Wednesday, November 28, 2012


As an adult, how does one continue to grow and learn? Well, I believe the answer lies in the theory of connectivismIf you are unfamiliar with connectivism, let me give you the definition as stated by George Siemens, creator of the connectivist theory, "Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired and the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital" (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Basically what this means is connectivism is all about networking and making connections to learn new information. Learning happens everywhere; it's not just something that is saved for the classroom. Learning is the "intersection of prior knowledge, experience, perception, reality, comprehension..." (Davis, Edmunds, Kelly-Bateman, 2008). The above graphic explains some of my personal learning networks--there are my online social networks, professional development, and then the internet in general. These are the main areas that I use nowadays to further my knowledge.

There is really only one area that is not located online and that is my place of employment, Colegio Americano de Torreon (CAT). At CAT we have various meetings throughout the month--grade team, department, staff, and the occasional in-service.  Yet currently we are swamped with preparing ourselves for our upcoming accreditation in the fall of 2013 so I felt like there wasn't enough professional development happening to help me grow as an educator. What is one to do when you're stuck in Mexico and want more professional development? I hit the internet.

There is a plethora of resources available to me online and, especially with social networking, I get to see what is most popular among other educators and I get to connect with people who have written the textbooks I use in my classes. Using Twitter to follow people like Carol Jago, Kylene Beers, Jim Burke, DianeRavitch, and others as well as organizations like NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), Edutopia, NWP (National Writing Project), NPR (National Public Radio), and TED Talks to name only a few, has opened the door to resources from well-known and respected experts and organizations. I don't need to spend as much time searching for information; it comes to me. The same is true with my Google Reader account that links me to the blogs I want to read. Likewise, I've been using Pinterest to find ideas from other teachers that I plan to use in my classroom. Finding information is quick and easy; however, one must not forget to determine if the information is reliable. The old adage is even truer today: You can't believe everything you read/hear.

Learning for me as an adult has changed drastically because most of it happens online. I'm even studying my master's degree online at Walden University.  Sauve (2007) said, “…formal learning once or twice a year doesn’t provide employees with the experience of knowledge they need to find ongoing success on the job” (p. 22). CAT used to have a master's program through SUNY (State University of New York) Buffalo, but they discontinued the program shortly after I began working there. I was left with a desire for more professional development and I have found that through Walden, social networking sites, and other internet resources. As Friedman (2005) said, I am able to "innovate without having to emigrate." In essence by utilizing the online tools I have already set up (especially Twitter, Pinterest, Google Reader, and Diigo) I am creating my own classroom and my own curriculum centered around topics that are meaningful and important to me. My physical location does not limit my access to information because I can use my networks to help me find relevant and reliable information that will help me grow professionally and personally, and I believe that is what connectivism is all about. 


Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Friedman, T. (2005, April 3). It's a flat world, after all. The New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2012 from

Sauve, E. (2007). Informal knowledge transfer. T+D, 61(3), 22-24.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Appreciating the Brain and Its Role in Learning

To be frank, I wasn't excited to begin my second class at Walden University online called "Learning Theories and Instruction." Theories are not my favorite thing; I understand their value, but I struggle to understand them! In my undergraduate studies I struggled with learning theories, and I think that's where part of my hesitation comes from. Well, that and the fact that I am a very concrete-sequential learner and theories are anything but a concrete topic. Nevertheless, I had to accept the challenge to give learning theories a second chance, and I think this time I'm beginning to internalize their value and truly understand why my professors have made/are making me suffer.

This week I read an article by J. M. Worden, C. Hinton, and K. W. Fischer titled "What Does the Brain Have to Do with Learning?" The title caught my eye since I was asking that very same question out of frustration as my Learning Theories and Instruction class began. Nevertheless, I'm in my second week of class, so I'm beginning to appreciate the brain and its role in learning. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer tackled that question by unraveling some common myths:

Myth #1: "The brain is irrelevant in learning" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 9).
It's quite obvious that the brain is needed to learn, but knowing how the brain works is, in fact, relevant to learning. The field of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) is growing and with good reason. The more we know about how the brain receives, responds, retains, and retrieves information, the better educators can learn how to teach so that those processes will become more natural. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer (2011) wrote, "While brain research alone can't tell us how to teach children, understanding the brain leads to uncovering underlying learning mechanisms" (p. 10). And once we know those, instruction can become more pertinent to all learners.

