There have been lots of positive things going on in my classroom lately but I have been so consumed with and saddened by the new politics of teaching and unions that I haven't been able to open my eyes to the wonders of my students. So I want to take this space to let you all know the good things going on.
1. An update on the creation of the Exploration Lab
As I talked about in a previous blog, after reading The Third Teacher and speaking with Trung Le of CanonDesigns, we decided to rearrange our room to better suit our students' needs. It has been a resounding success. What am I seeing?
Children at different tables seem to be more helpful with each other. They readily lean over to help each other with assignments or struggles. They offer supplies and trade emails after school. I believe this might have something to do with the fact that the children sit at tables based on their chosen "best way to learn." So the artists all speak the same language. The musicians know how to communicate with each other. The collaborators readily jump in. And the children who needed quiet know when to help and when to leave each other alone. It's really amazing to watch.
Students are quicker to move around the room, getting what they need to make learning easier or just moving to a different place in the room to get closer to the instruction if needed. They seem more comfortable being different than their classmates. So, although I run a UDL classroom and have encouraged this all year, the movement into an Exploration Lab seems to have really pushed the idea.
The children are working more independently. I know it is the spring and the children usually get to a point around this time of year where they are more independent. But this year, it seems to have happened sooner. And this brings me to the second positive happening in my classroom.
2. Becoming much more of a facilitator
The past two weeks have been interesting, to say the least. While we push toward our state testing (coming up right after vacation) and the required preparation, we have also been pushing to complete some large projects before vacation. So our days have been spent either doing test prep (boooo) or working on projects (yaaaay). And this has given me lots of opportunity to see the children at their best.
You see, when we do test prep in my room, it is limited to a 45 minute period per day. This 45 minutes is not the best, since it is primarily drill and practice, but the children are positive, knowing that it will be a short amount of time and then we get to move on to "the fun stuff."
The fun stuff is the rest of our curriculum. It's games and projects and research and collaboration and reading and writing and math and....nothing about drill and practice. Just learning. And three things we really worked on were our Moving West social studies project, our Energizing Energy science project, and our literary essays in writing.
Since we had been working on the projects for awhile, the children were well into them. They worked in groups, collaborated online with each other and children from other classes, and solved problems all day. I had the luxury of sitting at a table with my laptop and seeing their conversations and work in their Google docs. I got to quietly watch them work on scripts and props and design work. I was witness to kindness and support and laughter and perseverance.
I watched E work with H, who was upset because he wanted to do an Xtranormal video and the rest of his group wanted to do a Glog. She carefully explained to him that his video will be used, embedded into her Glog. Calmed him right down with no support from me.
I saw S lean over to T and gently help her run through the math work she struggled with. I had explained it many times but she had shut down in frustration. S didn't even think about her sensitivity. He just walked her through the steps and she was successful.
I witnessed A and her group struggle to figure out how they were going to show that their partners in Nevada were going to catapult them a fish (it's all part of a video about simple machines). How will it look like the same fish when they were splicing together two different videos? They talked with each other and chatted with their partners, finally coming to me to tell me they MUST Skype with their partners. So I turned on Skype, called in Brian Crosby, and brought the children together. What did they do? Brian's students had a stuffed fish. They put it up to the camera to show A. A said she had a similar fish at home. They spent a few more minutes talking backgrounds for their video and walked away smiling. My only job...turning on Skype.
I listened to B and his group struggle with Google Sites. It was the first time we were using it and had many issues with it. They kept getting logged out, kept losing their work, and spent much time just troubleshooting. Finally, they told me to check my email. They had sent me an invitation to their wiki, created in Wikispaces. They decided, without me, that they had spent enough time troubleshooting and needed to actually work. So instead of creating a site, they created a wiki, quite successfully.
3. Moving West Project Conclusion
Moving along in our social studies curriculum brought us to Chapter 14. An exciting time in American history, the early 1800's are explained well in the textbook but...oh how boring to read the textbook. So Lauryn, my co-teacher, and I created a project. With the help of our librarian, who set up LiveBinders for each group, we created a Google site with essential questions, topics, assignments, rubrics, and ending with a webquest. Each group had to create a site to teach about their topic. This site had to include three parts - one written, one drawn, and one multi-media. It had to answer the main essential questions and some topic specific questions. After all sites were completed, the children worked with partners from other groups to complete a webquest using these sites.
There wasn't any part of this project I had to teach to the whole class. The students jumped in, delegated assignments, met with me to explain their plans, and got to work. They gave each other homework assignments (not kidding) and begged to spend more time working. The fact that what they were really doing was research is amazing. They loved this project, learned a great deal, and did very well on their webquest.
The adults in the room marveled at how independent the students were, making great choices about projects, choosing appropriate research material, and collaborating beautifully. It was a dream project, bringing together everything we have worked on all year. And we finished it all just in time for vacation.
I love being able to share some of the excitement of the classroom, er Exploration Lab, with you all. It helps me remember why I love teaching and working with children. And it helps me push aside all the negative press teachers are getting these days. I hope it works for you too.
Image: 'Always Look on the Bright Side of+Life'
Image: 'Day 83: Fifty Fingers - Hands Together'