Sunday, August 28, 2011

A New Year: Designing the Learning Environment

We started school this past Thursday, and I feel like I have been in a whirlwind ever since! Even though we only had 2 days with students, I have lots of planning and organizing to do to set up for the month of September!
These pictures represent the classroom environment, "pre-students, " except for the picture that shows the students' "getting to know you wordles" from an exercise shared by the fabulous Paula Naugle, a teacher in New Orleans. 

 This table is currently too close to the wall and will need to be moved out a bit before we use it. I plan to work with small groups of students here.
The fun paisley border represents the colorful, unique voices of the writers whose work will adorn this board.
 The director's chair is mainly for student presentations. I probably will only sit in that chair when I do a "read-aloud."

 On the far wall, I have a global map ready for us to mark our Skype calls with people around the world. I am hoping to connect my students with students, teachers, and experts all around the world. We will be participating in the Mystery State/Country Skype project and have also already scheduled a Skype an Author call.

 Our "All about Me Wordles" look fabulous hanging via suction cups on our big windows. I know that I am fortunate to have these big bright windows and beautiful trees outside of them.
 Another view of the room, this time with my desk visible in the corner. I have it shoved so far back that I can barely get behind it. The fact is that I so rarely sit at my desk, I am contemplating not having it in the future. One step at at time, though...
 Those cabinets are for storage and our desktop computers. I plan to utilize those computers as well as a shared laptop cart and a small number of ipads to integrate technology in meaningful, productive ways.
The purple stability balls on top are awaiting inflation and will be used hopefully this week. Students are so excited to use them!

On our second day of school, students spent some time brainstorming about their ideal classroom. They came up with this list of class agreements and then wrote and illustrated them for our bulletin board.

I look forward to sharing more pictures as I set up the rest of the classroom. I am awaiting a new carpet for a community discussion space, as well as some fun cushions and ottoman type seats for comfy reading spaces.

I would love to hear from others about how they have set up their classrooms for optimal learning. Please leave a link to your blog posts or resources that address this important topic!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brave New Year: 5 Ideas to Venture Forth

It's been awhile since I have written, partially due to taking on a writing job in July that took WAY more time than I anticipated, and partly because I sometimes don't know if the topic in my head is right for this blog or another forum. Although all of my posts somehow relate to bringing out the potential in kids so that they flourish, some of my writing is more specific to the classroom.

Today I am thinking of ways that I plan to venture out with my students, try new things, and model being a learner. Here are some ways I hope to enliven my new class:

1) Leaving some design decisions to the students: I am a little bit conflicted between allowing students the opportunity to "own their learning space" and my personal desire to have things completely organized and ready to go at the beginning of the school year. This year, I will give students more responsibility and ownership. They will determine the class jobs we need, help with some room layout decisions, and be active decision makers. I am excited to see how this change impacts their enthusiasm for school.

2) Diigo for educators:  After going to Vicki Davis' workshop, led by Suzie Nesticos at ISTE11, I decided that I should really work with my students to collaborate better on group research. Diigo for educators allows me to create a class group and is an amazing tool for sharing, and a safe way to allow my students to share highlights of resources, annotations, and suggest and bookmark items of value for the entire class. This could be a bit of a risk, since this tool may be new to parents and even to colleagues. I will let you know how it goes!

3) Kidblogs for individual student blogs: Last year my students blogged on a class blog, but I did not see the enthusiasm and ownership in them that I had hoped to see. I can pinpoint several reasons for this: having to write about events from the class and not items completely of their own choice, students not getting to decide the name and appearance of the blog, blogging was a class job for 3 students per week, and more. I think that having a Kidblogs class account where each student will have his/her own page, opening up my blog to comments from the world using #comments for kids, and allowing students to write about their passions will give them a more engaging blogging experience.

4) Connecting globally via Skype: I do believe that Skyping must have an intentional place and not just be an "add-on" cool thing to do. My first experience last December, Skyping with my friend Greta and her class in Argentina was memorable and one I will never forget.  I have some ideas to incorporate Skype into my social studies curriculum as well as my language arts curriculum. I am excited about this project, the Skype mystery state project :

5) Trusting my own judgement: Last year I was a bit nervous because I was new to both 4th grade and to my school. There were times that students reached out to me on google chat when I was checking email, and I wasn't sure if I should respond. What I know, now, a year later, is that those students who reached out to me still want to say hi and consider me a trusted adult to talk to. Many times, students wanted to ask a quick question about homework or invite me to look at their work on a google doc. Since relationships in teaching are SO important, I will be glad for the chance to connect with students via the web.

I am sure that as soon as I hit "publish post" I will think of many other ways I plan to do things differently this year.  What do you plan to do to engage and excite your students for a wonderful school year?