Farmer’s markets are the ultimate in supporting local, while also helping the environment and promoting healthy choices. Where there are freshly picked blueberries, you will find me!
The community feel as you walk around the tables is apparent as those that frequent the market are of like minds. Canvas totes, baskets and wagons are commonplace as people collect their items.
Before the pandemic forced everything to shut down, markets were buzzing with people weaving in and around the crowds. It is a great meeting place for groups to spend time together or others to connect with vendors who explain more about their process or products. In short, it’s a great place for bottlenecks that create tight traffic patterns that can halt the flow at every turn; and then no one can enjoy their cheese.
One way to navigate away from this issue was to arrive early ahead of the crowds. That is until pandemic protocols restricted how we move our way though spaces. Arrows kept everything moving in one direction, keeping the flow manageable and evenly spaced. Admittedly it was unusual to be always looking at the floor feeling off centre but it was for the greater good and it got us back into the swing of things in part.
Now a month or two in and restrictions are increasingly easing. With this comes a broadening of the numbers allowed in the space and little to no regard for the direction of the arrows.
Water runs downhill and so do we like marbles dropped on a cookie sheet scattering in all directions. It seems we have a limit to how long we will go out of our way when we would really feel more comfortable following the path of least resistance.
Desired pathways at some university grounds were literally created by letting the natural flow of the public to create worn down areas on lawn areas. Over a short time lawn areas became criss crossed with the foot traffic and that is where the coordinated efforts to build concrete pathways. Where people naturally go is where the focus should flow.
When we plan for the event, the people are secondary concerns, When we plan with the people in mind, the event is a success. A ballroom or hillside vista can be the background of a beautiful idea but if the attendees struggle to get there, it will be overshadowed upset and division. Plan an event that is accessible to all and the memories will be filled with laughter and joy; especially if there are twinkly lights.
Enter schools into this discussion. We are very much in need to architects and engineers and observers who see the patterns of movement and need. We consistently hear about the issues. We know the overloaded requirements can not be achieved productively. We’ve heard the same complaints that students don’t know their facts, have difficulty communicating their reasoning and are losing the battle with writing conventions. The go-to answer always seem to be the equivalent of trying to communicate with someone who understands a different language than you by speaking slowly and loudly. It hasn’t worked before, so let’s keep trying it seems to be the thinking here.
So where does that leave us considering what we’ve learned during the long down break. Without reflection and discussion it leaves us without a plan and a fast track to slipping back into the easy steps taken previously.
Our goal needs to be time to sit back and look for the natural patterns in learning, those areas we turned to when there were no schedules. What did we do when we had all the time in the world and no test to cram for? What did we explore and how did we do it? How did we react to boredom? Was it something foreign and new for some who are constant cycles of entertainment? What do we do when we are alone with our thoughts and time to dream about what moves us?
This is the place to start. If this is too vague, think about what students do or gravitate toward when there is indoor recess or lunch. Outdoor free time offers and insight as well but random free time in the class happens infrequently. Items provided such as games, building material or craft supplies reveal student’s interests and collective capabilities. Groups form naturally and those who are particularly focused on a specific topic finds space to be content. Rare are conflicts that need adult intervention but rather any disagreement works its way out as a result of limited time that they do not want to waste or a collective interest in focusing attention on the task at hand.
All of this can easily be spelled, STEM. When students are presented with materials to explore, a challenge to work through or a reason to pursue an inquiry, the need to control the learning is irrelevant as it becomes a natural extension of the task.
In essence this is where we see the pathways forming and now we can see where to build on the foundational pieces of a concept. We can see where to go next and what areas need to be reviewed and patched. Learners go with this flow because now this is the path of ease and comfort because the groundwork was laid by them as opposed to following steps that we set by one who felt that this is what students would want or need. When we block the natural flow of movement we are bound to trip over our toes every time. And where is the learning in that?
The world shut down just like a computer that is overheated, overtaxed and over its limit of functionality. It makes you look at the world as a list of negative and positives.
– deadly virus has us isolated
+ realized how much we need connection
– over use/reliance on digital devices gave us eye strain
+ set our sights on hands on tasks that provided nurturing; puzzles, baking, cooking, reading, playing, creating, walking, gardening
When you cancel out the negatives with the positives you find balance in the equation.
Now as we move into safe mode, we are able to use some of the basic functions we once used, but are still limited in many ways. In order to rebuild we have to identify, acknowledge and process the problems that we were ignoring up until we have nowhere to bury our heads in the sand. Moving forward is not possible until views are addressed, accepted and amended.
What we have witnessed collectively as a province, country and world?
How have we witnessed this as individuals?
How are we dealing with all this without the usual outreach of support systems?
Most importantly, how has all this affected us?
What wounds are new and which scars have been torn open creating deeper cuts?
The healing process begins with all of us. Enough with the sideline understanding and well meaning nods of empathy. If we didn’t get the message before when an example of injury was displayed somewhere in the world, we better get the message now that the whole world has not only stumbled but is in full out cardiac arrest. Where is the heartfelt sentiment for that moment? It’s definitely not found on the greeting card shelf. It is our collective action N-O-W.
The scramble to figure out what immediate school closures meant was a certain and understandable pause. Viewing the issue on the surface level brought a focus on how to distribute materials, lessons and schedules. In the next moment, it would have been beneficial to broaden the scope to see what we were dealing with. In the face of uncertainty, it is advisable to take a breath to help settle the mind. Clarity brings with it a sound perspective on a situation. Yet, in this case well meaning resources and free subscriptions to sites and online professional development were tossed into the ring at a rapid fire pace. With no time to pause, settle or reflect, the conveyor belt kept moving sending us in all directions. All with well minded intensions.
This is where calm, even-paced leaders help realign the process. Academic tasks that tried to overshadow a pandemic were drowned out by lack of devices, apathy or inability to justify work. Routines typically reserved for classrooms were being done in the personal space of homes. Now it is to be said some needed or perhaps craved a sense of what ‘normal’ looked like to them, so writing tasks played a positive role in their day. This however brings the larger question of the teacher being purveyor of knowledge and task giver. In that case, cruise director or party planner could be added to the resume. When students look solely to the teacher to know what to do, say or be we have failed and failed miserably. The goal is to help guide, direct and support learning through opportunity, feedback and connection.
This is why the time that COVID took from us needs to be viewed as the collective pause taken around the world. Any activities or options presented online through sites, videos, paper tasks or online conferences have to be seen as a preview. When these concepts are picked back up next year, in whatever form they are presented, students who were able to participate will have previous knowledge to build on. Those who were not able to approach any of the learning tasks will now have the chance to learn with their counterparts.
The hope is that an addendum to the curriculum be added to reflect the previous term. Before any academics is even considered social emotional considerations need to be the prime focus. Before a book is opened, a math problem discussed or a science lesson explored, building community has to set the stage for the next stage of learning to continue.
