All posts by marylisaharper

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.



Conceptual Opportunities. Planned Possibilities

IMG_0560I so enjoyed my adventure to Miami in March to learn from the experts and teachers at NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Conference with my colleague, Nancy Burdic, Director of the Douglas County School District Preschool Program.  We loved it.

To be crystal clear, I have suffered a bit from brain overload as a FULL myriad of golden nuggets have become a bit overwhelming, as their presence has stifled blog action; however, the universe has sent a spring snow storm, motivating me to polish one for you this morning. After days of slow digestion, I will  indulge you with one, completely intending to write about more later.

Collaboratively this installation was a planned possibility for community and resulted in many other  high level conceptual awakenings.

Conceptual themes. Play. Research. Child Centered. Those are the key element drivers of this blog posting today.

One must know and adopt the philosophy and truth that

The child’s research is PLAY

We must not fall into the illusion that a playful, exploratory and spontaneous environment for children is a waste of our time or even more so a waste of the child’s time. How do we get to this place

Honestly, daily, I hear statements often as I visit remarkable teachers. Dedicated teachers who have lived within the paradigm of No Child Left Behind fueled by rigorous mandated assessment. (I was have lived in this place as well.)

  • I don’t have time for children to play.
  • If my kids do not know X or show the X skill, I am failing them and I will be judged by the next primary teacher.
  • Students who are not in the skill box that is proclaimed must be pulled out of the classroom for intervention and then be sent back into the classroom for more intervention…(double dipped).
  • Play is not purposeful and does not drive learning.
  • If my administrator comes in and sees my students playing, it will not be acceptable.
  • With state mandated testing, I cannot have “this” sort of classroom.
(I realize that literacy acquisition is of utmost importance. The window of sound acquisition ranges from preschool to 2nd grade. If students do not acquire reading/writing/math skill by this time, and during this umbrella of growth, teachers must respond appropriately and with carefully targeted diligence. Sound instruction for students is not something that I am opposed to; however, is it all they deserve?)

A question: Are these statements obstacles or challenges?

If we do not let children play (which is richly researched and developmentally appropriate) forcing continual academics on them (as the WHOLE of the school experience), young children will check out, dislike school, and lose that beautiful innate curiosity that is the mother of learning; moreover, there is a danger that they will they will lose confidence as they adopt the “idea” that they are not good enough for school. When exploration and play are taken away, all learning is contrived and only accessed by those children who can play the “school” game well. The children are lost and defeated. What about the girl who will never be the most sound reader and writer but who IS the most amazing thinker, builder and artist? Should she have time to assert her power within a community of diverse learners?

Yes, balance is key. To me, a classroom which is seasoned with rich materials leads to skill acquisition naturally. With teacher artistry, not concise, lock step content delivery, students naturally happen upon concepts which will move skill practice into rich spaces of engagement and buy in. For example, the boy who has an hour to explore and play in an area full of found objects which were planned to POSSIBLY lead to the discovery of force and motion (cardboard boxes, tubes, marbles, blocks–just to name a few), he conceptually starts to understand higher level concepts such as action/reaction, part/ whole, systems, and more. Is the teacher a part of this? OF COURSE. Conversation during the play stimulates understanding and wonder. This boy will be much more engaged to give writing a try with these rich experiences in his schema and short term memory. His engagement and present adoption of “school” become the fertile ground for skill practice and growth.

Conceptual play area driven by science content. Planned Possibilities.

If we, as the maestros of our precious orchestras of engaged, exploring and playful children, offer opportunities with rich and varied materials, the learning of these high level concepts and the acquisition of sound skills (developmentally appropriate and honoring the child where they are) will happens naturally and without force.

I promise.

The child deserves a voice.

The child deserves to play.

The child deserves to co- construct an environment which is engaging and worthwhile.

Environments and pedagogical plans and decisions which are driven by the questions of the child result in microcosms of intriguing, authentic and rich learning. Yes, skill naturally seeps into these spaces as the teacher, who is continually monitoring, assessing and guiding capitalizes on the strengths and curiosities of each learner. Often, basic skill even moves beyond projections for the particular average age/grade.

Is this natural and right?


Will students acquire more than basic skill?

Double yes.




notes to teacher self, round II

Thank you, thank you to teachers who are ready to give us a glimpse into their learning environments as they meet the needs of students.  Leveraging best practices for today’s youngest student requires some heavy lifting, conversation and the courage to try something new. Enjoy these professional insights, and know that it takes soul to put yourself out there for others. Thanks again, amazing teachers. Notes to Teacher Self Round 1 is here if you did not read it!

Hand it Over to the Students

Jessica Craig, 3rd Grade

Roxborough Intermediate


IMG_0192When I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed and I see my weekend and weeknights slipping away, I always ask myself- what am I holding onto that I can, or need, to give over to my students?

I have let my students solve many of my toughest questions and challenges this year, and I have not regretted it once!  Each time I am further amazed at their level of engagement, persistence with challenge, and creative thinking!

