Friday, 30 December 2011

Long time no post!

My goodness I have neglected my blog.  Tis the life of a teacher, busy busy.  I was thrilled to be featured in the Coquitlam Now recently discussing how teachers are communicating with parents without using report cards.  To be honest I prefer this method to report cards.  I've always found that when you give people grades on something that is all they care about.  They don't read your very thoughtful comments on their child or what you could do to help improvement, it's all about the grades.  And how do you grade a 4th or 5th grade child?  Really they are still developing.  I can't give them percentages or large reports to do.  I have to look at a performance standard rubric and base my interpretations on that.  As someone who has taught this grade for a while it's a little easier for me to say, that's an A or that's a B.  But in today's society people just assume they will get an A and if I don't give it, it's somehow my fault??  This is bizarre thinking considering I received mostly Bs or C grades my entire life.  I worked very hard but sometimes I just didn't quite reach the A.  A's should be hard to achieve, they stand for "Excellent" and I'm afraid we are not all excellent all the time.

Anyway, enough about report cards.  I also received a link that will be put on the district site soon which shows people who have created innovative spaces in their classrooms.  I appear on the link, which was created by Greg!  Who helped inspire me with my space!  So I'm looking forward to seeing and reading all about other people's ideas.

My master's project needs to be piloted this coming month.  I will need to get permissions and figure out where to place a video camera to record the kids.  My project has updated itself a little.  I'm looking at how choice of work space affects students on-task behaviour in a work choice setting.  Since my kids will be choosing their own work (which they are used to) I will be filming them on how they behave when they sit where they want, versus me telling them where to sit.  In order to keep this real I will be using January to alternate them with choice versus no choice, then in February I will be recording and documenting.  Fun times!!!  I hope it all goes well and I get some results that help teachers with their work spaces.

Another new development:  the students asked to be able to bring in pillows for working on/with.  I said yes, with parent permission.  One pillow has arrived.  That student seems very happy to do his work while resting his back against the pillow.  The chairs we have suck, so if pillows work, so be it!  We will see how this continues but the kids are great at decision making and helping me make the space easier for them to focus.

Hopefully I will update more often!

Monday, 10 October 2011

The leader of the class

Last year for the first time I came across a certain problem in my class.  I found that the boys elected (in their minds) a leader.  Someone they found was cool and then they without question followed this boys behaviour.  It was such a problem I had to devise ways to group the kids so that the girls separated the boys.  It was a massive pain because that is not how I like to work.  I believe in letting children choose.  But when you have a child with "power" it becomes a struggle to get the other children to realize they have their OWN minds.  After a lot of work on this:  Separating kids, getting my prinicipal and parents involved, constantly checking behaviour...I finally got this settled around April and things started to look up.

Fast forward to this year.  The leader has moved on to middle school and all the kids seem to have their own thing going on.  Until this week.  I was gone for one day and they decided to elect another child a leader.  Once again the boys fought to sit near this child, to the point where fights broke out.  This child is "cool" and must be followed.  OY.  Why does this happen???  What is this need to find someone to follow?  Unfortunately the boys also follow the behaviour of the leader, so of course it's a leader who needs reminders on his behaviour.  My Friday was stressful because I now have a little posse of kids following one boy.  I had to move kids to new spots because of arguing.  Argh.

I'm going to keep my eye on this situation this week and see if it falls or increases.  I'm hoping it's a one off fad and they move on.  I can't go through another year of "leader" worship.  I just won't let it happen!

Research Hypothesis

Most of you know I'm working on my masters and right now I'm heavily into figuring out what my research question or hypothesis should be. 

I've done quite a bit of background research on how furniture affects students on-task behaviour.  Studies I've read have said that students are more on-task with ergonomically correct furniture and that there is no difference between rows and group clusters.  Another study concluded that students arranged in a circle formation had more on-task behaviour and more positive on-task discussion than those in rows.  So after doing some background research what I saw was a need to see if student choice factors into this.  If a student is given a choice of where to work rather than me telling them where to work, will they be more on-task?

This is my basic question.  I'm thinking of this as my hypothesis:  students on-task behaviour is greater when given the choice of where to work versus being directed by a teacher where to work.

I was thinking that if I direct the kids in one setting and then in another give them the choice I use the data to see if my hypothesis is correct.  I was also thinking...should I use another class too?  I teach Montessori, perhaps that is too narrrow a sample.  Montessori kids are used to choice.  So if I also sample a regular classroom, it might make my research more applicable to other teachers.


I also want to look at surveying the kids and asking where they like to work and why?  I want to see if there is a difference during Language vs. Math topics.  So I have a lot on my mind right now.  I have to write a paper detailing my question and what my sample might be.  So I need to decide this week on my sample.  I'm also afraid it might be too small.  It will also only apply to classrooms with tables and alternate work spaces.  Classroom with rows of desks and set seating...don't work for my study. 

Thoughts thoughts thoughts.

Friday, 30 September 2011

One month down

Where did September go? 

I have been so busy it's already a new month.  In my masters class I wrote my first mini-paper on my research proposal.  I believe I have narrowed it down to "How does choice of work space effect student behaviour".  I'm going to look at where the students choose to sit and with whom.  I want to see if they form any patterns and whether they choose to sit alone to work or not.  I'm going to also check to see if they are on-task or not.  I have to clarify the behaviour I'm looking for. 

