August 2018

Bulletin Boards – Thinking Outside of the Box

Changing out bulletin boards was always one of my least favorite tasks as an educator. The task alone took a significant amount of time and it felt like my students’ work was shown for such a short amount of time before switching it all out again. How, as a teacher, do you select work over others, then showing students that not all of their work deserves an authentic audience? Work that was created early in the school year was never to be seen again and I became the ultimate authority in deciding which work was quality enough to display.

It all changed for me when I decided to utilize an interactive bulletin board with portfolios showcasing my students’ work throughout the entire school year! I wanted a way to show student growth, make student work interactive, and also be able to display digital products, which were impossible to showcase in a traditional bulletin board. Space was another problem that I encountered. My classroom only has 3 bulletin boards, which have been mandated as places to display our Word Wall, our Writing Through the Year samples, and a common team project each month. This left no room for the creativity that my students were demonstrating in so many other content areas.

I utilized the doors of my classroom cabinets by placing a simple 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper for each student with a sprinkles border (our classroom is themed “Hildebrand’s Happy Cupcakes”) and pasted a photo of each of my students on their personal paper. I then created a digital folder to stand as a digital portfolio in my Google Drive for each student where we would upload each of their products. With the links from each portfolio, I created QR codes and added them next to each students’ photo on their sprinkles page. I had these displayed at “Meet the Teacher Night” so that I could be ready to start contributing their student work immediately, and what I didn’t realize is how incredibly excited the students would be that evening when they walked into a foreign classroom but were able to immediately feel right at home with their photo displayed among many of their friends from kindergarten. It became a gathering space instantly and continued to be so throughout the school year.

Adding student work to their portfolios throughout the school year was easy and quick, and more importantly, it allowed me to showcase their growth throughout the year, rather than a stamp of their ability in one specific time. I added everything from their writing publications to green screen videos to sketchnotes they created. Visitors were always excited to come into our classroom, pull out their phones, and experience all of the great work that my students were producing! The smiles and pride that my students displayed when they knew their portfolio was being accessed has been one of the greatest joys I’ve experienced as an educator. I can’t imagine ever going back to a traditional bulletin board!

Julie Hildebrand is a first-grade teacher at Patton Elementary in Austin, Texas and has been teaching for 11 years. In addition to her general education students, she also serves Gifted and Talented students, as well as English as a Second Language students. Julie’s primary goals have been to increase student achievement in literacy and technology skills in and out of her classroom. In addition to being a Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, Julie is also a Discovery Education Ambassador, a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Innovator All-Star and serves on the PBS KLRU Education Committee.

Strategies to Increase Student Learning

Teachers work in a state of limited supplies. So naturally, teachers will hold on to old materials "just in case." The results are a classroom overstuffed with teaching materials that may no longer be of use. This may even overwhelm your students. You can declutter by removing a few items each day from your classroom. This simple act can lighten the classroom and provide your students a break from overstimulation. This first phase can be cathartic and it costs nothing to remove things from your classroom.

At the same time, you are removing items from your classroom you can watch your students while they work. Pay attention to movement especially. If students are fidgeting in their desks or moving around the room without purpose you may want to consider changing up student desks to allow them to stand and work. In my classroom I have standing desks and I have noticed that the amount of times I have asked students to be seated has been reduced. Without changing anything in your room you can offer students a chance to work on the floor in the hallway or outside. This gives you a chance to observe, while employing student choice, what kind of learning environments they like best.

After students have had a chance to experiment with different types of seating, survey the class in a way that will offer you feedback into the best learning environment for the group of students you work with. Based on student feedback you can begin to make changes in your classroom to improve the overall learning community. We spend a lot of time setting the room up in August but October and later months might be the best time to work with students in the design of their classroom.

The placement of student desks matters a lot. If student desks are facing the front of the classroom and there is nothing happening in that area of the room this is likely not going to have much of an impact on student learning. Student desks should be facing each other. These new areas of student work should also not all be facing the same direction. Students are more likely to be engaged in the work of a small group when their attention is always on the group. Having students in groups but all facing the same direction can lead to off task behavior. I call this the "decentralizing" of the classroom. Part of this to me is ditching your teacher desk to increase overall working space for students.

Sometimes students can't accomplish the kind of learning we require because the classroom set up is desks in rows or all in groups. If, for example, we want students to have a deep understanding of something, students need an area where they are somewhat alone and not surrounded by many students. Students will find a space in the hallway, lay down on the floor or rug area, or even crawl under a desk to block everything out. Creating these types of learning spaces will be crucial for the makerspace culture emerging into many classrooms.

Josh Arnold teaches civics education in Hillsborough County Florida. He is a blogger who writes about all things in the education world and a National Board-Certified Teacher.

Edcamp Learning Spaces

As the research continues to emerge from schoolsand researchers in Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union, it is growing more and more clear that learning environments have a positive impact on engagement, joy, and achievement in schools. This information along with the desire to modernize schools has leaders (classroom, school, district) leaning into this important conversation about how to shift spaces for greater learning.

Over the past years as Rebecca Hare and I have unpacked the concepts and ideas from The Space: A Guide for Educators, we have received a lot of positive feedback from students, teachers, and administrators about how this conversation around space design has changed their perspective. These same leader have also shared that they know realize that designing brain friendly spaces is slow, intentional work that is never finished.

Though the conversation usually starts with classrooms, it often expand when teachers and leaders realize that all spaces support and tell the story of the school including the outside of the building, the entryway, hallways, and common spaces. Once all of these spaces are in play, a comprehensive effort to make space a value add to the learning can begin. Schools interested in this work should consider using the some of the ingredients of the edcamp model to support these efforts.

Empathy Based Learning

Educators, in the spirit of edcamp, rarely lose sight of the fact that all of the hard work of education is about creating amazing conditions for students to learn. In order to this to hold true with learning space design, it is essential to design with students and not for students. This means that students need to play a central role in the voice of the change. This means creating feedback loops that ask students about what in each space support learning and what inhibits learning. Start this work by creating a student design council and by allowing students to experience any potential furniture before it is bought in quantity.

Start with Conversations

Edcamp works because there are no experts, presenters, or single voice in the room. It works because it is based in conversations. Teachers and leaders designing spaces should be having conversations around how to support students and families. They are discussing why things aren’t working. They are discussing where they are seeing spaces that work. They are considering whether their attempted solutions are working. They are encouraging others to provide feedback about their current spaces. Start this work by thinking about what story your classrooms, hallways or bathrooms tell when no one is present.

Ask Questions

The best edcamps that I’ve attended have more questions than answers, and this holds true for space design as well. There isn’t a right way to design. There may be some principles to consider, and there may be some emerging best practices, but there isn’t a playbook or a checklist that is the comprehensive answer. Educators gathered to ask questions build a community of learning. This same community is needed when growing the designer’s mindset in an organization. Start this work by asking what are verbs of this space? Who is this space serving? How might we study how our students use our current space?

Be Solution Oriented

The unconference format works because everyone in the room is seeking questions from the wisdom of the room. Everyone at edcamp believes that they have an opportunity to get a piece of some answers through their focus on conversation in sessions and throughout the day. Design is about looking for hacks, tips, and tricks that allow for these solutions to emerge, and it is essential to tinker with ideas and give them a chance to solve both the big and little issues of classroom design. Start this work by asking everyone in the building to solve one issue that they notice in the building. Little solutions build momentum to larger solutions.

Learn with Two Feet

The edcamp “rules” tell us to vote with our feet meaning that we own the learning, and it is our responsibility to get the most that we can from any situation.  Schools and districts that are redesigning their spaces believe that answers are everywhere and that it is essential for all teachers to visit more spaces to begin to cobble together an intentional plan for their space. Start this work by “learning with two feet” Even if it is the building where you work every day, tour the building with a designer’s mindset allowing for time to see new ideas and potential solutions.

Focus on Free

The legacy of edcamp will eventually be, at least partially, about the equity of access to this amazing, connected, free learning. Changes in learning spaces, as they happen in scale, may have the same legacy. There will be few schools that will build multi-million dollar additions or remove and replace all of their furniture with intention, but the concepts and principles of The Space allow for all teachers and leaders to make meaningful, powerful changes in their space with no budget or low budget solutions.  Start with addition by subtraction and look for ten items that are unneeded and purge those items. It is free, and the space, with less in it, can produce greater results and less distraction.

Robert Dillon is an experienced Director of Learning with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He is skilled in K-12 Education, Literacy, Classroom Management, Lesson Planning, and Educational Technology. Additionally, he is a strong human resources professional with a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) focused in Educational Leadership and Administration, General from Saint Louis University.