Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring Teacher Check-In On Our ECP Classroom

I thought that it might be helpful for our readers to see how we as teachers view how our ECP classroom experience has been thus far.  Each teacher answered the questions on their own, without seeing each others' responses.

Teacher 1:

What is the best thing so far about physically working in an ECP classroom (ex. two classrooms together)?
  • There is so much space to move around in and utilize!!!
  • The kids get a brain boost by being able to switch up their environment and move from room to room throughout the day.  When I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s course on Learning Environments for Tomorrow, they talked specifically about how allowing students to move freely into a new environment or space increases the production of brain chemicals, which stimulates the part of the brain that processes and receives information.
  • The teachers have more space available to them to designate spots for curriculum areas or investigations since there are two rooms to fill up.  For example, instead of having two rooms each with a science area, we now have two rooms with one science area.  This leaves us more space to showcase additional curriculum.
  • It's not as loud as everything thinks it would be.  Because we do a lot of small group work and have two normal size classrooms with a space in between, it's just as loud as any other classroom would be.

What do you like best about working with a partner teacher on a daily basis?

  •  You are getting constant professional development all day, every day.  You can’t help but learn from each other.
  • You have another person to throw ideas against to make projects, lessons, etc. more affective and you don’t need to make a phone call, send an email or run down the hall to converse.  You are just right there on the spot!
  •  If you wish, you can choose to take the lead on one area while the other takes the lead on another and share what you have found, thereby not having to spread yourself thin in improving curriculum.
  •  You don’t need to write sub plans when one is out.  The other teacher can take the lead and inform the substitute what they need help with.
  • You, the teacher, are not “on” all day long.  You can choose to take the lead at different parts of the day while the other observes and/or assists.  You can choose to share the lead together at the same time.  There are many combinations and ways of reaching the students’ needs, but you have a partner to help you throughout the day.
What are some projects, groupings, differentiation that you are able to do in an ECP classroom that you may not have been able to do in your traditional classroom?
  • When I was working in my traditional classroom I taught a lot of my language arts through differentiated centers.  However pairing the students with similar needs was more difficult because you only had twenty students to work with.  Now that we have forty students it is easier to pair students together who have similar needs, thereby allowing the teachers to specifically meet the students’ needs at each center.  In addition there are now two teachers to work at two different centers, and many more parents that are able to offer their assistance during center time.  Finally, because there are two teachers we are able to have the same classroom aide stay with us for a consecutive amount of time, which allows us to put our aide at one of the centers.  All of this help is integral in making our language arts centers succeed.
  • In addition to our language arts centers we have created math workstations (refer to previous blog post).  Because students vary in their reading and math abilities, the larger group of students once again allows us to better pair the students into flexible groups that meet their particular needs.  With the two teachers we are each able to work with one group of ten students doing direct math instruction while the other groups of ten are working on a variety of math skills to further their mathematical knowledge.
  • Finally, the thing that I have been most impressed with in working in our ECP classroom is the students’ ability to work in groups and limit classroom squabbles.  I would like to think that this is due in part to our team challenges we give them twice a week, as well as the fact that because there are forty students if they need a break from someone there are many other students they can work with and many other places within the two rooms to go.  I have noticed a huge decrease in problems amongst students within our ECP class compared to when I was in a traditional classroom and a huge increase in the ability to work as a group as compared to when I worked in a traditional classroom.
What is the most challenging thing about working with a partner teacher?
  • There are times when you need to let things that you may have done in the past go.  Because you are partnering up you are sharing both of your ideas and to include everything that each individual did on their own would take more time than you are given.
  • You are going to see this person on a daily basis.  It’s like a marriage!  You will need to get to know their mannerisms and be willing to work within them.
  • It is important to communicate with each other constantly with what’s working and what’s not and be open and willing to change something when your partner is having difficulty.
What is the most challenging thing in working with 40 students?
  • One of the biggest challenges we have had throughout this year is the organization of supplies.  Because the students do not have desks there is a lot of sharing of materials.  While the students are quite good at sharing the one material that seems to be difficult to keep track of are pencils.  We seem to go through them like nothing else!
  • Another challenge also relates to materials, either when making copies or using materials for art projects.  Maybe it’s because one still has the mindset that you will go through your supplies like you would with twenty students, but when you have forty, copies take more time, and art supplies go fast!
  • Finally, hanging forty students’ art projects has been a bit of a challenge.  Sometimes we do hang all forty pieces and sometimes we will hang twenty of one project and the other twenty students of a different project.
With the physical layout of your room what has given you the most challenges?
  •  In the way that we are currently teaching our ECP classroom, I am personally looking forward to the layout of the new school as I think it lends itself better to the type of sharing we do with our students.  Currently we have two classrooms joined together with two openings on either side of the shared wall and a breakout room in the center of the two classrooms.  The breakout room is fantastic, however the placement is not ideal as it blocks the view across the two rooms.  The architecture of the new school includes a flexible wall (with windows) down the center of the two classrooms.  If we were doing whole group work or centers we could have the two rooms opened together and if we were breaking up into smaller groups, such as during math workstation time when each teacher is teaching ten students directly, we could close the doors for sound proofing reasons.
  • In conjunction with the two classes being joined it is sometimes difficult to split the classes and teach two different lessons because of the noise between the two rooms.  The flexible wall will again, provide the teachers a better soundproofing option when splitting the classes.
What future activities, lessons, and/or projects are you excited about diving into with your ECP Classroom?
  • We have recently revamped our math program based on Debbie Diller’s Math Workstations, which we saw in action in the first grade ECP classroom at our school. (See previous blog post on Math Workstations.)  We have felt very successful in math being able to differentiate more, and better meet the individual needs of our students.
  • We have also recently revamped our language arts centers.  We are working with our new Vice Principal, Vanessa Flynn who has given our students a training on Reciprocal Teaching to use with our book clubs.  Our book clubs are already leveled but we are looking forward to incorporating the Fauntas and Pinnell guided reading library levels to our book clubs.
  • Our inquiry projects have also been a lot of fun within our ECP classroom.  The students have a larger variety of students to choose from and work with, depending on their interests and the level of inspiration they give to each other is exciting to watch!
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in working in an ECP classroom?
  • Visit an ECP classroom!  There is nothing like immersing yourself into the scene to get an actual overall feeling of what it is like.  Reading about the classroom and hypothetically thinking about what it could feel like is one thing but actually being involved is what makes it real for individuals.  Personally, I visited a shared classroom of K-1 students at a different local school the spring before we opened our own shared classroom.  Seeing the teachers working together, taking turns, and using the room in different ways got me very excited and gave me many ideas in envisioning how I wanted to use my shared classroom.   Same thing with our math workstations.  When we saw it in action we were able to see how it could work for us.
  • Even though I am now considered an ECP teacher, I continually try and peek in the other ECP classrooms when I can and talk to the other ECP teachers when I can to gain additional ideas, advice, and inspiration.  My partner teacher and I are constantly adjusting things within our class to better meet our students’ needs.  It’s a work in progress, but one that is so exciting, invigorating, and motivating all at the same time.

