Category Archives: Learning spaces
I’ve become a huge quadblogging fan.
For those not in the know quadblogging is when a group of four classes take turns to read and comment on individual blogs. The quad can be international or national.
After a few false starts, the quad I’ve been involved in this year has been nothing short of awesome. I feel bad that the class hasn’t been able to give as much attention as I would like owing to production practices, swimming and learning conferences playing havoc with the classroom schedule.
A few weeks ago a challenge went out. The students of one of the quads wanted to map our classroom in minecraft.
To say my students are obsessed with minecraft would be an understatement. There’s something about building virtual worlds which is almost as addictive as refined sugar to my learners.
One of my students took over the project and spent the next few weeks measuring up a storm. I wasn’t allowed to touch my whiteboard as measurements went up and were then put into written form. The initial write up conveyed an insane amount of detail and involved discussions about the Pythagorus theorem.
The excitement of seeing the build grew but there was one small problem – the set up of my classroom is very different to a typical classroom. My students don’t really notice the difference as that’s our normal. We are only reminded that our classroom isn’t typical when the odd student from outside of our syndicate walks in and goes ‘woah it looks different in here.’ As a result our quadblogging buddies were having trouble getting their heads around our classroom layout.
The initial result was wrong.
And from that wrong I ventured into the promised land as far literacy goes: boys talking to each other about their writing. Not just the surface ‘I think you did a good job’ or ‘how do you spell this word’ but those in-depth conversations, the ‘if you write this, the reader might think that’ talks which really develop kids as writers.
My students had a go at giving the blogging buddies feedback. Helping their peers put things right turned out to be a fantastic way for the kids to really stretch their explaining skills. As I sat working with a child on their reading, I found myself distracted wanting to the capture the learning conversation happening just a few meters a way.
One of my students suggested a fix was for our blogging buddies to make an initial build and then our class could rebuild. While I was impressed by the lateral thinking a quick reminder about the ‘task with the task’ writing and measuring had the kids back thinking.
As always there was extra learning for me.
How could we have explained our set up a bit better?
When did we need to get our rulers and when was time to make sure our explanations used words to helped create an accurate picture in the readers mind?
I’ve been hugely impressed how this connection has lead to so much unintended and unscripted learning. It’s pushed me to think more about how we can redefine our learning tasks.
For someone who loathes interior design with the fire of 1,000 suns I spend way too much time thinking about classroom layout. After my initial move away from student desks, I had another classroom re-configuration at the start of the year when I was the lucky recipient of new classroom furniture.
Yet here I am back in the holidays surreptitiously stashing desks around the school. My initial classroom layout had for the most part worked well. The kids made great use of the space and the classroom could be configured and reconfigured based on our needs. Yet there were some niggles.
Some furniture wasn’t being used at all by the students, there were areas where the kids were bunching up and others they weren’t using at all. A further catalyst for change was the school library re-opening and taking with it an entire shelf load of resources. So I took this midyear break as an opportunity to do yet another classroom redesign and most importantly de-clutter the classroom.
I amazed at how much clutter I have been able to amass in my 18 months in this classroom. I didn’t even think I had packrat tendencies (when you move every 18 months or so you don’t tend to hang on to junk) but nevertheless old notices, a few resources and whole lot of empty boxes were still in my class. It must be a teacher thing as my mother (who is a teacher) has boxes and boxes of resources that she has stored away in a shipping container (not all of it is teaching resources).
How much do we hold onto in schools just in case it might be useful?
Does it serve a purpose?
Does it make your classroom environment flow better or does it add obstacles and create visual noise?
At the beginning of the year I was very fortunate to spend the day with @sherrattsam at NIST in Bangkok. His blog is a must read but this post on time and space. So I made it my goal over the holiday to create more space.
I’ve pushed most of the tables in my class against walls to create as much floor space as possible. Floor space creates a physical flow through the room. There’s no reason that the kids can’t move the tables (and I’m expecting they will) however by placing furniture on the perimeter of the room there tends to be more flexibility in space.