So far I've noticed some interesting things.  Students have kind of found "their" table.  Some students drift but not many.  I have 2 dominant male tables, 1 female table and a mixed table.  Kids have enjoyed getting to choose where they work, and also like to go outdoors to read and sometimes write. 

I've noticed a few behaviours I need to jump on.  I have five boys who like to call out and talk over others.  I'm going to start clamping down on that lickety split!  They have no malicious intent..but it seems they are very impulsive and can't keep their thoughts inside!

On the Montessori side, I've got my work times up and running.  Students have to complete 3 math cards, 1 spelling booklet, 1 grammar box and 1 reading bookbag (which has a book and 2 response cards) a week.  Then if they finish their "main" work they can do a variety of choices:  Writer's Workshop, Art Cards, Timeline work, Read a book, use math flashcards, Dubio, 99, Countdown (all math review games), and the bi and trinomial cubes (which are HUGE HITS).  I have on average 1-2 kids a day who come up and tell me they are bored....I just redirect them to the choices.  I try to introduce something new to choose daily to add to the interest.  So I've introduced Levels 2,3 and 4 of the Art Cards this week.  I've had two students really take to the timeline of life and have been creating their own booklets of different animals throughout time.  Fun!  I will soon add the maps, more grammar boxes and some Cultural trivia games.  My goal is to have them choose items that are reinforcing or exciting their learning.  Maybe there are too many choices???  I shall monitor that.

On to October!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

September Start up Thoughts

I've had my class since Monday and as the days go by I'm feeling more and more certain that my new classroom design is brilliant!!!  Students get to work outside on the grass with chalkboards for a desk, or on the floor (which is a tile), on the carpets with shoes off, or at a table of their choice.  Since introducing this concept on Monday I have had to move very few students for disruptive behaviours.  One student who constantly hoarded items in his desk last year is finding the tables a challenge.  He LOVES to have something in his hands at all times.  Now I don't have a problem with keeping his hands busy but if he is ignoring me this is a problem.  He is learning that items belong away while I'm talking.  So far the no desk idea has cut back on his distractions about 75% as he still finds ways of getting items out of his storage bin and to the table.
I've also noticed that the kids don't always sit with the same people.  They do move around and try different spots.  A few seem to enjoy a standard spot.  Mostly the girls are at two tables and the boys a the other two.  They do sometimes mix during Work Choice time, but when I'm talking they seem to stay gender divided.

The carpets are a HUGE hit.  The kids love the feel of the silver carpet and OFTEN chose to sit there.  They have a rule to take their shoes off so I can keep the carpet nice as long as possible.  They always compliment how soft and nice it is to sit on.  For reading this is a very popular place.

Rona has back ordered my bins because I only was able to buy 8 or 9.  The kids ask me daily when their bin will come in.  They are very excited to neatly place their supplies in them!  Some kids already have bins and they love using them.

Monday I found myself very frustrated because it was a typical "rule" day.  I spend the whole day talking about the classroom and my rules...I don't like those days.  But by Tuesday I was getting more pepped up!  Tuesday I taught a few things.  In Montessori you have to introduce a material every day gradually.  I have materials out now that ALL kids can use and then I gradually take them away and replace them with materials for the kids independent needs.  But while I test them on Reading, Writing, Math and Spelling levels I have to have something for the kids to do.

My start up activities in Language were introduced yesterday.  Spelling is a booklet of a certain level (depending on the test).  The booklet is only 4 pages.  Once a student finishes their booklet they get a friend to test them on the words.  If they do a good job (more than 75%) then I give them the next level.  Already some children love to work on their spelling.  Another choice is their handwriting book.  Some asked to take it home..but I said no.  I really want them kept at school.  Today I introduced the pronoun grammar box activities.  I thought maybe these would be boring because they are cards you put in sentences and then you replace the nouns with pronouns.  It's coloured coded.  But to my surprise the kids pulled these boxes out and were very excited to show me the sentences they had made! 

Math start up is a little different.  I tested the kids on some Montessori cards I had.  But quickly realized they are not that up on their basic facts.  I really can't go onto harder level work if the children don't have their basic facts memorized.  So I did a few timed tests and sorted the kids into levels for studying facts.  So I'm slowly showing kids materials and while I do this they have several options.  They can work with flashcards, build the tri and bi nomial cubes (a huge hit), play with the Dubio cards (self correcting math games), 4 Way countdown (a very cool game that uses all basic facts) and 99 (a fun marble adding game).

Right away I notice the kids are very good at chosing their own work, they concentrate and enjoy what they are doing.  Today I had 1 child not make a good choice and 1 student tell me she was bored.  So I consider that pretty successful!

Now the highlight of my week.  I decided to teach the 5 Great Lessons this year to start the year off.  I have done Lessons 1 and 2 so far and the kids really love learning about the universe and how it began.  Tomorrow I will do Lesson 3 and then stop.  I'm going to save 4 and 5 for next year and then restart.  I also had the kids rate which topics they wanted to study in Science and SS together and then added the ratings up.  Zoology was a landslide winner!  So we'll be starting with that.

