From Classroom to Cafe Bar – A Makerspace, Reggio Inspired Learning Space

Bauhaus book & coffee shop in Seattle, a gathering of solitudes from: iamkatia.deviantart.com

In every city or community around the world, the cafe/coffee shop is place for gathering with friends or colleagues, catching up on daily reading, playing games, engaging in the art and music culture, knitting, writing, planning, creating, organizing, designing and learning – and of course, sharing in food/drink.  Drawing from hundreds of examples of cafe community gathering hubs across our own city, Hamilton (A coffee shop for every mood) or Toronto (Top 10 Places to work or study in Toronto), or New York City (The Best Coffee Shops for getting work done), we created a classroom space with similar characteristics.

 

The coffee shop as office: Coffee shops are the unofficial offices of an army of modern workers thanks to free wi-fi, good company and caffeine on tap. But, says David Crookes, cafes have been places of business for centuries (Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/thirsty-work-the-coffee-shop-as-office-2290725.html)

At a Public School?  

Can you imagine a learning space where nature, music, art and literature are infused in the design of the STE-A-M focused room? A space that celebrates community through nutritious food prepared each day by students who gather at a cafe bar or surround a kitchen table and prompted by deep discussions of innovation and creativity? A space for people of all ages? A place where tea is served at the start and end of each day in beautiful porcelain cups – where there are no bells or specific transitions and subjects are infused through Big Ideas or Themes?

In 2016, The HWDSB Enrichment and Innovation Centre was awarded the Canadian Education Association (CEA) Ken Spencer Award (First Place) for Innovation and Creativity in Teaching and Learning.  This accolade prompted the creation of a second Enrichment Centre that was designed using the Reggio Emilia Approach and would recognize that the learning environment is fundamentally important to the program (referred to as the child’s “third teacher”)

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” (Lella Gandini,1998)

The importance of the environment lies in the belief that children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through environments which support “complex, varied, sustained, and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas.” (Cadwell, 1997). “Bringing Reggio Emilia home:An innovative approach to early childhood education.”.

 The room design is  also inspired by Seymour Papert’s  Constructionism learning theory,

(Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). http://www.papert.org/articles/Situating Constructionism.html

 

The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructional role. Teaching “at” students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way. 

 

 

The HWDSB Gifted Program partnered with a team of Undergraduate Students from McMaster University in a Design Thinking Project with the goal to create a learning space inspired by both Reggio and Papert.

“Design is the action of bringing something new and desired into existence—a proactive stance that resolves or dissolves problematic situations by design. It is a compound of routine, adaptive and design expertise brought to bear on complex dynamic situations.”
—Harold Nelson, The Design Way

Thank you to Lee Wood Company, James Street North for the donation of the beautiful, custom, hand crafted bar top.

This area will provide a wonderful opportunity for students, teachers, mentors and leaders to gather, talk, celebration and build innovative and creative ideas.

The “Bar” area replaces the teachers desk. There is enough seating for 15 students to surround the bar. The teacher or student can be in front or behind the bar area to facilitate discussion.

There is a large collection of plants, herbs and sprouts in the classroom. Growing plants in the classroom connects students to nature, to outdoors, to the world around them. Plants clean the air, teach students about sustainability and allow students to observe and document natural patterns.

Bringing Nature in the classroom: https://www.plt.org/story/bringing-nature-into-the-classroom/

American Society for Horticultural Science. (2009, September 6). Greening University Classrooms: Adding Plants Increases Student Satisfaction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163947.htm

Parents are a vital component to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Parents are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child’s first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum.

Our doors are open and community (Teachers, Parents, leaders) are welcome to join us, have a tea and use our space.

 Where there was once just a window sill, we added another bar top and stools. The natural light and city scape provides an amazing escape – a place to immerse into ART, listen to music, write poetry or simple sit and “people watch”.

Music is spread across the room. A piano, keyboard, computers for composing and of course guitars for “jamming”. Anyone can play or create ANYTIME.

We got rid of student desks. Natural collaboration spaces were created to emulate a living room. A safe place where family gathers. A place where people can be in a collective but be in their own zone – reading, drawing, knitting, planning, designing or wondering. There are enough PLUGS/OUTLETS for 20 computers in this area.

An area was created to “do”.  Students can use the Interactive Whiteboard to showcase their designs, collaborate on ideas, or mentor one another, whether it be about Coding the Robotics, Programming Arduino sets or building in Minecraft.
There is flexible seating that can be moved or changed depending on the needs of the individual. This area is for small groups to code/program and engage in DESIGN challenges. A great spot to engage in ROBOTICS!


We hope that our experiences in this learning space can serve as examples and models to others wishing to move in this direction. We believe that students can be self-directed when provided with the right learning conditions, including an environment that is natural, organic and is designed in a way that builds relationships and community.

Reggio teachers provide children different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings. The goal is for the adults and children to better understand one another “North American Reggio Emilia Alliance”. Retrieved 9 April 2013.

 

The Kitchen Table

Bring the Home into the Classroom – Literally!

cuvbcmxwiaafxweWhat is one artifact or symbol that can literally make students feel “at home” in the classroom? An artifact that can ease stress, encourage conversations,  build relationships, have no limitations of age or ability and be completely  diverse in nature?

A KITCHEN TABLE!

In our home, The Kitchen Table is not just where we gather for meals but where we gather to talk about our day. It is the first stop when getting up in the morning, returning from a walk or coming home from work.  Where we throw down our keys, where we pile up our books and add to the week’s worth of newspapers. It is where we charge our phones and open our computers and play our music. It is our card table, our game table, an art centre and a sewing station.  It is where the mail gets read and sorted and where the bills get paid. The table is a space for food preparation, for sorting groceries and for sharing surprise snacks.  Sometimes, the table is our refuge after a long day- a safe place to sit and gather, where we talk and plan and discuss and cry.  Our best arguments happen around the table and our best apologies follow. Sometimes, it is a place to sit together in silence reading or writing.

Whatever it is and whatever time of day – it is always a safe place to be ourselves, to take risks, to be honest, to be vulnerable and to love one another.

And so, in effort to create an environment of trust, we brought the Kitchen table (literally)  into the classroom and  built a kitchen around it. We created a situation –  a small space, a “feeling” where students could be vulnerable, tell stories, laugh, cry and be themselves. The following 2 minute video gives an excellent description of why we start and end our day at the Kitchen Table. 

Our Kitchen Philosophy

We strive to connect MIND, BODY & SPIRIT by connecting what we study with  HOME. FOOD is a NEED that connects Families and develops COMMUNITIES. The development of a COMMUNITY of learners allows students to take risks, be mentors, have leadership opportunities and push the boundaries of their learning.

We address the role of the family and the community in our daily living.

We value our connection to the land by creating and sharing healthy snacks and meals.

We offer experiential learning opportunities.

We discuss respect for the group process and the significance of balance in all aspects of our lives.

 

When we are HOME we feel free to be ourselves !

We all can LEARN & GROW together!

Indigenous Worldviews Inspires THIS classroom MAKERSPACE

Reconciliation should include a commitment to bringing in the Indigenous World Views as part of the learning process.  I ask, ‘Would recognizing that we are already moving in this direction be a valuable part of the healing process for Indigenous populations?’ 

Many traditional methods of teaching are being challenged, and now, in Canada (and elsewhere), we have begun to adopt some of the very philosophies and principles (of course, with different names, definition and labels) that were once removed from our First Peoples when they were forced to attend Residential Schools.  

Canada has made a strong commitment toward Truth and Reconciliation in respect to First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI). This is especially important in our Education Systems because these ‘Truths’ have not always been explicitly (or implicitly)  taught to children and thus, the inequities perpetuated. Reconciliation, as we know, is a process of restoring relationships or by making views and beliefs compatible with one another. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report in 2015, Canada was faced with recognition of  the injustices experienced by the First Nations peoples  when they were forced to attend Residential Schools. This is especially important for schools and how we guide our learners today in their journey through this process.

Prior to these children attending these schools, what was education/learning like for them? Did they learn through Inquiry and discovery? Did children and adults learn through experiences? How was learning and connected to the earth around them? Did empathy play a role? What was the role of making and creating in the learning process? Was balance in life important? How did Storytelling impact learning and was it multi-generational ? What about Environmental Education? Family Connections? Community involvement and relations? Was there focus on spirituality and mindfulness?

“Traditional education allowed children to begin the process of observing from the time they are in their takinaakan and learn by participating as soon as they are able; traditional life was ruled by the principle of production from each according to his ability and distribution to each according to his need. (Red Lake, Heritage Centre, Virtual Museam)

Consider the approaches we are using in Education in the 21st Century –   

*Inquiry approaches are about wondering, discovering and experiencing the world. This approach is being adapted instead of what is seen as ‘traditional’ teaching.  

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*Learning can happen at HOME with the family  (Blended learning, online learning,Family Involvement, Travel, Discovery, Experiential)

 

 

*Education programs include explicit teaching of Environment Education and we emphasize human impact on the earth. Schools are connecting learning to outside environments through the use of natural playgrounds, green walls/roofs and gardens, celebration of  the earth

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*There is more emphasis on Primary Sources and Storytelling (using digital media and internet for world wide connections, learning from elders, learning from each other, accessing networks to connect to remote areas)

 

alternative spaces*Mindfulness is a practice seen as good for students mental health and overall well-being and is being adopted as part of the school program. According to Tobin Hart (2014),  Long dormant in education, the natural capacity for contemplation balances and enriches the analytic. It has the potential to enhance performance, character, and depth of the student’s experience. Perhaps most important, the contemplative helps to return the transformative power of wonder, intimacy, and presence in daily learning and daily living.

DSC_0216_2*Teachers are incorporating lessons about life balance and mental health, nutrition and physical health as part of our daily curriculum which includes looking at non-traditional ways of healing and medicine. Here is one example of how we are incorporating Food and Nutrition into the classroom, not as a separate curriculum topic, but in a holistic way, as part of the learning process.

DSC_0096_4 *The term  “Maker” is being expanded to include approaches to learning that enhance and develop hands-on skills, inquiry and learning through play or through doing, problem solving and creating

 

 

*While the Teacher is still valued as “facilitator” we are emphasizing community and collaboration as a better way to teach and learn.


As I reflect on each of these “new” approaches in education – I am drawn to my knowledge of history and the Indigenous cultures. Are the above approaches to teaching and learning are at the core, inspired from many First Nations Cultures?

While it is true that each Aboriginal group has different ways to express its values and traditions, there are similar themes that are prevalent in each group. As noted in a recent publication from Alberta, ‘ Our Words, Our Ways, 2016, these common “worldview” threads that run through many First Nations cultures are sometimes referred to as ‘foundational worldviews’.

