Finding my Inspiration

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Where do you find your inspiration for your classroom? It’s the time of year where I am mentally preparing for the new school year. I am reflecting on the previous year, thinking of what worked well for us, and what needs tweaking. I’m thinking of how my students have inspired me to look beyond our lessons and focus on ourselves.

Many learners who have come before us have left their thoughts and ideas as their legacy. For example, Walt Disney, an innovator who made his dreams come true, has inspired me. On a recent trip to Walt Disney World with my family for a much needed vacation, I discovered his quotes all over the parks. He is still building dreams and inspiring others to follow their dreams.IMG_5427

Walt Disney is my inspiration, and his words are becoming my mantra. I want to get things going in my room.This year, I want to create a more flexible learning environment for my students, so that they have ownership of their learning because every student needs time for personalized learning.

I also find inspiration in colleagues who share my vision of student directed learning. This year, I am making a change in me. I am redesigning my teaching and reflecting on the process. So find your inspiration, and join me on my journey through rethinking and redesigning curriculum using 21st century skills, focusing mostly on the 4C’s – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

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Channeling your Inner Superhero

A few weeks ago, we were reading a book titled Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod. He uses alliteration to create zany superhero characters. So I asked my students, “What would be your superpower?” They came up with different ways to make their lives easier and ways to conquer “bad guys”. They had all kinds of great ideas about how to freeze things and use laser beams and fly above the earth.

It got me thinking about how all of us have an inner superhero that empowers us – to do good things for the community, combat “the bad guys”, and save the day. Everyday as teachers we channel our inner superhero to do what we know is best for kids.  We “power on” to reach all of our students, address individual wants, needs, and interests, and provide students with our best. Lately, I find myself seeking balance between how to reach and teach all of my learners in my room and how to make sure they have a choice in what they are learning. Teaching has changed significantly in the past ten years, from teacher centered to student centered. Reigning in the kids’ excitement for learning and setting them on their own path has been challenging. I have been reading blog by Pernille Ripp, who is an inspiration to others who want to make a change in how they are teaching kids. This is her experience in how she changed for the good of her students.

While learning more about my individual students, I know I need to be more of a coach, leading my sidekicks on their path to superhero greatness. I recently read the article called The Five Habits of Great Coaches  which helped me to realize that coaching students, guiding them alongside as they go about their own path, is a great way to provide each student with what they need to reach their goals. Listening to their plans, and discussing options, and guiding them along their learning plan are natural conversations we have throughout the day. Even though they are 6 and 7, my students have a lot to say and they let me know what they need every day.  They are inquisitive and all knowing. They have a thirst for knowledge, and I need to keep them moving forward.  And the best part of my world each day!

Teachers, we can do this! We can take all of our sidekicks and guide them into developing into the superheroes they were meant to be. So go forth, superheroes, and conquer your world today!

Engaging Learners

How do we make learning meaningful for all learners? How do you know when students are engaged? These are questions that I have been asking myself recently. What I have found is that meaning is found in making connections and building trust within your community of learners.  In the article Making School about the Connection by Joshua Block, he states that meaning comes from relationships, and sense of belonging. It also comes from exploration and self-expression.

To be truly engaged, students must feel safe sharing in their environment. Then, they need to be able to understand the material and internalized it, and make it their own. So, how do you know when students are truly engaged? Well, check out your class. What are they doing when you’re “not looking?” I peeked at my students this week , during Daily 5, to see if they were truly engaged, and I listened to their conversations ( because they are always talking) and I found that they were talking about …books, and reading, and making words together …exactly what I had taught them to do! ( There were a few who needed some additional reminders). They had moved from practicing the strategies to actually using them and talking about books with classmates.

I also took a peek while they were collaborating with peers about how to make our school a better community. And I witnessed these same students talking about ways to make some changes, or how to improve areas of our school. While it may look messy and sound loud, the class was truly engaged and took ownership of what they were doing.

Students also need to be flexible, and adaptable. They need to be able build relationships with their peers and establish trust. Maryellen Weimer writes about students who engage in higher level thinking in her article10 ways to Promote Student Engagement.  Teachers who make the learning more active and meaningful will have more engaged learners.

Here is a list of resources for keeping students engaged. It is no small task.

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How does your classroom feel?

I was recently reading a book by Pernille Ripp, the creator of the Global Read aloud, called Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students. She asks questions like ” Would you like to be a student in our classroom?” and she sets the tone for giving ownership back to the students. It’s not how the classroom looks, but its how a classroom feels when you walk in. And I asked myself, “how does my classroom feel to students?” I began observing how my students came in each morning. I could tell they were happy when they raced through the door, ready to start. Or smiled as they walked in. When you walk into our classroom, you will see students engaged in their work, and excited about their learning. This year, I’ve done away with the extensive worksheets, and really began to enjoy teaching. The space I’ve created allows for flexibility, and areas to work with groups, partners or independently. I’ve created a welcoming space, inviting people in with a wallflower that smells like pumpkin spice. It has a homey feel with the addition of another kitchen table I repurposed and painted. This is used in our Maker’s space for the students to create and invent new things. We are learning to work as a unit.

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One piece of learning became evident this week when we read The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds. He is the author we are studying in this year’s Global Read Aloud. we learned that we are all on our own journey, and this year, our first grade year, we are on this part of our journey together. I am on a quest for excellence, focusing on my own professional growth, my successes and failures, and my constant need for patience, persistence and support through this journey. While my students are on their own journey to invent themselves, I am reinventing myself. I can’t wait to see where this journey make take us.