If nothing else, we have learned what school is not and what learning is essentially. Learning is a social activity and not the domain of one classroom. This is witnessed by all those natural learning experiences such as cooking, building and exploring that revealed the purpose for math, expression and artistry; and all underlined by the need for connection.
Now we’re really cooking. This is not the time to stop. It will be the utmost missed opportunity if we let this time pass without:
recognizing that we have this moment to change what we couldn’t during school days
chart a course that explains and outlines ways to move forward productively.
The answers are clearly seen in the maker movement. Innovative teaching, creativity and problem solving are the building blocks we need to set in place. What we explore, create, wonder about and tinker with forms the foundation of our learning. This spurs us on to further learning, learning that is self motivated, learning that includes others and forms the basis of collaborative understanding and community connection. When we have a feel for a concept, we more readily take on it’s definitions, rules, and exceptions in a real way. Nothing tells you that you’ve measured wrong when the birds keep slipping off the edge of the birdhouse.
So where are we in education right now? We’re at the corner of change and complacency. Change is uncomfortable and takes work. Complacency recognizes that something isn’t working but doesn’t move forward even though the situation is known. It’s more than watching a TV show you don’t like because you can’t find or reach the remote. It is arrogance that the system works for me or the select few in my range. Complacency recognizes that others are not only benefitting but being harmed yet still does not join in to begin to remedy the situation. Not knowing how to move forward so going back to old methods is a event that we cannot allow to happen.
This is where the phrase, Maslow before Bloom rings the loudest. How would the basic needs of life be accounted for each day? Food, water, clothing, shelter, safety take priority before addition or science lessons.
When lessons do appear, the question of how do they differ from the paper worksheet needs to be addressed. Filling in facts on a page tells you that the student can fill in blanks, not what they did. Counting on fingers, using a calculator, asking for the answers or using solid strategies are all possibilities. What we need to strive for is a student’s ability to know what the task is, the purpose for the task, the connection to the larger concept and the path taken to understand the concept. This is what we have to set out and expect all our students do. Practice makes permanent, not perfect.
Memorizing multiplication facts brings a false sense of knowing the same way a young child rapidly spell Mississippi or banana does. It has the look of real seafood but when you get right down to it, it’s mock crab. This false sense leaves little room for struggle, only instant success that is built on a very weak structure. When the child comes upon a harder task, the experience of working through, around and under to figure something out and know how you know it is not there. When we string more moments of unproductive learning and safe steps that have the look of success, we have failed. Bring out the five frames, ten frames, and Reknreks and put the pencils away until exploration builds to figuring a few things out. From there those math talks that we struggle to fit into the schedule become natural extensions of the moment. Now we are not the ones looping back to previous lessons to help students see connections, they are making them on their own and sharing this learning with the group. When asked how they know, they can answer in the moment instead of hemming and hawing until you give up and ask someone else. If you don’t how you got here, how can we move on?
When it comes to your child who is sick a remedy is sought and quickly; most often demanded. We have to look at schools the same way the world is looking to find a remedy vaccine for COVID19. Our remedy needs to come in the form of collaboration; the one thing we as teachers are the best at. As isolationists, we were built for a pandemic. True, not being able to connect with students to support them ripped teachers apart, yet we all scrambled once again to our separate corners to develop online lessons, create web pages of tasks and schedule online meet times with students. All the while we all said we didn’t know how to start, what to offer or what course of action worked best. We look to resources as a start, which is a valid source.
What we need to program into our go-to status is reaching out to staff members to start with discussion of questions, worries, ideas and then to co-creation of plans. How much more effective and stronger would our response and connection have been then? What better way to demonstrate what we mean when we say this generation is going to have to learn to work with world wide partners than to actually create multiple class group connections? A student in one area was in the same boat as another when COVID struck. We were all at home facing fears, doubts, uncertainty and the need to connect. This is also to note that many children faced further challenges and it is to be recognized that a Google Meet would not have been the answer to cover all needs.
My steps begin with my ongoing observations and reflection during this pause. Inequity of supplies, devices and connection is first. How are materials distributed? Equal is not equitable. Materials delivered without notice, support or guidance have little value. Materials are at times either hoarded due to limited supply, factoring insecurity. Look at how toilet tissue was cleared from shelves before we really even knew what COVID was! Materials end up getting dusty on shelves because there is fear of the unknown. If we have to be proficient at everything we do before we present it we will get nowhere. Also this is the opposite message we have for children. “How do you know you don’t like broccoli if you don’t try it?” How do you know you can’t read if you don’t use the clues on the page?” It is beyond time that we put our money where our mouth is on the issues facing us.
COVID has brought out all the issues we well meaningfully acknowledge but still sweep under the rug. Racism, inequity, mental health, food insecurity, financial struggles, need for connection and our destruction of land, air and water. How quickly will well meaning turn to complacency? Inaction is a dangerous precedent to send.
The massive numbers of death due to virus, violence and visible accidents that all happened…in…real…time…before…our…eyes is devastating to the point of being soul crushing. These psyche shaking revelations that are showing us collectively a change is needed, change is inevitable, change is crucial and change is now.
We do not have the luxury of looking back at history. We are history. The only way to solve the problems is to acknowledge our part in their making and work together for all. Our story is to heal the harm together.
Shovelling snow and brushing off the car is not usually a thought provoking task. This morning though the word innovation came to mind as I was using the extend button feature to lengthen my reach over the roof of the car. This snow scraper represents so much that we do in the field of education. We extend lessons to meet the needs and challenges of students so they can see over the problems or tasks we provide. The foam grip provides security that we hold fast to what we believe are solid pedagogical practices. The scraper edge helps us dig deeper into issues that are stuck and helps removes barriers to learning. For me though, it is the versatility of the swivel feature on the brush that affords the most opportunity. When one direction is not quite fully doing the job, we can simply change our perspective to see the situation from another viewpoint.
Now all of this might seem too on the mark but the wider connections hold true. Innovation is about seeing one element in many ways. A pencil could be used as commonly intended; for writing and erasing, however it could also serve as rolling device in a science experiment, hair fastener, mast on a toy boat and so forth. A picture book can launch a myriad of offshoot topics and actions, A picture can lead a math discovery the likes that a worksheet could never offer.
Seeing other educators that embody this way of thinking is life affirming. They see that although an item can work as is, it also can work in concert with other items to create a new usage, fill a need, become a completely different think altogether. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, is this your card, why what’s that behind your ear, now it’s a duck…and the hilarity … er … possibilities begin! I remember meeting Brian Aspinall for the first time in Halifax a number of years ago. He shared this new device called a MicroBit, that was not yet even available in Canada. A few educators met him in the lobby of the hotel where he was presenting and took a flash course in what this device could do. As it was passed around I did the obligatory nodding of the head in agreement and flipped the device over as if that would somehow help me figure out what it was. No dice! What I did take from that initial meeting was that whatever it was, it could do practically anything; heck it might even julienne fries! Brian too sees the opportunity in every moment, the possibility on in every item and the potential in every student. I raced home to check out his Youtube site for the step by step process of how to code the Microbit and then it started making sense to me. It wasn’t about learning the coding language pre se, it was more about what it could let me do and how to broaden learning opportunities for a range of student needs. Heads and tails, coin flips, step counter, rock paper scissors, fact practice, stop motion animation, sending secret messages and word crawls are just some of the applications to code. Moreover it motivates the students to try, fail, find where they made mistakes, see if they can fix them or seek help from others to work the bugs out of their program. It is creating an experience of connection, reviewing and revising that some complain that students never do in other tasks such as writing and problem solving where they don’t show their work or review edit suggestions.
Closer to home, it’s Erica Phillips, Nick Baskwill and Jeff Hennigar who have a bag of tricks who I see as masters of slight of hand when it comes to pedagogical magic. All this and we are lucky to be supported by those at the department level who keep an eye out for new opportunities and support our practice…plus a few facts about donairs thrown in now and again. Knowing who the students are, listening to their interests and acting on those while connecting curriculum is difficult but areas that these folks could give masters level classes on. Gamification, 3-D printing, sewing, integrating coding into class activities, green screening and stop motion animation just to mention a few elements seen in these classes. Digital isn’t seen as king or one trick pony. Devices, whether they be computer or art based materials are used as tools to help further a concept. We’re all on Twitter and I think I can speak for the group when I say that it has been and continues to be a lifeline. Here we have found like minded educators as well as those who challenge our thinking. Both views are productive in that they can confirm or stretch our thinking in many ways. Now as for the newest spinny, sparkly, pop up thingy that has just landed on the market, well we pounce on that like an eagle spying a tasty fish from high above. A kind eagle, but one that is laser focused on what we can do with it, how we can get our hands on the newest whatever and if they can get shipped to Canada. Most times you can set a timer to see who retweets, contacts the distributor or finds someone who has had experience with the new toy … um again … er… educational device!
Further afield a few of the American educators who embody this joie du vivre include, Chris Woods, Jason Hubbard, Mike Ransford, Joy Kirr, Tricia Fuglestad and Julia Dweck. More creative, resourceful, introspective, curious and ‘give it a try’ folk who are sharing their ideas, questions, process and journey teaching and learning from others as they go. All of them have taken a step back to reflect on the value of the learning process and what that requires. It cannot be defined in the pages of a text for all learners and isn’t reflected in bubble score sheets. Opening the room to invite students to co-create the space they will become a part of for ten months of the year, offering opportunities for learning and teaching self reflection brings purpose, understanding and the motivation to achieve skills that may not have been brought to light with traditional methods. I am thinking of Chris sharing his isometric drawing principles with students and seeing the elaborate results that are posted from his classroom. Thinking of the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a class invited to complete an assignment in geometry in a traditional manner would respond the same way the students in that class did. It is in how you present a concept that helps the learners connect to the topic. When they are groaning because the recess bell rang or are coming in to school saying, “Look what I did at home. Can I share this today?” you know you have not only made contact with the ball, you’ve hit a in the park home run.
Now every moment cannot be ‘magical’ or we would run out of steam by 9:35. The focus is on the word innovation, which in essence is linked to imagination. Can you imagine your students connecting with the material? Is there a way to have them see it another way? What will help launch them into practice in a purposeful way rather than mindlessly filling out fact sheets? That is my waking and subsequently unconcious thoughts as my mind spins on it’s own. I could have students take drilled tests and suffer the consequences of stress, anxiety, false sense of security and guilt over wasting paper or I could provide activities that help them build understanding of grouping numbers. When students say I just did it in my head or I just know it, they are saying that they can parrot back a fact but don’t have the full understanding of how that fact came to be. The quick photocopy task is so easy to pull as it creates control and order in the room but in the long run it is the equivalent to frozen pizza; not the balanced four food group offering that you need it to be.
So for the biggest bang for the buck, I see that it is the innovative methods of STEAM learning that is connecting all the pieces, people and production together. What you build with your hands, figure out in planning space, collaboratively create together is where the learning lies and has the most long lasting impact in education. So bring out the bins of washers, clay, rulers, and chenille sticks….never forget the chenille sticks, to build that stop motion animation scene, to record the moisture of different plants or to create that instant weather viewer on the window. What draws student interest, holds their attention and gives them a sense of purpose and drive will be the vehicle for making lists, writing drafts, editing work, finding and correcting spelling mistakes, creating authentic graphs for real use (by the way who cares what your favourite colour is in a bar graph anyway?), and presenting reports that they can feel proud to stand in front of any day.
So thank you to those in the area and to those in the cyber area. The hashtag #BetterTogether says it all. Who knew all of this would come from brushing the snow off the car this morning? By the looks of the snow now, I think I have to head out again soon. Who knows what thoughts will come from that! Stay tuned!
We’re all here to learn about our WHY Because I’m me I’m also throwing in a WHAT and a HOW.
It begins with opportunity give things a whirl; even if it’s cold tweeting this EduDude! These folks answered the call to find out what Microbits were … and this Brian guy told us … and I still had no clue what I was looking at. I went to his Youtube channel and once I had the recipe it started to make sense. I could follow the plan and then began to tinker with it to make it my own. When I see it, I can do it.
Making projects, taking chances and literally putting my heart on my sleeve, helped bring the world to us as this tweet bounded around the globe like a beebee in a pinball machine. The tech helped deliver the message but it was the heart message that people responded to.
All this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, like life, learning code takes one step at at time. No one has to take the full bite, just one piece at at time. We need support, guidance, collaboration and well a cookie to get us going.
Hour of Code was the button I pushed that got it all started. What was code.org; who knew, I didn’t. Mario sent an e-mail about Hour of Code, I signed up not knowing what it was and then tinkered it with it that night before I brought it to the class. OF course that day ALL the tech went down so there we were gathered on the floor with the wireless keyboard coding LightBot on the LCD screen. Usually the class that struggled with “interpersonal skills” turned into a collaborative group with patience when a wrong turn was made. Many came back the next day proudly sharing their certificates of completion to the cheers of others.
So that’s the lesson; the BIG TA-DA – dive in, tinker and figure things out together. This is where the opportunities for natural and purposeful problem solving arises. Opportunities that learners see themselves being a part of; opportunities that they can sink their minds into, connect with others on and continue working on.
We are aiming to have learners discover what ignites them and not wait for a future date when they might, “Be something” when they get older. They are something now and aren’t afraid to try. Open the class doors, don’t just spin the globe, be a globetrotter now.
So you know about the three forms of rocks and can answer that question on the test. My question is, “What are you doing with that knowledge?” How are we creating opportunities to see the concept in action? How do you connect with the process?
How we do things will be different but the same main ingredients are going to get us there. It’s in how you combine the elements, how you become more proficient with your skills and how you share the learning with others. It’s all milk, eggs, flour and sugar folks – or equivalent substitutions that makes a batch of cookies!