Math block not working? Let the kids redesign it.  Needing storage and power solutions for the new Chromebooks? My kids knocked that one out of the park, AND redesigned my entire classroom to give it a fresh new look!  Need to finish planning and finding resources for that upcoming unit? Let the kids take some time in class to research and gather resources in the school library, build a menu of possible activities and formative assessments, deconstruct the outcome, and prepare the inquiry wall!  Classroom management needing a revamp? Ask the kids what would motivate them and let them develop and test out a new system! Have a grant you’ve been wanting to write? Let your kids create a video-grant, instead!

Not only will you save yourself an immense amount of time and sanity, but your students will be given an authentic learning opportunity which benefits someone and something they truly care about!

So, do you really need to stay late or go to the school this weekend just to solve “problem” that’s been on your mind, or could your kids help you figure it out? Chances are they’ll do a better job than you ever could have all on your own!

Our kids are capable of so much more than we could ever imagine, but we’ll never know unless we learn to hand it over!

Using Digital Portfolios, SeeSaw

Sommer Breithart, 1st Grade

Rockridge Elementary

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 7.03.21 AMUsing the Seesaw app on their iPads, my students digitally show and share their learning through video, drawings, photos, and more.  Please enjoy these samples of my students’ Seesaw videos.  They are 100% student-driven and 100% created without teacher help.  I love how empowered they are when they use this app!

Student SeeSaw Example 3

Student SeeSaw Example 4

My Story

Kim Geary,2nd Grade

Legacy Point Elementary

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.53.59 AMThe first week of school this year was truly an eye-opening experience for me.  I thought after the students came to Back-to-School Night they would be so excited for this new flexible learning environment, however, the students looked so confused when there were not enough chairs for them to sit on the first day.  Many asked where they should sit, and when I offered the cushions, pillows, or standing station, they looked even more confused. Fast forward two weeks, and you would not have guessed these were the same students questioning where they should sit.  Fast forward once again 6 months, and the students tell visiting guests that they love their classroom arrangement and it helps them be better learners, “because they can be comfortable, so they can learn more.”

I added a makerspace to the classroom, as well.  This has been a huge hit with the students.  They named it the Inventor Lab, and even put the word “inventor” into our class mission.  My biggest obstacle with the Inventor Lab is the management,  as it is definitely be an obstacle if you like an orderly classroom.  Also, I am trying to make the Inventor Lab purposeful.  When I began I let the students create whatever they would like.  As of late, the students are working to tie their creation to something they are learning or have learned. The connections they are making are exciting!Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.54.05 AM

Another major change I made  this year was removing spelling worksheets and tests. In previous years, I found students did not improve in their spelling and it became busy work. I am sure this is nothing new to many, but for my school, it is a shift.  There are still teachers who use the spelling worksheets and tests. I am integrating spelling focus in reading and writing. I was already doing this, however, I took the worksheet component out of the mix.

I am continuously working to improve my instruction and environment for students.  This has been an exciting and challenging year!

Cause and Effect Case Files

Kristen Wright & Erin Cordova

First Grade-Wildcat Mountain Elementary

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.56.37 AMWhen introducing new World Class Outcomes to our first graders, we often are faced with “they don’t know what they don’t know.”  In order to increase our students’ understanding of their World Class Outcomes, we have created World Class Outcome Investigations.  We do these investigations at the beginning of a unit in order to help our students define what the WCO really means.

An example of one of the investigations we created this year was the “Cause and Effect Case Files.”  Students rotated through different activities.  They followed the directions found in the case file and collaborated to identify the cause and effect.  These activities provided hands-on practice in “assessing the relationship between cause and effect.”  Now our students are more capable of identifying this WCO throughout the day.


Trying Lego Challenges and Makerspace Challenges

Laura Whitaker,1st Grade

Rockridge Elementary

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.59.57 AMDuring “Learning Time”, I have introduced a weekly Lego Challenge and a Makerspace Challenge.  The first Lego Challenge was to simply build using only 20 bricks.  The kids were very engaged in their 20 brick creations!  Many of them showcased their creations in Seesaw.  Click here to see and hear about what some students made.

Our class has been reading, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, so for the Makerspace Challenge the students were to create a character from the story that could fit on the display poster.  


notes to my teacher self

It is time to celebrate. You. Teachers. Teachers who understand the need to shift pieces of their practice for today and tomorrow, holding on to things that matter, throwing out those things that do not, and continually learning from others. Its time to celebrate those teachers who are reimagining their spaces and craft. That is happening across the country. Trying something new is hard and letting go of things that have worked in the past is hard, but we know we can get better. These courageous teachers have succeeded because they tried.  There are many of them in DCSD and beyond.

What you will see here is only a mere sampling of greatness, mostly from a primary lens, but including a couple intermediate nuggets at the end. There will be more editions of this as I reach out to teachers.

All of us are on a journey and are in different places, that MUST be celebrated. Let’s!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  

-Theodore Roosevelt

shared by Laura Whitaker, Rock Ridge Elementary, 1st Grade

Inspiration Sites (DCSD classrooms and teams who receive coaching–in varying degrees–some: one visit, some: many more) are in the process of becoming destination classrooms for other teachers to see, feel and be inspired by. These classrooms are not perfect. There is not a perfect classroom. We are failing forward and doing big things for students.

My days of writing about myself in the classroom are on hold, as I become a part, big or small, of these special universes around the district and broader community. The experience is so affirming and I am so honored to share these teachers’ notes to their teacher selves. Enjoy.

