“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.” – Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito
It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).
I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.
I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.
Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Attributed to Maya Angelou
In my previous article, I began to write about the classroom ecology and digressed into talking about one of the programs that my teaching partner for this year, Mrs. W, and I have put into place, the classroom economy. In this article, which I am writing on Monday morning, with the sound of a leaf blower out in the playground and cars rushing past on the main road the only accompaniment, I want to talk about instilling a love of learning and ask that you think about how it is that you instill a love of learning in your students. One of the reasons why I teach was the two fantastic teachers I had when I was in Year Five and Year Six at West Tamworth PS. Mr. Davies and Mr. Hawkins were vastly different characters, yet both managed to impress upon me a love of learning.
In Year Five, I had Mr. Davies, short of stature, thinning hair, glasses and a love of challenging us with logic puzzles, including us playing, as a class group, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? on the class computer. I have no recollection of any particular skill or knowledge which he imparted to us in that year, however, I do remember feeling privileged, that I had been allowed to leave the class for portions of time to go to the school library and research (which likely meant copy from the encyclopaedia) Ancient Egypt, a topic with which I had discovered a fascination for at some unknown point in time prior.
While I was, most likely, merely copying information from the encyclopaedia, I was doing so with the feeling that I had to do it well, and that I had to collect as much information as I could to justify Mr Davies’ decision to allow me this opportunity. I did not want to disappoint him, which resulted in my typing up many pages of text, systematically copied and painstakingly re-typed and then printed out at school. I distinctly recall being asked by Mr Davies what I had discovered so far about Ancient Egypt and being an excited nine-year-old boy, promptly rattled off a string of facts, much of which I suspect I did not truly understand at that point in time.
Whether Mr Davies choice to allow me such unfettered, and in my memory, relatively unaccountable access to the library during class time was good pedagogy I do not think I could answer due to my own bias about the subject. However, it did instill a sense of excitement with learning, which was sustained and repeated on many occasions that year as I learned more and more, as I elected to do Ancient History throughout my HSC years, and which, even to this day, I still feel when I become consumed within a new topic which interests me, and that love and excitement for learning is something that I would sincerely like to impart to my own students this year.
Achieving this will be difficult, however, I am confident that by being excited or passionate and appropriately animated while I am teaching, that by encouraging my students to take calculated risks, trusting in the supportive environment of our classroom, that my students will take their own steps towards becoming excited about learning.
How do you create excitement in your own students about learning?
“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.” – Attributed to Erin Gruwell
Thank you for following this series reviewing #TMSpaces back on the 15th of October. This will be the final part in the series, and will look at the presentations by Dan Bowen (@dan_bowen), Michelle Jensen (@bibliothecare3), Alan Allison (@adscall) and Monique Dalli (@1moniqued). I include here links to the #TMSpaces Storify put up by the event organiser, Phillip Cooke (@sailpip) as well as the links to the previous articles in the series
Dan introduced himself by explaining that he was coming from a corporate viewpoint, and that the way that the offices at Microsoft are, are arranged in what could very much be termed an open learning space, if transplanted into a school. From there, he reminded us that while learning is important, it does not stop at the school fence. I feel like this is a point which needs to be drummed into our heads in the current age of ubiquitous technology, where, although I do hear the phrase learning any time and anywhere, or some variation thereof, I do not feel that it has been absorbed into the fabric of schools as yet.
Dan, under the heading Spaces’ Secrets to Success, made the observation that Kindergarten learning spaces are, typically, fantastic with a variety of seating modes, regular activity rotations to afford students the opportunity to get up and move and refresh or reset mentally and that it gets progressively worse as students get older, prompting the exchange of observations on learning spaces seen below.
Primary schools enviornments usually so much better than secondary… which are better than university #TMSpaces
Dan explained that they have taken simple things like rooms names and changed them, with offices and meeting/conference rooms being named after various people or places. His view is that while they do utilise the open space principal, that it is important to provide places where privacy can be obtained as there are times in both the corporate world and in education where privacy is required for sensitive conversations, and that the busy staff room is often inappropriate for those phone calls. The privacy can be provided by furniture, not just by walls and he showed some examples of this type of furniture.
