5 rules we should follow on a daily basis and my thoughts and reflections on each of the six maxims. These 5 rules are simple and concise but can lead to a much happier and rewarding life as an individual, as a friend, as a daughter, as a teacher….the list goes on.

1) Show up on time.

2) Be nice to people.

3) Do what you’ll say you’ll do.

4) Deliver more than you promise.

5) Work with enthusiasm and passion. 

It applies not only to education professionals but to all people. I thought that it would be a great book to mind map as it leaves open a lot of room for personal interpretation and is structured in a way that makes mapping relatively simple, especially if you are working collaboratively with others. For Dr. Dean’s course, each student was assigned a chapter to present, and I think that mind-mapping would have been a great addition to the overall discussion of the text. Also, being left with a map that helps to visualize our thinking as a class is a really awesome way to keep track of learning and progress over the course of the semester.

While Improv Wisdom was introduced to me my junior year, I first learned about MindMeister in one of Helene Klein’s leadership courses senior year. That semester, we were given iPads and I used MindMeister in the form of an app. It was challenging trying to use the program on a PC but after a while I got the hang of it! Still a lot to learn but here is what I came up with!

The “mind map” appears small in the post but just click on it to enlarge the image. Also, here is the URL if you would like to visit my map on the MindMeister webpage:

MindMeister is free to join and you can store up to 3 virtual maps at any given time. More advanced settings and features are available if you subscribe.


Find 6 Saturday

  • This week I experienced firsthand the limitations of online video chats. The audio on Wednesday night’s Google Hangout was terrible – pretty much an hour straight of garbled voices that I tried to decipher and put together! So I apologize for my lack of input. Technology is a powerful tool that allows you to connect with so many and so much, but if you have a spotty Internet connection, you are very limited and almost debilitated in terms of your ability to participate. In the future if this problem were to come up again, I would go to the My Gatherings and see if I have better luck with that! The Internet is a source of endless information and at times, endless frustration. Insert funny meme here….
slow internet

  • My first find really ties in with my second. Christina reflected upon how the world is essentially – at the click of a mouse or a keypad – at our and our students’ fingertips. During my student teaching, I would ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I making students memorize dates and places of historic events that they can easily Google on their cellphone?” It really made me think about the way that we need to structure our curriculum to better align and just make sense with the access that today’s students have to information. Is it still important that students learn about World War II, the Cold War, and other significant events in our history? Absolutely. Knowledge of the past is the basis for a future generation that is enlightened and aware. But educators can no longer present students with blank timelines and simply tell students to put events in chronological order. Instead they need to be asked to put them in context, which is something that I discuss in more length in my post “Inquiry Based Learning: My Questions as a Connected Learner and Teacher.”
  • I appreciate Tahira’s discussion regarding the ongoing and seemingly never-ending problem of cell phones in the classroom. While I am currently at an elementary school and this does not present as great of an issue as a middle or high school (at least the elementary school that I work at…cannot speak for others!), I could absolutely relate to the struggle that is trying to get students to put their phones away and focus on their work. As a substitute teacher, I finally got to the point where I just couldn’t fight against the cell phones anymore. I decided to lose that battle for the sake of winning the war – which at that point was maintaining my sanity. I think that in terms of equity, cell phones do offer a positive alternative for classrooms that lack computers for every student and I was even more tempted to agree after reading the #tequity article about the prevalence of cell phone usage versus personal computer usage among black and Latino student populations. However, the struggle is trying to get students to stay on one particular program or app and not wander off to Facebook or Instagram. And with only one set of teacher’s eyes and possibly 30+ cell phone screens, this can seem like it is almost impossible to monitor.
  • As the end of the year is already in sight, I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with amazing students in Autistic Support who every day prove to me in new and unexpected ways that there are limitless ways to learn about, appreciate, and interpret the world around us. I also look forward, although somewhat tentatively and nervously, towards looking for a full-time teaching position and making some difficult choices about whether to remain a teaching assistant in-district where I have job security and benefits, or take the leap to pursue a more fulfilling teaching position.
  • I really liked Bonnie’s suggestion to put into place some sort of homework reward system when Tahira brought up the issue of not having enough time in the school day to practice math skills. During my time student teaching middle school, it was a huge struggle to get students to complete and turn in their homework and oftentimes, the work that was eventually turned in was not up to par. So I liked the idea of creating a reward system for those students that complete their work and then maybe creating an end of the marking period or trimester award for the student who earned the most homework credits. I also thought it was great to see Tahira include her students in her “How to Prevent Cheating” How-To last week. Getting your students actively involved in you connected learning experience only helps to make the knowledge your share with your fellow educators online that much more genuine. Here is the link:
  • Finally, I appreciated Kelly’s post, “Small Victories.” I feel that a lot of emphasis is placed on our shortcomings and the things that didn’t go smoothly in a day, that it is important to reflect on the positive, or as Kelly calls them, the small victories in each school day. I loved her idea of creating a graphic organizer to pull out the sensory details in each poem and her students’ work was full of imagery, vivid description and overall, just very well done for 7th grade students taking their first shot at writing poetry. This reaffirms my belief that when given the opportunity, students can really surprise us with their abilities and their talents, and that we should encourage them to find new strengths by challenging them with a new or unexpected activity. Here is the link to her post:

Inquiry-Based Learning – My Questions as a Connected Learner and Teacher

questions mark
When we were originally asked to create ten questions that we had about ourselves as connected learners, I wrote questions that applied more towards our class and my participation in it rather than creating questions that were relevant to my own practice at school. Here they are:
1.Do I contribute enough to the thinking and contributions of my peers?
2. Do I take enough time to reflect on my blogging and how my thinking is changing>
3. Is there enough connectivity in my blog posts and contributions to the Google+ community?
4. Am I thinking about connected learning too much in the abstract and not in enough toward the practical side of things?
5. How can I be more proactive with my networking?
6. I feel as though I am blogging and tweeting information about connected learning, but what community am I really a part of?
7. I am a connected learner within a group of people who are learning about connected learning? (if that makes sense…)
8. Do I need to focus my contributions more on equity and should the class as a whole (being a group of like-minded peers with a common goal/interest) have a common objective or theme?
9. What should this objective or theme be? (equity in the abstract, providing equitable learning opportunities in practice, research regarding connected learning, etc???) .
10. How can I work on connecting with a larger community outside of just ED677?
These are mostly technical questions, if  I had to choose an umbrella term. Now, I wanted to take some time to really focus on crafting an inquiry that I can really delve deeper into that affects my practice in the classroom and create inquiries that I can share with other connected learners in order to improve as much as possible for when I become a classroom teacher.
Wednesday night’s Hangout (at least what I could hear of it!) made me feel as though I was not alone in my early morning and late night wonderings about the point of what we do as educators. Formally, it is written in my district, that our role is to “ensure that all students are prepared to be productive, responsible, self-directed individuals” and that educators should work diligently to promote “academic excellence and intellectual growth.” This is a fine and commendable goal, but a thousand questions come to mind. So here are a few new inquiries that I am planning to have serve as the basis of future posts
1. How do I help to shape “productive, responsible, self-directed individuals” within five, 45 minute periods per week within the context of social studies/language arts? Whose 
2. How do I make the material relevant so my students can relate to it? Why should they as 12-18 year olds care? How is what we are learning in class having an effect on their current or future lives? 
3. How do I get students motivated to learn (i.e. put away their cell phones, be present and actively listen and participate in class)? 
4. In particular, how do I motivate students who are typically overlooked? How do i design/differentiate instruction to make learning accessible  and engaging for various types of learners – this includes students who may somehow feel excluded or distant from the learning environment for academic reasons and differences in learning style as well as students who feel distant from the group for social/cultural/economic reasons? How can I reach these kids?
I found myself relating to Lizzy’s comments about her students asking her, “Why should we care?” This is a legitimate question and is one that I found myself asking as a student (although never out loud to the teacher). I found myself teaching a lesson about Confucianism and watching the students take notes, thinking to myself, “Who cares?” If I, as the teacher, am asking these questions, than I can be sure that most of the students are, as well. Instead of memorizing all of  the minutiae, I should have asked students to consider how Confucius’ belief in respect for other as fairness, as well as his belief in having enlightened and educated leadership in government, can be applied to help solve modern-day conflicts that these students hear in the news and read about on social media on a daily basis. How would they attempt to fix a government of their choice so that it reflects the principles and teachings of Confucianism?
Here’s another example to help illustrate.Instead of telling students to copy down when and where the Berlin Wall came down, ask them how the Berlin Wall symbolized the oppressive rule of Cold War-era regimes and how its destruction was a symbol of freedom and hope for a future marked by fair and just leadership.  How do the events occurring between the Ukraine and Russia mirror Cold War-era conflicts and based on individual research, do you think that peace or oppression will prevail?
By tying in these larger ideas of peace, unity, justice, respect, fairness, leadership, etc., you are really the laying the groundwork for a deeper understanding of an historical event that goes beyond a place , a person or a date. These singular and isolated events become examples of powerful and prevailing themes throughout history, that continue to impact the present and the student – thereby making the material relevant to those students who put the work and effort into embracing this approach to learning.
Questions 3 and 4,inquiries into student motivation and creating equitable learning opportunities, will need blog posts of their own some time in the upcoming week…

Things That Are Not What They Seem

tough kid

About a week ago, I posted an entry discussing the purpose and focus of my blog as well as the big ideas and questions that I would try to address via my posts. One of those big ideas is social inequality and its impact on our students and its impact on educating these students. An edutopia article – “5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids” – popped up on my Twitter feed a day or two back and caught my eye. It has no immediate relevancy with connected learning, participatory culture or web literacy, it really highlights how much some, or in certain cases many, of our students have to deal with daily just to get to come to school and how the external behavior  (in this case, misbehavior) of a student is not always an accurate portrayal of their character or potential.

Sadly, it seems as though many of the students deemed difficult or “tough” are those most in need of guidance and a caring, compassionate mentor. For underprivileged students, acting out and misbehaving in school can serve as a means of getting attention from peers and adults as well as expressing their anger and their frustration. Changing the way that we react to this misbehavior and gradually transforming our role from that of strict disciplinarian to that of a positive mentor can make all the difference. And while repeated or serious misbehavior can not and should not be ignored, educators should try giving those “tough kids” in their class a second chance and make a real effort to form relationships of trust and mutual respect with those students who, unfortunately, would have been written off. To tie in with Christina Puntel and her work for Digital Is titled “Looking with the Heart: Celebrating the Human in the Digital,” we reside in a “culture of deficiency” which emphasizes what is wrong with a student and what needs to be fixed, as opposed to a student’s strengths and what should be celebrated.

My How-To Guide!

Here is my YouTube video featuring my how-to guide for navigating and creating quizzes and other interactive learning activities using

This week’s make really pushed me outside of my digital comfort zone. Not only is this the first YouTube video I ever made, it is also the first time that I used video editing software. For my how-to guide, I used EZVID software, which is free to download and VERY user-friendly.

Another post will follow featuring a more in-depth discussion of my experience with this editing program. I would also like to go back in and experiment with the video to see what else I can add….EZVID has a lot more features and tools to add impact to your videos. I was just thrilled that I figured out how to add my voice recording and background music!!