∆ Jackson

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 12 2013

The State of My Classroom…

…is currently a mess.

But that’s okay!  Because we made solar ovens this week to wrap up our electricity unit.  So there are little scraps of foil and aluminum foil and tape scattered on the floor and under desks and strange foil-covered pizza boxes are covering all available desks and flat spaces.

It is so wonderful to see students excited and to hear them talking about what they are supposed to be talking about.  I bought a little driveway lantern from Home Depot that is solar powered and light censored so it only turns on at night.  They seriously thought it was the coolest thing and they were eager to find out how it worked and explain it to their peers.

I overheard one student telling another student, “Ms K is so creative.”  I pretended I didn’t hear, because kids don’t want you to know they are complimenting you, but it made me happy all the same.  This is how a classroom should always feel.  Energetic and creative and engaging and absorbing new information without even realizing it.

The state of my classroom beyond the cleanliness is also doing pretty well, I think.  There are things like our goals and accountability partners that I haven’t kept up with.  And our test-score tracker on the back wall has not been updated since last semester, unfortunately.  But, spirits seem pretty high.  Few classes have many behavior problems these days and usually I can get through notes without having to stop 10 times.  Students ask me questions and listen genuinely to the answers.  I am excited about all the changes I will make to make my classroom better next year, but with the year coming to a close in just six weeks, I feel pretty good.  Moderately successful.  And man, oh man, watching my students making their solar ovens today reminded me just how much I love my students.

Students wanted to take their ovens home, but I told them we need them for next week!  Because that’s when we are cooking. : )

5 Responses

  1. veroskk

    Clint, I agree with you. The right kind of mess can create just the right kind of exciting, energetic environment that students thrive in! I also do not like traditional classroom set-ups. I had my desks in rows for most of the year (and sometimes groups) but about a month ago, put them in a big circle for a class discussion. It was such a great set-up that I kept it that way! Not only does it create a really open classroom space where students feel more willing (and more accountable) to participate, but it also minimizes student distractions because instead of an entire corner of 4-6 students talking, it can’t really be more than three because each student is only sitting next to two other people.
    My students love it, too. When I put the desks back in rows for a test, students were upset and said they liked the circle. I assured them we would go back to the circle after the test and my last class of the day was happy to help me move the desks back before they left.

  2. Pre-service teacher Clint

    I think the best part about this post is that the students were so eagar to learn when using tools and marterials that are unique to them. The “mess” of the classroom turned out to be a good thing I think to often teachers feel everything has to be perfectly neat in the classroom or the traditional way in order for students to excel. I disagree, how do you feel about this?

  3. veroskk

    I think it dependson the type of “mess”. Having a classroom that is full to the brim of projects and project materials and hands-on things like circuits made on cardboard out of paperclips, LEDs, and 3-volt batteries is really exciting. That’s the kind of mess that means real learning is happening and makes it an exciting place to be and to learn. On the other hand, ifa classroom is messy because there are paper scraps everywhere or books all over the floor, or things that the teacher or students just haven’t bothered to clean up, I think that is a different story. That type of messy is not happening because exciting things are going on, but simply because the teacher and/or students have not kept up with their classroom. That type of messy send the message that this is a classroom where things are not cared for and where you maybe do not need to care about your education. That type of classroom is not organized and probably not efficient. My classroom is organized, even if it is organized chaos, and my students acknowledge that and have mentioned to me how organized I am.
    In reponse to the second comment, whenever we do hands-on projects like this, it is important to me that I keep up the rigor. That keeps students focused and I rarely have issues in this area. For example, with the three stations we did, including the solar oven, students had an exit ticket with three questions for each station that they had to answer about what they learned at that station. That way, they could direct the learning and have a little fun, but I could make sure they were learning what I needed them to learn from it. I also am constantly walking around the room to make sure they are on-task and asking them questions about what they are doing. “Why do you think this happens?” “Why do you think we use this material?” Etc..
    As far as priorities go, there is no exact science to that. We fell behind on our tracker not because of the solar oven project, but due to many other time constraints, like trying to keep up with the pacing guide and trying to go back and remediate concepts that were misunderstood. Same thing with the accountability partners for their goals, we still discuss our goals often, but the time is takes to meet with accountability parnters had to be used to toward classroom instruction time, especially since often meeting with accountability partners turns into gossip time rather than true discussion of goals. You just have to play it by ear and hope you are doing what is right for your kids.
    Thanks for the questions and comments!

  4. Anonymous

    As a per-service teacher, it is interesting to hear about projects like this being done in classrooms and the effects they have on the students. I just wonder how you balance students’ autonomy and keep them focused. Do you find a lot of trouble when doing projects like this? Also, how do you prioritize things in the classroom- like falling behind on your test score tracker and accountability partners in order to pay more attention to this project?

  5. Pre-service teacher

    It is awesome that you are doing projects like building solar ovens in class. In your blog you say that your classroom is a mess. Do you feel that students learn better in a clean or messy environment?
    Best of lucky in your classroom,
    pre-service teacher

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