I hope that everyone had a fun Mardi Gras! And, as we move into the Lenten season, we will continue to focus on teaching our students to dig deeper spiritually. Kim and I spent our week away on another road trip to visit my family in California. It was a great epic drive, and while there I found out a little bit more about personal learning networks, the old fashioned way. Personal Learning Networks is a book that our faculty read over the summer. Our intent was to provide our teachers with a roadmap for using the power of connections (and technology) to transform education.
As you may recall from prior memos, my mother, sister, and nieces live in a little mountain town nestled in the Kern Valley. Visiting there has become a familiar treat. The pace is easy and much of our visits are spent rocking on my mother's front porch, looking out at an awe-inspiring mountain view. This year, the rhythm of my rocking was synchronized with the clicking of my knitting needles. I, a novice knitter, was knitting as fast as my inexperienced fingers could move the yarn over the needles. I was racing the clock to finish a baby blanket, intended as a gift for the birth of my grandson Hayden, but instead to be belatedly presented at his second birthday party, the day after we were to return from our trip. This self-imposed deadline was made in an effort to match the presentation of a matching blanket to my older grandson, Curtis, also intended for his birth but finished for his second birthday. Knitting takes me a long time.
The knitting was moving along quite well when one afternoon the inevitable happened. My rocking stopped suddenly when I realized that I had dropped a stitch. Not knowing how to fix my mistake, I desperately asked my mother to find someone in town who could help me. Here is where the personal learning network theory kicked in. My mom made a call over to the Kern Valley Museum and Historical Society. A volunteer on duty, Virginia, answered the phone and then asked her fellow docents who was the best knitter in town. They all agreed that it was a woman named Jeri. After a little more asking around, they determined that I could find Jeri, that afternoon, selling her homemade puppets at the Odd Fellows Hall.
Kim and I walked in to town and sure enough, we found Jeri surrounded by tables full of puppets. We introduced ourselves and she didn't hesitate to take up my project and begin teaching me how to fix my mistake. Jeri spent over an hour with me until I felt secure in my new skill of knitting backward. In the meantime, Kim visited with Jeri's cousin, who was also selling her homemade wares in the Odd Fellows Hall. Before leaving that afternoon, Jeri gave me her home phone number to call if I got stuck again, and Kim and I were the proud owners of two puppets, a five-dollar box of assorted knitting needles, a jar of homemade peach jam, and the new skill of knitting backward.
By the time we returned to the porch, I was unsure of all that Jeri had taught me. Knitting backward was easy when Jeri was looking over my shoulder, but without her I was tentative at best in my ability. However, it was late enough in the afternoon to "FaceTime" with my sister Holly (the culprit who taught me how to knit in the first place) who now lives in Melbourne, Australia. If I held my knitting very close to the camera of my iPad, she could look and tell me how to proceed with my stitches. She worked with me long enough to get me back on track once again. I returned to see Jeri the next morning, grateful, triumphant and confident in my new-found ability.
Knitting can be exhausting, and for me, it takes a village. But I am making progress, and now I am now proficient at fixing my mistakes. The blanket was not ready for Hayden's birthday party, but it will make a great Easter present.
The authors of Personal Learning Networks (Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli) claim that our students will need a host of new skills and literacies in order to fully participate in today's new learning environment. As you know, I fully agree that our rapidly changing world will make demands on our young people that we as adults haven't experienced, or even begun to imagine. Our critical mission is to identify and teach the skills and literacies which will prepare them to handle all that life throws at them. One such skill identified in the book is to "build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally." Solving my knitting problem is a small example of gaining knowledge and proficiency through collaboration and problem-solving skills.
For our students, "cross-cultural" will reach well beyond small town networking, and technology will be the main venue for communication and problem-solving. The skills don't vary tremendously, but the arena in which those skills are practiced and the resources available to learn them are largely unknown and undefined. We will continue to help them build their personal learning networks as we work to develop our own. And, though knitting may not be the skill for everyone, it certainly served to illustrate for me the benefit of collaboration.