flexible classroom seating chair

Flexible Seating: Something Cool From My Classroom

I don’t know why it took me so long to jump into flexible classroom seating. After 27 years of dodging clunky desks, tripping over backpacks and watching kids fidget uncomfortably in their hard plastic seats, I had had enough.

I’ve had classes as large as 38, and it just was too hard to fit that many desks in my small classroom.  I needed more space, and so did my students! This year, my middle school students came back to school with flexible classroom seating, and it’s been amazing! To help you jump in, I created a how-to list for flexible classroom seating.

Step One: Start small.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

When I first began teaching a reluctant reader class years ago, I noticed how physically uncomfortable my students were when I asked them to read for an extended period of time. Middle school kids come in all shapes and sizes, and I figured if I could create a more comfortable space to relax and read, I’d at least get them in a good mood! I ended up purchasing four Big Joe bean bag chairs from Amazon – they’re designed for dorm rooms, and fairly durable.

The first year my kids fought over them every day, so I came up with a ‘bean-bag rotation’ chart which did the trick. At the end of the year, I asked the PTA for funding for a few more and built up my first flexible seating. When other teachers saw the way the kids would relax and focus, they even brought in old bean bags from home that their children never used. I’m up to at least a dozen this year, and they still are the preferred place for reading and collaborating.

Step Two: Look for deals.

flexible classroom seating chair

I started scouring the internet for cheap, functional furniture and seating. I found these foldable chairs for $5 each and discovered these stools on Amazon. My local Goodwill has been an amazing source for items such as clipboards, pillows, and various durable furniture. And since I live in a college town, there are always discards around for free! I’ve heard the free pages on Facebook are a great resource, too. I put an ad out on our Nextdoor Neighbor app and had a few donations trickle in that way.

Step Three: Ask for help.

flexible classroom seating

When I thought about getting rid of 20 desks and replacing them with tables, I got a bit nervous. I knew my students would be more comfortable with tables as flexible classroom seating, but how would I find enough? I started asking family and friends if they had anything they weren’t using anymore or wanted to donate to my classroom. I was surprised by the number of people who had old folding tables and chairs in their garages!

Also consider asking your custodian, the principal, and your students’ families for donations – once you put your wishes public, I know you’ll be amazed at what turns up. Remember, you can always replace a table or chair if something better comes along. I even put contact paper on an old card table I was given and it looks awesome!

Step Four: Watch what the kids gravitate towards.

flexible classroom seating chair

Just like with the bean bags, I started small and watched what the kids did. I noticed who liked stools, who needed a spinny chair, and who wanted to plop or flop on the bean bags. Not only could I determine some learning tendencies (the kid reading on his belly every day clearly needed some tactile stimulation to focus) but I also could see who was assertive (they usually claim the folding chairs) and who was easy-going (they just sat wherever there was space). I have one upholstered armchair that rotates and I’ve noticed certain kids really like to sit there and gently move as they read and write, so I’ll look for more of those. I’d also like more two-seaters for those who like to constantly collaborate.

Step Five: Decide what battles you want to fight, and let go of the rest.

Like anything new, there are going to be challenges and unexpected events – and awesome surprises. Many people thought I was a bit crazy to attempt flexible seating in middle school, but I did it anyway. I established expectations around the beginning of class (students must be at a table for attendance/mini-lesson) and that I would announce when flexible classroom seating was ok. I created a seating chart – I actually let students choose their seats for the first month, and then I’ll rotate them around once I get to know them. I advised that they should try multiple locations and seats.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

I carefully organized the room into learning spaces – I have an AVID college corner, a row of bean bags by the classroom library, boxes of clipboards and headphones near the back, and even turned an old shelf board into a lap desk. I stationed a fan by the spinny chair and let kids sit there and feel the cool air when they need to calm down. At first, I thought I would arrange the seats with certain desks, but I noticed the kids moved them around during the day, so I let that go. Sometimes kids have been under tables, and sometimes they whisper more on the bean bags. Occasionally they crowd too many bodies onto the ottoman, but we’ve made it work. I think on my feet a lot, but I’m also able to really get more connected and it feels less teacher-dominated and much more student-focused since I’ve used the flexible classroom seating.  I’ll never go back!

This post was first published on The Educator’s Room website. Visit The Educator’s Room for the latest and greatest hot topics in education.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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STEM in U.S. Schools

Do you know about the state of STEM in U.S. schools?

Do you know about the state of STEM in U.S. schools?

If you’re a teacher, you likely have at least heard of STEM – but if you’re a parent and don’t know about this cutting edge opportunity for your kids, and the state of STEM in U.S. schools, I’ve got some exciting information for you!

As an AVID teacher and coordinator, I was invited to San Diego to attend a conference about the state of STEM in U.S. schools, sponsored by U.S. News and World Report to learn more about how to include STEM into AVID’s college and career readiness program.  STEM is an acronym representing the intentional inclusion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in our academic programs; STEAM adds in the arts.