In this report by Alberta Education (2016), there are many examples that connect these world principles in the classrooms, both with indigenous and non-indigenous students. I am not an expert in understanding these principles at a depth in which they are intended, but I can confidently explain how these connect to learning and how classrooms can use these principles (whether they know it or not) as a guiding program strategy.

Take a GLIMPS into a classroom that uses the following approaches to guide teaching and learning…


What do you see?

  • Espousing a holistic perspective and that knowledge is holistic

Cross-Curricular and integrated disciplines are more prevalent, as demonstrated by the structures of classroom schedules (less rotary, more time spent in one classroom with one teacher, combining topics into projects). Further, an inquiry approach to teaching is seen as the best way to engage students in real world issues, social justice and global issues. Most recently, classrooms are adapting “Mindful” practices and are emphasizing that when knowledge and learning is approached in a holistic way, students gain a better sense of self and a stronger self-esteem.

  • Recognizing the interconnectedness of all living things

There is a strong emphasis on critical literacy, inquiry and using world (local and global) issues and big ideas in the classroom. In fact, the new Ontario Social Studies/Geography and History documents emphasis a connection to real world issues which leads to studies about how land, animals and food are interconnected, the impact of global warming on our health, how oil extraction is impacting the earth, how the use of pesticides are impacting Bee populations. There is an emphasis on teaching students to relate curriculum topics and subject matter associated with History, Geography, Social Studies, Sciences and the ARTS to present day issues.

  • Having a strong connection to the land and community

We are inter-connected more than ever before not just due to the internet, but because collaboration and communication are seen as vital components of learning and living in the 21st Century.  This allows us to communicate and share with our communities whether urban or rural. There is more emphasis on eating throughout the school day, on health, and on making different food choices. Schools are using the United Nations Goals to guide teaching and learning.

  • Inclusion of Environment and dynamic nature  of the world in lessons and learning.

Environmental Education is now weaved through all areas of the curriculum. Some schools are participating in community gardening initiatives, community food organizations and local markets are partnering with classrooms as a way to help students to see their connection to the land.

  • Strength in “power with.”

As noted in the Our Words, Our Ways Document, In Aboriginal cultures, worldviews reflect “power with,” rather than “power over.” The image for this concept is a circle, and all living things are viewed as equal within the circle. “Power with” is a dialogue, where everyone stands on the ground, face to face – leadership and learning is “distributed”.

 

How does this look in the classroom today?

Explained in the Our words, Our ways Document (2016):

  • Learn from the students about how they learn best. Work in genuine collaboration with them to determine the approaches that are most effective.
  • Involve students when making decisions about the classroom. Provide opportunities for developing their skills so that they become effective at making real decisions about things that matter. Work toward consensus.
  • Invite older or stronger students to mentor younger or less able students. Find ways to reverse the process, e.g., find a skill that a younger student could mentor in an older student. • Welcome and validate parent input into decision making about their child’s education. Treat them as full partners in the collaboration that is essential for supporting their child’s learning.

(Our words, our ways : teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. 2016)

While it isn’t often identified as such, it appears to be these very foundational worldviews that are influencing Education in the 21st Century, especially in how our classrooms are designed and curriculum is taught.  There are many examples of classrooms and schools from across the globe transforming their spaces into environments that resemble home, enriched places for art and beauty, quiet spaces that embrace comfort and individuality, community and collaboration stations, connection to the outdoors and balance of life.  

Curriculum, more and more, is being taught holistically with an integrative approach and disciplines being taught together. Inquiry, design thinking, experiential and project based are approaches that are recognized as strong methods to engage and teach students of today.

Are we recognizing that the very principles that are shaping how we are creating the 21st Century Makerspace learning environments are those same principles that have guided the indigenous peoples for centuries, the very principles and values that were taken from them when traditional school was created.  

Example lesson that espouses the Indigenous Worldviews and Principals

LINK

Gifted and Learning Disabled – The dichotomy in learning

DSC_0086 (2)I have students attend my After School Program (STEM focused Makerspace)  every Wednesday who struggle in their regular school. Many of these students struggle academically and socially. Yet, these same students, at the Makerspace,  perform skills and engage in social and academic activities that demonstrate knowledge of math, science, engineering and ARTs  with a proficiency beyond their age and grade level and with a strong level of motivation and confidence. It is often confusing for them for their parents. It got me thinking about the amount of Learning Disabled and Gifted students we see on a regular basis. Students that struggle to find and demonstrate ways that show what they know.

I had a conversation with two students this week,  both from different areas of the city, different grades and from different school districts and yet both had the same story to tell.  I highlight these conversations here to demonstrate the dichotomy with how students are performing in regular classes and how they are performing in self-driven Makerspaces  outside class time.

Note: A Makerspace is defined as a learning environment that is designed around the concept of making, creating, designing and innovation. These spaces bring in the ART with Math, Engineering, Science and Technology and allow for a good degree of autonomous, self-paced and passion passed learning.

I write this post in hopes that parents and teachers read it and begin  take a second look at the child/learner in front of them. What if the student is LD (Learning Disabled) but is also highly intelligent, highly gifted, highly creative? What if WHAT the student needs is to be surrounded by other students and learners how are engaged in hands-on learning activities? What if the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) could be based on STRENGTHS instead of WEAKNESSES?  Regardless of the test result (CCAT, Report Card, EQAO) could the child be Gifted?


