The title is a bit of a lie. It’s not really a new year anymore. However, it’s been a very long time since I have posted anything and I wanted to give an update of my attempts to hack my classroom both physically and curriculum wise.
Just a little back story. A couple of years ago, I got the book, “The Third Teacher”, which described how the environment can have a huge impact on the student’s desire and inspiration to learn. It got me thinking about my own classroom and the industrial look it had. It was a portable and it looked like a jail, bot inside and out. I wanted to inspire my students but felt like they were being held back.
Having said that, transforming your classroom is tough with no control over the physical space of the classroom beyond putting bulletin boards up. Over the last couple of years I have been trying to pressure the administration to provide funds to update the space.
This last summer, it happened. We got permission and the funds to add new floors, new paint with an accent wall, updated lighting, new windows and new cupboards. While the outside still looks like a bit industrial, the inside is starting to become more of a space where inspiration and creativity can happen.
The slideshow below shows several of the changes. However, I want to highlight a few other additions I added to the physical space in terms of the decor. While I kept the traditional bulletin boards, I did get rid of the ones on the accent wall. Not only do I not like updating them, I have found that students rarely reference them beyond the ones that hold student work. For the accent wall, I added 4 clocks with times from around the world (which I had continued from last year). My dream is also to purchase 3 or 4 flat screens to hang on the wall. The flat screens would be computer workstations that students could use as well as displays of student work when they are not being used.
A Creative Space
I also placed a number of inspirational quotes from a variety of sources around the room. The Star Wars quotes came from a blogger who had designed the quotes to be used as desktop wallpaper. Using photoshop, I transformed them into posters for pretty cheap having printed them out at Staples. The kids really liked them and it helped spruce up the locker room/bathroom area. The other quote/designs came from a magazine I saw in an African hotel magazine. I took pictures of them and then re-created them with photoshop. You can get copies here. The planet poster, I purchased off Etsy and the Mulan poster is a poster I picked up a number of years ago for my home. I don’t have room for it at home anymore, so I brought it school. It’s such a nice poster. I don’t know if the students ever read the posters but I think that it makes the room look really nice and adds a creative touch to the space rather than standard teacher-y look most classrooms have.
The Teacher Desk
One of the biggest changes I have made, and the one I love the most at this point, was getting rid of the traditional teacher desk. The traditional teacher desk is so big, clunky and unmoveable. Once you have it in your classroom, it rarely gets moved around and is so indicative, I feel, of the traditional model of teaching. Also, I always felt like it encouraged me to sit down. Over the summer I went to Ikea and purchased the last floor model table for just over $100. It has been amazing! Not only has it forced me to be more organized, but because the computer has been moved away somewhere where I can’t sit to use it (forcing me to not spend large amounts of time in front of it) but it has allowed me an extra space to work with groups of students in the classroom who need more one on one. The computer has been moved to the bookshelf where I have to stand up to use it. I still have a laptop I use, along with an ipad but don’t need to be in one particular spot to use them unlike the big computer which I have to have to use the Smartboard. The table has probably been the best physical change I have made in my 17 years of teaching. I also bought a side table from Ikea but would really like to add one more. The side table is a nice length and width, which allow it to be usable yet not take up too much room.
The bins you see in the classroom are also new. I saw another teacher using them on Pinterest and I liked the idea. The bins are for materials that are tough to keep track of or are used to play with. The top drawer holds rulers, scissors and glue. The next drawer holds, pencil crayons and other art supples. The last couple of drawers hold their math books.
So, those are the physical hacks that have been made in the room. I am really happy with them and the students really noticed at the beginning of the year as well. Of course, there are lots of other things I would like to do which I have listed as goals for future hacks:
- Get rid of the desks
- Have a mixture of tables, padded squares in order to provide multiple ways to group students or have students group themselves, giving them the freedom to arrange themselves around the room as required. it would also be nice to have students use padded squares so that, you can have them gather for a teacher directed lesson with no worries about them playing with things in their desks or having things to fidget with. I know! I know! You’re probably saying that, well, that’s your fault for not giving them lessons that are more student driven, inquiry based. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that make that impossible. First, I am still working on bringing more inquiry based lessons into my program. Secondly, our school requires the use of curriculum related materials that are not conducive to the inquiry approach, forcing some of the classtime to be more teacher directed. For those times, it would be nice to be able to have students move their blocks to the smartboard, do a quick lesson without having to stop throughout to refocus students thus making the time longer, and then send them off.
- Flat screens for display purposes.
For the curriculum items, most of the changes have been made in writing and in Science.
For Science, I found a great couple of sites I have been using to promote a more inquiry based way of presenting information. I have listed them below:
- My Science Box – This is a great site that I have only recently started using. It had been lost in my bookmarks. The site has great stuff and free resources to use. http://www.mysciencebox.org/foodchain/lesson
- The Center for Learning in Action – Great units made by teachers for weather, light and sound. Lot’s of materials needed for these units, which always means that students will be heavily involved in things other than reading textbooks! http://learning-in-action.williams.edu/opportunities/elementary-outreach/science-lessons/4th-grade-waves-unit/
- Mosaic – Funded by SEDL, this is an interesting set of integrated approach to science, math, technology and language http://www.sedl.org/pubs/mosaic/units/Mosaic_Grade4.pdf
- Ontario Curriculum units – the following curriculum units have been wriiten by teachers for the new Ontario Curriculum using the Ontario Curriculum Planner. They use a big question and a probable real world problem to engage students. http://orgs.educ.queensu.ca/curr/
For Language Arts, I have decided to have students do all their writing on the chromebooks. We purchased a set of chromebooks last year. At that time, we only had two classes using them. This year, we have four classes using the same set of 25. It has been challenging to get a consistent time to use them in order to build a program around the use of them. I tried very hard to get them at times I would be doing writing and focused on using the chromebooks for that. We are using google docs, doctopus and goobric and the students are just loving it. It is so freeing to them to not have to work on revision, after revision having to re-write their stories after each revision. It’s also been great for students to have me join them collaboratively in the editing process right there on their screen. At some point, I would also like them to work together collaboratively to comment on each other’s work.
Because, I am doing writing and reading in alternating units, I am not sure how to use the chromebooks at that time for reading. I am thinking of using the website Activelylearn.com to do their reading online collaboratively with a focus on close reading strategies but that is still something I will need to flesh out.
Anyway, that was a brief 🙂 update on what is happening in my classroom this year. It’s been a great start and the classroom is the best educational space I have ever had since the beginning of my teacher career. I feel inspired in this room and I am sure the students do as well.