Pursuing Intentional Serendipity

I think the phrase I'm looking for is intentional serendipity. I think it's Peter Skillen's term but there may be others using a similar concept.  In a world where play and wonder should really be considered essential dispositions, our education rarely values learning that isn't somehow tied to a chosen standard or outcome.

Unlike a classroom where a teacher controls the lecture, the organic communities that emerge through collectives produce meaningful learning because the inquiry that arises comes from the collective itself.


Integral to this idea is giving yourself opportunities to experience and facilitate serendipitous learning. Currently there really isn't a better way to make this happen than twitter.

Here's the story.

Yesterday I'm attending a full day workshop (workshop is a loose term, it was really a 5 hour lecture) with Dr. Larry Bendtro, researcher and founder of the Circle of Courage Institute which focuses on reclaiming at risk students. Dr. Bendtro is a good speaker and while a 5 hour lecture isn't an ideal way to learn, there were lots of nuggets of learning I took away.

Sitting in the auditorium made up of educators and community people, I did see several ipads out but the majority of course were sticking with pen and paper to capture their learning. Lots of people were talking notes but of course, few, if any were sharing those notes. That's a bit of waste. So when I pull out my phone, I'm sure most people who see that think I'm checking email, texting, playing a game, or generally just off task. I used to be concerned about that but not anymore. I've learned that for me, engaging in a backchannel or simply using hashtags is the best way for me to stay focused and engaged. It may not be for everyone but it's for me. The person I sat with also uses twitter and we simply agreed to use the #circleofcourage as our hashtag.


Last week one of my students was tweeting about being bored in class. I tweeted back that she should tweet what she was hearing and try and see if she could get others in her class to use a common hashtag to take collected notes. It worked for her.

Back to the story.

Part of the purpose of using twitter to take these notes is both for me, for the others participating but also because you never know. Early on in the lecture, Dr. Bendtro talked about the importance of a good theory but that if you can't explain your theory to a 4 year old, maybe you really don't understand your theory. As I was about to tweet that out, I see my buddy Dave Cormier in my twitter stream. I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Dave and his family last month and enjoy bantering and teasing with him so I decided I had enough social capital to present him a little challenge:


I really didn't know what I expected him to do with that. The nature of twitter is such that it could have easily fallen into the pile of useless tweets, which I'll admit I likely hold the world record. But Dave took my dare and did something, something quite awesome as a matter of fact. (I forgive you if you leave here now and spend time on Dave's blog. Go ahead, it's okay) He obviously had no obligation to do anything with my question. He could have ignored it or told me to mind my own business. Instead he created a useful artifact that is beneficial for me, others and for him as well.

I don't know if that's an amazing story because it's one that likely happens to many people every day because they place themselves in a space that fosters intentional serendipity. It's actually quite wonderful, joyful and meaningful. You can't quantify it, place it in a lesson plan but you also can't ignore it. I'm sure the vast majority of you reading this are twitter users and have your own story to tell. Maybe not. The point here is that intentional serendipity should be held in much higher regard. If you say you're too busy for serendipity, you might want to loosen up your schedule.  I've often felt that every classroom should have a space, be it a wiki or a bulletin board that highlights unintended learning. It's often the best kind.

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  • Dean, I absolutely love this post! Just last week, I blogged about all of the unitentional learning that happened with my Grade 1/2 students on a field trip. I didn’t do anything other than blog about it, but now you’ve got me thinking about how I can make a bulletin board display showing all of that unintentional learning both in and outside of our classroom. What a powerful message to students: learning can happen anywhere at anytime.

    I’m going to email the link to this post to the teachers at my school. I think that they’ll find your message an interesting one too. You’ve inspired me, Dean, and I’m sure you’ll inspire many others as well.


    P.S. On a separate note, I really like your initial comment about why you tweet during lectures like this. I do something similar during staff meetings. I set-up my own backchannel by taking minutes during the meeting. I insert all of my sidebar thoughts too, and then I share these minutes with the staff after the meeting. They usually lead to further discussion. I guess it’s like a highly modified, private tweet stream.:) Taking these minutes keeps me focused though, and it keeps me learning. I can make this “accomodation” for myself during meetings, just like you can choose to tweet during lectures, but do we always remember to provide the same opportunities for our young students? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Your post reminded me of the importance of making sure that there are numerous, different ways for students to listen and learn. Thanks Dean!

  • Steve Johnsons adjacent possibilities… were smelling up a storm… at least in my serendipitous visions and connections that day. we just have no idea. we can’t. we can however swim in it…revel in it. take heed to not waste those opportunities by thinking we have to measure or prove them.
    how lucky are we…. dang.

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