Connected learning is a call to care

MESA Maker Bot

MESA Maker Bot

For me, yesterday was one of those vital days that pop up from time to time and buoy the challenging, but potentially transformative, work-and play-of teaching and learning.

I started the day facilitating an introductory Scratch session for novice secondary users attending our division’s inaugural K-12 ed tech camp, part of our broader (and increasingly popular) coder dojo initiative. Fantastic colleagues facilitated other groups in other rooms, and so by the end of the morning session our kids were able to visit one another and see what each student made. I was floored by several projects and learned how to use variable in Scrath from one of the kids next door, a veteran C++ programmer, who tried to shake me loose of my nascent love of HTML 5, CCS, and javascript.

Several parents also participated in the camp-there was a lot of community building and co-learning going on between kids and adults. I loved it. Our division’s Math, Engineering & Science Academy (MESA) hosted the event. I got a lot of inspiration from the design of the place (in some spots it looked like a start-up incubator), as well as from some of the projects on display. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to return later this week to facilitate more sessions.

MESA DIY watermelon guitar

MESA DIY watermelon guitar

I left camp early to participate in a connected learning hangout about hacker literacies and the work-both digital and material-that Rafi Santo and other participants are doing with youth, critical practice, and participatory media. The hour flew by; I could have listened to the hangout participants all day.

Before yesterday’s work, play, and conversation, I really didn’t know what to make of Connected Educator Month. I completely appreciate connected learning and the attention and support it gets from organizations like DML, Mozilla, the National Writing Project and the MacArthur Foundation. I completely appreciate what social media has done for my learning and work. I completely appreciate inviting people into learning networks that might seem invisible, closed, or even hostile to those apart from them. And I completely appreciate Chris Lehmann and Douglas Ruskoff keynotes, as well as any Digital Is open house. I am a fan of both the National Education Technology Plan and its steward, Karen Cator.

However, I struggle with reconciling my experience with social media (highly idiosyncratic and people-driven) with any kind of formal learning, even learning as broadly and warmly envisaged as Connected Educator Month. I wonder about Kevin Hodgson’s question: has the department of education cooped our learning spaces?

In that Connected Educator Month creates more connections between people, and in that Connected Educator Month makes connected learning a more transparent practice, I am happy to remain a skeptic. Compared to other things coming out of the DOE under the Obama administration, Connected Educator Month seems almost redemptive-at least until the nature and quality of its work is compared to what teachers and students are expected to do in our test-driven classrooms.

But what I really want to say is that none of that has to matter.

Yesterday reminded me that there is no crusade to fight; no enemy to conquer; no war to win. There are decisions and sacrifices to be made-and there are gross inequities to be remedied-but the genius of connected learning, and perhaps of Connected Educator Month, is in the connections we make with one another that help us see that we may very well be where we need to be, that we can do the work with our kids that should be done, and that we can get the help we and our kids need to learn through authentic participation with the world and people around us.

This isn’t a call to arms.

It’s a call to care enough to make our time together matter more than it does now and to use the technologies and people available to us to help, learn, and hopefully, one day soon, heal some of the damage we’ve done in our headlong rush to sort, separate, consequence, and consumer-ize our kids.

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