Create+Post+Share=Learn?

When I was a child, communication was so much different compared to communication opportunities young people have access to today. I remember a dial-type stationary phone at home. I used it to call my friend and invite her to go outside to play. It was a success if I could find her at home at that moment… Another available communication tool was mail. I had some penpals living in other towns and every month I used to send them mails to tell how I am doing and exchange stamps with them in order to fill each others’ collections. All of the other forms of communication were face to face.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Now students are using online chats, video calls, and sometimes emails. Emails aren’t that popular in our school in youth circles. Social media came to my life only when I was 16 and it didn’t really seem to me that I could learn something useful using it. Years have passed and my opinion of the ways in which we can use social media has drastically changed. Few years ago I discovered Twitter to be a great tool for gathering and sharing information with other educators all over the world. The entire world of educational contacts, as well as resources, has opened up to me. This twitter experience made me seek for more and find new educational resources shared by groups of educators via Facebook: EdTechTeam Global Community, Seesaw Tech Integrationists, Seesaw Ambassadors, Teachers Using Google Suite For Education, Technology Teacher Talk With Brittany Washburn, Facebook Group Teach With Tech. Now I am successfully using these and many other resources found on social media for my professional development.

New trends in education are approaching us online every day. As I’ve already mentioned in my other COETAIL blog post, # is a really helpful character in this process. It allows me to search for appropriate content sorted out by specific keywords. For example #earthday or #coetail, etc. allows me to find all topic related posts shared by other people on social media. It is a real treasure for an educator if you know how to use it 🙂

Before the beginning of my COETAIL journey, my opinion about social media was completely different. My students are up to 10 years old and I can’t really use social media tools with my students – they are too young for it. However, I realized that there are ways to utilize special/closed social media platforms or communities created for specific purposes, such as Seesaw, Google Classroom, Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Sites, Blogger, etc. Such online tools might work as an affinity space for small groups of students where students can share their learning experience, help classmates to learn, and even come up with new solutions and trends. Learning model based on communication might be an introduction to participatory culture for younger students. Students can build a basic understanding of proper communication online and see the value of sharing ideas with other people as well as working towards the same goal in groups. Unfortunately, sometimes teachers are still asking to disable chats on some learning platforms – I don’t see many reasons to do that. How will students learn proper communication online if they don’t practice it?

“…participatory cultures represent ideal learning environments. Gee (2004) calls such informal learning cultures “affinity spaces,” asking why people learn more, participate more actively, engage more deeply with popular culture than they do with the contents of their textbooks.” Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there. Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids (NYTimes)

Since many students, especially older ones, already have some social media skills and are using it quite actively, I think it can also be a great place for learning. Especially, having in mind all of those stories of success of young people building their own learning and sharing environment and, as a result, coming up with some successful business ideas.

Ashley Richardson (Jenkins, 2004b) was a middle-schooler when she ran for president of Alphaville. She wanted to control a government that had more than 100 volunteer workers and that made policies that affected thousands of people. She debated her opponent on NationalPublic Radio. She found herself in the center of a debate about the nature of citizenship, about how to ensure honest elections, and about the future of democracy in a digital age. Alphaville is the largest city in the popular multiplayer game, The Sims Online. (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Learning something new. A new exciting journey reaching for success.

It might be frustrating

Learning something new is one of the best ways to get to the point of real happiness. The learning process changes us and the way we see the world. Moreover, learning new things physically changes our brains.

My First Prussian Ceramics pot

I’ve experienced these effects myself when I started learning… pottery. I did have some knowledge of working with clay, but it wasn’t enough, because I was lacking necessary practical skills. I felt that this was a real push out of my comfort zone. However, I was lucky because I had a chance to participate in the pottery camp, where I could make connections with peer students and professional teachers, which allowed me to learn from all of them and… feel more confident about my own little successes. On the other hand, while at the camp I didn’t have to make my own research on Prussian ceramics – my teachers did it for me and taught me about it. However, later on, I realized that in order to continue improving my pottery skills, I need to do my own research online.
At the ceramics camp, all of my teachers who were masters of ancient pottery were also very different personalities. One of them taught me how to work slowly and patiently, another was giving me recommendations on how to develop my motor skills better and work faster, and the third teacher advised me to feel the clay and its plasticity and always think of it as if it was alive. All of the advice led me to success after all. However, according to Ramit Sethi How to Acquire Any New Skill in 20 Hours or Less article learning a new skill usually is frustrating and it happened to me as well. It would sometimes take me three days to finish a piece of pottery that would require just 3-5 hours of work because of unavoidable moments of frustration which naturally appears during the learning experience. This experience made me comprehend how my students feel while learning something new.

