Category Archives: MakerSpace

Helping My Students Love Learning

This past Saturday, I had an opportunity to share my passion for helping students love learning with the “Classroom 2.0 Live” Community. The hour long recording is available on YouTube.

It is a big challenge to balance building relationships with my students, providing engaging learning lessons, and effectively using technology to showcase our learning. Building relationships with my students has to come first and is my number one priority.

Technology in the classroom should be used to enhance students’ abilities to make and create, and showcase what they are learning. It’s also important to be able to differentiate learning experiences for students with a variety of literacy, math, and other skill levels. By using a combination of activities which encourage students to be curious and be engaged in the learning process, I hope my students grow to love learning as well as develop a variety of skills they will need for success in life.

One of my favorite apps to use to showcase student learning is SeeSaw. It allows students to create and share their knowledge within the app, without “app smashing” other apps together. It also allows me to capture student voices, which not only empowers my students to share their ideas and perspectives, but also provides me and my parents valuable windows into the skills and growth which my students are experiencing as a result of our work together.

During my online presentation Saturday I shared four different video examples of student projects which highlight ways we are using our iPads in school. “The Important Thing About Our Class Family” was a writing assignment based on “The Important Book” by Margaret Wise Brown.  I used it as an opportunity for students to help establish the procedures and expectations that we have for ourselves and our classmates in our classroom.

“Mrs. Fryer’s Class Is Grateful For It All” was a paper slide video from last year based on one of our character traits, “gratefulness.” It is important for my students to be able to use technology in transformative ways which go beyond merely replicating “worksheet learning” or things we could do traditionally with paper and pencils. We did create the slides for this video with paper, crayons and pencils, but the product we created is so much more. We’re striving to use technology in authentic and meaningful ways which deepen our learning, build our relationships with each other, and help us to love learning as we also happen to be studying different topics in our curriculum.

I want all the assignments I ask my students to complete to connect with them directly at some level. I don’t want to just give my students “canned prompts” which can be boring and disconnected from their real cares and concerns, like “Write a paper about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Informative writing, how-to writing, persuasive writing, and research are all important, but for learning to “stick” and be powerful I know it has to connect with my students and their real interests as well as lives.

“#Room108 Students Respond: “I Have a Dream…” was a green screen video students created after I challenged them to reflect and envision their own dreams for themselves, their families, and their world. We used the wonderful app “Green Screen” by Do Ink for this project. I resonate with Eric Jenson’s (@ericjensenbrain) ideas in his book “Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change (Raising Achievement for Youth at Risk.)” He highlights the need for students of poverty to have a vision of themselves being successful, and having both “choice and voice” to exercise some control and direction over their own learning and lives.

The video “PBS Kids Scratch Jr Student Created Game”  is a coding game created by one of my 4th grade students for her kindergarten “buddy.” It utilizes all the skills we had taught on coding using the free PBS Kids Scratch Jr. app. I love how my students are learning to create their own games, and not just play them!

Access all the resources from my Saturday presentation on the Classroom 2.0 Live archive page,  in this LiveBinder of links , or on this page from my classroom website.

The First Weeks of School

Thursday of last week was the first day of school for my third and fourth grade students at Positive Tomorrows. This is my fourth year back in the classroom after working about 7 years in preschool ministries at our churches in Texas and Oklahoma, but 30 years since I graduated from college and starting teaching elementary school when I was just 20 years old. The first few weeks of school are absolutely critical, in my opinion, for helping build classroom culture and relationships with my students which will grow throughout the year. In this post, I want to share some of the things we’ve been doing in Room 108 the first two weeks of school, and reflect on why these intentional activities and interactions are so important.

The Challenge and Opportunity

It is a huge challenge to take 14 individual students with widely varying experiences and abilities and help them learn to become a caring class together. I asked my students today how many different schools they had each attended last year. Some of them had attended more than 3 schools in 1 year.  We have already lost three of the students we started the year with. This reflects the highly mobile nature of the students and families we serve at our school.

It’s extremely important for all the teachers at our school to be “trauma informed.” This means we are aware and sensitive of the ways students’ traumatic experiences outside of school can have a dramatic impact on their behavior and learning in our classrooms. Being able to recognize and understand the learning needs of students impacted by trauma is critical. One of my primary roles as a teacher the first few weeks of school is observing my students and how they interact with each other. Pedagogy (instructional practices) MUST change in a classroom filled with students who have experienced different kinds of trauma in their lives. By building a supportive, loving, accepting as well as engaging and challenging classroom culture, I know I can help positively impact the life trajectory of my students. These are some of my reasons for teaching and working with children, and it all begins in the first few weeks of school.

Preparing the Classroom

I do everything I can to create a physical classroom environment for my students where they feel safe and welcome. I want my students to start feeling, from the first day, that they are part of our classroom family. While we are fortunate to have many generous donors who help support our school, each year I have spent several hundred dollars to enhance and improve my classroom furniture. This year, I purchased a new shag rug and two comfortable chairs for our classroom reading nook. I use lavender essential oils to establish a pleasant and calming atmosphere in our room. I think I have stopped smelling it, but whenever others come into our classroom they usually comment on how good it smells. Students love the shag rug in the reading corner. It’s important there are appealing, tactile elements to our classroom, and that my students have choices about where they choose to sit, work and learn. We have plants in our classroom, and it matters that there are living things in our environment that we take are of. One of my students found a small snail on one of the plants, and has been taking great joy in caring for it since our first week together. Visually, most of the walls of our classroom started off blank, ready for student work which we will post, share and celebrate together.

First Week Activities

When my students come into our classroom in the morning, we start each day with a class meeting. Class meetings are one of the most important activities I use to build our classroom culture. Today I asked my students what they want to do differently this year than last. One of them said, “I don’t want to be bad anymore.” I responded by assuring him that he is NOT bad, that he is perfect just the way he is. I explained that sometimes we make wrong choices, but we can always correct our mistakes and do better next time.

One of my goals in the first few weeks of school is NOT to overwhelm my students academically.  I am constantly monitoring and noticing how my students are interacting with each other and learning as they engage in classroom activities. I am looking for students who may be shy or timid, who need extra academic support, and students who exhibit leadership skills or are comfortable helping their classmates. The ways students interact with each other, the length of their attention spans, and the tendency some students have to become quickly frustrated are all important traits I watch for and seek to understand.

We play a variety of different games together to learn each other’s names and to learn how to look each other in the eye. I also encourage my students in these games to be silly and have fun. I want to build a classroom culture that is relaxed, where students feel free to be themselves without fear of judgement or teasing.

The academic skills we have practiced these first few weeks of school have been naturally embedded into games and activities. For example, we have been graphing several things which we’ve discussed in class meetings. We have graphed how many letters are in our names and the things we want to learn about each other. We have created “name glyphs” which help us get to know each other bertter. These are some of the questions students responded to in this activity:

  1. How old are you?
  2. How do you get to school?
  3. Do you have any pets?
  4. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  5. What activities do you enjoy?

I also have started our classroom podcast earlier this year than I have in the past. In our first episode last week, students reflected on what they love about our school.

To learn more about classroom podcasting, check out the resources from my June 2016 presentation at iPadPalooza, “The Room 108 Radio Show.” 

Influenced by Student Interests

Today I had a student who shared that one of his hopes for the year is to learn more science. He found a science book in our classroom library and found an experiment he wants to do. He listed the supplies and steps which would be required, and made a plan for how he would do it during our “Maker Studio” time. I told him, “I love how you love science. You are going to challenge me as a teacher to create and share more science experiments with our class.” Already I am thinking of some “kitchen chemistry” lessons my husband did with his 4th and 5th grade students a couple years ago. I’m sure my students this year will love those kinds of science activities!

