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.
Edcamps, CETPA, Cue: these professional learning activities have sparked a change in my teaching. I have been lucky this year to be able to attend several conferences and seminars. Some were paid for, others were free. All of them have taught me something that I could bring back to my students and/or colleagues. While each learning experience could be its own blog, I will share a little of what I experienced. Please click on links at bottom for more information.
Last fall I was introduced to the concept of EdCamps. I have now attended three. The first time is always a little different. This is an unconference where you may not have any clue what you are going to learn or if you are going to help others by facilitating. So I headed to the board (where participants put post-its of what they want to learn or are willing to teach) and was just going to browse what might happen for the day. Suddenly I found myself willing to take a risk (doing that a lot lately!) and decided to facilitate a session on Genius Hour. I was by no means an expert, having done it three times (my students work on it for a full semester) made me understand more about it than someone who had never tried. While I can't say I did the best job, I was able to give others in the session a few resources to help get them started. I spent the rest of the day learning from what others had to share. My next EdCamps were just as interesting. I have shared with others and learned a whole lot more than I can mention here. There are two parts of EdCamps that make it different (in my opinion) from the others conferences I attended. First is that you are encouraged to walk out of a session and go somewhere you feel might be a better fit for you. There is no sense of shame if you leave or get somewhere after it has started. I should have done this when my own session kind of fizzled out half way through. The second great thing is the food. So far all of the EdCamps have provided a small continental breakfast and a fabulous lunch. (See photo for the only picture I have ever posted of food! Delicious!) Did I mention all of this is free?! And thanks to generous sponsors, there is also a raffle. So far I have won a free upgraded subscription to an online writing program for my students and an Acer Chromebook (How great is that?!).
My first real conference was four days at CETPA (California Educational Technology Professionals Association). Our new head of IT is on the board and wanted some of us to check out a few new ideas that he had for our school. What we got out of it was so much more! The sessions were jam packed with people from all parts of education: teachers, admins, IT personnel, TOSAs. This lead to some interesting discussions and learning for a classroom teacher. Many sessions were geared toward makerspaces, coding, using Google For Education apps (including YouTube), and using Chrome. Much of this prepared me for next years 1:1 Chromebook rollout for our district. Attending this conference with my colleague and principal sparked the semi-revolution that is currently going on at our school.
The next conference, and by far the biggest, was the three days at Cue (Computer Using Educators). While the list of sessions to attend was overwhelming, it forced me to focus on what I wanted for my class and myself. This is where I learned blogging (needed the basics before I started!), sketchnoting (a cool tool for both students and my creative side), how to use My Maps in Google, and many tech tools that I have either heard of and never used or never heard of but want to! There were many opportunities for people to interact with Twitter friends and share ideas with colleagues who attended with you. I was able to bring back almost everything I learned from Cue to be used within the first week after I returned to my class.
My students are willing to have me spend quite a bit of time out of the classroom because I always bring back something new and exciting for them to do. While I miss them (and preparing for/returning after a sub can be a hassle), learning from experts and other teachers who are innovative is always worth it! I am lucky to be signed up for more learning opportunities this summer, and I can't wait to see what new ideas I can learn.
What I learned:
-CETPA: Google is awesome, going to conferences with your admin and a like-minded teacher can create school-wide changes, when district personnel believe in what you are doing the sky is the limit (although funding has a way of slowing it down), coding/robotics are fun and important to a student's future
-EdCamps: teachers learn a lot from others who have been doing it, raffle prizes/sponsors rule, when you feed teachers they will come!
-Cue: big conferences can get overwhelming, there is so much to learn, be grateful for those who share their resources when you can't get to their session
-Keynote speakers can be both moving and hilarious (got to see Hadi Partovi [code.org], Brad Montague [Kid President producer/cameraman], Jeff Havens, Robyn Benincasa, and Sylvia Martinez)
-I wish I had enough $ and time to go to all the conferences!
Since I am always up for suggestions, what are your favorite learning opportunities that need to be checked out?
I am forever a learner. Let's start with a little background. I have been teaching for 20 years. Wow. That is only part of the story as I am only half way through my career. Teaching is my passion. Since the 3rd grade (although my mom says 1st), I have wanted to be a teacher. All was going well until about 8 years ago. I had found my niche in teaching upper elementary (mostly 4th grade), found my best friends in the wonderful colleagues at my school, and my home life heading in the direction I had always wished upon a star for (yes, I also love Disney). Then something happened.
I GOT BORED! I found myself wondering if I had taught a lesson before (of course I had, just not that year!). I worried that I was no longer giving my students my best. If I was bored, then my students had to have been bored as well. At the time, I figured I just needed a small change. So I volunteered to teach a combo class. Since I teach in California, there is always (unfortunately) a combo class at my school. This helped me to be motivated and passionate once again. For a little while.
Then last year, I had one of the worst years of my teaching careers. Now, in the scheme of life and teaching, it was not as bad as it could have been. I realize there are schools where students live in complete poverty and come to school with nothing, or teachers who have to worry about violence to themselves and their students on a minute by minute basis. This was not the case. For me, the worst year came from a class of students who were apathetic to almost everything I did. I tried rewards, negative consequences, project-based learning, technology, everything I could think of. I blamed previous teachers for not teaching the students the required standards, the parents for not supporting education, and the students for not caring. What I didn't look at was my teaching. Once again I WAS BORED, and now I was also STRESSED!
I began this year with a renewed spirit. There was a new class of students who were willing to try new things. After a few months, I started to notice that my teaching was becoming once again the same as it always had been. I was teaching a combo class of 4th and 5th graders. Thanks to the new Common Core standards I was trying new things in some areas, but overall things were the same.
Then in December of 2015, suddenly I made the decision that I needed to change. I began to look at ideas I had seen through Twitter, Facebook, and educational blogs about changing my teaching and classroom. So in the last three months, I have changed a LOT of what happens in my classroom. I am becoming more student centered. We are still doing project-based learning (maybe not the true definition of it, but we are on our way), there is a lot of technology being integrated into our activities, and we now have flexible seating (see pic below). While there are still days where things do not go as well as I would like, each day I am enjoying teaching and learning from my students.
What I have learned in the last three months:
- Students actually participate more when they get to choose how/where they sit (not something I would have ever thought possible)
- Technology can be a wonderful tool if used for more than just specific websites (although they have their place)
-Teaching is a lot more fun when it is student centered for both the students and me
-Twitter is my new favorite place to get inspired
-Teaching will always be my passion, especially if I am willing to learn new things to keep it interesting!
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