Kristin Kinner, Pioneer Elementary

2nd Grade

Student Ownership of Learning

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.11.07 AMTogether, we are deciding what we want to learn and how to share our learning with others. Here are some students presenting their study of tornadoes to the class. We talked about weather conditions, and places we could find out more. The students chose what they wanted to learn more about, and created groups. Using their resources ( books, websites, ebooks, newsela articles,)

they were able to answer questions and share their knowledge with the class. Students  chose presentations of iMovie trailers, posters, index card strips, and models of sinkholes and tornadoes.. This was so much better than me trying to focus on each weather condition and discuss it, especially since I am not an expert in weather. The students became the experts, sharing their knowledge of weather conditions, and asking  questions of others. The discussion was rich, and led to more research, which led to more learning.Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.12.00 AM

We have also incorporated the Design Thinking Process into our learning throughout the year. We have designed tools for people living during Pioneer times while learning about our community in the past; we have designed roller coasters for amusement parks while studying about balance and motion; and we will be working on designing a habitat for Monarch butterflies as part of our School Garden project this Spring. When students are given guidance in their learning, they are able to be more creative and make their learning their own.


Kathy Carter, Renaissance Elementary Magnet School


K’Nex Challenge Promotes Creativity and Supports Learning

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.27.28 PMFlexibility is a key component of the learning environment in my kindergarten classroom. Routines, procedures etc. change during the year to meet the latest needs/passions/interests of the children.

Recently I noticed that the children were less engaged during their morning routine, which involved choosing from a variety of learning activities. Pondering what to do I remembered the recent acquisition of K’Nex in our room. Although the children had suggested and voted to buy the manipulatives, when the sets arrived, the children most familiar with K’Nex quickly used up the pieces for elaborate creations (using the directions provided with the materials). Children less familiar with K’Nex became discouraged and felt excluded.

When I changed our morning routine to include a K’Nex Challenge children suddenly arrived at school earlier, eager to put away their belongings and receive the latest challenge. By listing specific criteria that the creation must meet I was able to limit the amount of K’Nex used by each child and promote creativity.

In addition, each creation linked to specific learning that the children were engaged in during the day e.g., when we were exploring length, a challenge was to create something with “two sides shorter and two sides longer.”Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.31.29 PM

When focusing on teen numbers and counting, a challenge was to create something that was composed of less than twenty pieces and could stand independently.

All children are now excited to start their day. They are increasingly familiar and creative with the K’Nex manipulatives. In addition, children are eager to share their creations and prove that they meet the criteria given.   

Kristin Wilson, Cherokee Trial Elementary


No More Teacher Controlled Seating

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.36.16 AMWhen I took away assigned seating in my kindergarten classroom there was immediate ownership and buy-in from students that filled our space.  It started when one student asked if he could change his seat.  In response, I facilitated a class discussion on the topic, heard from every voice in the room and voted to decide the outcome of assigned seating vs. free choice.  It was unanimous for both AM and PM classes.  As a class, we discussed the expectations and parameters of choosing our own seat everyday and how to handle conflict if a particular seat is taken.  I watch my 5 year olds negotiate with each other daily and interact positively to convince peers to change seats or sit beside them.  With this one movement, I am able to assess higher order thinking skills while the students complete a daily task before the bell even rings!  Not once have we experienced tears although we have worked through moments of disappointment and problem solving.  The students voted to have tables and chairs at various heights along with the option of sitting on the floor as well.  Students can choose have a new seat every single day or if they are comfortable in a particular spot, they can choose to stay.  We reached a level of trust between teacher and student and they revel of knowing I trust them to make a good decision when they enter our classroom every day.  It was a leap of faith to put 45 kindergarten friends in charge of seating arrangements and I wish I had tried it sooner!

Jill Cahenzli, Eagle Ridge Elementary

2nd Grade

More Engaging Morning Work

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.47.42 AMWhen I got rid of the DLI/DLR (in the morning) and asked students to use iPads to respond to questions (on a Google Form), they were instantly more engaged and their learning is more authentic.  For years I have been using the DLR, first thing in the morning.  I noticed that the DLR work didn’t transfer to student writing AND kids were bored with it.  Now, I use Google Forms to ask questions about academic units, The Seven Habits, restorative circle topics, and “just for fun” topics too.  Students even vote on topics they want to write about/respond to and together we upload pictures and videos that the class will respond to.  I am able to immediately give students feedback (on sentence structure, parts of speech, spelling patterns, etc.). After responding on the form, students go to their “Daily Doodle Notebook” to draw a picture about one of the topics they responded to.  Then, they pair with a shoulder buddy to quickly share and explain their response and doodle.  The kids LOVE morning work now and constantly come to me with ideas about questions and responses. Click here to view a presentation (including pictures)!

