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?

Edited to add:

I wrote more about my experience with the deskless classroom here and here.

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!

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What I learned in a dojo

I firmly believe in the importance of pushing limits, and for me that usually means putting myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of learning something new. Think about it: as teachers, we often ask students to do something that is hard for them because we KNOW in our hearts that they can do it. But when was the last time you placed yourself in the position of knowing for a fact that you couldn’t do something and having someone gently nudge you towards doing it anyway?

I am certainly no expert when it comes to martial arts. I spent one term learning Aikido in a family lesson and I have so far spent one semester ferrying Darling Son #1 to lessons. Most of what follows are my observations with a large grain of salt because I am actually a total newbie to the dojo.

1. The grammar of the dojo

After the warm up, students break into groups; there are 5 lessons going on at the same time in a space no bigger than a school classroom. Every lesson is completely different and a very targeted practice. Part of the expectation is that more knowledgeable students will teach less experienced learners. Purple belts teach white belts, green belts teach yellow belts and so on. As I watch, I can see that the expectations are different for each group of learners. The inexperienced white belts have a hard time sitting on their knees for long and their patterns are imprecise, while more experienced learners have very precise patterns and are used to sitting in seiza for long periods of time.

2. Construct your own understanding

Sensei asks for a learner to come to the front and suddenly I find myself volunteered to demonstrate a new move.

“Who… me…? You know I don’t know this, right?”

We bow and before I know it I find myself thrown to the mat. Suddenly I have a very clear understanding of what my goal should be. Then Sensei breaks us into small groups for practice.

In the beginning there is a “wink, wink, good job, you got it!” vibe. Many of the newbies in my group play it very safe and we are very much about the choreography of getting the patterns right. But after a few lessons the learner is expected to actually be able to perform the pattern. With other beginners I found that we were all very tentative learners, but once I was paired with more experienced brown and black belts I found that they didn’t go quite so easy and I was thrown to the mats several times before I was finally able to bring a 230lb man to the mats. The sense of accomplishment in that was huge.

This made me think about the heterogenous and homogeneous groupings teachers  do in our classrooms. There is a time and place for both types of groupings and the value of each is completely different.

3. Freedom to fail

Sensei and the more experienced learners help students learn the patterns, the routines, the grammar of the dojo in such a way that there is freedom to fail for less experienced learners. All students have to do is repeat. There is some explicit instruction but there is definitely the motivation to learn. In every lesson there is some intrinsic motivation because learners see that this is fun and useful. There is an element of play in every lesson but there is also the underlying expectation that students must be actually “good” not just “good enough”.

I also see Darling Son against the wall discussing with a partner just how much work it will take to get to the next belt. There is extrinsic motivation: belts with increasing levels of learner expectation. This expectation is clearly expressed and visible to students at all times.

Some of the lessons I learned in the dojo can definitely be transferred to the classroom. Maybe chief among them is the value of putting myself in the shoes of my students.

Learning by Making

This post is not about Integrating Technology Within the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. This post is about making a film about Integrating Technology Within the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching.

I started by researching and making fairly extensive, referenced notes about my research project. Next, I broke into the Darling Husband’s stash of story boarding Moleskines and began the process of planning out my film. This part was exciting! It’s been a long time since I wrote a creative piece and I found it interesting to be able to exercise my creative muscle.

Even after storyboarding, I wasn’t really sure what the final project would look like and had to spend a few evenings brainstorming what kind of figure I could use to easily move around and create the action. I had a couple of simple rules for myself: it had to be something that wouldn’t normally move on its own (which would kind of be negating the purpose of stop-motion animation in my opinion) and it had to be simple (no need to have to add the complicating factor of facial expressions to an already difficult assignment).

A quick stop at Colours Art Supply delivered what I was looking for: art figurines!

I started filming using NFBStopMo, which unfortunately, I have to say is ultimately a do not recommend. (Edited to add that the good people in charge over at the NFB took the time to respond to my tweet asking for help, which I thought was pretty impressive).

I spent a great deal of time in the planning stages, ensuring that my shots were well-aligned and focussed. I ensured that the photos I took within the app were also saving to the iPad’s camera roll, I did a small test video and exported it to the photo roll easily.

Imagine my frustration after 6 hours of filming when I attempted to export one minute of film and the app wouldn’t do it! I knew after about a minute that my film was getting long and I didn’t want it to crash the app. My plan was to export my video in several small chunks and stitch them together using another program.

No luck…

I tried for about an hour to get the video off the iPad to no avail. Knowing that I was kind of stuck with what I had or would have to start over and re-create the many hours of work, I carried on with the app and planned to simply film the screen with another camera. Kind of bush league…

Time to start film making!
In the end, I was happy enough with the video that I created and I see value in making something to share learning, thus embodying the “constructionist” theory of learning that students learn by doing and actively engaging in their learning. I feel that the theory was thoroughly understood by me by 9 am after having made notes and story boarded my video, but I ended up not completing the project until well after midnight.

Some frame-rate calculations… Real-world math!
The “Studio”

Some wins on the project: I wanted to quit and didn’t. I wanted to ask for an extension and didn’t. I most definitely learned what NOT to do. I would do it again, but now I know I can do better the next time around!

The more I reflect on the project the stronger I feel about it as a way for students to express learning. I have spoken with many people about the ups and downs of making and have also discussed the academic content. I have an artifact in the end their I am proud of and have returned to watch several times (many more than I would re-read an essay). And I have definitely retained the learning and used it in subsequent learning. 

Fun with Procedural Writing

We found inspiration in How to Train a Train, which my students enjoyed in spite of its very simple story.

  
After reading, we brainstormed the elements of procedural writing. Students determined that there had to be a title, an introduction, several steps that each started with a verb and an evaluation step so that the person following the instructions would know whether or not they had succeeded.

