Archive for May, 2011

So, I’ve been thinking about experimenting in class. I announced last Friday that we were going to try an experiment.

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry labOne student said, “Experiments never work out.” He’s a solid kid, not just trying to be the class clown at all.

I replied, “Getting iPads was an experiment. . .”

He was quiet for a second, “Oh, that’s true.  Never mind. I like experiments.”

And we were off.

A little background: my division (lower school in a prek-12 school) is going Mac. Teachers all got new MacBook Pros a few weeks ago. We will be getting a number of laptop carts with MacBooks for next year. One cart arrived the other day. So, of course, I was eager to give those computers a test run. It just so happened that we were at the end of an assignment that fit perfectly.

We have been reading Tuck Everlasting. (I wrote about it the other day.) One of the things I asked students to do was collect examples of great figurative language and descriptive writing—not hard in this book. So students have been collecting examples, sharing them on our blog, and commenting about why they like the passages they chose. This was all practice for a final recording of each student reading his or her favorite passage and commenting about it.

I figured we would use Garage Band (there are some Macs in the music room) and then share the files to iTunes and from there to our eportfolios. We have iPads and have the Castor app, but have not been able to send podcasts for some reason. I think it may have to do with our network at school. Anyway, I learned that I could make a recording with Quicktime and upload directly to our wikis. Since these recordings will be short, we don’t really need all the Garage Band extras.

Then, I was talking to @TeacherDebra and she suggested adding an image to the recordings. That way there is something to look at while you listen to the podcast. Super idea. This is why I like to talk to other teachers about what I am doing. I like to take their ideas. (For great resources on web tools check out Debra’s wiki here.)

So, I asked students to find an online image that they felt went with their passage.

Here comes the experiment.

We got out the Macs, first use in class. In small groups, I showed students how to use Quicktime, selecting new screencast, and then built-in microphone. It’s not as if everyone saved their first try, but it worked with a minimum of fuss. I don’t think anyone had used this application before, although I have many Mac users in my class. But, there continues to be just one of me so I could only help some students. As students figured out various steps, I assigned them as experts for others.

In less than 40 minutes, everyone found an image, leaned how to use Quicktime, made a recording (or several until they liked what they had), and saved. The vast majority also uploaded the file (.mov) to the language arts page of their digital portfolios.

Then, I did a little happy dance. It was a good experiment.

(Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons license.)


So, I’ve been thinking about the books we read in language arts. We do not use a basal reader. We read novels (I don’t like the term “trade books” do you?) and teach skills through them.

It’s 5th grade. We’re not reading “the cannon.” We, my 5th grade teacher colleagues and I, make changes here and there as to the books we read. Sometimes a book just becomes dated or not appealing to our students. There are so many great books out there, we don’t need to keep something in the curriculum that is not grabbing people.

Spring waterOne of the books that we read is Tuck Everlasting. It is by no means new (published in 1975). The first year I taught 5th grade at this school I was dreading teaching it. I hadn’t read it since I was in middle school and had no fond memories of it, to say the least. I was lobbying for pulling it the moment I heard it was in the curriculum.

Then I reread it. It’s fantastic. Probably always was. I don’t know what my problem was way back when.

Since I love it so much, I sell it well, if I do say so myself. We have interesting discussions, do thought-provoking assignments, and generally enjoy ourselves as we read and talk about these wonderful characters and writing.

Yet, each year I wonder if the book is going to start to lose its appeal. And, every year I have students, boys and girls, tell me how much they love the book. It continues to be a favorite when I survey the class at the end of the year. (We have one more book to read this year before I give my survey.) Here are a few things students (boys and girls) have written when I have asked them to reflect on their reading:

  • I think that this is the best book that I read this year.
  • I love the story and that makes me want to read more carefully.
  • I am doing a fantastic job. I got to read over and over to get things that didn’t make sense.
  • Probably my best book yet.
  • Overall this book is really one of my favorites.
  • I think this book has been better for me than some of the other books.
  • I have been enjoying this book a lot and have been reading over to make sure I know everything.

Maybe Tuck really is Everlasting.

(Photo by Jonas Lowgren used under Creative Commons license.)

So, I’ve been thinking about room arrangement all year. I started with a new format at the beginning of the year, changed it up a little based on some student input; then had the students plan and vote on a new arrangement. All that didn’t quite push the boundaries as much as I wanted. So, the last day of school before spring break after I dismissed everyone, I set to work. I dragged my husband in and we spent a couple of hours moving everything, and I mean everything, around.

First up, the student desks. They are a pain because there are enough of them that they can’t be rearranged quickly enough to be considered truly flexible. So they had to go. Well, ok they couldn’t entirely leave the room, but I did the next best thing. I lined then up facing the 2 long walls (window out and hallway). They are storage and independent work options, but not much else. Once we did that, I could really see some possibilities. I have a couple of low bookshelves that I dragged into the middle of the room. They now form a low wall bisecting the long rectangle space into 2 almost squares. Then I put my 2 nicer chairs in a good reading spot, found a semi-permanent place for the single biggest, and most significantly, heaviest table, and sprinkled my light easy to move IKEA tables liberally around the room. Voila!

Here is the basic arrangement, without the IKEA tables sprinkled around

Now we can have the IKEA tables pushed together for a big group discussion, in a U shape, in rows near the board if I need to show something there, or broken apart for pairs or groups of 4. I swear the room seems like it grew.

Arranged for whole class discussion

Discussion with the board available

Direct Instruction at the board

Group work-4 groups

In some ways it looks more like a primary or preschool room now with the bookshelves dividing the space (although they only come up to the kids’ thighs at best). It has freed us up to work in groups without being on top of each other, and I feel like I finally really have the flexible learning space I have been craving all year.

I could go show about a million more variations to the room. Sometimes there are 2 main things going on, 1 in front, 1 in back. Sometimes people are all over: desks, tables, floor, cubby area. I thought I would just give an idea of some of the arrangement options. (I have to say I am better at furniture placement than photo placement on the blog here. But, I have spent enough time on this particular problem and need to move on-something we discuss a lot in 5th grade.)

So, I’m not sure why it took me six years to get here, I’m just glad I finally arrived.

(Pictures created with Doodle Buddy app)