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Rosie Slentz
Feb 22 2014

Validating Fun: Connected Learning


Just when I was feeling pretty tech-savvy, I volunteered to be the liaison for National Writing Project’s Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC)...

And that, THAT, was the end of my naive competence. Immediately I was signing up for blogs, Google + hangouts, webinars, and getting emails from that weird hashtagged acronym that put images of cows in my head. What was a MOOC, anyway? I googled it. It is a massive open online course, and in this case it was facilitated by 7 members of the NWP community. Well I fell right in and followed links down rabbit holes for weeks. I shared the resources with the Summer Institute of our local Redwood Writing Project and I pretended to know what “connected learning” was all about.

I viewed my first Google + hangout, watching Troy Hicks discuss his experiences with digital media. I bookmarked the “make bank” and led lessons for peer educators at our Summer Institute (including a very fun toyhack). By August when I began planning another year of curriculum for my 5th grade class, I realized that I had been doing “connected learning” all along--but in secret.

This new buzz word, connected learning, has validated my practice. I think back to times when I would manipulate the daily schedule so that we could take a hike to the forest during PE time. It was easier to explain the departure from desk work that way. I would justify our time spent creating videos by focusing on the useful tech skills my students were practicing.

But now I frame my lessons around this hidden value. Students are learning to apply writing workshop practices to their video editing and I recognize and herald the fact that a hike, is so much more than a hike.

Part of my recent tedx talk is about an experience my class had while on an excursion to a nearby stream. The kids decided to make boats. They were so excited and proud to present them to me. The moment they put them in the water, however, the vessels flopped over to their sides and swirled to the bank of the stream. From a distance I watched my students form into groups, based on skills they deemed necessary for each boat building guild. The huddles dispersed and students scrambled off on their own, returning shortly with gobs of sap, ivy to use as rope, thinner bark, and bigger leaves. Again their heads and hands went together and parted. This time they faired better than the maiden voyage, but the 10 year olds were not satisfied until they had reworked their creations yet again. It dawned on me that this was the type of behavior, the habit of mind, that I had been trying so hard to develop in our writers workshops. Later we used this boat building experience to talk about how we build and revise our writing, with the help of our peers.

Sometimes the most important learning, has nothing to do with academics. It's about nurturing 21 unique little souls in the classroom. Our trophy making project required students to write about why they deserved a trophy. Then they collected bits and pieces of broken toys and we painted everything gold. The next step was to build the trophy base. Bringing a handsaw to class did more for the self-esteem of a student than any praise I had bestowed. He didn’t need to be told his value. He needed to feel it. “Let me help,” he offered, as his classmate struggled to saw through a 2x4. “I’m good at this kind of stuff...like my dad.”

So on any given day my 5th grade lesson plan might include: toy hacks, video making, field trips, action plans, tea time, hikes, painting, trophy making, sachet sewing, contra dancing, boat races, and fun. Yes, fun. I’m not afraid to admit it anymore. Sometimes we have fun. Afterwards we take a moment and reflect. More often than not, we can connect our experience to learning. And that, is when the learning sticks.

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Greetings, I signed up fpr Digital IS and began thinking. Do I get in where I fit in? Is this really for me? How do I get started, better yet where do I start? Reading your story gave me a "Faith" that there's light at the end of the "Digital IS" rainbow!! The best thing it's the first story I read! Faith aka A-Queen
I'm so happy you wrote this entry. It gives examples and real applications of lessons that teach while having fun. Field trips and adventures are a part of that; bringing education outside blurs the lines between schooling and real life, making school a full experience that cannot be divorced from students' lives. Thanks for the insight. It seems easy to implement with after school activities, but that doesn't engage students who don't, can't, or won't stay after school.&nbsp; I think it might be more difficult in the secondary level, though, since students have 8 different periods in a given day that they would need to be excused from as opposed to elementary classes that keep the same students all day for the most part.