Confusion Over Times and Rotations
Once of our assignments this week was to utilize an online collaboration tool called VoiceThread. We were free to choose any need, problem, or situation we are confronted with in our school or classroom. Our school changed its starting time to an hour earlier, and then implemented a rotating block schedule. These two changes far outweigh other issues, and cause me confusion and drive me to inconsistency in my classroom. If you have been in a rotating schedule, please take a look at my VoiceThread, and make comments, suggestions, or just add a sympathetic note. Every little bit helps!
The link to the VoiceThread is: http://voicethread.com/share/2293544/
Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice
Cooperative learning has always been a powerful tool. In our school, we all have posters hanging up that speak of the WICR learning methods. W is for Writing, I is for Inquiry, R is for Reading, and C is for Collaboration. We know how powerful students helping students can be, whether it is learning in an academic classroom, or on the blacktop at recess. Although we all feel like we a good teachers, a peer perspective can be an important breakthrough teaching method.
Connectivism as a learning theory, explained and broken down by George Seimens, has three key roles. These roles are explaining how learning occurs, allowing creation of future models of learning, and helping to make sense of the present world (Laureate, 2011b). Together with Michael Orey’s definition of constructivism as social interaction while constructing (Laureate, 2011a), the practice of learning in a social environment can be powerful if done correctly. This is the challenge we face as educators in the implementation of a social classroom.
Orey also goes on to address the needs of the social classroom environment, breaking the material into three groups. The teacher needs to be sensitive and aware of what the child already knows, what they are able to learn at this moment, and what the student in unable to learn at this moment. Orey refers to these are the Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD). In order to achieve learning, he suggests that the highest layer can only be achieved by having a More Knowledgeable Other, or MKO, in the setting. This MKO can be the teacher, a peer, a parent, or even a resource like a computer. This MKO can assist the student to reach the higher levels.
In order for social classrooms to be effective, there are four recommendations from the text Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). It is recommended to use a variety of criteria to group students, using informal, formal, and base groups, keeping the groups to a manageable size, and combining cooperative learning with other classroom structures. While the text makes these generalized recommendations, it does not go into specifics of the criteria; for instance, what is considered a manageable size of each group? Will two students be sufficient, or are more required in order to have an MKO within the group? While I can appreciate that the text implies the teacher, who knows the classroom best, should be the one responsible for the groupings, having a theoretical example would have been helpful. There are two old sayings, first that there is strength in numbers, and the second of too many cooks spoiling the soup. Finding strength, while not spoiling the soup, is the challenge.
An additional challenge is finding the correct mix to optimize the collaboration or social learning. The mix of students, their abilities, group sizes, and numerous other variables into appropriate groups is the most daunting challenge of this social constructivism. I personally believe that middle school students should be challenged to interact with each other, breaking the elementary school “boys and girls” groupings that occur if the students are allowed to choose their own groups. In my class I use “buddy sticks”, which are nothing more than tongue depressors with a color, a college name, a number, and a shape on each one. The students can either choose or are given a buddy stick, and then I choose how the pairings occur, either by color, by college, or by shape. This way the students are not able to discreetly swap sticks so they get the same color as their friend. The students, knowing that the selection is random, do not complain about their pairings. I can also double up the pairs into groups of four, which is the largest grouping I use.
Figure 1 - Buddy Sticks. Notice that the pairings change so that the students cannot swap sticks to be with their friends. The choice for colors, colleges, numbers, or symbol pairs makes the possible combinations numerous compared to just colors.
Once the groupings are completed and the students have relocated into their groups, cooperative learning can occur. Some instructional strategies work well in groups, particularly those activities that cannot be done by individuals. These include jigsaw and pair share. What I have seen is the power of groups when applied to those activities that we traditionally think of as individual, like homework, know-want-learn, and taking notes. In these cases, the MKO can act like a mentor or a director, keeping the group focused by assisting and facilitating the activity. Not only is this powerful from a resources standpoint, because we are only one person with 24 hours in our day, but it can also be powerful from a teaching standpoint. The MKO may re-teach the material from a unique perspective, allowing the learner to grasp the knowledge in a slightly different form than what the teacher originally intended. When this occurs, the brave teacher (and I consider myself brave) will allow the MKO to show their new perspective to the entire class. Each time this has happened, and it happens often in my class, there are additional students who now understand the material. A teacher who may be insecure will not allow control to be relinquished; however, those who cede their control momentarily are rewarded with a true learning moment.
Integrating technology and social learning simultaneously is a synergistic relationship. The diversity of the students’ technology knowledge is a wide range. When paired or grouped appropriately, the result of students assisting others becomes very powerful. The MKO student feels empowered, and the learning student does not feel belittled. Both take on a positive role, and both benefit from the grouping. The text also recommends that a project be implemented in order to best use technology in a social constructivist classroom. The projects include webquests, movies, creating websites, and reaching out beyond the classrooms. Within webquests, for example, the students bring on their wishes to see different locations, views, and what is important to them. When they share these ideas and directions, their views of the knowledge are expanded, and the connections are made by the students. Although the connections made may seem illogical to a teacher, the students, and their peers, may find the connections absolutely rational.
All the groupings are their activities are in alignment with the ideas behind connectivism. Siemens states that education is like a weather system; complex but not complicated. There are so many factors, so much material with abundant information that the amount of knowledge is not the issue, but how the new knowledge gets connected, i.e. networked, to existing knowledge. If connectivism facilitates the networking of new knowledge, then groups, which add a new vision, technique, perspective, or other method to establish the connection, are vital.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.