 

ART“My teachers thought I was dumb”.  “I thought I was dumb” – Grade 10 Student.

Interestingly,  in their middle school years, the students I spoke with, were tested as “highly Gifted” and both were deemed as “Dual Exceptional”.  This means, that they were both Gifted as well as Learning Disabled.  You can compare the LD (Learning Disabled) to wearing glasses. Without the glasses, many people would be debilitated, wouldn’t perform, would be unable to complete tasks.

 

The idea of dual exceptional students is confusing for teachers or parents since LD (Learning Disability) is often affiliated with intelligence (even though this is incorrect).  If a student is not completing their work, cannot make decisions, struggles with problem solving or self-regulation, is impulsive or behaviour,  is slow in grasping a concept and has high anxiety, how could they possibly be Gifted? Shouldn’t they know better?

To complicate matters, the GIFTED student with LD may need specific accommodations but the content, the grouping, how the content is delivered, the level of content might need additional modifications. Are we accommodation for the Learning Disability as well as the Giftedness?  Many times, these LD gifted students require opportunity to work with other Gifted Students.  But many times, because of there LD, the teacher may be focusing on assisting the student with these deficits rather than enriching the curriculum, instruction and learning. Thus, the student is working with their LD counterparts rather then there Gifted counterparts. 

This article gives some great insight about Gifted and LD students: “What teachers need to know”

http://ldatschool.ca/assessment/gifted-students-with-lds-what-teachers-need-to-know/

 

This article shares research about the value of homogenous classes and how these congregated classes server the needs of Gifted students, differently than other types of homogeneous special needs classrooms.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02783190209554146

 Intellectually gifted individuals with specific learning disabilities are the most misjudged, misunderstood, and neglected segment of the student population and the community. Teachers, school counselors, and others often overlook the signs of intellectual giftedness and focus attention on such deficits as poor spelling, reading, and writing. (Whitmore & Maker, 1985, p. 204)


 

One student shared his story with me. In elementary school, his teachers were so concerned about his ability to learn as well as his lack of motivation that  they recommended he be put in a self-contained/congregated class for Learning Disabled and ‘Developmentally Disabled’ students. According to his teachers, his reading and writing were far behind the other students. He didn’t read until after his first grade  and was seen as being far behind his peers in Math. The problem wasn’t his understanding of the concepts, but instead HOW he learned them. He couldn’t retain information (working memory) and he processed information with difficulty and very slowly but he could spend hours focused on learning one specific task. So, he was described as being “Slow” and of course this was reflected on his report card and also reflected how the teacher treated him as well as programmed for him.   He tells me that even from an early age, he was drawn to creative, hands-on activities – especially those that focused on building (lego, for instance) but these tools and choices were only provided when his other work was complete (which was rare).  The psycho-educational assessment eventually identified him as being Gifted with a Learning Disability. The student laughed aloud when he shared this with me. He thought it was a joke. He was always seen as the ‘dumb one’. He looked around the room and noted that he wasn’t the only one with this story.  Today, this student is a lead programmer and builder for an award winning Robotics team. Many would argue, that while he continues to struggle in some areas of academia, the expert computer science , engineering, and programming skills are those that are needed more than ever in our society.

Still, what I notice over in over in my job as a teacher for gifted is a dichotomy between the assessment and evaluation (and consequently programming) of the student and what the student actually knows and is capable of, his/her level of thinking. The evaluation is sometimes focused on the learning disability rather than what the student knows about the material (the how versus the what).

I wonder how many VERY INTELLIGENT, CREATIVE and OUTSIDE THE BOX THINKING  students are misrepresented because they are seen as behavioural or slow?

It is important to understand that Gifted isn’t just about being smart.  While there is no universally accepted definition of Gifted, the National Association of Gifted states, “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).” Read NAGC’s position paper, Redefining Giftedness for a New Century: Shifting the Paradigm. – See more at: https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness#sthash.fYgGWaDk.dpuf

Another student (she was a visiting alumni currently in her first year of college) made the point that many of the students here (she was referring to the Robotics Team)  the very students that are designing, programming and competing in world-wide robotics competitions struggle academically. She was the media representative and wrote speeches, articles and created media presentations to access funding. Her grade in English was mid-60’s. She would often be writing a speech for her team while also having to write an essay. Her speech would receive an award grant her team funding, while her essay would get an low average mark.

IMG_0442I asked the students I was working with that day (Grade Eight Gifted Students, Grade 9 – 12 Secondary Students)  if the same  level of engagement, trust, autonomy and safety that they felt in their Robotics Makerspace also existed or connected back into their regular classrooms.

One of them explained – when grades and assessment are dictated by the teacher or school, rather than through their own errors (like in robotics, programming) it changes the mindset of the activity and the authenticity fades. They don’t do it because someone is grading them, but instead because it is important to them personally. Students’ self-accommodate and modify as needed by using the people, tools and devices around them to help them. The students explained that there was very little connection to what they were doing with their Robotics Team and academics, and yet, many academic professionals come visit and observe to try to learn from them. They identified this dichotomy quite well.

For these dual exceptional students, teachers and parents need to be willing to think outside the box when it comes to programming and assessment. We need to be understanding with these students doing things differently and be willing to find a variety of ways for these students to show what they know, even if it means taking unplanned opportunities for assessment or evaluation.

