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 The result, a large garage sale like pile full of professional books, manipulatives from when I taught other grades, outdated resources, and so much more.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!