Friday, June 30, 2017

Disrupting the Class

June 2017: Where to now... As we close the school year, what do I do now??

Originally, I figured that the school year would come to a close and my journey would conclude. It had been a long, exciting, emotional, and empowering journey with my students. We spent the last 6 months together researching, taking action, presenting, and discovering what the ultimate classroom might look like. (The prior posts in this blog are evidence of our journey.) After all, Exhibition was done and a new year would begin in the fall.

Several people have asked me if I would do the same project next year with my students. My answer... I don't have a clue. I'm not sure what my students next year will be excited about. I am also not sure where I will be on my own personal journey.

So, how did I leave things? Well, within the last few weeks of school, I started to go through all of my things in an effort to purge what I wasn't using. The result, a large garage sale like pile full of professional books, manipulatives from when I taught other grades, outdated resources, and so much more. I know as teachers, we tend to save everything as resources are not cheap and at times are hard to come by, but I realized that if I wanted to hand the classroom over to my students, I needed there to be more stuff for them and less stuff for me. As I reorganized cupboards, I had two "rules" that stuck with me:

  • If the cupboard was accessible to students (lower), it could only contain items students should be able to get on their own. (Things like games, manipulatives, supplies, etc.)
  • If I hadn't used the resource in the past two years, I was getting rid of it. 
The last day, after students had left, I began the pile. I removed visuals from bulletin boards, walls, and cupboards. I started to move all of my furniture towards the center. I kept the desks in the center, but made sure they were still accessible to students. Everything that was feasible to move, I moved. I also went on a hunt in our building for a new table to hold my desktops. Prior to the end of this year, I had two very wide and long tables that held my four desktops. They took up a lot of space. Upon searching, I came across two smaller trapezoid tables to hold the desktops that would allow students to easily work with peers or individually and take up less space at the same time. 

What do I intend to do with the pile? Well, my students next year will be deciding. As part of our initial activities for the year, the students will be designing our room. As of right now, I am not sure how this process is going to look, I'm still working on it and I'm sure the students will have some ideas for me as well. We spend so much time at the beginning of the school year showing students the aspects of the classroom, teaching them how to use it, how to put it away. Why not give them more of the ownership? After all, aren't they the reason we do what we do? 

Sunday, June 11, 2017


June 1, 2017: Ultimate X: 25 Snapshots for the Class of 2025

If you don't read the whole post, be sure to at least check out the student's final presentation slides below!

The day had finally arrived. After 6 months of research, speakers, mentors, field trips, research papers, actions, presentation prepping, and so much more, we had arrived at the day we were going to share our story. The stage had been set. Screen ready. Microphone buzzing. Stage lights on. Twenty four eager 4th graders all sporting their Class of 2025 t-shirts. The large white letters spelling out UltimateX donning the stage.

Words cannot describe the excitement I felt as I opened the curtains and the students began to share. Each took a turn to share a part of our journey. Their slides told our story through pictures. As they spoke, they held an iPad with their notes, passing it to the next as they finished. I watched as each spoke in a manner well beyond what someone would typically expect of a fourth grader.

As they concluded the whole class portion of their presentation, the students headed towards their action stations to share more specifically about what they did for their action project. For those reading this who are overwhelmed by project based learning and giving up control in your classroom, I have to tell you that it has paid off. It was not an easy step to let go. When I went into this project, my biggest concern was my students not being able to meet the standards all while studying things they were passionate about. After all, with the challenges of testing and a lengthy list of standards, it can be hard to give up control. That fear has dissipated as I observed 24 eager fourth graders who not only accomplished the standards, but grew leaps and bounds beyond them.

It is surprising that in the post describing the close of the journey with my students this year, I am at such a loss for words. As I share with you some snapshots from our UltimateX presentation, I can honestly say I feel proud, empowered, challenged, and excited for wherever I end up as I continue on my journey of letting go. Who knows? The sky's the limit! I'm waiting to see where my students and peers in the future take me.  P.S. My story isn't done.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Presentation Time

May 2017: Our Presentations Take Shape

I meant to blog about the creation of our presentations earlier, but it has been such a whirlwind these last couple of weeks. When we set out to decide how our final exhibition celebration would look, we did a lot of planning. Planning a presentation of this magnitude which is lead by students takes some discussion. Several of the steps we took were:
  • Starting a class list of who we wanted to invite to our presentation. Two of the boys in my room utilized Canva to create an invitation. Two ladies worked on writing a letter to accompany the invitation cards. Finally, a group of students worked hard to address envelopes, look up addresses, and get everything ready to be mailed.
  • Planning a layout for our presentation. Ultimately, the students decided they wanted a whole class presentation and time for individual presentations on their actions. They also decided they wanted their presentation to look and feel like a TEDx. Not an easy undertaking.
  • After some voting and discussion, we decided to call our presentation the Ultimate X.
    • After a quick bubble letter contest, we voted on who would make the letters for our stage. 
As we discussed our whole class presentation, the students decided that they wanted it to be solely pictures. One of the students even suggested that we have 25 slides for the class of 2025. We spent time mapping our each step of our journey. In the end, we ended up with 25 different parts of our journey. With each student taking 1 of the parts, the students went through over 800 pictures taken during our journey in order to find the right ones to capture their part of the journey. I challenged the students to write an engaging description of their part that was between 1-2 minutes long. I was blown away with what they came up with. 