I’ve deliberately moved the teaching station to the back of the room away from the board. Stephen Heppell (one of my learning space gurus) talks about creating multiple points of interest around the room. By having a teaching station right by the board I was still owning the front of the room. I’ve also added in a coffee table and sofa to make the area more interesting. Hopefully this will spread out the points of interest more in the room and also give kids a positive experience in groups.
Music and smell are important and again I’ve borrowed from Time/Space.There’s an electric aromatherapy burner in the background and the dock where I put my iPhone for some relaxing music (much to the chagrin of my 1Direction fans). The aromatherapy has had mixed reviews by the students. Some love it, others roll their eyeballs but the idea of creating a calm environment appeals. The science is very much out on the efficacy of aromatherapy and I’ve been mindful to use scents that won’t upset the asthmatics. However even if the claims about the efficacy of essential oils is mixed it can take the edge of the odour of class full of adolescents post PE. The stools enable the students to use the sink as a work area if they wish.
Daily 5 board. I totally stole this idea from @heymilly. My classroom has this wonderfully velcro type material along one wall which when you add some some velcro to the backs of laminated bits of card make for an interactive display. The kids names are laminated on the right with different colours. The students park their name next to the choice with each colour representing a different session.The rest of my walls are pretty much bare for good reason.
The students aren’t here yet.
Each new term brings a chance for new beginnings and new adventures.
By creating more physical space I hope to create a learning environment that has purpose. Nothing gets added to our environment unless it adds to the room.
My mantra during this busy term will be to go slow.
To spend more time getting the why right.
This year I’ve resolved to share more of my practice online. I’m not sure how interesting it will be once the term really begins, but for now this school year is new and sparkly. I have lots of energy and want to share (as opposed to last year which just seemed to pass in blur of haziness).
I teach a combined Year 7/8 class with my Year 8s remaining with me for two years. This has both its advantages and disadvantages. I already know half my kids and there was a culture established in the class. However for incoming Year 7s it must be tricky coming into a room where half the kids know each other and whats what. The video is an attempt to bridge the gap letting the Year 7s know what they might expect from 2013 and giving the Year 8s a reminder of some of the crazy stuff we got up to last year.
I followed @kathryntrask example last year and used buckets as a place for students to store their gear in the absence of individual desks.
To get the kids a bit more psyched about the buckets, each bucket has some small gifts inside them:
An eraser, because all of us are going to start the year with a clean slate. A blue piece of card for the students to make a postcard to mail home in a few weeks with their goals for the year. A yellow piece of paper to name their bucket (I’ll laminate those). There’s also a pencil to represent that we are each scholars and piece of vietnamese candy to signify our school theme for the first of the half of the year, globalisation. Finally there’s a lollypop which has extra special significance.
Late last year I stumbled onto this awesome TED Talk by a guy called Drew Dudley, who argued that true leadership was in the little every day things that we do to make each others lives better which he called lollypop moments. Now my Year 8s have already seen the talk but something really resonated with me about this idea and I’m going to use this idea as something to build on in the next few weeks as I build up my class’s culture.
New Year, New furniture.
One of the big things to happen in my class is that we have new furniture. My class really was in need of some new furniture as the top was coming off one of the old tables, and some of them had bits falling off them.
Now the classroom has wave tables that can be easily reconfigured, a low level table, plus stools, the hokki stools (wobbly stools) thanks to my awesome principal.
To top things off my last year’s tutor teacher left my students her old couch which I know is something the kids will love.
On one hand it’s awesome having new desks and chairs but on the other, I was has having trouble working out how this furniture would fit around the room. Yes a few tables got moved next door as the kids in my class will often work on the ground and too much furniture tends to stop this from happening.
You might notice that a lot of my desks and tables are pushed against walls rather than in the middle of the class. Again this is deliberate, to improve the flow of the class. Having lots of furniture tends to impede movement both of kids and furniture as it become a big deal to push a table out if there are three in the way.
