I remember the "feng shui" fad from years ago every year when I start to set up my classroom. I got into my classroom for the first time yesterday, and as always, spent the first 10 to 20 minutes just looking at the room and trying to think about the best way to utilize the space. Part of me wants to just set things up the way they were last year; it worked well enough. But I'm really trying to have my classroom reflect the kind of teaching that I want to do, and that's kind of changed in the last few years. I'm in the process of moving toward a much more student-centered classroom that could possibly involve 1:1 technology as well. So, I started tweaking.
One of the problems I have is that I can't really form a picture of what something looks like in my head unless I actually physically construct it. So I started shifting desks around. This year's class is going to be significantly smaller than last year's...I have 16 incoming students, where last year I had 22. Having a class almost 30% smaller frees up a lot of space! It's also a nice number to divide into even groups. I briefly toyed with the idea of having two large groups of eight desks, but I didn't like the amount of empty space it created. That might be something to go back to later, however. In the end, I settled on four groups of four desks each around the large meeting rug in the center of my room. I intend to do the majority of my whole-class instruction with my students on that rug, and then having them break off from there.
So that's where I'm at right now. I'm hoping to get the layout set soon so that I can focus on getting my students' materials ready for the start of school, which is in less than a month. I actually got some great ideas from the most recent #5thchat PLN and I'm hoping that some other teachers will read this blog and share some of their classroom designs as well! I'm looking forward to hearing from you!
Moving the desks around took up the majority of my time in the classroom. One item that I started looking at that I will need to revisit is the other furniture in the room...I have several IKEA storage units, a few carts on wheels, computer tables, etc. In the past, most of it was simply pushed to the edges of the classroom to create the maximum amount of room. But the more I thought about it, the more I realize that my students invariably love to work on the floor, and many of them like to create little nooks for themselves, especially when they read...so much so, in fact, that several of my students took to sitting in my closet area during independent reading time! So now, I'm thinking of ways that I could create more of these nooks for students to use...not just in reading time, but also as places to use for small-group discussion or peer editing sessions.
One of my students' favorite experiences this past year was taking part in a series of Mystery Skypes with other classrooms throughout the country (and the world!). Briefly, Mystery Skyping involves connecting with other teachers, commonly through Twitter using the #mysteryskype hashtag, setting up a convenient time, and then contacting those teachers' classrooms via Skype. The basic object of Mystery Skyping is for your students to figure out where the other classroom is contacting you from by taking turns asking yes-or-no questions, "20 Questions" style.
My class had its first Mystery Skype experience in October. Since I wanted to avoid mass chaos and also keep all of the students involved and participating, I did some research as to how other teachers had organized their classes in this activity. Ultimately, I decided to use Paul Solarz's excellent template as a starting point. He divides students into several groups where some are involved in directly interacting with the other class, others maintain a running list of questions to ask, others use computers and mobile devices to research possible locations based on the responses they get, and still others manage the communication between the students researching locations and those asking the questions. Also, other students are given the tasks of photographing, videoing, and blogging about the experience. Finally, to get the students ready, I led a few "dry runs" where I selected a city and state at random and had the students, in their roles, work together to figure out where it was.
Over the course of the school year, we were able to Skype with other fifth grade classrooms in Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Near the end of the year, we even made contact with a school in Reyrieux, France! With each Skype session, the students got more accustomed to working together and really were able to conduct themselves professionally and courteously. They were very reflective of their jobs and their performance and even suggested adding and changing some of their responsibilities. By the end of the year, they were pros...during my prep after one Skype session, I tweeted about how well they had done and mentioned the teacher of the class that they had Skyped with. That teacher retweeted my tweet, which was then picked up by another teacher whose own scheduled Skype session had fallen through at the last minute. That teacher then contacted me from my tweet and asked if we could Skype that day! As my students returned to the class, I asked them if they were up for it...and boy, did they rise to the challenge! In 5 minutes, they were able to get settled, reassign their jobs and make contact with this classroom!
Next year, I would like to take Mystery Skyping to the next level, so to speak. First, I'd like to do it more, and try to work it more into my existing curriculum. I've joined Skype in the Classroom, and I can't wait to see what comes of that. Additionally, I would like to create a more permanent partnership with any interested class that we Skype with. Perhaps a Skyping book club? Or creating "blog buddy" partnerships where students can read and comment on each others' blog posts? Feel free to post suggestions!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!