During this time, the students also worked on their individual presentations. As a class, we discussed what things would be important to include in presentations of our actions. Students decided it would be important to include a description of their action, what inspired them to do their action, what went well, what didn't go well, things they learned, the results of their action, and things they felt others could learn.

The amount of level of reflection that happened during this time was truly impressive. I loved watching the students prepare their presentations and practice them. One specific moment comes to mind from this last week. I had the kids spread out around the room with their presentations to practice. As I looked around, I saw kids presenting to others, some presenting to an imaginary audience, and others experimenting with hand gestures, appropriate pauses, rhetorical questions, engaging the audience, movement, and facial expressions. (I should pause to say part of homework last week was to watch a TEDx and come back with something that the speaker did that we should do in our own presentations. Students came up with things such as move around, look at the audience, speak clearly, pause at appropriate times, and many other ideas).

As we headed into our final presentation, the feelings of excitement and nervousness were at an all time high. We can't wait until Thursday, June 1st!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Board Meetings! TV News! Presentations!

May 2017: A Visit from Channel 19, Speakers at the Board Meeting, and So Many Presentations!

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind. As a teacher, I have gone to work excited and left exhausted every day these past two weeks. Not a bad kind of exhausted, but the good kind, that leaves you wanting for more, proud of your students, and longing for your bed all at the same time.

Last week, we had the opportunity to have Cleveland's Channel 19's Nichole Vrsansky in our classroom to interview myself and several of my students about our investigation of the ultimate classroom. I was able to share a little about the background of our project, actions the students are doing, our recently won grant, and tonight's board meeting. I was excited about being able to showcase all of the hard work my students have done over these last 6 months. It is something they should be proud of. As we watched the story today, it was great to hear the students point of themselves within the story and cheer for those who did a nice job sharing. Below, you can see Nichole's story on our classroom:

This evening, we got to continue this excitement and action with a presentation to the board of education. My job at the BOE meeting this evening was relative easy. I introduced the kids. The presentations, prep work, and creativity belongs to them. Our presentation began with Kevin and Luke. The worked tirelessly for two weeks prior to the board meeting to prepare a photo story of our journey. Even though nervous, they did a phenomenal job of sharing about our journey. They had the opportunity to share a book of all of their research papers and invite the board to our final presentation. 

Following their presentation, Dana presented her action project to the board of education. Currently, Westlake is in the process of planning a new elementary school that will open in the year of 2020. After doing a lot of research, Dana chose furniture she recommends that the board consider for the new elementary building. She shared that she is most excited about the extended learning areas within the new elementary school. Another thing in Dana's presentation that I was very impressed with was her talk of two of her classmate's action projects. Two other ladies in the class, put a great deal of time and research into designing learning environments for students in wheelchairs. Dana included some recommendations for students in wheelchairs within her presentation. In the end, it was a good night and I am beyond proud of the ladies and gentlemen who shared during both presentations.

If you are reading this post and able, we invite you to our final presentation on June 1st from 12:30-2:00 in the gym at Bassett Elementary in Westlake, Ohio. See the Canva invitation below design by two boys in our class.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Research Paper Reflections Beyond Their Years

May 2017: There aren't words to capture my students' reflections in our recent research papers...

*If you want to skip and read their reflections, scroll to the bottom. :)

This Friday, thanks to parents, college students, fellow teachers, and teacher aides, we wrapped up our research paper writing. Writing a research paper at any age is a large undertaking. For fourth graders, it is a very large undertaking. Back in April, I met with my class to talk about the task we were going to accomplish. Now that they had done over 3 months of research, I wanted them to be able to take their research and talk about our central idea and lines of inquiry, what they had learned about them, and reflections they had about what the ultimate classroom look like. I also wanted them to learn about the importance of citing their sources.

We began our research writing with our class meeting. There we decided how many paragraphs we were going to write, what they were going to be about, and how we would design our graphic organizer. Ultimately, the students and I decided upon 6 paragraphs: an introduction, paragraph about each line of inquiry and how it related to collaboration (how kids learn best, types of learning technology, and organization of space), a reflection, and conclusion. The student set to work designing their organizer in Google Docs and using their research notes from books, online sources, and videos to complete their organizer. They drew connections between each line of inquiry and how it was related to collaboration in the ultimate classroom. Not an easy undertaking!

