Learning together: Catching up on the adventures of connected learners and teachers via ED677

Over three years now, during the spring, I have taught ED677 at Arcadia University’s School of Education, a “connected course” focused on seeking equity in connected learning and teaching. Final projects for ED677, or what we call our final “makes,” are something we design that emerges from our inquiry and supports our work beyond the 15 weeks of the course. The goal is that each project explicitly focus on building towards equity and connected learning, building off the framework of Connected Learning, and contributes to making interest-driven, production centered and connected opportunities for all a reality in the world (in big and small ways).

These projects have been great and there is much to learn from what folks end up designing to support connected learning in their context. And I was curious to learn what happened since! Therefore this past semester, I invited several folks who participated in the past to come and share with my current class about their work and reflections on Connected Learning and teaching. I also had a chance recently to hear from several of past ED677ers in a panel discussion at Arcadia University in relation to a meeting on Connected Learning in Teacher Education. Below then is a set of compiled thoughts, notes and quotes from this work and those discussions.

Robert Sidelinker, a teacher at Warwick Elementary, participated in ED677 in 2016 and now teaches his students in a 1-6 STEM class called QUEST (Questioning and Understanding through Engineering, Science, and Technology). Throughout his time in ED677 he blogged about an inquiry project he was working on throughout the semester, a making and game design/play unit he co-designed with his students and colleagues. What I like the best about his posts are the ways power shifts to the students as he describes the unfolding of this project:

It’s funny.  Weeks ago, as my team and I created the inquiry questions that would help lead us into this unit of study, the questions seemed to be directed at us, the teachers.  Now that our students have begun their work, it seems that the questions apply to them, not the “educators.” …

… Throughout the experience, students have been blogging about the game and blogging about ways to persuade teachers to allow their students to play.  

In a reflection on this work he writes “As a teacher, I don’t think I’ve ever attempted a learning activity that is so social.  Students are now making original creations that were born from commonly shared ideas!”  

Now a couple years later, and while participating in this recent panel discussion, Robert continues to think about this work and how best to support his colleagues from his position as a QUEST teacher and educational technology coach at his school. In a reflection on his own journey in becoming a more connected teacher, he says that moving from a deliverer of content to a facilitator/manager has had one of the biggest impacts on him. And so in his role as a coach, he works to support his colleagues from where they are in this process. He reflects that “a lot of teachers are really uncomfortable with not knowing the answer … but in today’s society the answer [to not knowing] should be “let’s look it up” .. you’re not forfeiting their authority; you are preparing [students] for the future.”

Shayla Amenra has served as an educator and artist in schools and afterschool programs and now operates HAPPISPACE; an education services company specializing in out-of-school time (OST), mobile makerspaces, and curriculum development. During her participation in ED677 Shayla was also participating in an inquiry group with TAG (Teacher Action Group) Philly. Her work with other iTag educators focused on developing an African-American history curriculum. Since the focus on ED677 is to connect our work in class with work we are doing in the world, she submitted the website that she made as part of her final make that semester.

As an educator and an artist, Shayla actively integrates her making work (she is a jeweler; see HAPPIMADE) into the way she thinks about learning and education, always working to connect her networks, her interests, and available resources. During the recent panel discussion, she talked about how this supports her connecting her students to those things that they are interested in – a focus that she puts front and center to all of her teaching.

… when you are student focused, student centered, and you are connecting them to what they are interested in, they show up! They are interested, they are engaged  … they ask those questions [that] even you [as an educator] are taken back – Wow, I didn’t even think of that! … For me it’s always amazing. There hasn’t been a project that I haven’t done where allowing students to talk and explain where their interest is within their project where I’m not surprised by the end … I map out every single thing, I’m a super planner; I’ll have every scenario for every scenario, and then the student will still find that one thing that I hadn’t even thought of. And it’s amazing. It’s always about the students for me.

Helga Porter was also a participant in this same panel discussion. She is a math teacher and since her participation in ED677 in spring 2015, has become the S.T.E.M. liaison for her building, “encouraging teaching and learning with a social conscience for all” she writes. As an advocate for increasing S.T.E.M. in the classroom, she is an active member of the district’s Strategic Planning Committee with a specific focus on their transformative curriculum pathways work.

During the panel discussion, Helga talked about the ways that the schools she works with are using the framework of Connected Learning to describe and talk about the work they are doing. She describes the framework as helpful language that helps modernize what they were already striving for in the district. She also shared how projects they have started, such as a mobile makerspace cart for each school building, are becoming sustainable as they use them. After upfront costs, she explains, … students bring things in to add to it. “They’re realizing they don’t need money - they can do something with the materials they already have.”