When I read over the experiment about iron oxidation my student wanted to do, I asked him what he thought would happen. He wasn’t sure but thought maybe it would turn brown around the edges. I told him we might have to get a microscope to help us gather data for the experiment. He excitedly asked, “We have a microscope?” I love it when my students are curious and always try to encourage their curiosity with questions and suggestions for future learning projects.

Saying “I Love You” and “You Matter

In our class meetings and activities together, I’m very intentional about the words and vocabulary terms I use with my students. This includes recognizing and celebrating student curiosity and creativity, but also extends to more basic ideas. Today I asked one of my students, “Have I told you I loved you today?” I want my students to know that THEY MATTER. I want them to hear me say that I love them before they even believe it themselves.

Setting the Stage for 1 to 1 iPad Learning

This is the fourth year students in my classroom have all had their own iPads for learning. Before we get the iPads out, however, I need to establish our classroom culture of trust and responsibility. There are important classroom procedures and routines to introduce, model and practice with students in different phases.

This year, in addition to our classroom SmartBoard and projector, I have a LCD TV connected to an AppleTV. I have been mirroring my iPad for students on the TV to:

  1. Introduce students to some of the apps they will be using on their iPads
  2. Share photos of classroom learning I’ve captured
  3. Share videos students have already created this year during our “Maker Studio” time.

Some of the apps I’ve introduced and we’ll be using this year include the SeeSaw Learning Journal, News-O-Matic, Spelling City, Opinion, and Koma Koma,

 

I’m very thankful to have this opportunity to teach another year at Positive Tomorrows. I’m thankful for the curricular autonomy I have which allows me to truly put my students first and to create a classroom culture that allows them to love learning and school.

iPads in Maker Studio: Global Maker Day 2016

I’m looking forward to sharing a presentation today for Global Maker Day 2016. The title of my presentation is “iPads in Maker Studio.” The description is:

Learn how our third and fourth grade students use their iPads in our maker studio to document their learning and share both inside and outside our classroom. See how apps for photo collages, green screen videos, making ebooks, coding apps, and Lego Stopmotion are essential digital tools in our classroom maker studio for creating and sharing.

My presentation for Global Maker Day will be shared as a Google Hangout, which I’m hoping will be recorded so it can be shared later for those who can’t attend live. I’ve created a Google Slideshow for my presentation, which is linked from my classroom website and embedded below.

To watch this presentation live, register (FREE) for Global Maker Day and then head over to the Design Google Hangout Room for the conference at 11 am Eastern / 10 am Central / 9 am Mountain / 8 am Eastern time. If it’s available later, I’ll add a link to the recorded video for this session in this post. In addition, I’ll be sharing this as one of my breakout sessions at iPadPalooza 2016 in Austin later in June!

Added 5/19/2016: An audio recording of my presentation is available.

Added 5/25/2016: The archived Google Hangout video of this presentation is available.

I’ve also created a List.ly list of all the iPad apps I’m sharing in my presentation.

Introducing Circuits and Electricity in Maker Studio

Today was the first day of “Maker Studio” for my 3rd and 4th graders. Over the Christmas holidays my husband and I setup five different stations for them to experience, in an empty room in the church next to our school.

 

Before going over to our Maker Studio, I showed my class this 10 minute video on YouTube, “Basic Electricity for kids.”  This is an old film but does a great job explaining how circuits and motors work! I used a Quiet Tube link to the video when I shared it, so my students did not see any advertisements or related videos.

This is a 2.5 minute video my students created today in our “Green Screen” station of Maker Studio. We used the Green Screen app by Do Ink on our iPads to make it. My students were careful to take related photos for each part of the video with their iPad, so the backgrounds matched the narration.

My husband and I recorded two videos over the holidays documenting the process of planning and starting my classroom Maker Studio. We recorded this first video on December 22nd. I showed this video to my class before we went over to Maker Studio, so they had some ideas about what to expect and how we are setting up the space. This also helped us discuss our procedures and expectations.