A little Kindergarten and A little Starbucks – Universal Classroom Design

We designed our learning space with a little Kindergarden and a little Starbucks  – Here is how it happened:

zoe_and_beth

In June 2014, we were informed that we would be moving to an empty/unused classroom at Holbrook School (HWDSB). We were also informed that our proposal for new technology was granted which included 1:1 computers, projector, interactive whiteboard, doc camera (microscope), tablets, 3D printer, and NXT Robotics. Regardless of the fact that we were at the mercy of the physical space and size, including windows, electricity and lighting, we were absolutely pumped to design our “dream” classroom space that was Universal  for all learners.


computers

maker space

 

From the onset, we wanted a space that not only engaged students to be active participants in their own learning, but also a place where all learners could feel comfortable, safe and part of a community.

 

 

 

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We would create an environment that felt completely different from a “traditional” classroom and yet was full of big ideas, information, tools and learning, and of course, with full guidance from a variety of educators.  There would be a mix of exploration, hands-on learning and inquiry, but with a ‘bistro’ or ‘coffee shop’ feeling. We would end each day with a cup of tea and a group circle to ensure that every single student would be seen, heard and valued. Community would be vital to making this work.

 

This space would be where students or adults could sit around and table talk, listen and create ideas together – to be active learners and leaders.  In this space, students wouldn’t be judged and wouldn’t place judgement on others, but instead, would welcome differences and offer support, skills and talent whenever needed. This space, in some way, would speak to every single student and would welcome all abilities.

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SCIENCEIMG_5233We would respect the quiet learners but would also encourage team and cooperative learning in variety of ways, including game-based learning, through the ARTs and infused with technology and design.

 localbig questionAbove all, we would centre our program around Social Justice and local/global issues. This  learning environment would match our beliefs and values about how students learn best and would reflect the changing nature of learning (and teaching).

 

 

In the room, there would be strong emphasis on Critical Literacy. Inquiry questions and Big Ideas would provide focus for exploration of Millenium Goals (United Nations) and for both guided and self-directed learning. A writing and podcast centre would  provide resources such as Livescribe Pens, Journals (for co-written topics) and a variety of choices for students to write, draw and share at their level and interest.

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The room design would  recognizes the need for quiet and individuality when learning, and so, we would design a small and separate space for “chilling” – one that resembles a most cozy living room (lamp, curtains, carpet, couch and books).  It would be a goal to ensure that even the most “anxious” learner could find a place where he/she felt comfortable to engage in inquiry.

 

 

health

Our space would speak to our strong belief, that Health and Fitness are what “Matters Most”. We would plant a small herb garden, healing plants, and provide literature dedicated to healthy living, including fitness, balance, and mental health. We would practise and model an environmentalist approach to living through recycling and composting. Maintaining a worm composting system teaches students how to create fertile soil and to learn what it means to be self-sustaining.

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The entrance of the room would demonstrate that the ARTS would define our space, not technology. We would use the giant wall space to create a Green Screen for video productions and storytelling  and we would reserve a large section of the space for Visual Arts. We would ensure that music was available for listening or playing. We envisioned students gathering around a shared space to compose, play and create.

 

We would reserve one side of the room for group laptops, ipads and an apple TV for sharing. Close by would be the 3D Makerbot printer along with tablets and computers allocated specifically for design and engineering.  We would use creative programs like Minecraft, Tinkercad, Lego NXT Sketchpad, Spore and Portal2 (to name a few) to engage students in design concepts as well as provide opportunity for them to co-create.

3dprintingcomputersgreen screentwo_roads_diverged_in_a_yellow_wood

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It would be incredible to create a space for our students to tinker, take things apart and build. If space allowed, we would dedicate an area for lego and whatever building materials we could get our hands on. We hope to teach “maker skills” like cooking, and knitting.

3d printer

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We would combine our Science and Math spaces which allowed for personalized exploration. We would set up manipulatives, both physical and virtual to help engage students in real world problems, including city planning. The interactive Smartboard would be used solely for student led activities and would always have Google Earth and current news sites up in the background. We would infuse other technology with the interactive smartboard including a Ladybug Document Camera so our students could examine the world around them – in detail.

math iwb

We would recognize the need for clarity in voice and listening and would use a classroom amplification system. Students and teachers could share, speak and be heard – effortlessly.

 

 

 

Our physical space would be blended with an online space. Students would have access to online learning (E-Learning). We could post information, offer feedback and provide opportunity for rich discussions, even when students were not present. We could use collaborative tools like Office 365, Google Documents, Mindomo and Voice Thread (to name a few)  to share work and allow for natural and engaging extensions.  We would further use or connectivity to reach out to leaders, learners and experts around the world, to network, share and make connections.


 

We were truly given the opportunity of a lifetime – to create a universally designed learning space that modeled changing teaching and learning practices.

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We would honour this goal: to open our space for all learners – of all ages and abilities, to respect difference and to recognize that learning and teaching are in a constant state of flux. Here, we will create a classroom environment that would be used as a demonstration for others  that are also seeking ways to enrich their own program through inquiry and project based learning spaces.

 

Minecraft in the Classroom

I think my lessons are fairly engaging. But the second that bell went – literally, the second – the students gathered to discuss their next plan of action. Their next build. Their next tutorial on how to use Red Bricks, how to rewire a city, how to build the underground plumbing system. It was then that I realized that the most authentic assessment I will ever get with regards to creativity, problem solving, divergent thinking, oral communication, thinking (etc.) was during the lunch hour, when they were “playing” Minecraft.

