Sean Robinson Speaks on Connections-based Learning Approach

Sean Robinson is an educator empowering students and educators through the Connections-based Learning Approach.  Sean connected with me through Social Media about two years ago.  Learning from him has been a privilege and honour.  His refreshing look at learning and teaching engages students and helps teachers.  Sean took the time to answer a few of my questions, and it is my privilege to have him as the guest blogger for the month of April.  So it is time to jump into the lazy chair and grab that cup of coffee and learn from an inspiring and empowering educator.

Name: Sean Robinson

School District: Port Coquitlam (SD43), British Columbia, Canada

Degree and Institution: A little different than Christine: I have a bachelors in pool with a minor in foosball.  (AKA a BA in Psychology) from Trinity Western University.  I also went back and received a Post Baccalaureate from Simon Fraser University with a focus in ESL and Learning Disabilities.


Tell me a little bit about who you are.  Feel free to share about your family and your hobbies (i.e. tech ninja).  

I’m living in the crowded years of family life, well beyond diapers and spit-ups but not yet handing over keys nor returning kids to bedrooms to cover up a midriff.  Mostly I’m taxi driver for soccer practices and piano lessons. You can tell a lot about a person from where they’re likely to get injuries.  For me: soccer would be the sport that sends me to the cast clinic but home renos would be how I would put my back out.  I love connection in all its forms and get all giddy when my phone connects to my server which connects to my TV which connects to my stereo.


What are you teaching right now?  High School Science and Digital Literacy. Along with my face to face Jr. Science classes, I have the wonderful privilege in administering an online course from Coquitlam Open Learning at my FTF school: Riverside Secondary.

What inspires you? True sacrifice, meaningful connection, altruistic innovation.

Why did you get connected with Social Media? I started blogging to document my attempt to have students bring their devices into the classroom.  I began using Twitter to share out my blog and get some dialogue going.  Now I blog to push the ideas of education forward and I tweet to connect with amazing educators, experts and leaders across the globe to bring a global perspective to what I do as I support students and teachers.

Tell me about the innovative stuff you are doing in your class. When I caught wind of educators facilitating meaningful projects for students, the ideas I had around being a teacher turned a corner.  I dove headlong into Project-based Learning with the mindset that we have to do meaningful things with the 200 days we are given with a class.  I also began to incorporate students’ own devices into the acquisition and demonstration of their learning.  As I facilitated meaningful projects with my students, I realized that it was the connections the students were making that made them meaningful and I began to create an approach to teaching called Connections-based Learning.  Today, I know I am being innovative when my students are being innovative.  Some of the great things students have done recently have been holding a Skype chat with Poland, interviewing the principal regarding school energy use, and learning about the element neon by approaching a company that makes neon signs.

First Infographic on Connection-based Learning coined by Sean Robinson

First Infographic on Connection-based Learning coined by Sean Robinson

Tell me about your Connections-based Learning?  CBL brings together the connectedness that 21st century education affords plus the significance of meaningful projects and relationships.  It “celebrates the way connections are formed and leveraged through education.  It reminds us to seek ways of learning that facilitate the building of relationships.  It declares that significant learning requires a significant relationship.  Connections-based Learning makes it a priority to leverage interpersonal connection at each step of the learning process.  Whether it is the teacher-student connection, the connection with members of the class, school, and community, or the connection with experts in the field of study, thought is given to maximizing these relationships.” (from Living Education eMagazine Fall 2015 edition)

How is Connections-based Learning important for our schools?  I think all of us are looking for ways to engage students and add meaning to the curriculum we teach.  I have always found that connected activities (buddies, pen pals, Flat Stanleys) add that real-life audience to the work students do.  These days the globe is opened up.  Our students live in a connected world and so many opportunities exist outside the classroom walls that are greater than one shot field trips.  These connections need to be leveraged to help us see that we are all in this together and to help schools to thrive in the 21st century.


How does Connections-based Learning connect with the British Columbia New Curriculum? The BC Curriculum redesign takes some of its impetus from a study by Doug Willms, Sharon Friesen, and Penny Milton (2009) with data from 93 Canadian schools in 10 districts.  What they found was we as educators need to be helping students:

  • See how subjects are interconnected
  • Be respected
  • Solve real problems
  • Learning from and with each other and people in their community
  • Feel they make a difference in the world, engage with knowledge that matters to them
  • Connect with experts and expertise
  • Have more opportunities for dialogue and conversation about their learning


Leyton Schnellert of UBC Okanagan has championed the sharing of these ideas with BC school districts and as I heard him speak several times on this topic, it has galvanized my resolve to share the idea of Connections-based Learning.  I see CBL as an avenue to address many of these needs.  The focus of CBL is making that connection outside the class and facilitates contacting experts. It makes it a priority to connect with the community. It opens the door to engaging with the world.  In fact, it makes these things a priority.  I believe this is what the BC Curriculum Redesign is all about.

What does a Connections-based Learning classroom look like? I would say I know CBL is working when the room feels more like a campaign headquarters than a classroom.  Students are in groups; devices are out; contacts are being leveraged. Often a real person is projected on the screen.  Students are asking questions and blogging about their learning.  Meaningful comments are being made from parents, other teachers, and students on those posts.

CBL skype

What does a true Connections-based Learning school look like? My hope is to really blow open classroom and school walls: students working interdisciplinarily; students excited to pop open the stream of student posts, see what their peers are learning, and comment upon them.  Teachers happily sharing what is happening in their classrooms, not fearful of showboating or being criticized but in hopes of spurring one another on.  Schools involved in the cutting edge of disciplines as they connect with and help experts around the globe.

What would be the greatest benefit for integrating Connections-based Learning into a teacher’s practice?  I believe CBL opens our eyes and ears to the resources around us.  At a Christmas dinner party, I heard a dinner guest talking about her sister-in-law who was working with stem cells.  A few emails later, the researcher was Skyping into my classroom sharing the latest breakthroughs in stem cell research.  Having that experience is my hope for other educators.  

Living Education eMagazine cover

What would be the greatest disadvantage for integrating Connections-based Learning into a teacher’s practice? As with everything, balance is crucial.  This connected world can lead us to infowhelm. Dinner parties can lead to great Skype chats, but we also need to take time to disconnect from the larger stream and focus on family, friends, hobbies, and health.

Tell me about Living Education eMagazine and your article?  Can you include the hyperlink?

I had written an article called “Projects that Change the World” in the Fall 2014 edition of Living Education eMagazine. In my attempt to share the ideas around Connections-based Learning with as many as possible, I approached chief Dr. Michael Robinson about doing a professional article on CBL with research attached.  He was game.

Find it at: Fall 2015 Living Education eMagazine

Can you tell the hyperlinks to connect with Connections-based Learning Community (i.e. Google Plus, Twitter hashtag)?


Twitter handle: @teachCBL

Twitter hashtag: #cblchat

Google plus: CBL Google Plus Community 

I encourage anyone interested in checking out CBL to reach out even in some small way.  It is all about relationships and a simple tweet or blog post upload to the community can really encourage others.  We have a growing community of ed leaders that share regularly on Voxer and Skype. Join us!  




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Why Blog?

Hi! My name is Victoria Woelders from Vancouver, Canada. I blog about technology, teaching and life as a Mom. This blog is a journey of my passions, inspirations and moonshot thinking.


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