The Year of Billy Miller: Week 1

I’m trying something a little different today with my Daily 5 English… Excuse me while I play…

Listen to Chapter 1 here

Listen to Chapter 2 here

Listen to Chapter 3 here

Listen to Chapter 4 here

The Deskless Classroom: Environment as the Third Teacher

The grammar of the classroom tells us what is possible there, tells the learner what to expect, how to act, how to interact, what is important.

You know those teacher dreams that happen in the last few days of summer where a classroom full of kids just won’t sit and listen no matter what the teacher says or does? Those are the dreams I had the week of the big reveal where we created our room and I knew I was in for something different. Our space now is unlike any space I have taught in before; wholly owned by students. I love that it has truly taken me away from being the centre of attention and creating space for student agency.

This is a space where design follows purpose.

Visible: The Word Wall, The Share Wall (which students REALLY want to be a Lego wall, but budget constraints mean they will have to content themselves with the Learning Commons Lego wall), Student-created bulletin boards


I never would have imagined at the outset what an all encompassing project this would be (but, Tracy, you’d say, didn’t you plan it?) the answer is yes, but it took more effort and more time than I expected, but the payoff was also far greater than I expected.


Visible: The Art Gallery, The Tipi (currently a tent that will be replaced after consultation with an expert) The Dojo: where students become leaders


My students can do math about our space. My students can discuss our space in French. My students plan and own their learning and the products that will be made in our space. My students are excited to be here. My students own this space!

What did they learn?

The students built on the 21st century competencies outlined in the ministerial order on learning in Alberta.

They collaborated, problem solved, researched, and communicated solutions, all in French!

Collaboration Café: Knowing I wanted a sofa in the classroom, I haunted Kijiji for several weeks before scoring a deal on an Ikea loveseat that the seller had not even unboxed yet!


Making the Maker Space: probably one of the classroom spaces the atudents are most proud of




The Stage: this space was supposed to be a raised balcony in the class with a reading space underneath but a budget of zero meant using what was already in the school. The stage will be the floor while seating is raised.


The Alphabet: some students still need support with letter formation and alphabetical order. The low placement allows students to interact with it.


The Traveling Trolley: contains our Daily 5 word work stations as I teach ELA in two classrooms.


The Genius Bar: a stand-up workspace with built-in storage


Teacher Space: an unexpected benefit of having no teacher desk: I have no place to leave my stuff out at the end of the day. My space is tidy(ish) and filed at the end of every day!


The reading corner/ collaboration café


The Low Table

If there is low seating it follows that there should also be tall seating, right?


A reflection at the end of the build on what might be possible here!


But what would you do differently?

The question was asked by a colleague who appreciated the space but wondered what I learned.

  • I would have owned less of it – let the students create more and solve more problems. Want a sofa but have $0? Let’s find a creative way to solve this… make it with cardboard, repurpose old furniture, have a bake sale…
  • I would slow down more. I felt pressure to have the space completed, but it was such a rich learning project that it could easily have been given more time.

This is a space that will need to be remade at regular intervals to meet our current needs. 

When we have a minute, I will have my students podcast about their learning.

On a related note: one of my students from last year dropped in last week to share his genius hour project where he read a novel, wrote a script, and filmed a stop-motion animation book trailer, and now my new group of students is fired up and ready to start creating!

Literature in the Math Classroom: Robert Munsch

This post was inspired by Darling Son’s bedtime stories, as my classroom lessons often are. This is our chance to catch up at the end of the day, but the teacher in me often uses what we read together in my classroom. Tonight, The Boy in the Drawer rang a bell for me as I’m working on measurement with my students through our classroom redesign project.

As suggested by Geri Lorway during last school-year’s math in residency, I’m starting the year with measurement as it integrates so many of the skills students will be using through the year. This post is just an odd collection of stories that I have used in the Grade Three classroom to support our math work. I developed a project-based unit, which I have been using to start the year, with a colleague, Isabelle Bujold, who I attended a PBL workshop lead by Charity Allen with in the spring of 2015.

More on that in another post.

Math and literature are made for each other; after all, story is everywhere and looking for math in literature is a good way to get students in the habit of looking for math in the everyday stories around them. When we are looking for rich, open-middle or open-ended math tasks, what better place than to begin with story.

What follows are just a few ideas and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Usually as we read, I ask students what kind of math questions we might be asking, which they record using a mind map in their math journals (an unlined notebook. I like the unlined notebooks because it lends itself to students representing math thinking using the strategy that works best for them. Otherwise, I usually like to have students record math on graph paper as it helps keep things organized.)

Moira’s Birthday Party

Moira wants to invite the entire school to get birthday party! What math questions might we ask as we read? How did you estimate the total number of guests at the party? How many more cakes will come in the second delivery? What will be the total cost of the cakes? What information will we still need to gather to answer this question? What will be the cost of the pizzas? Where can we look to find the price of the pizzas? How can the pizzas and cakes be divided amongst the guests?

Materials: pencil, paper, fraction manipulatives, pizza flyers (or online), grocery story fliers (or online)

The Boy in the Drawer

In this story, a little girl is bothered by a little boy who shows up in her sock drawer. The more she tries mean tricks to get rid of him the taller he grows. She learns that kindness is the only way to get rid of him.

I used this book in the math classroom to have students work on measurement. They each chose a starting size for the little boy and each time he grows they add to his height.

Extension: have students estimate: how much water will it take to fill up a bread box? Estimate the number of socks in Shelley’s bedroom. What are you using to help estimate?

Materials: pencil, large paper, centimetre rulers, meter sticks, water and a breadbox (why not try it for real?)

Stinky Socks

For this little girl a new pair of socks is a big deal! What math questions might we ask about this story? What information do we still need to gather?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

Alligator Baby

This little girl’s parents end up making several trips to the zoo in the search for their own baby! What information do we still need to know to do the math? What distance will this family have covered in their car and on bike? What would be a good unit of measure to measure that distance? (mm, cm, km?) How tall is each of the babies? What unit of measure might we use?

Down the Drain  

Adam asks his father to buy him many items. What math questions might we ask about this story? Where will we find the information we need to finish our math story? What is the estimated total of what his father bought? What is the actual total of what he bought? Why do we estimate?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

The Deskless Classroom – part 2

Close your eyes and imagine a classroom. What does it look like? What furniture is there? What colour are the walls? What does it smell like? How do you feel in this space? If you’re like me the image that comes to mind is of paper-lined bulletin boards, colourful borders, tables and desks neatly arranged, shelves full of books. I can practically smell the wax crayons.

This classroom in my mind is Pinterest-perfect. As a teacher, it’s kind of a nerdy heaven. Most teachers I know are experts at creating an inviting space. But I think this space, even with the addition of a computer or two is designed for a different kind of learning than is done in modern classrooms.

What if a classroom looked less like a classroom and more like an artist’s studio? Go ahead and close your eyes again… My image is that of a messy space full of artifacts and materials for making. It’s a space for something completely different, isn’t it?

This is what greets most teachers when we walk back into schools after summer. Clean (although usually we put a little elbow grease into getting it back to the bare bones). This year, this is the same place that greeted my grade 3s. 

I was only mildly nervous over the first few days and only became really nervous the night before kids came  back for the fall when I read one of those “Dear Teacher” posts on FB. You know the kind I’m talking about… “Dear Teacher, I see how hard you have worked putting your room together over the summer, the boards neatly papered, the shelves full of books, organized for reading…” and I panicked a little. “OMG, parents are going to think I just traipsed in this morning without any thought to my environment!” when the opposite was true.

I actually spent a lot of time over the summer reading The Third Teacher, talking with my PLN and thinking and sketching. On the days of prep, I also put a lot of elbow grease into this space. Even when it’s “empty” it takes a lot of work to get a classroom to a blank slate.

I had an idea of what I was going for and it took a lot of self restraint to keep myself from creating the corners and “zones” that I had created in the past. “But how will they know where to find a pencil? Where will their agendas go in the mornings? Colour-coded notebooks… where will I put them…??”

