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