When I decided to change up my classroom earlier this school year (see March 2016 post), I got rid of three-fourths of the student desks. I began the transformation by surveying the students. I did not tell them why I was asking how they like to sit. Since this was going to be more about how they spent their day than me, the survey was very important. I used this information to determine what I was going to use as the new "desks". Some items were going to be pretty easy to bring into the classroom, but I wasn't sure what the students would want. I also had to think of the layout and flooring in the classroom. Half of our floor is tile, while the other half is carpeted. This presented interesting options for seating.
One Monday morning, the students walked in to find several large pillows and a large bean bag on part of the carpets. Students who had stated in the survey that they didn't like sitting at desks got first choice on the new floor seating. To avoid issues with lice, we discussed how to sit on the pillows and bean bags. They could lay down on their stomachs or sit straight up as long as no heads were on the materials. (Next year I am going to try to bring in more vinyl materials to get rid of this problem all together.) Two days later, (with custodial help), I lowered a long table and put the pillows around it as cushions. The class was thrilled. Every few days, the class would come in to find more desks missing and another seating option. There were campfire chairs (thanks to a generous parent donation of 8!), a step-stool, a rocking chair, a standing desk that fits two students, a large blowup chair, small stools, two rolling chairs, and a club chair. We still have 12 traditional desks. I brought in a couple of end tables to make writing and tablet work easier. Students on the floor were using clipboards (found cheaply at Walmart) for this purpose. I was scouring garage sales, facebook community sale sites, my friends and family, and any sales I could find. (There was a little money from a fundraiser through the school, but most had to come from my pocket.)
The biggest problem became how to store student items (pencils, books, folders, papers, etc...). Since I haven't used textbooks all year, they were placed on the back counter out of everyone's way. I finally found a small, stackable storage container that was big enough to hold the essentials. (Although several students have found a way to cram A LOT of extra "stuff" in them.) This is going to be an ongoing area of struggle for the class until I can find the "right" storage for student materials.
Now that we have various seating options, I decided to also get rid of assigned seating. Students may sit however and wherever they feel they can get the best work done and they are sitting safely. There are a few students who have even asked that they keep their desks. Occasionally I have to step in and remind a few that they shouldn't sit next to others that distract them from their learning. Since we do so much group work anyway, there are very few that need this reminder. Somehow the room seems less crowded than it did at the beginning of the year even though there are the same amount of kids. Fidgety students are no longer in trouble because they can't sit still.
I have a wish list of items I would love to bring in for next year (balance balls, chair cushions, wobble chairs) and a few I will probably take out. Many teacher friends think I am nuts. Parents are confused. Students are happy and learning. Most change where they sit throughout the day, giving them a different perspective for everything we do and a new way to position their body. This new flexible seating has created a classroom that feels more like a home and the students have been more productive in their activities.
What I learned about seating:
-not having assigned seats has actually been more freeing for me (not as much discipline needed for the students)
-students enjoy changing how and where they sit regularly
-flexible seating can be expensive (but what teacher doesn't spend their own money on supplies anyway)
-taking away desks allowed for more freedom in multiple ways
New seating has been brought in, including a toddler bed (now a bench seat for 2-3 students), a small table, and another rocking chair. I have been able to get rid of more desks and have more available seats in the classroom than I ever had with full desks. Can't wait to see the students' reactions to the new items.
I recently attended Makerspace trainings with our school librarian, Mrs. G. There were three trainings for us to learn everything we could about creating a Makerspace on our campus. When we started in the fall, there was an idea of changing our library to include an area where students wouldn't be reading, but would be creating. Both of us had heard of Makerspaces, but really had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into.
The first training gave us a few ideas (have to have MakeyMakey, cardboard can be more useful than we thought, greenscreens are cool). It also gave us a few headaches (how to get parent support both in and out of school, how much tech do we include, where are we getting the money for supplies and activities). We debated the structure of what it would be like for the students. Would Mrs. G provide specific activities or would the kids get to explore on their own each week? (I am mostly providing tech and motivational support.) We left feeling we had a long way to go, but boy were we excited.