Helga reflected on her experience in the program at Arcadia and described how its loose parameters really challenged her:

I tried to figure out what [the instructors] wanted. Then we realized [the looseness] was all by design - they’re evil people. We were supposed to learn this is what our students and colleagues are experiencing. We need to take risks, too. We’re not just facilitators. That was the aha moment for me. Learning about ourselves, learning to take risks, fall, fall forward, and recover.

“They were evil in how they did it, but we forgive you.” she added, looking with a smile at me and Meenoo Rami, the two instructors of the main connected learning courses at Arcadia. Several others concurred! (Oy.)

Kathy Walsh was another participant in this panel and also came to visit my class during the spring of 2017. She took ED677 with Helga that first “evil” spring semester, and during that time she set up this blog space and related maker-activities. Although she didn’t continue the blog itself past that one semester, she does continue to support her students in blogging and connecting to others in ways that allow them to create their own pathways forward. For example, this past semester she describes working working on a unit of study about chemical reactions where students blogged about their interests and research while Kathy worked to connect them to experts in the field.

Kathy is currently a teacher at Building 21 in Philadelphia and the founder of Youth Engineering and Science where she organizes summer youth STEM programming for youth. During a visit to ED677 this past semester she declared “Connected Learning, to me, is all about social justice.”

I work in a public high school in North Philadelphia and we do project-based learning and so one of the most important things is trying to find a way to make the work relevant for students and the best way to do it is to connect them to what really is going on in their community, in their future employment and future college and career pathways. So this is what I try to do in all my projects. … Becoming a connected learning [myself] has been essential because I can do it now. I have the tools.

While Lana Iskandarani, an Arabic language instructor at a local university, was in ED677 during the spring 2016 when she shared what she described as a small move in her classroom that had big consequences on a class she was teaching at the time:

When I assigned projects to my students last semester and the years prior, they were  individual pieces of work. I gave them some freedom to choose what they want to learn about, but not completely. There were some rules and constraints to follow in completing their work. Every student worked privately on their project and they had their own presentation in the classroom. The only audience for those pieces of work were my students and I. The students reflections were done orally after every presentation.

This semester, by implementing the connected learning principles and making small changes every week, I prepared my students to be more flexible with collaboration inside and outside the classroom. It became evident they were responsible and curious about the subjects at hands, more able to do their research, and more open to share their work with peers and other interested people out of the classroom. The final projects were examples of their improvement, and the  results came out phenomenal.

This idea of small changes, or “small moves” as we also referred to them and as per our core text Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, was very influential on Lana. And ultimately Lana’s experience and description of the ways she thought about these moves, was very influential on me. Lana has since described her work making Connected Learning framework a key piece of her curriculum project as she finishes her graduate work as well as a core part of her classroom and still references the ways that small changes can make a significant impact in her classroom, even with a fairly structured language learning context.

Tracey Dean is a high school Art teacher in the Radnor Township School District and also created a website as part of her final make in ED667 during this past spring 2017. This site focuses on the work created by students she works with and underscores Tracey’s frequent moniker “Art Matters.” In the recent panel discussion, she continued to emphasis this direction:  

Connected Learning needs to involve everyone. Our students did art in the halls so everyone could see. It initiated conversations. Bringing art out of the classroom. Art students shared their digital portfolios with teachers of other subjects, because sometimes teachers only know what their students are like in their single class.

I am really excited to see Tracey’s work unfold in the coming year. During this same panel discussion, she described a discovery over the last semester that has made her rethink how she wants to organize her classroom in the coming fall. Whereas previously she felt she was giving her students choice in their work, a value she expressed as critical to connected learning, the students shared that they didn’t feel that they had real choice in her class. After puzzling the disconnect for a bit in ED677, she then talked about the way she is moving towards setting up makerspace and stations in her classroom instead of doing whole class instruction followed by choice, which is how she had things previously organized.

The questions and tensions exist in this however, and Tracey talked about the ways that it can be really scary:

I guess my biggest fear with this whole thing and where it could go wrong, I am expected to present this work at District Art Month in in March. .. What’s the work going to look like? .. That’s where it’s terrifying to me about it. Also those conversations at home: ‘What are you learning? Oh, whatever we want – Ms. Dean is letting us chose this year.’ I don’t want them saying that at the dinner table! So those are the two things I’m going to have to figure out.

