Flexible Seating Part 3

Alternative work surfaces for students

I don’t have any traditional desks in my classroom, but I do have a number of large tables where students can sit to work. As you can see from the photos, more often than not, the tables are shoved off to the side and students create their own little zones to work independently or in groups and they heavily favour sitting on the floor or a low stool. To give them some choices for work surfaces I purchased clip boards, small dry-erase boards, and a few tray tables. Once again, hooray for the dollar store! These items are always in use in the room; in fact I’d definitely like to get some more for next year. The small tray tables can also be placed on top of a table to create a personal standing desk. A kid thought of that, and it became his preferred workspace all year.

My next goal will be to create some more vertical non-permanent surfaces for student use (yeah, that’s a trendy term right now – it means writing on the walls. You can read about the idea behind it on Graham Fletcher’s blog or anywhere else on the internet when you search VNPS.) I’ve got a ton of blackboard space in my class that mostly gets covered in large pieces of kraft paper and used for all kinds of things, but I’m thinking it’s time to start repurposing some of that space. More on that to come.

VNPS space!

Flexible Seating Part 2

Dealing with Devices…

In the flexible seating classroom, where students don’t have desks assigned and every surface is a working surface storage can be a challenge. Storage of computers and other devices is made even more complicated because they need to be charged daily and multiple devices means you’ll require access to as many electrical outlets. In a classroom already short on outlets I struggled initially to figure out the logistics.

Fortunately, I was able to purchase this power bar for $18 from a local website that resells supplies and furniture from defunct businesses, saving myself a bundle. The 15 outlets allow me to plug in all of our devices so that all device batteries are fully charged each morning when the students arrive.

extra long power bar

Mobile tech storage carts and purpose-built furniture were way out of my budget for this project, so I knew I’d be DYI-ing something. My search for an idea led me to Pinterest, where I managed to go down a rabbit hole and waste a good hour, or so – honestly, I have such a love-hate relationship with that site. I was inspired by a few of the DIY options other genius teachers had shared. Some had used dish racks, others used crates.

I particularly liked this example, by Kim Miller (@aloveofteaching), and I already had some of these large Sterilite baskets in my room. They’re quite durable so it seemed like the best option. Next it was off to the dollar store to pick up the dowels. I like the dollar store ones because they’re the exact right size.

Below is a photo of my final product. You’ll see that the baskets are taller than the sample image because I have chromebooks, and I thought it would offer a little more protection and stability for the devices. To prevent the dowels from sliding freely in and out of the baskets I wrapped the ends in a couple of rubber bands after sliding them through; I had visions of some kiddos deciding they’d be fun toys and poking an eye out otherwise. I also zip tied the chargers to the back of the baskets so that they wouldn’t fall down behind the bookshelf where the power bar is plugged in. Lastly, I left an empty basket for students who may bring their own devices to class, so that they can be stored somewhere convenient and not left in backpacks in the hallway when not in use.

Flexible Seating Tech Storage
The final product in my classroom (@214Frimm)

The system is working well so far, and it’s easy to see when devices haven’t been plugged in, which is helpful for my tired brain at the end of the day. I’m still looking for another option to replace the rubber bands around the ends of the dowels, only because I think it looks a little shabby, but so far, no stroke of genius. If anyone has any ideas, do let me know. Next flexible seating challenge to tackle is alternative student work surfaces. Stay tuned…

An aside: Student access to technology and the digital divide is an equity issue in public education, and many teachers struggle to ensure that their students are able to make use of technology to augment, create and share learning because there are very few devices available for student use in their schools. I won’t get into a whole discussion of that here, except to say that I feel so fortunate that at my school both the administration and the parent council have made access to technology a priority in recent years and are in a financial position to make that a reality for our students. In my class, students are provided with 15 devices to share. They also have the option to bring their own devices to use in the classroom if that is feasible for them.

Flexible Seating Part 1

Towards the end of August every year, one might think that I’ve become an IKEA superfan. Or in some cases, a furniture hoarder. That’s because I start slow-cruising past curbside piles of discarded furniture and knick knacks, peeking into friends’ and relatives garages, and scouring Saturday morning garage sales for cast offs. All this, in the name of flexible seating, or as we call it in my French Immersion classroom, “l’aménagement flexible.”

In trying to implement flexible seating in my classroom I’ve learned that a good pile of milk crates makes for great storage, an office chair with a wonky wheel can easily be repaired and is much appreciated by a 10-year old, and that most IKEA storage lives forever and can be cleaned up to look new with the help of a Magic Eraser and some elbow grease. There is usually a hefty purchase of new items from IKEA too, with a sprinkle of Value Village for flavour.

Some of my favourite items so far are the towel racks and plant hangers that I repurposed for pencil/material storage, and the 6 nearly brand new rolling chairs that I picked up from a non-profit organization that was closing its office – my summer habit of trolling Kijiji’s “near me” ads really paid off that day!

