Monday, May 25, 2015

21st Century Digital Learning Space: My Classroom Makeover

I never thought that it would actually come to fruition.  All year long, I have been dreaming, hoping and planning for an updated learning space for my intermediate Grade 7/8 classroom.

Well, dreams can come true; my classroom has arrived!

Cafe table seating

Standing height work tables with stools

Floor seating areas with rolling benches and rugs. We have had to move to two different floor areas rather than just the one that we started with, in order to accommodate more students.

No more teacher desk! I use a cafe table for conferencing with students and to set my laptop. Mostly, I move around the room conferring with students.

Two projection areas; I use apple TV on one of them, and the second is an Epson Brightlink Interactive projector.

Supply shelves with art, math and other materials always at the ready for students (and student mailboxes on top)

The classroom isn't totally complete and organized the way that I would like it yet, and I still have many improvements that I want to make, but this is a start.

The technology that I use is a combination of 15 iPad minis, about 5 SEA laptops (designated for Special Education students), and laptops that we bring in from the computer lab next door as needed.  Next year the plan is to add about 10 laptops to the classroom's collection of technology.

Here are some of the key things that I have noticed:

  • students work more quietly because they are close together with their collaboration groups and partners
  • students are actively engaged and move around as needed
  • "rocking" on chairs has been eliminated because students simply move around as needed when they become restless
  • the most popular work space is THE FLOOR (amazing what cheap, $15 rugs can do!!)
  • collaboration is easy and instant (a lot of time is saved on transitions because students are so used to transitioning to different work spaces throughout every class)
  • conferencing with students and providing feedback is easy because I go and stand beside them at their workspace or pull up a seat at the collaboration tables
  • students are spread out around the room so it is more private for working, collaborating and conferencing

I have had many people ask for my resources for the furniture.  I'm not sure that I'm 100% happy with everything, but it is at least a place to start.  I am hoping to write another post soon to give the pros and cons for what I currently have in place in the classroom.

Assiginack Intermediate 21st Century Classroom
 *prices are approximated as of November 2014

* interactive projector will need a whiteboard

15 Ipads, apple tv, cables
3 tech tubs for ipads

Collaborative Work Spaces-
Brodart Adjustable height café tables 4 @$184= $736
Brodart Adjustable  swizzle café stools 8@ $112=$896
Carr Maclean Mity bilt tables plum 4@$625= $2500
Ikea Standing height tables 2@$259=$518
Ikea Stool seating 8@$60= $480
Ikea Kallax benches/storage 2@$70=$140
Ikea casters 6@ $10=$60
Ikea Kallax storage $149
Staples Literature organizer $238
2 iKea Clearance rugs @ $15 each
assorted throw pillows

Henry’s Green Screen $99
Henry’s iPad mount for tripod $35

Sunday, May 3, 2015

21st Century Learning Space: no seating plan required

When was the last time that you were a student?

At my last teacher P.D. session, I reflected on the learning that was happening in the room. I felt like I was back in high school all over again.

Hard chairs.
Sitting all day.
Directed through every activity.
No choice as to how I learned or what I learned.
Sitting in the same spot. Not with my friends.

Ok, it wasn't actually that bad. But, by the end of the day I was sore, tired, cranky, and didn't feel like I learned the best that I could have.

My own classroom has moved toward being a 21st century learning space. We no longer have a seating plan. Students move and sit where they need to for each learning activity. As I sit here and reflect, the behaviour issues during class time have decreased. It isn't perfect, by any stretch, and I have a couple of students who need to be redirected. They still have an assigned seat because they can't manage themselves. I have had to give them an assigned space because that better meets their learning needs. But they are no longer distracting others from learning and they are more productive and on-task this way.

We don't have all of our new furniture in place, and are in a transition stage. We have some traditional desks in the room still, in groups. We do have a carpet area, benches and standing height cafe tables and stools. By making the changes gradually it seems to have made for an easier transition.

My own children testing out our new classroom cafe tables after school.

The students now enter my class each day and choose where to sit. I have noticed that they tend to sit in the same spot at the beginning of each period. Then, once I set them off on an activity, they move to where they feel they need to.