He also reminded us that the most important place in the room is wherever the power points are. You only need to visit an airport or a conference to see this in action. Returning from FlipConAus just recently, I had a wait of a few hours at Brisbane airport before my flight, and there were clusters of people huddled around the power points that were accessible by the public, with an array of phones and tablets plugged in to charge. Interestingly enough, he indicated that in conversations with students that visit, a regular occurrence he says, that when asked what the most frustrating part of the school is, that students invariably respond with it being the toilets. This is an area that staff rarely think about, with the exception perhaps, of kindergarten teachers. Dan concluded by showing a bit.ly to the School Edition of the Makerspace Playbook
Michelle Jensen spoke next, under the heading The twenty-first century library and began by saying that libraries are key.I expected to be hearing about the use of space within a library for learning, however this was not what Michelle spoke about. Or rather, it was, but a very different perspective was taken. Michelle spoke to the fact that learning should be any time, anywhere, and that maker spaces fell into this, as they are targeted to learning by doing. She reminded us that maker spaces can, and should be, a combination of both high and low-technology and that a library is often a great spot for them to occur in as there is generally someone present.
Michelle’s view is that maker space should be flexible and should evolve to suit the needs, desire and constraints within which they operate, which may mean running workshops at recess and/or lunchtime, for students and staff alike. I can see substantial benefits for those teachers whom are willing to get involved. The relationships that would form between students and teachers, as they co-learn the skills and techniques needed, as they collaboratively make, and the respect and understanding for each other through the process of learning together, and of the teacher being open to being taught by students more skilled in various facets of making, would reap significant boons in the classroom, as the intersection between content, curiosity and relationship would be easier to meet in the classroom.
The point was also made that a maker space can be virtual through the use of software such as Minecraft, JoyKadia,Sim-on-a-stick. Furthermore, these virtual maker spaces can be managed by students and for students in order to give ownership of the maker space to the students that will be using the space. I have written previously about maker spaces and I can see the benefits to them. I am still working out how to embed them authentically in my classroom, and to do so without a budget. Additionally, I agree that there are significant benefits to using Minecraft in the classroom, if it is implemented authentically, as I wrote about here, however at this point in time, I am not sure that I would be able to embed it authentically in my students learning; and I would rather wait until I have built up a better range of teaching strategies to support the use of Minecraft, something seen as a game with no educational value by many teachers.
The penultimate speaker was Alan Allison (@adscoll) of Granville College, speaking under the title Eclectic Tech for Years Eleven and Twelve. Alan spoke very quickly, as we were running well behind schedule due to some speakers speaking over time, and his focus was on emphasising a high-quality on-line learning space and the various tools that he uses to achieve this.Alan indicated that, primarily, he utilised Moodles to record work and Wikispaces to for content delivery. Within WIkispaces, Alan explained that using the Projects function as spaces for providing feedback to students, as well as a place for students to store their notes on-line in a secure location.
This seems to my thinking to be a version of a flipped classroom with a mix of in-flip and out-flip, though Alan made no mention of flipped learning in any explicit way. In addition to Moodle and Wikispaces, Alan mentioned Quizlet, Alan was also adamant that A3 whiteboards were a better option for classrooms than A3 due to the larger amount of usable space, and the fact that when students utilised them for note taking, or brainstorming ideas, that they provided for better photos as students naturally wrote larger on the larger space. Alan indicated that his students take and then upload photos of their notes to their Wikispace. I really like this idea of conserving the students’ learning, as it is a resource they have created and could utilise again in the future.
The final speaker was Monique Dalli (@1moniqued), who also spoke very quickly for the same reasons as Alan. Monique had some thought-provoking things to say, reminding us that we are the converts in our schools for alternative learning spaces and that the biggest challenge is moving what we currently have to what we want, both in our own learning spaces and in the mindset of our colleagues. She exhorted us to question who the converts are not and what can be done to interest them in alternative learning spaces and in changed pedagogy. Monique challenged us to remember that if we are going to change the learning space, then we must also change the pedagogy, otherwise we have changed for change’s sake.
The typical classroom has not changed a great deal in the last few decades, other than perhaps the movement away from the rigid requirement for all desks to be in rows, and was developed during the industrial revolution. Research into how students learn conducted over the last thirty years has lead to changes, as has the rise to prominence of the individual.
As part of the change, it is important to take small steps, a point echoed made many times throughout the night. Monique indicated that as much as change can create anxiety amongst teachers, “…change can fear out the students as well.” The baby-steps approach affords students, as well as teachers, the opportunity to adjust to changes and evaluate the effectiveness of the change before making another change. Monique finished by commenting that Ebay is a valid source of furniture, and that much can be acquired, for decent prices, via Ebay.
