Sunday, August 14, 2011

How Ready Are You for the Connected Child at Your School? In the Classroom?

During the next few weeks, millions of students will return to school. In this post I want to provide a quick glimpse into the at-home world of a connected child in order to ask how teachers and adminsitrators have gotten ready to teach this type of learner. What pedagogical, content, and policy changes are you making at the classroom, school, and district levels to accommodate the connected child?

For the connected child, the world is no longer defined by local geography alone. Instead, the connected child interacts with others from across the globe. For example, one 'news source' of the London riots in our home were three children my son skypes with daily from London who shared impressions they had while living in the city and listening to and learning from their families, friends and through direct observations. These first person accounts occurred as a result of sustained online relationships. How will teachers and administrators continue these relationships at school? Is there a mechanism, a process put into play that even seeks to find out how the connected child interacts in the world? Will school boards permit children, not just high school teenagers, to be connected at school to others they may not at first know? How will you help the connected child to not experience a forced claustrophobia of the 20th century classroom?

For the connected child digital use is on demand, not in a lab or when some more powerful other says it's okay to use technology. Outfitted with a smartphone, s/he thinks through that phone, problem solves, plays, communicates through a variety of forms, and interacts with others. How will smartphone technologies and other Internet-ready devices be employed at your school and in your district? The biggest question: who will control the use of these devices? The connected child has and/or is learning how to responsibly use technology at home. How will this learning be augmented at school?

The connected child has learned to problem solve via peer to peer relationships and online resources. Sharing gaming spaces via multiple player games, the connected child frames and negotiates problems alongside others, sharing control of screens, supporting the world building of self and other, and situating problem solving not in a pass-fail framework more typically found in the testing culture of schools. One doesn't 'fail' in gaming worlds in the same deterministic manner one fails at school. In gaming worlds, 'failing' is a viable option that leads forward. It is not an end. For example, my son asked one of his coplayers to 'kill' him because he needed to be respawned in order to be in better health to enter a cave and engage monsters. He explained that had he entered the cave with the quality of health he had at that moment in the game, he would not have been able to defeat the monsters. Failing in the gaming world may be a strategic step. There's often little to no 'respawning' in the classroom where the plethora of teacher generated quizzes, checks, and tests are one way roads built on the belief that the learner must be able to show what s/he knows at the moment. I have even heard teachers and administrator explain that it would be 'unfair' to allow students the occasion to retake assessments. Further tests and testing environments are to a large degree self determined. Trial and error are an expected method for the connected child. How do you reconcile the connected child who thinks strategically with the monologic classroom?

Further, the connected child uses online resources to solve problems and build important requisite knowledge. Whereas I may still need to remember to use Yelp as opposed to waiting to find a phonebook, my son's reference-finding process has largely been online and he gravitates first to solving problems using online sources, such as YouTube, apps, or skype. It is not unusual on a car trip to hear my son say, "I can skype with X and let you know." How will you facilitate this type of learner in the classroom and the school? How will you react when there is a skype signal for an incoming connection?


The connected child is one who learns via passions. Affinity spaces represent passionate learning spaces of a child, connected or not. According to Wikipedia:

An affinity space is a place where informal learning takes place. According to James Paul Gee, affinity spaces are locations (physical or virtual) where groups of people are drawn together because they share a particular common, strong interest or are engaged in a common activity.[1] Often but not always occurring online, affinity spaces encourage the sharing knowledge or participating in a specific area, but informal learning is another outcome.

The connected child participates in affinity spaces as a regular and reoccurring practice. passionate affinity spaces differ from traditional schooling in some very important ways. According to Gee (2011):

1. People chose to associate with passionate affinity spaces. They can achieve expert status regardless of credentials, age, role, race, gender, ethnicity, sociology-economic status.
2. Usually at least 20% of the people will have a deep passion, not just a passing interest in the learning being composed int he affinity space.
3. People can produce (knowledge, create things, do things), not only consume, in these spaces.
4. People sometimes lead, sometimes follow.
5. Knowledge is distributed: different people know different things and can share their knowledge as they need, when they need.
6. Affinity spaces are open, newcomers are welcome to join at will, not just at prescribed times.
7. Affinity spaces are about people sharing a common endeavor and learning things.