By the second training, our Makerspace was in full swing. (I'll let Mrs. G explain the specifics when I get her to publish her blog!) We had both students and parents excited about what was going on. Kids were coming into the library/Makerspace during their recess and lunch times to create. Some were working with the Lego wall, others learning to write in calligraphy. My students were upset when our time got cancelled due to an assembly. (Who would have guessed students would complain about missing library time!) Mrs. G was constantly coming to me to share all of the wonderful tech that we were getting that she had no idea what to do with. Our excitement matched the students.
As we finished the third and final training, I discovered that our Makerspace has exceeded our expectations. The students are still exploring both newer and older materials. We are bringing their creations into our classroom academics. (Currently they are using their Makerspace learning to create something that goes with their Genius Hour projects.) All of the students are excited to bring home their project to show off at home. Most of the kids have figured out a new talent (over half the class has learned how to sew, a skill I have never figured out!). They have their favorite items to create with, like the MagnaTiles and Hue Stopmotion Animation Studio. Students just discovered Sphero and Bloxels. And there is always the never ending supply of cardboard for hours of crafting fun.
What has made me the most impressed about this whole adventure is the students. They bring excitement each week with what they have created. Taking apart various electronics has lead to amazing discussions and problem solving among the kids that a text book could never have done. Kids think they are getting play time each week. We know they are learning lifelong skills not taught often enough in school.
What I learned...
-Hands-on learning is important, not just in academic subjects
-Freedom to choose what they want has allowed for new talents to come to light
-Mrs. G rocks!
A few days ago, I sat down to write this post and got stuck. I knew what I wanted to say, but the words just wouldn't come the way I wanted. Then my family and I went to see Urban Rez, the "immersive theater experience" (Thank you Cornerstone Theater Company for those words) by Larissa Fasthorse. The play is about Indians losing their land to the government and how can they get recognized as a tribe. In addition to the amazing experience, it helped me to find the words I needed to express the gratitude I feel for my tribe.
"Your tribe is more than the people", a line taken from the play that resonated and gave me what I was missing. When I had my first teaching job, I made friends and mostly enjoyed the experience. I was a new teacher so there were some, lets's say, interesting moments, but it was overall a good place to work for my beginning career. What I discovered at my next (and current) place of work is that I really need to connect with the people, the philosophy, and the environment in order to be fulfilled. I could not be who I am today without all of that.
I met my best friend (of almost 20 years) here. I met my mentors (who I still go to for advice whether it is personal or professional) here. I felt the freedom and comfort to change how I teach and who I have become here. These are the people who have celebrated my successes, shared my worries, and commiserated when I failed (or at least when I thought I did.) I had found my home. These are not just my "work" friends. Most of us regularly spend time outside of work together on a regular basis. These are my PEOPLE.
We have similar views on teaching and working with children. I hear stories about how teachers don't work together on their campuses (especially with other departments whether it is a subject area or special education). I can't fathom what that would be like. Some of my favorite people work in those "other" classes. There is constant collaboration, even when we don't have the same grade levels.
Our campus is located on a hill with a fabulous view. There have been many long teaching days where I stand in my doorway after the bell rings just to look at the view. (The morning view is pretty spectacular as well.) One of the reasons I love our campus is the interconnected classrooms. I can't even count the number of times I have asked my next door neighbor to watch my classroom through the doorway so I can run to the restroom! Or how often I have wondered through the building at the end of the day just looking for someone to chat with. My wall neighbor and I regularly play knocking games on the wall during class. (Keeps the kids amused as well!)
What amazes me the most is how lucky I am to work with such amazing people in a wonderful environment. Some have come and gone, as will others, but the true heart of our campus remains throughout. I end with a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have made my job (and my life) better than I could have ever hoped.
What I have learned:
-Truly amazing things happen when you enjoy those you work with
-No matter what you call those around you, teaching is not a job to be done alone. I know I certainly couldn't!
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching