Three years ago, my principal asked our staff to think of something BIG that our PTO can fund.Since I already acquired flexible seating and 1:1 iPads for 5th grade through the PTO, I needed to find something else that I was passionate about and that I knew the PTO could help me bring to life.Over the next two years I slowly integrated using STEAM materials (purchased by the PTO) into my classroom and during an after school club for all 1st – 5th grade students at our school.Finally this year, our school opened the first STEAM Lab in the District.This video is a snapshot of what it looks like.
The popularity of the lab is growing and now the District is working on a plan to guide in the opening of STEAM Labs in all of the other 6 elementary schools. We host tours for not only our fellow district members, but other districts have come for visits to see how they can implement a STEAM Lab in their buildings as well.
The true success of this story is not the fact that this is the first in our district or that others want to follow suit.The real success is seeing the growth of my students from the first day they stepped foot into the lab to now. It is amazing how quickly the students are changing right before my eyes.I can’t even imagine how much influence this lab will have on the students who are in kindergarten and will have the opportunity to participate in the lab until they “graduate” from 5th grade.Will they be better prepared for what future jobs hold for them?Will they be better problem solvers and critical thinkers?Will they be more flexible and self directed? Will they be more willing to take risks and fail? Will more girls become interested in a STEM career path?
One can only guess what the the future holds. Our job as educators is to prepare students for that unknown.We can never lose sight that the reason we do what we do, is for the students.We need to keep dreaming BIG and find ways to make those dreams happen.If we don’t do it, who will?
It almost seems like the place is deserted….the floors are extra shiny, random pieces of furniture are stacked up in small piles here and there, the lockers are clean and empty. However, you walk down the hall a little further and peek inside one of the classrooms and teachers inside are frantically setting up their rooms… creating cute bulletin board displays, hanging posters, placing books onto bookshelves, carefully writing student names on name plates, arranging furniture, cutting out laminated letters, and admiring their new Flair pens 😉
This is one of my favorite times of year. I LOVE the beginning of the school year. I LOVE the anticipation of meeting my new students. I LOVE setting up my classroom. My home away from home. The place that will become my new student’s home away from home. I spent ALL summer thinking about the changes I wanted to make after living a full year in a flexible classroom space.There were so many positive things that occured, but there are a few major changes that I am making this year in hopes to make my flexible classroom even better than last year!
No Teacher Desk/ Add More Furniture
Our generous PTO awarded the 5th Grade Team with money to purchase more flexible furniture, I needed to make space because my dream was to have a couch :)) I chose to “ditch my desk” to gain that space for the couch. I am lucky enough to have a wall of cabinets and I am not the “pack-rat” type, so I had plenty of open space to store my things in the drawers and cabinets along the wall. I also feel I will be more connected with the students because I will always have to sit in their spaces with them. It truly will be OUR space. I also got some Ergo Stools and a dry erase table which I adjusted to standing height.
Dry Erase Table – Standing Zone
Ergo Stool – Guided Reading Zone
Whole Group Zone
Create Specific Zones
Last year I allowed the students to move ALL the furniture anywhere, anytime. This year students will only be able to change their seat options. I have developed specific “zones” that will remain in place all school year:
Whole Group/Class Meeting
Quiet Area – I don’t want to be bothered
Guided Reading/Math – work with teacher in small group
weCreate Corner / Reading / I’m done with my work
Panoramic view of room
Designate Number of Students per Zone I will be designated a specific number of students who can sit in each zone.
I am really excited to try my new ideas out this school year and as with anything I will constantly reflect and make changes along the way as needed!
Now that…Is Positively Techie!
I am super excited to introduce my guest writer, Bethany Martino :)) Bethany teaches 1st Grade at Madison School and started her journey implementing a Flexible Classroom last year too. Since I teach 5th grade, I asked Bethany to share her experience as a primary teacher so you can gain the primary perspective as well!