Kristy Roesle, Arrowwood Elementary

1st Grade

Removing 1:1 seating, various desk heights, student choice in Daily 5

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.49.56 AMAfter studying Susan Kovalik’s importance of room environment and the impact it has on students’ learning and their ability to focus in a calm atmosphere, I switched to neutralizing the colors and clutter within the classroom years ago.  One thing I did focus more on changing this year was where the students worked in the room and how it impacts them.  As long as it benefits kids and their learning, I’ve always been open to accommodating students in whatever fits them best.  This year, many asked to have lowered desks, to work in a chair, work on the floor, work at a plastic table desk, work at the taller community table, or at the gray coffee table.  Several kids also wanted to share a desk Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.50.07 AMwith a friend, to hold their supplies, so it would give us more classroom space.  After lowering the desks, we discovered that several kids were a bit too short to sit on the floor, so I found some milk crates on Craigslist.  The kids love them and they’re easy to move in the room wherever they want them.  The kids never abuse this system, since it was created by them and they have ownership of it.  If they start missing their own individual desk and chair, I’d be glad to let them have it back.  Student empowerment really benefits students and their learning. Susan Kovalik was one of the best leaders in this that I have studied.  🙂

The Center 4 Learning, Kovlaik


Chantel Estes, Roxborough Intermediate and Primary


Allowing students to“Tinker” in the TinkerLab of Engineers

TScreen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.55.03 AMhis year I have a unique opportunity to create a learning space focused on building sustainable learning practice through Tinkering. I have always believed that students learn best when they have choice and are given time to discover. In the past, I felt guilty taking time from direct instruction to give students free time to tinker, so I limited it to 10 minutes every rotation. Luckily, I am fortunate to work at a school and in a district that values student choice, personalized learning, and time for discovery. So for every four days I see students, I dedicate one to tinkering. Students are loving it! Tinkering in the TinkerLab of Engineers is shaped by student requests and only limited by the materials and tools we have available. I typically set out some materials for students to use, then they are free to choose how they want to spend their time. I am continually amazed at how tinkering has transformed how I view learning and the power it has to inspire students to frame their own learning.  

For more information on the TinkerLab of Engineers, visit my blog

Ed Goulart, Mammoth Heights Elementary

First Grade

Community Meetings

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.58.14 AMA practice that I feel has had a major impact on my classroom community is the use of community meetings. We begin each day with a circle. In addition to all the normal first grade routines, like calendar and meteorology, we end the circle by checking in on a common topic. The chairperson usually chooses the topic, anything from what you did last weekend to what you plan to do at school today. Through this, the children get to know each other better and form closer bonds. We also have a weekly Community Meeting at which we discuss student generated ideas and suggestions. We keep an agenda in the classroom in which the children write their ideas. The ideas are then presented and discussed. The children argue in favor of or against the merits, and vote on whether or not to adopt the new idea. This practice empowers the children to take control of their learning Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.58.25 AMenvironment. It also helps them assume responsibility for the routines and procedures which they’ve adopted. Through the discussions, the children begin to understand what it means to support their thinking and to listen to different points of view. Finally, Community Meetings give everyone an opportunity to voice their thoughts, concerns and beliefs.



Shannon Herzog, Sage Canyon Elementary School


4 C monsters and Free Range Stations

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.02.15 AMGood thing teaching is a practice.  Each day is a new beginning for me in Kindergarten.  One of the most powerful changes I have made this year is allowing students to move from stations (daily 5) when they are ready.  I stopped “ringing the bell” so to speak.  This “free range” allows students to stay in a station they are thriving in and move from a station that may not be working for them at the moment.  This change has freed me to focus more on personalizing my instruction for guided reading groups and or one:one conferences.  I continue to work on an accountability component that will be discussion/reflection based.  I’d eventually like students to help me design the stations and their purposes, but for now this is a great start!  I have also used this change to talk a lot about the 4 C “monsters” as we call them.  And use the performance strands as a guide to help me build stations each week.  We also anchor much of our thinking about working together upon the idea of the four C monsters.  These silly guys have breathed new life into my project wall, anchor charts, and daily reflection.

Sommer Breithart, Rock Ridge Elementary

1st Grade

Removal of Behavior Clip Chart

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.33.40 AMMy students and I ceremoniously threw away our behavior clip chart.  We had a restorative circle about how the clip chart makes us feel.  I told them that I don’t feel good in my heart when I tell kids to move down their clips.  Some students said that they feel sad when they go home on a “bad” color.  It was a powerful circle!  

We now use a positive behavior incentive system, which includes each student collecting beads on a personal pipe cleaner to earn I.B. badges. Once students collect 10 beads, they may choose an I.B. badge to put on their pipe cleaner..  There are ten total I.B. badges to earn – one for each I.B. Learner Profile Attribute.  

I must add something here about Sommer, one of the many who have completely reimagined their spaces. Sommer took home truckloads of “stuff” that had accumulated over 8 years. The results are outstanding and the kids are energized and own the space now. See slides below:

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Erin Cordova, Wildcat Mountain Elementary

1st Grade 

Show What You Know

1It is so hard to pick just one thing to write about.  Teaching has certainly been a journey for me, but the journey I’ve been on in just half this school year is nothing short of exciting, so where do I even start!?!?  Prior to this year, I always had my hand in everything my students were working on day in and day out.  From small day to day work to final summative assessments, I was in control.  If you had asked me then, I would have thought that I was doing what was best for kids.  I believe even now that with what I knew then, I was doing what I thought was best.  This year one of the biggest changes I have made is giving kids more choice in showing their learning.  I have implemented something that has become known as “Show What You Know”.  During our literacy time, there are a few certain things that kids need to do from their personal learning menu.  With some guidance, the kids are able to chose what will best help them to work on our WCO of creating meaning.  Once they have done these few things, they get to “Show What You Know”.  Kids get to use any and all materials in the classroom to show something they have learned.  This could include anything from using Legos to retell a story they have read to creating an Explain Everything presentation to share facts they learned from a nonfiction book.  The level of engagement in my classroom when I have given this control over to my kids is astounding.  The kids have come up with creative ways (way more interesting than my prescribed ways before) to show their learning. They are invested in their learning and take pride in creating something unique to them.

Laura Whitaker, Rock Ridge Elementary

1st Grade 

Letting Students Choose Books
Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.30.55 AMI’m giving students more choice in what they read and select for their “book boxes” and “book bags”.  I’ve seen students more eager to meet with me for reading work and they show a deeper focus on becoming a better reader with a book they have selected.  Since taking ownership of their book selections, they are more engaged and confident when reading to self and reading with others.  I’ve also used reading to find more options for students.  They now have individual Raz Kids accounts giving them more opportunities to choose from a variety of good fit books that are colorful and engaging!

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BELOW are some thoughts from inspirational DCSD intermediate classrooms. When we primary teachers give students choice, freedom and autonomy, imagine what the future holds as they move through their school experience!

Ginny Stafford, Mammoth Heights Elementary

6th Grade

Student Advocacy and Digital Freedom

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.24.51 AMI am a big believer in student advocacy and student ownership, and twenty-first century teaching demands this more than ever before.  My students have a lot of voice and choice and when a classroom is built around trust, growth and hard work so many magical things happen; students make some incredible choices and amazing results follow. However, one area in which I wanted to challenge myself to grow, was in the area of feeling the need to constantly ‘police’ my students’ use of technology.  For example, watching student screens, restricting some apps, worrying about what they might see or do, etc.  So this year I took a big risk, and through a lot of work upfront in establishing trust and respect in our classroom, I have put more and more trust and faith in my students to use their technology even more freely.   I feel that by my students being empowered to make good choices, knowing that they are trusted to know right from wrong, not restricting how they attack a project, they are able to do more with technology; this has led to students using higher-order skills, coming uScreen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.26.11 AMp with and implementing challenging projects due in part because of the supports and platforms provided by technology.  They have also been able to work with more complex texts as they use the technology resources to navigate through the difficulties.  It has been a weight lifted as my students have lived up to my expectations of being trustworthy, digital citizens.  Nothing is perfect, mistakes are made, accidents happen but we work through those set-backs, and we continue to knock down walls, and learn and relearn and learn some more!

Jenny Henry, Cherokee Trail Elementary

2nd Grade and 6th Grade

Students Empowered

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.28.10 AMWhen I give students control and empower them to make decisions about their learning, they consistently exceed my expectations. Their confidence, engagement, excitement soar. Students are committed, passionate and challenge themselves to take risks and try things never done before. I have no doubt the world is going to be a better place because of these children!

6th graders collaborated with RCHS and Botanical Gardens on a challenging DNA lab. Passion project group designed a mural which included every student and staff member at school.

Students partner with Innovation Pavilion experts and entrepreneurs to implement innovative solutions to real world problems and engaging challenges including obesity, ROI, drone building, computer game design, crowdfunding and digital storytelling.

2nd grade students Skype and offer suggestions to another 2nd grade classroom in Kansas about flexible learning spaces and deskless classrooms.  Collaboration and engineering combine during student designed challenges.


Jessica Craig, Roxborough Intermediate School

3rd Grade 

Letting Students Redesign Instruction

At the beginning of the year, my students and I were less than enthused with our math block.  We struggled Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.03.34 PMto stay focused during whole class mini lessons, even though I tried to keep them under 10 minutes.  Our math curriculum didn’t allow us much freedom for expressing our learning in our own ways, and I didn’t like the idea of all students participating in the same rotations, learning and practicing the same things, for specific amounts of time.  I wanted my students to be able to personalize their math time.  I wanted them to identify their own personal areas for growth, create their own goals, decide which small group lessons are beneficial for them to attend, and brainstorm personalized activities to fill the rest of the learning block.

I pondered how to redesign the block to make all of these things possible and better fit their learning needs, but I didn’t know where to start.  I saw a long weekend ahead of me at the school, trying to make big changes with an unclear vision and not very much time. That’s when I realized I wasn’t tapping into my most valuable resources- the kids!  My students know their own learning needs and styles better than anyone.  They are also the most creative group of problem solvers that I know.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.03.49 PMThe next day, I started them on a Design Thinking challenge to redesign our math block to better suit our individual learning needs.  I had used this process with them before in redesigning our physical environment, so they were familiar with the process.

We conducted surveys about our learning preferences in terms of math, looked at the data, and participated in empathy interviews to gain perspective on our interests and passions.  We asked for advice from experts, ideated, created teams based on our common visions, and prototyped different possibilities.  They were so engaged and determined to create the perfect learning block! Eventually, we decided on a blended, personalized learning model. which works perfectly us!  We have used the model ever since, and we revisit every so often to make revisions as we learn more about ourselves and our learning.

The students came up with something way better than I could have ever come up with myself, and I was reminded of a familiar lesson- when all else fails, let the kids figure it out!

Reimagined Spaces: A beginning.

This is the first year in a L*O*N*G time that I have not been in the hustle and bustle of setting up a classroom. It all hit me when I was in a local discount store and heard a little voice whisper, “Mom, there’s Mrs. Harper! She is a teacher at my school.” Life gives us these moments, in bitter sweet ways, times to swallow the now and move into the future. I’m ready. However, it seems like yesterday that I spent hours creating environments collaboratively with students–and now I step off of that dance floor and take a front seat on the balcony (thank you Ron Heifitz’s work in the area of adaptive leadership), and take an honest look at my practice through a lens of refection and out of that space of fast pace: an autopilot that I spent so much time in. Over the past 4 years, I spent countless hours on a mission to reinvent my primary classroom spaces, rethinking the needs of today’s learner and put that thinking into action. Guess I’m happy to have this balcony view for a while, a chance to rethink my craft even more and maybe help others along the way.

I always started my year with my tattered, loved and cherished Reading with Meaning: Teacher Comprehension, and her lovely introduction always resounding in my mind, “new crayons in bright baskets sit at the children’s tables, flanking caddies of sharpened pencils, markers, scissors and glue. The pencils stand tall, the erasers in tact. All sixty-four crayons point in the same direction. Markers fresh from familiar yellow and green boxes have their lids capped tight…..and then the kids come.” That is STILL true for sure.

This is the aspiration phase of starting school. The moments when we imagine what its going to look like, it is when we forget any past challenges and roadblocks from the years before. It is a time to breathe in promise, hope and the greatest of intentions. This is the balcony before the dance starts. Think I’ll hang out here a while.

This week, I happened upon a school that is rising, making changes that matter and making changes that are going to be sustainable and purposeful for students. The air of buy in from every teacher in the room was so moving. Teachers who had been in the trenches for years were reimagining their spaces as they prepared for another school year.

Enjoy some quick snapshots of a Douglas County teacher, Heather Cunningham, new to Cherokee Trail Elementary, who has reimagined and is preparing for some lucky 6th graders. More later from my balcony views!  Video:IMG_1312 Reimagined Spaces.

Skill Acquisition: Does it just happen?

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 4.39.47 PMOver the past two years, I have had the honor of piloting and driving, along with  my amazing students, the Primary Innovation Studio. This experience has been the fuel for many a reflective moment, many a debate, and many a conversation. The transformative gift from the Morgridge Family Foundation has been a test ground for other teachers who have felt an itch to make things new and different in their classrooms. Has this been easy? Hell no. Have I learned things about today’s learner? Hell yes. As I reflect upon the last 24 months of journeying, I am inclined to call the endeavor a great success; however, a success tempered by mistakes and changes of mind along the way. As I try to extrapolate the good from the bad in this space, I feel a hearty dose of responsibility to lift up primary teachers in general as it is my conclusion that WE have been doing things that link perfectly with 21st Century Education already. Ouch, this could get touchy as I tiptoe (or collide) into our indoctrinated beliefs about instruction and what is best for children. I can say with no hesitation, that the advance of technology, that sea of continuous and instant information, has impacted the relevance of some of those coveted classroom rituals.

It. is. hard. to. let. go. of the stuff of the past.

I have struggled with that; however, changing with the pace to today’s learner has many benefits.

We teachers are in love with our content as it has driven planning and classroom pedagogy for decades. I remember pulling out my pumpkin unit file as a kindergarten teacher, tried and true activities, bulletin board fader, and much, much more. This folder, with it’s creased edges and yellowing copies inside, was as expected as the first cool breeze of fall. Letting it go was scary; however, replacing it with explicitly modeled and supported problem solving exercises, passion driven curious investigations, and authentic inquiries roused such engagement…the pumpkin folder was soon forgotten and thrown away. Teaching students, primary even, through recipe driven outcome units does not instill the skills in which they need for today’s world. The art of complex communication is one of skill, and that is a literacy skill that young students need to learn, practice and be assessed on. Complex skills of today are those such as persuading, explaining, negotiating, gaining trust, and building understanding. Although foundational skills (reading, writing, mathematics, history, language) remain essential, a more complex set of competencies are required today.

The mantra of today’s primary classroom is still the literacy rich environment; moreover, students are learning and practicing literacy skills, everyday. But, there is a New Literacy, one coined by the National Council of Teachers of English within the past 2 years.

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to:

And as I think of my evolving classroom over the past 3 decades, these are the changing paradigm pieces. These are not skills that were explicitly taught or even acknowledged, as content drove my planning. This is today’s content. The stuff of life, student interest, community causes/problems, 21st Century Skills (such as: resiliency, problem solving, financial literacy, global awareness, systems thinking, health and wellness, and civic responsibility) along with an environment (rich with a culture of creativity, communication, critical thinking and communication). These are the tools in which we use to reach students’ new literacy needs. This moves me past the folders that I used for decades. There is no way that I can prepare my students without making shifts in my classroom environment and teaching craft.  Rather than just learning to read, 21st century literacy is about reading to learn and developing the capacity and motivation to identify, understand, interpret, create and communicate knowledge. Only a few countries promote such a broad concept of literacy in their instructional practices and assessments, but more will surely follow.

One’s next concern could be accountability. How are these kids accountable and for and to what? Of course in the apron of every great teacher is the test, the quiz, the grades, the reporting. Assessment is not going away in the primary classroom. It is the vehicle that guides community decisions, teacher moves and student goal setting.

—I am used to the assessment being written for me, by a publisher or some grand teacher in district offices; furthermore, I am not trained to be writing assessments!-

evanWell, er, I must admit, that was my song a few years ago. Now I have a new found love of figuring out the best assessment for MY group of students. Assessment is a body of evidence, a collection of observations (pictures, notes, videos) and products from students. This collection is accessible to the student and parents, connected to solid goals and objectives for next steps. Even at the young age of 7, students need to learn how to work toward a personal goal, find information and communicate their thinking and their success. Do some kids struggle with the self monitoring demands of a performance assessment? Of course, and that is when the teacher swoops in to assist, problem solve and support. Through the performance assessment, higher level skills (as mentioned above) are assessed and reached.

In closing, I shall ask myself some questions about primary classrooms and today.

Do students need to practice the skills of reading, writing and math? YES

Do some students need remedial instruction? YES

Do students need to have opportunities to communicate and demonstrate their skills as they increase? YES

Do students need to create products that are dictated by the teacher as a recipe? NO

Do students need to work within an environment of collaboration and civic learning? YES

Do students need to be taught technology applications and programs in isolation? NO

Do students need hands on technology devices in their classrooms? YES

Do students need access to technology as a tool anytime? YES

Do the ‘New Literacy’ components, mentioned above, need to be explicitly taught and modeled? YES

Does literacy instruction look like it looked 10 years ago? NO

Do students need to learn how to critique, recieve and give feedback? YES

Is the teacher’s ‘grade’ and opinion all that matters? NO

Is assessment authentic and contained in a body of evidence? YES

In closing, I would like to express my sincere learner mentality as I continue to find articles and conversations that push my thinking in this fast changing world of education. Hold on tight, this ride is accelerating, and if you can consider the gains and new horizons, it will be worth the ride.

Schools and classrooms must be transformed from being storehouses of knowledge to being more like portable tents providing a shelter and a gathering place for students as they go out to explore, to question, to experiment, to discover!

My Students Don’t Want to Make All the Time And I Am Okay With That

Thank you, Pernille Ripp, blogger for giving me a spark today.

My Students Don’t Want to Make All the Time And I Am Okay With That.

SO….finally after a seven month absence–I guess this is not a blog anymore; however, in the spirit of “let’s be resilient” I must give it another go. For an article has inspired me to blog with some of my thinking in regard to this 21st Century teaching effort and journey that I have been riding for a couple years. To catch some up, I am in my second year of piloting a classroom which was designed to meet the needs of today’s young learners. Funded by the Morgridge Family Foundation, this project has grown into a lab of sorts as I have tried many things, some bang on and some not so much.

I can report with a great deal of fervor, that this creation has it’s share of very successful findings, some of which are (no concrete nationally normed data; however, my honest collection):

  • Student ownership of the room is very exciting. Not having assigned desks with name labels has enhanced the feeling of “this is our room”. Students tend to get into habits, sitting by the same peers; however, when reminded to branch out and try new places, they eagerly discover the gains of an open space.
  • Reading gains have been interesting as students are reading above grade level, without the everyday routine of “balanced literacy” rituals such as guided reading and shared reading. Students’ motivation to read media and find information has resulted in readers who are fluent (very high word per minute rates), and articulate about thinking about information they digest. My reading role has been a coaching model as they search, find and make meaning.
  • A gaming culture has exploded in the classroom as students would much rather show thinking through a Minecraft avenue as opposed to more traditional whole class projects. The absolute thrill of introducing Minecraft has demanded careful organization, trial and error.
  • The concept of Quality Product continues to be a bloodstream of my work as students’ weekly goal is to work toward a quality, thinking piece to share with peers and others on Fridays. These Fridays can be long and the audience often needs a break; however, showing creations to others has enforced accountability and motivation. Peer assessment and self assessment has become a norm as well.
  • Carefully positioned assignments with limited bounds have resulted in personalized Project Based Assessment opportunities. Students show thinking as they wish and this encourages risk taking which was more difficult to inspire last year.

Along with the celebrations of this Primary Innovation Studio model, there are still areas of challenge that persist to nag me along the way. Some of them include:

  • Lack of motivation to physically write. Students want to type and show their thinking digitally and it is so much more natural for my students. Students seem to lose stamina as the continue to write with pencil and paper.
  • Some students just don’t want to MAKE. Hence my intrigue with the article highlighted in this blogpost. It really depends on the group of students. Last year, although challenged with more behavior issues, the students were crazed makers. They could not get enough of the Maker’s Space and Legos. This year’s group is much more game oriented, and like to show their thinking with Minecraft. I am inspired by Pernille Rip, as she asserts the mantra of teaching the kids we HAVE in our classes, not the kids we think we should have in this new era.

In closing, must include my shout out for Twitter. It is MY professional development as it is completely differentiated, personalized and relevant. Thanks colleagues everywhere!

