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! 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Research Paper Time

May 2017: Research Paper Time

I know what you're thinking. Groan... Research papers. As much as I love teaching writing, I hate the grading of the writing at the end. Even with the help of Google Classroom, Google Docs, Doctopus, and Goobric, I still have to carve out a chunk of time to do lots of reading. But, if I pause for a moment, and think of the process I am taking my students through and the reflections that come after 4 months of research, speakers, actions, and everything else we've done, it is worth it.

I love that my students are taking action, learning a lot about classrooms, and are fueling their learning forward. We did over two months of research, and I wanted them to be able to take their research, put it into writing, and share out their reflections of what they had learned. Embarking on the journey of writing a 6 paragraph research paper with fourth graders can be a daunting task. Using our discussion of creating graphic organizers and using evidence as a spring board, we created a structure for our paper:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction and our central idea
  • Paragraph 2: How kids learn best
  • Paragraph 3: Types of learning technology
  • Paragraph 4: Organization of Space
  • Paragraph 5: Bring it all together and reflect
  • Paragraph 6: Conclusion and final thoughts
From there, the students utilized their notes from our research from books, videos, and online sources to complete their graphic organizer they built in Google Docs to cite evidence from sources and how the lines of inquiry connected with the ultimate classroom. As we neared paragraph 5, many questions were flying about what to put in paragraph 5. So, we gathered as a class and begin to write things we had learned and what we really hoped for after our journey. 

This week and next, we undertake the largest task...editing. As we break down the editing process, my goal is to have each student do as much of the editing on their own or with peers first. I could swoop in and start editing with students, and while I intend to go over things with each student, I have found our process seems to have the most meaning if they are guided through the process step by step. Over these next two weeks, we will be printing, correcting, printing again, reading with peers, reading with adults, and even learning how to cite our sources. (Why not? They are going to have to cite their sources properly at some point in their education.) All in all, even though a daunting task, I couldn't be more impressed with some of their reflections. I wanted to share a few below:
  • Get kids involved. Some teachers just show the kids what to do. The teachers can use the kids to demonstrate. 
  • For every different kids that comes in, they might need a different thing than the kids before them.
  • There is no perfect classroom. 
  • You can learn new things when you make mistakes. 
  • Teachers should be open-minded to all learners. 
  • Two heads are better than one. 
  • Kids should be able to change the seating arrangements and choose the resources that help them learn.
  • There is not a front of the classroom.
  • Kids should be able to get involved in organizing the classroom.
  • Students should be allowed to experiment with different types of furniture to see what they like to learn in best

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Presentation Matters Too!

April 2017: Presentation Matters Too!

As we continue to journey through our @ibpyp exhibition exploring our central idea "Collaboration in the ultimate classroom can change how kids problem solve, interact, and learn" (written by students... which I still can't believe) and explore our lines of inquiry: organization of space, how kids learn best, and types of learning technology (also written by students), we get closer to our final celebration and presentation of our journey. A celebration of this magnitude is worthy of some powerful and dynamic presentations.

Last fall, I took a course from +EdTechTeam on visual literacy. I had no clue what to expect going in, but I learned a lot about images, myself, my way of teaching, and the power of teaching your students not just how to present, but how to create presentations. After all, that's a life skill. While we have had a lot of conversations about design as an element of presenting, many of my students still needed ideas beyond what I could give. They needed to hear from someone who has given dynamic presentations to a lot of people. While I attempt to give my best go at being a dynamic presenter from day-to-day, there is power in learning from others and hearing special guests within the classroom. As much as we want our students to hold our everyday activities and teachings as gold, it is the inspiring presentations from beyond the classroom that really captures their attention. Plus, it's fun to sit back and learn a thing or two from a special guest too!

I reached our on Twitter to Sandra Chow (@watnunu) about an interest in doing a Google Hangout with my class about some ideas, guidelines, and advice for building a captivating presentation. I had seen Sandra's keynote and took several of her sessions when she came to the Cleveland Area Google Summit. She had tapped into the power of Dr. Seuss in her keynote and captured her ideas with powerful images. During our Hangout, Sandra shared her screen with the students as she showed them several helpful hints on how to build a presentation that hooks the audience in Google Slides. All the while, my fourth grade students were busy jotting down things that stood out to them, ideas that were important, and asking questions about presentation making.

