Monthly Archives: January 2014

Maker’s: A culture, not a space.

Today, I had the honor of venturing out of the doors of my school and out into the world of other teachers’ spaces! Why do we not do this more often? Why do we sit with our teams and plan during our plan “days”?

Purpose today: Maker’s Space

Result: Changed thinking

What a joy to spend a day in professional dialogue about what a Maker’s Space is. Well, my conclusion is that a Maker’s Space is NOT a space. Making is a MOVEMENT. It is a culture, and you feel it when you are in it. It is about student opportunity. Unfortunately, the craft of creating a “maker culture” is not in a book, there are no directions, there are not set up steps to follow. The maker’s culture evolves through collaborative efforts within buildings and classrooms. Today we saw many students involved in making. They were (to mention only a few) scientists, architects, computer coders, artists, inventors, explorers, evaluators, risk takers, inquiry driven problem solvers, mistake makers and above all: engaged people.

What yummy icing on the cake to accompany three other educators today: intermediate elementary, primary elementary, science elementary and district professional development. Between the four of us, every second was filled with questions and ideas which pushed thinking. Together we drew conclusions, with kids in mind every step of the way.

Here you will see a tidbit of our day. Thank you Jenny Henry: Copper Mesa, Dana Palmer: Northridge Elementary, and Tracie King: Acres Green Elementary, Wendy Reitz: Professional Development, Ginny Stafford: 6th MHE, and Brent Valente: Science MHE. Thanks for reflective and pushing conversation……GREAT DAY.

But, come on, they are only 7!

We still need to model, certainly for young kids. They do not have the exposure that older kids have and they need to have skills taught explicitly so their toolbox of options is full for future learning and problem solving that involves choice.

When given the opportunity to create a learning environment for 7 and 8 year olds that was modern and innovative, to be honest, it seemed easy!  For me, and my style, it was so fun to design the environment, drawing from articles on the internet, my past experience with young kids and collaborative support from colleagues.  This was not the hard part.  The room evolved during the summer of 2013.  But then the kids came!—-twenty five curious and ready young kids, interested in what this “crazy” room had to offer.  Well, the offerings were well planned, and some will go down in the history books as successful, and some not.  After 5 months with the kids and in the space, I can report on the results–and in order to help the next teacher who is ready to make some changes in regard to space and craft.  This Wednesday, January 29, I will be hosting a Google Hangout for any interested folks who want to discuss innovation for young children.  It is my hope to extinguish myths that a more modern classroom is a free for all with no structure, all technology with no explicit reading instruction. Below I will detail some of my learnings so far:

Routines HAVE to be set up and PRACTICED:  There is a structure that needs to be underlying for the classroom to operate through the year.  These routines, rules and norms are set up from day one.  The first two months of school are dedicated to setting up that culture, continually revisiting the “structure”, practicing and reflecting upon it.  We’ve been doing this for years in primary!  Right?

Young Kids NEED Explicit Instruction:  When one chats about the modern, 21st Century innovative teacher, they seem to proclaim the notion of a lack of teacher control and the absence of teacher lecture.  This is the GOAL for the higher grades.  With young children, there will be a bit more teacher control and “lecture”.  Little kids do not have the background knowledge that older/intermediate/middle and high school students do.  For example, primary students need to see concepts from the teacher, and then have a large chunk of time to practice and get their hands and heads “in it”.  I have culled down my “in front of the class” control time; however it is not absent, it can’t be!

Writing is the perfect example, as direct modeling is important,  students watch the teacher write on an easel pad or type into a document and then go and give it a try—we’ve been doing this for years.  The change is giving them MORE of the trying time and letting them lead the way more as they are in the trenches giving it a go.  Plus allowing more choice in regard to product production—be that paper, tech, creation, etc.

Of course, reading is another area which demands explicit instruction.  In a more innovative environment, the reading materials might be more varied with choice between digital and paper book formats available for students. Instruction is targeted, assessed and presented in whole groups, small groups and one on one.  Comprehension strategies are also taught explicitly and students are given chances to show their thinking in creative ways such as digital products, communicative arenas, and collaboratively.  Students read everyday and have choice between digital books and paper books.

