Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Final Space

It FINALLY came!!! We have been waiting...and waiting...and waiting for the final piece of furniture to arrive for our amazing space. It arrived today at 3:30...albeit a month late...we'll take it! Check it out! Isn't it amazing? We cannot wait to surprise the kids tomorrow morning with it!

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Could this horse-shoe piece be ANY cooler?? We are SO excited!
A Little Background...
When Kate and I first began planning this space, our number one priority was the hole in the wall. We knew it would completely change the way we taught and the way the kids viewed our space. It would not longer be my room and Kate's room. That doorway symbolized the transition to our room. Out of everything we asked for in our proposal (and we DID ask for the moon...), that was our number one. Thankfully, we got it!

In addition to the wall and the amazing technology that we use each and every day with our students, we also asked for money to purchase unique and comfortable furniture. We in no way shape or form wanted a "traditional" classroom environment. We wanted cozy. We wanted fun. We wanted choice for our kiddos. We felt that kids being allowed to work where they are most comfortable would significantly help with their engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, we ran into some "bumps" in our wall-tear-down-road. These bumps essentially "bumped" away our furniture budget last summer. Kate and I made due, for sure. We had lots of tables. We found some great, second-hand green hand chairs. We used a fellow teacher's old counter top to turn an old book case into seating. We bought our futon at Walmart. We used some of our grade level budget to buy odds and ends here and there. We spent our own money, for sure. We were even generously gifted another futon and 2 yoga ball chairs by our amazing families. But, we still felt like we could do more
Our awesome second-hand "hand chairs" that sit in our fiction library.
Our fiction library area.
Our nonfiction library area and "quiet zone". This zone is a silent zone at all times. It also houses one of our Wal-Mart futons and a target ottoman.
Our counter top book case that we made with hand-me-down counters.
Don't get me wrong, we were EXTREMELY thankful for all that we were granted last summer. Our year last year was the BEST work of our teaching careers. But we still longed for some fun furniture for our kiddos.

Welcome to Spring 2014. Our truly amazing business manager for our school district came to visit us. I needed to interview him for my then-grad-program. I have always known him to be open minded and a true team player, but I never realized his passion for innovation and unique spaces until that interview. Who ever is fortunate enough to work with a money guy that is totally into school innovation? He truly understands both sides of the educational coin--the financial side, for sure. But he also really thrives on connecting the financial side to best practices. He doesn't believe in spending money if it is not a priority or what is best for kids. For that, and many more reasons, we have immense amounts of respect for him. We are SO incredibly fortunate to have him as part of our administrative team here in Elmbrook! During our interview, he mentioned how he was looking to redesign some under-utilized spaces in some of the elementary school hallways. We chatted casually about the great things he was doing. And he was off. A few weeks later, he approached Kate and I with an amazing proposition. He recognized that we lost our furniture budget the summer before, and he offered to help us obtain some new furniture as part of his redesign project. Who could say no to such an amazing offer! We worked with him and furniture by Staples, and voila! We received some truly amazing pieces that our students absolutely LOVE (and we do, too!). 
We received the blue modular couch and red step modular pieces this summer. It adds a "stadium seating" effect to our space. It is wonderful for whole group mini-lessons, too!

These other red, step pieces are on the opposite side of our space. They are also new this year.
Do you see the fun "minion" chairs at the S-shaped table in the picture? Those are fabric covered yoga ball chairs! They are the most comfortable chairs ever! Also new this fall. The black futon is one of our Wal-Mart beauties from last summer. It held up surprisingly well!

Standing desks with "wiggle" bars at the bottom that we received from our partnership with our OT team! We had these last year, and can't imagine our space without them!
A great "net chair" from Target. And, of course, more "minion chairs" !
We are SO incredibly thankful for our space and the support of our senior leadership. We cannot thank you all enough. Our space is an amazing place to work, but more importantly, it is an amazing place for kids!

