Classroom Design + Best Instructional Practices = A Buffet of Learning Experiences

Best practices in education can be ephemeral or dismissed as old practices in new clothing (titles, jargon, rationale).  Hkindergartneowever, I believe it is important to develop, and periodically reflect upon, one’s own educational philosophy and repertoire.  To this end, I consider the values of student options and choice, content variety, skill development, and frequent  student- teacher interaction to be valuable qualities in secondary social studies and history  classrooms.  To find the best instructional practice which synthesizes these educational aspects is not difficult. In fact, all we have to do is look in our past – to kindergarten.

Well, maybe not everything was learned, and certainly not just in kindergarten. The point is  that the instructional practices  on the  “Buffet of Learning Experiences” menu (Station/Rotation and Learning Zones) are staples in elementary schools, common in middle schools and (unfortunately) endangered/extinct in high schools.  The typical responses when asked about there absence in high schools have claimed teacher control issues, preparing students for college teaching, and lack of space. What’s more, when I see these approaches used in high school, the classes are marked by a dynamism and engagement which are indicative of great teaching and learning.  Just take a look at what can be learned at a buffet!

 

The two models described below require an intentional and dedicated level of planning, flexibility, and knowledge of content.  Moreover, teachers have to be willing to decenter themselves a bit. Total control and the idea that they are the center of all content knowledge is anti-thetical to these practices.  Teachers  are still “in control” of the class, but not the lecture, power point “you need to know this from me” control. Using  Station/Rotation and Learning Zones elevates the role of the teacher to instructional designer, learning facilitator, and content resource.  Lastly, it is important to note that these instructional practices should be done frequently and not treated as rare events or the alternative.  Station/Rotation and Learning Zones builds a  learning culture that celebrates student accountability, investigation, collaboration,. communication, creativity, and critical thinking (sound familiar?). These are all great things in education.

Eat up and come back for more!

 

Station/Rotation Models

This style of learning is so much fun.  Students would enter our classroom and rarely would they see the same setup two days in a row.  Chairs and desks were reconfigured for the class.  Students became familiar with the settings and help me transform our room from a Pink Floyd dystopian nightmare…

floyd

…to an active learning environment.

Checkout the two models below.  What would you change?  How many stations would you have? How big are the groups?

station rotation model 2.gif

 

 

 

station rotation model 1

A major question asks “what to do at each station?”  Below is a suggested list with short descriptions for each:

  • žTextbook Use Area – Students read, review or engage with sections of the textbook.
  • žWriting/Editing Area- Students write, self -edit, peer edit, practice a writing skill.
  • žComputer Area – Especially good if you have limited computers. Explore a website, research etc.
  • žPrimary Source Area- Analyze, discuss, do a DBQ, create a DBQ,
  • žVisual Area- Focus on cartoons, maps, infographics, charts etc
  • Media Area- Listen to a podcast, Ted Video, PPT etc
  • žDiscussion Area- a mini deliberation about a topic.  Students summarize main points
  • žTeacher Feedback Area-  Feedback on projects, grades, National History Day work etc.
  • žTeacher Instruction Area- A mini-lecture or clarification of unit, chapter content
  • žStudent Reflection Area- Metacognition exercises, Apply to the present, what did I learn comments
  • žQuestion Generating Area- Students come up with inquiries and practice how to dissect an issue with questions
  • Other –Sky is the limit… have fun inventing some

Needless to say, keep in mind that directions at each area should be clear and doable in the time allotted.  Teacher’s need not have their own station and can be on call as needed.  Lastly, be sure to identify the outcome of each station – this is the accountability part!

Learning Zones

This approach turns your class into a learning  lab.  Like above,  each zone’s experiences need to be clearly described. The main difference is that their is no set rotation.  Students move freely.  This can cause congestion.  But you can create a max time in a zone or a capacity number.  You can also say that students need to visit 4 of the 5 zones giving them an option. I suggest trying this for a week or two straight or for a full unit morphing your classroom into …

Thinking Zones

For more information on the Zone approach checkout: Bray and McClaskey “Six Steps to Personalize Learning” Learning and Leading. ISTE. May 2013 Issue. Their website is located here.

 

Consider reconfiguring the zones in the model above as activity stations from the list above and you have created a whole new buffet menu!

 

Classroom Layout

What is your classroom like? Is it inspiring? Welcoming? Do you display student work and opportunities? Does it show expectations and goals?