It was a long night, but worthwhile attending. Given the impending move to open learning spaces at my school, and my desire to begin flipping, thinking about the classroom ecology is something that I need to begin doing. There were some great ideas presented during the evening, and I am glad that I went. My thanks to Phillip Cooke for organising the night and to Bradfield SC for hosting the event.
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti
This, the third part of my review of #TMSpaces from Thursday 15th October picks up with Re-imagining Oakhill College Library, presented by Lyn Revai. Lyn echoed much of what had been said previously, emphasising that rushing in to change, particularly large-scale change, was not a helpful move, and that the desire to shift pedagogy was a helpful driver. Lyn also made the point that it was necessary to provide support for both teachers and students in learning how to use and conceptualise new or changed learning spaces, particularly when the conceptualiation of the learning space by those at the centre of the change involve a new way of thinking about the use of the space.
Kim Kofod (@kim_kofod) spoke next from the perspective of thinking about the intersection between education and industry. As a teacher involved in in secondary teaching of subjects with a strong basis in professional industry, a need was observed to match the learning space and the equipment to what is commonly used and expected in the specific industry. The space was effectively turned into a Makerspace, with industry-standard equipment including woodworking, CAD, textiles and graphic design equipment in the same space. Kim noted that a trend is appearing whereby learning spaces are being designed skin to tertiary or professional industrial spaces more and more, which is an interesting observation given this tweet from earlier in the evening.
Primary schools enviornments usually so much better than secondary… which are better than university #TMSpaces
It was interesting to hear that the space doubled as theory and practical use, however I suspect that without the intersection between learning and industry that has occurred with the equipment available for use in the space, this would be much more difficult than it is.
John Goh (@johnqgoh), the energetic principal of Merrylands East PS (@merrylandseast) spoke next under the title Less is best. John spoke about being in a community with significant change occurring, with a number of students living in apartment buildings, with more apartment buildings being constructed. John made some very interesting comments. When they were looking for new furniture for the new space they looked to industry. They wanted more intimacy and more comfort in their small groups so they looked to the casinos. There were some quiet gasps of shock at that statement, but the reasoning makes sense. Casinos utilise the horseshoe shape for their gaming tables to create a sense of intimacy with the operator of that game, and the chairs are designed to be able to be sat in, comfortably, for long periods of time. They wanted to demarcate different spaces without using furniture, so they ended up utilising carpet to do this.
John also stressed that we need to use our space far better than we do at the moment, and showed images of students around a table coffee-shop style. He pointed out that when we go to a coffee shop with friends, that three or four people will gather around very small tables, each with our coffee and often a plate with food on it with no issues. Yet the same table in a classroom would be used for only one or maybe two students as it would be too small for any more than that. John’s view is that tables are full of redundant space; storage for our students’ pencil case, drink bottle or other things which are not needed moment to moment and thus can be stored elsewhere for access as needed, such as under the chair. I came across this great example (top left image in panel below) while in conversation with someone at FlipConAus last week.
John made the point, as had others, that we need to change how we conceptualise the purpose of learning spaces, and that when re-furnishing after a change, that it is easier and better to start with less and add more in as it is directly needed. He also mentioned that this is significantly cheaper as you are not paying for furniture that you end up not using and putting into storage. He reminded us that it is important to allow our students the opportunity to work outside when practicable as well. They utilise vertical gardens in the school and also local outside spaces, such as parks.
John’s final point, which I think is critical, was that the pedagogy should drive the learning, which should in turn drive the space.
I will leave you with some more PicCollage’s that I put together from the school tour I was given at St. Stephen’s College, Coomera, last week. St Stephen’s was the host venue for the very first FlipConAus, and is a remarkable premises. The first is a collection of images from around the school, including the library. The second is the staffroom and attached office annexes for staff.