I am a person who is always looking for ways to freshen up my teaching and my classroom. I was tired of how my classroom was set up– with desks in pods and all students sitting in little blue chairs that have to be uncomfortable. (I certainly wouldn’t want to sit in them all day long.) I knew something had to change. I had heard about flexible classrooms but I had never seen one in person or knew a teacher who had transformed her classroom. I was also a little worried about how it would work in a first grade classroom with little bodies that are already active, easily distracted, and excited about everything . This could either be a complete disaster or an absolutely wonderful thing for my classroom and students. I crossed my fingers and made a plan.
Luckily, I work with some amazingly supportive colleagues who helped me turn this dream into a reality. I was able to get everything I needed from exploring our school basement and claiming unwanted items and our extremely generous PTO.
In my classroom, I have different options for workspaces and chairs. Students are able to select their ideal workspace as well as the chair that helps them focus and do their best work.
Stools made from crates
To begin transforming our classroom, the students and I talked about what would be changing and how we would use the new materials appropriately. The students were beyond thrilled and couldn’t wait to start using everything. When everything arrived, we used time to explore the new chairs.
I knew I couldn’t let first graders have free reign over the furniture or it would be complete chaos (and there would probably be a lot of arguments) so I gave the students some choice while I also was able to control it to an extent. We used Kahoot (an online quiz and survey website) to take a survey on our workspace and seating preferences. The students ranked the different options from 1-4 with 1 being their most preferred option. They did this for workspaces and seating. (To be honest, this process took longer than expected the first few times but the students picked up the process quickly and it became much more efficient each time we did it.) I took the results and assigned students a workspace (based on their preferences) and then a chair. In most cases, I was able to give each student their first or second choice. We continued to do this every two weeks so students could experience all of the different workspaces and chairs. I was impressed by how well my students were able to choose what worked best for them. They were all willing to give the different options a try and most found their favorites quickly. I found most students were able to focus on their work and finish it in the allotted time. This wasn’t always the case in past years. Most were able to start working right away. This wasn’t always the case in past years. The students also became aware of how they learn and work best. This wasn’t the case in past years.
As a teacher, I am so glad I made the switch. I feel like I am better able to meet my students’ needs. I’m a more flexible teacher because things are always changing in our classroom and we are able to move furniture and adapt to what is needed in our classroom for any given project or lesson. This is a switch that I am glad I made. I can’t imagine teaching in a traditional classroom again. If you’re on the fence about changing your classroom, do it. You won’t regret it and your students will LOVE it!
The “Shark Tank” project went exceptionally well. I am so impressed with my student’s creativity and their ability to work so well with each other. You can read about their inventions on their blogs at 5G Brainy Bloggers, 5Ma Brainy Bloggers, and 5L Brainy Bloggers. My students would LOVE if you would make a few comments on their blog :))
Thinking up a solution to solve an everyday problem and presenting that idea to”sharks” was just the beginning. Each fifth grade class chose what they wanted to do next with the top 3 inventions. Classes voted using a Google Form on the following options:
1. Mass produce one of the inventions
2. Make prototypes of all three inventions
3. Market all three inventions (create a website, infomercial, etc.)
Two classes chose to mass produce and sell their product, one class chose to market all three products. The students spent the next few weeks working in groups making the product, packaging the product, creating commercials, jingles, and websites. The inventor was the “boss” and was in charge of their “employees”. The “boss” had to make a lot of decisions and answer many, many questions. It was interesting to see how each student fell into their role and took their job seriously. I can honestly say I am super proud of my fifth graders! Once all products were made and packaged, we sold the items during lunch to raise money for our weCreate Lab at our school. We made A LOT of money and now the fifth graders get to decide what materials to buy for our weCreate Lab. We will be making that decision next week.
I am always trying to get my student’s voices heard. It is important to help our children navigate a positive way to use the social media and the internet. I will be sending the links to the student’s website to companies to get their feedback on the inventions and have been promoting on Twitter some of the items our students made. One surprising email did come in because of this article written for the local paper. A marketing firm emailed me wanting to see the video and presentation of one of my student’s inventions! She was hoping the brand she works for could “help out with this product”. A video is in production at this time, but I don’t know how the company is going to use it. I will definitely be sharing it when it goes public 🙂
My students now believe that their ideas matter, that they DO have a voice that can be heard. My students now believe in themselves and have a sense of pride for their hard work. They also have a feeling of accomplishment and ownership for real life solutions. That is all I could ever want as a teacher.
Our students have so much creativity built up in them and often, we get too caught up in teaching from the book, getting ready for the test, worried about the scores and data. The things my student’s took away from this project could NEVER be taught from a book, or be assessed for a grade on a report card. Here are several reflections my students wrote in response to the question: What did you learn form this project?
“I learned that it’s possible to make tons of things you imagine and being creative is super fun and exciting.”
“I learned about sales and how to make a sales pitch.”
“I learned that if you think of an invention or idea you can really make it happen if you believe and try hard enough. It was fun and amazing!!!”
“That you can apply anything you dream of.”
“I learned a lot about how people market products and the process of how a company gets to success, and I also learned that even kids can do this and it’s not impossible but it takes a lot of work.”
“I learned the process every inventor had to go through to get their product invented. I also learned the stress some bosses have to go through to get their workers to do what they want to do.”
“I learned, that there are many new ways I can think about solving everyday problems.”
“I learned a lot about working in groups, and leadership. It was kind of hard telling everyone what to do for the website, and getting things done, but after a few days of getting used to it, I got better at it.”
“I learned that you don’t always get picked in the real world, and you have to deal with it and be happy for the person who did get it.”
“That I could be a inventor when I grow up.”
“I learned that to really get the most out of the project, you really had to think out of the box and be creative with your invention to get the most out of it.”
“I learned that you should take risks. I think that I could of made a better product, but I didn’t take a risk, I just thought of something and didn’t really think about anything else.”
“I learned that it is a complicated and frustrating process to go through to make an invention. You need to think through so many things to be successful with your invention.”
“I learned that you have to keep on trying.If you did not get you product pick then still should not stop, and don’t give up. Keep on trying and reach your goal.”
“I learned that there’s a lot of steps to making products and working together makes it go way faster.”
My goal is to continue working towards giving my students opportunities to be risk takers, use their creativity, follow their curiosities, and share their voices to the world. The weCreate Lab at my school is the perfect place where students can use a variety of materials to do just that!
One of my goals for the new year is to create as many opportunities as possible for my students to be curious, to be imaginative, to become planners, and collaborative risk takers who create. In other words, I want my students to become innovative!
“Shark Tank” Unit
Our fifth grade team created a “Shark Tank” Unit which is perfect for creating the environment to make innovation happen in my classroom. Students will research an invention that is valuable to their everyday life. They will find out:
Problem invention solved
The process from idea to production
Timeline of dates – i.e.. Idea, patent, production, first sale, etc..
Struggles/roadblocks inventor encountered
Then, the students will brainstorm an everyday problem they have and think of ways to solve the problem. Students will present a variety of information:
The problem it solves
Share a visual/ graphic aide showing what it looks like
A description of how it works
Materials used/needed, “starting plan” on how it will be built/assembled
Itemized cost of materials per unit/Total Cost to build/Selling price per unit/Profit CAN include marketing material (brochures, infomercial, packaging, etc…)
The presentations will be given “Shark Tank” style and a few students from each class will be chosen (invested in) to work with other students to build their invention. Check back in March to see the completed inventions!
Innovation Club & Lab
Not only do I want to create this opportunity for my own students, but I want to create it for other students at my school too. I am hearing about more and more schools with “maker spaces” and was inspired and excited to get one started at my school too! I was extremely fortunate to have our PTO provide the funds to purchase materials for an “Innovation Club & Lab” at my school 🙂 I will be sponsoring an after school club and the materials will be available for teachers to “check out” so they can use them in their own classroom. There are so many materials out there, it was really hard to choose the best ones to meet the school’s needs. I wanted to choose materials that would not only create an environment where students could be innovative, but were also teacher friendly, so teachers would feel comfortable to use the materials too.
