From Makerspace to Maker-classroom

My school created a large makerspace in our media center and technology lab 2 years ago. This year I decided to create my own mini makerspace in my classroom. I decided to have a makerspace because this year, I decided to shift my instruction to include more inquiry. We have done multiple PBLs (read more about that here) that include a build and STEM challenges. Our morning work is open-ended and includes our makerspace materials. My students have open access to our makerspace unless it is limited by the PBL build or STEM challenge.

A makerspace doesn’t need to be expensive and can include anything you can get your hands on. Our makerspace includes:

  • cardboard
  • paper towel/toilet paper tubes
  • tape
  • popsicle sticks
  • tooth picks
  • paper
  • tape
  • pipecleaners
  • reusable food containers (boxes, plastic containers, lids, etc)
  • legos
  • tape
  • magnetic connecting toys
  • playdough
  • dowels
  • k’nex
  • tape

A lot of what is in my makerspace was donated by families. At the beginning of the year, I put out a list of items that I wanted and asked for donations. I also mentioned that I would be happy to take some old toys they were ready to part with. One great way to build up your lego collection is to ask each student to bring in 5 bricks each year as part of their school supplies. They won’t miss just 5 bricks and if everyone does it, you easily end up with about 100 bricks a year.

The only thing in my makerspace that I have spent my own money on is playdough. It dries out quickly because we use it a lot. I know I can make my own, but I’m a little lazy. I would love for my students to spend a Genius Hour learning how to make it, but I haven’t had any takers yet.

Below is the makerspace shelf I set up at the beginning of this year. The book collection at the top (which has now grown) is there to inspire making, building, and problem solving. We re-read this books frequently. It is hard to keep this shelf organized and clean. I have some students who are really good at it and I try to remind them to tidy it and train their friends to help keep it clean.

I said at the beginning that I was building a mini makerspace this year. My makerspace has grown a mind of its own and now there are things stashed all over the classroom. I have a cabinet full of materials, a big box full of small boxes, a shelf full of supplies and games, our math manipulatives were added to our makerspace, and kids bring things from home to use for our makerspace. My whole room is now a makerspace. The decision to bring making into my classroom has inspired my students to be creative as they build. They come up with new ways to combine materials and are always asking questions. Which is EXACTLY what I wanted for them.

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Do you have a makerspace in your classroom? How do you organize it? How do you stock it? How has it changed your classroom culture?

Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

I tried Genius Hour in an effort to prove it couldn’t be done in kindergarten. That was 2 and a half years ago. I was wrong.

How I got into Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour from my former principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers. She encouraged teachers to be innovative and to try Genius Hour in their classrooms. No strings attached. No expectations. No pressure. No risk. No reward. I did very little research on Genius Hour prior to my first attempt. All I knew is what Sandy told us – students choose their topics, they spend time researching their topic, they create something to share what they learned. So, I went with it so I could prove that it couldn’t be done in kindergarten.

My First Genius Hour

My first Genius Hour was chaotic. It was loud. It was confusing. The kids froze. I froze. But we didn’t stop. It was such a mess that I really don’t remember details. I just remember how excited they were each week and how proud they were of their final project. I couldn’t even tell you what their topics of choice were and I can guarantee that multiple kids changed topics every week. The process was there. The kids picked a topic. I taught them how to use Wonderopolis and Brain Pop Jr. to research. I got books from the library on their topics. The students spent some time with each resource and then they had the option to share their learning through a video on Seesaw or making a poster to share. Then they shared with the class. Start to finish the whole thing took about 3 weeks and we spent a few days each week working. Some days we worked for a half hour and somedays we worked for nearly 2 hours. As messy as it was, it was fun. I felt energized. But, I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew I was wrong. Genius Hour CAN be done in kindergarten.

Genius Hour Pase 2

The following year, we did 2 rounds of Genius Hour. One during the third quarter and one during the fourth quarter of the school year. I was more intentional about planning some mini-lessons prior to Genius Hour sessions. We had Genius Hour about once every 6 days because of our rotating schedule. I launched each round of Genius Hour with a mini-lesson about asking and writing questions. We identified the difference between right there questions and questions that lead to learning. Then students wrote a question on a sticky note and posted it on our wonder wall. The next session, we revisited those questions and students selected their topics and got into groups based on their topic. For the next few sessions, students used library books, Wonderopolis, Brain Pop Jr., Pebble Go, and Youtube Kids to complete their research. Then they made a video or poster to share their learning.

I was not intentional about taking notes as I worked with students. I did not teach them how to document their learning through research. And, I did not give them many choices for sharing. I did do more research on Genius Hour. I read blog posts, I participated in Twitter Chats, and I attended EdCamps. I spent time connecting with other teachers who used Genius Hour in their classroom. I also knew I had a lot of room for growth and could make this even better for my students.

First Grade Genius Hour

This is my third year exploring Genius Hour. I’m not an expert and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Each round of Genius Hour, I pick 1 think I want to improve on for myself as a facilitator and I focus my own research and work with students on that. The first round of Genius Hour this year, I was intentional about my mini-lessons and the order in which I taught tools, documenting, and sharing. The second round of Genius Hour, I focused on my own note-taking. I wrote anecdotal notes as I worked with students and groups. I looked for evidence of growth, standards they were hitting, and misunderstandings I could address. I’m in my third round of Genius Hour right now and I’m working on clearly connecting my students’ work and research to the curriculum and telling them how this big work is important to the work they must do at school. My next round of Genius Hour this year, I plan to focus on better ways for my students to share their work with the world and not just our classmates.

Why I’ll Always Set Aside Time for Student Interest Inquiries

I’m pretty sure the joy on their faces is all I need to remind me why I need to always have interest based inquiry in my classroom. These girls researched different slime recipes and created their own. It didn’t work, but one of them took it home and figured out how to fix it so it wasn’t so sticky. She’s my chemist.

I will always have interest based inquiry because it helps me build relationships with my students. I get to know them for more than their academic data. We have fun working together. I learn new things as I guide them through their own work. I get to model lifelong learning and curiosity for them and we get to practice learning and curiosity together.

And to throw some teacher jargon in the mix, I’ll always have interest based inquiry because:

  • 4Cs
  • 21st-century learning
  • blended learning
  • life skills
  • problem-solving
  • digital citizenship
  • student voice and choice
  • passion

Amazon’s Echo Dot in the Classroom

This is not a sponsored post.

I bought an Amazon Echo Dot at the beginning of the school year and have set it up in my classroom as an additional learning tool. The Echo Dot uses an Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, to interact with humans through voice commands. Having an AI in the classroom helps students work on their speaking and listening skills. They have to speak clearly so she can hear them. They have to listen carefully because she sometimes answers quickly.
I have seen a lot of questions around lately about how these are can be used in the classroom. I linked a podcast at the bottom where they talk about the benefits of AI in the classroom. I’m going to share 5 ways I currently use my echo dot and then some of the new skills I just added and look forward to using.

I chose to use AI in my classroom this year because it can help support students with different needs. It takes the pressure off students because they don’t need to read or write in order to interact with the device. I also love that it is a relatively new technology on the market and I love the challenge of making it work in the classroom.

Note – We changed the wake word on our Echo Dot to Echo instead of Alexa since I have a student with that name.

*tips* turn OFF shopping, put it in a spot that doesn’t have a ton of regular activity so she can hear and be heard

1. Muisc

From day 1 I have used my Echo to play music. I have amazon music set up and can ask her to play anything from a specific song to a genre or artist playlist. My kids love to be the DJ for the day as one of our classroom rewards. They get to pick the music for morning arrival, movement breaks, or quiet music when we need to concentrate.

2. Timers and Reminders

I will ask Echo to set a timer for the number of minutes students have to complete a task or remind us of something we need to do that is not part of our regular schedule.

3. Spelling

First graders are really good at phonetic spelling and can stretch and write the sounds for any word they want. However, they start to realize that their spelling doesn’t match conventional spelling and they want to spell words correctly. I let my students use Echo to spell a word for them or check their spelling of a word. At first they needed to ask me before asking Echo to spell a word (I didn’t want them using it for sight words or words we have learned the spelling pattern for). They are good about this now and I’m ready to release control to them (or an Echo Manager – student job).

4. Brain Breaks

Echo can play music, tell a joke, or play quick games to help with brain breaks. We can ask her to play a song for a quick dance break, tell a joke to lighten the mood, or play a quick game. We love to play the Animal Game (one of the skills you can add). It works like 20 questions about animals.

5. Genius Hour

We have an (almost) weekly genius hour in my classroom. When students are ready to choose a topic or question to work on for their genius hour, they need to have their idea approved by Echo first. The purpose of Genius Hour is for students to spend time exploring their own curiosities. Part of this is in coming up with ideas that are not “googleable.” Alexa, being and AI, works like google. My students need to ask her their question and get an, “I don’t know” response from her to know that their question is going to take some time and work to reach an answer.

Skills I like or will be using soon

  • Invisible Dice
  • Ambient Sounds
  • Animal Game
  • Flip a coin
  • Kids Affirmation
  • Kids Mad Libs
  • Laugh Box
  • MathFacts
  • Mother May I
  • Rock Paper Scissors
  • Translated
  • Would You Rather
  • Word Look Up
  • Weather

Do you have and Alexa or another AI in your classroom? How do you use it? Please leave ideas in the comments!

Google Teacher Tribe Episode 31

#IMMOOC I’m a risk taker.

I’m a risk taker. I love to learn new things from twitter, podcasts, books, friends, and even billboards! I enjoy trying new things with my students and helping them find enjoyment in learning. I truly believe that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life! I see it as my mission to help children find a love of learning that will last them their lifetime. My purpose is to help them find their passion and explore it. I teach first grade and I constantly think about my students as adults. What I design for them in first grade will help them in their future.

I #innovate4littles in my classroom because they CAN ! The first time I tried Genius Hour, I did it because I just knew it couldn’t be done with littles and boy was I wrong! At the time I taught kindergarten and they ran with it. Littles are natural risk takers because no one has told them they can’t yet and so they believe they can! That year, my littles inspired me to be a risk taker through their hard work, learning, and application of standards and content though self guided experiences in Genius Hour.

I am a risk taker for my littles because they take risks everyday. I empathize with them because it must be so scary! So, I join in and model taking risks, failing, trying again, and hopefully succeeding. I hope that my risk taking inspires them to love learning for the rest of their lives and become innovators of whatever they choose to have a passion for. I hope that my littles never work a day in their lives!