In the end, I went for as blank a slate as possible. I pushed everything out of the way. I welcomed students in to what looked like a familiar meeting place. The benches in front of the computer and we worked from there.

“Does this room look like it might be missing anything??” I asked. And students quickly rattled off a litany of things that they were missing in this space for learning.

We worked through a google presentation prepared by Shafali, a teacher at another school, who I connected with via my Assistant Principal @Shafinad. We created empathy for students. What kinds of things might we include in our space? What might we be able to accomplish in this space if it looked different than a traditional classroom? What do we want to create here?

Students began the ideation process by breaking into five groups and recording their ideas on sticky notes. This, I might add, is not always an easy task with second-language learners at the beginning of grade 3, but I refused to do the work for them. They invented spelling, they drew, they collaborated to communicate ideas, and in the end, I scribed a few ideas. Very few.

 From there, I had students begin a sketch in their journals.

Then they put their heads together and drew a large poster.

 Then they cut out pictures.

We put our ideas together and grouped all of the ideas into categories.

Then we broke the categories down by student group and decided who would represent which part in the maquette. They knew that we didn’t have a million dollars to make this space. We would have to be  creative.

 Then students brainstormed about how to represent and measured our classroom, which told me more than I expected about them as learners.
We are not done yet but are starting to get close. Looking forward to sharing our final product!

Alone vs. Lonely

I recently posted the following as a reflection for my current masters class though UBC MET program on Designing Technology Supported Learning Environments. My reflection was based largely on this video by Dr. Turkle

The following is my reflection:
The idea that most resonated for me this week was Dr. Turkle’s talk about being alone together. I am personally keenly aware of how the draw of constant connectivity affects my relationships with my friends, family, and students. Turkle’s idea that we seek relationships that we can keep at arm’s length or access as we need them and not as others need them is important. “Connectivity without the demands of friendship”. For students, I think schools require that they make connections to find audience and to learn from one another but we must keep in mind that children are also learning how to be functioning adults in society and are learning how to make relationships. I thought it was particularly poignant that Turkle pointed out that people lose that ability to be alone and, as such, become lonely.
I recently read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. His ideas about the detrimental effects of losing connection with one another and with nature are interesting and I’m currently trying to wrap my mind around how I can integrate the two seemingly disparate ideas of technology in education and constant connectivity with the slow, authentic observation opportunities provided by being outside. It’s more than app smashing by taking a quick photograph, marking it up in another app, and loading it to one’s blog to be commented on by other viewers. While I truly think there is value in that, I also think there is value in sitting outside with a sketchbook and visual journaling a leaf for ten minutes while absorbing the atmosphere.
I’m not sure how to marry the two ideas that seem to be drawing my attention in two completely different directions, but it’s something I would love to explore further.
Would love to hear your thoughts.

The Deskless Classroom

Next school year I am planning something a little different to greet my students: in the past I have taken pride in a Pinterest Perfect Classroom but this year my students will be in charge from the outset. I’m planning to start with design thinking from the beginning. With the support of my admin, I’m hoping to open the doors with a bare bones classroom and have students design it to meet our learning needs.

We will spend day one designing our space. I will have furniture ready to move in and the fine details will be put on with the help of students. I feel like this will set the tone for our learning space.

I have spent some time planning and of course I have a few ideas…

My master class this term is about designing technology-supported learning environments and I have done some reading in The Third Teacher. As I had a few hours on layovers on my way to and from ISTE, I have done a lot of thinking about how physical environment can support learning.

I have long toyed with the idea of a deskless classroom, but it’s funny… When you google this term, mostly what shows up are images of classrooms full of tables. But that’s not what I mean. Going “deskless” is not just about the absence of desks, it is about what replaces it. Our classroom will favour collaboration not just group work. I want a classroom that feels completely different so that my students know from the outset this space is meant for fully engaged learning.

Step 1: Ditch the teacher desk. 

I still need space for my stuff, but that’s going in a closet now. My admin has provided every classroom with a u-shaped table. This will serve as space to meet with the teacher and will be my “home base”.

