Friday, January 27, 2017

The Ultimate Library

January 2017: The Ultimate Library

On Thursday of this week, we had Carly Jalowiec from Porter Public Library come into our room to talk to us more about components of libraries and give us ideas about what the ultimate library might looks like. Libraries were an area my students identified as being very important in an ultimate classroom. I have a fairly large library in my classroom right now, and yet my students wanted it to be bigger and better. Carly spent some time talking about the key components of a library. She shared with us a handout on the Building Blocks of a Great Library. Several students took the opportunity to mark up the handout with notes about what Carly was saying and questions they had.

During this presentation, I was a little apprehensive about what questions my students would have. Would they be basic questions like what were the best books to have, or would they go further? Low and behold, my students blew me away with their questions. I was able to capture of few of them below. However, there were so many I couldn't keep up!

  • How do they know where to find things so quickly in a library?
  • Why did they remodel the library?
  • Where do they get the books they have?
  • How do you contact the community to find out what they need?
  • Are there some books that are never checked out?
  • Do you have an opinion for organizing books: bins or shelves?
  • How do you not run out of space in the library?
  • What is the library's motto?
  • How do you know what people need?
  • What do you go to if there are no workers around to help you find books?
  • How do they handle repairs?
  • Do you think it would be best to have a school library or the public library across the street?
  • What if books are ripped?
  • Do you count all of the books?
Not only did they have questions, they had ideas. I could see how much our research was making them think deeply about they were learning, and it was exciting. Exciting to see how much they were into their project. One student suggested we have a suggestion box for new books and another said we should have quotes on the wall like the public library did. Others suggested we have a place to record all the books we have, a place to share what we have read, and other places to recommend books to others. 

I find myself excitedly awaiting to hear what Pete Zagray, our technology director, has to share with us next week. I can't wait to hear the wonderful questions and ideas that come from my students' interest. 

Research, Research, Research

January 2017: Research, Research, Research

The first major step to take in any research one decides to undertake is research, and that is not an easy thing to attempt at any level, especially elementary. I found myself with a rather large challenge in our beginnings of research. How do I create opportunities to students to research what they are passionate about, continue to provide lessons on text structure and other content I needed to address, and ensure that my students were doing quality research.

When researching, I didn't just want my students to write down random facts about what their texts say. I wanted them to think about how what they were learning could be integrated within an ultimate classroom. How do I get them to learn about students to ADHD, schools around the world, 3D printing, and lighting and color design, and tie this all back into my classroom. I couldn't meet with all of my students if I was also trying to meet with small groups on skills.

I met with Deb, my savior in this experience, and we decided to look at bringing in some research mentors to help with the research. With Deb's help, I reached out to several individuals to share what we were doing and ask for their help as research mentors. With the help of Carol Winter, one of our board members, and several others, we have been able to provide valuable research guidance to my students. To ensure organization of this venture, I created a short introduction video and SignUp Genius to keep track of when different individuals were coming.

While it is only the 2nd week that I have had research mentors in my room. They have been invaluable to our research, reflection, and process. I have been excited to see the growth in my students' research notes, their ideas they are sharing, and their goals for what they want to do with their research. In the coming weeks, our research mentors will be helping us make the exciting jump into online and video research. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

And We're Off...

January 2017: And We're Off...

Eager for my students to return to school, I went to the thrift store a few days before break. If I wanted my students to get into this, I needed to start creating some of these spaces within our classroom, for less than $10, I walked out with two tables, a beat up black desk and a coffee table with no center. With a little TLC, some paint, my dad, shower board, and some screws, I added a layer of paint to the black desk and tightened the screws and installed a whiteboard surface in the center of the old coffee table. Result: a new standing desk and interactive table for the floor, and thanks to our PTA, I was able to get these awesome new cushions from +Lakeshore Learning!

We began our research this week into the Ultimate Classroom, while I
introduced text structure and worked with small groups of students to identify text structure on articles about different learning styles, my students began perusing the literature I had gathered over break. To organize our thoughts and notes on what we had learned, I added three documents to our +Google Classroom specifically designed for our exhibition (PBL). Each of these documents focused on 1 of our lines of inquiry, the first on how kids learn best, the second on types of learning technology, and the third on the organization of space. While students were researching, they utilized these documents in order to cite their sources, document their notes, and organize them by these overarching topics. During the next two months, we would continue with a variety of mini-lessons on how to conduct research to continue growing in this skill.