What I have learned from this:

  • intermediate students usually prefer to work on the floor
  • they like to work in the most uncomfortable looking configurations if it means that they get to be close with their friends
  • sitting at tall cafe tables makes them sit more upright, speak more quietly, and collaborate more closely
  • it's easier to give feedback as I move around and mingle with the students at their different seating spaces, and it's a more relaxed atmosphere
  • sometimes it's noisy
  • there is more learning going on than what I see at first glance (thank goodness, because some days it looks and sounds like recess time)
  • standing-height spaces allows for the best on-task collaboration
  • having no front-of-the-room cuts down on the teacher-directed learning
  • wireless projectors, Apple TV and 2 projection surfaces are AWESOME
  • chairs and regular desks lead to slouching, laying on the desk, and more disengagement
  • when they are tired or disengaged they move back to the desks and slump
Once I have the rest of my furniture in place, I am planning to get feedback from my students. We did a pre-survey a while ago about our classroom, before I made changes.  I am very curious as to what their thoughts are about the new learning space. I do feel that some of the students prefer to be told where to sit. Is this a product of years of seating plans in school, so it's a comfort thing? A confidence issue? Or is it personal learning style?

I have just learned that I am going to get a new student on Monday. I am a bit worried that he/she will be completely shell-shocked, if they come from a more traditional classroom. My classroom is noisy, in constant motion, and to an outsider it likely looks like sheer chaos (and admittedly, some days it is).

Perhaps a transition plan will be necessary. #somethingIneverthoughtabout

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending: #makeschooldifferent

I really wasn't sure that I had anything to say to the #make school different challenge.  After ruminating over the question for about a week, I have changed my mind.  I guess I need to stop pretending that I don't have anything to offer, and rather, add my piece to the learning.

1. We need to stop pretending that by blocking websites we can keep students "safe".
After the students leave our building at the end of the day, they usually enter a completely unfiltered virtual world.  As a parent and a teacher, I would rather my children have the understanding of the dangers out there, rather than pretending they don't exist.  An occasional glimpse of something not completely appropriate, such as youtube ads, can be a learning opportunity when guided by a mindful educator or parent. Meanwhile, so much learning is lost when students can't access what they need. Just this week, I had a great math learning activity planned using Scratch coding. It was blocked by the filters. Opportunity lost.

2. We need to stop pretending that Maker education is just an "extra".
I got to see the joy in students' faces as they made windmills using wood, nails and imagination. For some students in my class, I feel that it was the first time they were "truly" engaged this year. We need to build in daily opportunities for students to make, build and create. They can't learn everything in a virtual way. Rather, they need to get their hands dirty and try.

3. We need to stop pretending that tests are the answer.
Very few students excel at tests. None that I have ever met enjoy writing them. I would rather have a student teach someone what they have learned. Or create. Or evaluate. Or anything other than a test on knowledge-based learning.

4. We need to stop pretending that teachers impart the knowledge.
My class is in the process of completing Genius Hour projects. Many of them have chosen projects that I actually know quite a lot about: building, sewing, jewellery making, using a compass, History of WWII...  Did I actually give any of them that knowledge?  No. They learned it on their own. And their learning went so much deeper and their pride was so much greater than if I had simply imparted that knowledge to them.

History inquiry projects? Same thing. Sometimes their inquiries take them outside  and beyond the constraints of the curriculum document, and as a teacher I have had to be able to let go a little. They are learning more deeply, and they are engaged. As educators, isn't that what we are truly striving for?

5. We need to stop pretending that our classrooms meet the needs of our students.
Next time you are at a PD session, evaluate how you feel sitting in your chair at your table for hours on end. And don't talk to your colleagues.  And force yourself to sit next to someone that you really don't like connect with very well. Sit there all day long. Take notes and have your eyes facing the front.  After about the first hour, I know that I want to run screaming from the room. After 2 hours I am usually so far off task and so is everyone around me, that there is very little learning happening.

Now think about how your students feel.

As teachers, we are always moving around our classrooms: perching, walking, standing, and talking. That is what the students need too. Get rid of the desks. Have areas for standing. Have areas for sprawling on the floor. Allow your students to move. And talk. And have choice.

And finally, I needed to have a #6.  I saw a few others with more than 5 items, so I am going to give myself permission to break the rules too.

#6. We need to stop pretending that we can't change any of the above on our own. We can. Not in a day, a week, or maybe even a year, but we can begin to affect these things.  And share our ideas with others.