Henrietta Miller (@henriettam) speaking under the heading How sixteen chairs and twenty-eight students work. Henrietta opened by indicating that her first steps with changing learning spaces began with the opening of the bi-fold doors that separated her classroom from the next. This transformed two separate rooms into a single large room with two teachers, and was a small step. Take small steps, initially was a key theme throughout the night from the majority of speakers, as this will allow staff and students alike to adjust and get used to the idea of change and how it will impact their learning. Following on from this, Henrietta indicated that at the beginning of 2015, any walls in the two (now one) rooms that could be knocked out, were knocked out, which had this reaction from one attendee:
Oh, for the money to 'just knock down a wall'! #tmspaces
The remaining walls were transformed into functional walls through the use of whiteboard paint. The other key decision that was made was that no new furniture was purchased. This idea was echoed by a number of presenters on the night and the back channel indicated some agreement, in general, to the idea.
You don't need a chair and table for every student #TMSpaces
This drastic change necessitated that some retraining be done, for the students, as to how they thought about and utilised the learning space, moving towards considering what learning would be taking place in the session, what kind of learning space would be needed for that learning to take place and moving into that learning space, making use of a range of furniture. The need for retraining about how a learning space is conceived and utilised is a valid point, and it was pointed out by Cathy Maguire and Kylie Norburn that an induction into non-traditional learning spaces would be highly beneficial to teachers, both those already on staff, as well as new teachers as they entered the space in order to allow teachers to make full use of the learning space. Greg Longney (@Geelong71) also made the point, echoing that of Mark Liddell’s, that a change in learning spaces requires a change in culture. Monique Dalli (@1moniqued) took this further and commented that change without support can ‘fear out’ our students, causing them to react negatively in a range of ways. As many noted, starting with small changes is key, and this includes not attempting to change too much at any single point in time.
A common point throughout the evening was that there is a need for more usable space in the classroom, and Henrietta’s suggestion was to remove the teacher’s desk from the room. Create a place where belongings can be securely and safely stored, and then dump the desk. The space it takes up and the clutter that they often create, and the perils of storing something deep inside, never to be seen again, outweigh any benefits of having a desk. Additionally, it was noted, they create a barrier between the teacher and the students. Removing the desk creates an entirely new space that can be utilised in a variety of ways in different contexts.
Greg Longney (@Geelong71) followed on from Henrietta, talking to us about a building named C Block, but known as Cell Block, that was loathed by students. Greg indicated that a new Head of School wanted to reorganise and this is what followed:
After the reorganisation was completed, the new space was promptly over-filled with furniture, much of which was not actually wanted and Greg was quite strong on the point that the accountant should not be the one doing the ordering. The benefits of the change to the learning space however included significantly more natural light (generally a good thing), an increase in the amount of team-teaching that occurred and the ability to transform how the space was used and the learning activities that were able to be undertaken by students.
A very interesting point that Greg made was the review process undertaken by staff at the end of term, in the new space.Greg said that whiteboards were spread around the room, each with a different focus, and staff were asked to give feedback about the new learning space on the appropriate whiteboard, with a board for challenges, one for rewards etc. I feel like this is a part of the change process that often seems to be overlooked, and I like the way in which it was done in this instance at it provides an outlet for all staff. Greg did not indicate that a similar process was provided for students, however, I believe that that would have been a valuable process also. Greg closed by re-making a recurring theme; a changed learning space requires a changed culture.
Cathy Maguire and Kylie Norburn followed on, and they indicated that they began their change by removing the majority of furniture in a room to see how students coped and that changing the student culture around the learning space was, for them, a natural process. Students can, in their experience, see that the school and the staff are working to provide a higher quality learning space and it follows that the students will have a higher level of respect for the learning environment. I do not necessarily agree that this will be the case in every context, but as a general rule, I can see their point.
The big step that they made was to ensure that all furniture was light and movable to allow a high degree of flexibility and seating options for students. They made a very interesting point, that not all students will always need a hard surface at the same time. I am not entirely sure that I agree with the sentiment, as I can certainly envision situations where you do need all students to have access to a hard surface to lean upon as they write. However, I agree that it does not necessarily need to be a table. The point was made that there are other options.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow.” – John Dewey, Schools of Tomorrow, 1915.
Last Thursday (15th October) I attended my very first Teach Meet which was hosted at Bradfield Senior College (@BradfieldSC). Phillip Cooke (@sailpip) organised the event with a focus on learning spaces, which for me is timely given the school rebuild that is ongoing in my current school. Naturally the back-channel was #TMSpaces and Phillip has already posted the link to the Storify of the Teach Meet. My thanks to Lily Young (@lilypilly) for posting a photo of the agenda which included a list of the speakers and their Twitter handles:
The first speaker was was Mark Liddell (@MarkLiddell) under the heading Seventy seats for fifty students and other related stories which he described as being an explanation of a range of train wrecks in changing learning space arrangements, layouts and uses.