A key part of any Project Based Learning activity is ensuring that your resources aren't all just books and articles. I believe it was important to have speakers come to our classroom as well. Our first speaker, just a hallway away, our school counselor. Since we were studying how kids learn best and different learning styles, why not investigate our own learning styles. I arranged with Mrs. Erdman over break, to come to our room the week we came back to do a lesson on different learning styles. She talked briefly about the three learning styles established through research: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. She also talked with students about Howard Gardner and multiple intelligence. Students wrapped up the lesson using their devices to take several online inventories to find out what their learning style or intelligence might be (What is My Learning Style? and Multiple Intelligences Self Assessment). It was fun to hear my students shouting out their own styles across the classroom and posting them to our classroom feed. As a final reflection, students joined together with other students who had similar learning styles to talk about what items might help someone with their learning style in the ultimate classroom.

When Break Happens...

December 2016/ January 2017: When Break Happens...

As I headed into winter break, part of my thought, what have I gotten myself into now, and part of me was very excited. I began my break with creating my own curriculum map. I wanted to make sure I took an in-depth look at what the students were interested in, and I wanted to be sure I was able to touch on every aspect if possible. To do this, I took the students questions and ideas and made my own mind map. From there, I started thinking about what topics that would help us find the information we needed, but also be able to be researched.

During the last 10 minutes, before we embarked on our break, I showed my students my map to get input into what I might have missed. After adding a few suggestions, we were ready. Ready to research, ready to learn, and ready to dive in. My challenge: Over break, I had to come up with a way to map out what we were going to do, allow student choice, ensure I was teaching what was still required of me, and locate resources. I divided and connected the students topics and questions into several major ones: how kids learn best and schools around the world, technology, libraries, space and furniture, and taking action. These were some of the major areas to find resources for. As we began researching, I wanted to make sure that students were exposed to all aspects of the ultimate classroom to help build a robust understanding before heading into any actions we might take, I also wanted to ensure that students had the opportunity to choose what they wanted to research.

Click Here
A second thing I did over break was use my newly recovered chalkboard space to create a Pin Wall for my students. One of the things that my students felt important to have in an ultimate classroom was a #PinWall. Students wanted a place where they could "pin" information and pictures that they found. To get us started, I found some really interesting pictures of schools around the world to add to our Pin Wall. I loved this idea from the students. After taking a course on Visual Literacy from +EdTechTeam,  I have begun to see the images around us in a different way, and it has changed the way I approach images within the classroom.

In the final days of break, I journeyed to two awesome libraries with rather large children's collections, +Westlake Porter Public Library and +Mentor Public Library. At Mentor, I spent a couple of hours in the children's section gathering over 150 books. Talk about maxing out my library card (Mentor has an awesome teacher library card). At Porter, I utilized a new program they just started for teachers. After talking through some topics with the librarians, they went on a hunt and delivered over 70 books and resources to my school. As a third resource, I utilized InfOhio, a wonderful resource for teachers in the state of Ohio that provides access to child friendly databases for research. Armed with over 200 print resources for research and a framework of what I needed to teach and where we were going to, we were ready to begin.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Planning Our Unit of Inquiry

December 2016: Planning Our Unit of Inquiry

As an IB PYP school, in the final year, students complete a unit of inquiry called Exhibition. The goal is for the unit to be student driven and allow students to research, document their learning, and then take action in some way based on what they have learned. With the help of Deb, we worked with my students to build our central idea and design our lines of inquiry. The steps of our process are recorded below:

  • Working in groups, students use their typed of questions from our brainstorming to rearrange their groups of questions into 3-4 categories. 
  • We posted each of our posters on the wall to discuss our big ideas.
  • As we look at our big ideas and a list of key concepts, the students worked to pull out big ideas that stood out on their posters. 
    • The key concepts students began to pull out were ones I never would have thought they understood. Works like change, interdependence, interaction, systems, problem solving, organization, and cooperation.
  • We then worked to build our central idea. What students decided upon was:

Collaboration in the ultimate classroom can change how kids problem solve, interact, and learn. 

  • From their, we build our lines of inquiry. We decided we would inquire about our central idea through the lens of how kids learn best, types of learning technology, and the organization of space

In the few days leading up to break, I wanted to get students' final ideas on what they wanted to learn about. I wanted to to my best to make sure that I was able to hook into each of my students' interests as I was planning and pulling resources. To do this, I created a quick Google Form in order to allow students to share each of their ideas individually. The original form is below can be found at:

In part of our discussion on creating meaningful presentations using the power of images earlier in the year, my students and I began watching TEDx videos to get an idea of the qualities of a presenter. To get our brains whirring again, I shared these two TEDx videos with my students on classroom design and learning spaces. I wanted my students to realize that there are currently people out there creating these "ultimate classrooms" of the future and that dreaming big could take us in new directions.