Step 2: The Genius Bar

The Genius Bar is a large lab desk I picked up last year and painted with whiteboard paint. Students use it as a stand-up learning space and I like the collaborative nature of it. Because students can write directly on it I find that it leads to risk-taking in learning that students might not take on paper. Write and erase becomes easier. While it’s not perfect, I’m hoping a fresh coat of paint or a plexiglass sheet on the top will make it even better.

Step 3: The Collaboration Cafe

I plan on bringing a coffee table and a couple of sofas into the classroom. This space will have a homey feel and lighting that students can control. Honestly, when I work at home I rarely sit at a desk anymore. Even this blog post was composed on an iPad while sitting in a café while my kids were at day camp. All the tools I need are at my fingertips on the iPad; dictionaries, Internet, word processing, images.

Step 4: The Studio

I have long wanted a studio, so I’m going ahead and putting one in the closet. This will be a semi-quiet space where students can record audio and video evidence of their learning for their portfolios, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. I’m hoping to host a weekly news show from our classroom. We’ll see if this idea gets off the ground…

Step 5: The Stage

I have my admin’s blessing to bring a set of risers into the classroom, which I’m hoping to use as a meeting place and a stage. I think especially in immersion classrooms that students need the opportunity to speak. I’m hoping to integrate the stage with the puppet theatre and studio and to turn our classroom into a production studio.

Step 6: The Dojo

In our classroom, there will be tables that take up most of our learning space. This will be the dojo where I expect there to be 4-5 lessons going on at the same time. Students will be in charge of the learning in these spaces like in a dojo where there are several different lessons with several levels of practice going on at the same time.

Step 6: The Offices

Even in a collaborative space, I think teachers need to respect the need for some students to find some alone time and space. I want there to be a couple of quiet corners.

Step 7: The Walls

The wonder wall will continue again this year and I plan to make the walls more interactive by using QR codes and augmented reality targets. But for that matter, I hope to flatten the classroom and make the wall disappear by inviting Skype experts and using international projects like The Snail and The Whale.

I’m excited about putting together something new this year and am feeling open about designing the space and the learning activities together with my students.

Looking forward to posting images as our space comes together and looking for peer feedback. Anybody have tips or tricks for me?

Mind: blown

How do I even begin to consolidate my learning over the past three days? There is Just. So. Much. My mind is left feeling completely full.

You know that amazing feeling of being amongst your tribe? That.

Probably the most valuable part of the conference is the people. Reconnecting with former colleagues, growing my PLN, meeting presenters, watching kids own their learning. I feel like I thought I was a techie teacher before attending the conference. I used to work in a classroom where I had the luxury of 1:1 access 100% of the time and it was good but I now feel like I know so much more. I got some confirmation that I’m on the right track, but there is still so much growing to do.

There were so many times when I had to stop someone and ask them to clarify the vocabulary they were using… So many acronyms, and platforms, and software, and hardware… Oh my…. But this was a place where it was ok to do that and I never once was made to feel dumb for asking a question.

A wise colleague, @shafinad, said before I left home to concentrate on learning one thing and to focus my efforts there. Thank goodness for that. Her advice kept steering me in the right direction every time I walked into a playground or a poster session and didn’t know where to look. There is a ton of money to be spent in the expo and the pace of technological change is overwhelming, but I feel that not being able to drop money on every cool new gadget forces us to be more creative and to make something better in the end.

I really used my technological tools as a learner in addition to being a teacher. I photographed, Evernoted, Skitched, Tweeted, and blogged. I am left with so many tools to learn and to try.

For me, ISTE has been not only about technology integration, but also about making for learning, student engagement, and iterative design in classrooms.

I am leaving ISTE with a ton of great ideas and knowing that my classroom next year will be something I have never tried before. This is an idea that really occurred to me last night as I was attempting to fall asleep: I ask my students to try all the time and expect them to make mistakes but to try again, but I don’t often allow myself the liberty of failure. The next school year will look different, and I’m not sure what it will look like in the end. I know my students will learn. I am certain that I will learn, too.

Over the coming weeks I will put some ideas together for what that might look like and look forward to sharing the results with you!