Connections-Based Learning

Connections-Base Learning is a book written by a friend of mine, Sean Robinson from BC, Canada. To me, it is something much deeper than the title of a book, but rather a description of our experience together that seems to have come full circle.

A few years ago, Sean and I used SKYPE to connect our students from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. We showed them how to solder and sent them a little starter kit so that they could make a copy of the Colorado Lantern (www.e-b.io). It was a great success, but we soon moved on to other projects and students lost touch with each other. I don’t think either of us knew how important this SKYPE woudl become.

He and I would touch base every once in a while, but never had a chance to really catch up. I was so excited when he won the BC teacher of the year award and there was one of our lights in his video. I was even more excited to find out that there were only two Canadian Teachers who made it to the top 50 Finalists in the Global Teacher Prize by the Varkey Foundation and that it was the two of us! We would both be going to Dubai to represent Canada! How wonderful!

There was something symbolic about us getting up in the early morning before the rest of the VTA’s to go to the top to the world on the 125th floor of the Burj Kalife tower in Dubai. As we travelled, we found out that there were so many connections between us. We both had twins that were premature and now doing fine. We have both been involved with book writing. His is actually published, my book with David Whyley is still in progress, but the two books that I contributed to with Armand Doucet are doing very well. However, perhaps most importantly, we both had a desire to connect our students to each other and to the world in meaningful ways. He even wrote a whole book about it, which I had not yet read.

A better wordsmith than I would come up with some kind of metaphor for the two of us together on the highest man-made structure in the world looking far into the horizon contemplating what got us, both as individuals and as humanity, to this point and where it migth take us. The technology enhanced scopes at the top of the tower allowed us to see what Dubai looks like now, at night and into the past. We talked about how our grandfathers could never have imagined our current world. We pondered how we could prepare our current students for a future world that we cannot equally imagine. What a great feeling and perspective going into the Global Teacher Prize and GESF summit.

Through out the remainder of the GTP/GESF, I was happy to bump into Sean as a long lost friend and reconnect quickly about the days event. it was so busy and exciting that I did not get a chance to read his book that he geneoursly gave to me and signed for me.

Those of you who know me, know how slowly I read. So it was a big surprise to even me, when I started reading Sean’s Connections Based Learning book in almost one sitting. I started on the plane leaving Dubai and finished before landing in Moncton. I was entranced. I loved how he wrote, talking about his students and projects in a personal and practical way and combined it with theory that helps students connect, collaborate and cultivate.

When he told me that Engineering Brightness Canada (now CurrentGeneration.org) was in the book, I expected a sentence and maybe a name drop. Little did I know that Engineering Brightness would show up in some depth and detail in almost every chapter through out the book. I did not know that small interaction began something special. I was so proud to play a small part in what is now their own international movement. They have also looked at making solar charged tablets and are partnering with a solar panel organization. The connections continue, because their partner is also our partner. Tony at Voltaic Systems managed to be connected to both of us- independently. I am so happy that Sean took something small, and made it his own project which has now seen lights in the Dominican and Uganda. More students in Canada are having an evolved Transdisciplinary educational experience and more people living in light poverty have access to clean light. Teachers and students learning through Connections.

CBC interviews RHS Science Students Re Concussion Helmet

Today, RHS students were interviewed by CBC Radio. The students were super excited and nervous. All of a sudden, physics students need to be able to communicate in an authentic way.

Every year, physics students do engineering projects. I encourage students to follow something that is important to them and push an engineering flavor to the project. Three students decided to attack concussion from Sports. All three students play high contact sports and one was student had already been concussed this semester.

After a hit on the field, an athlete may not be aware of the severity of the hit, or may not want to look weak and not come off the field. They are susceptible to serious secondary injuries.

Students placed a Microbit with an accelerometer in a helmet which communicates with a hand held receiver for the coaches and referees keep track of the health of the players.

This is a great example of transdisciplinary projects, where competencies like communication, collaboration and creativity are intertwined with physics and engineering.

TOP 50 for the Global Teacher Prize by Varkey Foundation

It has been a surreal semester, a surreal month and a surreal week. Engineering Brightness has been most fortunate to win a number of awards, but this week, it was my cumulative work that short listed me in the top 50 of the Global Teacher Prize by the Varkey Foundation.

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There are so many cool connections.

Another fantastic teacher with whom I have worked in the past, Sean Robinson from BC, is the other GTP top 50 from Canada. Back a while ago, we sent his class an Engineering Brightness starter kit. They have been doing some cool things for a long time and continue to do cool things. He is heading to Uganda with some solar technology. It seems we have been on parallel paths for a long time and I am excited about this intersection.