An Impromptu Lesson on Letter Writing

December 2016: An Impromptu Lesson on Letter Writing

After designing our questions and starting to brainstorm about where to go next with Deb, something really cool happened. The district in which I am currently working recently passed a levy and bond issue that will allow the district to build a needed new elementary building. During this time, our curriculum director Kathi reached out to Deb to ask her ideas of what features should be part of our new elementary building to support the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. Deb, after already have connected with me, came in to ask my students what their ideas were. My students were so excited to share. Little did I know, that Kathi had actually used the pictures of my students' questions to support her presentation to the architects of the new school.

While Deb was in my classroom, the students inquired about what they could do? Deb suggested they make contact with our superintendent and curriculum director to ask questions, inquire about being involved, and share their ideas. What was planned as an afternoon lesson and activities on story structure, turned into a lesson on how to write a letter. Through planning with my students, we came up with a quick way to organize our letters. The students decided that the boys would write to our superintendent and the girls would write to our curriculum director. While our letters weren't without errors, they reflected the students honest thoughts and ideas about our budding ultimate classroom exploration and their thoughts about the new school building process. Catch a glimpse of their ideas below:

#UltimateClassroom: We've Brainstormed... Now What?

December 2016: We've Brainstormed... Now What?

That next week, I went into school thinking I would pose the question to my students. If money was not an object and any resource was available, what would be in the ultimate classroom to make the best kind of learning. While I had 1 or 2 students whose minds went immediately to big TVs and video games, once the ideas started rolling in, the students were hooked, and they moved away from these topics and into more focused ones. We used our newly freed up chalkboard space to create a giant mind map of all of our ideas. They just kept coming.

Over the next week, we continued to add idea to our giant web. I was amazed that the students' ideas were right on par with what the current research is saying as well. Without ever opening up a book, the students had captured some of the key components of 21st century learning. It was at this point that I connected with our IB coordinator Deb Wadden. My thoughts was that this might help fuel a research project. However, Deb suggested that I make it our class's IB Exhibition Project. Essentially, this is a project based learning activity that spans over multiple weeks, ending in a final presentation. During this time, we took our inquiries further when I asked my students to add questions they had related to each of the aspects of the ultimate classroom listed in our web.


To aid us in our next step, I took the students ideas and questions and typed them in a Google Doc. It was at this point that I really got to see what the students were asking, and in almost every area, I saw very practical meaningful questions that showed a curiosity beyond what would benefit solely themselves, my students had blown me away with their thoughts and questions. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

#UltimateClassroom: Finding the Interest

Early December 2016- Finding the Interest

During the fall of 2016, I began in a Teacher Leader Cohort with +EdTechTeam. Little did I know that it would help me renew my interest in many things related to teacher and education that I had begun to find a challenge. The final course in this cohort was really what drove me forward with this project. It was a course on Redesigning the Learning Space. During the midst of the cohort we developed our ideas of 21st Century Learning. I have included some of the most memorable resources we looked at below. 

Some of the links we investigated:
Some others I have found were:

In these short two weeks, we were tasked with having a discussion with our students and redesigning an aspect of our classroom. I went in with an open mind and had honestly been looking to make some changes to my classroom, but I struggled to do so with some of my classroom constraints (cupboards, desktops, windows, chalkboard/Promethean board, and a lack of corners in my classroom). I start with posing the question to my students through the use of a Padlet. Below, you can see some of their responses. 

Made with Padlet

After getting some of their ideas, I posed to the students that since we did not have class time to redesign the room, that anyone interested could meet with me during recess to share their ideas and make a final plan for what we were going to do. I had about half of my class stay to discuss their ideas and several chimed in from their other activities. In the end, students decided that we needed to relocate the classroom library, make more student tables with the desks for more group work, add more options for seating to the classroom library, relocate our small group meeting table (it was in front of the window which faces the playground- we kept our blinds closed most of the day) and free up some of our board space in the front. Below are the before and after results:

My classroom before: 

My classroom after:

IMG_1180.JPG IMG_1181.JPG IMG_1186.JPG IMG_1189.JPGIMG_1188.JPGIMG_1185.JPG

As I went home that night, I started to think more about the amount of excitement students had when talking about redesigning our classroom. That next week, I went in with the thought that I would see what other ideas students might have about an "ultimate classroom" of sorts.