The quest for quality is a mission:  Young students are spontaneous, herd-ish animals. They ALL want to try something new, and in that they often produce products which lack focus and quality.  As a teacher, I have had to trust the process of letting them try and create.  Often, the results are not so “great”.  But the key is finding “that kid or those kids” who are digging deeper and making the sort of product that shows more of a critical thinking slant.  Once those products are isolated and highlighted in the classroom, others will rise to the occasion; however, the road to those products will be paved with the more simple and sometimes silly products.  The words QUALITY PRODUCTS has been a mantra for kids, with an accompanying rubric to guide students.

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As a classroom community, we are always looking at our creations, critiquing and discovering how we can accomplish products which will inspire our audiences.  NOTE:  In primary, students often “tire” before they reach the quality piece; however, the journey of trying to improve will show when they try the next creation.  There is more journey in primary than destination.

They get technology:  Folks have different views of what tech looks like in classrooms.  For me this year it has been all about balance, but I have to admit, more of a move toward technology, and that move has been made by the kids not me.

Primary kids need 1 to 1 tablets–Ipad, Surface, Nook, Kindle, Android, etc., (Driven by school choice.).  In a perfect world, I know.  It is hard to share a tablet.

Some apps are great and some are rubbish.  Unfortunately, the ones that are great require money, and schools need to think of ways to fund this.  I wonder if school supply lists will become smaller as classroom are 1 to 1 devices.  For example, the app Whiteboard can replace the whiteboard and dry erase markers.  Here again, students need to be taught norms and behaviors which accompany the use of tech.  If kids do not get to use the technology frequently, when they do get it in their hands it is so novel, they can’t focus on the task at hand.  Always referring to the SMAR model, substitution is a lower level task; however, substituting for supplies will free up money for applications needed.

Maker’s Movement, What?:  I LOVE the Maker’s space in my classroom.  This balances out the heavy tech—kids getting their HANDS on things.  The Maker’s Movement throughout the world encompasses many activities: invention, tinkering, building, computer programming, art, and the list goes on.  It is in the exploratory stages, and there are no resources for Maker’s in the primary classroom.  Most likely because we’ve been making for years; however, it has been driven by the teacher.

There are no rules for this space; however, in my primary classroom, I have blended the philosophies of the Reggio Emilia “invitation” (very art driven), Lego Education and computer coding.  I will be presenting about the Maker’s Space at DCSD’s tech conference in February, more to come.

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This space, unmanaged, is where the kids would flock everyday.  Designing a fair way to experience this space has taken 5 months.  I am not quite there yet; however, at the moment, students are required to “order” their Maker’s Experience, and they use this document, this is only a portion of the document.  Students need to list materials as well.  This has been working pretty well and the products have been inspiring so far!

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Restorative Environments Work:  I feel that primary teachers have created “restorative” communities for years.  We invented the “circle” as a place to work things out and move forward.  The community of mistake driven learning moves kids to take more risk, accept critiques and get better. There has been a little bit of magic this year for that learner who might not be a great reader/writer.  Those kids do not “stand out” anymore as they have opportunities to shine through the other options in the room.  I love that.

Flexible Furniture & Space:  There is something to be said about the lack of clutter.  Folks that have known me and my style over the past 12 years are amazed that I got “rid” of it all.  It really was not that hard.  A more agile environment enables kids to own the room, not just their labeled desk space.  TABLES, TABLES, TABLES!  Figure out how to get them!  The collaborative experience is supported by the furniture and room set up.  However, there are times when a kid might need a desk, etc. for organization, work completion, and so forth.  If the kid needs it, they get it.

Primary kids do gravitate toward routine, and I find that they make their own “owned spaces”.  This changes naturally, and it has been interesting to watch.  Do I have to “move” students to more productive learning spaces….you bet I do!  This is part of the culture:  “If you are with someone who is not supporting your learning, it is your job to listen to your internal compass and move.”  This is a journey and we revisit it everyday; however, they are getting really good at advocating for their learning.

Many teachers tell me, “Well you got the big grant, it was easy for you to create the environment!”  Yes, that is true, I get that; however, all through my career, if I learn that something is good for kids, I have begged, borrowed and stolen to make it happen.  There is always someone who will support you, somewhere, I promise!  You just have to find them.