At the Microsoft Global E2 event in Toronto, as a fellow, I was given a fantastic team of freshly minted MIEExperts. They ideated and UX prototyped a new Microsoft technology that eventually won at the Global competition. From that group, my Turkish advisee recently won the Teacher of the Year for Turkey. From the same group, my Vietnamese advisee recently won the teacher of the year for Vietnam and now is also part of this class of GTP top 50. Clearly, they were awesome for a long time, and I feel so privileged to cross their path earlier. I am looking forward to seeing her again in Dubai.

As you read the bios of the GTP top 50, there are so many connections to Microsoft. I wonder what that means?

This post needs so serious work, but my mind is still racing and hard to focus. I’ll have to find some time to come back to this later when my mind clears up.

I am so excited about this. In addition to my own efforts, there is a whole village who have invested and guided me, from my dad, to my wrestling coaches, to my principals to the teachers down the hall and the educator experts from SMART, Microsoft and Nureva.  This deserves its own blog by itself once I can wrap my brain around it.

Engineering Brightness top 10 Sustainability Projects in World by Hundred


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Engineering Brightness (www.e-b.io) is spotlighted at the HundrED Sustainability Summit as one of the top 10 Projects in the world for Sustainability in Education at the Muse School in California. What a privilege to be in the same class as the Green School in Bali and Eco Schools who are in 86 countries.

Reused sign at Muse

The MUSE school in Calabasas California is a model school for sustainability. They have pondered every aspect of the school to make sure that their walking their talk. They have reused some of the planks from the old cabins to make a fence, old windows to make beautiful signs at the entrance, fantastic solar panels shaped like sun flowers that provide the kitchen with 100% of the electrical needs.

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The students are feed one meal a day, and it is 100% Plant based. Their chef is pretty fantastic. The meals were amazing! I was full and I lost 2 pounds during the 4 days I was there.

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The students are very involved with the running of the school. There are no custodians, the teachers and students pick up after themselves and are responsible for taking care of their own space. The students each do a rotation in the kitchen, learning to cook sustainably.

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It Is kind of cool that someone like the wife of James Cameron, with all that privilege is willing to use her time and money to conduct a positive educational experiment. What is possible? Now that they are showing success, they are starting to make inroads into the public school system, which is a slower boat to turn.

E-B and Saku at MUSE Hundred

Natalie Day and Saku introduced the findings of the HundrED search for innovative projects around the world. They talked about how the innovation was not enough. The innovation had to be going in the right direction and be scalable. Both commented on how much they liked the Engineering Brightness because it was so well thought out, and simple, yet made a tangible impact and could be scaled to any school anywhere in the world.

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NPDL visits RHSScience 12

After a fantastic Day 1 at eth Anglophone East NPDL Regional Summit, I am splitting pizza, veal, and the tallest cheeze cake with Michael Fullan, at a table with Meg and Joanne from NPDL and District Office people like Pam and Gregg. It was a bit surreal for a classroom teacher to be in this situation. #very exciting.

The excitement skyrocketed when I found out that the next day, Joanne Quinn would be visiting our school and my classroom. She travels around the world looking at wonderful examples of Deeper Learning for a living and now she will be seeing my class in action. Further more, it won’t be me in the classroom running things, but rather my student teacher. I have been talking about Competencies long before we heard of 21st Century Learning and before the formation of NPDL. In fact, I created the first SMART Collaborative Classroom so that students could leverage the interactive surfaces to instigate communication, collaboration and critical thinking in group work. Now THE Joanne Quinn will be coming to see it first hand.

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When she walks in the room, students had already spent 2 days designing and conducting a lab on Newton’s 2nd Law and were now gathered around SMARTBoards in groups of 3 or 4 co-writing. There were lots of conversations between students about punctuation, voice, organization, interpreting graphs and understanding the science. When asked, students talked about how using the SMARTBoards forced students to focus on the same portion of the lab report at the same time, which caused conversations that are vastly different than when students divide and conquer in isolation.

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At the end of the class, I asked Joanne what she thought. I was taken a little bit aback by her comment. “You have not incorporated the competencies in any way like we had planned”.  I did not know at first that this was a compliment. She talked about how they started NPDL to help teachers embed the development of Competencies in their classrooms and it was particularly difficult to find great examples at the high school level. “I have nothing for you”, she says. Apparently, I was natural. She did not see the decade of thought and experimentation that preceded her visit.  The technology was leveraged perfectly to develop communication. “You are so much further ahead of what we have seen at high school level around the world”. Outside, I think I said something like, “thank you, you are most generous.” Inside, it was one of the best feelings I have had in a long time. Validation that the hard work on this weird idea has legs.

“A visit to the Collaborative Physics Classroom is glimpse into what learning for the 21st century should be- students highly engaged in authentic real life tasks where they can be creative, collaborative and unique. Students demonstrate a strong grasp of the foundational skills and concepts but most importantly are applying them in ways that will impact their world locally and globally.” -Joanne Quinn, Global Director, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL).