The E in ICEL: Rm. 202 Kids Take Over–Part 3

Our class has been doing some super work lately with trying to figure out how to be our best learning selves and problem-solving about how to do that.  I’ve been helping them by thinking through the ICEL protocol:


An unexpected transition to the E in ICEL (which is the ENVIRONMENT in which your students are learning, the WHERE of learning) came when we were in Ms. Turken’s room on Friday morning.  As we were working on writing after visiting with Mrs. Marks’ friends, I noticed how differently focused, engaged and quiet my kiddos were.  I noticed the different ways they spaced themselves out,  as well as the people they were working with (along with the fact that many of them found quiet places to work alone).  I noticed that they were all writing, they were all productive and they were all using supplies kindly, efficiently and in the correct way.

We took a second before we left their room to have a chat about what they noticed.  I wondered if they felt the difference.  They mentioned things like the corner of the room where there were two low beach chairs and a low table where kiddos could read.  Callahan thought it was like the Zero Zone in our library. He and Kaiden found that to be a great place to work quietly next to each other.

We all noticed that there were many different kinds of spaces to use for work: places for singles, partners or small groups; places with chairs, and places to sit low and kneel on a rug.  Keira found a bench where she could lay down to do her writing.  Rachel was tucked away on a little bean-shaped table around a corner working alone, and Peter found a hexagon table on the other side of the room where he could work alone as well.  Ms. Turken’s room has a kidney table (or some kiddos call it the rainbow table) where there were 5 or 6 kids all writing and chatting together; Penny chose the rolley chair.  Even with that many kids all in the same place, they were focused on their work.  A low rectangle table looked similar to that on the other side of the room.

Even their rug was a mystery.  It’s the same rug that we have in our room, in generally the same part of the room, and has books on three sides of it just like ours.  But no one seemed distracted by the books, kiddos didn’t sit WAY at the back and everyone seemed to be focused on the teacher chair and the easel.

We agreed that there were some things that we could take back to our space and try to emulate in our room so that we could try to get the same results.  Maybe there were some things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them somewhere else.  Our next step was to have kiddos draw pictures/maps with their ideas for what our new layout could look like, but this was a little bit problematic because we hadn’t done much map work like that before.  I was able to see in their illustrations, though, what was important to them.  We all agreed the Zero Zone was a must, and that we could try different tables/spaces; all of our tables are round ones.

Since I knew the whole “zone” idea was a big one to them, I suggested another place they could visit that had zones.  I hoped this would give them another vision for what they might want/need.  I called on my friend Mrs. LeSeure, who is both a master at space planning and who I knew had already gone through many designs in her own room this year.  My son, Riley, is in her class, and with 27 students and an interesting room shape (it’s a small octagon I think), they have had to be very creative with how they put the people and the furniture in there for the best results.  Just like Mrs. Marks, she agreed to let us come over and learn from her kiddos.

The next school day, which was Monday, she sent some of her friends to take my first graders to explore their space.  The 4th graders were each in a different zone of their room, and groups rotated to each place, learning about how that space is used and how they decided it was an important place for them.  Half of my class went as a time, and then we came back together to share out what we had seen.

We talked and put together a chart of our thoughts.


As students shared their reasoning behind what they liked about each zone and why they thought it would work for us, we decided if it was something that was possible for us to actually do.  We agreed that probably all of this chart was, except for the pet.  Mrs. LeSeure has a turtle named Javy, and kiddos thought he would help some of us be calm and focused while we work.  It’s a bit of a jump right now, so I assured them that when we get the worms from Mrs. Berger after the holidays and can work with them with their composting, it will work in the same way.  Crossing my fingers that that will happen. LOL

By that point, it was the end of the school day and we had to go home.  But I knew that my work wasn’t done.  I asked Rm. 202 kids if they trusted me (as well as Riley and my kindergartner, Allie) to do some work after school.  Then they could try it the next day and we could see what happened.  They agreed and left VERY EXCITED to come back the next morning.  And now I know YOU’RE very excited to come back and read about it in my next post, right?  I’m excited to tell you the next chapter. 🙂

Often It’s the 4th Time That’s the Charm…

…or “What I Learned From Mini-Muffins and 4 Tries at Allie’s Birthday Cupcakes.”  Either way, this is worth a read, I’d say.

So first a little back story: my daughter’s 1st birthday was right before Winter Break, and so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and try out a muffin/cupcake recipe on my students to see if it would pass for Allie’s birthday treats.  I set out to find the right recipe; a first birthday is a big deal, after all.  (I actually hate to admit it, but I started noticing yummy things I might use last winter.  Yep, right after she was born.  I know–that’s weird.  But that’s how my brain works.) I found a recipe that I wanted to try, and made my mini-muffins on Sunday night before school.  And as I was baking, I was scripting a post in my head all about things I’d learned about how baking relates to learning, and life in general.  But I couldn’t get the words just right.  I drafted and revised and didn’t like how it sounded.

Then came Friday.  Allie’s birthday party was Saturday, and so I got out all the ingredients I needed to make A’s treats (and, by the way, I found what I thought would be an even yummier cupcake–sweet potato with cinnamon cream cheese icing!).  I had made a trial batch on Thursday, and aside from being a little hard to get out of the wrappers, they were pretty good.  Especially the icing.  They even looked good:

So I did some research after the last batch and figured out that probably the batter was not blended enough, and that I had under baked them too, so they were dense and hard to unwrap.  I had that info in my head as I got started tonight, and so tried to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake again.  But alas, the second batch was the same as the first, maybe even worse.  So I tried again, and these were awful, too.  So I scrapped that whole idea and started over on something else that looked a little more promising.  In the end, the new recipe wasn’t promising–it was amazing!

So here’s a short list of things I learned (or was at least reminded of) while I was baking. Enjoy!

1. Follow the directions–all the directions.  I realized as I was making the 3rd batch of cupcakes that I had left out the egg.  Made sense then, that they wouldn’t come out like they were supposed to.  Any time you’re working with a step-by-step process, doing all the steps–in order–is an important thing.

2. If it doesn’t look right at first, then it probably isn’t. The whole time I was making the first (and second and third) cupcakes, I kept thinking that the batter just didn’t look like it was supposed to.  That lead me to the next one:

3. Trust your gut. This lesson was related to something simple like cupcakes, but in all things, you usually get a feeling about whether or not something is right or good.  I should have listened to that little voice instead of having to make the same cupcakes 3 times in a row!

4. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! In this case, if I had quit, my baby girl would have been cupcakeless at her first birthday party!

5. If all else fails, try something else. Like I mentioned before, after those three failed attempts at Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing, I chucked the whole thing and instead made Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing (the icing part from the first part was definitely worth saving!).  They turned out so great and were so yummy!


Happy Birthday, Allie Bearden!