We recorded a second video on December 31st. We still have many things to add, but I’m very excited our Maker Studio is taking shape and my students have started creating in it!

 

It’s such a great feeling when students make something and it works.  It’s so simple to connect some wires to a battery and light up a bulb, but kids get so excited when they are able to do this themselves! Their level of excitement and enthusiasm is amazing. We had zero discipline problems today in Maker Studio. All the students were active and engaged in learning. It is so important we provide our students with opportunities like this to “do science” and not just talk about it or read about it.

 

In addition to my 14 students, we had the 10 fourth and fifth graders from Ms. Bowler’s class across the hall with us. Ms. Bowler was my assistant last year, and it is wonderful to continue working with her, connecting and sharing ideas. We’re looking forward to returning to Maker Studio together soon.

Why My Students Love School

There are many ways to measure our success as teachers. In public schools today, some argue teachers should be measured by the test scores of their students. Others look at the “A-F Grades” assigned by our state to individual schools to measure success. Still others look at things like ACT scores and college acceptance rates. While all these measures might provide some insight into what is happening inside classrooms, I think the answer to a simple question might provide the most important clue. What do students say when we ask them, “Do you love school?”

My students love our school and our classroom, and while I have not conducted a formal academic study of this, I have my own ways of knowing this as well as explaining why it’s true.

 

My students would rather be at school than at home. Home changes frequently for my students. Sometimes it’s a shelter, sometimes it’s a motel room. Sometimes it’s a couch or bed at a friend’s house, and sometimes it’s a car. Our school provides stability and predictability for students. Our school is safe and it’s clean. Our schedules are predictable. Students know when they are going to eat, and that they are going to be able to eat good food. All of these things matter tremendously, and are a big part of the reasons my students love our school.

Students love learning in my classroom for other reasons beyond these, however. They know they have regular opportunities to have control over their own learning. Students generally have opportunities to choose how and where they want to learn. We “ditched our desks” this year, and have a variety of different learning centers around our classroom. Students can choose to learn with iPads, on computers, sitting on stools at a low table, sitting at a kitchen table, sitting on the floor on carpet squares, or in our reading nook. (The reading nook is a designed “no technology zone,” btw, not for punitive reasons, but because they are encouraged to explore the variety of fiction and non-fiction printed books we have in our classroom.) They also can choose a traditional student desk, since  we still have three of them in the room. Most of the time, however, students choose other spaces to learn.

Thanks to our morning meetings and the intentional relationship building in which we’re constantly engaged, my students feel safe sharing intimate aspects of their lives with me and with other students in our class. They share these things with the knowledge they will not be ridiculed or judged for them, because other students live in similar circumstances and because our classroom culture is open, accepting, kind, and loving. This is absolutely vital, and is something I work hard to cultivate and develop all year long. As children move in and out of our classroom, because of their mobile and unpredictable lives, this is a continuing challenge as we add new members to our classroom community.

Students love our classroom and our school because they have opportunities to play. Many of my students have never had opportunities to play and to learn like we have in our class. Again because of their mobile lives, many of them do not have spaces to store or keep toys at home. They frequently move, and sometimes have little more than the clothes they wear to school.  The importance of clothes has been driven home particularly strongly for me this year, because of one of the families we’ve had, and conversations I’ve had with both the parent and the students. Our school provides clothing for our students, and this is so important.

My students love playing with educational toys and tools they haven’t been exposed to or had a chance to use before at home or school. We have science and engineering tools in our class. We have “Maker Time” when students build and create, sometimes with recycled materials like cardboard, sometimes with commercial products. These include Dash and Dots, Little Bits, Legos, and other construction tools. We can learn so much when we play, and my students love these opportunities which our classroom and school provides regularly.

My students love our school and classroom because they are able to learn at their individual levels of developmental readiness. I don’t force my students to sit through lessons or work on assignments which are beyond their abilities. So many of my students come to school “behind” their peers in their grade level. At our school, we don’t force students to feel “stupid” because they are not at the same level as their peers. We use a variety of diagnostic and  adaptive tools to measure student learning levels. These include Lexia Core 5, Dreambox, and the WRAT test. We are continuing to seek more tools like these, which allow us as teachers to truly differentiate learning for our students. While students wouldn’t describe their experiences with all these fancy educational words, they would be able to explain it to you. They are challenged and supported in their learning, and are not “made to feel stupid” by their teacher or their curriculum.

Because of organizations like Oklahoma A+ Schools, of which our school is a part, integrating music, art, and drama is an important part of classroom learning for my students every week. Students are encouraged to express themselves and learn in a variety of ways. This allows my students to not only pursue their interests, but also further explore and develop their unique gifts and talents within our classroom.

 

Students love learning in my classroom because “doing your best” is really important, and it’s something we expect. It’s OK to learn at your level. If students miss something, they are able to go back and try again. Our assessments are performance-based. We don’t assign typical and traditional grades and tests, which sometimes make students feel pressured, stressed, inadequate, and even like failures.

I love my school and our classroom, and I know my students do too. That’s something in which I take a great deal of pride. If we can help our students feel safe at school and love learning, we have succeeded. I’m very thankful that my school and those who support us make these kinds of classroom learning experiences possible every day.

Our First Two Weeks of School

We had a great first couple of days at school.  I had 12 students on Thursday and 15 on Friday.  We spent the first two days enjoying our classroom and getting to know each others’ names.  Some of the students’ favorite things to do were Maker’s Studio, DEAR time, and playing name games.

First week of school by shellyfryer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  shellyfryer 

The students are doing very well at our morning meeting and closing meeting. We use our center carpet as our “home base.” The students are adjusting to our new workstations. We are still trying to determine when and where our best work can happen. So far there has been no fussing about the “cool places to work” because there are always another cool alternative. I am beginning to notice the places students return back to, which are their “comfort work areas.” Next week I hope to identify our individual learning stations and begin working on the procedures for our language and math stations.

Classroom Redesign by shellyfryer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  shellyfryer 

So far my favorite new classroom activity is our end-of-the-day radio show. The students are beginning to get comfortable with each other and classroom culture is going well. I am recording this podcast on my iPhone each day using the app Opinion.

We created two different videos in the first two weeks of class which we published to our classroom YouTube channel. The first one is an iMovie Trailer, called “First Day of School 2015.” I have made iMovie trailers before and helped students make one, but this is the first time I’ve made one in class with students. It turned out well!

The second video is a paper slide video, which I learned to make this summer in iPad Media Camp. It is called, “Who I Am in Room 108”

First week of school by shellyfryer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  shellyfryer 
First week of school by shellyfryer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  shellyfryer 

Getting Started with LittleBits

We have been having a great time in our Makers Studio time learning about electricity.  Several of my students have really learned about circuits by using the LittleBits to create their own machines. Kevin and Heaven made this automated Hand to wave to all of their friends. I’m amazed at how quickly they have figured the components out and been able to apply their learning to their different inventions. Their inventions are way more complicated than anything I would have assigned!

 

 

Creating Family Thanksgiving Traditions

Creating family traditions for the students in my class is an exciting and important activity during the holidays. For the second year we have studied and learned about the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade with the books “Balloons Over Broadway” by Melissa Sweet and “Milly and the Macy’s Parade” by Shana Corey and Brett Helquist. Through our class lessons and discussions I help students discover that traditions can be as simple as gathering together and watching the parade on TV.

In keeping with our Maker classroom culture, students spent the morning designing and building a collage of the Macy’s Parade. Later, we enjoyed watching the 2013 parade together and playing parade bingo.
As I watch the parade with my family this morning, I hope my students are enjoying it with their families as well.