My Students Have the Best Ideas

For years, whenever I showered, the best ideas came to me like epiphanies.  It was amazing.  Almost every day, great ideas about how to solve problems I faced popped into my brain almost like magic.  Was I the reincarnation of Houdini?  Or was the water tainted with some strange chemical that caused my brain to work in strange ways?  Or perhaps it was a chemical reaction caused by the water mixing with my perspiration.  Well, for years, I couldn’t explain this bizarre phenomenon any other way than to say that the water inspired me.

Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of learning regarding neuroscience and the brain.  How do my students learn?  I wanted to know how to best teach my students so that they could effectively and genuinely learn what I was teaching them.  In this self-learning process, I came to understand that most of the work, in terms of thinking, that our brain does happens when we don’t even realize it’s going on.  When we are doing something that does not require a ton of focus like showering, our unconscious brain is trying to help us solve some of the problems we encountered earlier that day.  A great example of this is when you try to name the song currently playing on the radio and you seem unable to do so, despite having heard the song many times before.  Later in the day when your conscious brain is doing something that doesn’t require a lot of brain work, your unconscious brain finds the answer for you and slips it into your conscious train of thought.  I’m sure you have all experienced this phenomena before.  The brain is such an amazing tool.

Sometimes though, ideas and solutions come to me in other ways, outside of my being.  A great example of this occurred in my classroom yesterday during the first day of school.  My students worked on an activity that had them decorating a superhero cape with facts about themselves through the lens of superheroes.  Instead of simply plastering their name on the back of their capes, they had to generate a unique superhero name, super power, and other fun facts about themselves.  All of my students were super engaged in this activity as they created interesting superhero personas for themselves.  One student named himself Burger Boy because he enjoyed eating tasty cheeseburgers.  I was excited that the students were so enthralled with this activity.  While planning this Orientation Day task, I hoped that the students would enjoy it as much as I assumed they would, but we all know what happens when one assumes.  So, watching the awesomeness unfold during the execution of this activity filled me with joy.

While my students worked on crafting creative and colorful capes that helped to tell their life story, one student made a most magnificent suggestion.  She said, “Mr. Holt, we should write a class graphic novel all about our superheroes fighting crime at our school.”  Wow, came to mind as she uttered those words.  My response, “That is a most amazing idea.  I think we might have to try that on for size during Language Arts this year.”  The other students chimed in, noting that it is a great idea.

For the rest of the day, I thought about this amazing idea that one of my students had generated during class.  I love it.  I think it would be an epic way to get my students working together as a community of learners, creators, and writers.  I could have the students completely own this writing task.

  • They could brainstorm ideas for a story theme.  Perhaps they want the story to be about a series of crimes or one larger crime.
  • They could then map out the story, as they find a way to somehow incorporate each of their superheroes into the story.
  • They could then assign roles and tasks for writing and illustrating the story.  Each student would required to write and illustrate at least one part of the story.
  • We could then submit their story to one of those online bookmaking services to have it transformed into a fancy, bound graphic novel.  We would be sure to order enough copies for each student to have one.  We’d order an extra copy to donate to our local public library.
  • The students could even host a special superhero night at the library where they read their book aloud to other children.

I love, love, love how this idea is metamorphosing into so much more as my unconscious and conscious brain dwell on it.  I do believe that this will be our first Language Arts project of the year.  I had something else planned, but this seems to be a way cooler idea that will better engage my students.  I’ll still be able to cover similar writing strategies through this task, and so, it’s not like I’d be losing any “teaching” time.  I’d still be covering the curriculum and writing objectives that my students will need to master by the end of fifth grade.  I feel like it’s going to be awesome.  I can’t wait to jump into this project sometime during the first few weeks of school.  I’m so excited.

To think that this idea came from one of my students.  Seriously, my students are brilliant.  Just when I thought I had good ideas, one of my students blows me away.  I love it.  This one of the many enjoyable aspects of teaching: When students become so engaged in a task or topic that they generate innovative new ideas.  Amazing!

First Day of School Embarrassment: Why You Should Always Thoroughly Inspect Your Clothes Before Getting Dressed in the Morning

Excitement and heat were in the air at my new school this morning.  After two amazing days of faculty meetings, I was chomping at the bit for the students to arrive and school to officially begin.  Luckily, today was the big day, which is why I barely slept a wink last night.  I kept waking up, mostly out of fear that I had overslept, but also because I was ready to get things rolling in my new classroom.

Driving to school this morning, I jammed out to some terrific tunes from the Forecast and Mixtapes.  Singing along to the songs helped curb my anxiety a bit.  As I put the finishing touches on my classroom in preparation for today, I couldn’t help but wonder how things would go.  Would I mess up?  Would the students like me?  Was it going to be too hot for me to focus?  As my fears began to get the best of me, I heard one of my students arrive.  As I greeted her, my worries regarding today dripped away like sweat from my forehead anytime after 9:00 a.m. this morning.  It was so hot in and out of my classroom today, but that didn’t get in the way of me and my students having a most epic first day of school.

As the rest of my wonderful students began slowly trickling into school, I realized that I had nothing to be concerned about.  The smiles and excitement my students carried into the classroom this morning reminded me that no matter what we may think, in the end, everything is going to be awesome.  And indeed it was in the fifth grade this morning.  Despite our day being short as it was just an Orientation Day, so many wonderful things happened.  It seemed as though we were in school for many hours based on all that occurred.

My students are curious, creative, kind, compassionate, enthusiastic, and rambunctious.  They are so thrilled to be fifth graders at my new school.  One student could barely contain her excitement.  When asked how she was feeling about the day, her response was physical trembling coupled with a smile and strange sound of joy.  She reminded me of that Jack-in-the-Box toy that pops out before the music stops.  She couldn’t contain her positive emotions.

My goal for today was to lay the foundation for the many days to come.  I hoped that I would be able to help my students see that we are a family of learners, thinkers, problem solvers, and failures working together.  I wanted my students to leave the school today feeling like a part of something bigger than just a new school and a new classroom.  I wanted my students to leave school feeling excited for the year to come.  I wanted them to walk away feeling empowered, cared for, and connected.  I wanted my students to leave today’s Orientation Day program feeling like they had a glimmer of what the year would entail.  I wanted to provide them with just enough information to leave them clamoring for more.  While this seems like some lofty goals and aspirations, I felt like dreaming big.  Go big or go home, right?  So, I went big.

Well, wouldn’t you know it.  I felt like I accomplished everything I set out to do today.  My students all left school with huge smiles on their faces, excited for our next day together on Tuesday, September 4.  I provided my students with tiny bits of information of what was to come this year in the fifth grade as I offered them an overview of the classroom and our class norms.  They were so excited to learn that we will be going on numerous field excursions throughout the first few months of school.  They asked lots of inquisitive and thoughtful questions as we learned about each other.  We shared our thoughts and feelings about the start of school.  We completed several activities and even enjoyed a tasty snack together.  It was a most terrific day in the fifth grade classroom at my new school.

In my wildest dreams, it could not have been a more successful and wonderful day.  As my students departed for the day, a positive vibe of electricity and energy surged through my body as if I had been transformed into some sort of superhero.  Maybe my teaching cape isn’t just for show.  Perhaps I really am some sort of superhero.  No, I’m just an ordinary teacher who has a most excellent class of students.  I can’t wait for Tuesday to come so that we can jump head-first into language arts, social studies, science, math, and mindfulness.  Maybe I’ll try building that time machine I’ve been dreaming of so that I can fast forward right to next week.  Nah, then I would miss all of the fun that is sure to happen with my family this weekend.  I guess I will just have to be present in the moment and wait patiently for Tuesday to arrive.

While it may feel as though this entry has been neatly wrapped up and concluded, I saved the best for last.  You’re probably wondering what any of what I’ve already written has to do with my title.  I did not describe any moment of embarrassment.  What does it all mean?  Well, it began innocently enough with a raised hand…

There we were, my fifth grade class, sitting in the center of our classroom during the Morning Meeting portion of our Orientation Day program.  The students were sharing some of their concerns and excitement about today following an engaging name game activity.  One student shared how she wonders if she will miss her friends from her old school, while another student explained how he is excited for all the fun he believes we will have together this morning.  I loved how open and honest my students were sharing their true feelings with the group.  I talked to them about that honesty and how we will work hard this year to create a fifth grade family that supports and helps one another in numerous ways.

