Monthly Archives: October 2015

Its All About the Space….

When I first started teaching ages ago, like most of us, I set up my classroom the standard way. I had my nice neat rows all lined up perfectly so my students could view me and the front of the room where the whiteboard was. It was what I had learned, what I saw many others doing so I thought this was the way rooms were supposed to be set up.  And I am sorry to say, this was how my room was set up for many years.  I did make some small changes as time went on and I grew more confident – I set up desk groups, let students pick their own desks but for the most part it was still rows of desks.

Fast forward to now and my room is definitely much different.  It took people who challenged my way of thinking – Erin Klein with her different posts on setting up a classroom environment that students felt comfortable in, Dana Ariss with her couches and beanbag chairs and many others who made me realize that it was okay to start rethinking my classroom environment.  But at the end of the day, it was my kids, my students who made me realize it was time for a change.

I want you all to think about when you go to PD sessions where you have to sit for long periods of time and how uncomfortable you all get. Most of us would not make it if we had to sit for a whole day in a chair or desk without being able to get up and move, yet we forget we sometimes ask the same of our students. We all wiggle in our chairs, shift around and even take a ‘bathroom break’ just to get up.  Guess what – our kids are actually the same. It was this thinking that made me bring in some changes into my room when I moved to my new school.

One popular space in our classroom

One popular space in our classroom

When I started in my new school last year, I decided it was time to rethink classroom space.  So I started adding in things that I thought were important to have some different spaces in my classroom where students felt comfortable to do their work. One of the first spaces I set up was my reading corner. Here is where I have my classroom library, pillows for the kids to set and lay on while they are reading or if they are doing work, they can also use this space.  I also have 2 Ikea chairs that the kids love sitting in while they read or do work.

Another popular spot are the tables I have – one large communal whiteboard table I use to work with the kids, but is also a great collaborative space where kids like to work together. Around it are hokki stools -the greatest invention. My kids call them “wobbly stools” but its great for those kids who need something to get those wiggles out. I like them way better than yoga balls because they are smaller and easier to contain, they don’t take up as much room but still have the same affect.

As well, there are two standing desks for those kids who just need to stand sometimes.  Again this is a popular space because sometimes kids need to stand up and move around. And this gives them that opportunity. The newest addition is a low table for those that like to be low to the ground for those that like to be low to the ground when they work.  It’s also become a popular collaborative space or space for my math groups.

Different working spaces

Different working spaces

My students have learned these last few weeks that these spaces are for them – they are to pick the space they need that speaks to than at that period in time.  For some of them, it is their desk. They like having their own personal space to call their own and sometimes some will work there because they just need to have a space for them to work on their own. We have also learned we need to share the space so if two of us want it at the same time, they need to deal with that. For most of them, “rock, paper, scissors” has become their go-to for solving any problems that arise and I am good with that.

So for those people who are wondering if setting up your classroom differently is something to consider, I would definitely say yes. It’s been working in my room, my students are happy, comfortable but most importantly, they are learning to use the different spaces to work and use it well.

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If You Build It….They Will Come

I am lucky enough to be in a school where I have quite a few resources when it comes to makerspaces and technology.  We were lucky enough to be picked for one of the schools for Curriculum Redesign and were given quite a number of cool resources.  One of the amazing things I found when I came to the school last year was a “bus” that had Raspberry Pi’s, Ardiunos, Little Bits kits, Lego Mindstorms, Makey Makey’s and more.  As well, I was able to bring in Minecraftedu and Scratch as programs for students to use.

Unfortunately with it being my first year last year, I wasn’t fully able to use all the things listed above and it really was something I wanted to tackle and get into.  I felt my littles this year weren’t quite ready to take all this on so I decided why not start an afterschool making/coding club.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

I talked to my admin who supported me (as usual), did a little research and wrote a parent letter telling about this new afterschool club, along with what I called my “Code” of Conduct – my expectations for how things would go in this little club of mine.  Last Friday I called a meeting at first recess calling for all those who liked to tinker, create and build to come to the first ever BG Making/Coding Club. Well….first recess came and I walked down to the atrium to meet those who were interested and came upon a mob of kids.  I couldn’t believe it honestly – I asked them to sit while I explained what my goals and hopes were for the club as well as shared my code of conduct.  Those that were interested were to bring the form home, read it over with their parents and then bring it back to school on the following Monday. I ended up handing out over 70 forms.

