There are so many great innovations in education and they all sound like amazing ideas that I’d love to incorporate in my classroom. The reality is that mandatory programs and lack of time are constricting. And then there is teaching very young students. I love the global connectivity of Twitter and the freedom and ingenuity of the Maker Movement, but I was worried about implementing them in an early elementary setting.
Our school theme this year is “Going Global," with each grade level taking a continent to represent their identity. We are also focused on growing productive graduates who are able to collaborate and compete globally.
Of all Tweets on Twitter, 20 percent are in education. The tie to an international network through Twitter is obvious. Using "The Best of Blogs: Teaching with Technology" as my primary resource, I set out to bring Twitter to my students.
First, I created an actual Twitter account under my school email account. Downloading a social media manager, like Hootsuite, allows me to manage my personal and school accounts at the same time. I notified parents of our account, @OurFirstGrade, and let them know students would not be allowed to log in or Tweet independently. I showed students the account, without allowing them access, and we documented some of our first learning experiences together. Online safety has been, and will continue to be, stressed throughout the year.
Then students began writing their own “Tweets” on sentence strips. Much like an exit ticket, the sentences reflect what they learned from our lesson. They are learning sentence writing and reading other’s thoughts. Our tweets are posted on an unused space: the closet doors. I intended to paint the doors with whiteboard paint, but learned that there are vinyl whiteboard rolls that can be applied like removable wallpaper. Figuring this method would be preferred by our facilities manager, I am awaiting my shipment and our closet doors will become an updateable “Twitter feed.” Some tweets will be converted to the real thing to feature on our class feed.
The Maker Movement, defined by Technopedia as, " . . . a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded, or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material, and/or product from a computer-related device," is gaining momentum in education.
The main idea is that students need time to explore and create independently or with peers in a relatively unstructured way. Older students may create electronic contraptions or grander designs, but my hope is something much simpler. I want my students to be able to explore some of our tools on their own. I want to give them free access to stamps, snap circuits, and tools. How cool would it be to let them (safely) disassemble small machines and see how they work? My students will have time, however limited, to be able to make choices and decisions and explore their interests to drive learning. I can and will figure out how and when this works with the curriculum and our jam-packed days because I feel it is so important. The problem then becomes, “Where?”
Hello closet space! I realized that many of the materials I want students to access are hidden away in cabinets and closets. With some reorganizing of storage spaces, I was able to pack my closet with frequently used center materials and many engineering, science, and building tools. I pushed my materials to the bottom back of the closet and put drawers of math manipulatives and science tools in front. The main counter space is open so students can use it as a workspace and extra materials can be set out when needed. An over-the-door organizer is currently empty, but as we learn rules and procedures, more craft and creative supplies will be made available. A small light in the closet helps make the space feel official, instead of just a broom closet. The reason I’m so excited? The beauty of reworking the closet is that I can also close the doors when we need to focus in the classroom.
While not a new idea, I love the idea of word walls and a text-rich environment. Fellow blogger Genia Connell gives steps to making a language-rich environment and Instructor magazine tells how to create "Word Walls that Work." The reality of word walls is that they are large, and can take over an entire wall space, which is rarely available. You want to be able to add words easily and have text large enough to be seen from anywhere in the room. Last year I put all my words on laminated strips with magnet backs. I used a whiteboard at the back of the room that would be otherwise unused. While easy to change, I was never able to use the whiteboard and I found that I’d really like to have access to that space. This year my word wall would have to move, but where?
I have a long wall of cabinets in my room. The upper cabinets are split by windows, but are still easy to see from anywhere in the room. I really didn’t want to have to laminate new words and we are no longer allowed to hot glue items in place. Due to moisture, I was unsure any sticky tape would work to hold words up all year.
The solution is chalkboard paint! For $10, I purchased a quart of chalkboard paint. Different tintable colors do exist, but I like the classic school black. I lightly sanded the doors and painted according to directions. The cabinets are now a smooth black and I’m excited to put them to use next week when we start adding words. Tip: I thought I’d save time not removing the doors all the way, but I spent twice as long trying to work into corners. Just go ahead and remove the doors to paint cabinets! The paint takes three days to dry before you can write on them. Plan ahead!
Putting the finishing touches on my classroom redesign did more than make my space pretty; it gave me room to expand what I’m offering my students. My room is ever-evolving, and hopefully my teaching is too. You are never granted the perfect space, but working with what you have and creating inventive solutions can help breathe new life into an old room. Embrace the old and the new with small redesigns that make a big impact on student learning.
What creative ways have you changed your space?