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Creating Classroom Environments: Are You Ready for Technology?

Classroom Environments Blog Series - #TWTBlog

One question I am often asked is, “How do you get started?” The answer is actually a simple one – humbly.  I use my planning time (in school and outside of school) differently. I am no longer creating classroom materials. Instead I am exploring apps and websites. I am listening to others talk about the apps and websites they’ve read about or tried. When one sounds useful to our class, I write it down so I can explore it when time allows, and in those times at sports practices, I play with the apps and websites. While watching TV, I explore more, and while teaching a lesson, I bravely pull out an app or a website and I use it in my lesson, I stumble and the kids support me, and together we learn how to use these tools to support our learning.

There’s no sales pitch or hype about the tool. I simply use the tools in the midst of teaching. Students come to expect a variety of tools and to learn to evaluate the capabilities of the tools. Soon after the lesson, someone asks, “Can I use ___ to show my thinking?” the answer is always, “If that tool is your best choice and you have your ideas, of course.”

Exploring the tools we will utilize in our room is an important first step, but this is just the beginning . I also need to think about our community of learners, their needs, and how I will introduce the tools in a way that will lead to intentional and independent use for and in  learning. I anticipate early days of “technoglam” and the students’ need to explore the many possibilities before they can settle into purposeful use.

Creating Community Spaces

As I step into the classroom to begin creating spaces, my first consideration is always community. After

Community Meeting Space~
Community Meeting Space~

teaching for 18 years, setting up a community meeting space has become instinctive for me, so when I wanted to add digital tools to our room I had to push my thinking for this community space and the classroom space as a whole. The space needs to be large enough to accommodate all students comfortably with a defined space and ample tools. I want the use the tools (digital to non-digital and back again) to be seamless. As  I teach and I transition between tools the attention needs to remain on the learning not the tool.  I want all tools to be embedded in our classroom. I also know I want access to the easel, digital camera, books, pencils, paper and markers simultaneously, so I arrange our meeting space in an area where we will have access to a desktop computer and a projection screen (I asked my technology department to install an app or software to allow us to project our iPads and computer on the large screen. We use Air Server). My daughter (a student herself) quickly pointed out the kids need to have seating space far enough back to prevent neck strain while looking up at the screen.  All of this can be a challenge to accommodate in a classroom, especially a classroom you’re familiar with. I find asking other teachers to come in and share their input to be very helpful. The less familiar they are with your room the better.

 

Creating Individual Spaces

Anytime I fashion spaces for learning, I devise areas for kids to work in collaborative spaces, quiet spaces, space to work while standing, spaces to curl up on the floor and spaces to sit at a table.  When integrating digital tools I think in the same way.

Accessible Technology-Use on Demand

Portable tools seem to match all our needs without planning, but the desktops can pose challenges. They seem to demand their own space and often with the big tables and connection accessibility. To help streamline and blend the desktops in our classroom, I took out the big computer tables and placed the computers on top of the bookshelves on the back wall. I spaced the computers far enough apart to allow the kids to lay books, papers or whatever tools they may need beside the computer. This space is just the right height for kids to work while standing standing, the kids seem very comfortable in this space and can easily access the computers while on the go, stopping by for a quick comment or to research a question.

Accessibility of Tools

With the goal of embedding tools into the landscape of the classroom as pencils have been for years I knew the organization of the tools had to feel natural. I also thought about who and how they would be used, the students will be the ones to use the tools, so the students should be the ones to determine where they will be stored and how they’ll be shared during the day.

At the start of the year the kids typically decide on a basket on the back shelf, near the 2 desktop computers and an outlet for easy charging.  The students like this location because it’s central and the availability of the tools is easily seen from anywhere in the room. Because we have only 6 iPads in our room, the way our tools are shared is also up to the students. Some classes want to start with a rotation sign up, and we do, but it isn’t long until that sheet fades away and gives way to on-demand use based on purpose.

It’s funny how the “technoglam” also fades as students learn more about purpose. They  begin to release the reins and use the tools as they see an opportunity to improve their work. Soon, digital tools are seen laying on the tables, in baskets alongside pencils and post-it-notes, and even under the easel. I celebrate these sightings as these sightings are proof  digital tools are just part of the landscape of our room just like pencils, paper, and glue.