What things have you done to rethink your learning space? We'd love to hear the amazing things you have done! 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Weekly Goal Setting & Reflection

We survived our first week! Woo Hoo! It has been SO amazing to loop with our students! We dove in headfirst into our year, and we are already setting weekly week TWO! Wow! Last year, we didn't begin this process until January! It is a tremendous feeling to see how far they have come as reflectors of their own learning!

A Little Background:
During our first week of school, the students set up digital portfolios using a tremendous tool: Weebly for Education (link to our old post on the tool). We gave them a few "Must Do's" for their portfolios (They needed certain tab titles and sub pages), but the rest...they could completely personalize! Some students really went above and beyond!

Some examples of student portfolios
This week, we taught them how to write their weekly goals as a blog post. This was a shift for them from last year when we used a Google Document with a table format. Today, we had a mini-lesson and discussion about how we could incorporate the various parts from last year's goal setting into this new style. We were SO impressed with all that they remembered from last year! 

The "Must Do's" for goal setting?

  • Goals for each subject area
  • The "other" category is optional (or required for some...) that focuses on behaviors/organization
  • They must have a clear goal that has a "why" as part of it
  • Each goal must have 3 action steps...things they will actually do to meet this goal...this is the harder part...we are working on making them "measurable" (wow...sound familiar?? I just did this as part of my building leadership academy!!) 3 might be a stretch for the 2nd week of school...I'll be happy with 2 great ones right now!
  • A reflection must be completed at the end of each week for each goal. Things they could share: progress on action steps, differences they noticed, what went well, what was hard, next steps, etc.

The results? Amazing, thoughtful goals! Granted, many have a little ways to go...but for the second week of school...we couldn't have been more proud! We continually remind ourselves that our kiddos are only 10 and 11 years old--there are ADULTS that can't even do this! :)

How do you set and monitor goals with your students? Feel free to sound off on the comments below! We'd love to hear from you!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

White Board Fun!

Kate and I have been crazy busy updating our space! We are so excited for the great new furniture that we recieved...and the biggest piece is still on its way. We'll be sure to write a post all about it and our thinking behind it once the final piece arrives!

During our reshuffling, we were mulling over our existing tables...what to keep? What to pitch? What to put out in the hallway for the many "scavengers" that would snatch it up in the blink of an eye (we love all of you...and we totally get it! This time of year, furniture is a hot commodity!:)

We were looking over some old tables that we scavenged ourselves last year. How could we make them better? More useful? (Not to mention the fact that they were pretty ugly...) Voila! Enter the fantastic world of white board paint!! Here is what we used:

Click on pic to be directly taken to the Home Depot site...I'm sure you can find it at Menard's or a Lowe's as well! We couldn't believe the price! Such a deal, but we really didn't know what we were getting into.

STEP ONE: Use a very fine sand paper or sand block and scuff up the surface you want to paint. Then clean all of the dust thoroughly off. Make sure it is completely dry!

STEP TWO: Use an indoor primer and a foam or smooth roller to apply it. We used two coats:

STEP THREE: Once the primer is dry (we waited overnight due to the timing of our day), you are ready to apply the white board paint! It works similar to home hair dye...there is the paint can, and an "activator" can. You pour the activator into the paint can and stir thoroughly. Here is where it gets need to apply all coats within ONE HOUR!!! So, be sure to plan accordingly!

Again, you will want use a foam brush or smooth roller to help prevent streaks. It goes on almost watery. I had to "reroll" the lines out a few times. You really get quite a bit from that one box! We painted two old half circle and one trapezoid table...both pretty beat up and out dated. We also painted a new 4 foot round table that we are planning on using during our math workshop  "bull pen" time to help kids see the work easier (along with about a gazillion other uses!) When we got two coats on all three of those tables, we were actually kicking ourselves for not prepping an small rectangular table, too! We would have had plenty!

STEP FOUR: Wait...and wait some more! Because it is a form of epoxy, it will be dry to the touch in a few hours, but need 3 days to "cure." The results? Pure awesomeness!!

The kids love it...and we now have tables that are not only beautiful, but also crazy functional!

Check it out! You won't regret it!