The noise level only seems to go up during art times.  For now I'm still working on walking over to talk to students (not shouting), using my bell to get their attention, and trying to keep my own voice at a low level to model classroom voice.  It's hard for me!  I'm a loud lady! 

Friday, 2 September 2011

The New Chair

Thanks to my awesome principal I now have a new chair for group discussions!  The chair is extremely comfy and was purchased at Jysk. 

This chair ROCKS!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Almost complete

My classroom is finally looking like I envisioned it!  Today I put some of the final touches on.  I still need to go in Friday and put up the last paper and do some laminating.  But here are some pictures!

Last time I posted this picture it had only one rug.  I went out and purchased a second 5X8 rug.  It is so comfy to sit on.  The students will not be allowed to wear shoes on it!  Right now I have two heavy bins weighing one end down because it is all curled up at the moment. 

Next is my Language Wall.  3 Ikea shelves hold non-fiction, grammar, handwriting, creative writing and on the top I have my spelling and sandpaper handwriting cards.  The gecko tank still needs to arrive.  But I have 5 free cubbies on this wall, which will most likely hold lined paper and extra books that come in through the year.

My computers are all hooked up (did that myself!) and all the bins underneath hold outdoor equipment and indoor recess games.  The grey basket as Montessori mats for doing work on the floor.  Behind the door is my fraction pie shelf, which I washed and tidied.

Although I've blocked a lot with chairs, this is my cultural shelf.  Cultural refers to anything that is Social Studies, Science, Art...etc.  So I have art cards in the baskets, the provincial flags, the globe and several trays I will use for ongoing topics.  Also the kids have 10 cubbies for school supplies and I have ordered 13 more Sterilite 14L bins to complete the 7 I already have. 
You can see my map shelf on the far left with the projector on top!

In past years my teacher desk came out from the wall.  This year I decided to maximize the space by pushing it up against the wall.  Right now it has a lot of papers on it, getting reading for the year.  However, the drawers are student friendly.  I keep tape, scissors, stamp pads, and all office supplies in the drawers and students often use them.  The other small little wooden box of drawers houses small items like bandaids, rubber bands...etc.

My math wall!  You can see my two hardware shelves that have math cards.  It is very uncluttered because in Montessori you only bring out what the students are working with.  As materials are used less you put them away.  I will be bringing more materials out during the year.  For now there are materials out that the students know how to use already or can easily learn the first day!  I also spent most of my day cleaning out the shared Montessori storage.  It had many items that were broken and needed tossing.  I also removed all items that were not Montessori as they shouldn't be in the storage room!  What I did find for me were several materials that were new and shiny that I wanted to use!  So I moved them into my personal storage space.  All the bulletin boards are white or black, with one remaining to be done.

Finally a look at the 4 hexagon tables I have in my room.  Students will be free to work where they like as long as they are being respectful.  Can't WAIT to start putting all my ideas into practice.  I hope the kids enjoy the room as much as I do!

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Carpet needs a friend

So I worked on my classroom today.  I have painters on one side and me on the other so it's a slow going process.  Today I worked on one CORNER of my room.  Realized I didn't want my carpet in the middle of the room because it made the room very unbalanced.  So I've moved the carpet near my novel library.

Notice that you can see the Black Bulletin board paper.  Now once I put this carpet down I thought, it's not big enough for 20 grade 4/5 children!  So I'm going to a liquidation world tomorrow to get another 5X8 rug.  So in essence I should have originally purchased a 10 X 8 rug!  I will add the rug on to the back of this one.  Photo to come soon!

Next I focused on one of my 5 Ikea shelves.  I figured that since I had novels over there I would put my language materials and non-fiction materials on that side too.

So this shelf has non-fiction books in the bottom cubbies.  I am going to get the kids to sort them into subjects, write down the subject names and then I'll make labels for the cubbies.  As I found out with the novels (when the children alphabetized them), they take more ownership of keeping the materials tidy and neat when they created the system.
On the top cubbies are from left to right, my grammar material boxes in order of presentations.  So I teach the green pronoun boxes first.  However, just off to the left of the green boxes are my sentence analysis cards and symbols.   In Montessori all materials are put on the shelf from left to right in order of difficulty.  So I would teach them left to right.
On the far right are two sets of leveled non-fiction books and my Brain Bank non-fiction boxes which house leveled non-fiction readers in Socials and Science.  Red is grade 4 and Purple Grade 5.  I also have Grade 3 in blue if needed.
On the very top I have the gecko tank supplies in a basket, and the tank will go next to the supplies as soon as I get it back from T.  There is an outlet in the wall right next to the shelf which is perfect for the lights and heat rock needed.  My computer is NOT going to stay there.

This weekend I am on a mission to get the carpet and several baskets.  I need a basket to hold my non-fiction writing card material.  I have laminated photo cards with writing ideas on the back for Life Science, Physical Science and Earth Science.  They will be rotated into the basket weekly to keep them fresh and interesting!  Same for the next shelving unit which has creative writing ideas for fiction and journal prompts (photos) that also need baskets.

The third shelf to the right (there are three on one wall) needs the tupperware containers for the kids school supplies.  So I need to purchase 20 of those as well.  V has given me a sample size so I know exactly what size fits in my cubbies (2 per cubby).

On Monday I will be finishing up these shelves and putting my other 2 shelves together, but those are for cultural material and my fiction picture books (which sadly just don't fit in the language area...unless I move the school supplies to the side Cultural wall...hmmm.)  We'll see!  Stay tuned!

I also saw H today and realized I should get commission from Ikea!  Not only does V have 3 Ikea shelves but H has two!  Glad these shelves are popular! 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Reading up

I'm taking some time to refresh myself on Maria Montessori and her philosophy and methods.  I'm looking for a link between what I feel is necessary in my classroom design and her philosophy of education.  Today I found one!  Montessori was the first person to have furniture designed specifically for children.  She felt that children should be able to move their own chairs and tables around without adult help and therefore create their own learning environment.  Her first school was built in a room with nothing, so there were no preconceived ideas of what a classroom should look like.

This got me thinking.  Can the students in my class move the furniture themselves.  Well, they can move the tables with help and the chairs no problem.  I want them to feel free to move the tables around and decide where they should go.  But I also need to stress the safety of having a partner or two to help move the desks and to lift with the knees.  I think in September this will be added to my mini lessons - how to move a table without hurting yourself.  Also, I forgot I wanted to get tennis balls to dampen the sound of chairs moving in my room.  I think I will add, how to move a chair properly too.  Maybe I can have parents help cut the holes in the tennis balls?  First volunteer sign up! 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

New ideas in the room

I need to take pictures of my room soon!

Today the two shelving units were built and put up.  I'm waiting for the last two shelves and then H is going to put wheels on them (I have to buy the wheels).  I noticed that my rug is big enough for the space.  If I buy another one I will have no room for tables!  The tables are up and in place.  I also noticed that my map station, which is on wheels, is perfect for holding my projector.  I can just wheel the projector away when I'm not using it.  Very functional.

This picture is very similar to my map cabinet except that I have a full piece of wood on the top that holds the projector.  Then I have my 6 continent puzzles and Canada underneath.  I don't have Antarctica cause there is no point, it would be one giant puzzle piece.  I am missing the world map though.  I'd like to find who has that. 

So what is left?  I have to buy 2 more shelves, 1 comfy chair for my carpet area, 20 or so storage bins for the kids school supplies, and a hardware storage unit for my Math Cards.  These are my most pressing needs.  I also need to check on how many storage baskets I need for Montessori cards etc, that are without a holder and get some patio lantern lights for my ceiling.  I'm going to try that idea.

S and V were also in setting up their rooms and we all went with black and white for our bulletin board colours.  I have to finish one more board and then put borders around them.  I have decided that the back two white bulletin boards will be for the kids framed work (they choose), the front two black bulletin boards will be for things the kids want to put up (on lined chart paper, like spelling words, ideas etc.)  The final Black bulletin board will be for birthday charts, information of importance, notices etc.  I am going to put their mailboxes right under that board so it will be a great place for parents to find up to date notices, info and maybe a list of items we need or volunteer sign ups.  So far that is the plan!

I find each time I go in my room I find something I don't really need or want to alter.  I have PILES of textbooks I'm not going to use.  I think I'll keep a few for reference books and take the rest to the storage rooms.  I have three areas of clutter to finish, one is a pile on my filing cabinet of random books I don't need and outdated Encyclopedias, one is my filing cabinet, and the other is my computer table which is piled with other text books I don't need.  My filing cabinet was reorganized this year.  It is at bare minimum.  I have files for each subject and put anything of interest in there.  The next drawer is files for events like Sports Day, Track, etc that always come up in the year.  Everything is alphabetical so it's easy to find.  I have two bottom drawers that are random crap that needs to be sorted, cause I just through stuff in there throughout the year.

Whew!  It's a big job but I love the minimalist look of the room and the clutter free feel.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Lamp failure

Well I figured out a few things today while busting a move in my classroom.  ONE:  I'm a HUGE keener...I was IN SCHOOL!  TWO:  SOME of the outlets in the ceiling work.  THREE:  the lamps worked and looked cool but to unplug them I need a 6ft ladder DAILY...that is NOT happening.  So back to Ikea I went to return them.  I've decided that maybe some patio lanterns hanging from the beams with an extension off switch would work.  That idea is currently on hold.

Going to End of the Roll tomorrow morning for a second carpet.  I've figured out how big the two will be and how to space my tables, now I have to build them.  I will take a picture when the carpets and tables are up.  Right now I'm happy to have cleared out all my floor space.  I think I'll be getting shelves, a chair, magazine holders and storage containers from Ikea very shortly.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Math Cards ARRIVE!

I am so excited.  I came back from Toronto to see a nice package of math cards.  For those of you who teach Montessori these are wonderful.  Basically they are small cards based on every Montessori Math Material for ages 9-12.  You store them in boxes with small pull out drawers (like from a hardware store).  They come with an answer book (for children to mark their work), a master sheet to keep track of which cards each student has completed, and labels for each small drawer.  I have to laminate them.

I was thrilled to find them!  They go with my Math program which I follow from North American Montessori Center. 

Check this link if you are interested.

I can't wait to introduce them into the classroom!!!  I'm going to Canadian Tire to get some clear drawer sets.  There are 80 sets of I need two 40 drawer cabinets. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Decided against the lamps

Going to return my lamps.  I figured that the main reason for them was not going to actually happen as planned.  My reason for the lamps was to light the classroom in a soft white light.  However, the lights are not strong enough to light the room.  So, lamps will not be happening.  Flourescents it is.  If I do get a lamp it will be for a small private reading area that I have an image of.  We shall see.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Lamps purchased

Spent some time at Ikea this morning.  The lamps that I showed in my previous posts are unfortunately NOT plug in style, so I have bought 4 globe style lamps for four dollars a piece.  You have to buy the plug set up for 7.00 and then you buy the lights and then the shade that goes around the bulb is 4 bucks.  Overall I spent 60 dollars on the lighting.  I'm going to keep the receipts just in case I can either get reimbursed OR need to return them.

Here is the plan.  I'm going to go into the class and check to see if the ceiling outlets are random or attached to a switch.  I do have a slight problem.  If the outlets run separately then I have NO way of switching the lights off unless I climb up and unplug them.  This does not seem like a good idea to me.  Now, if the outlets are connected to the light switches then I have a way to turn them off and on, but I still have to leave my flourescents on because they are on the same switch.

I'm now debating, do I go ahead with the lamps or just return them?  What is the point of the lamps?  I wanted to give the room a more home like glow then the business/factory lights I already have.  But if I have to deal with both then really, what is the point?  What if the lamps CAN be set to work without the flourescent tubes?  Will they give enough light to work with?  Hmmmm.  Perhaps I am only going for the Look for the lighting and not it's practicality?  What is the purpose of the lights?  If the purpose is to light the classroom like a home and I can't do that technically then I will return the lights. 

I also have a problem with my rug.  It's not big enough.  I can't return it because I've been reimbursed for it already.  So my solution is to buy a second rug.  But I can't get one in the same colour.  What to do, what to do.  Does it matter if the colours match?  The purpose of the rug is to have a large enough area for my entire class to sit comfortably and listen to the morning/afternoon lesson before going to do their independent work.  So it needs to be large and comfortable.  It's shag and feels great. 

Also did a check on the math cards I ordered.  They should be in this week some time!  I can't wait!  Very excited to get a hold of those cards.

Next on my shopping list:  the Ikea shelving units which I KNOW I need.  I may be returning the lamps at that point as I'm really beginning to doubt the need for them.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Frames Found!

Cruising through the dollar store on Shaughnessy yesterday I found frames for my classroom.  I had been thinking about what kind of frames I would want.  Mostly, I was thinking wood.  The dollar store had 8X10 frame inserts, the kind you put IN the frame.  They are made of a harder paper and I could actually staple them to the walls or use push pins.  Plus they were only 1.75 each!  So I abandoned my wood frame idea and bought 24 of these in white, off white, burgundy and black.  I figure, if I use a green or brown backdrop to my bulletin boards, these colours will look good against it.  Although I'm NOT that great at colour schematics, so we will see if I am right or not! 

I am excited to try using these and let you know if they are durable enough to last. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Shopping List for Classroom

Today I went to my classroom to get a feel of the open space.  I noticed right away that my shag carpet is NOT large enough.  I am going to need a second carpet to make the space the size I want it to be.  I'm going to need frames for the kids work, portable clear desks (like G uses) and 2 more expedit shelves from Ikea:

These shelves I put horizontally across my walls and they look fabulous.  I measured them to have 13 X 13 inch cubbies.  With 5 in all I'll have 40 cubbies.  I've already started to lay out what I want in each cubby.  At Ikea these cost 79.99.  I have 3 already and I will buy 2 more and keep the receipts for fall to see if I can get reimbursed.

Next I'm thinking of lighting.  Here are my two ikea lamp ideas:  The first is the cheapest one at 29.99.  I originally wanted 6..but maybe 4 would do?

I have 6 outlets in the ceiling.  If I plug the lamps in (assuming they plug in!) and then have a hook to make them drop as low as I want, then this will achieve my goal.  I plan to buy one for a trial run to see if I can make this work.  But wouldn't you also know that the district came and fixed my two flourescent lights that have been out for a few months.  I don't plan to turn those lights on anymore!  Okay option 2 is 79.99 and I don't think I will be getting it...but it is cool looking.

Like a fuzzy snowball.  But notice the lights seem to hook up to the ceiling wiring.  I don't like that!  I need plug in lamps.  Well, stay tuned, I have NO idea if this will work or not!