I also don’t have enough chairs and table for every child to sit down at once. Again, this is deliberate. By not having enough kids need to learn how to share. It also means that students who want to work on the couch or the sofa can do this.
There’s also beanbag and plenty of cushions (which my students often plonk on top of). I’ve line up furniture against the board to take the focus away from the front of the classroom. I haven’t quite managed Stephen Heppell’s rule of three points of interest (not to mention there are not three teachers in the class, but nevertheless there should be multiple points of interest for people to see if they happen to wander into the classroom.
You might have noticed that I don’t have much on the walls. This is deliberate. I know a lot of teachers like to have bright borders and pretty fonts and yes it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing classroom. However I’m of the belief that the walls should be places for learning and if you are going to put up things, then it needs to have a purpose other than looking pretty. Over the coming weeks I’m sure that there will be questions and problem posing plastered all over the walls. I also know the kids will start putting up artwork that makes the standard, in fact maintaining our walls with colour and interest will I’m sure be part of my class’s morning chore.
At the moment I’m not entirely happy with my set up. It feels a lot more like a classroom at the moment rather than the library vibe I had previously. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance things will change a lot in the coming weeks and months. And truth be told, I really miss our igloo.
This year promises to be an exciting one. I hope to document it a lot better than I did my first.
Tomorrow my learners arrive and instead of freaking out like I did every term last year, I feel oddly calm.
Of all the books I read over the summer, the Daily 5 is the one I should of read. Reading had been a nagging concern all of last term. I spent hours putting together worksheets and finding stories for my students to read during rotations but I had this nagging feeling that the kids weren’t well engaged. I kept hearing mentioning of the Daily 5 on twitter and was curious to find out more.
Once I finally got paid, I downloaded the Daily5 along with the Book Whisperer onto my iphone and finally had a eureka moment. Alongside learning the mechanics of reading my kids also needed time set aside in class to read. So away we went. I borrowed the Book Whisper’s strategy of instituting a target of 30 books from a range of genres, a reader’s notebook for the kids to keep track of what they are reading, what they want to read, genre notes and most importantly a weekly letter from the student reflecting on their reading.
The Daily 5 gives the kids the space to do this within a classroom setting through Read to Self and Read to Others. I found it interesting how many of the students have already remarked in their reflections that they’ve read more books in the first two weeks of this term than they did during the entire of last year and more importantly how many of them have started reading books introduced to them by their partner during Read to Others.
Work on Words and Work on Writing have largely evolved from existing classroom programmes. This week the students were assigned a task to complete a blog post as a character from the book they were reading and work on words on the windows using liquid chalk was a big hit. I was amazed when one of my more reluctant writers, who often struggled to write more than paragraph or two, spent time at home working on a lengthy post as a character from her favourite books and then asked for a similar writing assignment next week!
At the moment my students get one ‘free choice’ session a day, but as their confidence (not to mention my own) improves, I hope that the kids will be able to self-select their timetable.
One of the important components of the daily 5 is that the kids can work anywhere in the class and stay put during the location. Because my classroom furniture is the old fliptop desks, I borrowed @kathryntrask idea of using buckets for storage which ensures the students have their stuff with them so don’t need to move in the middle of the sessions (thus avoiding distracting others and time-wasting by shopping for books etc.). As a result, most of the students aren’t working at their desks during literacy but are sitting on the floor, lying under the tables or scrawling wacky words they find from their books onto the windows using liquid chalk.
The students like that the Daily 5 gives them time to actually read and write. I feel a bit shaky as the programme seems so different from teacher-directed texts and responses I tried in the first term. Although as anecdotal evidence when I mused out loud that the class had five minutes to kill before school assembly and asked the students for suggestions as to what we could do, the first answer they came up with was ‘read’ and within 20 seconds they all had their heads in a book!
Welcome back dear readers and happy 2012!
I am now in possession of keys to a classroom I’m responsible for. But right now there are no students only a couple of teachers oh and me.
