Starting Over (Again!)

At the beginning of the year (ok, really at the end of summer), I walk into school with high hopes and lots of great ideas for putting my room back together.  Usually, this is a pretty quick(ish) job, because I start wherever I left off with my room plan from the previous year.  This past year that meant reusing the room zones that my first graders had worked out with the help of our 4th grade friends in Rm. 215 (see the room tour here).

But…this year is not just a “regular” starting over.  This time I’m starting over in a new room!  This is an exciting idea, but does come with some problems, or at least it means I will have to do some problem-solving as I figure out how to use the brand new (huge!) space in the way that makes the most sense for myself and my kiddos.  What?  You want to help me?  SURE!!  I love to hear ideas from others about spaces and would love to know how YOU would fill/arrange this space.  Lucky for you I took a video of it when I was there today.  Here’s what it looks like:

And yes, I realize it is SUPER annoying that this video is taken vertically.  Sorry.  I forgot. 😦

As you give suggestions, here are some non-negiotiables:

  • space to read
  • space to meet together (big rug space)
  • space to build (we have big blocks, lots of Legos and recyclables)
  • space to be quiet (alone or with others, but no talking)
  • space to be messy (usually I put this by the sink, but I guess that could change)
  • space for 20 kids to work, but not necessarily at a table (flexible seating is great)
  • spaces to work with a group
  • spaces to work with just a partner
  • space for our Tower Garden, an aquarium and hopefully a sand/water table

So…

Teachers:  What would you do with this space? Where would you put the necessary areas/zones within the space?  What do you have in your classroom that I didn’t mention or that you think is great for kids’ learning?  What did I forget on my list?

Parents and Students:  What would you like to see in our learning space?  What spaces would you like to add that I didn’t mention?  What would make you feel comfortable, creative and confident in your learning space?

Ok.  Here we go–it’s your turn!  Start your suggestions now.  Can’t wait to see what you have to say!! 🙂

Rm. 202 Room Tour!

I am SO excited about the changes that have recently happened in Rm. 202.  (In case you’re just joining the story, be sure to catch up here before you go on.  I promise it’ll help this video make more sense. 🙂  Or at least it will make you super happy because you read the stories of some super cute and super smart kiddos solving problems!) But beyond the changes we’ve made in our room, I’m even more excited that the room tour is finally finished so we can officially show it off to you–from a kid’s point-of-view!  With the help of Rm. 202 kiddos, my own kiddos Riley and Allie, and even Ms. Turken (our next door teaching neighbor), we created a video to show how each zone works and explain what we might do in each one.  It ended up a little long (almost 10 minutes!), but we promise it’ll be worth your while to watch it (and maybe even share it, too!).  Grab your popcorn and press play below when you’re ready!  Here we go!

I wanted to take just a second to put in my two cents about the positive changes I’ve seen in my students since we first started addressing ICEL and working to create a more engaging, motivating experience in Rm. 202. 🙂

One of the biggest positives that has come out of our room redo is the amount of time my students spend engaged and learning.  While I thought I was doing a great job of making things interesting, open-ended, giving lots of choice and opportunity in their learning, my students’ behavior was showing me that they needed more.  Or at least that they needed something else.   What I realized after our zone creation was that our environment previously offered TOO MUCH choice. Too much room for interpretation and too many things that were confusing to many kiddos.

Watching the way Rm. 202 students interact with both our room and each other now, I can see how much more confident and safe many of them feel.  Before, when I thought I was providing a place to be free and creative, for many I was creating a space that was unfriendly and unpredictable with too many unknowns.  I see now that, in many ways, I KNEW how things were supposed to work, but students were less sure.  Now that areas are clearly marked and labeled, and THEY HAD A JOB in creating these areas, students are never unsure about what is allowed and what is not, nor do they wonder where they should go to work on certain things.

Another thing I didn’t anticipate but that I LOVE is how clean our room has been over the last few weeks.  Partly this came about because when you move things around you end up throwing away a lot of junk, sweeping under things, decluttering, etc., but I know it’s always because now EVERYONE knows where EVERYTHING goes!  No longer is there a question about where the games are housed, or where the Lego shelf is supposed to be, whether or not you should have books or iPads in a certain part of the room, or where the art supplies go.  There are a couple of kiddos who have really taken it upon themselves to help keep this up, too, and this makes the whole thing so much easier.  We’ve begun teaching a couple of kiddos exactly what it means, too, when I say “clean up”–as this was a skill in which they were lacking.

I am SO GLAD that we did this, and am super glad that the benefits can be seen by all of us who live in Rm. 202–not just me.  I don’t know if you caught it, but I believe that in the video section about The Kitchen, Mara mentioned that zones help us feel more calm.  I can totally see now that my students needed more freedom within a  STRUCTURE with STRONG BOUNDARIES, not just freedom that came willy-nilly or with lots of breathing room.  There are some kids who can function in any situation, but there are some who have a hard time figuring things out when there is lots of “gray.”  This renovation, if you will, added a layer of black and white that we didn’t know we needed.  And the best part is that it all happened BEFORE we left for Winter Break, so now we can start the New Year fresh and clean in a brand new room, looking ahead to some amazing days to come!  🙂

Happy New Year, Rm. 202!

