Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Classroom Reveal (2015-2016)

Well, here we are over eight weeks into school, and I have yet to do my classroom reveal post. As I reflect about the craziness that has occurred during these past two months, I realize that it is okay. My classroom is finally starting to come together, and there are less empty spaces on the walls. This was a major feat that has been quite the challenge this school year. While I received the keys to my classroom relatively early in the summer, most of my furniture and essential pieces to my classroom did not arrive until right before (or after) school started. It made organizing and decorating that much more of a challenge.

If you have been following my teaching journey, you would know that I switched schools/districts and grade levels this school year. After a long debate, I decided to take a teaching position closer to home. This decision is something that was not taken lightly, but I am elated that I did decide to make the switch. While this process could be a bit nerve-wracking, I returned to the school that I student taught at, and it has felt more like coming back home than a new school. One of my mentor teachers is on campus (the other retired) and so many familiar faces are in the classrooms surrounding mine. It really has been a wonderful homecoming. Best yet? The students I am working with are those that I worked with as a student teacher and/or long-term substitute. This move was really about coming full circle. It is extraordinary.

Back to my classroom process. I received my classroom keys on June 29th. This is extremely early, which made me extremely excited to get planning; however, just as I received my keys, I quickly realized that much of the furniture and major components were not in my classroom. While I could start coming up with lists about basic plans, much of the actual creating could not be finalized until furniture, technology, and classroom numbers were set.

Despite my disaster of a bun and lack of makeup, I had to take an obligatory selfie upon receiving my keys. I was excited to enter my room (which was the former library) and see the blank canvas I was working with. Ironically, I was working in room 17 yet again which seems to be my lucky number--my first classroom, my wedding anniversary, and now this classroom.

My nearly empty, blank slate. Despite the bare walls, I knew the classroom had a lot of potential. When I walked into my new room, I was overwhelmed. For the second straight year, I was starting with essentially nothing. No goodies to dig through or sort. Just bare walls, no furniture, and lots of possibilities. It is safe to say that I started with nothing and have made my classroom my own.
Lots of space. As you can see, there was one bookshelf, one technology table, the student desks, two trash cans, and the cabinets in my room. While there were promises about technology, a smart board, and other pieces of furniture, there was nothing placed in my room for the entire month of July. The furniture I brought into the room was mine, and many of the details and things on the walls could not be placed until whiteboards and smart board were mounted on the walls. The organizer in me was panicking, but now that my room is nearly together, it was all worth it.

As I started to work on my classroom, I was fortunate to have such a supportive family. Not only did my dad help me set up my first classroom (including supplying me with this desk), he helped me relocate it to my new classroom. Aren't dedicated family members a blessing? I know that I wouldn't have gotten my room set up in time if not for family support!

After getting my desk in my room, it finally started to feel like my classroom.

Now, if you look closely on the walls, you can see a whole bunch of holes. Do you see them? These holes were something that drove me crazy. If you are anything like me, I like to have my room look put together, clean, and welcoming. These holes were NOT part of this image. My classroom was the former library. Only days before I received my keys, there were bookshelves mounted everywhere--hence the holes. I knew that my furniture placement needed to be creative, or maybe I would have to find creative artwork.

On the counter, there are several boxes. This, my friends, is something that made me squeal out loud (see the next picture).

Those boxes were my new Promethean board! This beauty was fresh-out-of-the-box and all mine. Best yet, it got mounted on the wall fairly quickly. 
Following all the excitement of my new Promethean Board, I was inspired to get work done in my classroom. I was thankful that I had bulletin board surface on a lot of walls. 
Can you sense the pure exhaustion on my face? If you have never put fabric on bulletin boards by yourself, it is a lot of work. I applaud all you teachers that change the backgrounds of your bulletin boards. I really do not know how you do it. Really, I want to know your secrets. These boards will stay up here all year. I cannot begin to even think about changing them. My arms and back just ache thinking about that process again. 
All that work and my room still looked empty. Do you notice all the empty wall space and the lack of furniture? These will not arrive until right before and during the first month of school. Has anyone else had that happen? I was in full teacher panic. This was AUGUST and my room still looked like a blank slate. 

My amazing husband hard at work again!

This is my husband. I would like to have a quick moment of praise for those wonderful teacher husbands (and wives) out there. Really, they are the best!!! I do not know how they put up with all the teacher craziness, but I can personally say that my husband is amazing. Not only does he not mind coming into my room in the summer, late at night, on the weekends, or right before the bell rings because I forgot something, but he jumps in and helps. He has a great attitude, helps me plan, and is just a rockstar. What would we do without those people that help support us?

Not only did this wonderful man help me nearly every day I was in my room, but the night before Back to School Night he was in my room (until later than I'd like to admit). He was helping me put the finishing touches up on my fall (at least as best as we could at that point). If you have someone that influential to your teaching success, please let them know. I know I don't say it enough, but thank you, Christopher. You are my support, and I am so very thankful.
(Not to forget my parents--they are AMAZING and a huge reason why I be successful and happy in this field! Thanks Mom and Dad!!!!)

Back to School Night

This is what my room looked like right before my first official event at my new school. Do you notice what is missing? Yep--I had no white boards. They were on order, and I was still not certain their dimensions. This resulted in an empty wall. This was really my nightmare. I wanted my room to be finished, yet an entire wall was virtually untouched. I kept looking at all those amazing classroom reveals, and honestly there were tears of panic. Here I was minutes before parents flooding my room for the first time and I really could not finish this wall. There was this blank wall at the front of my room. 
10 minutes until the start of Back to School Night. I push-pinned a few posters, my rules, and crossed my fingers that no one would notice my empty wall. I comically placed a piece of paper with a "whiteboards downloading" sign. I got quite a few chuckles with that one.
The great news is that my parents commented about the effort I put into making my room a welcoming space. There was not much time to focus on my blank wall. I was also happy to make use of my pen holder that I made with my students last year.

The non-empty walls.
I used Google Forms to collect more parent information during my presentation. I am thinking that I might use Kahoot for an interactive component next year! 

I adore this poem that I picked up here. It matches my space theme that I like to play up A LOT due to my last name (DeMARS).

My teacher desk. It seems huge, but I rarely sit here alone during the day. Students use this space for conferencing, it is an area for materials storage (I do not have much storage), and our student-run classroom store is housed here every day. 
One of my favorite features of my room are the lovely banners made by dear friend, Sarah, from Tales of Teaching with Tech. She made this special banner for me that matches the lovely ones you can see throughout my room here. They come in many colors, are bright, and easy to read. Seriously, go pick them up!

This year I tried to add a few personal touches that make me smile. Our classrooms are like our second home, right? I added the photos from the 2015 Vegas Meet UP with my favorite ladies. These pictures always bring a smile to my face. I love that we were able to spend so much time together. The best part is that we are working to really tackle this teaching adventure together, and this picture works as an anchor to remind me of that. Teachers need to stick together. 

More details. They really do make all the difference!

Seriously, what teacher cannot use a little more help. Nearly a month into school I still had not stamped and organized my classroom library. Two of my wonderful students stayed after school for many hours. They organized, labeled, and entered all our books into our digital library. Priceless, right?!

After hours of work, several dum-dums paid out, and lots of laughs, the library was finally ready for my students.

The Final Major Puzzle Piece 
(though my husband would disagree that this was the last...)
I literally started jumping up and down when I realized that my whiteboards finally arrived. September 24th, a day I will continue to celebrate. The amazing maintenance staff came in and quickly started mounting the boards. This made my teacher heart sing. As they quickly worked to get the boards mounted while students poured in (the day was just starting), my students started cheering. I think they were almost as excited as I was.
While my students got started on their bell work, I instantly started working on setting up our boards. Things were stapled around the board, washi tape placed, our schedule written down. Honestly, it was up in less than 10 minutes. I cannot believe how quickly it went up. Is there a project you complete that just flew by because you were so excited? My students were impressed, and I was elated to have this large piece of my room finally completed.
This is closer to what my room looks now. We use the front bulletin boards to celebrate our art, student progress, and other feature events/activities at school.
Another look at our classroom door & more fabulous banners by Sarah!
We even decorate and focus on seasonal changes.
Our classroom information station.
Our classroom Twitter wall. We tweeted about our experience with hands-on coding with Dot & Dash (read about that here)
I use brochures and pamphlets to help students synthesize learning throughout the year. They love to display their learning in our brochure holders.

