Category Archives: April 2011

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Classroom Spaces

If you had come into my year 5 classroom last term, for the most part you would have seen clusters of desks usually arranged in groups of four or six. So for my class of 26 that meant six different desk clusters, a couple at the front, a couple near the middle and two at the back of the room. Each student was assigned a desk and although every few weeks they moved, for the time they sat there, that desk belonged to them and so was filled with their ‘stuff’. At the back of my room are the bi-fold doors that lead into @pruthomas’s class and pretty much her room was a mirror image of mine.

If you were to come into our classrooms next week, for the start of term two, what you will find now is very different. You see we have done away with the notion of ‘owned desks’ of having ‘stuff” in an assigned space and a desk that is ‘mine’. So why have we done this and how will it work in practice?

Well, last term I attended a thought provoking day with Steve Collis, when I blogged about it before I mentioned how each of the sessions took place in different learning spaces, which challenged and engaged us as participants in this day. Among other things he talked about, was how space and technology can mediate relationships between people. This thought resonated with me and after discussing my session with the wonderful @pruthomas she mentioned that she too had been thinking about our classrooms as ‘spaces’. She was particularly taken with a virtual staffroom podcast with Melinda Alford, called ‘Design is everything’.  In which Melinda and Chris discuss the idea of a classroom space being a homely space, a space where all student feel comfortable. I also had a great Twitter discussion with several helpful New Zealand teachers who are already putting this idea into practice in their classrooms and that helped to persuade me of the merits in making this change.

So our new classroom layout contains a variety of learning spaces, groups of desks have been clustered in different areas. Some desks have been left as single workstations, others have been randomly pushed together in twos or threes. All the students ‘stuff’ has been relocated to their lockers and the edge of the classroom. Some bean bags and cushions have now found a home in one corner and a large space has been left in the centre of each room. Our intention is that the students will enter in the morning and prepare for the first lessons by finding the approriate tools and books. They will then need to make a consious effort to decide where to sit. To assist them in this we have made  the following signs.

  • Quiet please, genius at work
  • Group work station
  • Thinking space
  • Quiet please, I need to think today
  • Feel free to join us
  • Do not disturb we are concentrating
  • I need help today

How will this help our students learn? We hope that by giving them choices about where and how to best they can learn each day. Together with encouraging them to talk, think and reflect on the choices they made, that they will rise to the challenge of self-regulating their learning. Will this work without a few problems? I doubt it. Will this work for all of them, straight away? Probably not. Will some students just not get it and hide away doing nothing? I expect so. Yet I am excited about this change and can’t wait to join year 5 on their learning journey again next term.

Oh and if you have any spare beanbags or cushions please send them my way, I have the perfect space for them!

TeachMeet

Sydney TeachMeet

It’s 5.30pm  and I am in recovery mode after the first ever Sydney TeachMeet. From the moment that @2sparkley and her Newcastle colleagues walked in at 9:30am to the moment the last educator left (a teacher from Russia no less) at 3:30 pm.  I had the best day, meeting, networking, sharing ideas, learning from and talking with other great teachers.

The positives:
Meeting avatars as real people, face-to-face and being able to have a conversation in more than 140 characters.
Learning about so many new programs and apps, many I hadn’t heard of before.
Hearing what other teachers are doing in their classrooms.
Picking up little useful tips and ideas.
Finding out about training courses I could try and go on in the future.
Meeting a mix of teachers and educators from public and private schools. From those with less than a years experience to those with many years and realising that we can all learn from each other.
Listening to Adrian Bruce via Skype from slide2learn as he talked about how to encourage creativity without focussing too much on the software.
Learning about childfund and the work they are doing connecting Australian children with others in developing nations.
Eating nothing but muffins and choc chip cookies all day, as I had no time for lunch.
For me there was also the more personal things, such as creating my first ever google spreadsheet then realising that it was not enough and so creating, updating and organising my first useful wiki.
Realising that the timetable I had formulated in my head actually did work and that most people got to speak .

The negatives:
Feeling nervous at the start I spoke about myself too long and forgot to introduce anybody else (oops!)
Plus a couple of people didn’t manage to get to talk, I’m so sorry about that. I promise that next time you can be first!
The occasional disfunction of a website and a loss of sound during our skype call.
Eating nothing but muffins and choc chip cookies all day, as I had no time for lunch.
Realising I need another holiday to process all the great tipsI picked up.

So if you are reading this and thinking what  great idea it would to have such a meeting in your district, city or town. Go ahead. Set up a wiki, tweet a few neighbours and go for it. What is the worst thing that could happen? if only a few people turn up or no-one wants to come at all, well at least you tried. Because it is only be diving in and be prepared to fail can we truly learn.

Since I spent the day listening and worrying about the timetable I did not take any useful notes, so I am relying on others to keep on updating the wiki links page, so that I and others can keep on learning. See you next time!

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Rest and Relaxation

I have just returned from five days in the picturesque Hunter Valley near Sydney. During my five days I had with me my darling supportive husband. During my five days I did not have with me a computer, a phone, any children, my dog or my chickens. I also had no washing, cooking, cleaning or any other household chores to do. It was bliss. I spent a lot of time reading and breathing. I realised that there is nothing like an uninterrupted time of rest and relaxation to reinvigorate my mind and body.

This time reminded me that even though I love my job, even though I am inspired by every Tweet I read and every blog I discover, that I must sometimes take time out too. In this world of newness and learning where around every corner is a new tool to discover and a new idea to try out, it can be hard to switch off. Yet we are doing ourselves and our students a disservice, if we work ourselves to the bone without taking time out to recharge not only our bodies but our souls too. The world of education will be a poorer place if those teachers who do care enough to try and change their classrooms, do so in an unsustainable way.

So if you are currently on holidays, please take time to smell the roses. Turn off your phone. turn off your computer. The tweets can wait, the blogs will still be there and your life will be richer for it.

Now I am back and raring to go. There is school work to be done and the Sydney TeachMeet to finalise. I am invigorated and ready. I still have one more week of holidays and during that I also hope to finish my new audio book ‘Your brain at work’ by David Rock.

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Hacking the System

I was lucky enough to be allowed to go on a professional development day last week, titled ‘A Day with Steve Collis‘ and held at Northern Beaches Christian School. It was exactly as it promised a really interesting and worthwhile day with Steve, exploring ways to work smarter not harder. Steve broke the day into five chunks and in typical Steve style we also work-shopped in five different learning spaces. He titled these chunks Self, Work, People, Change and Space. I took away with me thoughts, ideas, practical tips and solutions in each of the areas. I hope to find the time to blog more about these soon. One of the idea that resonated with me was though, the idea of ‘hacking the system’.

Steve reminded us that we have to come to terms with the scarcity and preciousness of our time, energy and attention.  I know that I have had to realise that I can’t do everything. That when I try to work harder not smarter I become exhausted, grumpy and sometimes sick. I know that I cannot conjure more time in my day and that time out for me is just as important as time in. I know I need to hack the system. Steve gave us these tips.

  • Get someone else to do it.
  • Automate it.
  • Pay someone else to do it.
  • Make it redundant.
  • Don’t do it.
  • Do it in such as way as to ensure that you don’t have to do it again for a long time.
  • Clear everything and do it in a big concentrated block.

Now as a full time teacher it is impossible for me to ‘pay someone else’ to work for me or even ‘get someone else to do it’, on a daily basis in my classroom. Except that I have a student teacher every year. I see that as a way to give back, however it can also be a chance to catch up on marking and paperwork.  As a teacher who is also a learner though, I realised that I am already hacking the system to work smarter in many ways. So to Steve’s list I would like to add the following.

  • Listen to podcasts while walking, driving or exercising.
  • Have Ted talks running in the background while marking work that doesn’t require too much thinking.
  • Check your Twitter feed while waiting to collect children from sport, or school or pretty much anytime you have a few minutes spare.
  • Let your famiy think you are being kind allowing them to watch the sport and spend the evening catching up on your RSS feeds from the sofa.
  • Spend the time now to create IWB files or podcasts or videos that you can re-use next year.
  • Teach your class how to become experts in some software and then allow them to be the teachers.
  • Encourage your students to think for themselves, refuse to answer every little query,
  • Put the questions back onto them and teach them to ask a friend first.
  • Get your life organised, free up time and become more creative.

    I am sure there are many more ways to hack the system. What are you doing to keep up, to learn and to improve without working yourself to the bone? I for one also shamelessly employ a cleaner, less time cleaning means more time with my family and more time to blog.

    Finally, Steve also recommended the book ‘Getting things done’ by David Allen. I have listened to this as an audio book and can really recommend it as a guide and a system to organise by, thus freeing up your mind as well as your time.