These three articles below discuss the claim:  “The layout of your classroom can have a serious impact on the way you teach and the way your students learn.”

 

Keys to Good Classroom Arrangement​

  • Avoid unnecessary congestion in high-traffic areas.
  • Consider potential distractions: windows, doors, etc.
  • Always have a clear view of students.
  • Verify that all students can see you, instructional displays (e.g., chalkboard) and daily assignments (weekly, if possible). Use walls and bulletin boards to display rules, procedures, assigned duties, a calendar, schedule, student work and extra-credit activities.
  • Place learning areas so students can move from one to another with little or no disruption. Leave walking space around students’ desks.
  • Avoid placing learning centers and work areas in “blind corners.”
  • Place storage space and necessary materials so they are easily accessible.
  • Arrange students’ desks in rows facing instructional areas until you’ve learned their names, work habits and personal traits.
  • Check all electrical equipment to be sure it works and learn how to use the equipment before using it in class.

Things to Consider

1. Where will your desk be?

2. How many student classroom desks do you need?

3. What classroom seating arrangement of the desks will you use; for example, groups,rows, U shapes, rows but in groups,etc?

4. Will you have any classroom computers? Where will you put the classroom computer tables?

5. Will you have a carpeted area, away from the students’ desks, where you can all come together for classroom meetings,etc.?

6. What other additional classroom furniture such as filing cabinets, bookshelves,working tables will there be?

7. How many classroom bulletin boards will you have?

8. What other classroom display ideas are swimming around in your head?

 

Tools that let you design your classroom (These are really fun)

Publish and Prosper: Infographics, The Networked Classroom and Student Generated Knowledge in the Public Sphere

Greetings.  April proved to be a busy (good busy) month. I apologize for the delay in this post.

I delivered my presentation “Publish and Prosper: Tips on Promoting Student Generated Knowledge in the Public Sphere” on March 27th  during the inaugural  School Leadership Summit.  The mission of the conference was “to kick off an event that would perpetuate and would be a place for broader conversation amongst school leaders and the ed tech / blogger / social media crowd.” Stay on the lookout for future online conferences.

This post expands upon my conference presentation. A special thanks to my session moderator Jason Borgen, program director at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Check out these links.

So… on to this week’s post.

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Infographic: An umbrella term for illustrations and charts that instruct people, which otherwise would be difficult or impossible with only text. Infographics are used worldwide in every discipline from road maps and street signs to the many technical drawings in this encyclopedia.”  -PC Magazine

 

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a collaboratively  generated, student infographic is priceless.  Infographics, at their best, are research based student products synthesizing text, design and visuals– typically specialized maps, charts, themes, graphs, and illustrations – in one creative and specially designed media.  At their worst,  infographics are glorified collages or posters. What distinguishe(and  elevates) an infographic beyond these static items is technology’s impact on design, crowd sourcing, and the abiltiy to edit and update information. What’s more, their educational appeal has grown with the advent of “media literacy” and “information literacy” as 21st century skills related to college and career readiness and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

  • They convey a lot of information using specific  language selection.
  • Useable with low language levels.
  • Visual and mathematical / statistical aspects can help to convey meaning.
  • They are much easier to read then dense text on a computer screen.
  • They lend themselves to be used across disciplines.
  • You can find infographics quickly and easily on almost any topic.
  • They develop multiple literacies and intelligences in students.
  • You can help students to become more critical of information sources.

I am arguing that infographics should be promoted as student generated media/knowledge that add to existing discussions,  can be effectively shared and modified, help achieve the demands of 21st century education, and promotes a culture of connectivism (see below).  When combined, these represent the culture of a “Networked Classroom.”

Two Infographics about infographics

  1)         From EVR: Informed Ingenuity   

 

2) From Huffington Post

 

Infographic Resources: Deciding which inforgraphic tool to use in your classroom is based (in my experience) on personal preference and school approval around privacy issues (do students have to register) and technology specs.  There are advantages to having students in a district use multiple, common (2-3) formats.  Here is a selection of infographic tools inspierd by the Daily Tekk’s 100 list.

  1.  Visual.ly: Visually is a one-stop shop for the creation of data visualizations and infographics
  2. Infogr.am: Create infographics in just a few minutes. No design skills needed.
  3. Easel.ly: Create and share visual ideas online.
  4. Piktochart: Our Mission is to simplify information and make it exciting
  5. Tagxedo: Turns words — famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters — into a visually stunning word cloud.
  6. iCharts: Create great-looking charts in minutes with interactive and easy-to-share data.

