Monthly Archives: May 2016

1st Grade Personalizing, Discussion

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Amazing conversation with Kristen Wright and Erin Cordova of Wildcat Mountain about personalizing learning for brand new 1st graders in August. Here is the link to the video:

Shout out to The Logan School

Sometimes all you can say is WOW. It is truly inspiring to see an educational ecosystem that is driven by passionate teachers and positively mega engaged students. This is a private school for ‘gifted students’ and is in an urban setting in Aurora, Colorado. The platform is creative and experiential learning. I will not butcher their mission with my 2 hour take aways, so I would suggest checking out their website: The Logan School.

I can only report on my take aways from my limited time there, and I must say, and a short visit with these teachers and students has been as much or MORE powerful than my 3 days at the Reggio conference in Miami this year! The synergy between the magic of Reggio and the happenings at The Logan School are bubbling on the surface for me, at a nice slow simmer. Nice compliment.


Upon walking onto the campus of this school, you FEEL the vibe of freedom and creativity. The labyrinth and raised garden beds are obviously planned and created by students and in the process of becoming. Colorful doors adorn a rusted rail installation proclaiming and thanking donors and proclaiming stakeholder touch-points.

To encapsulate my feeling of complete verklemptness, and dizzy wonderment, I will do a bulleted list with some pictures, trying to explain to you how this place is DOING personalized learning in an honest and organic way!

The art there is amazing.

Students from kindergarten to second go to assigned specials offerings (they call them matrices), and the older kids (3rd through 8th) choose where they want to go. Because of these specialized opportunities, teachers get 6 hours of planning time per week.  WOW! Also, it must be noted that specific  ‘grade levels’ are not proclaimed here. Kids go where their needs fit. Accidentally, they are living true STEAM integration here.


Matrix classes are really outstanding.

When we talk about personalized learning, we think of the students doing things by themselves and ‘solo’. In this school, personalizing is about student choice and planning. Yes, they navigate by student projects/research which culminate in dissertation style expos for community and stakeholders. However, amongst this work, students are involved in these chosen pathways and activities. Here you will see the example of a matrix class. This was a critical thinking problem solving class. I watched the students (in teams) work through teacher developed challenges and today’s was really neat. They were designing an ‘animal’ out of found objects and the challenge was the list parameter in which they needed to work within.

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Not really ‘classrooms’– more like ‘labrooms’

Kids have jobs to do in this school. They own the school and not only the room in which their lead teacher resides. Because of this freedom and purpose, there are no walking lines, no shuffling through hallways, and not much off task behavior. The teacher is shuffling between single kids and groups to give instant feedback, coaching or redirection. Teachers are casual and a part of the stream of learning that is living everywhere.

I was astounded by the lack of 1 to 1 technology. This might be shocking to some of you who have heard me wonder if personalized learning can be done without 1 to 1 devices; however, I am realizing that it can. A blend of robust technology that is available and “tool” driven in addition to a plethora of rich materials for hands on investigation and making all create an orchestra of sorts, a band of things that kids can use when they have a specific need. These kids are pretty used to showing their thinking visually, and the hands on piece was very evident and just plain awesome. Student work was displayed in ‘journey’ style, showing the process of learning as much or more than a finished product of learning.

Culture that is living and counts

We often pretend to have culture in our offices and schools. What does it mean? How does it evolve? How do you make it? Well, it is living here in an ethos of creativity, acceptance and risk taking. Students do not need a second to start engaging and conversing with you about their projects and mission/vision. Young students work daily for an amount of time with older buddies, and the work that they are producing together is tempered by patience and love. Community raw and real.


And some classical elements which work…foundation is embedded in everything from morning messages, interactive writing and thank you notes to experts who have visited. Grammar and word choice are coached and expectations are high because being a reader/writer/mathematician is imperative in this world and is part of being a learner. When reality and assuaging of curiosity are on the line, kids want to learn foundational skills.

It’s all about the getting away.

The field trip is a bloodstream of driving learning for the staff and students. Be it with large groups of students or smaller ones, these trips are content based and learner driven. Every piece of the journey is about learning and connecting to the community. Memories of these journeys and thinking made visible is everywhere.

documenting journeys

Project driven but not really PBL

I like project based learning, but in this school, it is so individualized that the projects are just morphed in so organically. Students are jazzed completely about what they are doing and what they need to do. They also stop and help each other all the time. Here are some examples of what I saw…yes, they do the poster thing lots, but that truly is a way to show thinking to a community, and it adds to the atmosphere of learning which is great for stakeholders and visitors like me. It just works here.

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about the journey not the end
such high level concepts with complete organic integration
interest driven
Trojan Horse project, parents will visit this week

More pictures

In closing, I just have to say I love this school. There is no perfect school. Yes, this is a school for “gifted” kids, and yes I am sure they have their issues; however, as an outsider, looking in, I was moved to huge places of proclaiming, “Yes this can be done!”

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donated tables=loved
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question: where is the class?–answer: they are in different areas of the school doing their work!
saws, hammers and clamps, oh my! with 5 and 6 year olds? material respect = no injuries



To Sit or Not to Sit

IMG_1058Flexible seating is the buzz word of many educational blogs and websites these days as teachers rethink the traditional paradigm of desks in rows. Wobbling and wiggling furniture has boomed into the marketplace as we are realizing that children learn best when they can move and not focus totally on ‘sitting still’. I have watched this trend emerge since I designed the Primary Innovation Studio years ago…. but….(clearing throat here)….I am realizing and learning some new caveats for this age of the chair (or not) in our classrooms of today.

It is not all about the chair or where the kid sits (flexible seating). Of course, I believe in modern environments and choice for kids, but there is more, alot more.

I hear the mumble, “Hey, whoa Nellie, aren’t you the modern furniture girl who teclassroomaches people about ways to ‘rem-imagine their space? What’s up, you are contradicting yourself….”

No. I am not. I am proclaiming some stuff that I have seen and am polishing my
understanding of what kids need for learning today. Call it chair evolution.

After some contemplation, here are some MUSTS for today’s learning environments, and they are free:

A Safe Culture

This does not mean physical comfort first. This means psychological comfort first. If a child feels that he/she is heard, seen and respected within a culture of other caring humans, in a place where it is okay to make a mistake and try again, he/she is safe. This means that the student has a voice in his/her world—a voice to proclaim a suggestion, a good idea, or a grievance where he/she is heard. Many of us say we’ve been doing this for years; however, the ‘new’ safe culture is deeper. It is truly spending a more concentrated amount of time allowing the student to have a voice and be who they are in the environment…and the ‘getting to know stuff’ is not completely driven by teacher designed activities; moreover, student voice and choice within the walls of the school–it’s all about *co-creation of the environment, students and teacher, together.


A Part in It

hoosierTrust me, I WAS the ‘pretty classroom’ lady—-everything was there for me (and the parents loved it too–and not to mention my teacher colleagues’ oo-ing and ah-ing). I literally pulled out all the stops from fringed curtains to grandma’s pie safe–ornamented with stuffed book characters (out of kids’ reach), pictures, trinkets, etc. When the first day of school arrived, my students came into this world to find their desk with an amazing name tag taped on.

(I know now that all of the decor over 4 feet went unnoticed by them—-really??? ugh!)

The kids entered MY environment. It was never theirs.

As I have evolved in my thinking over the past four years, it is clear that students need to be a part of the design, operation and manufacturing of their learning space. For a teacher to begin a year like this, his/her quest should be to design a variety of flexible seating and work spaces and have it there (casually) for kids to see. The kids, when acclimated in a genuine way, will share what they need as learners during those first few crucial community building weeks. That is when the kids ‘build their house of learning’.

Assignments & Desk Tags

I knew a teacher who had a variety of seating, and decided to rotate her kids through the options (weekly) so they could find their favorite type of seating. This sounded good at first; however, in the end, the kids went home saying, “MMMMOOOOMMM, Mrs. # is makiboyng me sit on the floor!”

Obviously, this became a problem for the parent community.

But here again, this is part of the creation of environment which takes place during the first weeks of school, when students are introduced to a room which is ‘theirs’, and they are charged with making it work for them. When the room belongs to kids, it can be bucket seating from the hardware store and kids will be really happy and content.

Is this easy? No. Is it possible? Yes. It just takes the courage to start the year with a plan to give the environment to the students.

(Yes… it is more of that lessoning of our control that we ALL struggle with, including me.)

Second story, I talked to a teacher (halfway through the school year) who was questioning giving environment to her students as she explained a ‘train wreck’ that occurred when she tried. When she brought the subject up, in circle. One student said, “I want a beanbag pillow!” So, guess what, they ALL wanted the same. Of course, this did not work for her. Warning: When kids have been in environments which are sorted out for them by the teacher, they don’t know what they want. They do not know what is best for a learning environment. They do not know themselves as a learner, they know what they need to do for the teacher.

Students have been conditioned to be adapters not self proclaimers. If this is the case, the teacher must facilitate and incorporate a series of self discovery experiences allowing his/her students to understand themselves on a more personal level and not by the ideas of their peers. Ideally this is done at the beginning of the year.

A Bunch of Money Spent on Furniture?

I am not convinced that money on chairs and such is the answer for addressing the needs of today’s students. It would be unfair to push all of our funds into new and expensive furniture before instructional supports such as more teachers and more technology were addressed. It is all about balance. The new furniture items are great, don’t get me wrong.

The classroom hacking movement offers tons of ideas for making a classroom more flexible and kid centered. In this case, I suppose one needs to strike a pose of balance and fiscal responsibility, because furniture is pricey.

HOWEVER, (louder voice here) I also believe in solid professional development to help teachers move into a more coaching and facilitating roles as opposed to the way they learned to teach in college, and this was a role of complete teacher management and control–management in regard to assigned seating, created environment, and boxed lessons. (That is the way I learned to teach too.) So many teachers can create a ‘space’ from the pictures collected on Pinterest boards and visits to ‘innovative’ classrooms; however, they need to know ‘how’ to teach ‘this’ way–because it is not the way they (we) were trained. And ‘that way’ needs to be insulated with myth busting power to defeat the naysayers who feel this new personalized ‘movement’ is: kids choosing their own curriculum, political, kids running wild, teachers not teaching, and all that jazz that is not true. It’s about today’s students.


So, to sit or not to sit? That is the question. Flexible seating environments are EASY when the teacher introduces them with the kids in mind and ON BOARD. The focus is not the chair. It is the heart of a child who is growing up in a very different world than we did. This child has to navigate confusing media, non stop schedules, and much more ‘stuff’ than we did. So, the chair is not the answer, but it does help with the wiggles, that is for certain.