Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Team teaching

Today Kirsty and I had our first crack at a new team teaching approach. Our classes already interchange daily for maths and, although the two classes exchange students to cater for different abilities, they are planned and taught quite separately. Today we took it a step further. In order to maximise our shared spaces, equipment and teaching strengths, we combined our classes and took a more collaborative approach to planning and teaching our measurement lesson.

Together, Kirsty and I decided on our goals, the timeframe and our roles for the lesson. We devised some independent measurement investigations for the kids and collected the equipment we needed - rulers, scales, ipads, Numicon equipment, text books, worksheets, whiteboards and maths books. We also planned our own group lessons. At the beginning of the session we explained the format of the lesson, their instructions for the set investigations, expectations for self-management, work standards, and the equipment available to them.

The children were invited to work wherever and with whomever they liked. They were able to work at either end of our double classroom, at desks and low tables, on cushions or the couch, on the floor or outside. So they gathered up their equipment and off they went to measure their little hearts out.
We had 100% of both classes on-task and engaged for the whole hour and a half. They loved it!

Learning about perimeter and area using Numicon

They had to take a selfie with their creation

Kirsty and I took turns at teaching specific skills to focus groups. While she worked with a group of students with particular needs, I roamed around the rest of them guiding and teaching wherever it was required. Then we swapped - I worked with a group while she took on the roaming teacher role.

At the end of the session, we regrouped, shared our learning and evaluated the lesson as a class. The kids enjoyed it. They loved the freedom, the challenge and the ability to work with whoever they liked. They also enjoyed having a teacher free to help them when needed. Around 70% of them said they worked with a teacher at some point, so we'll be aiming for a better hit rate next time. It was a complete success, however. The kids got some real quality learning time with easier access to a teacher at all times, and each teacher's strengths were more fully utilised than they might otherwise be.

Probably a bit much for daily use until we streamline a few things but definitely a great option for future Wednesdays! :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Action time!

After 2 weeks holiday, and with the previous terms planning phase complete, we were all ready to start taking some action. A lot of anticipation had built up and the class were bursting at the seams to get started.
The first port of call was the parents. We had a Dad kindly come in and saw the metal legs off 2 of our tables, as per the kids' requirements.

The goal was to create some lower learning areas so the kids could kneel around them or sit on cushions while they work. Here's what they looked like when they were done:

We had some parents doing refurbishments at home, who kindly donated a big square of carpet (to cover our tired old mat space) and some large pieces of plywood which we used to create some quiet, distraction-free individual spaces. And (ironically) we found a reason to dig out a couple of old-school desks. Turns out there was still a use for them!

We took every item of furniture out of the room and our school caretaker kindly disappeared all of the unwanted stuff for us (like 75% of our desks). Then we put it all back in again according to our plan. It took some reshuffling as our design wasn't quite to scale, but this all went fairly smoothly.

(At this point I'm kicking myself for not taking any 'before' photos. Grrr!)

Anyway, here are the 'after' photos:

No desks!
The kids loved it! Not only were they enthusiastic about coming to school and learning in their brand new environment, but their behaviour immediately changed. They remember to pick up their rubbish, move safely inside, put away their books and games.... They are proud of their classroom and don't want to mess it up!

Happy kids. Happy teacher. :)

Next steps: Using the environment, reviewing and adapting it as we go, and working on the finishing touches - Painting, art work, finer details.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Buy in!

Today we started the overall design for our new classroom. Referring to our previous brainstorms and lists about what we want to keep/change/develop in our environment, the class gathered around in a circle as I led the discussion. I drew the floor plan while I talked, gesticulating enthusiastically, getting up to pace out measurements, asking questions and generating discussion like a good teacher should, vaguely aware, and (shamefully) not really caring, that I was completely dominating the whole thing.

When one, particularly confident, child got up to demonstrate his opinion on my plan, the class shuffled in a little to see. He enthusiastically showed us his way of shifting our mat space so that the sun wouldn't shine in their eyes in the mornings. The class shuffled in a little more as he got more excited and started to share more ideas, this time about independent learning areas, asking questions of the class and pacing around, gesticulating as I had been. The rest of the class responded and, somewhat bemused, I was gradually squeezed out of the group to become a happy observer. It was great to watch!

After a few minutes the class noticed someone was missing and all just stopped. They looked at me for a moment while I just smiled back. My replacement said: "Oh my god, I totally just took over what you were doing. Sorry!" The class giggled as he threw my pen back to me. I wouldn't hear of it, of course, and passed it straight back.

Kids taking charge of their own learning.

I knew I already had the buy in. Today was the evidence.

Here's our final plan:

Getting started...

Now that the kids have had some exposure to the whole MLE scene, it's time to get them involved in planning and discussing their own learning environment. So we started today.

It all stems from our school vision: "To be a quality learning environment, nurturing the values of C.A.R.E. (Citizenship, Achievement, Responsibility, Effort)" We talked a lot about what that meant and why it's important that we keep this as our focal point. It immediately filtered out some of their more radical ideas. Spa pool seats and trampoline floors were happily kicked to the kerb.
Pity. I was pretty much sold on the spa seating idea.

Then I showed them some images from classrooms of the 70s and 80s and they were horrified at the dullness and uniformity of it all. We discussed what we liked (not much) and what we didn't like about these classrooms. On top of that, I threw in a few juicy anecdotes from my own schooling - Things like rote learning, conformity, sexism, racism and the dreaded strap for minor misdemeanors. Again, they were shocked and beginning to recognise that education changes and evolves with time, knowledge and technology. Hopefully this will spark up some dinner table conversations at home about what quality learning may or may not look like.

At this point, while conducting my own meandering research, I came across this article and shared it with the class: It raised a few eyebrows.

With the focus firmly on quality learning, they arranged themselves into groups of three. I posed the question: 'What kinds of spaces do we learn best in?' Not really ideal grammar, but it got them started. Here's what they came up with...

From here, we discussed the kinds of furniture and classroom features we would need to create these spaces. Keeping the third, a third, a third rule in mind, the children redesigned their classroom individually. They took some time to consider the spaces needed and came up with much more realistic ideas than previously.
We were already catering for some of these in our present classroom, so next we identified what we wanted to keep and what needed to change....

To support the class through this process, we discussed our hopes and fears surrounding the changes. We attached our key values to each hope or fear. The goal of this was to remove any fear and ensure we didn't lose sight of what we valued as a class. Here's what it looked like:

Then it was the holidays so we all went home for 2 weeks. :)