Keynote speaker Eric J. Gertler, Co-Chairman and Co-Publisher, New York Daily News; Co-Chairman, U.S. News & World Report; CEO, Ulysses Ventures, talked about how six years ago U.S. News created their first STEM conference to address a need for a ‘culture shift’; the science and education communities felt a broader awareness of what STEM is and why it’s important was necessary to address the growing need for skilled workers in STEM fields. At this time, media companies with smarts and money were able to engage public with ‘state of STEM’ as they saw it. 

What is the state of STEM in U.S. Schools?

Brian Kelly, Editor and Chief Content Officer, U.S. News & World Report and main moderator of the conference, shared not only a journalistic perspective about STEM but also his strong belief that as the chairman of U.S. News STEM Solutions, a national forum that brings together corporations, he can work to “assist educators and policymakers help the U.S. fill jobs by creating a more skilled and competitive workforce”.

Have you seen these recent videos bringing a current look to STEM?

 

Microsoft’s ‘Make What’s Next’ Ad Shows How to Pursue STEM | CMO …

LeBron James and Adriana Lima Tell Kids to Be Scientists, Not – Adweek

It is through such use of media and journalism that companies can begin to identify what STEM is for the general public – because as the saying goes, “If you don’t know what it is, you can’t become it”.

How do we spotlight students for STEM in U.S. Schools?

STEM in U.S. Schools

Peter Callstrom is the President and Chief Executive Officer, San Diego Workforce Partnership, which “funds and delivers workforce programs to train and support job seekers to meet the needs of regional employers (and) also conducts in-depth labor market research in order to understand employer’s needs and trends in our economy”. Mr. Callstrom illuminated us to an ‘awareness gap’ going on in our schools which may be contributing to the low numbers of students (especially girls) who are studying STEM in lower and higher education programs. It makes one wonder – how are kids going to join workforce/careers they don’t know exists? And how can teachers/administrators/parents begin to bridge this gap? Through his work as CEO of S.D. Workforce Partnership, he has identified that 5 mil American youths are not working or in school between the ages18-24. To help address this issue, he created the Life Sciences Summer Institute, which offers paid internships to youth studying STEM fields. In addition, he spoke about the Amgen Foundation Biotech Experience, which is training teachers in STEM techniques.

STEM in U.S. Schools

How do we recruit teachers to spotlight STEM in U.S. Schools?

STEM in schools

Katherine Wilcox, the Executive Director of the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program which “empower(s) STEM professionals to transform public education through teaching and tutoring in high-need communities” EnCorps is the only non-profit dedicated to recruiting STEM professionals. Currently,  the United States is facing one of the worst teacher shortages since 1990. According to research from California State University, California alone needs 33,000 new math and science teachers over the next ten years! EnCorps estimates that there are 35,000 high need students receiving high-quality math and science education by an EnCorps STEM Fellow since 2008. These fellows averaged 17 years in a STEM profession prior to joining EnCorps, and 82% of the participants have either a STEM Masters or PhD. EnCorps has partnered with over 250 schools, school districts, and program organizations to help solve the STEM Teacher crisis, according to their website (http://encorps.org 2017).

STEM isn’t going away. The state of STEM in U.S. schools is evolving, but not at a pace healthy enough to fill all the open jobs and to push the U.S. to the forefront of our global quest for a better quality of life. The U.S. News STEM Conference is one positive step in the right direction.

Stay tuned for more about the STEM revolution in higher education in future posts!

Click to VIEW the 2017 STEM conference SCHEDULE.

This article was first published by Jennifer Wolfe on The Educator’s Room.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs

Teachers, you’ve got to try a new approach to teaching writing with hyperdocs.

What are hyperdocs? According to their creators, Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis, hyperdocs are “a transformative, interactive, personalized engaging too to help facilitate student creativity and collaboration” (The Hyperdoc Handbook).

And I can testify that hyperdocs have done exactly that to the way I teach writing: they’ve transformed and personalized my teaching to enhance student creativity and create a collaborative classroom where kids are excited about learning and producing high-quality work.

And they’re super fun, too!

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs

Hyperdocs start with a teacher creating a template using Google docs or slides to package their content in a visually appealing and organized way to offer students choice and voice with their learning. By using Google Suite, students collaborate, create, reflect and connect and apply their learning at their own pace and meet their own needs. I’ve found that using hyperdocs in my middle school classroom has not only allowed me to coach them more easily and discover areas that need reteaching or mini lessons prior to submitting a finished product, but they allow students to better control their learning and self-differentiate.

Here’s an example of a hyperdoc I use to teach narrative writing:

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs

Click on the link to download your own copy! Narrative writing draft, revise, edit, reflect and publish hyperdocs

I created this hyperdoc, but it was adapted from @sarahlandis and © HyperDocs. That’s one of the best parts of “hyperdoc-ing” – they’ve created a community of teachers sharing curriculum, enabling virtual collaboration and creating content that keeps getting better and richer and more creative from lesson to lesson.

