Connected Learning is Good Learning. . .

One of my favorite edubloggers is Patrick Higgins—who writes over at Chalkdust 101.  Earlier this summer, Patrick described a new course that he’s helping to develop for the middle school where he works.

While describing the strengths of a set of standards that defined the work of a school he’d once been a part of—and connecting that experience to his work in his current position—-Patrick wrote:

Designing this class forced me to think back to the most effective of
those standards, and by far it was connections, and the name for the
class was born. In light of reading Siemens post, and in conversations
with the teachers of the class, I can see that the term fits. We need
students to create links, both mentally and digitally, from what they
know already, to what they are trying to know. We are stressing
“cognitive leaps” and learning by doing as often as we can, but there
are inherent problems with that.

Patrick’s emphasis on the idea of making connections and cognitive leaps in classrooms rang true for me.  Connections are easily the most valuable learning experiences in my own growth—and something I work to make real for my students every day.

Here’s the comment that I left for Patrick:

Patrick wrote:
We need students to create links, both mentally and digitally, from
what they know already, to what they are trying to know. We are
stressing “cognitive leaps” and learning by doing as often as we can,
but there are inherent problems with that.

Oh man, Pat—All I can say is every time I read about the courses
that you’re helping to design, I end up more and more jealous of what
you’re getting to do!

This statement was absolutely brilliant—stressing the cognitive
leaps and connections that students must make between content and ideas
is nothing short of best practice and pedagogy.

I know that my mental work is always the most energizing when I can
find links between topics of interest to me—and I also know that those
links leave me better prepared to function in a world where overlap and
“tweeners” are the most successful employees.

Doesn’t Pink talk about this in A Whole New Mind? 

Here’s a quote:

“While detailed knowledge of a single area once guaranteed success,
today the top rewards go to those who can operate with equal aplomb in
starkly different realms. I call these people “boundary crossers.” They
develop expertise in multiple spheres, they speak in different
languages, and they find joy in the rich variety of human experience.
They live multi lives—because that’s more interesting, and nowadays
more effective.” (Kindle Location 1692)

So my question becomes what do you do if your courses—which are
unarguably well designed and reflective of the kind of work that should
be done to prepare kids for tomorrow—don’t produce immediate results on
standardized tests?

Will your school leadership rethink their decision to move in a progressive direction?

Either way, I’m enjoying watching your progress…

What would your answer be to my critical question?  Would your school leadership support progressive moves in the kinds of learning experiences that you give to your students if there were not clear evidence that those moves had a direct impact on standardized test scores?

Has your work been limited because of our overemphasis on testing as an indicator of effectiveness?



  1. Patrick

    Thanks for the kind words. If I had to respond to your questions, I would do what some may view as sidestepping, but in my opinion, it is deferring to a greater mind: Chris Lehmann responded to a post by Dan Meyer in which he lamented about similar statistics. What if you feel the learning going on in your classroom is fantastic, yet your scores don’t bear it out? In his response, found here (, Chris mentions a few things that you do well already. One of which is having the data that would back up your claims about student achievement. If you can show measurable progress within your walls, the blow from the low standardized score can be softened. Perhaps they came it at an ability level that was below 6th grade?
    On a side note, I will be sharing our curriculum for the new class shortly as we have nearly finished writing it. It’s going to be in “constant beta” this year with lots of tweaks and alterations. Have a great start to the year!

  2. Matt Johnston

    Not as a teacher but as someone who has looked in at teaching/education for a while and seen the general reluctance regarding change, I would probably have to say that most schools and school districts will not embrace the kind of progressive change you and Patrick are talking about.
    The reason however is not institutional inertia (although that may contribute a bit). Rather, the only measurement that the “public,” meaning the policy makers that control the budget, are going to be concerned about is test results or something that is going to obviously impact test scores. These cognitive leaps are the key to learning. I agree with you on that score–although I have never been as eloquent in defining or labeling them. However, you can’t measure them as easily and therein lies the problem.
    Like most human endeavors the best ones being the ones in which little movements yeild big results, education is about little changes and big results. The problem of course is that the big results may not come for a long time and when you are dealing with annual budgets and annual measurements, anything that can’t be measured on a year to year basis is likely to be ignored.