“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” Herman Melville
It will take about 10 minutes to watch the video embedded below but if you have an interest in how and why I’m pushing the idea of using the the information/communication technology tools of today in our learning environments it may be a useful investment of time. I can’t compel you to watch the film before you read on, but I can suggest it…
Interesting ideas are put forth in the film, ideas that make a lot of sense to me, both as an educator and as a father. I’m drawn to the analogy of the internet being most like the human brain, primarily because there is an elegance and simplicity to the notion that the information management and connection system that we have created would actually be nothing more than a replication of the one we have been carrying around in our skulls for millennia.
The thing that most resonates for me in the film is how it relates to the inquiries we are beginning here at our school, Park Avenue P.S. In the film, a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the importance of connection in brain development. The child who has a rich and supportive range of guided and varied experiences develops both a quantity and density of connections that lead to greater cognitive, social and emotional well-being.
One of our key areas of focus is on Inclusion; using our knowledge and skills, along with the tools we have available, to make sure all our students, families and staff are included in the learning experience in a deep and meaningful way. We are using Twitter, class blogs, learning systems like Edmodo, and media tools like Discovery Education to build these connections by guiding and extending the range of experiences our students and staff have beyond our school walls and begin to use the tools available to share and gather information and build connections beyond our community; to include parents as well as students and educators from other schools, near and far. To be connected really means to be included.
Our other key area of focus is on Innovation; thinking differently about the ways we can use our knowledge, skills and available tools to seeking creative and more efficient ways to learn and collaborate and connect within our school community, and beyond. An example of this is a conversation I was having recently with one of our staff. We were talking about writing, and whether or not it was critical that students write using pencils and pens as opposed to having students use computers as their primary writing tool. We had a great chat and I won’t slip into summary but rather share an idea for us to consider. The pencil and the keyboard are different in many ways but identical in one essential aspect; they both allow text to be shared between people, across distance and time. A note, letter or story, connects the writer with the reader, regardless of how it has been created.
The essential difference is how the connection is conveyed and how the tool supports the writer and the reader. We now have the capacity to have our students and staff write to connect with an audience much wider than the teachers, parents and students who may or may not read their notebooks. And we have tools that will support student writers who may find using a pencil or pen to be limiting, because of the processing or fine-motor challenges they may have. The connection, the idea that we can write for an audience beyond the limits of our lined notebooks is not only attainable, but necessary if we are going to prepare all of children to be meaningfully literate in the world we have created.
We are not randomly bolting into these environments with abandon. We are aware of the need to support our students to be safe and think critically when using the tools of connection and we are engaging parents in this learning. But we are going this direction because we must, our world is now connected in ways we never could have imagined when we were young and we have a responsibility to model the ways we can learn and grow while we share and guide our students towards these connections.