Tag Archives: collaboration

Learning is Social

This week in my Principles of Learning Course, we talked about an article called Brain/Mind Natural Learning Principles (Caine & Caine, 2012)  which outlines 12 principles of learning. I focused Capacity #2: All students have the capacity to comprehend more effectively when their needs for social interactions and relationship are engaged and honored.

As an educator who has been involved in co-teaching for many years, I have the advantage of observing classroom practices and notice that so much of the instruction in our classrooms is about students working independently and quietly at the same task as others in the classroom.  I reflect on my own teaching of English many years ago and how much time I spent instructing and students working. This principle reinforces the need to revisit some of our traditional practices.

Research of teacher-centered learning and cooperative learning in science has found  that “learning is more effective when students are actively involved in sharing ideas and working cooperatively with other students to complete academic tasks” (Ebrahim, 2012, pg 16).  In my own experience as a Literacy Consultant, I used the Adolescent Literacy guide to help teachers understand the development of the adolescent learner. The guide references the importance of social learning and in particular provides this advice to teachers in terms of how they might tap into students’ social development and learning:

  • providing opportunities for students to interact with each other to attain personal and collaborative goals;

  • grouping and regrouping students for a variety of purposes to build confidence and competence in various social arrangements (Edugains , 2016, pg 16).

Strong relationships are foundational to educating students today which Willms, Friesen & Milton argue includes building social cohesion: “Today’s teachers are called upon to work with colleagues to design learning environments that promote deeper engagement in learning as a reciprocal process. Learning can no longer be understood as a one-way exchange where ‘we teach, they learn.’ It is a reciprocal process that requires teachers to help students learn with understanding, and not simply acquire disconnected sets of facts and skills” ((Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009). They stress the importance of making school a “socially, academically, and intellectually exciting and worthwhile place to be” (Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009).

I see this with my own daughter, who will use Facetime to video conference with her peers before a big test in order to learn the material more effectively. She complains about not having enough opportunities to do this in school.

I am passionate about using the vast reach of technology and social media to connect students. And in my experience connecting students to each other using technology and social media, has been extremely effective. I have seen an increase in engagement and achievement when students connected their learning in a social context. An example I share in my book, Social LEADia occurs when I helped connect a Religion class to a class in Buenos Aires, the teacher noted:

“Everything we learned about in class could be related back to our interactions to Argentina and because these were experiences they were having and connections they were making the learning was individualized and made important to them! This directly translated into academic success as they just wrote their Unit 2 test and the class average was 91%  in comparison to their Unit 1 tests which the class average was 71%. On many of the student’s tests they included examples and stories of their connections to those students in Argentina and for me that was a huge teacher win!” (Machala, 2016).

Social media connections serve to complement in-class connections as well. Students’ shared experience connecting with others can bring a class together. I have seen this happen on several occasions especially when time is given to reflect on the process.

I am also right now working with students who are working together to create a Pit Stop (game about a location in the world) for an Amazing Race EDU collaborative project, as well as their own Breakout EDU challenges. The final product asks them to consolidate their learning and arrive at a product which relies on the collaborative contributions of others. Students are actively engaged and their biological need to work with others is being met. It is important to note that  the planning for the project happens in face to face groups as well as online.

This principle caused me to pause and reflect on my instructional practices to ensure that I am actually meeting the needs of my students. Is most of what we require individual? How do we strike a balance to ensure that the needs of students who do really thrive on independent work are balanced with the need to be social? I invite your own thoughts and reflections in the comments.


Brain/Mind Natural Learning Principles  Renate N. Caine, Ph.D. and Geoffrey Caine, LL.M.

Ebrahim, A. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2012) 10: 293. https://doi-org.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/10.1007/s10763-011-9293-0

Edugains. Adolescent Literacy Guide. (2016) 1-124. Retrieved from


Mahala, R. (2016, October 31). Global Connections [Web log post]. Retrieved October 28, 2017,

from http://www.calledtobecatholic.com/2016/10/31/hello-world/

Willms, J. D., Friesen, S. & Milton, P. (2009). What Did You Do in School Today? (First National

Report). Toronto: Canadian Education Association. cea-ace.ca/sites/cea-ace.ca/files/cea-2009-wdydist.pdf

Rethinking the traditional High School Book Club #HSGBC

Ever since I started teaching, moderating the Book Club at my school was what I loved doing most of all. One of the problems has always been that our numbers dwindle as course work increases because kids find they don’t have as much time to read for pleasure.  Now, that I am back at a school, after being at the District level for six years, I find myself looking at everything with a whole new mindset; an Innovator’s Mindset!  I’m also passionate about connecting students to each other as I truly believe it positively impacts kids in so many ways.

So my burning question is: How can we make the high school book club experience not just different, but better?

My idea? Go Global

Extending the book club to other schools will help kids to share their love of reading with others, will help students feel a greater sense of community & will help keep the momentum going even when numbers dwindle.  It will  also show them how they can be Digital Leaders by leveraging technology and social media for learning and sharing their learning!


  • To foster a love of reading
  • To have students respond to their reading in a variety of ways (face to face, Goodreads, Twitter, Snapchat, etc…)
  • To build community both within the school and with other schools
  • To consider the perspectives of other students from outside their own school community and to get to know other students through conversations around books


September & early October

  • Advertise the book club in your school
  • Get to know the students in your own school and introduce the idea of extending the conversations to a global community. Assure them that they can collaborate as much or as little as they are interested in doing so; your first priority is ensuring that your own students feel comfortable sharing with each other.
  • Remind them that because we are sharing with a global community, they need to THINK about what they are posting
  • Use this Dotstorming wall to suggest and vote on books
  • Decide on the way(s) in which your book club will share their learning with others and how often they would like to connect with others  (I am going to use Snapchat, Twitter, and Goodreads with my students)


  • Decide on meeting times and dates that work for you and your students
  • Connect with other book clubs via Hangouts if you would like to extend face to face conversations
  • Use the Twitter hashtag #hsgbc, Goodreads, Snapchat etc…as much or as little as you like and as you and your students are comfortable.


Celebrate!  Reflect on MMM (Most Memorable Moments) & create an artifact (slideshow, poster, movie, etc..) and share .

GoodReads & Twitter

A student reflection from last year when I facilitated a classroom connection was that students wished that they could continue to connect with the other students beyond our class activity. I’ve been thinking about that ever since. And so, to me, it is important that conversations about books and the relationships my students develop go beyond the “meeting times”. Goodreads and Twitter offer a wonderful opportunity to do this.

No only that, but both Goodreads and Twitter are excellent tools for Digital Leadership: students connect with others who share a common love of reading while actively creating an online presence.  Ideally, students created their own account so they can continue to stay connected, if they choose to, beyond the existence of the Book Club at school. Using these platforms can show students how to use social media differently and best of all they can continue to be used into adulthood.

Students (and teacher moderators) in the High School Global Book Club will use the hashtag #hsgbc on Twitter to share quotes & images as they read and contribute posts to our Goodreads account  here

My students are so excited to get started.

We’d love for you to join!

Sign up for #HSGBC here !

Connected student

The Connected Student

I have written several posts about the power of being a connected educator and its many benefits and so many of us on Twitter have been reaping the benefits for years!  I love this sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth:

Connected Educator

This has gotten me thinking that one of the crucial reasons we connect is to benefit our students, right?!

Isn’t it then imperative to connect them to one another in and outside of school?

This was the main message of Shannon Miller keynote to a group of Teacher-Librarians at ISTE based on her experiences in the Van Meter Library.

Giving Students access to technology is

The full video can be found here (fast forward to 10:15 for her keynote).  She is a champion for students and giving them opportunities to connect!

So what does the connected student look like and what are the benefits of having them collaborate globally?  Based on my observations of connected students, as well as those I’ve observed through presentations, or through some of the amazing teachers in my PLN who connect their students regularly, here are some of their characteristics:

Connected Students…

  • are more inclined to voice their opinions because they believe that their voices matter
  • practice online collaboration and communication skills for audiences beyond their teachers
  • understand how technology can connect them to experts and authors and have the confidence to reach out to them
  • utilize social media to create positive digital footprints
  • recognize the power of social media to make a difference, change the status quo
  • gain an understanding of other cultures and perspectives by building relationships and friendships with people from outside their own communities
  • know that there are many people who can help them solve a problem and many different ways to do so
  • are more engaged in school

Connecting with Experts, Connecting with Each other

Have you ever had a Skype or Google Hangout visit with an expert? It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to connect with each other and feel like a part of a greater community?  That’s what we did with our Google Hangout with Commander Hadfield.  We…

  1. Shared resources via Google Drive to build excitement about the visit.
  2. Had an elementary classroom connect with a high school to create a promo video
  3. Offered the opportunity for students throughout the District to submit a question via Google Form
  4. Offered the opportunity for students throughout the District to vote on the best questions  to ask the expert
  5. Connect classes on the day of the event via TodaysMeet or a similar back channel

Here is a link to the Google Hangout with Chris Hadfield!

Ideas for connecting your students this school year:

Start small.  Connect with another class in your District or with someone you know personally. I was impressed by this collaborative inquiry project by Jamie Weir and Daniel Ballantyne and the powerful experience that collaboration provided for their students.

Skype in the classroom is a great and simple way to begin to connect your students; Google Hangouts and Google Communities

Twitter hashtags  and your Twitter community can help make those initial connections.  Once a Twitter connection is established, classes can connect virtually via Google Apps for Education and/or Google Hangouts.

If you are an Ontario teacher, use the hashtag #Ontarioclassmatch, an idea inspired by Heather Theljsmeijer  who is also passionate about connected students to the world.

Padlet, Kahoot, TodaysMeet  Google Docs, Google Slides:  Basically, any tool that allows your students to participate online can also become a shared platform for local or global collaboration.

Join the Global Green Screen Project shared by Dr. Brad Gustafson in which participants will contribute a chapter to a video story.  Or create a similar project in your District.

Join International Dot Day based on the book by Peter Reynolds (in September)

Harness the power of blogs (Mrs. Yollis’ class blog is a great resource and Rusul Alrubail has a wonderful resource for blogging with ELL learners) or utilize apps like Write About that connect students through writing.

Check out the Not Perfect Hat Club Global Collaboration project for students aged 6-12!

Have students choose a book from an author who is on Twitter so they can connect with the author.

Jennifer Williams and Fran Siracusa are passionate about connecting students to the world. Check out this article, Collaborative Learning Spaces:  Classrooms that connect to the world and their ideas for using Periscope to connect classrooms to the world.  Their company. Calliope connects classrooms to the world virtually, but also connects international classrooms through global projects, travel, and professional development.

Jen McCray has created this collaborative doc for teachers interesting in connecting their classes.  Why not addi your name to this Google Spreadsheet.?

Craig Kemp is passionate about opening the walls of our classrooms to create a Global Classroom for students.  He has lots of inspiring ideas for connecting students as does Vicky Davis who is an incredible advocate and resource for blogging.

Would love to hear about your success stories connecting students and the positive lessons they’ve learned as a result!

Maybe our goal this coming school year could be to connect our students one more time than we did last year.  I think the result would be worth the effort!

Aviva Dunsiger reminds us  to  begin with Curriculum Expectations in our planning or we risk losing opportunities to make stronger links to learning (see comments below)

Check out this amazing visualization of the connected student by Sylvia Duckworth based on this ideas in this post!

Connected Student


Cross-grade Collaboration

I had the privilege this week to work with two awesome teachers: Eric Fabroa (Communications Technology teacher) and his RAMS Media Film Club, and Rob Cannone, a grade 6 teacher.  We had a nugget of an idea, connected online and voila, a mutually beneficial collaboration has begun between the highschool and its respective feeder school.

I can’t tell you about the project itself–that’s top secret (for now), but what I can tell you is that connecting via Google Hangout to plan a film project was completely invigorating and exciting (after our initial technical difficulties).  I think we were all giddy!    The grade 6 class, who had already been planning the script, shared it with the secondary students on Google Drive so they could come to a common vision.

The high school students are going to bring some equipment down to the elementary feeder school to film a promotional video next week.

So simple.

And yet, what a powerful experience! When students from the feeder school graduate from grade 8 and go to the high school, they will already have a connection to the school and an amazing artefact of their time together.  And the high school kids will benefit from the mentorship experience and have a film to show for it.

To me, the true transformative power of technology is that it makes it easier than ever to connect to create these real life and memorable experiences for our students.

So I’ve been thinking about other opportunities for cross-collaboration.

A few ideas:

Science:  Secondary students prepare experiments  which elementary students  complete and write the lab for.  Labs could be shared with the teacher AND the secondary students.

English: Secondary students work with a group of younger students on creative writing, paragraph writing, or any other writing genre using Google docs (writing workshop).

Geography:  Secondary students create a geocache scavenger hunt for elementary students.

Art:  Secondary students can invite elementary students to their art exhibits.  I know a few teachers who are already doing this with great results.  To extend the learning, elementary students can take a pic of their favourite art piece and ask the artist questions via any of the tools below.

Religious Education:  Co-create an awareness campaign for a charity that is important to the school community.

Physical Education:  Create an exercise and/or healthy eating routine for elementary students (age appropriate).

Here is a Google Doc I’ve created.  Feel free to add ideas!


Google Apps for Education provide a great way to collaborate with other classes.

Skype in the Classroom provides some great ideas and opportunities to connect with other teachers and classes.

Connecting with other educators on Twitter is also a great place to start if you are looking for ideas (Use hashtags i.e. #kinderchat, to find other teachers teaching the same grade).  Check out Teachthought’s Guide to Twitter hashtags.

If you already have an idea in mind, Facetime and Google Hangouts work well.  I also see lots of exciting opportunities to connect with experts and events emerging using the @periscope Twitter app.


For a successful experience, I think that the teachers should have an idea about what they would like to see happen; i.e, know the big ideas and learning goals they are hoping to achieve.  and then co-construct with students what effective collaboration will look like.  Start small.  You probably wouldn’t do this more that one time in a year to begin.

Have you already done this?  Would love to hear about it or additional ideas you have either on the Google doc or here!  If you’re in my school District and want some help connecting, please contact me and I’d love to help you to get started!