Messing around and research

Messing around is an important part of the learning process. According to the researchers (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning | November 2008) “When messing around young people begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding.” Messing around purposefully leads the learner to specific research about the learning object. It is mostly a self-directed process that leads to searching for information of interest online. It also includes social moments – people (accidentally or on purpose) exchange and discuss relevant information which is a great way of learning something new. Messing around definitely brings meaningful results/impact on the learning of young people.

Connected Learning

Young people today have the world at their fingertips in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago.” (Digital Media and Learning Research Hub)
That’s why these days young people have more potential than ever before for learning online and connecting with other learners or even experts. Young people get this process naturally, without any fear. Actually, we, teachers, also could learn this ability from our students.
In the article Learning that Connects by Ph.D. Mimi Ito, emphasizes the importance of the role of educational institutions that need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, communities, interests, and careers.
“It’s critical that we leverage new technology to build stronger connections between our educational institutions and the world at large. Educational institutions need to connect young people’s learning to their social lives, their communities, their interests and their careers.”

My goal is to learn something NEW

Messing around looking for what new skill I might want to learn brought me to a great finding – an amazing article from Online Course report about 30 most lucrative skills you can learn online. It contains mostly free online resources helping you develop a skill of your choice and many of you might find it useful.

While thinking about the new skill I am going to learn, I am purposefully using my digital research skills to find ideas of what that skill could be and how could I develop it quickly. Since I am teaching my lower school students programming basics (block-based visual programming using Scratch or Hour of Code), I would like to dig into a real programming language such as HTML. While messing around I started focusing more on this topic and as a result, I found some good online resources: The Odin Project and Khan Academy. These resources will help me learn HTML and after a course, I will be completely comfortable with creating a web page and understanding element structure of any other internet page online! In order to expand my horizons while learning, I’ll keep on searching for more resources and will engage in social media channels specializing on this topic in order to build my learning connections.

But how much can you really learn in a very limited amount of time? While learning a new skill I would like to reach the level of knowing enough to self-correct/self-edit. I love this advice of Josh Kaufman on this topic: The first 20 hours — how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU. Josh Kaufman recommends starting with deconstructing a skill and breaking it into small pieces. Since my ultimate goal is to learn the basics of HTML programming language, I could split it into smaller goals of learning certain structures, elements and object types. To be honest, I am already feeling a little bit worried if I will be able to achieve the ultimate goal of learning HTML, but this makes me even more curious and I can’t wait to begin and see what could be reached and learned in 20 hours.

Action plan for learning a new skill

Here is my action plan for learning a new skill:
Mess around by searching for the best online resources for learning programming languages.
Deconstruct the skill of my choice.
Make my online research looking for new social media connections I could benefit from while learning HTML.
Establish a routine for developing my new skill. Find an hour in my day for silent focused practicing.
Search Twitter using #HTML and other related hashtags to find more information and resources that will support my learning.
Use the platforms I’ve already discovered – Khan Academy, and The Oden project.
Post my experience on Twitter using the #HTML and utilize social media to ask specific questions or advice.
I am ready…. 🙂

How might this learning experience help me empathize with learners in my classroom/school?

Having written this blog post I’ve realized that even planning of putting myself into the “learners'” chair already made me understand the feelings and frustration of my students much better. Moreover, now I see how much students and learners can benefit from simple messing around and connected/online presence. I’ve once again reminded myself that no matter how big the problem or task is – we can achieve or resolve it by creating a good plan and splitting it into multiple smaller sub-tasks, which are realistic and achievable. I think that using this approach young learners in my school would be more confident and comfortable while facing even the biggest challenges.