Monday, March 13, 2017

Unexpected Speakers and Student Grant Winners

March 2017: Unexpected Speakers and Student Grant Winners

Despite taking the month to focus in on some of the literary things we need to study, we are still thinking about our exhibition project and the ultimate classroom. Last week, I unexpectedly heard back from Hyland Software about coming in as guest speakers. I eagerly accepted, unaware of what they would be talking about and how it would related to the classroom. Needless to say, it was a hit and a great connection for the students. Caitlin and Rob from Hyland had a lot to share. Caitlin began by sharing about the work environment at Hyland and the ways Hyland had created a culture focusing on getting people to enjoy what they do. She showed the students pictures of their slides, game rooms, trails, bikes, and different get social events they had. Many of students thought that creating similar environments that would allow kids to take breaks, express themselves, and think in different ways would be something that an "ultimate school" would need.

Following Caitlin's presentation, Rob, a software designer at Hyland, shared a little bit about what he does. He did a wonderful job answering students questions and sharing with them ideas about how they could learn about coding and problem solving at their age now. He encouraged them to think about how much of what a programmer does is solving problems. It was noticeable how much the students enjoyed asking questions and finding out more about how things work.

As Caitlin and Rob wrapped up, they shared about some of the awesome programs Hyland has available to middle and highschoolers. Many students inquired about programs for elementary students, and while Hyland does't have any of those programs yet, Caitlin encouraged them to begin pursuing coding on their own to prepare for opportunities like this in the future.

On a completely different note, during the month of February, I issued a grant challenge to my students. Through donations from our PTA and several teachers, I had $50 worth of gift certificates to spend at Lakeshore Learning. Instead of ordering something random from their catalog, I asked students to write a grant. The task: choose an item(s) from the Lakeshore catalog that cost no more than $50 and write a grant detailing why it was needed in our classroom citing evidence to back up their choice. During this process, I chose not to read any of their grants. Students were allowed to work with partners, but the entire task was done without adult help. I had 6 teams of students choose to write grants. I couldn't have been more impressed with their effort. It was a learning experience for all of those students involved. In the end, working with Mrs. Carol Winter, one of our board members and research assistants, and Mrs. Deb Wadden, our IB coordinator, we selected 3 gentlemen and their grant for pipe builders and play stix for our classroom. I included their grant below!

and ACTION!!!

February/March 2017: and ACTION!!!

After working through the entire month of January and February on our research, we were finally ready to begin talking about action. This was not the first time we talked about action. Prior to this, I already had students begin to voice things they were interested in doing. Without ever asking students to jump into action, I had students interested in:

  • Creating a Google My Map to plot ultimate schools and classrooms around the world
  • Creating a Google Doc to collect our research to share with some of the experts we had talked to
  • Creating videos about what we had learned
  • Creating webpages documenting our research
  • Creating presentations to share what we learned
  • Creating a classroom in Floorplanner
The ideas were flowing. Now, the question became, how to turn the students awesome ideas into actual actions. We spent some time talking about what every student was going to have the chance to do: thinks like make presentations, floorplans, videos, documents, and webpages. Moving from this, we focused on what is action and what it might look like. During the week, students began to plan their actions. With the help of my research mentors, we mapped out our actions. The focus, challenge students to see beyond the obvious. I wanted students to think about what they could "do" and what they could learn from it. We talked a lot about what they could do. I found that many of my students ideas started small because they had never been asked to think big. Many of them didn't realize how much I was willing to let them try anything. Want to rearrange my room? Go for it. Want to teach lessons to others? Yes! Want to try a new program in the school? Sure. How can we make it happen? As I sit here now writing this blog entry, I am going through my students' action plans. I'll admit, I am slightly overwhelmed at how we are going to make this happen, and at the same time excited to see where we go. For now, here is a snapshot of the potential actions.

  • Using Floorplanner for inspiration, rearrange a independent working corner of several classrooms to try out something new and collect information on how it goes. 
  • Create a fidget corner in 2 different classrooms which would allow students to create their own fidgets and to take a break when needed
  • Create and teach lessons to several classes on mindfulness and bullying
  • Create a desk organizer to help students keep their supplies in their desk organized
  • Create a design board giving ideas about the best furniture to put in classrooms
  • Create new ways to introduce books to students and get them interested in reading more
  • Find ways to bring more robotics into the classroom
  • Try out a wheelchair around the school to see what works for students in wheelchairs and what doesn't
  • Observe a special learning class where students may have more challenges, and then create something for that classroom that may help them learn better
  • Have a bake sale to earn money to buy headphones for students so that they can listen to things they are learning
  • Create lessons on different learning styles
  • Create areas in the school covered in different colors to find out what colors are best for kids and the affects of different colored areas
  • Look at the pros and cons of bringing in your own device and share it with our technology director
  • Introduce BYOD to another classroom and help them get it started in their classroom.
If you happen to be reading about any of these actions and want to get involved, please e-mail or message me ( or Twitter: @Leah440B). We will need lots of support during our action time whether it is virtual or in person support!

New Building, Excited Students... Imagine the Possibilities

February 2017: New Building, Excited Students... Imagine the Possibilities

A couple of weeks ago, we had two very exciting speakers I know my students had been waiting for. Mr. Scott Goggin, our school superintendent, and Mr. Rob Blatchford, from Lesko Architecture. Because of their involvement in the construction of the new elementary building in Westlake, students were eager to hear what they said and share their thoughts about what would be most important in the new building. During Mr. Goggin's presentation, we got to see a glimpse of some possible ideas for our new building and hear some of the things that he had shared the week before with the PTA. Students were excited about the idea of having and area customized and dedicated to 4th graders. Students were also excited about the possibilities of these new learning spaces. Both Mr. Goggin and Mr. Blatchford shared exciting pictures with the students about what the learning space might look like. Students questions ranged from wondering about principals in the building to asking about what software Mr. Blatchford used to design the school models and video he showed us. What was most impressing was the level of questions my students were asking. While still thinking like kids, these were 4th graders who knew their research, knew what questions to asked and felt strongly about what would be put into a classroom.

As Mr. Goggin talked, students began to ask questions about the types of space that will be in our new elementary building. They wanted to know about the amount of natural light in the building, and whether or not there would be space for them to work with a team of peers. They had questions and suggestions about lockers, bathrooms, elevators, class size, and the library. Students suggested furniture be on wheels and were very excited about the pictures showing what the potential environment might look like.

During Mr. Blatchford's presentation, a lot of conversation revolved around the things we liked as kindergartners. He challenged the kids to think about creating a learning environment like creating a kindergarten classroom. "What did you love about kindergarten?" he asked. "Now, how do you bring those things into a new classroom or school?" Students had suggestions for him about light, color, and furniture. I think what the students loved the most was how he touched on some of our different speakers and noted several of the photos in our pin wall.

As we take the next step into our journey, I can't wait to see what actions the students take and what directions we head in. Who knows?