What you bring to the task, how you change it, is the magic of you. That’s where the chocolate chips come in. Insta-engagement. Suddenly when add an element of intrigue, you have folks on the edge of their seats, hands in the air to volunteer, take changes and lean in.
My WHY stems back to my own education from the fill in workbook days. I always had another way to see the problem, loved puzzles and the challenge of trying to figure things out. Strategies was a word that wasn’t used until I was behind the desk; a desk that I quickly moved out of the room and got down on the floor with the kids to build something. Seeing how educational practices are evolving to include exploration is inspiring learners to try and be proud of their efforts. “Can you post my work on Twitter?” is the new phrase heard in schools.
For the majority of my career I’ve felt isolated, the lone polar bear roaming the ice drifts in search of others who see education as a journey, not a job. Twitter has opened up that world and connected me to the likes of these galoots. I gravitate toward authors, innovators, tinkers, thinkers, creators and CAN-Do folk.
If we’ve seen the iron age, the bronze age, the industrial age…I believe we are now in the creative age where you make your mark in the world. Look what Youtube, Etsy and Dot Day has done around the world just with one click of a button.
Twitter isn’t going to change your life but the folks in this room will and all those they are connected with. It is collaboration over competition every day. I’m not trying to be or better than anyone. We’re all trying to do the same thing; understand the learners are in the room and put opportunities in front of them so they can become better themselves. If I can learn something from you that I can take back to my class, then we are all the better for it. Because at the end of the day, awards stand on a shelf and get dusty but it’s the group selfie at the Oscars that Ellen DeGeneris took that people are still talking about. Collaboration over competition every day.
So where am I now. Well the fishbowl is getting a bit tight and I can’t see how and where I fit in so I’m open to opportunity, where can I take what I have and bring it to a new audience. Because regardless of whether you call them pipe cleaners or chenille sticks, when you bring half and I bring half, they connect to create something better; and isn’t that really our WHY?
Memorize your facts, work hard, answer all the questions on the paper, get good grades to make it to college, get a degree so you can get a good job and make lots of money – full stop.
And we thought Cinderella and Little Jack Horner were selling us a bill of goods. What a crock of … butter. The assembly line of education was created during the industrial age where skilled workers were needed in droves. Well the pipeline has changed from home and factory to primary desk to college campus. The only thing is one size definitely does not fit all.
We know the outline of school because we’ve all been there and figured what we saw was what it was. You see an object, someone tells you it’s name and that’s where the conversation ends. In this case though the lines of teaching and education have become muddled. When we show or tell someone how to do something, we are the ones doing the active work while the listener takes on the passive role. Even the most attentive person can only retain so much without exploring for themselves. Too often students will say, “Oh my parents taught me how to do that.” only to find out that they fumble through crossing out numbers or inserting commas every fourth word. Without comprehension through connection, learners are getting short changed.
With the eye on getting an ‘A’ on a report card, students are racing toward checkmarks on a page or crossing off items on a rubric. I always wonder why students have to be reminded to add the title, where an animal lives, where a group lived or the capital of a country. If this is the case, Google wins every time. When learners are locked in, they can’t wait to explain all the facts they researched and expand on their findings. Conferencing then becomes about organization and an authentic discussion around sentence structure and punctuation. When the purpose is real and the goal is to interact with an audience, those features of editing, reviewing and polishing are natural offshoots and not elements that have to be repeated constantly by the teacher. “Did you remember to…?” “Have you checked for…? “Was your checklist consulted?”
This brings me to my big revelation this summer after attending two professional development opportunities. We are not teaching students to learn skills to advance to the next level, we are preparing them for life. Life that brings unique problems to be solved, decisions to be made based on various perspectives and most of all, how to interact and engage with others. We are here to help each other.The simplest act of disregarding a piece of trash by tossing it on the ground to being compelled to not create any waste with reusable containers is the range we are facing.
Having learners become problem finders compels them to seek answers. Discussions with those at home, links to information, discussions where they actually listen to and respond to each other occurs. The low end of learning comes when students are handed a page to read and answer questions about. Brian Aspinall has the best story about a course he took in university about constructivist learning where he read about the topic and then wrote a test about what he read! I’ll pause here while you cough…I should have warned you not to take a drink before you read this.
Essentially though this represents a lot of what students see on a daily basis. It is sometimes viewed that if students are working diligently copying information, answering multiple questions and can recall basic facts, that they are ‘getting it.’ My question is always, What can they tell you about that subject or concept later? I wonder do they know what they are speaking about or just regurgitating talking points. Has the information developed past the initial phase to be incorporated into solving a problem? So we know litter is a problem but what is the response and how effective is the solution? Do they list the common pat answer about not littering or are they spurned on to create real change beyond the surface level to long lasting change?
The first professional development session was entitled, “Taking Making Into The Classroom.” It was a response by those in the collective oceans industry to widen the understanding of the importance and interconnectedness of marine diversity. Alarmed by their gathered data about the negative or non-existent understanding of oceans, they set out to find a productive way to create opportunities for all. This coupled with an understanding of what learners need, a curriculum supported by a pedagogical background was created. Based on the work of Papert of, ‘hard fun,’ the maker challenges set a purpose for design that naturally creates the environment for collaboration, communication, creativity and citizenship. Now everything isn’t automatically candy floss and lollipops. What this type of exploring does is set the scene to navigate the skills of sharing ideas, figuring out how to make something work and learning how different materials hold up. When conflict occurs, there is the opportunity to work through the issue on the spot or better yet, gather the whole group together to get real time suggestions to help support the individuals. Within the group, individual strengths rise to the top and each feels productive and valid being able to point to a particular part that they worked on. Now the students can speak on point about the topic without having to read word by word from a paper. It is very easy to tell who, ‘copied and pasted,’ when they read the words but obviously do not understand the topic.
I can see how taking away the, ‘add water and stir’ version of school is unnerving for some as even a bad system is held onto when an effective learning perspective is not their experience. Showing the success of students or better yet when productive conversations happen at home letting parents see what is happening, then an understanding happens.
It has been said that you shouldn’t ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, instead ask what they like to do now. What you are interested in holds your attention and from there the curriculum can be pulled to support the topic. This is where we usually have it upside down. We look at the curriculum goal and then set out to create a task or rather worksheet that checks off the boxes denoting that the skill is ‘achieved.’
With the treadmill of, ‘action to receive a pellet,’ students have moved from having difficulty keeping up to falling off the track to having complete disregard for the pace because they know they have no place in it. Change the game to, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure,’ and now you’re cooking. Students rise to the occasion and then a whole world of curriculum connections pop up everywhere. Just like playing a game of Super Mario, the points are everywhere along the journey and finding the bonus coins are further happy moments.
The second learning opportunity came by way of an education technology conference. So many educators spent three high temperature days learning and sharing ways to incorporate elements of technology in meaningful and purposeful ways so students can present their thinking. It is never the device or app that makes the difference, it is in how it is incorporated into the learning. This is the key element, in that, it is how it is used rather than just knowing about the device. Too often teachers fall back on the low hanging fruit when they are struggling with how to dig into the pedagogical protocol. Too often, also is the feeling that we have to know everything about the topic and become experts before, ‘teaching’ it to the class. This is the point where we have to release the need for power and control and realize that some things can be worked out together with colleagues and yes, the students in a collaborative manner. This is where we know the curriculum and are able to connect the actions of the students to the concepts they are demonstrating.
More and more we are seeing solid, longstanding research that shows that drills, pressured assessments, rote memorization, disconnected worksheets and homework are not effective. Cramming facts might seem like a solid strategy but reflects a short term result and usually does not incorporate application of the skill to the wider concept. Sure, easy an easy math fact like 4 + 9 can be drilled in auditorily or by answering numerous skill sheets. The ‘test’ then becomes can the student apply this to 14 + 9 or 140 + 90? Have they explored how to build numbers using place value properties? Adults might say that everyone was taught that way and they are fine. I would posit that not everyone was fine. It’s just that sitting in regimented rows in a day full of, ‘No talking,” left the impression that everyone was find. Looking at the high levels of math anxiety and the ease with which adults say they are not a “math person,” tends to say that drilling didn’t get the bedrock of learning. Now this list might be hard to swallow seeing that it is the raison d’etre for some, but it is actually what is holding schools and students back. The belt on the treadmill is off and we have to find a way to the path that leads each to their goal.
At the beginning, middle and end of all what we are doing, preparing for, participating in is empathy. Awareness of self, others and the world, The image of the turtle suffering because of the straw stuck in its nose struck a chord around the world the likes we haven’t seen since catastrophic disasters due to war or devastating weather events. The result was an almost instantaneous banning of straws without pause. The counter point that some do need straws popped up but for the most part consumer demand created change. Now in essence it was a lateral move since companies removed straws only to reshape plastic lids that either used the same or more plastic that the original amount. A focus on paper or metal straws was an offshoot that has made an impact as well as lead to further investigation on how ocean plastic is the scourge of our waters.
It is these experiences that are shaping our future and one that hopefully will create personally satisfying careers as opposed to getting locked into a dead end job. Technology that helps us reach out and connect with anyone around the world now is the beginning of how students will create change with their learning. We know this because we are seeing it now. Students are becoming successful on their own learning from Youtube videos and in turn creating content of their own, starting businesses and being very successful, and affecting change in the areas of biodiversity, disparity issues and creating new products. Examples can be found globally as well as locally everywhere. East Coast Lifestyle clothing, upgrading old pipes that drain into the La Have river and recording music in an aboriginal language got the attention of world leaders, government and an original Beatle! What more do you need to know that worksheets had nothing to do with any of these achievements?
How do you respond when asked would teachers be interested in gathering to learn more about coding with Micro Bits and Scratch? “Oh, Oh, Oh, My Kotter, I know”…. a resounding and unequivocal YES!
From there it was just a hop, skip and a step to gather the energetic and enthusiastic group of learners together…and on a Saturday DURING report card time. I knew there were keeners out there when the note I sent in a group message was immediately replied to in the moment. If my Twitter account was connected to a light board, I could have illuminated a small city with the replies that poured in. With the interest clearly there, I continued on to the planning stage with gusto.
I realize that this is where my interest lies; in creating opportunity for a wider audience to learn, share and discover so that they can bring this back to their classes. One time professional development does introduce ideas and materials to the participant. Moreover, it is when we have the time to roll up our sleeves and do it for ourselves, with a, ‘meddler in the middle,’ that we have a better chance in building our understanding through experience. Far too often we are excited by a great speaker and exhausted by lunch with flood of new information flying at us. Heading home after the day is not the time to pick the concept back up. It has to be reflected on in the moment with time to bounce ideas off of those around us so concrete plans to use the idea can be made. Further, sustainable integration requires a plan, much like literacy and math support, technology and innovation need to have a beginning point to start and a focus on partnerships to ensure that a device is not a, ‘one and done,’ activity.
I have figured out that the answer to all questions is time and space. Time to meet and tinker with the devices without interruptions and the space to think out loud, collaborate with others and create plans to use these ideas in class is invaluable. Due to scheduling conflicts, being at different sites or not having experience or access to material are some of the barriers to moving forward. Removing some of these barriers and moving toward next steps in the process was the ultimate goal for the gathering. This is why the title of the day was carefully chosen to be Coding Connections.
On the day many teachers gathered ready to learn, share and build. The fact that everyone was at a different place was not a deficit but rather a benefit. Beginners started with introductory lessons in Micro Bit with discussion on why blocks were added a certain way. Bringing in the reasoning and connection to real life situations is key to solidifying understanding. This gave space for those who have used different forms of coding and devices in their class time to share next steps in their planning. The networking started automatically and proved to be very productive as plans for upcoming conferences were created in that moment.
Beginning our time together with a few quick questions through an online poll app got the ball rolling in an interactive way. Using a program that created a word cloud of participants names and schools followed by a visual list representing comfort level with technology instantly created natural discussion points. When the levels of tech comfort are listed as ranging from Little House on the Prairie to MacGyver, you know there will be some discussion. The last question was inspired after reading Block Breaker where Brian Aspinall suggests asking conference participants who their favourite teacher was and why. Well let the floodgates open. Beyond the fond memories, this question speaks to those qualities that leave a lasting impact on learners. It is known that some remember those examples of teachers who had a negative impact and have used this memory as a standard not to replicate.
Looking at makerspace options and organization, tinkering with a variety of apps and devices and most importantly spending time with others discussing how these could be incorporated into classes was the buzz that continued during the morning and on into a working lunch. It is noted that all this took place within a four hour period and while jam packed, left room to take things at one’s own pace. Meeting with grade level teachers from a wide swath of schools gave us an opportunity that would not be available otherwise.
A display table filled with books that reflected various STEAM connections, take away freebies and treats scattered here and there and items to take back to class added the necessary elements that let participants know that they day was planned for the people. It was the intent that participants responded to as much as the need to build experience with coding skills. The device or app can only get you so far in the classroom. It is the understanding that there are many ways to learn and represent that has a far reaching impact.
Overall the day’s focus was working with Micro Bits and Scratch yet ended up including a myriad of items and topics. Green screen opportunities, makerspace organizational tips and items to take, Code With Root, Bloxels, Make Do, Coding Mice, paper coding activities, mosaic art with Google Draw, social entrepreneurship in the community and best of all surprise prizes rounded out the opportunities provided for the day.
Now it is easy to work with a group of like minded individuals – actually it’s a dream come true, yet this isn’t the day to day situation. Whether one is a keener, a try-er, a do-er or uncertain of how all this fits in with curriculum demands, there is a set pattern that reveals itself with the integration of different technologies.
Explore, explore, explore, explore….read the word play here, but if you don’t quite see how play is powerful yet, go back to the work explore
Show/Share one basic element of the item with students
– BONUS – if teachers see themselves as learners with the students and are brave enough to say, “I don’t know, let’s find out together.” Knowing that others in the room know something you do not is powerful. This is when we realize that building community is key.