As you can see from my narrative writing hyperdoc, I’m able to package my narrative writing unit from draft to publish using one Google doc. Before hyperdocs, a typical writing unit would revolve around me planning lots of direct instruction lessons for the whole class, and then offer time to draft during class or at home. I would spend most of the class period instructing from the front with the occasional writing conference at my desk. I felt disengaged from the work in progress. All students would start and end at the same place, regardless of their ability, interest or work ethic.

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs
Students working on narrative writing with hyperdocs.

When I migrated to teaching writing with hyperdocs, I found a way to capture all the cool tools and techniques I’d been wanting to try. I quickly realized that by allowing my students to see the whole project at once, I could not only allow students to move at their own pace, but I could monitor work and offer feedback much more easily. To my great surprise, however, was the instant collaboration that erupted in my classroom. Students were suddenly working on video mini-lessons together. They were reflecting on techniques and explaining editing tools to each other. I was rotating around the room, looking over shoulders and tracking progress. I moved to teaching 5-10 minute whole group mini-lessons explaining tech tools or working on time management every other day, spending the rest of the class period answering questions and partnering up kids to help each other. Absent students didn’t miss out – they had everything they needed to work from home or pick right back up when they returned. My classroom hums with activity and focus and my students are writing – a lot.

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs
Teaching writing with hyperdocs offers students choice and voice.

My favorite part of teaching writing with hyperdocs is how they facilitate the publish and reflect portions of the process. I love to embed a link to a Google form for students to respond to direct questions about their writing process, as well as to ask for feedback and new ideas for improving the next unit. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the ideas that are generated, and the student thinking that happens when asked to share the tools they used, or what they want to improve for the next writing project. Hyperdocs have also allowed me to offer a myriad of choices for student publishing. I can differentiate the rigor of a variety of platforms, allowing students to choose not only which final project will best represent their story, but also how much time they want to devote to learning a new publishing tool or falling back on something more familiar. And finally, after publishing, hyperdocs offer a way to promote an extension of the lessons for kids who need an extra challenge or want multiple modes of expressing or enhancing their learning.

A New Approach To Teaching Writing With Hyperdocs

If you’d like more copies of hyperdocs, I’m happy to share – just send me an email with the subject you’re looking for, and if I have something, I’ll share the Google Doc/Slides. I also have a Pinterest board for hyperdoc tools.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about a new approach to teaching writing with hyperdocs – once you try them, I know you’ll be hooked! If you’d like an overview, check out Laura Moore’s Narrative Writing hyperdoc outlining when/how to teach narrative at different grade levels, and how to scaffold during the year.

I originally wrote this post for The Educator’s Room. You should check it out – it’s full of resources for teacher AND parents!

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Words For Working Moms

working momI’ve been a working mom for nearly 20 years, if you count teaching-middle-school-while-pregnant (not an easy feat, believe me). I have to say – it’s made me a better mom.

I’m not trying to judge here. I wouldn’t assume to know your story – I’m just sharing mine.

I strongly believe we all make choices in life, and sometimes we choose things that we realize aren’t in our best interest – but I don’t believe they are wrong choices; instead, they’re opportunities for learning more about ourselves and choosing another path.

I could have chosen to stay at home – I just would have had to choose everything that went along with that. For me, being a working mom was what offered me balance, a center, and a way to indulge all aspects of my self.

As a teacher, being a working mom created definite problems – papers to grade during every karate class or gymnastics meet. An inability to feel like I could always be open about what my kids were experiencing while enrolled in classes taught by colleagues. A lack of salary increase, no 401k to retire on or work ‘vacations’ they could tag along to interesting places.

However,  being a working mom had certain perks – similar schedules to my children, an understanding of what their days were like, and, since they went to my school, an opportunity to know all their friends and classmates.

With 25 years of teaching and two teenagers later, I still feel the pull for balance, I still feel the urge to create boundaries and keep my priorities front and center. Today, I’m sharing my words for working moms on The Educator’s Room in hopes that my experiences can connect with yours and that together we can find strength in this parenting journey.

“I’ve always been a working mom. I guess I should qualify that – I’ve always been a work-outside-the-home mom. Since I was in my thirties before I had both children, I spent several years teaching before they rocked my world…and to be honest, it was a struggle to figure out how I could balance it all. I loved being a teacher.”

http://theeducatorsroom.com/2016/03/balancing-teaching-mothering/

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Why Teachers Really Can’t Get Sick

IMG_0729

Most days, teaching middle school is a pretty neat job. I get to be on the front line of education. I get to create lessons that not only educate and align with state mandated curriculum, but also that occasionally spark a 13 year-old’s curiosity (no easy feat, believe me). I’m rewarded with smiles, silly jokes, and the occasional, “Thanks, Mrs. Wolfe – I learned something today!” Seriously – they say thank you!

I’m alwo rewarded with germs – lots of them. I know there are many well-meaning parents out there who want their kid to get their education, but if you child is goopy, drippy, sneezy, coughy, bleeding, feverish or has vomited in the last 24 hours, PLEASE, keep them home. Because as much as I love teaching middle school, teachers really can’t get sick – click below to see why:

http://theeducatorsroom.com/2016/02/teachers-get-sick/

 

 

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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