STEM: What is it? Why do it?

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Last summer, I learned about STEM through a few Discovery Education workshops. It was a lot of information, a lot of ideas, and all a bit overwhelming. But when the request went out for STEM Innovators in our district, I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to put my learning into practice. And it was! With each additional workshop and one-on-one training session with my STEM coach, I became more comfortable with STEM. I was energized enough to take everything to the next level.

So what is STEM?

To me, STEM education involves learning activities that are rooted in real world problems. The learning activities still address state standards, but also develop students’ 21st century skills, or the 4 C’s: communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Students follow the engineering process to ask questions, imagine possibilities, plan solutions, create prototypes, test their ideas, make improvements based on feedback, and finally share their learning. The activities stretch across the curriculum, covering big ideas that go beyond the classroom.

What STEM is to me

Sketchnotes on what STEM is to me.

What about the arts? What about ELA?

Well, an critical component of STEM education are the 4 C’s, two of those being creativity and communication. Creating new things is an integral part of the STEM process. Students design, build, make, and turn their ideas into reality. Communication is also a key part of STEM. That’s why I have no problem integrating STEM into my own ELA classroom. I also like to think of the engineering design process similar to the writing process. Students plan (prewrite), they create (draft), they test and improve (revise and edit), and finally share their work (publish).

Why try it?

For starters, the rewards of STEM were definitely worth any risks! Being a STEM innovator this year has had many positive benefits, but I think the most important impact is that I’ve shifted the learning to my students. They are the ones communicating more, solving problems, working collaboratively, and creating things beyond my expectations. STEM has taught me to take a step back and become a facilitator of student learning. STEM is a perfect umbrella for inquiry learning, problem based learning, constructivist teaching, and cooperative learning. It ties everything together into something meaningful. I think students are more engaged when they see real world connections, more willing to try when they see it’s okay to fail sometimes, and more active participants when they can make their own decisions about their learning within different projects.

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How being a STEM Innovator has benefited me as an educator.

What are your thoughts on STEM?

Flexible Classroom Seating in Middle School: How I Started the Switch

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Why Flexible Classroom Seating?

Boy, do my students just love to fidget. This year, I have an especially squirrely bunch. It’s been pretty distracting. Even more so now that the end of the year is near. I had heard about flexible seating options before, but didn’t know too much about it. After doing some research, I fell in love. It was the perfect solution!

I’m no expert on flexible seating (sometimes called alternative seating), but I will share with you the steps I have taken to make it happen in my own middle-school classroom.

 

 

Step 1: Research and Plan

I started this whole process by researching and reaching out to some who’ve already done it. I’d recommend the following places to start:

 

 

Classroom Eye Candy: A Flexible-Seating Paradise

Flexible Learning Spaces

Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating – Oh, The Possibilities!

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Flexible Seating in Middle School

Once I decided that, yes indeed, this is what I want to do, I went to my co-worker to tell her about it. She grew more excited by the minute and wanted to give it a try as well.

 

From there, we created a Flexible Seating Pinterest Board and Google Slideshow to store and share our ideas for the project.

Step 2: Request Permission

Before we started searching for items, we wanted to make sure flexible seating was even allowed in our building. No one else has any sort of alternative seating in our middle school.

We spoke to the principals and briefly laid out the reasoning and rationale for switching over from our traditional classrooms. Luckily, our principals are pretty open-minded and willing to let us try new things. They both agreed!

Other than just the principals, we also let our custodians know. Everyone knows the custodians (and the secretaries) are the ones who truly run the school. We were super sweet to them. We’d be asking a lot of their help in the upcoming weeks and months moving things into our rooms.

 

Step 3: Educate and Inform

The next step was to tell our students and parents about flexible seating. We drafted a note home to parents using a template we found. It basically mentioned what flexible seating is, why we’re doing it, and what kinds of donations we’re looking for.

 

In class, we read the letter with students and showed them the inspiration board we had created. For a few minutes, we brainstormed and discussed some items they might want to see in the classroom and where they might find those things.

The very next day, we had donations. Students and parents started bringing in items. The journey was off to a successful start!

Step 4: Start Searching

So the journey of collecting items for our classrooms began.

Within the first week or two we received:

  • bean bag chairs from garage sales
  • gaming chairs from students’ parents
  • coffee tables from a friend and a fellow teacher
  • carpet squares from a local flooring company

So far, most everything has been a donation.

For example, Reinhold Flooring donated two big area rugs and lots of carpet squares simply because we emailed them with an inquiry. We explained we were classroom teachers on a mission to begin flexible classroom seating. They were very generous and responded to us in just a day or two!

It’s like my mom always told me, “It never hurts to ask!”

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Students choose where to sit during independent work time. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

I would definitely recommend slowing switching out old tables and chairs for new seating options. We brought in a few pieces at a time. Of course, we had to go over expectations with the students almost immediately.

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We love all the different chair choices! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

Let me tell you, the first true test was our workshop day. Students have always struggled to work quietly and stay on task during this 45-50 minutes of independent reading and writing time. After being allowed to “Pick a Place”, they were focused like I’ve never seem them before. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

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Students can also choose to sit or stand at my podium. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

It’s working! And the next workshop went the same way. And the next one after that. I can’t wait to see how a full classroom switch will affect our students.

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They’re so focused! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

We’re still in the midst of searching for several more items. Hopefully, we’ll use this summer to complete our collection. If you’d like to find out more about our finished rooms, stay tuned! We’ll post an update in August! (Click here for my August post and see the finished classroom!)

What are your thoughts on flexible or alternative classroom seating?

Think. Create. Repeat.

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Think. Create. Repeat. That pretty much sums up my first five years of teaching.

What do I think about?

Everything. Nothing. It all depends on the day. I brainstorm big ideas and plan projects. I think about how to incorporate district initiatives while designing my daily lessons. I ask questions and I solve problems. And, you know what? I enjoy it. I truly do.

What do I create?

All sorts of classroom resources. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved designing, creating, and building. It makes me feel alive. And happy! There is something highly rewarding about seeing an idea start as a small seed, begin to take root, and then grow and transform into something beautiful.

Repeat. Why in the world would I re-think and re-create?

Well, to test, troubleshoot, and try again helps me become a better teacher. It’s the whole growth mindset thing we’re trying to teach our students. Sure, it’s easy to say to ourselves that a lesson is great as it is. Why fix something that isn’t broken? But I bet if we look closely, we’ll find some small things that can be improved. It may be a challenge to do this consistently, but it’s important to not get too comfortable with the way things are. Changes are constantly coming at us. So why not embrace change?  True growth happens when we venture out of our comfort zones and push past the way we’ve done things previously.  There’s always something more to discover, more to learn, more to try.

So yes, that is me in a nutshell.

I think and I create, but most importantly I repeat. I re-think. I re-create. That is when I truly grow.

My goal with this new blog, is to share my thoughts, my creations, and my reflections with you. Without further ado, welcome to Hannah’s Homeroom.