I then went home and tried to come to grips with what had just happened.  Now I knew I would not get every student that had come to the meeting – some would have parents that would say this just did not fit into their schedule, some would not be interested in the expectations I was putting on them and for some after school pickup would be a challenge. However, I had to figure out how I was going to handle the numbers if I did get a lot of kids.  For me, the challenge was I did not want to leave kids out, I did not want to draw names out of a hat, I did not want to split into groups where one group would get a few months, then the other would come the latter half of the year.  I had a lot of things I wanted to do with the club this year.  So I decided that I would just take whoever showed up that Monday with their forms.  Those students who did what I asked, read over and got their forms in on the assigned date would be showing me they were seriously interested and could follow what was asked of them.  Again I was under this crazy assumption this might bring my numbers down.

By Monday lunch, after I put out an announcement saying all forms must be in by that lunch no later, I had 57 students in my first ever coding club…. yes, that is correct 57 students.  So now I had to figure out what how I was going to organize this sheer number of kids and how things would work.  I ended up having a meeting on the Tuesday morning with the 57 and explained that by the end of the day that had to be in a team of 3 and would be part of one of the following team challenges:  the Minecraft Challenge, the Lego Mindstorm Challenge or the Scratch Challenge.

At the end of the day, myself, my new partner in crime (the learning coach who was willing to jump in and join me on this journey) and 57 kids started our first coding club meeting.  For the Minecraft team their challenge was to plan and build something that would knock my socks off.  I explained that I was pretty Minecraft savvy and had seen some pretty amazing things so I now needed to see what skills they all brought to the table Minecraft wise – what were they capable of creating with the knowledge and skills they had.  And trust me, they were ready to go.  Many of them kept coming up to me going “I can’t wait for you to see this Mrs. D.  – it is going to blow your mind.”

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

For the Lego Mindstorm groups, I was very blunt.  I explained I did not know much about them but was willing to learn with them but their challenge was to work as a team and build something, whatever creation they wanted to as a team.  I was lucky enough to have 3-4 kids that had a pretty good idea of how Mindstorms worked so they got into their teams and away they went.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

For the Scratch team, I was not able to get things going that day for them.  They were a smaller team – only 6 were interested.  I asked them if they would be willing to join the Minecraft challenge until next week when I could have things better organized with putting groups in different areas as well as backpacks.  (who knew 57 backpacks would take up a HUGE space in my classroom – I lost a big building space to backpacks alone.  I now know next week there needs to be a different space for this)  However, my challenge for them will be for them to make a video in Scratch talking about our amazing school and what is so great about it.

The plan will now be for the teams to work for the next 2-3 weeks on their challenge.  We will then collectively as a group come together and do a share where we will see what others have created and share our thoughts – what we think has worked well, what we liked and then have the group reflect on what they have built, what they like, what would they do differently if they could.  Then they will have the opportunity to rotate to another challenge.  This should keep me going for the next few months so that I can figure out how to slowly introduce all the other makerspace tools I want them to have a chance to experiment with.

So now that the whirlwind that has consumed me for this last few days has finally slowed down, I can reflect and say how amazing it is that I have the number of kids that I have.  During that day, I had students engaged and creating, helping each other out when they couldn’t figure out how to work something, not one student was left out, all were on a team of some sorts.  I heard over and over “this is so awesome….” “this is so cool….”  and “I can’t wait for next week…”

I actually have a waiting list of more that want to join, but I did have to be realistic and cap it.  I was close to getting in over my head with the numbers I already had. But I look forward to this adventure ahead. I have many ideas and goals this year and now that I know I have a group of kids excited to join me on it who knows what we are going to come up with over the course of the year…. but I’ll keep you all posted.