Within these last two weeks, we worked through the editing process. We began with printing off our papers and reading through them aloud to fix things that were obvious. From there, we had discussions about proofreading marks, parts of the paper, and transitions. In our final edit, each student worked with an adult to edit their paper, keeping their words, but having discussions about grammar, complete sentences, and making sense. As a teacher, I learned that I need to continue to explore ways to help my students understand transitions. I also want to build a more scaffolded approach to editing into my curriculum next year as well as bring in more peer editing.

These fourth graders took a very big step towards starting their journey into writing about their research. They learned how to explain their evidence and how to cite their sources within the text and in a works cited. There is still a lot of learn about writing, but as I read through their papers this evening, I couldn't be more proud... no wait... speechless of their reflections on what they had learned. Their understanding of learning spaces is raw, real, and well beyond their years. There was no better way to capture and share it, then to share with you their words. Below you can find at least 1 unaltered statement from each of my student's papers.

  • If you are in a group, you should get other students that might be out of the conversation to participate in your group. You should ask them, “What do you think?” and try to get them involved.
  • Teachers should be open-minded to all types of learners, should also have empathy in them,  take time to really think about the best ways that every type of learner, and should know that every kid has a different view of learning.
  • Kids should be able to get involved in organizing the classroom. Kids should be able to get involved because they know how they learn best.
  • I also believe that teachers should remake their classroom every year so the students can be involved.
  • One more thing Dallas Morning News stated is, “In one second-grade classroom, you won’t see the students in organized rows or in regular seats, you will see them in a variety of different seats; exercise balls, bendy chairs, on pillows at a low table, and the rest lying on bath mats.” (Dallas Morning News, 2017). If you are doing this in a classroom, you are obviously organizing space to help kids collaborate in the classroom.
  • If you want to be a good friend, get friends involved with learning.
  • Teachers should let the kids choose activities, ways to learn, and what to learn because it will make it more fun and interesting for the students… I have learned so much through this unit which makes me want to learn and research more about this topic.
  • With arrangeable and flexible seating... It helps kids collaborate because they can arrange their seats to be where they want for independent work and group meetings.
  • Teachers who are aware of traffic patterns in organizing spaces could make the students work together to find out where the best place to move furniture to, so it fits everyone’s needs.
  • The more natural light, the more calm kids are, and the better they will learn and collaborate. To collaborate people have to be calm.
  • I’m a student and I want to be the best version of me.
  • Kids can focus and get things done when they have things organized and have areas that they are not distracted.
  • Kids should be able to choose activities to learn, when kids can pick what they want to learn they learn more.
  • Let the kids think of where to put stuff and let the kids move around to where they are comfortable.
  • If students have a hard time learning a subject, teachers in the Ultimate Classroom have to relate the topic to something that the students likes.
  • We are lucky to be in school. We can work together to raise money for people that can’t go to school. 
  • One thing that people need to be aware of is that the furniture should link to everyone’s learning styles… students should be allowed to experiment with types of furniture to see what they like to learn in best.
  • Yes, you may think that your classroom has everything that is new and updated, but a classroom is never going to be perfect.
  • Technology helps kids collaborate.
  • My favorite way to learn is with a group, because I can get not only my own ideas, but others ideas and thoughts. So, whether it's in a special spot you like to be in, or using a piece of technology by yourself, you can learn in many different ways.
  • For every kid that comes in, they might need a different layout than the kids before them.  In the end, it all comes back to how kids learn best, what the right space is for kids, how kids work together, and how kids learn with technology.
  • Classrooms should be bigger because other students need to have their own space to do work without distraction.
  • The ultimate classroom should have the newest technology so that the kids can experience different types of learning. Technology can be very beneficial in helping kids problem solve,  interact and collaborate.
  • There should be no front of a classroom, and the Smart Board should not always be in the front of the room.
  • Using collaboration is an effective way to learn. Collaborating helps students problem solve.
  • Students should have more of a challenge to try new things.
  • Working together in a classroom can make people confident in themselves.
  • 3D printing can make problem solving easier for students and it can improve how things work.
  • I believe there should be no front of a room because a room should change depending on classroom use.
  • After all, that is why the ultimate classroom should have special teachers that can help kids that have special needs solve their problems.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Grant Winners!

May 2017: #4th graders winning grants! Who knew?

Back in January, I wrote about a group of girls whom I recruited to work on writing a grant for our classroom. A friend and former secretary in our building had sent out details on the W.R.I.T.E. Grant Program put on by Friends Office. I decided to recruit a couple of my students for their help in writing this grant. The group ended up including six girls from my classroom. These ladies worked during recess, specials, and class time to select a product from their catalog, research why this product would help students, and write about about it. As we went through the final stages of writing, we worked together to proofread what they had written. To put the final touches on the grant, I wrote the introduction and conclusion to explain our project and goal and share how proud I was of these girls and their work.