My thoughts on tools in our community:

  • The tools will be a natural part of our classroom just as paper and pencil
  • The students will know the capabilities of the tools
  • Students will choose tools based on need and purpose
  • Digital tools should be as accessible as pencils
  • Tools will extend our learning by creating new possibilities
  • Students will have ownership in their learning

Be True to Your Beliefs

As I consider the organization of digital tools in the classroom I am also working to keep true to my belief statements in education. I realize adding new tools in our classroom does not change what I believe to be true about best practice. So, the challenge comes in avoiding the “technoglam” of digital tools and keeping the conversations always about the learning and not about the tool. Tools come and go and the tools the kids use today will soon be gone. What are students need to understand is how tools provide opportunities and can support our learning.

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Let’s chat on Monday, August 10th at 8:30 p.m. EDT, when the eight of us host a Twitter Chat about classroom environments.  Just search the hashtag #TWTBlog to participate.

9 thoughts on “Creating Classroom Environments: Are You Ready for Technology? Leave a comment

  1. Some things just seem to fall into place and it is that way with your recent post. I finally (this week) decided to go outside my comfort zone and try using google docs with my Y5 & 6 class. Thank you for the timely reminded to define what my belief statements might be. This will give me more justification and focus when reflecting. Love the idea of standing with the desktops.

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  2. I really enjoyed your piece, and it took me from being a fairly passive reader to actively thinking about my own classroom in new ways.
    I particularly loved your progression from “technoglam” to the items just being other, useful tools, ‘under the easel’, etc. Your idea to put computers on bookshelves and let children stand to use them is so unexpected and so great. And finally, I appreciated seeing that – in a classroom exploring technology- there are still two easels, a world map and a globe. All useful. Bravo.

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    • Thank you for stopping by to read and I am so happy to hear you were drawn in and connected with the post. Watching these shiny tools become just another part of our “school supplies” made them even more powerful. And yes, I can NEVER teach without an easel (or two).

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  3. First, I love the word “technoglam.” Do you know Cornelius Minor from the TCRWP? If not, link up with him on Twitter. Like you, he’s done lots of thinking about the meaningful ways we can get kids to use technology in the classroom. (I heard him speak yesterday about democratizing the use of technology so all children have access. I’d be happy to share my notes with you.)

    Second, I think you brought up a brilliant point about having someone who does not know our room well look at our classroom when we need to reject it. Sometimes a distant third party can give us the best help.

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    • Stacey,
      I do follow Cornelius Minor, but I will tune in more closely. I would LOVE to take a peek at your notes if you really don’t mind. Any tool used to make sharing and connecting while motivating students is worth a go in my classroom~
      The day I invited a teacher from WAY down the hall and from another grade level into my room changed my entire vision in my classroom! So can’t wait to ask yet another teacher this year.

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  4. There’s a lot of power behind this statement,

    “I bravely pull out an app or a website and I use it in my lesson, I stumble and the kids support me, and together we learn how to use these tools to support our learning.”

    You are a life-long learner, modeling the importance of taking risks in learning. That’s exactly the model our students should see every single day! You post highlights the important spaces…community, individual space, accessibility and most importantly the “how” of using digital tools to help writers think more deeply and thoughtfully. It’s all couched in access, time, choice, and sharing.

    Congratulations on your first official post as a co-author at Two Writing Teachers! I look forward to reading more from you here!

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    • Thank you for your comment and for welcoming me to Two Writing Teachers, I am so excited to be here! I feel very strongly about keeping the focus on the learning. As we are introduced and introducing these new tools into our classroom there is a time of Ooh’s and Ahh’s, but its our responsibility to help our students see beyond the cool shiny tools. Once this happens the tools become truly enriching and allow the students to reach out to the world with purpose.

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  5. I love the way your focus is always on the learning and the tools are a way to show learning (or explore an idea). It isn’t about the cool new tool to use, it’s about the thinking & learning. It’s clear to me that your classroom is very student focused and students make a lot of decisions and have choices. Your post today made me connect to some summer learning I’ve been doing with #cyberPD and Digital Reading: What’s Essesntial in Grades 3- 8 by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass and Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. I love the pictures of your meeting area and how the technology is a natural part of all you do! Great post.

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    • Kathleen,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I believe student choice has the greatest impact on student learning. With choice the students are in charge of it all, the topic, the tools and how they show their learning. With the right tools students do amazing things! I enjoyed the #cyberpd too,great book and an amazing community!

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