Find other ways to incorporate that device/app in daily activities
Branch out to other devices…PS… there is a lot of crossover. Once you get the hang of drag and drop or realize that everything begins with a start point, adds action and has a finishing point, you’re golden. And isn’t that just like the beginning, middle and end of story writing, a math problem, a science experiment, an art project……now you’re getting it!
Be like the Four Tops and, “Reach out, Reach out, I’ll be there..” Twitter has elevated and supported my practice like none other. I value my PLN (Professional Learning NetworK) beyond measure. Meeting local connections at conferences is like finding long lost souls and when pedagogical superheros like or respond to a post, well that’s cloud 10 right there… cloud 9 isn’t high enough in this instance.
Soon you realize that students are naturally and easily using a variety of methods to represent their thoughts and work as well as collaborating with ease alongside others who many not necessarily be sitting beside them, but rather within their own network.
Stand and deliver PD can be of use at times but it proves more effective when there is time to digest, spread out, move freely between items that intrigue the learner are provided that proves to have both instant and long lasting effects. In this case the effect was as immediate as the next school day where many of the participants, who were introduced to Micro Bits for the first time, shared the lessons with their students. Proud posts from classrooms came in all day and student perseverance and pride were evident. Proof that every experience is an opportunity could not be more clear.
Too often we are closing ourselves off with notions that we are too busy, can’t keep up, don’t know how we are going to fit all this in…but the opposite is true; how can we not take advantage of the many doors that are open to us. Fling open the fourth wall of the class and reach out whether that be in connecting with someone down the hall, a grade level counterpart in another school or via social media and video connections. Bringing the world in is the goal not just for teachers but the direction we need to share with learners whose future is now.
As I write this now, to date I have had more requests to find out when the next gathering is whether formal or informal to chat and share all things nifty and clicky that broaden opportunities for all learners. The next one could be at a Starbucks, library space or after school gather in the classroom to thumb through books, connect the wires that make things light up or to review how to integrate curriculum with proactive strategies. Regardless of the time or space, I know that the connections strengthen as the group grows together.
The best event actually came after this PD session when teachers excitedly brought their learning to their classes. Micro Bits were moving and shaking all over the area AND students began taking on leadership roles to share their new learning with cross age buddies. Huzzah … contact in so many ways!
There’s nothing like educators gathering for a shared purpose. This was the spirit of our time together yesterday at #CodePD19. I was impressed by the interest and enthusiasm to try, explore, tinker and persevere when learning something new. Micro Bit devices is something part of the group have worked with previously and others were just learning about yesterday. Standing on the side, I heard great ‘in the moment’ revelations that were sparked by trial and error attempts to create a program. Like any device, practice, tool or program, we are introduced, find out how it works and find ways to include in our class. The difference here is that beyond being a new item to share with our students, it represents a perspective on learning. It’s never the device that is the lasting attraction, it is in how it is used that makes the long lasting difference. It is with that spirit that I reflect on and write about the thoughts that I have post PD session. In a post that will soon follow this one via Doc copied to Twitter, I will give suggestions to support using the Micro Bit in just one step so that it doesn’t become a dust collector. It is in the planning and consulting with others that we can support each other to integrate these ideas, materials and perspectives in the rush of our days.
When things didn’t ‘click’ you kept on, sought help and were in it for the long haul. Having students in your class see what this looks like is invaluable. Most often students feel that if they don’t have the answer immediately, that they won’t get it. Starting with a conversation about what comes easily to them versus something they have difficulty with is a place to start.
Looking at examples of others who overcame struggles to persevere is a way to put focus on an outside source. Students can find similarities they connect to without feeling pressured or self conscious. If ‘famous person’ had difficulty but found ways to learn, then the struggle may not seem so steep. Another way to have students see examples of those working is found in a local school who has created and displayed posters of their students with a specific quote said by that individual recounting something that helped them. We know what an impact visuals have so it is important that they are authentic and empowering
This is why trying maker challenges connected to the C’s is a great place to start. (Critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, citizenship…) Tossing out a challenge automatically get the brain up and moving in a way that finite questions really cannot do. How can we _______ so that ________ versus What are the four ______?
There are levels of questions that explore different depths of knowledge. The goal is to build learning beyond surface level beginning questions. Honouring where the student is at the moment is key in knowing what level to explore. Where one student is able to recall the basic facts of a story, another is able to describe the reason behind a process. Further on, another is able to apply the concepts of one skill in developing a plan to represent their learning.
At times we get lost in fact retrieval, figuring that students who have recall, understand the concept. Parroting back a list remembered could be an in the moment retelling. Developmentally this information could be stored and linked to learning later on, solidifying it for application. The opposite is also true, in that a list remember for a test could be quickly lost. Think about when you travel to a new city. Do you memorize a list of every subway line and stop or do you have a general reference for the main points and then access maps or information booth operators to help you along your way? Same too goes for learning in the class. When you need something, that is when the investigation begins. The goal is to provide the opportunities in the learning space for this to happen.
Essentially, we’re looking for nutrients that stick to your ribs. Once students have a purpose, however that is sparked, they stay with the process even in the face of adversity and struggle. They celebrate the small moments, rise to the occasion to help each other out and keep working AFTER the bell has rung. It’s feels odd to hear students groan because the bell has rung and they have to leave what they are doing. It is noted that this is a good place to remind students about a work-life balance and the is is more productive to change directions, move around, eat something and interact with others to give the mind and body a rest. In this way we come back to tasks more refreshed having given the mind time to digest and process what has just happened. It is not an, ‘add water and stir’ process to create in the class. It is a mindset that has to be cultivated, honed and practiced overtime. It is easy, however, to launch and each step builds from there. Again, I refer back to the maker challenges as a place to start. Once the stage is set, the rest will come as new observations are made, engagement increases and understanding of curriculum deepens.
The whole point of this; the whole point is to have students see, feel and know that learning is an active process that they have a role in creating. When students sit passively waiting for a worksheet, to find out which page in the textbook is being shown today or waiting for someone else to answer a question, they are perpetuation the belief that school is about compliance. Putting up an image that is a little askew automatically has students on a path of questioning, wondering and commenting. Now we have something to work with where we can hear what they are thinking, have others respond or connect to and writing then becomes a natural extension whether it be a group list on a central chart, small group shared ideas or individual journaling where some are writing by hand, others are touch or voice typing and others still are having their words scribed. However the student get there is their own process. The point here is to see that the ideas are being freely shared and adding to a collective and a conversation that is ACTIVE.
Technology now becomes the vehicle to promote the curriculum. Straight word for word typing for notes is a start that creates space for additions to occur in the moment, comments to be added to support ideas and revisions to be made. Co-producing a piece of writing this way creates community and feedback in a real and long lasting way. From their other devices can be utilized that help express the ideas in different ways such as using a green screen, stop motion, Book Creator, Brush Ninja gif maker, coding devices and augmented reality to name a few. The point here is that a variety of materials gives richer options to pull from. Each can resonate differently for students in different ways. Soon students will have a catalogue of items to add to their toolbox of strategies and skills to use when solving problems, tackling a project and exploring a question that they want to know more about because it piques their interest.