With students constantly moving around the room, working in the hallways, visiting the library learning commons or the resource room, it was a challenge to find a way to store materials so that they were accessible, portable, and clutter-free. In the end, I settled on this combination of towel bars and hanging cups, which I believe are meant to be plant pots, but their true draw was that they were on sale for 49¢ and available in a neutral colour! One caveat – don’t be fooled by the suction cups on the cinder block. They don’t work, and I knew that from the get-go. I just liked them because the bars were white and would blend in well. I also wanted to avoid making holes in the wall, as that is a big no-no. To make them stick, I roughed up the back of the plastic pad from the suction cups with some sand paper and then used construction adhesive to attach it to the wall. Shhhh. Don’t tell… I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to do that either.

hanging cups to store pencils and other school supplies

I’ve had this system in place for 3 years now, and it’s working great. To start the year, I provide everyone with two pencils, a pen, a highlighter, an eraser, a pair of scissors, and a ruler. I’m pretty strict about not letting kids bring extra items to avoid the cups becoming over-full of things that likely won’t be used. For the first month or so, to keep everyone accountable for the items, I do a challenge: if the whole class has all of their items at the end of the week, I give them a bonus item (usually a pencil sharpener, page flags, a fun eraser, a “fancy” pencil.) The kids love it, and they learn quickly not to lose their materials! They’re also very helpful in keep their classmates accountable so that they don’t leave things around the room. This makes cleanup fast and efficient. After September, they’re usually in a good habit of caring for things and I can move away from the incentives. Students also know that any item that runs out can be brought to me and exchanged for a replacement, however lost or broken items are their responsibility to replace.

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Back to school 2018-19!

After a summer of rest and relaxation I’m eager to get back to the classroom and hopefully start using my blog in earnest. I’ve had a couple of false starts here, but I’ve got a few ideas for posts in mind, and I’ll be working them up in the next week or two. Some things to come are:

  • a look at flexible seating in my classroom
  • some thoughts on the difference between contrived collegiality and true collaboration among colleagues
  • trying out a #fliphunt using Flipgrid with my students

Wishing everyone a great first week back at school!

have a good week

Some thoughts on self-directed professional learning, part II

The ways that teachers engage in self-directed professional learning are myriad, and sometimes I think it can be a bit overwhelming to try and narrow one’s focus, particularly for those who, like me, suffer from a severe case of FOMO.  I find myself wanting to do everything and learn everything! Of course, I know it’s impossible, but I’m still left with that nagging feeling that there’s so much more to know and learn. So what’s a girl to do? For me, committing to learning something new goes beyond simply attending a one-off workshop or webinar. I want to access related networks and information, implement and reflect on my professional learning with a community of educators.

In the last month alone I’ve been active in chats with my Twitter PLN, interacting with teachers throughout the province using TeachOntario to discuss various platforms for creating student e-portfolios, participating in an online book club about the book, Creating Thinking Classrooms. I’ve also been taking part in ed. tech webinars offered as part of the OTF Connects series through the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and considering the professional learning and leadership implications for the integration of technology and 21st-century skills in education. Last week I also attended an evening session about design thinking in education offered by Future Design School.

At a glance, this looks like a dizzying list of separate pursuits. I feel a bit overwhelmed myself, looking at it all laid out on screen. I have to admire my colleague Joe Romano for his focused approach to self-directed professional learning.

In reflecting on my learning, however, I’ve realized that it’s not quite as scattered as it may seem. I think what I’m really after is to establish a better understanding of, and strategies for, providing students with opportunities for deep learning.  So with a clearly identified focus, I’m going to attempt to be more judicious in handing out “yesses”, try to quell my FOMO and stay the course with this topic as a guide for my learning moving forward.

As a next step, I’ll be looking at some of Michael Fullan’s work on new pedagogies for deep learning because I think it will provide me with some of the overarching conceptual knowledge that I’m looking for:


Some thoughts about self-directed professional learning

First off, I have to say that the irony of completing of this “first” post on the subject of self-directed professional learning, exactly one year after promising myself that I would begin to reflect in writing as part of my own self-directed professional learning is absolutely not lost on me. Alas, here we are. Well into 2016, and I’m back with a renewed commitment to myself and my own learning.

This school year, many of the teachers who I work with have reported that they’ve sought more opportunities than usual to focus their professional learning on self-directed pursuits. While work action and contract negotiations have contributed to fewer PD sessions offered by school boards, I’m not convinced that can be cited as the sole reason for the uptick in preference for self-directed professional learning. Much has been written on current trends in teacher professional learning, but I especially like how EdSurge has visually represented it.

I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from colleagues that they are finding engaging in self-directed professional learning and expanding their own networks to be particularly helpful in answering their questions and transforming their classroom practice to meet student needs as well as their own learning goals – more so than system-PD ever has. So what does this mean for me? I too wax poetic about the learning and satisfaction I get from so-called new-age, networked professional learning, so am I talking myself out of my own job as a professional learning leader in my district?

I’ve been trying to digest it and think about how system- or Ministry PD fits into the equation. How do self-directed and system-led PD come together to form a professional learning picture that works for teachers?

More to come as I think on and explore this subject…