Twitter misadventures and stumbling into connected learning

Twitter

Like most connected educators, my first ‘virtual mentors’ came via Twitter. While I have had a Twitter account (@BarMill) dating back to 2009, I didn’t really make any new connections there. Mostly I followed my friends and a few celebrities. However, I did find time to share some insights from my classroom. Please enjoy these highlights:

It wasn’t until I attended an International Baccaularreate Organization Primary Years Program workshop in 2012 and facilitator Craig Eldred introduced me to #PYPchat that I discovered the potential of Twitter for professional networking and relationship building.

Some of my ‘Most Valuable Tweachers’ are Joy Kirr, Melvina Kurashige, Steve Collis, and Sherri Edwards. They are generous sharers and active connectors and I highly recommend following them!

Although I don’t particularly care for Twitter chats (I prefer asynchronous online collaboration and cooperation), understanding how communities organize around hashtags on Twitter and other networks has been very valuable.

Twitter is a gateway network. Once a user begins to discover and navigate the possibilities, they will uncover opportunities for learning around the world, across diverse networks and communities.

I would encourage you to explore my favorite networked learning community, Connected Learning.

Connected Learning

The first MOOC I lurked in was MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning in 2013. Through that experience I was introduced to Connected Learning and DML Research Hub. I don’t remember exactly how I was introduced to the Making Learning Connected MOOC, but I signed up and jumped in.

The encouragement and enthusiasm of Terry Elliot and Kevin Hodgson are most responsible for hijacking me into the Making Learning Connected MOOC and Connected Learning community. Please read the post, My Connected Learning Credo, for details on how I was absconded into a life of convivial collaboration.
This community and the networks into which it is woven have been inspirational. To me, it’s a perfect example of connectivist learning because the community is the mentor and we all participate to increase its wisdom.

It’s also never too late to join Making Learning Connected (#clmooc on Twitter), which kicked off* this week!
*World Cup pun absolutely intended.
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Asking for help

I’ve had bad luck with mentors, at least when I needed them most. In my first two years of teaching in a startup charter school in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, my teaching mentors quit and left the school. At least I’m pretty sure they didn’t leave because of me.

On top of that, I’m not very good at asking for help. Being introverted and stubborn, I tend to want to do things in my own way and bulldoze my way through challenges.

Luckily, I shared a lunch period with Karen Kazanci, an outgoing teacher of similar age and a bit more classroom experience, who was generous to share ideas, provide feedback, and offer reassurance. She is now the proprietor of Leaping Lotus Yoga, which provides yoga classes designed for young children.

She taught me that the most important act of mentoring is listening. When I struggled, she listened to my lamenting patiently and always responded with positivity. When I celebrated, she celebrated with me. When she offered advice, it was usually to capitalize on what she saw as my strengths.

She also seemed to know exactly when not to talk about the classroom and work.

The two of us were the only founding teachers to stay as long as we did in what was at times a challenging and intense environment. We contributed to what would become a healthy and supportive learning community in spite of significant obstacles. I suspect that our chats over lunch had a lot to do with it.

Service learning in elementary school

The New York Times Magazine cover story, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?, explores the work of Adam Grant, whose ‘studies have been highlighted in bestselling books such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, and David and Goliath by Gladwell’.

In that article, the case is convincingly made that altruism is not only beneficial to the beneficiary, but also to the benefactor.


A little kindness goes a long way by Ed Yourdon CC BY NC SA 


This apparent contradiction is supported by research findings not only in neuroscience, as in the article, Altruism, egoism: Brain exercises cognitive analysis, but also by commonly accepted wisdom contained in the world’s ancient and respected religious and spiritual disciplines as explored in Carolyn Gregoire‘s post, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion.


Mindfulness and empathy help to make connections in the brain which manifest as action.


Caring for others makes us smarter.

So why isn’t service learning an essential characteristic of every school? Why isn’t it designed into the curriculum and culture of schools?


In the Harvard EdCast, Making Global Local, Jeff Shea (2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year) describes his innovate Global Leadership class and comments that we should ‘plant the seeds early’ for global education and service learning, so it only makes sense for elementary schools to introduce and practice service learning.

There are endless possibilities for doing so, and even what appears to be a simple act of service can provide tremendous authentic context and purpose for learning.


My experiences


My first classroom teaching experience was in a service project based learning charter elementary school in Los Angeles, California, founded by Full-Circle Learning and six educators including myself.


Our mission was to design learning experiences around ‘habits of heart’ and global collaboration. 


When someone asked my students what they are learning, they would say they are learning about ‘children who can’t go to school’, ’empathy’, ‘altruism’, or ‘how to be a humanitarian’.


In a sense, we were more than a community of learning.


We were a community of learning to serve.

Culture of service


There are a number of strategies I would recommend that any elementary school could quickly adopt to cultivate a culture of service.

Meaningful class names

Stop calling classes by their grade level, and assign them special names. I taught a Grade 4/5 combination class called ‘The Humanitarians’ and a Grade 2 class called ‘The Peacemakers’. The names for classes could be drawn from the school’s curriculum, mission statement, service learning goals, or learner profile.

Empathy based conflict resolution

Every school has a conflict resolution policy which all stakeholders agree to follow. Usually, these policies are based on compromise or tolerance. However, the most effective conflict resolution is based on empathy. The conflict resolution process should contain an explicit ’empathy step’ which encourages each party to resolve the conflict in service to the other.

Attitude and action orientation

In a service learning environment, the foundation of every unit is the driving question, ‘how can we help?’ Often, units are provoked by emotional appeals around global issues concerning human rights, environmental stewardship, injustice, or inequity.

In the post, Inquiry should be action-oriented., I described a collaboration with our partner grade 2 class in Lesotho around the ‘habit of heart’ of appreciation. The provocation for the unit took the form of students sharing stories of their experiences of children mistreating or acting disrespectfully toward their parents or teachers.

It was a very rich discussion about a situation that existed at both schools. The driving question of ‘how can we help’ led to an inquiry into the attitude of appreciation, writing personal letters to help our African partners to learn appreciation together, among other connected activities.

Our project, planned cooperatively as a class, was to weave ‘appreciation bracelets’ for our learning partners to give to their parents to express appreciation.

Learning partners in Lesotho receive ‘appreciation bracelets’ by Bart Miller CC BY SA


I also recommend reading Sam Sherratt’s post, Creating the conditions for action, and practicing the Putting Action on the Agenda guidelines from International School Ho Chi Minh City.


Embedded technology


The potential for technology to redefine service learning, whether by digital media creation or social media, is virtually unlimited.

In terms of social media, at any given time there are easy to find campaigns underway which students can learn from and contribute to. Here’s a short list of some recent examples:

One approach to bringing social media into the classroom is to start a class twitter account. I’ve collected hundreds on this list, ‘classrooms atwitter‘.

To get my students tweeting, I created little ‘tweet’ cards with 140 character grids. The students compose their tweets, then drop them off at my desk to be added to our feed.

photo by Bart Miller CC BY SA


It’s a medium I look forward to utilizing much more aggressively as I integrate service and social advocacy more into our units of inquiry.

Empowerment is the goal


Ultimately, service learning is about empowering students to understand that they can help to solve the world’s problems.

By practicing inquiry which is rooted in empathy and oriented toward action, students learn to realize their potential as change agents in the world.