The goal is to move past the twenty six Santa’s that all get coloured the same way and all lined up and displayed above the board. Dioramas are great ways to represent a process learned. Again twenty six of them usually do not fit well on a ledge and nor should they do so. It creates a visual display of work that is judged based on neatness and addition of professional looking store bought items. When you see a lute amongst the homemade tambourines, you know some adult has spent many hours in the garage or basement measuring, carving and filing their evenings and weekends away.
What we know now about the generation who were handed things, who are now university aged, is that, while they took the ribbons and stood in front of science fair projects that they knew nothing about, they felt worse about themselves then had they done a poor job on their own. We do no one any favours by doing things for them. This doesn’t mean we toss learners into the deep end of the pool, rather we help everyone wade in step by step. The goal is to move learners to practice their problem solving skills and become producers of knowledge by knowing how to utilize information productively. Thinking about how people will stick with something or better yet, rise extra early on a Saturday to pursue their interest, we can use this motivation in the class. Soon seeking higher education whether it be university, technical institutions or independent learning will be a natural extension of work begun in schools. We don’t need another degree in mediocrity, we need learners who have interests in pursuing everything from ocean studies to Shakespeare. If you are sparked to pursue something, you will see a purpose to using it to build knowledge, solve problems and leave a mark on the world…PS this is the ULTIMATE goal – finding the HUMANITY in everything. Seeing what a reader is doing when they process and helping them to connect their skills leads to them reading more and learning about themes and messages in stories. Exploring touch tanks are the museum now sparks an interest in marine biology that could lead to productive shipping lanes that decrease harm to sea life. When we gather trophies that have no meaning, we have a mantle full of statues that are as hollow as their message. The clay vase or math strategy that brings it all together are the clicks that are worth more than any ribbon that gets eventually tossed at the bottom of a box. Help learners stand on top of their own podium, not the cheap plywood stage covered in astroturf!
We know it is not the ‘stuff’ that makes a space; it definitely is part of the space but it’s not the full picture. Maker is a mindset; witness to the fact that every school has the same roll out of tech toys, yet many aren’t using them or even aware that these items exist in their building. Communication is a two way street; therefore it is not only up to the upper levels in the school system to alert educators of these devices, but it is also up to educators to make themselves aware of what is available to promote learning.
Educators are swamped with new initiatives and classroom demands of working with 20+ individuals who all come with diverse range of needs, challenges, interests and concerns. Who has time to look into or learn about different ways of working with curriculum when units have to be delivered, assignments have to be copied, explained, students chased after to complete assignments, grading, returning and logging results?
Well, with what feels like an infomercial pitch; You too can find a better way!
A maker model is one that is inclusive, engaging and connected. First steps into this way of working are easy and produce instant reactions of student engagement. Basically once learner’s interest is piqued, they are off to the races. Now as always, Rome wasn’t built in a day so take a step at a time and see how each person responds; specifically you. What changes do you notice? What conversations happened between students, during the activity and afterward in a full group discussion? Were there any students who discussed the activity at home and replicated it, adding to it and returned to class with an item that reflecting this learning?
A simple sticky note where students add one word or small phrase to describe something they liked, connected to or wondered about can be the small step to begin a non-fiction writing task that is authentic and purposeful. Now because students have a connection to the experience, they don’t need to be tracked down to hand in the writing. For those who put their foot down and will not write, no matter how intriguing you make it, scribe their thoughts or use a speech-to-tech feature so they are participating; which is the main goal any how.
When teachers turn a blind eye to different technology pieces or practices, they are limiting both themselves and their students. Worksheets that are easily done or leave the learner struggling, do not reflect real student understanding. Reading a passage and answering basic level questions that do not get passed recalling of facts, does not make the topic stick with the students. In the moment, they would remember types of landforms or facts about Prime Ministers but what does that have to do with their lives beyond the test? If we give students a list of questions to look up, how long will they remember about the habitat of a bat? For that matter a student could just pass in a ChromeBook saying, ‘It has all the answers in it.” Copying and pasting might seem like learning and a quick answer in the student’s mind, but how is it changing, enhancing or building the learner’s experience?
Enter Maker Space. This is a place to explore, discover and connect. Imagination, creativity and the willingness to try are all open opportunities in this atmosphere. Yes, it can occur in separate space, but the goal is to introduce this experience in the classroom. The crossover of tasks in the class is natural. Everyone is on the same level playing field so mistakes are seen as discoveries, collaboration occurs naturally with problem solving and instant experts are created when students figure out an element that others did not get. Little leaders emerge and everyone moves at their own pace. If some are unsure, they are safe to monitor the situation from the side seeing how things are done – visual learners. Those that jump right in are experiential learners. Regardless of the type of learner, the experience is complimented in the conversations that happen afterward. This is where the connections and insights are made. Further questions or plans to continue round out the experience building toward next steps.
Soon integration of exploration to curriculum can occur. 3-D models of geometric figures leads to strength of materials for structures which connects to habitats all while writing jot notes, labeling diagrams and adding to the speaking and listening list.
Now the beauty of all this is that it can happen in your very own room; yes, that’s right folks, the comfort of the class space. A sectioned box of various items becomes a writer’s maker space dreamland. Having access to Makey Makey devices, MicroBits, ChromeBooks, IPads, straws and connects, clay, toothpicks, popsicle/chenille sticks, pom poms and Spheros to name a few items is essential in the classroom. Understandably a lot of these items are shared materials between grade levels but it has been my experience that items that are stored away are rarely used. Same applies for math manipulatives. If they are stored in bags for provincial assessments, students will rarely use them thinking that they are only for those who don’t understand their math. If they are always out, they get used, which is the whole point of having students seek and find their own strategies so that concepts make sense to them.
When you don’t have to run and get a key or wonder who is using different items, you can live in the moment when a student makes a great connection and wants to demonstrate their learning via green screen, stop motion or gather data with a Microbit. It has been my experience that soon app smashing is not seen as a novelty but becomes the standard rule of thumb. “Can I create my character in pixels with Google Sheets and then use it as in my stop motion animation and then green screen it to be by the Grand Canyon?” Well yes, yes you CAN! Why, because we have the stuff lying around to do just that.
To get rolling, give one of these engagement starters a go;
How can we/you make a 3-D shape with two lines of symmetry?
How can we/you get a sphere from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor or anyone touching it?
What numbers can you add to get a three digit number with all the same digits?
What new character can you/we make from the three part cards? (note: in a long rectangle sectioned in three parts, draw the head, body and legs/feet in each section. Cut along the dotted line of each rectangle and mix and match parts with others to create a new character. Name, characteristics, hobbies, strengths…) http://bit.ly/2IRyzIz
How do salt and sugar crystals look similar/different?