These are a great start. But if you want to see some dynamic  samples on infographics done professionally, as well as links to more information on infographics, try these:

  • NY Times:  Focus on social studies and history infographics
  • Daily Infographic Every day we feature the best information design and data visualization from the internet.
  • Cool Infographic: highlights some of the best examples of data visualizations and infographics found in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet.
  • Information is Beautiful… see the TED video below. This collection is incredible!
  • Infographic a day: What is new is that infographics’ volume, frequency, and the richness of the media.

 

Infographics require students to access, arrange, evaluate, and create information.

What is Meant by the Public Sphere in Education?

The networked classroom encourages a culture of investigation, knowledge creation, connectivism, trust, and personalized learning.  Teachers utilize their Personal Learning Network (PLN) and students can identify and tap into their own Student Learning Networks (SLN). Notice in the video below the comment that “His teacher rarely lectures. “I recognize there is use for lecture and that there are degrees of lecture substance and purpose.  However, it is clear that the style argued against is the “drill and kill” teacher centered, sage-on-stage style which some teachers erroneously claim will be the only style used in higher education.

Once your students are collaborating with peers beyond your classroom, teachers can empower their 21stcentury classroom by placing student work in

Who is your students’ audience? Where do they get feedback?

the public sphere.What is meant by the “public sphere.”  Simply put, the public sphere is anything beyond the teacher’s eyes only.  The idea of students writing a paper for a teacher’s eyes only is an anachronism. Placing student in the public sphere is easy to do with social media. One suggestion is to do this in a secure course in your school’s LMS. Moreover, students accept greater responsibility and are more invested in their work. Consider the list below a continuum moving from “narrow” to “broad” public spheres. Next to each dimension are a few suggested ways student work can interact beyond teacher-eyes-only models.

a) …classroom:  gallery walks, class discussion of student work.

b) …department:  peer editing from other sections, presenting to other classes, discipline website highlighting student work

c) …school: display tables at lunch, displays in hallways, newspapers, library archives,  part of parent nights

d) … community: student work in civic buildings, displays, local newspapers,

e) … nation: engage in projects like National History Day, collaborate with schools, and colleges, engage in contests

f) … international: establish sister schools, link with non-profits, video conferencing

g)… cyber space: present at online conferences, post work on websites, establish a learnist board, comment on blogs, utilize web 2.0 tools.

Who is calling for students to generate knowledge and publish it for public consumption? In NEW DIRECTIONS IN SOCIAL EDUCATION RESEARCH: The Influence of Technology and Globalization on the Lives of Students  it is argued  that “As pressures mount for society to equip today’s youth with both the global and digital understandings necessary to confront the challenges of the 21st century, a more thorough analysis must be undertaken to examine the role of technology on student learning (Peters, 2009).”  Likewise, “youth are active participants, producers, and distributors of new media. The digital production of youth includes over 38% of designing personal websites, 23% constructing online videos and slideshows, and 8%launching digital causes campaigns….The internet has allowed youth new opportunities in fostering global awareness of civic, humanitarian, political, economic, and environmental causes (Maguth p.3).

The arrow chart (above) frames the public sphere in spatial terms. An0ther model (below) emphasizes the level of student engagement and teacher management.  The best approach to teaching and learning will draw from both spatial dimensions and personal interaction.

 

Student work in the public sphere  can manifest in a variety of forms. Overall, this is a very exciting part of contemporary education that should be part of any collaborative classroom in the 21st century. The infographic is part of this educational model.

 

Rubrics:

The popularity of Infographics have spurred a variety of rubrics for teachers to utilize.  My favorite are here:

If you find one that you think is just as good or better, let me know.

Synthesis – Connectivism and Media Literacy

At least two epistemologies drive networked classrooms to use  infographics as the format for student generated knowledge to be shared in the public sphere.  These two ideas, Connectivism and Media Literacy,join with other learning theories (constructivism, behaviorism) and competencies (college, career, civic etc.) in the world if contemporary teaching and learning.  Both are described below.

Live long. Publish and Prosper.

According to professor  George Siemens, “connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired and the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. Also critical is the ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday” (Siemens, 2005).

 

Center for Media Literacy: Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages (information) in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.