Extreme Learning: Extreme Influence


Karen Lirenmans is an extreme learner. This is not much different from how she trains. We rode our bikes out to the tip of River Road and back again. It was on the way back and in the last five minutes of our 90-minute ride that she dropped me.  I was actually stunned. I had forgotten she had completed five Ironmans. She is unassuming in her endurance and remarkable in her tenacity. She brings the same intensity to her learning and her teaching. Perhaps what is most remarkable about Karen, however, is the measure of influence she is having across North America. Tucked away in the corner of Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, B.C., she spends her days teaching six year olds. This is her first love. She cares passionately and deeply about her students.  She is determined to see them be successful. By night she shares her stories, her struggles and her passion for learning and her students around the globe.

Karen is focused on good instruction. She only recently fell into using technology. Initially, she didn’t even have an iPad. She borrowed the district’s loaner iPod set for a short time.  Seeing her intensity for integrating technology, my team found a way to get her one iPad. That was how it started. We smuggled her into an Apple Canada Bootcamp at the Richmond Headquarters with a secondary school staff so she could get some intensive hands-on instruction. From that small beginning she has since been catapulted into the limelight as an oft-requested presenter, speaker and writer.  She has even been asked to write a book. Her post about Using One iPad in the Classroom (click here) went viral, receiving over 7600 hits.  She has written for the International Reading Association on three separate occasions (click here).  She has written for Kidblog as well (click here). Her podcast is featured here.  Her upcoming webinar is scheduled December 8th and you can register here. She just became a DEN Star (see what that means here). Besides her prolific popularity in the digital world, she is frequently asked to present after school workshops or pro-d sessions in our district. She is one of our district’s Innovators (also referred to as a “mover & shaker”) as well as a Digital Coach. She is now involved in an Innovative Learning Designs Project (Phase 2) at her school as well as the district’s Making Thinking Visible (one-to-one literacy pilot). She is recently became part of a joint initiative between the district and the union focused on Teacher Inquiry.

In her words:

In July 2011, I joined twitter and almost immediately became a connected educator learning from some amazing global educators.  Seeing the potential of being a connected educator, I felt it was important for my students to be connected learners too.  We set up a class blog where we shared our learning with the world (over 20,000 hits).  My students were given their own individual blogs to write for a global audience.  We regularly visited class blogs, and left comments and responded to the comments that left for us.  We skyped, and face timed with classes in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Illinois, sharing our learning with them while learning from them too.  We took part in twitter chats with other classes, and even started our own hash tag where we shared secrets about Santa with the world.   We learned how to draw a comic character from a student in Ontario through a video his teacher had.  We connected globally and learned from students around the world.  In addition we were involved in several global projects including Quad Blogging, Full of Beans Project, and a Flat Classroom Pilot Project.  We worked collaboratively with many other classes in the Flat Classroom project. While my students learned from me, their teacher, they also learned from one another and from children and teachers around the world.  We were true global learners. Oh and did I mention, my students were only in grade one.

Karen continues to push her own learning, to create connected opportunities for her students and to share her thinking around the globe. Few would know we have a teacher like this hidden in our own backyard. A women of extremes, whether she is training for an Ironman, pursuing her own learning, teaching her students or influencing the educators around her and across the globe—clearly, she is transforming the way we learn and teach.

Karen Lirenman teaches at Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia. She has taught for over 20 years. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @KLirenman. She is a regular contributor to #1stchat.

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