Monday, 4 September 2017

Black and Rainbow Classroom Reveal

I'm so excited to share my classroom space for 2017/18 with you all!  Get ready for a visual journey!  (At the bottom of this post is a video version of the tour if you'd rather watch than read.)

Here is the view standing in the hallway.  The wreath by my door is made with pencils.  It was a super fun and easy craft.  I also paper crafted the welcome sign above my doorway.

I failed to take a photo of my main coat area.  There are 24 hooks in that space.  Then, I have 6 coat hooks that are off on one side.  I love that this gives me an option for students with sensory needs or allergies to keep them out of the hustle and bustle.  Each student gets a bin to keep their mitts, toque, lunch kit, etc in.  The bins above are for library books, a pencil case, and ongoing work.  As my classroom is fully flexible seating students do not have a desk space to keep their items.  The bins above serve as that space for them.  Once I have my class list, I'll label all of those items for kiddos.

You can also see my positive notes board in this image as well.  I've written all about how that works here.  All of the borders used in my classroom are from Creative Teaching Press.

I'm trying something new this year... Epic Failures.  This idea comes from A.J. Juliani and ties into Genius Hour (or Personal Inquiry as I prefer to call it).  Whenever we (students or myself) fail, it will be written on a sticky note and placed up on the board.  The thought behind it is that by celebrating failures we are normalizing it and helping to students to learn to take risks more freely.

To the left of the coat hooks shown in the image above, is our washroom.  I'm so fortunate to have a washroom right in the classroom.  It's been a game changer for sure!  Kids don't have to ask to use it, they just go.  At the beginning of the year we talk about when it's appropriate to get up and go, and when it isn't.  I love the freedom it allows us all.  No more guided lesson interruptions!

 No space is off limits for decorating.  I added this bit of vinyl to the mirror in the bathroom.

A view of my classroom standing at the coat hooks.  I've got a range of seating options including traditional desks and chairs, standing tables, kneeling spaces, crate seats, fitballs, and carpet space.

Here is another view from the sink area.  You can see my big, bright windows in this shot.  I love overlooking the playground.

Above my sink area is the Canadian flag and anthem.  We sing O Canada every morning.  This has really helped students to become more respectful and confident when singing the anthem in assemblies.  Previously, I felt students didn't know the words, didn't know how to stand, or even why we sang the anthem.

 My math items are above my two main whiteboards: a numberline to 100, six 3D shapes, and tens frames from 0-10.

Below the whiteboards are some anchor charts that are referred to frequently.  I use "Class? Yes!" from Whole Brain Teaching.  Beside that are my attentive listeners/powerful speakers and voice levels charts.  These are explicitly taught during the first few days of school.

Beside those whiteboards is my 6 Traits of Writing area.  As we learn about a trait, a new piece is placed under the appropriate category.  Over time this board becomes a large rubric for students to self assess with.  If you want to know more about how I use this board, it's all written in this post. The blank space on the left is for mini anchor charts of whatever we're learning about (figurative language, speech writing, etc.)  The "What Do Writers Write?" pencil can be found here.  You can see a bit of my Zones/self regulation pieces to the right of the board.  I add to this as the year goes on.

Another whole class view, this time from my desk space.

My class library/duotangs area.  As students don't have a desk to put everything in, duotangs are held back here.  Even if they had their own desks, I would use this strategy.  I can't stand the overflowing desk with crammed papers.  One of the many perks of flexible seating!

I have WAY more books than are out at one time in my library.  A few times through the year I change out books to keep it fresh.  I've labeled the books with an image that matches the bin they belong in.  This has almost entirely removed the issue of books being put back in the wrong location!

Finally, my Hello Kitty friends (I love her and have been gifted a few over the years.  Many are in my scrapbook room at home, but a few grace the shelf in my classroom).  They guard the fidget bin!

Watch the video tour for some additional details!


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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Even More Back to School Bulletin Boards

It's my favourite time of year again - back to school prep time!  I love love love planning and making my back to school bulletin board.  Yesterday, my teaching bestie and I went in to create our boards, and ended up creating a third for another teacher as well.  These boards were all fairly inexpensive and quick to put together, which makes them even better.

I jumped on the cactus theme this year with my board.  

The letters were printed out and hand cut.  "Sharper" was printed on Astrobrights paper and is made from the font KG Shake it Off.  The rest is KG Satisfied Script.  The flat cacti are clipart printed on 11x14" paper.  The remainder are tissue paper puffs I purchased at a local dollar store.  Add a bit of bulletin board paper, and you're done! 

Crystal made this duck out of poster board!  The highlights are are added on with oil pastel.  The "Quack Quack" letters are printed large, 1 per 8x11 page and cut out.  "Welcome Back!" is letters purchased from a teacher supply store.

Finally, we created this Lego inspired board for outside of our Applied Design and Skills Technology classroom.  The top and bottom pieces are the font Legothick printed on Astrobrights paper.  We used the same teacher supply store letters for the middle piece.  We created the man out of bulletin board paper.

If you need more inspiration, check out my previous two back to school bulletin board posts:

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

10 Must-Read Tips for Back to School Success

1) Create Bulletin Boards

I'm putting this one first because it is my favourite!  I love a good bulletin board.  Each year I search for the best possible idea, and change my mind soooo many times before I actually commit.  Check out my Pinterest board to see what's currently on my mind. 

2) Set Up Seating

This year, I'll be starting out with flexible seating.  When I began with flexible seating a year and a half ago, I created 4 posts on the topic.   I'm in a new room now, which is much more flexible.  I've been very fortunate that admin has been on board to support this venture.

In the past, before flexible seating, I've set my desks up in two's for the first week of school. I've also started in groups. 

3) Parent Letter

Draft something that lets parents know about important classroom routines and school procedures.  You might choose to also include a survey.  I've used this foldable version by Ashley Reed for a few years.  I love pairing it with Astrobrights paper.  Many parents have commented on it as well!


4) Sharpen Pencils

I'll be honest,  I do one of two things here.
1) Find a small child who is willing to work for candy or a gift card.
2) Buy pre-sharpened pencils.

You might even want to consider a pencil management system like my friend Erin, at Mrs. Beattie's classroom, uses.


5) Prep Community Building Activities

 Setting up a strong class community is crucial.  This post has several great ideas for building classroom community and links to several more!

6) Sort Supplies

This might be my second favourite part of school setup.  I love all the new supplies! With flexible seating, my students don't get supplies in the traditional way.  Meaning, I don't have desks that are vomiting out a mess of pencils and crumpled paper.  We use shared supplies.  Kids grab a bin and have access to pencil crayons, markers, scissors, and glue anywhere in the room.

7) Substitute/TTOC Binder

Prepare as much of your TTOC Binder as you can ahead of time.   There will be some info you won't know until school actually starts, but a lot of it can be prepared early.  Some of the info I have in my binder includes:
- Where to Find it (in the classroom and around the school)
- Classroom Procedures (morning meetings, inside recess, etc)
- Safety Procedures (fire drills, lockdown)

8) Emergency Procedures

From fire drills to lock downs, there are so many things to consider.  You'll want to consider all scenarios ahead of time, especially if you're in a new room.  My emergency procedures are typed up in my TTOC binder.  I have a class list on a clipboard near the door.  

I like this tutorial for simple window covers by Kindergarten Works.  My covers are on magnets, but this option would be really great for a wooden door.

9) Organize Class Library

My class library is organized mostly by genre.  Really popular series, like "Who Would Win", or "Captain Underpants" have their own bins.  The labels I created match my genre posters so students can easily compare.  Each book has a small label on it with an image that also coordinates.  Since I've started this system I have rarely had to rearrange the books.  Kids know where to put things back properly, and they do!


10) Rest and Relax!

Don't forget to take a break.  You don't want to be exhausted before school starts.  Mrs. Beers has an awesome post on the summer teacher refresh.

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sharing Personal Identity Through Plaster Masks

Giving students opportunities to share their interests, explore their identities and self-assess their personal awareness are essential parts of the new British Columbia curriculum.  We found a fun and engaging way for students to tackle these competencies this year.