I’m one of these teacher people now too.
A school without students is a very surreal place. Possibly because I’ve read Children of Men one too many times but also because right now that room still feels like someone else’s classroom. Most student teachers secretly yearn for the day when they get their own classroom and they get to decide what goes where and how to set up their classroom programmes. But oddly when faced with creating a learning space instead of merely borrowing someone else’s instead of feeling liberated I felt the walls of indecision closing in on me.
How can I possibly arrange the classroom until I’ve thought through all possible options for configuration and decided upon the one that will maximize student interaction and collaboration? Am I going first name or last name? What are we going to do for ice-breakers? Even the very act of writing this first post has been an exercise indecisiveness. It’s my first post as a real teacher shouldn’t I have something profound to say now that I have an actual audience?
I’m sitting here trying to think of something of substance to type and I got nothing.
That was my attempt at a primal scream in blog form.
A few years ago I was sitting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York where I became fascinated by this one exhibition that was simply an open mic in the middle of a crowded foyer. Anyone could rock up to the mic say anything and have their words amplified to the thousands of people wandering the museum’s halls. Every so often people would step up to the mic to speak and instead of saying anything profound or even just something coherent people simply screamed. It struck me as odd that when people were faced with the freedom to say anything they wanted they couldn’t find the words to say anything at all. Perhaps the artist’s intention was to show how people will conform to what comes before or perhaps it was a demonstration of a great Volitare saying, the best is the enemy of the good.
Voltaire’s idea that in an endless quest for perfection sometimes we sacrifice good options in a quest to discover an elusive ‘best’ option is a phrase that I and many new teachers need to keep in mind in these coming weeks and months. Not because I think new teachers shouldn’t be striving to be ‘the best’ but more because when you are faced with so many decisions and put so much pressure on yourself to get things right the first time, you end up forgoing the good options in the search for perfection. And it is that expectation of instant perfection that inevitably leads to disappointment and disillusionment.
Over the last few months I’ve read or heard horror stories about people’s first year/s of teaching and wondered if the real frustration comes out of the disconnection between what what new teachers might envision teaching to be and the reality of life in the classroom. We painstakingly make plans, spend hours deliberating over choices and then see so many hours of decision-making and angst go awry in just minutes. However when faced with things not going to plan being able to walk back from the ledge of ‘zomg I am the worst teacher ever how many days is it until the end of term?’ to ‘Ok that sucked now what can I do differently next time?’ is the best survival strategy a new teacher can have when faced with the paradox of making so many choices work.
That might not be the wording of a focusing inquiry question that the authors of the New Zealand Curriculum had in mind when they wrote the Teaching as Inquiry section of the document. But it’s a good enough option for now…
I had forgotten how beautiful Queenstown was until I ventured down over the weekend and stumbled upon the most beautiful school on the planet just a few blocks away from where I used to live. So join in me in a spot of edu-tourism blogging.
Remarkables Primary is nestled into the shore of lake Wakatipu, one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. In so many countries a public school on a piece of land so stunning would be unthinkable. The land would have long since have been on-sold to developers to build a high-end hotel. In fact there’s a Hilton literally the next bay over from the school.
Unfortunately the weather was a bit dreary and my photography a bit too mediocre to capture how stunning Remarkables school and surrounding scenery are.
Remarkables Primary takes it name from the mountain range overlooking Queenstown. There’s a ski field on the other side of the mountains. When I went to school in Queenstown, our weekly Physical Education classes were ski classes on one of the local ski fields.
What I love about the design of the school is the way it folds into the sloping bank of the lake. The roof is a living roof which is open for students to play on during breaks.
The only downside is that school is so close to Queenstown Airport that you can see the pilots picking their nose on final approach.
But the payoff is that you get to look at this from windows on one side of your classroom:
And have the mountains on the other side.
I can’t think of a more beautiful place in the world to be a school student.
Anyone up for organizing an EducampQtn?