As the months after our submission came, the girls and other students often inquired about whether or not we had gotten the grant. Having heard nothing at the time, I told them that we probably didn't and that was okay. It was an awesome learning experience that fourth graders don't usually get the chance to do.

Little did I know, that we had in fact gotten the grant! At the end of April, I received a surprise email one evening stating that we were one of the four individuals selected as winners of the grant. We wouldn't find out what prize we had won or what place we had come in until that day. I couldn't have been more excited. I worked with Friends Office to set up a time for them to come to our classroom, and I kept it a secret!

This last Tuesday, at 1:30, several individuals arrived from Friends Office carrying a cart full of chairs. They were met with students screaming, cheering, clapping, jumping up and down, crying, and smiling from ear to ear. The girls who had helped write the grant, were jumping up and down screaming "We won! We won! We won!" I have never seen students more excited to get new seats for their classroom. The excitement could not be contained.

In the end, we received 7 new Runtz Ball Chairs for our classroom. Friends Office also shared some other supplies with us including extra balls for the chairs, a pump, cleaner, a cling board, folder, and other goodies. I am so grateful for their program which was open minded to students being part of the grant writing process, and I am so proud of all that my students have accomplished through the course of this project!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Field Trip Time

May 2017: Field Trip Time

This past Friday, we had the awesome opportunity to learn first hand about how kids learn best, organizing space, and types of learning technology. Working with Blaine Bryson and Sarah Hughes of Avon Schools and Karlene Hollars of Vermilion schools, we had the chance to visit their buildings, learn from them, and interact throughout the entire day.

Our day began with a trip to Avon Middle School where we met Mr. Bryson and Ms. Hughes who taught us about some different types of technology. Upon arriving, the students had a chance to explore and build machines with Lego We Do. Students were excited to build cars, a lock used in a dam, a frog, a machine to push and pull, and several other projects. I loved seeing the excitement on their faces as they built code for their projects and watched them move. One group, who built a machine to pull objects, tested different weighted loads and shared how the amount of work a machine was do changes based on the size of the load.

While some of the students were building, others were working on using Dash in order to calculate the dimensions of the room in preparation for our discussion on organizing learning spaces. Students worked together to measure the room using rulers, estimation, and paper to record their work. As Mr. Bryson, Ms. Hughes, and I watched and listened, groups problem solved ways to get Dash to go across the room and around obstacles. They test and retested their code to get Dash to go the correct distance.

As we rounded out our morning at Avon Middle School, we explored more aspects of Mr. Bryson's room. The students got the opportunity to see what else was in the room and talk about how they might organize the space in the classroom. Students offered suggestions such as:
  • Rearranging tables
  • Relocating iPads and other pieces of technology
  • Using high cabinets for teacher stuff and low cabinets for student stuff
  • Labeling cabinets with names and pictures of items
  • Sorting materials by categories
Some of the things they felt were most important in designing a classroom were access for students in wheelchairs, the size of the room. the organization (of tables, supplies, furniture, computers), and that items were reachable. 

After departing Avon Middle School, we headed to Vermilion Elementary School. Westlake is in the early stages of new elementary school. Vermilion Elementary School was designed by the same architects who will be constructing our new elementary school. Students had the opportunity to see the possibilities of a new learning space. At Vermilion, we had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Hollars and her second grade class. Mrs. Hollars paired up the students in our classes and her students lead us on a tour of their building. Several of my students brought their cameras in order to take pictures of things that they liked. It was awesome to hear the second graders share details about their buildings, explain what certain rooms were used for, and how their school was laid out. As we came back to the room, students got to share and ask questions of each other. Many of my students liked the extended learning areas, classroom furniture, windows, and welcoming entry way. 

Our classes then worked with their buddies in order to complete two unplugged coding activities. We began with a mapping activity which asked students to code directions to their partner in order to find the smiley face. As we walked around, it was great to see students foraging friendships with their buddies and asking questions. Groups troubleshooted what went wrong when they gave the wrong directions, forgot where the smiley was, or when they didn't understand the directions. During the second activity, students worked to code directions for how to create a certain arrangement of cups. Students problem solved, tested each others directions, and figured out what to do when things went wrong. It was great to see 4th graders and 2nd graders stepping up as leaders in their groups and using their problem solving skills. 

I am sorry this is such as long post, but it was hard to capture the learning, engagement, and excitement from Friday in just one post. I could not be more grateful for Mr. Bryson, Ms. Hughes, and Mrs. Hollars who planned some amazing activities and their schools which opened their doors to us. Thank you!