Educators are lucky. We get to enjoy two New Years. Of course there’s the typical New Year’s Day celebrating the new calendar year, but Educators celebrate another special day; the beginning of the new school year. As pouty and sad as we may be that summer has ended, secretly we love it. What job do you know where you get to end the year, share your learning with others to grow during the summer, and then add new concepts with fresh new faces for the new year.
What I love the most is the chance to recreate a new space. We don’t get too many opportunities to redecorate a new space every year, so having to design a new classroom gives a lot of us a new spark for the year. I have been out of the classroom for five years as an instructional technology specialist, but I enjoy walking the halls and seeing what the new creative spaces teachers have been coming up with.
I have been in rooms where I have seen desks in sets of seven, tables in rooms instead of desks, and even teachers taking a chance and removing their desk from their room. All of these ideas and more center around the most important theme; the children. No matter what workshop I have heard teachers attending this summer or book that they have read, student voice has been ringing loud and clear. This extends to the way teachers set up their classrooms.
I have often stepped into teachers’ room whether they are complete or not and asked what was the purpose of their room. One teacher has his room set in groups of seven with his desk hidden in the corner. I love the fact that he says the flow of students being in groups of seven help students even get into smaller groups and he can easily float throughout the classroom and quickly do small groups or pull outs. In the same room we discussed about putting print rich material at eye level and actually having black butcher paper in the background so words and images can stand out better. It’s small but it makes a big difference, so I even placed it in my room.
Teachers taking new chances in removing their desk so they can have more space has also allowed them to move freely in the room more. When teachers tell their colleagues that they are doing this some are shocked and amazed. This isn’t a new concept but what they realize is that they are rarely at their desk and they are constantly in small groups. The expectation of administrators is that they are with children so some don’t see the point in having them. One teacher has told me that it forces her to be organized and stay on task. Really when it comes to space she just needed an area to place her belonging in a closet. With the desk removed children are able to spread their wings more in the classroom and share ideas.
There is one teacher that I follow on Twitter where he has totally transformed his room into a comic book wonderland (super jealous). He understand that how difficult it is for children to get into reading and that comics somehow have more of stronger connection with students. His room honestly looks like a Barnes and Noble for comic books.
I have seen where principals and directors change the look of their offices to make it more inviting and comfortable for anybody that wants to talk and/or have a meeting. I too have made changes in the way my room looks. As an instructional technology specialist in my district, I do not have an office; I have a classroom. I’m cool with that. Recently I decided to move in the back of the campus to utilize a big space that was often used as a place for storage or a place where students go and test. It really disturbed me that the room wasn’t used at it’s full potential. I did some major cleaning and got rid of “old technology” that simply wasn’t used anymore. The purpose of my room is that I wanted to reflect how a classroom would look. Just because I am a tech person, doesn’t mean that I just have tech stacked everywhere. I wanted to create a space that resembled going to Google, Apple, or Microsoft, or now even my favorite tool FlipGrid. It’s a place where you can relax spread your wings, make videos, collaborate, and more. The campus calls it an innovate room but I call it a flex space. When teachers want to do something big but they don’t want to move tables or change their room around, I want them to come to the room and utilize the space to their liking. I only have a small area to work but that’s ok because I am always on the go. The room is still a work in progress but I love it. When you come into any of my rooms that I have created it has a nice fragrance, I use natural light from outside, soft chairs rugs, and lamps. Let’s not forget that I have an espresso machine and soft music playing in my room and video games. The best compliment I got was from a student when he walked in the room and looked at me. He said “Is this your room?” I said of course and mentioned that he loved it because it feels just like home. Because of this concept student and teachers who come to my room are more relaxed and productive. That’s the goal.
So what is your space like? What purpose does it serve? If you are still working on it that’s ok. Remember as an educator it's a space for them not you. Make it inviting. I want to try something with you guys. I want to document your space. Share your room/office with a pic or video on twitter. It can be a final product or a work in progress. It doesn’t matter. Invite us into your space and use the hashtag #sharethierroom. I hope use this as a platform for all educators to share ideas on creating spaces throughout the year. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.
As an EdTech Leader on my campus and district I am often asked how something works, or rather how do you use a certain product. In years past I would show learners how to use the tool, but now I have stopped showing; I have started asking. I change my learners questions to this question: What is it that you are trying to accomplish? What is the goal? This in turn has my learners stopping and thinking what they are trying to do instead of getting a problem quickly fixed. Then we transition to having a mini session of them navigating through the tool as they are finishing the tasks. This means that I am not touching the product, they are and they are learning. So why am I telling you all of this?
Today I was in a session where leaders in my district wanted to know how to use two Learning Management Systems (LMS). The person leading the session asked my friend and I on using the tool. Quite frankly, I have only dabbled and played with the product. However, I decided to tell the person to change the conversation, not because I have only dabbled with it, but from what I stated above; what are you trying to accomplish? As a leader of the campus, what is your end goal? What is the technology infrastructure on your campus? What is your campus level in technology integration period? How are you going to lead and model using whatever LMS you decide to use? These are all questions that you have to ask yourself before you present an LMS to your staff. The biggest question that you also need to ask is what is the district modeling and implementing, and above all paying for.
I will say that for my district we have purchased an LMS that we have been using for a couple of years. What is coming down the pipe now is that district leaders and program directors are being trained to place their professional development courses and curriculum in this platform. I said this to principals and teachers not to scare them, but to get them to think. What is happening is that content will be trickled down from district leaders, to principals, to department heads, and given to the teachers. So eventually staff will have to learn how to access the platform and use it. Again, something for them to think about. I wasn’t trying to sway them in one direction, but I wanted to get them thinking.
The session quickly turned from a how to to a discussion. Which is what my partner and I leading the discussion wanted. There are several different EdTech tools out there that have listened and jumped on the bandwagon and started creating LMS features for their products. They are finally understanding teachers time when teaching and implementing. Like my director said some aren’t any better than the other, but as a whole they all do the same thing.
After listening to my friend and partner I do prefer one over the other, and even though I tinker with the product, it took a lot of convincing. The product helps my workflow when I blend and teach in classrooms and when I give professional development. My friend did make an excellent argument about certain LMS tools fitting a certain grade level. For example, for the younger grades using SeeSaw, for the middle grades using tools such as Google Classroom or even Classcraft, and for the higher grades tools like Canvas or Schoology.
I do agree with this 100%. What we should see is growth of implementing technology tools from each grade to the next, and from one classroom to the next; especially with LMS’s. Ideally by the time a student reaches high school they should have been exposed to at least 3 to 4 different LMS’s. Ideally the blended integration should be seamless and easy. I happen to ask a principal at another school how certain students were doing in the next grade since they were exposed to tech tools and blended instruction in the previous grade. I was told that originally it was the teacher that was going to push the students to use the tools, but the pressure was on because it was the students pushing her to do more and step out of her comfort zone; which is what you want. You don’t want to stop when kids want to push to learn more.
This prompted me to talk to my principal about joining and connecting our school with the elementary that feeds into us, the middle school that we feed into, and even the pre k. Nothing is set in stone but we want the conversations to happen and start being connected. All that being said look what has blossomed. From learning how to use 2 products, to thinking about campus and district infrastructure, to connecting schools to have a common goal for blended learning. All this from just learning how to use a Learning Management System.
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