There is deep learning that happens in passionate affinity spaces, not just surface know-how. As a result, the connected child is experienced with learning deeply via sustained playing/participation. For example, as the child of two English teachers we have wanted our son to appreciate and practice accuracy and precision in published work. We have watched as he has learned that accuracy matters as he writes code associated with gaming. "One small error and it won't run," he tells us. "It has to be accurate." Another friend of his has said he is learning about multiplication via the buildings and worlds he is designing and creating. This connected child knows when his designs work--when he has gotten the math right. How will the classroom, school, and district facilitate such choice and depth and inspire precision, accuracy, and self reflection? How will you reconcile the disconnect between mandated standards and passion-based learning?

The connected child is engaged in solving world problems. For example, my son recently asked me to to take a look at something he had designed and built in Minecraft. He showed me a building he designed that rebuilds itself when damaged and a bridge that also is self- repairing. He designed these in order to safeguard his world from those who might want to blow up one of more of his buildings. Through play though he was also to make a connection to social need not located in a game, but in life. My son tells me his designs would be much more complicated in actual life but could be a big help with urban renewal and places where there is war. If I can put all the electric work beneath ground then it could help the poor, he tells me. They wouldn't be dependent on others. They could have places to live that were reliable, self-repairing. In what ways will the connected child's classroom based learning allow him/her to solve real world problems in age appropriate manners?

The connected child expects to communicate with others s/he knows and has yet to meet. After watching hours and hours of video, my son decided to make his own videos about specific aspects of gaming. This is not unique as many others are doing similar self initiated work. This work though requires the learner to know how to make the film using software and or an app, format the film, and upload it to a site where it can be seen. Equally important are all the decisions about what content and processes will be delineated in the film.

The connected child expects to pull an audience, not simply perform in front of a ready made one, such as classmates. I have seen my son advertised his server on Planet Minecraft and Minecraft Forum in order to pull audiences in. He wants other Minecraft players to select his server to play. He thinks about ways to upgrade and manage his server.

At home my husband and I have been wondering about the often 'smallness' of school based learning and the more worldly experience our child enjoys via his connection to others. We wonder if his teachers and principal even are aware of such learning. We wonder how they have been preparing themselves for the connected child and 'readying' the school of the last century for the child of this century. We wonder if the rather rote and increasingly dull exercises that have framed our son's school based learning to date will drive him from a place we know as school as he ages and how we will support such leaving. We worry that the benefits of school will be lost, obfuscated beneath the narrowness of test-based curricula, national standards, and the lost of teacher autonomy.

Instead of issuing readiness tests to students to see if they are 'ready' for school, I wonder if we don't need to test ourselves and see how ready we are for the students.

3 comments:

  1. This is a very thought provoking post for both teachers and parents. I too share your concerns about how my connected child who learns with and from other children via Skype, youtube, twitter and other online resources will function in a traditional classroom. How am I going to have to support him when his in school learning seems much less authentic? As a teacher, his connected learning has made me take a step back and wonder how I will ever meet the needs of that connected learner in my classroom.

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  2. While writing it I too began t think about how ready I am making schools where I work ready for the connected child. This has led me to propose a pilot with a few elementary teachers.

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  3. reminds me of the collaborative groups we've pushed so strongly for several years now in school. (operative word - pushed) each person has a distinct role. you change groups up every so often. rarely does the learner choose the group. rarely do they choose their role. rarely does the group choose the topic. at best, they choose per a selected set of topics. pushing for collaboration.

    reminds of Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken. kids crave hard work, yet, even if their choices have been challenging, many haven't been challenges from within, founded upon their curiosities/experiences. and many of their suggested/given problems can be solved by a single player, as often witnessed by the disdain of the "smart one" in the group who got stuck with all the work.

    as you describe.. and Gee in affinity groups... this is a new game. or perhaps a new game for more. now - the group gathering, who's in a room per se, is per choice. the topic, per passion/interest/curiosity/experience. the workings may appear the same.. but where the learning is founded, within the interest of the learner, completely changes the game. now we have more kids playing/learning wicked problems, problems they can't do by themselves. problems per choice. problems seen by the learner as legit. there is an allure here, a pull. no longer a push. if we can but just get out of the way.. provide more of these spaces of permission... can't imagine what could be done in the name of - a better world.

    ah - so good to be reading your stuff again. we have to meet up so you can catch me up...

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