Making Curriculum Pop

Connect the Minds (CTM)

I think a lot of teachers, myself included, struggle to find ways to make class less like this:
and more like this:
A lot of folks, especially those working in policy, will tell you that the easiest way to make classes more individualized and differentiated is through technology (see the Edutopia article these images were pulled from and the accompanying book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns)

While technology can be very helpful in creating more individualized and differentiated learning experiences, most of us do not find ourselves living the Little Dipper School quite yet:

I worked at a high school in the South Bronx for the last four years - it wasn't until my last year there (2009) that we had a room we could dedicate as a computer lab.  I know a lot of teachers in middle class schools that need to sign up for computer lab time in the summer to make sure they have technology access.  Presently, I work in post-secondary environments where it is virtually impossible to get my whole class on computers.  I'm sure many of you face similar challenges.

When we talk about technology "solving" the "education crisis" (as defined by those who define such things) it might be instructive to check this prescient image image that British teacher/researcher David Buckingham uses to open his book Beyond Technology: Children's Learning in the Age of Digital Culture...

I tend to agree with Buckingham's middle of the road approach to technology in the classroom.  While I use and love the wonderful tools technology has created for us I don't believe technology will ever completely supersede creative, carefully crafted, collaborative and highly differentiated learning experiences designed by teachers.  

Even when a learning experience involves technology - successful teachers tend to carefully scaffold around the technology in ways that allow a wide range of students to engage with and be metacognitive about their learning.  

Don't believe me?  Take your class to a computer lab.  Don't give them careful instructions - just ask them to find a mildly obscure piece of data using Google and Bing.  Let me know what percentage of these "digital natives" can find the information.

Not only is technology itself not a panacea, but we're often faced with situations where we can't always use the technology we want when we want it. Given this reality, what is a teacher to do?

The theme of the December of 2009 issue of The Journal of Media Literacy is "School 2.0: Transforming 21st Century Education Through New Media Literacies" They asked contributors questions like, "How will schools need to change to keep up with the growth of new media? We now have Web 2.0 - what will School 2.0 look like?"

I was fortunate enough to have an article selected for that issue answering that question for those who don't have the luxury of fancy technologies at their fingertips.

Noting that there is more to technology than simply using the software and hardware in our highly interconnected culture, I created an activity called Connect the Minds (CTM).

CTM embraces the "messages" of new media using low-tech tools like butcher paper, markers and sticky notes.  CTM is an attempt to make learning more meaningful, interactive, kinesthetic and CONNECTED.

I think you'll enjoy this addition to the playlist.  Hopefully, you'll find it to be as flexible and adaptable and as something like the KWL - In fact, I like to think of CTM as a 21st Century KWL.  

The friendly people at the National Telemedium Council have allowed me to share the article below as a PDF. If your not familiar with this Wisconsin based organization do consider subscribing to the JML and checking out the work they've been doing with new media and educators since the 1950's!

The article has some theoretical bookends that I think are important to understanding WHY one might use CTM.  That being said, if you just want to breeze to the sample activities (the models are for a staff development and biology class activity) go to pages 34-37.

There are lots of low-tech ways to "mix it up" (aka differentiate) in your classroom - everyone has cool things they use.  I've been collecting some of my favorite "teaching tunes" in the MC POP playlist.  Of all the cool "tracks" you'll find at the playlist CTM is one of my favorite creations!

I hope you enjoy the article (attached below as a PDF).  If you have done this in one of my classes or want to comment on what you've read please feel free to share your thoughts below!

Connect the Dots!


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This is a great article, Ryan! Congratulations on the publication and thank you for sharing it.
Thank you for your gracious compliment Louann! I'm glad you enjoyed the article - hopefully, some folks out there will find it to be useful!
Outstanding. I will promptly share this with our entire faculty and will certainly try it out soon in my own class. Thanks for the vast number of resources and ideas you have connected us with! How do you do it all!?
Hi, Ryan. Today I used your CTM activity as a whole novel discussion tool about Invisible Man. The students loved it! In small groups they brainstormed in different categories: characters, motifs, symbols, settings, great lines, ideas/concepts... Each category had a different color post-it note, each post-it had a separate item. Round 1: put down a post-it anywhere. Read everyone's note. Round 2: put down a new post-it and connect it to an existing one with a line and explanation of the connection. Once they got going, they didn't want to stop--somewhat magical! We'll continue tomorrow.
In a school where the technology is often broken or non-existent, this non-wired activity made the curriculum pop! Thanks!

I didn't have a camera, so one of my students used his phone. Not very good quality, but they were so engaged I had to capture it!

Thank you again for your great story and for taking the time to share!

Thank you for sharing this. My most reluctant learners will love this activity! And I'm going to use it at my own adult party! You rock!
Michelle, Thank you so much for writing. If you do rock CTM in class or at a party - do post an update, imaginary bonus points for photos :) You roll!

Awesome link Ryan! I love checking in with MC Pop and seeing all the cool resources you have up. Congratulations on the publication!
Hi Ryan, great article. I read with curiosity your statement, "I tend to agree with Buckingham's middle of the road approach to technology in the classroom." I've been told to read Buckingham. Can you suggest a resource that discusses the point you are making here? Thanks! Antonio
A to the L,

Thanks for taking the time to read my babble! Yes, Buckingham is, the proverbial "man" for me when it comes to media and technology. The book where he really breaks down technology = Beyond Technology. Even though it is from 2003 it is still extremely relevant and clearly written.

Thanks Ryan for the prompt reply. I'll check it out. I've been writing about connecting critical media literacy with youth media and was told by my editor to look into Buckingham.




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