Regimental rows with workbooks was my experience in school. The year our desks were placed in groups of four was a radical experiment in this new thing called grouping. With the rows came rote teaching and learning. I cannot think of using a manipulative until grade seven when the miras were brought out. In truth, we did use bread tags in primary to help us with addition problems but that was seen as a one off for the youngest students in the school. Weeks were bookended with pre-spelling quizzes on Monday with the follow up test on Friday and the obligatory writing out the misspelled words ten times each. Oh if Campfire knew how their notebooks would be used; sorry Hilroy wherever you are!
As we progress, we find new substitutions, ways of doing things differently or building on our understanding, thus the phasing out of antiquated practices that either no longer serve well or never hit the mark in the first place. Calculators were supposed to be the death of addition, word processors were thought of as the end of creative writers and spell check; well that has its own subset of worriers attached that see an end to communication as we know it.
The paradigm shift that people get stuck on is that these practices; that of drills, memorization and copying notes, worked for, ‘them,’ and they cannot see why it is not still a hard and fast rule to teach this way in the class today. My answer to this is that strategies and methods have worked for some but not everyone in the class took away the full benefit of the lessons. Students were more compliant and quiet when they did not understand a concept but rather turned inward and wondered what was wrong with them that they were not getting a concept from listening to directions or seeing an example on the board. Further, activities that were used to practice a concept were out of context and did not support analysis or carry over. It’s one thing to write a number out in expanded form but another to actually understand how seeing numbers in this way is helpful. For instance, seeing 942 + 346 is 900, 300, 40 60, 2, 6 helps the learner to group place value pieces together to better visualize the answer. From there discussions on a good estimate is easier understood. All this from group share discussions after students have time to explore.
Now we are ready to see how flexible seating supports this viewpoint, not just from the physical layout of the room and furniture but from an education mindset point of view. If learners are seen as needing to be managed and kept under control, the ability to think, create and understand are significantly limited. Feeling a sense of being part of the discovery, conversation and experience promotes opportunity for the learner to become invested in the experience. The more students interact with a topic, the more they will spend time exploring the different elements. Experience builds connections and connections creates stronger understanding.
Introducing small items helps everyone in the room, including the educators, to become more familiar with the process of change. It’s one thing to read or hear about how a class has transformed and to be inspired by that, but it is important for those involved to see it and feel it
first hand. I constantly changed the arrangement of desks to help create groups, give students a chance to work with others and yes, help me alleviate behaviour issues. For some, space and place play a role in where and how they learn best, but I’ve also since come to know that a student, any student who is personally connected with an activity, will need few to little interventions in class.
I found furniture in the building that had been stored for a while or was left in the hall for the taking and created small spaces for students to go to by choice. Having a fish tank by default in the class was another element that opened the space for alternate seating opportunities. What better way to focus than next to the calm bubbling of the water filter as fish float in and out of view? The piece that I specifically brought into class to benefit a student was a yoga ball. I had read articles where ergonomic furniture was finding its way into offices and then some classes and I thought I’d give it a try. Immediate interest and success was had by the individual it was intended for as well as for the rest of the class. A name chart was set up and monitored by students so each would have their day with the yoga ball as their chair. I had come with the mindset though that if you could work on your writing under a table, at the window ledge, on your head even to name a few, more power to you. Having autonomy over where they learned was a big eye opener to students.
Continuing on through the years, I’ve swapped and changed out more and more desks to have longer tables, round tables, standing height tables, foam floor mats, clipboards, mini white boards, pop up tents, a wicker rocking chair and benches in the class. Most recently a response to a Twitter post has elevated my pieces to the cadillac of flexible seating options with the inclusion of four items from TradeWest. These items are not only serve as furniture but extend the mindset of what flexible seating is by fitting the learners needs in many ways. The rocker is ergonomic and fits many sizes of students comfortable who need movement breaks but who can still continue what they are doing in class. The adjustable nature of the high table allows for students to grow with the item as well as functions as a place for a group to work directly together while having their own designated space. The whiteboard table elevates the student’s work space, AND it has wheels! My favorite element of flexible seating is not only can the individual find and move to where they work best, but they can take the furniture with them! I have the majority of my class on wheels and am the better for it as we can make the space what we need it to be moment to moment – space to present with one or more classes, move, dance, spread out, display manipulatives and the list goes on.
As each successive year has approached, I have increased the level of ‘flexibility-ness’ of the classroom arrangement. Last year I went almost full throttle only have eight individual desks in the room. On the first day of class I had the students count the number of desks and then the number of chairs or spots to sit at in the room. Perplexed, they thought of themselves first thinking that if they counted a desk for themselves that others would be elsewhere; wherever elsewhere would be was a different story. Soon their discussion came around to all the alternative places they could work. A discussion over norms and the signing of a class pledge poster soon followed, In retrospect continuing the discussion on norms on an ongoing basis is beneficial to further add to the understanding of how flexible seating works and at times does not work. Reminding students that they should not always try to dive bomb for a certain seat or try to sit with their best friends all the time is top of the list for the first while. Messaging, reviewing the concept of flexible seating and hearing how students are feeling about the space are considerations to keep in mind.
This year, we have gone full flex seating with only two individual desks in the classroom, which frankly are for display purposes. Tables, garden and camp chairs, rolling carts with individual storage boxes and many IKEA items later we have found a nice ebb and flow to our work day. Those times when we are in full zone, I pause to have the students look around to see where they are working and how they are working so they are able to see and feel what it means to be productive workers and learners in a group where people are free to make decisions about what works best for them. The Starbucks model of patrons writing the next great screencast, parents with children in strollers, friends meeting for a quick gab and students hunched over cramming for exams all working together in different ways is the go-to example when first explaining the flexible seating concept. As it turns out, upon writing this very section of my article here, I am at a Starbucks with light jazz playing in the background amongst the ambient chatter of patrons and espresso machines spurting out the hiss of hot steam. It goes to show that you find what you need when you need it. In the classroom, this is supported by the teacher being able to meet with small groups at a round table while others are working of a draft of writing, practicing skills, researching and adding to notes on a Doc or creating stop motion animation Slides to represent their learning in various subjects. Gathering at a central space to debrief, reflect, share strategies learned, ask questions or be shown a specific skill is the partner to the, ‘scatter to work’ times.
In the initial run up to planning the space issues about where to store individual student supplies, areas for group materials that can be easily retrieved and returned and the awareness that not all individuals are interested or ready for the ‘come to the space’ concept. Being cognizant to the needs and interests of the students is foremost in this thinking and one that should be the mainstay of all classroom situations. When we know and understand who the students are, we are able to address and respond to what they need to be successful learners both in and out of the classroom.
Now if the class had moveable walls to customize the space even further…. Opening the fourth wall to invite others in and collaborate on a wider level is the next stage in this journey. This is where things get even more exiting. I’ll need another English Breakfast tea and perhaps a piece of ginger loaf to help me write that one!