(Also posted at http://Giftedclassroom.edublogs.org)

As a mother of two boys that use the Minecraft platform to build and design, I feel fortunate to have come into this classroom with a familiar knowledge of the potential of what this game can offer as it relates to learning, specifically around the concepts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  The last few years, watching my children play and learn has led me to interest in the relevance of game-based learning platforms and to the awareness of both the benefits and pitfalls. Included HERE are a few current articles and links about Minecraft in education, along with examples and pictures.

In this video, a student demonstrates a world that he works on outside of school hours. The planning, thinking and co-authorship of this design and creation is at a level that I rarely see in the classroom. In fact, I can’t imagine anything that I could teach him to match the intricacy of thinking and design here. He incorporates math, science concepts, business, and art. He uses language skills to plan, think and communicate with his peers and spends hours reading and learning about servers, plugins and how to create his own Mods for game improvement. In the midst of all this, this same child reads about 2 – 3 novels per week.

I urge you to watch at least part of this video,

Minecraft in our classroom – next steps: 

-> Three students will moderate and control the server. All students and other members are ‘whitelisted’ which will ensure safety, privacy and protection.

-> Students will begin their first build – a school designed around the concepts of STEM and that will meet the needs of every single person (including teacher) in the class.

-> Students will begin designing the “Light Rail System” and will investigate the current discussions about the issue – http://hamiltonlightrail.com/  This initiative will support the Geography, Social Studies and Language curriculum (Ontario).

-> In teams, students will propose and design a space that is currently under much debate at the Tiffany and Barton street area in Hamilton in the Harbour West. They will have an opportunity to investigate current and past discussions and debates about the issue and then use their designs and ideas to propose solutions

We welcome collaboration and hope that parents, community and other students tap into our Twitter Stream @dwcatalysts or instagram pictures as we document and share these experiences.

 

MY TOP 10 LEARNING SPACES – A Universal Design, in a Gifted Classroom

The learning environment is what will help create community. Before anything, students need to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but safe to learn how they learn, safe to think “outside the box”, safe to ask questions, safe to make mistakes, safe to be who they are.  I recently read a post by Jackie Gerstein, a friend and mentor who talks passionately about the importance of community in the classroom (It’s About Connections Not Content). Below, I talk about the learning spaces to honour all learners.  It is my intention to help these students find their passions, their gifts, and their understanding of themselves.

The Circle

Each day, we start off in a large circle. We might play a game, talk about a current event or gather our ideas for upcoming lessons. The circle gives brings the class together as one team, a group of co-learners and a support structure that they will need.

Comfort and Escape

A few years ago, I taught in a brand new school with small classrooms. A quiet “comfy” space was not an option and was strictly forbidden by fire regulations. I yearned to provide my students with an area to go when they needed to unpack and reflect. As we know, this 7 hour day, surrounded by an assortment of individuals can be overwhelming and draining. This classroom (an older school) allows for this space.  Students can use it to work collaboratively using the bulletin board or small table or even the floor as a workspace.  Of course,  reading a book, plugged into a good song is also pretty fantastic for any learner.

It only took about one hour before a student crawled into this “getaway”.  A calming environment that is still in the same room is a true gift for any classroom.

 

Exercise – Meditative, focus~refocus, transition

I truly love to Hula-Hoop. Not only because it is great for the abdominal muscles, but the repetitive motion is soothing. After a long day, or a long think-session, there is nothing better then grabbing a hula-hoop,  with a little music (or quiet is good too) and finding a place to gather thoughts and re-fuel for the next “thing” to come. Another true gift that this classroom offers – enough space.

Game

There has been much debate about the use of Gaming in the classroom and its integration into core subjects like math, social studies and language. The Kinect offers an incredibly fun way for students to work together in solving problems, debating stories and characters, and thinking through puzzles and math games. Allowing students to move around, challenge one another and discuss the creation and process of the game itself is incredible insightful and meets them in their world. We will be integrating Minecraft in our classroom this year, as a way to plan, think, and discuss through creation and collaborative building.

Apple TV, Reflection, Interaction.

So often, we use the projector and whiteboard to deliver instruction and content. But with the Reflection App or Apple TV, students can broadcast their work and designs on a larger surface. To show the students a quick video, or demonstrate an iPad tool, I can stand anywhere in the room and broadcast quickly and safely. Even better, students can broadcast their work.  Only a few years ago, I found myself stumbling trying to improve my motor skills when using the Smart tablet.

Group Think-Tank and iPad Center

One of my students asked, “Too bad we can’t just write on this table!”. I wonder if “Idea Paint” would work here.  To move away from their desk workspace to a group workspace is valuable. It is also valuable to have an option to go back to ones own individual space. With the use of the HWDSB iPad program and the School iPad purchases, I have about 10 iPads in the classroom. We will start of with interview videos. A favourite app used today was WORLD OF SAND. I highly recommend it. Highly.

Weekly Schedule, Handouts and TEA.

Posting a daily overview is important, but to see it in context within the entire week is essential. Like adults learners, our younger students want to know what is next and why, and especially how it relates to their learning. There is a definite accountability attached to this practice, but it is so worth it. At the end of the week, I brew tea and together we work on the next weekly schedule. It empowers them and gives them voice.