Then students headed off to try their hands at writing through the writer’s workshop procedure.

They had a blast brainstorming what their “how to” might be about.

The rest of the week will be very busy with innovation fair and celebration of learning so we have a few fun things planned for the spaces where we are not otherwise tied up.

Students will read and write recipes, which will support our work in ELA procedural writing and math fractions. We will be cooking but I haven’t yet decided what to cook as I think that will depend on how hot it gets this week… Maybe we’ll make ice cream!

I think we’ll finish off the week with this cute idea:

 
Procedural writing about how to blow a bubble and then we’ll blow some bubble gum bubbles and write our successful attempts as a fraction of the total number of attempts. 

Some days you just need to play while learning 😉

Genius Hour

Genius hour has been around for a long time and it’s a project that has had several different iterations in my classroom over the past few years. This year I would say has been one of the most successful for me.

I introduced it by reading a couple of picture books, which I think work well at every level. The first, one of my latest favourites, Rosie Revere, Engineer, is about a girl inventor who’s inventions turn out to be a “fabulous flop”, but she doesn’t let failure intimidate her.


The other, What do You do With an Idea?, was shared with me by my Assistant Principal @shafinad about a child who has an idea that keeps niggling at her until she pays it some attention.

We read the books together and talked about how genius hour might be an extension of the inquiry work we had already undertaken as a part of the BP Energy project we had undertaken as a school.

Every student, in consultation with the teacher, wrote an inquiry question that would guide their work. We were clear at the start that this might be a research project or it might be a different way for them to demonstrate energy and natural connections to empowering learning.

As a class, we brainstormed a rubric that could be common to all projects. Because I couldn’t guarantee that all projects would fit into the science curriculum, I was more comfortable pulling objectives from the language arts curriculum and in integrating some work from the new ministerial order.

Students were given one hour per week, which has quickly become their favourite hour! Many have chosen to work in Google Slides and to share their work with me online. An unexpected benefit to this was that students are able to see each other’s work in the shared folder and have jumped into providing each other with positive feedback and edits. A little surprising to me is that we have not had a single incidence of students vandalizing other students’ work, which tells me that we did a good job at the outset of the year talking about digital citizenship.

Other interesting projects include a student practicing a violin solo, a representation of our school in Minecraft, a stop-motion book trailer, and a tri-fold poster.

Many students are inspired by other projects they have seen and are excited to take it on again next year. I have not had students balk at having to go back over their project and edit or revise and some students. Who were initially reluctant to engage have taken on interesting projects like Chemistry in the Kitchen, which I personally cannot wait to see!

Looking forward to sharing links when we have some completed projects to share!

Literacy and The Power of Wordless Books

Wordless books are such a powerful source of inspiration in my classroom. As an immersion teacher, one of my primary concerns for students is always in building their vocabulary (it’s pretty hard to read, write, listen and speak without words), and increasingly, my immersion classroom is also a learning space for ELL students. As a budget concious teacher, I love that wordless books serve my classroom in both English and French.

I find that there is something magical about a book printed on paper and shared with a group of students sitting near enough to see the images. When sharing a book with my class I ask them to be patient as there are sometimes small enough details that it takes a minute for me to show the book around to the entire group.

For very young students, wordless books allow children to demonstrate reading behaviour as they develop the literacy skills to make sense of text.

But wordless books aren’t limited to only very young students. I have used wordless books with every level from Grade 1 to Grade 8.


Use them to talk

Wordless books are an excellent source of vocabulary. One of the activities we do is a PWIM (picture word induction method) type activity where students look through the book and “shake out” as much vocabulary as they can find. Students write this vocabulary on sticky notes, which we post in the classroom and use for writing later.

Use them to tell
Wordless books are a great way to take away the intimidation factor in getting students to use second-language vocabulary. As we read, I often ask students to turn and talk to a neighbour about the action occurring on the page. The key to success with talk time is to keep it short! 30-45 seconds max! After that, students tend to get into off-task discussions. This is a one sentence discussion. I will often ask students to make connections or predictions as we read. This is a structured response (In the book when ________ happened, I made a connection to ________ in my own life when______). I don’t use a “fill-in-the-blank” format, but I want students to use a formal structure for responding or predicting and to think critically about their reading.


Use them to write 

Asking students to write using wordless books is a great way to take out the intimidation factor of not knowing where to start. There are lots of ways to have students write:

1. Each student write a one-paragraph part of the story. In the end you have one coherent story to publish as a class.


2. Each student write the entire story. Each page can be one or two interesting sentences.


3. Each student write a well-developed short story about a single image and the class publish a collection of short stories at the end.



The Book With No Pictures 

Now for the complete opposite! The Book With No Pictures is an awesome way to illustrate the power of interesting language and effective punctuation for students. It’s funny and students love to play with the voice of the author.
  
After reading a book with students I will leave it out as a highlighted book in the classroom library for about a week or so. The highlighted book of the week becomes a hot commodity for a while and then I usually put it away to help it maintain its magic. When I put it back out again months later, students are delighted to “rediscover a book”.

Wordless books are an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom, too. For me, there is something very visceral about opening the pages of a physical book and I think for children that turning the pages of a physical book is important, too. A good way to integrate technology at this point would be to use an iPad as a part of publishing student work. I have used book creator to photograph each page from the book and add student text directly onto the original author’s page. I have alternated pages (one from the author, one by a student author). This app also allows students to record their voices as they tell the story (good way to integrate speaking as story telling).

I think that wordless books really support the multi-literacies required of children in today’s classrooms. Today’s child is exposed to many types of text where not only the words on the page are important to understanding the message but where images have an equal importance in helping the reader understand.