Then it happened.  The student who happened to be sitting across from me in the circle raised her hand.  As I called on her, I thanked her for being respectful and raising her hand.  She proceeded to calmly and in a matter-of-fact like fashion inform me that I have a hole in my pants.  I quickly glanced down at my khakis and saw the giant rip that had befallen my pants.  I crossed my legs to hide the hole and anything that could be seen from it.  I was mortified.  OMG, I thought.  On the first day at my new school I just happen to get a hole in my pants in the most awful of places.  I knew what had caused it too.  I like to crouch down to speak to my students at eye level.  This repeated strain most likely caused the seam to break open, like a levee during a hurricane.  I had no back up pants into which I could change.  I was struck wearing these blessed, or shall I say cursed, pants for the entire rest of the day.  As this feeling of embarrassment swept over me like grunge music in Seattle, I kindly thanked the student for sharing this news with me and made a joke about the importance of inspecting your clothes before you put them on in the morning.  The other students didn’t seem to notice my hole and that was the end of it for them, but for me the embarrassment continued.  Every time I sat in a chair, I crossed my legs or sat at an angle so that I was not providing anyone with any sort of inappropriate view.  Oh well, I guess.  If that’s the worst thing that happened on the first day at my new school, I’m doing pretty well.  I did however learn a valuable lesson this morning: Never assume you know everything, because the person sitting across from you in a circle may know, or see, more than you could ever imagine.

My Summer Work Reflection: Did I Accomplish ALL of My Goals?

Sitting at my tiny IKEA kitchen table, sipping on a warm cop of cinnamon coffee, I’m finding myself feeling a mixture of emotions.  Although I am super pumped to begin the school year at my new school, I’m a bit sad that my summer vacation is winding to a close.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with my son and wife, sleeping in, and relaxing.  Who doesn’t love watching Netflix?  So, in that regard, I’m feeling bittersweet, kind of like that epic song by Big Head Todd and the Monsters.  What a great song, filled with bridges and breakdowns and amazing lyrics.  So yes, I’m feeling happy and sad.  At the same time, however, I’m also feeling nervous for the school year to begin.  Will my students like me?  What if I mess up?  What if I leave my computer home one day?  What if I’m not in the proper dress code?  What if…  I could go on for many more pages with all of my fear, doubt, and insecurity, but that’s just it, they are my fears.  Rather than live with them, I’m learning to let go of them and accept that everything will work out just as it is supposed to.  While that’s not easy, I’m working on it.  I’m learning to transform my negatives into positives.  If my students don’t like me, I can use that opportunity to find new ways to engage with my students.  If I mess up or don’t do something the “right” way, then like great inventors of the past, I’ll go back to the drawing board and find a new way to solve the problem.  I’m working at changing the way I think about life in general.  So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am feeling much like a witch’s cauldron, bubbling and brewing with all sorts of emotions and concoctions.  In the end though, this cacophony of emotions will cook into one heck of a delicious stew of awesomeness.  I say, bring on the school year!

Okay, let’s not get too carried away.  Yes, I want the school year to begin, but I still need to reflect on my summer goals.  How’d I do in working towards them?  Did I meet any of them?  Do I still have some goals that are unmet?  How productive was my summer?  Now, onto the reflection, and then let’s get the school year party started.

Goal 1: Set up and organize my new classroom.

D for done on that one.  Check out this blog entry to learn more about my classroom set-up process and to see some lovely pictures of my new learning space.  Mission accomplished.

Goal 2: Determine which math book or series I will be going with for the fifth grade program.

I can check that goal off of my list of things I accomplished this summer.  After much research, I chose to go with the Beast Academy series.  I like how it makes the learning part of math fun.  The graphic novel approach to each lesson seems like it will make learning math novel and interesting.  I love it.  I also find that it provides the right amount of rigor for any advanced math students I might have, while also offering the ability to scaffold the learning for any students who struggle to understand the concepts covered.  I have the ability to differentiate my instruction quite a bit as well with this series.  I will begin the year by having the students complete a math placement exam.  Based on their results, they will be placed in the course that will meet them where they are and help propel them forward.  Ca-check that goal off my list.