Myth #2: "Neuroscientists know it all, and teachers don't understand research" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 10).
Teachers need to study the "why" and the "how" of learning and they can do this best by taking advantage of neuroscientists' studies. The two should actually work together to make research more meaningful, applicable, and ultimately more beneficial. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer (2011) stated, "Both scientists and educators have important knowledge to contribute to solving educational problems, and supporting this type of collaborative work leads to improved educational outcomes" (p. 10).

Myth #3: "Johnny is right brained and that is why..." (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 10).
Most people believe that one side of the brain is dominant; however, this is false because people have to use both hemispheres of the brain. The brain has many complex connections and "all complex learning tasks involve a widely distributed network of brain areas" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 11). Believing students use a dominant hemisphere only aids in stereotyping, something that can limit a child's potential.

Myth #4: "Everyone knows you can't learn a language after age __" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 11).
We've all heard this myth and likely accepted it (especially since it so conveniently explains why learning that second language in high school was so difficult), but it's just not true. The brain has so much plasticity that it is possible to learn a language later in life. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer (2011) said, "...extensive research shows that there are sensitive periods for certain aspects of language, but not a critical period for language learning" (p. 11). And as the United States continues to increase and embrace its diversity, it wouldn't be a bad idea to dust off your Spanish books and give it another go. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer (2011) also wrote, "Recent studies have even begun exploring the cognitive benefits of acquiring non-native language in adulthood for mitigating or delaying the symptoms of some age-related disorders such as Alzheimer's" (p. 12). So... ¿Hablas español?

Myth #5: "Girls are better at reading, but boys dominate math and science" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 12).
This is another myth that is tied to stereotyping and therefore the limiting of a child's potential. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer (2011) declared, "No neuroscientific data suggest that boy's brains are better suited to any given domain or subject or vice versa" (p. 12). Every student has their academic strengths and weaknesses, but those are not tied to gender, period.

The format of Worden, Hinton, and Fischer's article was entertaining and made it a quick read. Likewise, they assert ""by working together, we can shift our focus from debunking neuromyths to building understanding of teaching and learning" (Worden, Hinton, & Fischer, 2011, p. 12). Discrediting myths is a great start to building that understanding, so if you have a chance, read their article.

The next article I chose to read was O. O. Abiola and H. S. Dhindsa's "Improving Classroom Practices Using Our Knowledge of How the BrainWorks." The title was intriguing to me, a 9th grade English teacher. As I continue to study and understand the brain, it's important to reflect upon how that can affect my teaching. Worden, Hinton, and Fischer helped me unmask some myths, and Abiola and Dhindsa helped me appreciate the plasticity of the brain and how that can play into instructional practices.Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) assert that "the brain never stops changing through learning" (p. 72). They listed examples of those who are blind or an amputee who must relearn skills and functions; in order to do so, their brains adapt. Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) also discussed the importance of physical activity during brain and body development because it "enhances the process of reorganisation and brainplasticity that favours improved cognition" (p. 75). Physical activity can have a positive effect on neural development so including physical activity in the school curriculum is especially important for young children. In fact, young children can learn through play techniques, so teachers should be "creative in developing new teaching techniques" (Abiola & Dhindsa, 2012, p. 75).

People learn in two different forms: declarative--learning about people, places and things--and procedural--learning motor skills and perceptual strategies (Abiola & Dhindsa, 2012, p. 73). Whatever was learned then goes into the short-term (working) memory where it is encoded, consolidated, and finally "followed by some long-term storage phase where the memories are less vulnerable..." (Abiola & Dhindsa, 2012, p. 74). However, memories can be reconsolidated if they are recalled or reactivated and then they are "vulnerable to disruption" (Abiola & Dhindsa, 2012, p. 74). Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) state, "It is imperative for teachers to be aware of this so that the recalls of materials which are newly taught to students are not done during the destructible labile phase" (p. 74).  Therefore, practice is important as students continue to encode and consolidate (or elaborate) information correctly and it's equally important for teachers to provide feedback on that practice so they know what and when students understand. Similarly, Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) wrote, "It is therefore important that we teach content that lasts for longer durations to minimise the role of hippocampus so that students will not require a modification to their neural structures... and the information becomes accessible more easily" (p. 76). It's like the old cliché says, "Quality over quantity," something that can be difficult with standardized testing always looming overhead. Nevertheless, teachers should focus on the quality of their teaching to ensure students are converting the information to long-term memory accurately as opposed to checking off all part of the curriculum to get it done.