Our more organized classroom library. We have been collecting more books through our Scholastic points. Do you have suggestions on how to gain more points every month? I'm all ears!

This would be our "final large project" according to my husband. We have a classroom pet. His name is Prism, and he is a veiled chameleon. 
My favorite wall in the classroom, our iPad cart, and our "Did you Know?" board. 

Our focus and goal boards.

Our interactive math bulletin board. If you have not checked out Jameson's (Lessons with Coffee) interactive math boards, go check them out now. I have purchased ALL of them. I adore them. My kids love them. It is worth it. They gravitate this boggle wall during 'free time' and they are quick to remind me if they need more forms. I started changing our board and they begged for another week with math boggle, and of course they obliged.

Well, thank you for touring my classroom. I am thrilled that it looks more complete and is closer to the image that I had in my head so many months ago. As the school year continues, I know that it will continue to evolve and change, but for now it definitely feels like home. How do you make your classroom feel like home? What is your favorite element of your classroom?

Happy Learning! Stay tuned for a post about pets in the classroom!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Parent Teacher Conferences

As the school year jumps into full swing, parent-teacher conferences are on the mind of many teachers. I know that for me, as a fairly new teacher, they can be overwhelming and lead to many sleepless nights. Sarah at Tales of Teaching with Tech, Erin from Very Perry Classroom, Brianne at Hooo-Ray for Teaching, and myself wanted to chat about how we format parent-teacher conferences. We discussed scheduling, how student-led conferences are run (in my classroom), handling the "hard stuff", resources we give parents, making language a non-barrier, how to handle no-shows, and our absolute MUSTS of parent-teacher conferences.

My absolute must for conferences is: Get your students involved. Have them show off work, encourage them to reflect, and most of all listen to them too! This is a time to allow them to see that we are all a team to serve their learning. I always like to tell my students that, "conferences are just a team meeting to see how we can best support you."

My kiddos know how much I LOVE teams! (It is a running joke that I am on EVERYONE's team because of all my educational company t-shirts)

Happy Learning Everyone!

Join Us for Our Next Blab Show: 

Teacher Meetings with the CA Fab4 (on blab.im)

Mondays at 5-6 PM PST

Next Topic: Celebrations & Holidays in the Classroom

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coding in the Classroom: Dash & Dot

What is Coding?

Simply put, coding is the language and process that allows us to create computer software, apps, and websites. It is through computer coding that we can control electronic devices and use them as resources to entertain, learn, and perform tasks. While the concept of coding can be complex, the foundation can be learned through basic if ______ then _______ statements. These concepts can by easily obtainable by students if presented in a manner that allows students to explore and progress at their own level. 

What are Dot & Dash?

Dot & Dash are two robots that are designed for students. They allow students to obtain and grasp concepts of actual computer coding in a language that makes sense to children. As their makers Wonder Workshop promote, this is "coding in kid speak." As the box label states, anyone from 5 to infinity can enjoy interacting with bots. I have witnessed both teachers (at a previously attended training) and my own students enjoy learning through the process of 'playing' with Dot & Dash.

Our First Adventure with Dash & Dot:

Please Note: this is not a promotional post. We borrowed Dash & Dot sets from our regional county office. We hope to borrow them or acquire some of our own soon.

Day #1: The first-day students spent forty minutes exploring the block-based programming language that controlled Dash. Students worked in pairs or groups of three in order to create at minimum four basic shapes: square, rectangle, triangle, hexagon. During their exploration, students realized that there was a relationship between the angle measurement and the number of sides of the polygon. Students learned that variables (such as debris on the carpet, chairs/desks, etc.) changed the output of Dash's motion. They explored changes to both speed, time traveled (seconds), which ultimately resulted in conversations about velocity and distance. As I observed, I realized that many of these concepts would have been out of reach for most students, but the tangible resource (Dash) facilitated higher-level thinking and conversations. These conversations were among students, and so much more effective than teacher-led learning. 