Early in the year, our students worked to cover each others' faces in plaster strips.  (You can purchase this at any art store, like Michaels.)  It usually comes in large strips, so you'll need to cut them down ahead of time.  Students just wet them with water and smooth on.  Don't forget to coat the face in LOTS of Vaseline first so the mask comes off easily.  We dimmed the lights and played some soothing music.  The students were very kind and compassionate to one another.  We heard things like:

"You're doing great! We are nearly finished."
"Do you want me to cover your nose first, or your mouth first?"
"Just take deep breaths, you're doing awesome."

It was a great strengthening activity for our growing community. 


The masks sat in the cupboard, tucked away until January.  We just had too much going on to tackle this job until then.  In the end, I actually think this turned out well, because the students thought deeply for months about the pieces they were going to use to represent themselves.  Once it was "go time" they had very little trouble stating what they were going to use and why.  

As a group, we built criteria for the masks. You can see it in the image below.  If you do this task, I encourage you to build criteria with your students as well, but you're welcome to download a PDF of the criteria sheet we used.

This is my mask.  I shared it with the students as an example of meeting the design element criteria, but also as an example of justifying choices.  I wrote 5 different versions of my justification, with varying levels of description and attention to punctuation and spelling.  Students had to debate the order from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).  Once determined, these were placed on a bulletin board in the room and used as a reference/self-assessment tool for the writing piece (more on that below) that accompanied their masks.

This mask belongs to one of my students.  I love the soccer ball background and the fact that he was comfortable enough to add the flowers to honour the nickname his mother has for him.

Here are the masks all up in the hallway.  You can see in this photo the writing pieces students did to accompany their masks.  Students were to write to justify each piece placed on their mask.  They had to state how it represented their unique personal or cultural identity.  They were not able to say things like "I like to read, so I put on a book." It had to be much deeper than this and really connect to who they were. The majority of the students nailed this job!

One of my favourite pieces of writing.  This child is so insightful.  Although her mask is not as eyecatching as the designs of some others she was accurately able to justify each piece she selected and how it represents her personal and cultural identity.

Finally, students used the Positive Personal and Cultural Identity core competency to self assess.  I gave them the profiles directly off of the Ministry site.  I had a copy under the document camera and we discussed what the vocabulary meant.  I was a bit nervous that it would be too wordy for my students, but it really wasn't.  Even at grade 3 and 4 they were completely able to understand the profiles.  We shared as a class some examples of each others' work that represented the profiles.  Finally, students wrote a number in a circle at the top of their paper of the profile number where they felt their work best fit.  I was so impressed with how accurately they did this.  No one selected the top profile.  It was a very powerful little activity!

Next year, I'll be sure to do this task again.  I loved seeing the masks grace our hallway each day.  Such a wonderful way to bring us all together and understand each other a little more.

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Saturday, 8 April 2017

How to Encourage Creative and Out of the Box Thinking in Students

What Is Creative Or Out Of The Box Thinking?

Today we’re talking about creative problem solving and out of the box thinking. This means going beyond the obvious answers and coming up with something new and unique.  Creative thinking isn’t really about planning a craft project; creative thinking is about coming up with fresh ideas.
You’ve probably heard the term to think outside the box. It means that you look at a problem or a situation from a different angle. You get past the obvious answers and solutions. You go beyond and come up with something unique and different. That’s what creative thinking is all about. It’s about stepping outside the box that you usually think in. It means going outside what everyone else things you should do. It may even mean going outside your comfort zone and trying something completely different.  When students start to get creative and think way outside the box, anything you come across can serve as an inspiration to spark an interesting idea. That’s what we’re talking about here. 

Why Is Creative Thinking Important?

Creative thinking has been called a 21st century skill.  When students think creatively, they are not only generating ideas that have value to them, but they are also being prepared for life beyond the classroom.  The sooner you get them started in the right direction, the faster they will pick up these thinking skills. That, in turn, means they will reach their professional and personal goals quicker and more easily.   The B.C. Ministry of Education has recently developed a profile for Creative Thinking.  You can view it by clicking here.   I enjoy sharing this profile with students, so they can easily see ways in which they need to grow.