Last of all I need to buy 30 or more clear plastic shoe boxes.  Not only for my students to put their extra supplies in, but for myself to store odds and ends.  Most of my stuff fits in my desk drawers and these cute small cubbies I have that are labeled for the kids.  They say "push pins", "elastic bands" extra.  I'm thinking of the extra materials I might need to supply.  So right now I'm in a holding pattern for the bins.  I need them to fit two to a large cubby (13x13) and I have no idea how many I truly need.  I also want matching baskets for some books I have.  Those will go in one of two material shelving units.  Today I found all my non-fiction materials and I want to put them together.  I also have my grammar materials to shelve.  Plus I need to label everything too.  It's a huge job I'm undertaking but I know it will be worth it in the end.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Shopping and public schools

This past week I had the chance to talk with some fellow teachers and discuss the state of public school.  One of the topics that kept coming up was the borderless public school issue.  Back in 2001 when Christy Clark was Minister of Ed, she came up with this idea that parents should be allowed to choose the school their child goes to, and removed the idea that you had to go to your neighbourhood school.  This has caused a HUGE problem.  Schools have to compete with each other.  I, as the teacher have to SELL my program.  At least it feels like that because people can threaten to take their "business" elsewhere.  Really Clark's whole mission was to create private school business.  The government doesn't want to pay for public education, so her move is to discredit public schools with rankings and competition.  Since then my district has put in new programs and been marketing themselves to get students.

Long ago in a far off place there was a lovely thing called a neighbourhood school.  Schools were all seen as "good" and people didn't go from school to school shopping for the one they want.  Children in a neighbourhood went to school together.  It was a happy place.  Parents and teachers worked together to help each student succeed.  I have to say my school is AWESOME.   I hate when I hear rumours about it, that somehow it is not as good as another school near by.  That is totally untrue.  Basically rumours are started by people who just don't get their way, or we tell them the honest truth and they flee! DARE WE!

These days I feel of two minds.  I work in a special program, so shouldn't I sell it?  But, shouldn't the program sell itself?  A lot of time people don't understand the program.  People want a certain spelling program or a certain math text.  I feel like I have to bow to these pressures to keep people in my program.

BUT guess what???  This year, that is NOT happening.  I know what I'm doing, I'm good at it...and I need to believe in myself and my program.  I plan to help my parents understand the program through an introduction guide I am going to give out in September.  A lot of parents work now and I think it's hard for them to feel connected to our classroom.  I hope that my website, my newsletters, my new "info" guide and my openness to email communication will help in this area.

What is my program?  Montessori.  It was created by Maria Montessori who designed it for children who supposedly "couldn't" learn.  Children with disabilities and poor disadvantaged children.  They did very well with hands on, sequenced lessons.   I discovered Montessori while teaching on call.  I found the philosophy suited ME to a tee!  Basically it involves independent choice, students choose what they want to learn (within a structured environment).  When the teacher sees they are ready to learn something new they sit down and do a lesson with the child.  My classroom has materials for all subjects, and it is my job to create a schedule where children can openly choose BUT still cover all subject areas.

So, the thought for me this year is....THIS is my program.  If you don't like it..that's okay...there are other programs for you to choose.  I must stay true to what I believe is right for teaching.  I can't just put a spelling program in because it "looks" good....and trust me I have a spelling program BUT I'm talking about ones I'm told to do.  Once upon a time I was actually bribed to do what someone wanted...don't worry I didn't take the bribe!  I need to stop feeling like I need to sell the program and myself.  I need to focus on my love for Montessori and my love for teaching.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Background Music in the Classroom

Spent some time today walking around looking at research projects from graduating masters students.  A classmate of mine (M) her brother did a really interesting study on Background music in the classroom.  I was thinking about this in terms of student learning.  He did a study with nature sounds, children's music, and classical music at three different volumes (quiet - 40 decibels, medium, and loud 70).  He found that none of the music made a difference overall, in tests with silence the children did the same as with music.  However, he did find that quiet nature sounds during math improved students scores.  SO...I'm thinking I may try this idea.

He also said, playing music that's upbeat when kids come in can have a great effect on their mood.

I will be trying these ideas!  Let me know if you have :)

**I credit Megan's brother MATTHEW (last name ?) for this info.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Ceilings for sound

Tonight I went to the keynote speaker at SFU.  I was noticing that the theatre is designed with a ceiling that is quite wavy.  It made me wonder what effects the ceiling has on the sound in the room.  I'm thinking of the fabric I'm going to drape from the ceiling.  I wonder if I have it wave like this ceiling if it will dampen echoes and extra noise.

This is the exact room I was in.  The ceiling is wavy with pot lights (I HATE pot lights) but the ceiling is very cool looking.  It's metal, bent like an accordian, with small holes in it...all through like a speaker.

Suggestions?  Does fabric set in waves help with noise levels?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Ideas from Masters Class!

Today T and P did a great activity where you put your fear on a piece of paper, ball it up and chuck it at them.  I really liked that!  Idea, idea!
I can see using this with children for different emotions.  It's confidential.  They had us read them out at the end, we didn't know whose was whose.  Maybe I would do that OR keep the papers to inform myself of issues in my classroom.

Great ideas ladies!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Field Trips

I was reading the NAMC blog on facebook today about practical life activities for children in my age group.  I was thinking that at the beginning of the year the KIDS could help me plan field trips.  They can keep track of who brings notes in and the money.  That would be very practical.  I think they can also help me plan the arrangements by phone.  There are three points to practical life activities in 9-12:

  • Care of self – planning what will be needed (snacks, money, clothing, equipment, transportation…)
  • Care of the environment – taking care in and of our surroundings (“look but don’t touch” at museums; recycling and throwing out our litter; using ‘inside’ voices in public areas; learning the “pack in/pack out” rule)
  • Grace and Courtesy – handling ourselves in social situations (making reservations, using manners, writing thank you notes)

I've never given the children the power to chose field trips before but I might be able to work on this idea this year.  I also plan on letting them Plan the flow of the subjects for the year for Cultural.  I'm going to give them the subjects we will be studying and the weeks it will take and they will plan which subject will go where and when.  Experimental planning!