Mark related that his experience with learning spaces has demonstrated that the key component for success in changing learning spaces is the culture of the school, beginning with the leadership culture. Mark continued by outlining that in one particular context, they began by working with Year Eleven students in 2011 and were looking to change the way they learned and provide more autonomy. They set out to break the timetable, allowing students the autonomy to choose when they wanted to do their learning. This challenged teachers to think about the best way they could manage the interactions with their students, as they now had to negotiate their teaching both in person and online. Mark said that this particular initiative failed as the culture of the school was not in the right place for such a move to be stable over a lengthy period of time.
The next initiative was a move with a Year Seven cohort to implement team teaching which enabled a re-imagining of the physical space. This change of the learning space did work and the following year it was rolled out for the new Year Seven, and the (now) Year Eight cohort. This threw up additional challenges for the school and the teachers. They found they needed more time for planning and negotiating who would teach what, without their being any more time available. The culture of the school and the leadership within the school was such that a rearranging of the timetable was able to be negotiated that allowed for this team teaching arrangement to continue to function.
Mark then talked about the need to re-imagine the way that we see and use learning spaces. Just because you have a single open learning space does not mean that it needs to be utilised as a single open learning space. A large learning space can be divided into multiple smaller spaces through a variety of methods. John Goh (@johnqgoh) echoed this point when he showed some photos of the way that spaces in the library at Merrylands East (@merrylandseast)had been divided up, without furniture, through the use of different coloured carpets and other cues:
Mark spoke about how the use of campfire spaces to disseminate information to students, or for class discussions has begun and that they have also been used as a launchpad for the day quite effectively.
Mark’s final point was that there is a relationship between learning spaces and John Hattie’s Eight Frames of Mind and that we should think about the learning spaces we place our students in by considering how the learning space will allow the mind frames to have an impact.
Following Mark, we heard from Lily Young (@lilypilly) who is a Teacher Librarian at Newington College (@library_nc) who spoke under the title The science behind standing and the way in which the amount of sitting (or standing) we do on a day to day basis impacts the health of our students. Lily began by asking us all to stand up, which she reminded us is what we do for the majority of the day, as teachers, but not what our students do. and that having a high level of sedentarism has been repeatedly shown, in both Australian and International literature, to have negative implications for health, including increased risk of high levels of bad cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. Lily indicated that sedentarism has been called the new cancer. A brief search on Google Scholar turned up this article from 2010 which indicates in the abstract that
“The literature review identified 18 articles pertaining to sedentary behavior and cancer risk, or to sedentary behavior and health outcomes in cancer survivors. Ten of these studies found statistically significant, positive associations between sedentary behavior and cancer outcomes. Sedentary behavior was associated with increased colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, and prostate cancer risk; cancer mortality in women; and weight gain in colorectal cancer survivors”
This article seems to back up Lily’s provocative statement. Lily indicated that we need to flip the model and have our students standing more and utilise standing desks or other appropriate methods to achieve this. I am a big fan of standing desks, and have been considering purchasing one for myself at home as between writing these blog articles, recording videos for school, research, and gaming, I spend a significant amount of time at the computer and am conscious of the lack of inactivity and how it makes me feel, given that I am normally a relatively active person, being a teacher notwithstanding. Unfortunately, they do not come cheaply. At least none of the ones I’ve been able to find do, though I would appreciate any links to reasonably priced standing tables.
Lily closed by asking if anyone had spent a day shadowing a student before. She spoke about a teacher who had done just that, for two days, and discovered how utterly draining it was. Fortunately, Mark Liddell posted a link to it.
I commend the article to you, as it is a thought provoking article that will make you re-evaluate how you teach and how much movement occurs in your class. I plan to ask my Stage Three students some questions around this very issue, namely, do I talk too much and expect them to be quiet, and still, too often.
I will halt there for this article, as it is already reasonably lengthy, and there are still a number of presenters to go. I hope that this article has caused you to look with fresh eyes at your learning space and how you utilise it, and to consider alternative ways that it can be set up to benefit the students. I would like to hear any feedback or thoughts on the topic as it is an area where there is still some contention amongst educators.