Makey Makey Kits
Use the supplied circuit board, alligator clips and a computer to turn ANYTHING into a keyboard. Beginners to advanced creators can have fun while typing a letter to creating an elaborate device.
Magnetic bits fit together to create a circuit. Follow the directions to start a fan, turn on a light, or create your own invention.
A tiny robot that teaches robotics and programming. Students can program using either a drawn color code or a more advanced block-based code. This robot can play games, dance, and much more!
Follow the color coded manual to snap together circuits to create a variety if electrical items SAFELY or create your own.
This iPad stand can be for stop motion and video creation. Can also be used as a document camera – bonus 🙂
What I LOVE about all of these products is that they can be differentiated to meet the varying level of each student. All students from K-H.S. can use these products and be challenged, the product grows with the student’s level of mastery, imagination and creativity.
My dream is to eventually have a full “Innovation Lab” at my school, one similar to Creative Learning Systems Smart Labs. I know it will take time and I am confident it will be the norm in the future. I will continue to take small steps until I get to where I believe we need to be in education. If you are interested in taking steps with me, comment below and we can take the journey together!
Institute Day… Yep, we had one yesterday. The majority of teachers dread these days, especially when they have to listen to a speaker for hours on a topic they can’t relate to, have a million other things on their to do list that keeps swirling in their head all day long, or they don’t feel they need to know the information for their particular role in the school. I have a feeling yesterday was one of those days. However, I truly believe the topic was important for EVERYONE in education.
I thought a lot about the presentation that I heard yesterday and am weirdly intrigued. The presentation yesterday on The Next Generation Science Standards shed some light onto what needs to happen in education so we can prepare our children for the future in a world we can’t even imagine. Something that was said motivated me to share my thoughts about the future of education. I think about the future of education ALL THE TIME – I picture my perfect, futuristic classroom and try to figure out how I can incorporate as much of my vision into the school day as I can without taking away from the things I have to do.
My perfect futuristic classroom is a place where I have complete control on what I “teach” as long as by the end of the year, the Common Core Standards and the NGSS are mastered. There wouldn’t be specific blocks of time that I had to “teach” math or language arts during. I would be more of a facilitator or a coach that would create opportunities for my students to engage in purposeful, meaningful projects that encourage them to use life long skills. I would provide real world experiences that would connect my students with other classrooms around the world so they can meet people from other cultures and have time for conversations and to collaborate on projects that can benefit others. I would foster a platform where my students can share their voice, their projects, their innovative thinking to help develop communication skills that will assist them in the work place someday. I would provide a space where my students could make choices so they can be comfortable, free of distractions, and start learning how/where they work best. My classroom would have materials that would allow my students to explore, be creative, innovative, and produce products beyond our wildest imaginations. My classroom would be filled with energy, excitement, and a love for learning. My classroom would be filled with students who are prepared for our future world.
I have a vision of the types of students I want to create and yet there are so many barriers in place. I don’t have the freedom to do everything I want and I realize I must take baby steps until everyone else can catch up and get on board. So my question/problem is, “How do I get everyone on board?”. I know that with each baby step I take, there is a risk involved. The presenter yesterday, in so many words, said we are born curious- We are born risk takers- We are born wanting to constantly learn and figure out new things. Somewhere along the way, our children have had their desire to explore, learn, innovate, and take risks squashed. In a world with a future that is changing quicker than the blink of an eye, why is that we are still so afraid to change ourselves and the way we “teach” our children? How are we supposed to prepare our students to succeed in this ever so changing world and allow them to explore and want to take risks and become innovators if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves? I ask that you start becoming a risk taker. Start reflecting on the world around us, think about how you teach your own child and/or your students. Are YOU doing everything you can to prepare our children to become successful in this world full of technology and innovation? If not…take a risk, take a baby step.