My "Blog-versary" is coming up in a week. I thought of doing a recap of what I have talked about and learned over the last year. However, between the great wisdom shared by @CoriOrlando in her "Yeah, but ..." blog and various conversations in my recent experiences, I decided I needed to share my own answers to those who are not sure they are ready for a change in education.
1. Flexible Seating - I'm starting with this one because it is usually the biggest question mark for those who find out about my classroom. Many have asked how I keep the students from misbehaving or talking too much. The answers here are pretty easy. First, I want them talking. Collaboration is a HUGE part of what we do. After students finish their schooling, most will not go into a career where they aren't going to work with other people in some way, whether working with co-workers or clients. If we teach our students that you are not working if you are talking, they will not learn how valuable sharing information can be. Secondly, most "misbehaviors" teachers complain about (and I used to be one) was about students who couldn't sit still or moved around the classroom at inappropriate times. Having various seating options and the ability to move the furniture to fit the needs of the moment have prevented most of these students from needing to fidget or get out of their seats. We still have moments where they are working independently and stay where they are, but because I have yoga balls, rocking chairs, and bounce bands to name just a few options, very few of my students are needing to leave their seat. It's for the students that I have flexible seating.
2. Technology - Another big question I get a lot has to do with using technology. If I think back to what really started my switch in education, it is having the ability to use technology. While we are currently 1:1 with Chromebooks, we weren't always that way. Tech is second nature to today's students. Instead of fighting it, I am embracing it as a great resource. Knowing how to use the internet and technology in general for more than just social media is an important skill. Why not start encouraging appropriate use in elementary school? Many teachers say that they don't have the time to look at what is out there because there is too much. I find that I have way more time now that I have chosen to use tech in the classroom than when I was running off hundreds of worksheets or correcting too many workbook pages of boring questions/problems. Others say they just don't understand how to use it. Classrooms have the ultimate resource: students. Have them show you how to use it, or better yet, LEARN TOGETHER. Students love when they get to show off their skills or a teacher that is willing to take a risk with them. The best resource for technology is TWITTER. I don’t mean get on it and follow your favorite celebrities (although eduheros are pretty cool!) or post about your food. I mean use it for education. I only follow people with something to do with education. Join a chat or several. When I get stuck or need an idea, my PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter is often my go-to source. No longer am I limited by personal contacts (mine do rock though!). The world has become my resource. It’s for the students that I use technology and Twitter.
3. Going Paperless - While I am not 100% paperless in my classroom, we have definitely saved more than our fair share of trees. We still use paper to write an occasional essay or to create our PBL or Makerspace activities. Students need the physical act of writing or hands-on activities that involve paper to be successful. However, we spend most of our day using technology that makes all of our lives easier and more engaging. My go to for paperless is Google Classroom. Students receive their basic activity instruction from here. Once they have it though, they are free to use the internet as they need. We've used many resources outside GSuite that have enhanced what they are doing. They aren't just learning information, they are creating products to reinforce what they understand. Currently the class is exploring how to use more video in their projects. These activities allow me to dig deeper into what they know than if I gave them a piece of paper with a bunch of questions/problems. It's for the students that I choose to go mostly paperless.
4. Not using the textbook - I have not blogged about this one, but it is another big part of my class. It's not that I'm against the textbook as a resource for the students to use as they gain information. What I have a problem with is going page by page and doing what the manuals tell the teachers to do/say. First, the publishers don't know my students. Even if they differentiate in their guides, they may only have three levels of instruction and I have 5. Besides, for students who work independently doing a workbook page, are they really learning anything other than to complete a few problems they will never see outside the classroom? My alternative instruction comes from different sources. While I may not follow all of the components of a true PBL (project based learning, a big part of our instruction) for every activity we do, the students are involved in hands-on, real-life, collaborative projects (usually with at least one technology component) that take their learning well beyond what a worksheet could provide. Other avenues of instruction come from #MysterySkype, #hyperdocs (great for differentiation and reflection!) and BreakoutEdu. It's for the students that I do not use a textbook.
5. Time - While it's usually not the last question I get asked, it is part of every conversation. How do you have time to do everything you do. Simple. It’s my passion. It has been since I was 9. That being said it has not always been easy. What I found is that the more I'm having the students take control over (such as create a project for ____ instead of do this worksheet I copied while standing there doing nothing else) the more time I have. Work in the evenings or on weekends has become WAY less. I might spend extra weekend time going to a conference (or 10) but it will save me time later when I try new and innovative activities in the classroom. When you have a passion it no longer feels like work, at least for me. There are rough days, but the more fun we have the more time I seem to have outside of school to spend with my family and friends. Not sure if this is really the case or not, but it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s for the students.
There will always be those people who don’t agree with what I’m doing (although parents and several others in education are enjoying what I am doing almost as much as the kids). Hopefully I have inspired a few to take a risk and just try one new thing or give one less worksheet or workbook page. This blog ended up being more of a reflection of past blogs and activities than I thought it would. That's ok. In the end, it’s for the students that I do it all.
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