Last Week I Learned…

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Warhols Lightbulbs photo credit: zetson via photopin cc

Life is busy in when you’re teaching. Things roll along very quickly in regular week and things change. You have to adapt.

This past week I learned and was reminded that:

  • That launching a class set full of blogs is always a busy experience. You will hear your names 1000 times no matter your preparation.
  • How to embed a Google Form into our classroom blog. (It’s been a while. Glad to reacquaint myself with  such a great tool).
  • I tinkered with my Livescribe pen, Educreations and have come up a plan to create screen casts to post on our classroom blog. My starting point is to post an explanation of the weekly “Math Challenge” problem. The possibilities are beginning to form in my head…
  • I was reminded that students will always surprise you. My surprise was in a discussion on problem solving. One problem 10 ways were shown to solve the problem.
  • People are willing to help you out. You simply need to ask. My good friend and I have enlisted some great help from our Twitter PLN’s for our upcoming #SAGE2013  presentation all by simply asking them if they would help us.
  • That if we set class goals we can and will achieve them. We are a work in progress and there are learning moments each and everyday.

Can’t wait to see what the week ahead brings!

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Learning Spaces and Places: How Do You Build for Community?

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Untitled photo credit: jotaemephoto via photopin cc

It seems I am inspired on my two-year blogaversary (?) to finally hammer out a post I have pondering for a while. That is the thing about blogging. Sometimes I will go weeks and in this case two months without posting anything to doing a number of posts in the same evening. Since mid-July when I was preparing to set up my new classroom home I started thinking about learning spaces and how they foster a sense of community.

One thing I immediately noticed when I entered my new school is the thoughtful design that has been given to all the spaces in the school. There are ample amounts of windows allowing natural light to stream in at all times of the day. Although this is a simple thing it is something that was missing in my last school. The effect that light has on our moods and learning is truly amazing. Another thing that I noticed was that throughout the school there are gathering spaces. These spaces are comfortable places that invite people to take a seat and relax. Gathering spaces naturally help build community. When we gather, we can’t help but talk and connect with others. Something as simple as the assembly room strikes me as a place that builds school community. It is a beautiful room filled with windows that is designed that when the school gathered it really helps everyone feel proud of the place they are in.

When I think about my classroom ( and in fact what I hope that you see when you walk in my room) is a space that promotes learning and community. Although my students each have an old school desk (an honoured and important rite of passage for everyone) their desks are arranged in groups of four. These little groups as all teachers know grow and form a little community as time passes. In a group formation of desks the students can chat and share but still have their own personal space that is solely their own to inhabit. About once a month I change things up and we move our desks into new groups. At the beginning of the year I choose the formation of the groups. As the year progresses the students begin to decide how they want their seating arrangement to look. This often yields interesting formations. Yes, some students really want to be an island for a  short while and others simply love sitting with others.

Our room also has 2 large tables where students can move if they find their group is being too chatty or they simply want another space to work in. The option is there and as long as they are on task, they are welcome to use it. When I set up my room, I made sure to leave some open spaces on the floor (I could have easily filled them up with our desks). These open floor spaces serve as a place for us to gather as a group and as spots for students to work if they so choose. I had to chuckle during our first silent reading time when all my students sat down at their desks to read. At first I was a bit puzzled but then I said “This is your room. You can read anywhere you like.” Something so simple seemed to make them very happy which in turn has makes me happy. There is nothing better than seeing two students stretched out reading side by side with blissful smiles on their faces.

Our classroom walls were quite bare at the start of the year. I see our walls as a space for us to fill with our learning and the work created during our adventures. It has been marvellous to see bits and pieces go up the past few days. I hope in the next while to had the bulletin boards over to the students, for them to choose what we should put up there.