Before you go, can I ask you a favor?  If you’re a parent of a friend in Rm. 202 and you have a specific story to share about how our redo has helped your kiddo, will you share it in the comments?  We’d love to hear more about the positive ways our problem-solving has helped.  If you’re a friend of Rm. 202 and have a question, comment or suggestion for us, will you share it also?  We’d love to tell you other parts of the story that maybe we missed. 🙂  THANKS FOR VISITING!! 

Trying Out Our New Zones: Rm. 202 Kids Take Over–Part 5

The morning after Riley, Allie and I worked our magic, kids were greeted with this question on the easel:

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To watch their eyes as they came in and saw the changes was priceless (and no, I don’t have any pictures of it. Sorry!).  I think my favorite response, though, was Mara’s.  She said, “Wow–it looks AMAZING!!”

After kiddos had a chance to check out the new layout, we went through strict directions of how each zone was meant to work–at least the general idea of them.  I walked everyone around really slowly and explicitly showed them around, looking at the supplies that were in each space, talking through why we put it where we did and explaining the way Riley had thought through the process of building the new classroom.  I’m pretty sure this took at least 40 minutes.  I meant business.

Next I had kiddos rotate through each zone, thinking through what the “rules” should be for that section of our room.  Each small group had a turn in each zone, and took time jotting their ideas on the chart paper placed in each area.

Next I let kiddos choose a place to begin and we practiced what it would be like to work in each new place in our room.  Ok, thinking about it now, we should have done this practice part FIRST so that they could better think about the “rules” part, but now I’ll know for next time.  It worked out ok the way we did it.

Kiddos chose the place they wanted to start, and then everyone spent about 10 minutes in each zone, trying it out, getting a feel for how it would function for us.  They had a choice of what to do there, but had to make sure that they followed the guidelines of the space–that they were silent in the ZERO ZONE, that they were reading in the READING ZONE, etc.  They were VERY excited about this.  As with the last part, this took close to an hour of very focused time as we learned to use our new room in an appropriate way.

The next day we thought through how the zones had worked for us.  I asked them to tell us what they liked and what they would change:

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So far I think I can say that this has been one of the most positive things that has happened in our community this year.  I know it is so because of work we’ve done along the way, but the instant changes that happened in the volume of our voices, the number of incidences of disengagement and the increased student engagement have been obvious.  The kiddos seem more at ease, more motivated and happier.  Who would have thought that could happen with just a little bit of a furniture switch-around? Ok, well I, at least, hoped it would have. 🙂

 

Riley Helps Out: Rm. 202 Kids Take Over–Part 4

The subtitle of this should add: “And Allie does a little bit, too!”

After kiddos left on Monday and we had our chart of what they wanted in our new room layout, Riley and Allie and I got busy.  And in case you’re new here and aren’t sure who I mean, let me show you my cutie-pie kiddos.  Riley is in 4th grade this year and Allie is a new kindergartner at our school.  It has been fun to have them join me at school, and is also great how often they help me in my teaching.  They have such great ideas and different takes on things than me–I like to throw things at them and see what they think I should do.  They are often the ones that help me come down off the ledge and keep me from doing things that are TOO crazy in Rm. 202.  Thanks, kiddos. 🙂

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And…this year Riley has become the superstar room planner of my dreams. 🙂  Because he has been in such a responsive and collaborative classroom this year, he’s learned a lot about how to really think through how your space works and how to fix things when they don’t work the way you wanted them to work.

So after reviewing the chart my class had made and thinking about how we could best use the furniture and room space available to us, we let the ideas fly.  I love that I could hear what the conversations had been like in his room as he said things like “Let’s just try it and see what we think” or “What about this?”  He had some great ideas for where each zone should go and gave conclusive support as to why they made sense.  My favorite part was when he used our cubbies to create the hands-on zone on one side of the room, explaining that the height of the cubbies would create a nice sound barrier as kids worked there.  It’s a place my cubbies have NEVER been and I had NEVER thought of putting them there.  The block box fits PERFECTLY into the corner of it and there’s plenty of floor space and table spaces for kids to work creatively and collaboratively without bothering each other.  Genius!

He suggested the corner be where we put the reading zone (again–a place I have NEVER put the library in the 5 years I’ve been in this room), because it allowed us to have a white board to put charts, share ideas, and it created a cozy space.  He wanted the shelves to face outward so we could put the soft pillows against them to provide a nice place to sit.  AND we found a way to use 3 cubbies to stack tall enough for a lamp to light the area.  It’s one of the only places in my room with an outlet, so again–genius move, Riley. 🙂

The rug is next to our ActivBoard now and is a nice, open space for our class to meet together, or for partners to work or even for kiddos to work alone with lots of space.  I have lots of favorite parts, but the back corner near the sink is now officially called The Kitchen, and has our big ‘ole kitchen table to work at.  I’ve always wanted a space like that in my classroom, to  help bring home to school, and I think it’s going to be just what I’d hoped for.

While I wanted to have a tour and some pictures in this post, I think those make more sense in later parts of the story.  In fact, my kiddos will be working on how to present how our room works as we begin this next week together.  I want them to tell how it’s changed our lives and explain the best parts of the new layout.  Stay tuned for that!

Also in the plans for next week is an invitation to Mrs. LeSeure’s class to come check out our space.  Without them and their expertise, I don’t think our space would have been so well-imagined.  You guys rock!

 

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:

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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.

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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. 🙂