Teaching Your Students To Become Out Of The Box Thinkers

So, how can you teach students to think creatively? Try some of these ideas:

Creating The Right Environment & Culture

There’s a reason innovative companies like Google pay a lot of attention creating an environment and culture that promotes innovative and creative thinking. You won’t find boring cubicles or little box offices at the Google-Plex. Giving people little boxes to work in makes them think inside the box. If you want to cultivate creative and out of the box thinking, you have to create the right environment.  How this looks will be different for every teacher, the students in their room that year, school rules, etc, but it can happen.  

Flexible seating is just one way to make this work.  By allowing students to chose a spot where they feel more comfortable, creative thinking is much more likely to occur.  I've blogged about my flexible seating adventure here, and that post links to three others as well.

Allow Choice in Tasks

Criteria and rules are good and certainly necessary to a degree, but they can also be very limiting when it comes to creative thinking.  Allow students choice in their end task can lead to a lot of out of the box thinking.  Wherever possible, I allow my students to choose how they present their learning to me.  It could be an iMovie, a poster, a diorama, an essay.... as long as they can show me they've met the learning outcomes and justify their thinking, I'm happy.  Here are a few examples of a winter traditions project.  Same criteria, totally different results:

Creative thinking is all about innovation and trying something new that wasn’t tried before. Don’t make it hard on students, or make them jump through hoops before they can try something new. Yes, there needs to be some balance between rules and regulations that keep everyone safe and on task, but don’t forget to lengthen the leash as well if you’re serious about creating a climate of innovation.  Find that balance, and look for the sweet spot that keeps things in order while also fostering creative and out of the box thinking. When it doubt, ease up on the criteria a bit and see how things go. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you don’t need to run as tight a ship as you thought. 

Give Them Time To Think And Innovate

Allow students time to work on tasks that inspire them.  This time goes by many different names: Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time, Personal Inquiry... It's all the same. My students worked on their inquiry projects for about an hour a week all year long.  In the end, they presented with an oral piece, an artifact, and something written.  This student created an inspiration board and a menu for her coffee shop and gave a business pitch as well.  Very different from the student who investigated the circulatory system!  Both great inquires.

Get Playful About It

Playing is a great way to encourage creative thinking. Why not take advantage of that fact and find some ways to incorporate games, puzzles and the likes in student learning?  There’s a lot you can do regularly to encourage and promote out of the box thinking. Above all, have fun with it. A playful attitude will go a long way.  Here my students are learning about circumference and pi on Pi Day with a breakout box (some of the math was way above their grade level, but anything is possible when fun and games are involved!) 

Encourage Discussions

I find that kids aren't often given enough time to talk about their learning.  Let them brainstorm, discuss, and debate.  When one student provides an idea, it can spark many more.  Allowing students the time to talk helps them to become respectful, critical thinkers.  In this photo, my students are debating trade prices in a fur trade simulation.

Reward Creative Ideas Even When They Don’t Work Out

Some creative thoughts will work, some won’t, but you want to continue to get more creative thoughts out of your students. The best way to ensure that happens is to encourage each and every one positively.  Get in the habit of responding in a “That’s a great idea… what if…” type way. Don’t disregard anything out of hand. Instead, let them know you heard their idea and then gently lead it in a different direction.  Not only will it help keep the child who came up with the thought motivated to keep going, it may also spark a spin-off idea in someone that may end up being just what you were looking for.   Make your classroom a place where all innovation is appreciated and welcome, no matter what. It will go a long way towards building and growing this culture of innovation and creativity.  Next year, I plan to add an "Epic Failures" bulletin board to my classroom.  When kids try something that doesn't work out, it gets added to the board.  Failures can be celebrated this way.  This idea was inspired by A.J. Juliani (he has written several excellent books - I recommend you read at least one!)  I'm thinking that this will go right in the middle of the bulletin board to start us off:

Don’t Forget To Lead By Example

As the teacher, you should do what you preach and lead by example. If you want your students to take the time to think something through and come up with a better solution, make sure you schedule in those blocks of time for yourself too.  If you want kids to work together and brainstorm to spark new ideas, participate. If you want to create a brighter and more fun environment, go make some changes! Lead by example and they will follow.  Keep encouraging people to learn more and have fun. Make them think and work on showing off your own creative thinking. Give students space to think and see what they’ll come up with for you.  

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