In closing today, I will say that things are going well in the Primary Innovation Studio, full of celebrations and moving toward some pretty magical stuff.  Extinguishing the myths of a “free for all” and “no structure” is my mission of late.

It was my promise in the grant that I wrote to communicate through a blog the ups and downs, discoveries and ah-has of the process.  Look forward to these subjects in the future:  parent communication: the virtual backpack, parent involvement, how many apps are enough?, virtual collaborative tools, getting products out there to authentic audiences, and some more as they come to mind!  (-;  mL

I invite teachers to come and see what we do!

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Portrait for Famous American Walt Disney, done on Drawing Pad/Ipad.

Last Friday I collaborated to facilitate a professional development opportunity for teachers about  Innovative Classrooms.  It was an honor to present with a talented representative from our district library media program, Marci Millius, who provided support for my grant with her expertise. She m20131107_125036ade connections with numerous vendors and provided input based on her experience in transforming learning spaces.  The presentation gave me a chance to detail my classroom overhaul and talk with many teachers.  A reoccurring misconception continued to arise in regard to kindergarten, first and second grade teachers.They felt that innovation and 21st Century craft and spaces meant a “free for all”.  They were under the misconception that this environment would not provide students with structure or the reading instruction required at this level.  I felt that it would be beneficial to detail some of the structures in my classroom and what looks dramatically different from my past years, and what does not.  I have been collecting these ideas and philosophies over the past weeks with some colleagues.  And here is the caveat:  It is easier for primary teachers to move toward innovation and a more modern classroom.  We have MANY of the components already, and have for years!

With the help of Linda Conway from the DLMC and some primary teacher colleagues, here are some working documents detailing what innovation might look like for today’s primary student.


Summary of project, slides

Update, Job Alike 1-16photo (10)    Primary Innovation Studio Update 1-16 This is a piece that I used in the Innovative Classroom session at the Job Alike on January 16. Some pictures you may have already seen, this does capsulate the process so far.

I am in the process of putting together a summary of the thinking that I gained from the Job Alike, especially after talking with many teachers about innovation and best practice for our kids.  My collaborative network grew tons on Friday, and that is what it is all about.  Look forward to the next post soon!

UPDATE: Primary Innovation Studio! Finally!

It has been a couple months since my last posting. To be honest, my teaching journey, sort of, well, to be honest, took a little turn to the gloomy place of complacency and defeat—although smiling along the way. Being one to put lots of pressure on myself, the vision of this pioneering person in a completely new and funded environment became daunting and overwhelming. However, at the end of every murky journey, the light at the end of the tunnel comes in beautiful ways, and indeed the affirmations have poured in over the last few weeks.  These affirmations shout out through student products which I have finally had time to look at and study. During this break, I have been able to think quietly and deeply about what all of this means and has meant to my 25 kids.  In this environment in which I have created with the support of MANY others, students have had time to become thinkers who have definitely moved beyond just a brain full of random knowledge given to them in isolation and with no connection, to a place of novel creation and unencumbered risk taking.  Confession: It was so much easier to not worry about such things and just give my kids cute “stuff” to do.  (Trust, me–I did this for years.)

So in a nutshell—I’m feeling so rejuvenated and ready to keep moving forward!

And here’s what’s happening:  Their writing speaks, they articulate thinking that is brave and forward, and although they are NEVER quiet in this space and they NEVER stop moving, the kids are learning and connecting the dots, and they have been doing it much to my failure to just stop and see it—- because of my pressure blindness.

What is the lesson here? It is that modern, innovative classroom spaces and tweaks to teaching craft are needed. Does one need a huge grant? NO! Just the courage and creativity to move beyond century old paradigms of space and delivery. Another confession: This blogging started to feel like a continual boast, but know that I am learning every step of the way, and my work is not a celebration of everything perfect, it is a study of where we are going and how we can do this together.  To state that I have been humbled this year would be an understatement.

January is a new start, but for me a continuation of this travel; however, with eyes more open to what my kids are screaming to me on a daily basis, “We can do this, we know how, we need you to continue being our tour guide!!Image

Below are some examples of my great kids at work and the status of the Primary Innovation Studio:  (two girls taking about how they will change the world.)  (a presentation to the leadership team at my school, documenting my learnings over the past months)Image