After a third semester of ED677, and the chance to have follow-up discussions with the educators above, my attention now turns to the ways that they can continue to take leadership in the Arcadia Connected Learning program as well as ways we can continue to network ourselves together to support this challenging but ultimately critical work. We are in this together.

Thank you to Robert, Shayla, Helga, Kathy, Lana and Tracey for sharing their work and learning. Wishing you all the best in your endeavors forward … and looking forward to learning more with you along the way.

New England Puppet Intensive 2015; Letter of Intent

I’m not sure exactly what it is about puppets and pageantry. I’m sure the Hensen it to blame, ultimately. But for me it really wasn’t when I was a kid - instead I was much older, finished college, living in a bohemian community around artists, wondering about the world and my role within it, when they fully took me in.

Bread and Puppet was an early influence as was Welfare State International in England. I was thrilled then when a friend of a friend, an Act Up activist and radical faerie organizer started to do large-scale cardboard street theater puppetry in my home town of Philadelphia in the mid to late-90s. His name was Matty Hart and he started to both organized puppetry shows while creating works in communities with others to parade down the streets. These efforts eventually became known as Spiral Q Puppet Theater. I was an eager and enthusiastic volunteer.

Sometimes I describe Spiral Q as a “school” that I went to even though it conferred no degrees and offered no traditional classes or credentials. This is because it was a place where I found an important home and a set of peers who became teachers/mentors as we figured out together how to create a pageant in a park that felt respectful of the people, space and the community creating, sharing, and shaping it. Peoplehood became the name of the annual pageant and I continued to volunteer, working mostly to create connections with educators and to learning. I eventually joined the board in 2002 and chaired for several years.

The threads of the Q still remain in my work even as I am not working with them in the same way anymore – the creation of spaces through participatory design and process, the peer-based learning and production-centered ways of thinking and communicating, keeping justice and creative joy at the core. These are elements that run through the work I do full-time at the National Writing Project, which itself is a network of peer-based network of educators supporting the development of shared knowledge through community practice. I currently lead our “Educator Innovator” work to reimagine teaching, through a focus on learning, in our increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world today.

I love my work mostly because it focuses on being a creator as a learner and not simply being a consumer. And it’s this same energy I’d like to bring to the New England Puppetry Intensive this summer.  I am interested in having the time away to focus creatively, through puppet making and puppet performance. I’d like to think about how the new designs and technologies that I have been tinkering with in my work informs the ways I might play and make with puppets (and visa versa), as well as extend the base of my learning in puppetry in general.

I consider myself very much a beginner. I say this because more than anything I have come to realize over time how complex and multimodal puppetry really is as an art-form, incorporating body, mind, voice, vision, heart and hand. I’m interested in embodied practice in general (in learning and literacy) and puppetry intrigues in this way. However, I also know that while making is fun for me, performance is still hard and sometimes even stressful. I am intrigued also by those things that challenge me and therefore I intend to bring my efforts around this aspect of puppet performance.

Thank you for your consideration. 

STEM, ED697, Socio-Scientific Issues in the Science Classrooms

Socio-scientific Issues are utilized in science education in order to promote scientific literacy, which emphasizes the ability to apply scientific and moral reasoning to real-world situations.  Research studies have shown SSI to be effective at increasing students’ understanding of science in various contexts.

Below, you will find a link to my Google Document that I created, incorporating SSI and debate/research into a current lesson in the fourth grade curriculum.  Enjoy!



Annotation and Connecting Our Learning


This is my third year of teaching ED677 at Arcadia University, a course titled “Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching.” There always so much to record, document and share along the way. Always true in the dynamics of teaching; always challenging to accurately capture.

Let me start with some thoughts about the power of annotation so far this semester.

Over the years, I have been learning from educators I work with about the power of annotation and new tools that support online annotation/social reading. These tools have included Google, Vialogues, Now Comment, Soundcloud, Genius and Hypothes.is. I have dabbled here and there, jumping into conversations that have been organized or creating a new thread in one of the various tools or forums myself. I’ve also been fascinated by the power of annotation historically and across disciplines, worked with Hypothes.is on projects like Letters to the Next President 2.0, and am interested in the power of projects like Climate Feedback to support scientific accuracy and reporting.

It wasn’t until this semester though that I focused on the ways that participants in ED677 were encouraged to annotate – and the results, so far, have been noticeable and encouraging.