Some Practical life ideas taken from the blog above:
Here are a few more ideas for upper elementary Montessori Practical Life outdoor activities:
Hauling things: dirt for a garden, sand for a playground, rocks for a pathway
Making paths and walkways along the school grounds
Creating and executing a plan to reduce, reuse and recycle at school
Raking leaves
Shoveling snow
Building and mending fences
Mowing grass
Planting and caring for a garden
Washing cars
Walking dogs
Routine car maintenance: checking oil, filling windshield fluid, changing a tire
Building playgrounds

Well I am doing a garden and they will be planning it.  I also will be starting composting and they will plan that too.  Wouldn't it be really cool to join up the high school and have the older kids teach mine how to make frames, and those could be for their work on the walls!  Hmmmm

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Death of the Big Blue Shelf!!!

Today I went back to school.  Yeah I know...why Sandra why?

Well, my house cleaners come and I have to be out of the house during that time.  So I took myself to school to do a little Montessori research.  I wanted to look over my NAMC binders and see what materials I needed for September and to reteach myself some of the materials.

While I was there our caretaker H offered a suggestion.  Why was I going to repaint the big blue shelf.  One it wasn't on wheels, it wasn't attached to the wall...why did I want it?  Good question H.  So I got him to haul that thing OUT!  I am going to replace it with 2 more Ikea shelves (which I need to purchase).  On top of that H and I got talking.  He offered to put mini wheels on all my shelving units so that he can clean better and I can move them around easily.  Smart H, very smart!  So lucky me!  My shelves are getting wheels!

I also got to look at the room S set up.  It was really cool.  Green carpet with blue paper on the boards...very Earthy. 

Ideas are flowing!!!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ideas from Greg

Went to visit Greg's room today!  Got some great ideas.  Particularly, use my sound system again.  I do have a sound system that helps my voice carry around the room.  I hadn't used it because I thought it was contributing to the overall noise.  I'm willing to give it another chance.

Fabric.  Greg suggested using fabric on the ceiling to dampen the noise.  I never thought of that!  So I'm going to give that a try too.  Also need to find out which breaker switch turns those ceiling outlets on and off. 

New adventures await!   Fabric store, here I come. 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A dream of books

Now I know I've lost it!  I took a nap and dreamed of organizing my picture books.  I have been wondering how to make them look less messy.  You know the kind of books.  They are fiction and non-fiction easier readers.  I have an alphabetized library of chapter books, as I've said before.  My picture books are a mess to behold!

I searched a few images of book baskets.  I'm picturing putting the books into fiction and non-fiction sections, alphabetized by author (fiction) and subject (non-fiction).  I'd love to have wicker, but wicker is a lot more expensive.  So I need to start with some low price dollar store MATCHING baskets.

I stumbled on two websites.  The first was organizing library books, which is where I got the fiction and non-fiction splitting idea.  The other is a second grade blog by a teacher who loves green and frogs and had some design ideas of her own.  I really enjoyed her blog.  Her room is a bit more busy than I'd like but it is stunning none the less!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Ikea Shelf

This is a photo of the Expedit shelf from Ikea.  This was taken in September of last year after I set it up at the front of my room.  As you can see it is wood coloured and fits right under my white board!  I have bought 2 more of these and removed the little rainbow coloured drawer set on the side.  That whole wall will have these shelves across it!  They are very large storage cubes and have depth as well.  I find the top of the shelving smooth and very easy to clean.  I am hoping to store the children's supplies and projects in these areas.

As you can see my room was quite colourful.  For this year I am putting away the colours and going with brown and white for boards so the kids can write on them.  I am also going to purchase or have a friend make some student frames so THEY can post their own work.  I will save my posters and equipment for learning times only.

Last thought for today.  Should I mount my projector?  I always have to move the desk it's on and line it up correctly.  But if it was mounted to the ceiling, I wouldn't have this problem.  My screen is already mounted so it's not moving.  What do you think?  Pros and cons?  Hmmm.

Oh and check out the photo above.  Do you see the GIANT white tubing that clutters up my ceiling.  Yup that is the heating system.  It makes using the top parts of the walls impossible.  

Friday, 1 July 2011

New Adventures

Inspired by colleagues I've decided to document my journey this coming year. 

About Me:

I am a grade 4/5 Montessori teacher.  This will be my 13th year teaching.  I am in a Masters of Educational Leadership class and plan to do my research project on the effects of classroom design on my teaching and my students learning. 