I as reflect on this experience with my students, I wanted to share several of their questions, my observations, and other ways learning about how to create presentations has already impacted my 4th grade students:
  • One of my students is taking action by going to teach K, 2nd, and 4th graders are lesson on bullying and mindfulness. While the student had already created her presentation, she wanted to make it more visually appealing for audience. This student started to explore SlidesCarnival, selected a new theme, and integrated it into her presentation.
  • Another one of my students was busy working a presentation he is created as part of his independent corner action project. I found him Googling  Slide Master and several other formatting tools in order to figure out how to use them and their features within his slides.
  • A group of boys who is preparing a presentation BYOD to share with another fourth grade class as part of their action project began working to align the slide format throughout their Slide Deck so that things were less confusing. 
  • Some of the questions my students had were: 
    • Should there be more words or pictures?
    • How do you draw attention to yourself when you are giving a presentation?
    • Bright or dark colors?
    • Is it possible to have a presentation that no one disagrees with?
    • What color pops out the most for a presentation?
    • How can I make it so you could focus on the speaker more than the slides?
    • What would you do to make the people remember facts other than writing shorter?
    • What do you do if you freeze or things go wrong in your presentation?
As of right now, I still have no clue what our final presentation is going to look like. I can't wait to see where the students take it with all of their newfound knowledge! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


April 2017: Action! Action! Action!

Despite state testing in the month of April, spring break, and a multitude of other things we had to accomplish, my students are so excited to return to their research and begin initiating their action projects. During this time, my classroom has been busy with kids talking to adults, each other, looking up recipes, designing corners, writing letters, asking questions, scanning books, and so much more. When I set out on this exhibition, I had no plan or direction for how action would manifest, just that we were going to take action at some point. Last year, my actions had been quick and thrown together. They mostly involved creating a visual of some sort and sharing it with some audience. While there was nothing wrong with that, it was an after thought. This time around, the actions belong to my students and they are honest, raw, and full of continual change. My biggest challenge during this process has been helping the students seek a focus in order to accomplish what they want to set out to do. 
My biggest savior during this period of time has been the return of my research mentors and the addition of new mentors. I created two new sign ups through Sign Up Genius in order to help schedule mentors (example: I also created some essential agreements which I believe to be key to the role of the action and presentation mentor. I shared these out with parents and volunteers through a Screencastify video uploaded to YouTube. The more we get involved, the more people I invite to join us. I was able to reach out to parents in our classroom, board members, teachers aides staff members. I even had a parent who works at one of the local universities ask me if I was interested in her education majors volunteering. I've begun to realize, that I'll take anyone who has a passion to help kids!  

One thing that I believe is so important to the action process is to give up control as the teacher. There is no telling what your students can accomplish when you relinquish control. This last week, I had a student come to me to say she wanted to change what her action project would be. She followed this up with, "You're probably not going to let me do this." I responded with, "Try me." She went on to detail how she wanted to create a slime corner in the classroom that would allow students to interact with slime which can help students with ADHD and stress. It would allow them to relieve their stress. I was surprised with what this student had chosen to undertake all on her own and after talking to her more, it was clear that she had already begun researching different safe recipes for students of different ages. As I wrap up this post, I can't help but share some of the amazing ideas flowing through my students which have impacted ever grade level and area of our school without ever planning to do so. 
  • Mrs. Hughes (4)- Julia would like to teach a 30 minute lesson to your class on different learning styles.
  • Mrs. Neimeister (1) /Mrs. House (K)- Noah, Sam, and Adam would like to temporarily set up an independent corner in your room where students can work better independently.
  • Mrs. Scully- Jake would like to observe your room and create a tool that might help 1 or more of your students learn better.
  • Mrs. Diso/Morris (K) / Mrs. Speith (2)- Bella would like to teach a lesson to your class about bullying and mindfulness
  • Mrs. Medved (1)/ Mrs. Lozada (3)- Carson and Anna would like to temporarily set up a corner with different fidgets students might use to help calm themselves or make them less anxious
  • Ms. Craven (Library)- Danna and Kaylee would like to create a “mystery book” area in the library with a few books
  • Mrs. Winter (BOE)- Dana would like to make a collage board of types of furniture to consider for the new school and present it to the BOE
  • Mrs. Thrasher (4)- Tanner and Luke would like to talk to you and then your class about introducing Bring Your Own Device
  • Mr. Sanfilippo (Principal)- Gabe would like to share recommendations of types of robotics type things to get for the classroom
  • Mrs. Larcey (1)- Loutfi and Jax would like to teach your class how to properly sign in, sign out, and take of the Chromebooks
  • Kevin plans on temporarily setting up 4 colored reading corners to see which colors have different effects on kids
  • Lucas and Charbel are designing a desk organizing tool to help students keep their desk neat
  • Gabriella and Sami plan on using the wheelchair for 2 days to see how kids get around the school and the challenges they might have
  • Lorenzo plans to write a book about creating the ultimate classroom
  • Annabelle plans to create a system for checking out books in our classroom
  • Janiyah plans on creating slime which can be used as a fidget to help relieve student stress and working with Anna and Carson to add it to their corners