Lastly, Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) explored the effect of the environment on brain development because "the brain learns faster in challenging, creative, accommodating, and healthy environments" (p.77). Students should have a space to express themselves and grow at independent rates. Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) wrote, "...learning environments that provide student choice and empowerment of students, created through the utilization of hands-on, differentiated instruction allow children to be actively responsible for their learning, thus engaging several areas of the brain simultaneously" (p. 77). Personally, I try to offer project and essay options as much as possible and that is an easy way to encourage autonomy in the classroom. It can be difficult to try to teach to every students' strength, but having them show you what they know from an area of strength allows them to take ownership of their learning to produce a product that helps the student make the material more meaningful to them and possibly link "new knowledge to the existing memory" to prevent decay (Abiola & Dhindsa, 2012, p. 77). As Abiola and Dhindsa (2012) said, "Understanding how and when to engineer enhancements in learning and memory development and consolidation will be important to helping teachers to improve their thinking skills and classroom practices" (p. 78). It's no easy task, but as I continue to learn how the brain works and how information is retained and recalled, I'm hoping my instructional design skills will improve as I become more intentional with my design.

Abiola, O. O., & Dhindsa, H. S. (2012). Improving Classroom Practices Using Our Knowledge of How the Brain Works. International Journal Of Environmental And Science Education, 7(1), 71-81.

Worden, J. M., Hinton, C., & Fischer, K. W. (2011). What Does the Brain Have to Do with Learning? Phi Delta Kappan, 92(8), 8-13. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Educational Blogs for the Instructional Designer in You

Blogs are great resources since they allow people to share information for free via the internet. However, there is also a plethora of blogs so it can be overwhelming to find and follow good blogs; therefore, I've listed a few that I think would be worthwhile to view and possibly follow. As a future instructional designer, I found these blogs to be relevant because (a) they're still active, (b) they have links to outside sources which proves they are doing their research, and (c) they promote the use of technology in the classroom, something that is becoming increasingly important in today's society. You can follow these blogs via email, by bookmarking them as favorite websites, or by adding them to your Google reader or any other reader you may use. Enjoy!

Future Education Tech

The number of links and resources are almost overwhelming on the Future Education Tech blog; however, it is organized so well that you will be able to find what you are looking for rather quickly. On the left, there is a   bar organized by subject area that will take you to useful websites with just one click. On the right, you can subscribe by email, look at the blog archive, or find more suggested sites for iPads or sites suggested by the author, Keith.  However, in the center is where all the action happens--there is a short explanation and then a link to the suggested website or an embedded video to watch. Future Education Tech is a well-organized site that is sure to help almost any type of educator (Art, English, Health and PE, Languages, Math, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Science, and Social Studies). In fact, the diversity is what makes this site so relevant and useful for instructional designers.

Cool Cat Teacher Blog

Teacher and blogger Vicki Davis has a passion for using technology in the classroom and she uses her blog as a platform to promote her ideals. She provides links to helpful resources and writes personal reflections about her life as an educator and author. As the winner of the Edublog 2008 Best Teacher Blog award and a finalist for years 2006-2010, Davis' blog is a must-see, especially for instructional designers who must be aware of the new types of technology that can be used to enhance the classroom.

Blogging About The Web 2.0 Connected Classroom

Steven W. Anderson, the director of instructional technology for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina, shares his thoughts and links to other sites that help educators do what they do better. Anderson is an avid tweeter who won the 2011 Edublog's Best Individual Tweeter award and was nominated for Edublog's Best Ed Tech Blog  in 2011 as well. Anderson's writing is engaging, thought-provoking, and timely in a society that depends more and more upon social networking and how that helps us connect to the world.

Free Technology for Teachers

The name does not lie; Richard Byrne is an active blogger and educator who finds resources that will make teachers' lives easier and then posts them on his blog. The tabs created at the top of his site are especially helpful for navigation since the right side is cluttered with advertising, but that's really my only qualm. Byrne has created a treasure chest of resources for all types of educators. As the 2011 Edublog's Best Ed Tech Blog, this is another must-see site.