Interest in Design:

For my last master's paper I looked at physical organization.  I really found it interesting how schools are laid out and how classrooms can be designed.  I was lent a book called The Third Teacher from my colleague H and I LOVED the book.  I was determined to start thinking outside my four walls.
This past year I had a very challenging class.  15 boys and 8 girls all very high energy.  My classroom was LOUD and most of my time was spent dealing with behaviour issues.  But then I started questioning why?  I spent half my day asking kids to take hats off....why?  I spent a lot of time asking kids to sit...why?  What was I thinking?  Do kids really need to sit?  Do hats really need to be off?  Hmmmm. 
I also have space limitations.  Our school used to be a California school, with outdoor access and NO hallways.  Year ago hallways were added, shrinking the classrooms significantly.  Apparently, according to a colleague of mine our classes are 20 square feet below ministry standard.  So, faced with that, how do I fit all those kids in?  Gotta think outside the walls!
This year full day K was introduced to our school.  I was inspired by their use of outdoor space.  Our principal created garden spaces for all, and fenced in areas for children to explore.  I am lucky enough to have an outside door and an area of grass.  It's small but it has me thinking, why can't my kids just go outside to do work?  They were always trying to escape to be out there anyway! 

My friend G has a great blog all about his thinking about teaching and design.  I'm so inspired by this!  So I plan to document what I will change and what I have created. 

What have I bought and gotten rid of?  Well last year I bought an Expedit shelf unit from Ikea.  It is wood and holds TONS of books.  It fits right under the white board perfectly.  I was so happy with it that I have purchased two more for September and will put them all along one wall. 

I'm the kind of person who likes all her shelves around the edges and NOTHING in the middle of the room.  I love the wide open feel of that.  I used to have shelves creating little spaces for reading or math, but now I like the open feel. 

This year my library books were all alphabetized by the kids, by author's last name.  I found this was a great idea because the kids really liked keeping it in order.  After all they had done the hard work of alphabetizing it and they got angry if kids dumped books!  I hope to keep this this same and have the kids teach the newer kids how to keep it nice and neat.

My large cabinet is used for my storage.  If you saw inside it you would lose your mind!!  It is very well organized.  I have all my arts and craft supplies binned and sorted too. 

The biggest change for me will be the removal of ALL DESKS.  I started thinking mid year...why do I have desks?  What are they really for?  I spend all my time taking toys away from kids who hide them in desks, asking kids to find work they have stuffed in the desk, cleaning out desks, having children hide books in their while I'm talking to them.  Desks really were my pain.  As a child I hated these desks.  You have to bend awkwardly to get stuff out of them.  Complete waste of space.  SO I decided I will remove them and put tables in.  So I have 8 trapezoid tables ready to go.  They are all wood finish tops and I plan to put a plant on each.  I have also purchased a raspberry shag rug.  I's coloured and wild but I just fell in love with it and felt it would be a fun place to sit and learn!  It's also easy for kids to clean.  I do not trust the ancient vacuums that the custodians are forced to use. 

I also loved the idea of Ikea lamps replacing my horridly unreliable flourecent lights.  Unfortunately my back window is barred up and lets in very little natural light.  BUT I am lucky enough to have 6 outlets in my ceiling beams because my room was a computer room.  So bring on the globe lights baby! 


My other love is Montessori.  I teach it, I live it....I breathe it.  BUT the biggest problem I have is that I am confined to public school schedules.  Montessori really thrives on having a very flexible schedule.  With bells and structured PE, LIbrary, Music etc...this is a hard thing.  I also spend half my year questioning myself.  Should I use textbooks, no yes, no yes.....back and forth!  Well this year I have a plan.  Believe in Montessori wholely.  Go with it and do it! 

I just ordered a set of math cards that goes exactly with my materials and the age 9-12 curriculum.  In my classroom children work at their own pace.  Some do grade 3 level math while some do grade 7. 

In Language I have always believed in free writing time.  You can write whatever you want, poems, comic books, stories, long as YOU want to do it.  I was an author as a child, I loved story writing, but I was given the freedom to do it by many wonderful teachers.  I want my kids to have the freedom to write.

Now Cultural is where the problems lie.  Cultural is anything other than Language or Math.  So this year I tried this station approach and failed...failed hard.  I did it with the Human Body unit.  I thought I'd create a station for each system, and have hands on stuff at each.  Oh I was gung ho baby!  But when I got to the end of the unit I gave them the standard paper test.  HUGE MISTAKE...half the class failed.  So why was it that they could tell me stuff about the human body but not write it down.  Well I taught them hands on...but tested them with paper...WHAT!!!  So lesson learned.  Hands on is good, but my old methods of collecting data of their knowledge..did not work. 

I also love project based learning.  The problem I have with it is that they love to take them home and then I have half student/half parent projects.  How do I tell what they really did?  But I don't have enough computers for the kids to research daily IN the classroom.  Catch 22.  I will need to work on that.  I need more library space and more computer time.  I need to match the project time to my given computer/library time and use the librarian for help on this too.  I have plans I do....

Final thoughts

As July begins I'm thinking and reading and recording as much as possible.  I really want to make this next school year exciting for my students.  I want to work on the NOISE level in my class.  I am a loud person, so it starts with me.  I want to spend September working on how to get along with others, how to solve problems and how to respect ourselves and our space.  My kids often have been with each other for the entire schooling time.  So they really know each other's buttons and it causes huge behaviour issues.  I've already spoken to my support teachers on how to set up behaviour plans for students in September.  I have at least 4 kids who need them.  BUT will my new design and my rededication to Montessori ease these issues?  We will have to see.

Have a great summer and please comment with ideas or any help you have!  Photos soon.