 Teacher 2:

What is the best thing so far about physically working in an ECP classroom (ex. two classrooms together?)
Lots of space for group work, kids can move freely about, allows for a wide variety of activities.

What do you like best about working with a partner teacher on a daily basis?
Allows for great collaboration, can differentiate in real time, allows for flexibility (especially helpful with small children), no need for sub plans when one is out, double the ideas and inspirations.

What are some projects, groupings, differentiation that you are able to do in an ECP classroom that you may not have been able to do in your traditional classroom?
Everything we are doing currently, could be done in a stand-alone classroom, however I think it would be doubly challenging without the second adult in the room.  That really allows for better supervision and student accountability, in addition to having teaching happening in two different places.

What is the most challenging thing about working with a partner teacher?
Finding a way to fit everything that each teacher wants to do in, and compromising what can't be done.

What is the most challenging thing in working with 40 students?
Personally connecting with each student everyday can be hard.

With the physical layout of your room what has given you the most challenges?
Not being able to fina place where I can be seen and heard by everyone.

What future activities, lessons, and/or projects are you excited about diving into with your ECP Classroom?
Our upcoming 4R project, continued team challenges, and seeing how the math workstations evolve over time.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in working in an ECP classroom?
Go check one out- reading and hearing about one is vastly different from actually watching one in action.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Math Workstations Are Awesome!

Yesterday was our first official day implementing our math workstations and what an awesome experience it was!  We first saw math workstations in action in the first grade Expanded Collaborative Classroom on our campus.  We saw small groups working with each teacher and students working independently from tubs.  Halfway through the work period, the groups switched and the students working with the teachers were now working out of the tubs and vice versa.  We noticed first grade students working quietly and independently.  We saw students engaged and we saw the opportunity for small group, differentiated instruction.  We just had to try this out. 

In talking with the first grade teachers we learned that their math workstations were based on Debbie Diller’s book, Math Work Stations, Independent Learning You Can Count On, K-2.  We borrowed their book, used our experience in their classroom and began creating and planning our own math workstations.