Day #1 (continued): Best of all, this allowed students to see the immediate results of their coding. While my classroom has focused on computer coding concepts in my classroom, participated in technology challenges, and use iPads in our classroom on a daily basis, often technology is isolated from the physical world. Students were able to see direct results from the code they developed. If they mistyped, they saw the results of this error. If the velocity was too great, they watched Dash run into the table and crash. Throughout this whole project, students rarely stayed in one place. They kept moving. Students held their iPads at precarious angles, they looked from different perspectives. They were on the floor, peering over a desk, getting at eye-level with Dash. They were permitted to move and gain perspective in any way, which allowed them to learn so much more about the code the developed than their previous experiences.

Day #2: Following the first day, students spent 10 minutes reflecting with their group about their previous day's challenges. They talked about the strategies that worked, about their group cooperation (and their interpersonal struggles), and their plan of attack. Their first task was to build an obstacle course. They were instructed to have a clear starting point, five different turns (of varying angles), and a landing point that was at least as big as Dash. After courses were set, they worked together to complete their course.

Day #4: Following the opportunity to create courses, they were asked to complete another team's course. On this day, their task required that they use both Dash & Dot to complete the course. Through this, they learned that there are many ways the robots can interact with each other. They had fun trying new ideas and liked to see how many times they could have them interact and still complete the course. During this process, students learned how to work in collaborative groups, express their own understanding, and persevere through challenges.

Day #4 (continued): Even groups that struggled with the beginning of the challenge ended the week with smiles and positive interactions. At the end of our four-day experience with Dot & Dash students were fully engrossed in the learning process. Not one student wanted to leave to use the restroom, get a drink, or needed to be reminded to focus--they just were. Even after four straight days of 'playing' with our new friends, they were discovering new interactions, trying ideas, and giggling about making mistakes. Sometimes making mistakes was even better than completing the task, and that was okay. Learning requires mistakes, and the use of Dot & Dash allowed students to recognize mistakes and actually learn through them. In fact, they wanted to make mistakes so they could improve their design, and in reality the mistakes became  more valuable than the successes. Those errors were the launching point for our conversations and pushed students to be creative with their thinking and really analyze their code, put their mathematical reasoning in practice, and really think outside the box. It fueled their creativity. 

Why should I include coding into my curriculum?

Coding is an integrated subject. Through my experience in the classroom, I have learned that the use of technology and various platforms for coding allow students to have deeper conversations about concepts ranging from mathematics, science and English language arts to space exploration, the elements of art, and so much more. Coding encourages the interdisciplinary approach to learning and allows for natural differentiation among students. It captures the reluctant learners, the GATE students, and most importantly fuels the natural curiosity of students. It inspires them to learn and improve.

What is the Hour of Code?

While barriers of cost and access to items like Dash & Dot might be a factor limiting coding education in the classroom, there are many ways to embed coding and logic education into the classroom. The Hour of Code is a week-long event happening in December (7th-13th) that promotes coding in the classroom. There are even lessons that do not include technology at all! This is an event that may serve as a launch or spark for computer coding in your classroom or school site, or serve as an additional tool to inspire students to go further their learning. I personally have participated with this event in my classroom for the past two years, and I plan on participating again. If you have any questions about how to get started, please do not hesitate. I want coding in the classroom to catch fire in classrooms around the globe. It is so critical for our students and offers so much.

How Do I Integrate Dot & Dash Into My Curriculum?

The possibilities are truly endless. There are obvious connections in mathematics and science; however, following this experience my students and I immediately started brainstorming more ideas. Currently, my students are writing persuasive essays to convince me to bring them into our classroom again. So far they have found ways to integrate them into ELA, social studies, P.E. and art. When driven to find connections, students are very creative. One of the best features of Dash & Dot (over other robotic devices) are that they are designed to be educational tools. The Wonder Workshop has resources that include lesson plans, ideas for use in the classroom, and also partners with Donors Choose to get these devices into the classroom.

I hope to hear how you use or are going to start using computer coding in the classroom! I love to hear about other ideas, so please share if you try using Dot & Dash (or anything else!). Don't forget to sign up for the Hour of Code.

As always, Happy Learning!!!