Our first days in first grade

After some getting to know you activities, we started to talk about how we act in first grade. We based this on our school motto of being the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. The students drew pictures of how we should act in our classroom and at our school, and as they finished, they posted them on the chalkboard under each section. They chatted about what they drew and what the rules should be that we should follow, so we created a tree map listing their rules for our classroom.

 how we act in our classroom

We also learned about how we will work together, or more formally, collaboration in our classroom. We learned about collaboration and creativity through the Box Project.

 

we worked on collaboration and creativity this week.

we worked on collaboration and creativity this week.

We talked about the questions “What can you do with a box?” To gather information and ideas, we watched the visual representation of This is not a Box by Antoinette Portis, and read the book A Box Can be Many Things by Dana Meachen Rau. Then we brainstormed ideas together, created our teams and got to work making our boxes into something else. We talked about collaboration, and teamwork, and what it looks like, and feels like. They said its about working together, listening to each other, sharing ideas, and having fun .We created an anchor chart so that we have our expectations for collaboration written down and posted for the year. We did the same for Creativity, focusing on making things, sharing ideas , and being innovative – trying something new. My students are good at that! The best part was listening to them as they shared their thinking about their projects.

So, my lesson for the week: We can do this together! Even though we are learning to read, write, and do math in our classroom, more importantly, we are learning to work together and learn from each other.

I want to “hack my space!”

Where do I begin with creating a classroom environment that is student-directed? I thought this sums it up!

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I have to first look at what I’ve got in my learning space and think about how many people need to use this space. This year, I have 27 students, (plus me,  the teacher). Also, I really liked David Thornburgs’ theory of learning communities from this article: Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century.  This is where I began to think about how to set up my learning community. I needed a campfire – a place for us to meet as a whole group to share stories and a place to talk about our learning community. And I needed several watering holes – places for groups of students to share information. These would be our tables for collaboration. We would also need a cave – a place for individuals to have a quiet spot to go to work by themselves.  And a mountain top – a place to celebrate our learning. With this in mind, I began to think about my space.

More inspiration came from Edutopia: Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners. in which they talk about flexible learning environments. So , using the furniture I have in my room, I created this student centered learning environment.

Guided reading space

Guided reading space

A campfire space: In addition to having a meeting area for shared reading, I have a guided reading space for smaller campfires. I used file folder crates with covers and pillows on top for my seating around an old kitchen table with the legs cut to a height suitable for first graders.  Behind the table, I put plexiglass on the wall for the students to write down their thinking as we meet in groups. You can use glass markers or dry erase markers on the board and it wipes clean.

quiet reading area

quiet reading area

The Cave -independent work space: students need a place to go sometimes to work by themselves, so I set up an area with bean bags, pillows, and  a low bench for them to sit by themselves. They are mobile, so the kids can move them around the room to find their personal space.

reading centers

reading centers

This is how I set up my reading centers – leveled books on the left and tubs for Word Work from Daily 5 ideas by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. The Daily 5 is a framework for structuring literacy time so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently. There is also a collaborative wall in this space with small tables and large pillows for the students to use independently or with a partner.

tables for learning

tables for learning

The Watering hole: a place for smaller groups to gather and talk about their learning. My tables, or desks, are not assigned, so the students choose their own seat each day. They can choose Hokki stools or chairs, or even an exercise ball to sit on, as long as they are doing their best learning. Community supplies go in baskets on the table for the table to share.

Green Screen

Green Screen

We will we doing photography and recording the students’ stories this year, so i set up a green screen on the wall. It is a piece of neon green fleece that works well as a background. You can use it with iMovie, and put a different setting behind the speaker.  It can be taken down easily as well.

Maker's Space

Maker’s Space

I put my Maker’s Space by the window and sink area so I could use the window sill for a shelf . In the white bins are paper, plastic, and cardboard, and there are smaller supplies in the other tubs : Stickers, Yarn, string, ribbon, tools, tape, small stuff, and a Make-Do kit with connectors to make ordinary things, like boxes, into something else. (They can be reused). We will add to this space as we continue through the year.

maker's space tables

maker’s space tables

I used tables from Ikea along with Hokki stools for students to work in this space. Here is the Lego WeDo kit that kids can use to build different things and make them move.

Now I’m ready for the students to give me their input. I want them to share their thoughts about what would make our classroom a better learning environment for them. School starts in a week, so in my next post, you will hear from them. Here is another great article called 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom. There are a lot of great ideas to help get started!

I’d love to hear from you as well! How are you redesigning your space?

Technology in the Classroom

 

kids and tech

SO, my question is, how do we show kids how to do all of this and how do we make it purposeful?

A good place to start is the Teach 2 Inspire website . which provides safe, FREE online resources for educators, along with lesson plans to get your started! The issue of teaching typing skills has become popular recently with all the new PARCC assessments students are required to take. There are some typing apps suggested for you as well.

I am also interested in iPad apps in the classroom, and I found this article 25 ways to use the iPad in the Classroom from Te@chthought to be useful. It helped me decide what apps would be best for my first graders.

Also on Free Technology for Teachers, there was another great article on Technology with a purpose. Worth a read!

Hope this help you get started!