Choices and Voices

This image keeps changing. As students become more comfortable with me – and more confident, they start adding more ideas and information here. It is fascinating to see how many students ask to get away from the brick and mortar. They want field trips, walks, and to learn outside.

 

Online

Blended learning is not only going to provide more solid communication and on-going information for students and parents, but also more access to content and learning. While it might be surprising to some (ha, ha!), I am not the bearer of all knowledge and information.  Neither is the Internet. A blended learning platform (where students can also learn online) such as EDMODO (something new I’m trying this year) will allow me to facilitate content that is rich and diverse to a group of students that vary greatly in learning needs.  As well, each student will be given a personal blog, and will have access to my daily plans through Google Docs and our classroom blog (another huge accountability risk that is worth the immense outcome).

 Community

My favourite learning space – The real world.  This year, I’ve established a partnership with the Hamilton Farmers Market where students will get a chance to learn stories of the lives of real Hamiltonians. Students will learn to shop, cook and share resources.  Most importantly, they will have an opportunity to socialize and interact with citizens and with each other in authentic ways. With some structure and guidance, they will have a chance to apply what they have learned at school to something real.

 

We have also arrange for several community walks. Our school location is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forests (Royal Botanical Gardens) and wooded trails. The colours, smells, sounds and wildlife are the inspiration I’ll need when teaching poetry and creative writing. Perfect for finding space and time to talk, share and develop a real sense of self.

 

 

Social Media, Twitter and the need for networked support – how far does our support really go?

Look at the “Seven Degrees of Connectedness” and think about how you nurture, support, and develop relationships on line, professionally and even personally. Do you have a close circle, a clique, a group of educators that you depend on – those in Stage 6 or 7? Do you have colleagues that work in your school, your district, your city – that you empower or that empower you? Do you have their back when they mess up, or need a pat on the shoulder, or need a word of praise here and there? Do you have the strength to DM them a concern? What would you do if you noticed they made an offensive remark? Are you prepared to have that “difficult conversation”? Do you do it in private? In public? Do you Unfollow them? DM them?

For many of us, Social Networking has changed the way we work, relate, share, create and learn.  Just think, throughout history, innovators have created so many different avenues and channels to share and communicate and strengthen relationships at many levels – some very surface and others very intense and deep – even life changing. What about the printing press? The mail system? The phone, radio, television?  In so many ways, the transparent nature of all of these tools makes us all so vulnerable, which is why we depend on our relationships and our trust in others to help us do the right thing and be the best we can be. We want to encourage risk taking so it will lead to new innovations, new thinking, new perspectives. But, with each of these channels comes a risk. Risk of error, risk of misinformation, risk of misinterpretation, risk of bias, risk of judgement. Even risk of friendship or something deeper.

Online tools, like Twitter or Facebook also pose a risk. We know this. Have you ever said something “in the heat of the moment?” that should have been kept private?Have you ever deleted a Tweet?

Sometimes we are just learning, and along the way, we make mistakes.  When I first started on Twitter, about four years ago, I had no idea that I was “Tweeting” with location settings “ON” until @dougpete sent me a friendly DM suggesting that I take it off since he could see exactly where I live. Not a good idea.  Another time I tweeted out comment that wasn’t all that appropriate during a live debate (political) and again, received a DM from an online colleague who simply reminded me “Zoe…you have a very public audience here”. Once, I even Tweeted out my home phone number in the public stream, instead of the intended DM.  Again, an online colleague, one whose relationship and trust was built over time, sent me a little note, “Zoe, delete the last tweet”.

Whatever the channel or method, face-to-Face or online, the way we nurture and respond to relationships depends on the level of trust we have. Even in a public stream like twitter, there will always be a circle of colleagues and friends (STAGE 7) that will protect, support, guide, teach and nurture one another.  So ask yourself,

Where do my colleagues fit in the framework?
Where do I fit in the framework?
How will I respond to a Tweet that offends me?
Do I DM an online colleague to help or offer advice?
Do I make public a concern or do I DM a concern?
Do I have people to count on, in the stream, like in the Face to Face world?

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

“What?, you’ve been banned from 8 different servers?” I shrieked at my 11 year old son.  

“It’s part of the game – to build trust, act normal, get more responsibility from the server owner and then, destroy” he explained.

I gasped.

 

“In many servers, the point is to build and protect. If you are in a server shared by others, you always take the risk of having your things stolen and your creations destroyed…but for some players, hacking into a server and destroying is the main point”.

I gasped. “But it’s not nice…..”
So he explains, “most teachers and adults aren’t even aware of what is going on in the background of the server and chats”. He grins and asks me, “Do you know that most of us can get the brute force server hosting password?”  “Do you know how many servers don’t use ‘world guard or world bucket’ plugins to protect the word, protect the players?”
Minecraft is Boring.  The real fun and thrill comes from the design, the programming and the challenge. What we do in schools is just the “Basics”. Boring.

I gasped. “Where do you learn all this stuff then?”

“Online. Together.  Youtube”  Never school.

I gasped. “What about Ethics? Character? Kindness?”, I wonder. I continue to wonder (now with my TEACHER LENS),  “I’ve never heard of a school based PD about Minecraft servers, or world bucket”. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of a mandatory in-service, PD session about any social gaming , or media tool or strategy. 