I understand much of school design comes down to economics but I was truly surprised when I immigrated to Canada and saw some of the schools were designed. Many seemed to lack imagination or seemed to be places where optimal learning environments didn’t seem to have entered the school design process. I will say I was blessed to have gone to a beautiful school growing up where it seemed every space had a thoughtful purpose to help students learn. (I will blog about it soon but if you want to see a preview here’s a link to their website: www.Epworth.co.za)

How has your school been built for community?

How do you build for community in your classroom?

We Are Builders

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Untitled photo credit: streuwerk via photopin cc

Come into our classrooms and schools and watch us build.

We have a vision and a plan for how we want to proceed.

We work hard to create caring and respectful communities that build relationships that grow and flourish.

We help build our students up to see themselves as successful and provide the framework and tools necessary for them to learn.

We adjust our models  to meet their needs and learning styles.

We help our students establish the foundations of knowledge that will carry them through life.

The things they will need to succeed when interacting with others or learning on the feet.

Each layer builds upon the last.

The building never stops.

We are builders.

Your Classroom: A Thriving Ecosystem?

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  Spanish Harbor Key: Mangrove Ecosystem, Florida Keys

photo credit: Phil’s 1stPix via photopin cc

It’s funny how life works. You ponder an idea for weeks and then one day it suddenly becomes quite clear to you.

For the past few weeks I have caught myself sitting in my classroom enjoying how smoothly things were running. You know that zen moment when you realize what a happy place your classroom is and how things are going just the way you envisioned. And then… days like today come by and show you just how good you’ve had it for a while. It shows you just how hard you have worked to reach those moments and how small changes in routine can throw you right off-balance and send things out of whack for the day.

I have been pondering the metaphor of the classroom being an ecosystem for a while now. It all started over spring break after I read the Knowmad Society book was and confronted with new ideas for large societal and educational shifts. The ideas in the book seem daunting at first but in essence (for me) boil down to one thing: we are all human. Many of the issues society is grappling with today stem from the fact that we forget that we are all human: we feel,  we love, we get angry, we think, we laugh and we  learn. We are all connected by our humanity.

As I was mulling over those ideas I came across this thought-provoking post on how businesses can become more adaptable: “To Become More Adaptable Take a Lesson from Biology”In the post it essentially talks about how businesses can become more efficient and adaptable they could take a few cues from biology.

The biologist nerd in me was quite intrigued by this post and it struck me that as a teacher that my classroom really is like mini-ecosystem. Yes, an eco-system is a complex thing but so is my classroom. We could go further with the analogy to a our school, divisional and educational system all as ecosystems. But for now just go with me on the classroom analogy here for a few points…

In a classroom there are many different things at play if it were as simple as a “You sit,  I speak and you learn” kind of interaction, teaching is a job that could be done excellently by anyone. But teaching is not that simple and our classrooms are in fact very complex systems. There are constant interactions with external and internal forces, there is a flow of energy and knowledge that happens in every room. How you manage your classroom will decide how balanced your room looks and feels like. Change happens all the time in natural ecosystems and invariably the same is true for our classrooms: new students, changes in routines, new policies. The list could go on and on. In our classrooms there are always external forces at play. We feel pressures from time, admin, parents, curriculum and a whole plethora of other things. These forces impact the way we interact in the classroom and the things we choose to teach.

Your relationship with your students can have a huge impact on your classroom ecosystem. Have a lack of respect and you lose the balance that is vital for a classroom to thrive. If you are too strict and you can stifle avenues for self-expression and learner directed learning. One of the things I have hoped to foster this year is to have open and respectful avenues of communication. Classroom relationships also help determine the energy of a classroom. If things are always negative you will have an environment students will be reluctant to share openly. Sharing helps deepen learning and provides different perspectives on ideas. When all learners are happy our classroom is happy and the learning flows.

What does it take to make your classroom a thriving eco-system?

For me it would come down to balance. Just like many other things in our lives and in any natural eco-system, for things we require balance. Too much of a good thing can lead to disaster. Too much of a bad thing never quite works out either.

So here’s to balance and finding our inner zen tomorrow.