I started this process really during the first week when I asked the participants in my course, who are both inservice and pre-service teachers, to use the commenting feature of Google docs to highlight things they noticed and that raised questions for them on the ED677 Spring 2017 syllabus. Publicly visible, the comments show me where the group’s interests and questions are within the framework that I have created for the semester. I have also found that reviewing the syllabus carefully like this created a shared understanding of ED677 that, previously, has required many individual conversations to support as the semester got started. The structure of ED677 is fairly different than other courses and requires the individual participants to set their own timing and priorities and therefore it is important that everyone reads and understands the goals and resources of the course right at the beginning.

The next step we took with annotation came during our second week together. After we get oriented to the course and introduce ourselves to each other, I encourage us in week 2 to move into thinking about the larger context of this course, ie. the rapidly changing technological landscape in which we are thinking about learning together. In the past I asked everyone to engage in recent work by John Seely Brown and the authors of the Connected Learning Design and Research Agenda while also reading the first chapter of School and Society by John Dewey, a publication of lectures he gave at the turn of the 20th century.

In the past, the Dewey piece has got short shrift from participants in my class and I kept wondering about it – maybe it was less interesting or relevant than I think it is when I read it. So I read it again. No, I decided – this article, despite a few archaic words and gendered descriptions, is still interesting and relevant today, 100+ years later. And JSB, in his 2012 keynote, directly challenges us to tackle Dewey’s ideas in the context of flowing on the tides of change today. So I decided to try something new this time around, and I turned to my colleagues Joe Dillon and Remi Kalir who were working on a fascinating project called Marginal Syllabus and asked them if we, as ED677, could join in.

Why “marginal”? The creators explain:

  • our conversations will engage authors and their texts, topics, and perspectives that may be considered marginal to dominant conventions of schooling and education.
  • conversations associated with The Marginal Syllabus will occur in the margins of online texts through practices of open web annotation.

They then write that “The Marginal Syllabus is collaborative and emergent attempt to create a new sociotechnical genre of educator professional development in which authors and readers, the practices of amplified marginalia, and learning technologies begin (re)marking on equity and education.”

Perfect, I thought. Here at ED677, we are all about new sociotechnical genres to support equity in learning and teaching, so I decided to barge my way in. And not only were Joe and Remi welcoming, they seemed excited and promptly made a space for Dewey’s 1907 text and created an annotation “flash mob” event to support us during that week. Amazing. Going back to ED677 then, my only job then was to invite the class. I did so by introducing them to the project, adding related scaffolding between the texts and supportive approaches (for those who might be new to this or nervous about doing the work publicly), and an opening annotation of my own, which read:

In 2012 I heard John Seely Brown give a keynote at the DML Conference where he said that “perhaps John Dewey (and Marie Montessori) were 75 years ahead of their time” when driving models of education that brought the learner into the flow of what they were learning. Maybe, he posits, “their intuition was right but their toolset was wrong." See: http://dmlcentral.net/the-global-one-room-schoolhouse-john-seely-brown/

I was so excited by this thought and have been wondering it ever since. So how might we do what JSB does in his speech and recast some of John Dewey’s work here from 1907 in today’s networked age?

The results of this experiences, and the differences in the ways we engaged with this older text, were significant. Not only did almost all of ED677 participate and contribute their significant knowledge as teachers and learners into the mix, but their reflections that week posted to their own blogs were filled with connections they made between Dewey’s work, John Seely Brown’s, and the research report/agenda for Connected Learning. They also quickly made important connections between to their own work and with their classmates through their shared blog posts. Eric, a graduate student in education aspiring to teach math, wrote “I feel like a conspiracy theorist… I’m finding connections everywhere!”

I should mention that ED677 is an entirely online course taught in the open, meaning that all of the activities and readings we engage in, and our writing and reflections about this work, are posted to our own blogs which are then aggregated together at our shared blog (Domain of One’s Own inspired). While we meet via video every other week, I have found that it always takes time to develop a sense of ourselves as a community and that this sense develops as our comfort with being a community of educational bloggers begins to grow. What I think I am noticing this time around, however, is that this kind of online social reading activity seems to have been a significant jump-start to that sense of belonging to a community, both within the course and beyond it. And since the goal of this course is to be connected learners ourselves, as educators, in order to support equitable access to connected learning and teaching with the youth we work with, this jump-start could have significant implications.

This week we are diving back into annotation as a way to explore the idea of “wobble” as in Pose/Wobble/Flow, and thinking about that idea within communities of other connected educators. I look forward to seeing where this all brings us.