Monday, April 25, 2016

Minecraft + Math = Amazing Learning!

Minecraft + Math = Amazing Learning Experience

This has been on of my FAVORITE math lessons all year!!  And judging from my third graders responses, it was theirs too!!    I shared the idea of having students create their own farm or zoo using what we have learned about area and perimeter from our math lessons using the Minecraft app.  The excitement about this math challenge  was MIND BLOWING!!  They couldn't wait to see how we were going to do it!

In preparing for this lesson I knew that I did not have as much knowledge as my students about the Minecraft app, so I turned to one of the "experts" in my class.  Together this student and I planned the farm/zoo challenge on perimeter and area.  I had several questions about what would work within the app and he had the answers.  He made suggestions and  recommendations of what might work best and how we should set our game up from the start.  I LOVED his willingness to take the lead and share with great confidence his Minecraft knowledge base!  I must say it was the first time I experienced co-teaching with a student!  I LOVED IT!!!  As a result, the kids in class were focused and excited about the math challenge and loved that they could learn from their  classmate!   I took a video of him sharing the basics with his classmates. 

As students were guided through the use of the app (with the assistance of my teaching partner for the lesson) it was evident that all my students had used Minecraft at some point and they were more than willing to share their expertise as well.  I HIGHLY encourage teachers to take a short amount of time to set up the "game" with common settings.  If you have students who are unfamiliar, then allow them to work alongside your experts.  Kids love to teach others what they learn!  I had clear cut expectations listed for the lesson over the basic for all students and setting the parameters and expectations right away.    We all had to be in the same world.  The settings for this particular subject were all set identical.  Once those things were established the creating began!

Students were asked to create a farm or a zoo on graph paper creating pens for the animals they wanted to include.  Each pen had to have an area and a perimeter sign.  The student had to show their work and use the appropriate measurements.  We discussed how the space provided for some animals would be best in feet while others would require yards.  Each student was give the expectation of creating six or more pens for their animals with each one having a different area and perimeter than the others.  They had to show their problem solving on their plans and then get their plans approved by another student  before turning them into me for a final review.   The kids liked helping one another and checking over their work was great review for each...needless to say we achieved a minimum of twelve math problems for the assignment.   

Our next challenge was to turn our plans into their farm/zoo created in Minecraft!  The kids couldn't wait to get started.  I snapped some pictures to share their engagement levels. 

Once their farms/zoos were created we took the opportunity to share them with our friends.   Here are examples of how we built our farm/zoo on Minecraft:

This was such a fun experience for the students and they fully understand how to calculate area and perimeter!!  Now that I know the app better I our next challenge will be for students to pair up and create a farm/zoo together or in groups.  I love this feature as well.  Talk about teamwork!  The possibilities are endless!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tables and Couches and Chairs....OH MY!! The Flexible "Yellow Brick Road" Classroom Journey

 The Flexible Yellow Brick Road Classroom Journey!
If you are interested in turning your classroom into a Flexible Classroom then this post might help get you started on your journey!
Be sure to get to the bottom of this post where you will hear how students feel!

I began this journey with a dear colleague and twenty-four students.   We decided to pursue this challenge together as safety in numbers is always good!  
It was quite a "whirlwind" journey at the start with lots of decision making and problems solving at every turn.  I can now say we have successfully traveled "the yellow brick road" to a flexible classroom. 

I have learned first hand how a flexible classroom provides students choices in what kind of learning space works best for them, and helps students to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and engage in critical thinking and problem solving.   There were plenty of obstacles along the way, but the journey was well worth the challenges!

At the beginning of this journey I had questions galore!  How would I communicate this idea to get my principal and parents involved and on board?  How was I going to  involve students in the decision making and sharing of this vision? What was I comfortable moving away from and what would I be willing to try? Could I really be comfortable with replacing student desks with tables?  Where was I going to store student textbooks?   Where would students store their pencil boxes and work?  How would I convey the flexible classroom format so that a substitute would be able to manage effectively when I was gone? 
 Did I have the courage to do this?

As I took my first steps down the road I was somewhat cautious yet very excited.  Prior to my adventure I communicated  what I learned from my research with my families and principal.  I assured these stakeholders that this was going to be a great adventure for all!  
     My principal (The GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ) was open and supportive of this journey!

Having his support allowed me to take that risk knowing I could seek assistance or advice when necessary!  I shared information and videos with parents so they would have a better understanding of what I was trying to achieve.  Parents were supportive and appreciated the efforts to begin this endeavor! 

Throughout the design process of the flexible classroom I tried to keep flexibility in mind.   I needed to create spaces and places for kids to sit and share thoughts and ideas with one another.  Materials needed to be able to move easily from place to place allowing groups to collaborate and create.  I found that  Pinterest was a great resource to look for ideas about creating spaces!  I tapped into my own creativity and then created my own Pinterest board to help me remember all the great ideas that are out there.  Here is a link to my  Flexible Learning board: 

I am including some photos of what our flexible classroom currently looks like, followed by close ups of spaces and how I created them. Be sure to scroll further down to see what students think about the flexible classroom.  They had some great ideas of how to convert our spaces.

This used to be a computer lab table.  With a little red contact paper, some m&m duck tape, and a curtain on a tension rod, it makes a great reading spot.  Oh!!  Don't forget to put push light underneath it along with some cushy pillows!! The kids thought pillows in one and no pillows in the other as we should have two different ways to enjoy that space.
Here is another computer lab table without the curtain (not yet ready for time of photo).  You can see two third graders fit comfortably underneath.  They opted not to use the pillows.  

Adding a couch to the room created a nice comfy place!  It was donated to our classroom by a dear colleague and is a much loved space. I added an m&m blanket to give it a great cozy feeling!
These gaming chairs are really popular too!!  My two boys loved them and now they are a welcomed "moving" addition to the room.  The kids love to rock as they read!

Teaming up at the reading table while sitting on some fun stools!  Sometimes students like to sit at a flat surface to learn together.

A little m&m fabric coved the pads of these rocking chairs creating a fun place to read as well!

Yep!  The are comfortable reading like this!!

Sometimes they like to sit together for group work at our quad hubs!

These book boxes store the essentials!  We were able to condense all the items from our desk into these boxes.  They are easily picked up and moved from space to space. 

These were some directors chairs that a colleague had used many years ago and was looking to find a new home for them!  With a little new m&m fabric they make an "M"-azing space to sit and learn!!

A little closer look!  The rock star heart glasses are a big hit!

Here is a place to read and discuss stories with friends!  Our reading library has lots of great books to choose from!  Adding a table cloth adds a nice touch! 
These are pillowcases that were made.  They are easily taken off and put on for washing purposes.  Keep that in mind when making selections for your flexible classroom.
I added this "table" behind my couch.  Each year I add photos of the classes I have taught along with some personal photos.  The kids LOVE to look at them and find siblings.  I do include photos of my kids and pets to build that personal connection as well.

Since implementing my flexible classroom a few months ago I have observed the following....
  • Student's grades have improved.
  • Students appear happier and  definitely are more engaged.
  • Students are participating more and are having more in-depth conversations. 
  • Students are problem solving and communicating with each other more effectively.
  • Students value having more choices in their learning.
Here are what my students think about their "M"-azing Flexible Classroom:

 This is definitely a work in progress and ideas keep coming!  Don't forget to ask your kids what they would like to see included in their Flexible Classroom!  Their insights are valuable and its a really fun conversation.

 I chose to make the transition during our third quarter when I knew the students and I could navigate this journey together with little obstacles.  We could then see what was working and problem solve situations together.  The kids had great ideas and were key components in this process.  I am more than ready to begin next year having worked through the obstacles and challenges this year.    Highly effective classroom management is essential for a successful flexible classroom.   This journey is well worth the challenges and obstacles along the way!   Just remember...