Step Up Districts and Schools. Parents can’t do this alone.   Make Social Media and Blended Learning Strategies as much a priority as traditional literacies. Be accountable and insist that all teachers have a solid understanding of the tools, strategies, and pedagogies so that we can help kids navigate in these online social environments. I want my children and my students to be safe online to understand online risks, and to have a chance to practice good online citizenship under the direction, coaching and support of a knowledgeable teacher. Help our children understand the hard and soft skills associated with these environments – help their parents understand how to coach, monitor, guide.

When it comes to the use of social media, gaming, multimedia and multi-modal learning strategies, I wonder, how many educators are encouraged to teach with it, without fully understanding the tool itself, or grasping the research behind its use, or acknowledging the implications of its use (including safety). How many educators are encouraged to teach with it without being provided the tools (computer, systems)  and aren’t given in-school time to practice and learn?

It isn’t about updating our skills (like other literacies) it is about learning the skill.

The problem is that with other literacies (like reading and writing) we already knew them before entering the profession – we don’t have to learn them. We have a solid grasp about grammar rules, reading strategies, sentence structure, writing process. But with new literacies, especially the use of online tools, we are having to spend more time and resources to learn them. I’m not sure if our resources  (people, infrastructure, knowledge) fully support this reality.

With this, I ask – where does the responsibility lay on education organizations to guide kids in an environment (even facebook, youtube, twitter, gaming)where they are spending so much time? Why are we OK with them teaching each other?

Ask yourself, in your school, or organization – Do teachers , leaders and parents know how to properly moderate a student blog?  How about protect gaming server? or properly cite resources?  or manage content privately while also being transparent and open? or create effective comments on a blog?  or understand ‘public audience’? or how to have a conversation in an online chat?

In going back to my own children’s online behaviour, the story I started with – I as a parent can’t do it alone. I need support from the school system to guide and support my child’s learning in these online environments.

Gaming and learning – are they connected?

In 2010, I began experimenting with gaming in my classroom.

In my Grade Six classroom, ‘play’ wasn’t just about learning the facts and materials, but about creating an environment where they were most comfortable.  Using Wii Olympics to have students virtually play participate in Luge or skiing events and then write down, sort, compare and analyze their scores helped them see an authentic reason why we sort data. Watching the little JK students exercise for 15 minutes a day using Wii Fit or Wii Sports (on those freezing cold mornings) was fascinating.  Using NikeRemote on our shoes, we used game to track distances when we ran 3 times per week to reach our marathon goal. I was only beginning to discover the potential for gaming and learning. Connecting our games with classrooms across the world was the most fun. Skype spelling and math games was an awesome way to end our week. For me it really isn’t about the game itself, but about engaging my students. They identified with gaming. It was my way to capture them, when we couldn’t explore outside, or build ‘hands-on’.

Both Zack and Shawn, future TechEd leaders from Brock University (also students of mine) contemplate educational theories and structures by examining the idea of gamification of learning.  In his blog, Zach wonders,

“Imagine if we could give students a lesson they could take home and play? If they enjoyed the lesson they would be more apt to practice the material. They could share it with friends and interact with people in their class online”.

Shawn then makes a profound realization,

“It occurs to me now that my prejudice towards gaming was based on the belief that games were based solely on fun, and so in turn their educational usefulness must be minimal. How silly that was to assume that kids have to feel or even know that they’re being taught in order to learn something”.

Shawn and Zack ‘s posts compelled me to ask my two boys (ages 9 and 11)  if they saw any educational value in games (minecraft, wii, kinect) in the classroom or for their own learning. Their answer: No way. It is just for fun.

They have not made the connection between learning and play. I wonder if their definition of “learning” comes from their short experience with an established deep rooted system that still sees learning in a very traditional way. Sitting at a desk, direct instruction, preparing for tests, group activities, writing tests, memorizing facts, studying…

And yet, on this very Saturday morning, as I read through the blog posts, my eyes wonder. I watch my boys plant crops near water, discussing a location that optimisms sun. I listen to them talk about the best way to ‘make’ paper so they can create books to put on the shelves that they created for the school that they designed. I listen to them talk about the formula needed to make ‘ink’ for their pens…….and then I spy, as they use they internet to find out facts about ink, paper mills and sugar. Then my 9 year old says…lets make a cake. They were using Minecraft.
My eyes wonder to their unopened packpacks. I wonder, what homework they have.

But, as they see it…it is play, not learning. So how do we connect the two? I think that both Shawn and Zack clearly make the point that there may be link between learning and engagement. But, maybe its something more? Do these games also help us with our critical senses? Do they encourage us to talk and problem solve? Do they encourage more divergent ways of thinking?

I certainly do not fully understand the impact that gaming is having on my own children, but by reading about the projects and innovations that a few teachers are ‘action’ researching, my confidence in the use of the methods has definitely heightened.

Joel Levin, a high school teacher discusses his first days of school: – http://minecraftteacher.net/

So, instead, for the first class we’ll talk about:
What kind of world they will want to play in.
What kind of gaming experience they desire and what they’d like to accomplish.
And I’ll try to figure out what other auxiliary projects they want to try while playing the game. Such as writing projects, making Let’s Play videos, modding the game… or who knows! I’m sure they will surprise me!

It is very reassuring that in spite of tradition and set curriculum, teachers are still finding ways to incorporate new mediums into the classroom. Thank you Shawn and Zack for deepening my thinking on this issue.