If I might back up a moment, having 41 students in one classroom has provided us with the opportunity to form large enough groups that are based on the students’ individual learning needs.  For example, instead of having two students who are performing above or below grade level on a specific subject we now might have five students, which is a great number to form a group.  These groups are forever changing and are fluid throughout the year.

To form our math workstation groups we split the students into two groups; students who are currently working at grade level, are early finishers, and/or need an extra challenge on our current math concept (double-digit subtraction) and students who are working at grade level, need extra time, and/or need additional help on our current math concept.  Essentially we split them into two groups of twenty.  One group of twenty is the blue group (because their tubs are blue) and the other group of twenty is the white group (because their tubs are white.  Thank you Dollar Store!)  Each student then needed to be partnered up with someone else in their blue/white group so that they had a “tub partner”.

Once the students were partnered we then split the groups of twenty once again into groups of ten, with partners staying in the same group of ten.  This would allow the teacher/student ratio to be 1/10 during each station period.  Am I confusing you yet?

So here’s the breakdown:
  • Teacher Sk (white bins) will first work with ten white group students in the north room, meeting the needs of these ten students and going at the pace they need to go.  These students know to come to Teacher Sk first because of the following Workstation Chart.
  • The other ten students in the white group will get with their partner and find their corresponding white tub number that is listed on the chart.  (Refer to chart picture.)  They will work in their tub in the north room.

  • At this point there are 20 students in the north room, ten working with a teacher on today's lesson and ten working with a partner using a tub.
  • Teacher Sh (Blue tubs) will work with ten blue group students in the south room, working at their pace and meeting their individual needs.
  • The other ten students in the blue group will get with their tub partner and find their corresponding blue tub number that is listed on the chart.  They will work in their tub in the south room.
  • After 30 minutes the groups will switch.  Students working with a teacher will now get with their partner and work from a tub.  Students working from a tub will now work in a small group with their assigned teacher.  (Again, refer to the pocket chart picture to see the rotation.)

We have decided to keep the teachers with the same color group for one week at a time.  This will allow us to get to know the pacing of the students’ needs, and build on work done previously.  However, we would like to work with every child in our class; therefore we will swap groups every other week.  Not only will this give the teachers the opportunity to get to know each child’s specific mathematical needs, but it will give the students an opportunity to obtain a basis of understanding from one teacher, and then possibly learn a new concept or understanding from the other teacher.

So what are these TUBS you keep talking about?  The tubs are made up of second grade math concepts filled with independent games, activities and books.  The tubs have been sorted into the following ten groups:

  • Card Games
  • Dice Games
  • Number Tiles (Marcy Cook)
  • Problem Solving/Reasoning
  • Time
  • Money
  • Place Value
  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Graphing/Measurement
  • Working with Numbers

We have asked for one parent volunteer during math time to rotate between both rooms and assistant the students who are working with the tubs who may have questions or need their work corrected.  This will allow minimal disruption to the teachers during their small group lesson.

There are ten tubs for each color group and each pair of students will only work in one tub a day, therefore it will take the students ten days to get through all ten tubs.  Because each tub is filled with many games, books, manipulatives, etc. to choose from we are figuring that the students can use the same tubs twice before they need to be switched out.  Therefore, from a teacher and organizing perspective the tubs will only need to be updated once a month or possibly once per unit.

Before math workstations could begin, we did need to spend some time teaching the students how to play the games found in the tubs.  We also needed to train them in collecting and returning their tubs, and general tub etiquette if you will.  Because we had a specific place for them to work either with the teacher or with their tub partner, the first day of implementation went very smoothly.

If I might mention a couple of the many exciting things we have realized since starting math workstations. Prior to math workstations we struggled daily to get the day's lesson and a fun math activity scheduled for each day.  Our focus was split in order to make this happen.  Now, because the students are guaranteed a fun yet comprehensive math activity on a daily basis through the use of our tubs, our focus as teachers is purely on the day's lesson, and meeting the needs of each particular group we are working with.  This is huge and such a benefit for the students!

Another plus for the teachers is not feeling the pressure to continue on to the next lesson because half of the class is ready.  The students have been grouped in such a way that they are essentially moving at the same pace.  Therefore if a teacher feels that one group needs to slow down or speed up a bit, there is no problem with this as the rest of the students in the group of ten are most likely in the same place.  Already you can see the confidence building in the students as they are not feeling pressured or rushed by those in their group.

It was an exciting day as a teacher!  We felt accomplished in meeting the needs of our students.  We felt that they were learning at their pace and meeting their needs, while all the time having fun.  So far, math workstations are awesome!