Blazing Trails: An Analogy for a 21st Century Primary Classroom

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 7.24.55 AMWhen I am wrestling with an idea or concept, coming up with an analogy seems to help me understand and move forward. As many of you know, the continuing contemplation for me over the past 2 years has been creating and reflecting upon what I imagine as a modern, flexible and innovative learning environment for 7 year olds. Countless hours have been spent, alone and with others–thinking: making charts of then and now, picking apart those “wow” times, and replaying the reflect-redo button over and over again.

Yesterday, an analogy came to me. One that will stick and guide me through my practice this year–I just know when a WOW idea hits, it is adrenaline. It’s like when Elvis died, I won’t forget where I was….okay, if you want to know, it was standing in line at the Starbucks on Parker Road.

Maps. Yes, that is it. (NOT to be confused with the assessment, please.)

Creating the 21st Century Classroom which is best for the learner of today and the FUTURE world contributor of tomorrow is like a map with many trails.

Here goes, A story:

When I want to explore the beautiful state of Colorado, I usually have a goal in mind, a mountaintop, a breathtaking waterfall, or just the hope of exhilaration. I have resources here at home–books, internet–some trails look very difficult: some easy, some winding and some a straight shot. Others will not choose the same trail that I do, and it is great that I can find what works for me. I sometimes talk to my friends and family about the trails that they have chosen. I will refer to my map during my journey, that guide with directive purpose which will help me get there. When I begin my journey, I will stop every now and then and look at the mile markers, to see how I am doing, check my watch and have water and a snack. I might go faster than my group, but that is okay. Some days, I might go slower than others. Sometimes I will walk alone.  There might be days that I take the wrong trail. Most importantly, I can do all of this because I have had to learn how to read a map, and I have had to practice before I going out alone. Because of practice and reflection, I am good at it now, and I wonder if I could blaze my own trail someday!

So, most likely, my AMAZING reader, you have figured out the analogy. Primary students are learning about maps. The “map” is that illusive and yummy world of choice and personalized learning. However, young students (little kids) will walk around in circles unless someone (coach/mentor/teacher) helps them learn how to read the map and how to stop and assess their way at the mile-markers, not a dictator who makes everyone take the same trail.

Many primary teachers use the phrase, “It is like herding cats!!!”  Yes, this is true, and the cats will go nowhere until they are given the necessary tools to be the future inventors, collaborators, creatives, and givers of tomorrow. Primary teachers know this, we are the gentle tour guides.

As a teacher and after many journeys and experiences–using great maps, it is my goal to create curious humans who, someday, will blaze the trails and make new maps.  

Some Nuts and Bolts as I start a new year in the Primary Innovation Studio these days:

  • Students are having multiple opportunities to work in small groups. This is a challenge for for 7 year olds as developmentally they are just coming out of the egocentric phase of development and are seeing themselves as a part of a group instead of the “only” one. Tools are taught in a “fishbowl” format for common challenges such as the need for a plan, the art of listening, and the art of getting the whole group to focus on the task at hand. Detailing these challenges helps kids as they practice. This is hard work for everyone.
  • The circle is the heart of the space as we gather frequently to discuss discoveries, the great stuff and the challenges. When I see brilliant moments, I pop on my stage and direct all eyes to those “moments.” Young kids need to see what inquiry and showing learning in unique ways looks like. Naturally 7 year olds are herd-ish and when they see great stuff, they want to try.
  • Let them play. During the first days, this is when I see what my students are all about—and the whole year for that matter. This is when I see what “maps” might help them on their learning journey; moreover, this is when I see them.  If I am telling them what to do every second of the day, they are being me, not themselves. Last week, I found myself just sitting and marveling at their personalities and reflecting upon where to go next for big chunks of time. Offer multiple opportunities, and let them go. This is so hard to do as it feels very out of control. I promise, it is a gold mine.

For next week, I have some ideas:

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  • Curriculum  “front-loaded” to kids. I use a picture of a bulldozer and “dump” vocabulary and ideas on the kids, usually through a google document. This is when they can shovel up what resonates as they explore content in their own ways. Some need very little guidance, and some need scaffolded support. Videos will be made with information sharing apps such as Educreations and Doodlecastpro that show certain concepts. These will be available for kids and will be something they are asked to access during the “workshop/play” times.
  • More challenging collaborative experiences will be introduced as students are pushed to work together. Stop–reflect–discuss–try again. More hard work!
  • Kids will continue to have multiple play opportunities. They have learned the “map” of the classroom, and will be able to access it freely as I play with them and marvel at their uniqueness. I will be determining next steps and designing new maps.
  • The circle will continue to be the heart of what we do. We’ll meet there and discuss what is working and what is not. Kids will be taught the magic of making “plans.” That means sitting down and determining norms for certain classroom opportunities–taking turns, etc. For example: “Sally, I want a turn to stand on the stage and read the poem!” “Okay, Luke, let’s sit down and make a plan so we can both have a turn!”  Model this good stuff!
  • Invitation Boxes will be introduced. Look forward to details about this one in my NEXT blog posting.

So, as you are starting your year in the hope of busting down the walls of teacher boss, remember that when they are young, we still have to guide them and teach them how to read maps. They will find the trails that fit their journeys and you will too.