Goal 3: Create my first science and social studies units on community and the scientific method.

And on the seventh day, I finished this goal as well.  Go me, go me, go!  For details on this great quest, read this previous blog entry.

Goal 4: Determine what my daily schedule will be for the fifth grade program.

I met this goal early on in the summer.  I’m excited about my daily schedule and feel as though it will suit the needs of my students very well.  As my program is much like a self-contained elementary class program, I do have flexibility in my schedule; however, I’m happy with the schedule I have made and feel as though I won’t need to do too much tweaking throughout the year.  Fourth Goal accomplished.  I’m on a roll.


Goal 5: Finish my Summer Reading text.

And my final goal has been met.  Read this blog entry to learn more about my experience with the wonderful novel Quiet by Susan Cain.

And there you have it folks, my summer goals were met.  I’m already to go for the new school year at my new school.  Well, sort of.  I do have some finishing touches to put on my room, but other than that I’m feeling like a guy who just won a $2 from a scratch ticket.  $2 can buy me a coffee from that gas station I pass on my way to school each day or a tasty doughnut.  While that may seem insignificant to many of you, those two options make me very happy.  Now I wish I had won $2 on a scratch ticket.

With faculty meetings beginning tomorrow, I am feeling recharged and energized.  So, bring on the new school year, bring on my new students, and bring on the fun.  Go fifth grade!

My Curricular Journey

Once upon a time…  No scrap that; it’s too unoriginal and boring.  What about this?  In a land far, far away there lived…  That’s been done before too.  How can I begin this short little story in an engaging and new way?  How can I start a story that will set up the rest of this entry in a unique way?  I want readers to be inspired by my first sentence so much that they just can’t wait to read the last one too, and all the other ones in between as well, I hope.  I’m searching for the perfect sentence.  It’s like a quest.  Yes, I’m on a quest to find the perfect way to start this story.  But wait a minute, does the perfect sentence really exist?  Can anything really be perfect in every way?  Okay, good point.  So, instead, I’ll go on an adventure to find a really great sentence for my story.  I feel like that is possible.  I can easily find a really great sentence.  But where?  In my closet?  In the ocean?  In my pocket?  Where might I find this amazing sentence?  What if it has yet to be written?  How will I find something that doesn’t yet exist?  Perhaps I should just create it.  That’s it!  I’ll design the right sentence for my story.  I can do that, I think.  Okay, here goes nothing…

Some said he was special, while others said he was just ordinary.  To his tribe, he would become the anointed one.  (OMG, how great is that opening?  I want to run to the precipice of the highest mountain and scream at the top of my lungs, YESSSSSSS!  I feel like my brain just earned a bonus point.  I love it!  It seems unique and engaging.  It’s interesting.  If I was a reader, I’d be clamoring for more right now.  I did it, I did it.  I came up with an epic opening.  Okay, now on with the rest of my short little story.)

This boy was more than just special, you see.  Although he didn’t realize it yet, he had great power buried deep within him.  It was written in the stars that he would grow to become a most powerful man and leader within the tribe.  However, he wasn’t quite there yet.  This boy faced numerous challenges from the earliest years of his life.  The river on which his life traveled meandered more than most during his early years.  Struggles pounded his shores like a great storm ravaging a countryside.  While many a men would have perished under such pressure, this boy persevered.  He was a survivor, but not without scars to mark his journey.

This wavy, white-capped trek left him unable to experience life like many others.  So, as he grew, these challenges shaped him in dangerous ways.  His true self became buried deep within him, as he was afraid of what others would think if they found out who and what he truly was.  Because he lied to himself and others for many years, he became a bit of an outcast in the tribe.  While fate knew what he would become, others saw a wasted, troubled life.  Something had to happen for this boy to transform into the great man the tribe so desperately needed.

Rather than push him away, the chieftains devised a plan to bring him back into the fold of the community.  They decided to send him on a quest to find his true self and uncover the power within.

So, this boy ventured out into the wilderness for several weeks.  While at first he seemed lost and unsure of his goal, he never gave up.  He kept searching, despite the many obstacles in his way.  On one evening, a wild animal, large in stature, approached the boys as he slept.  Startled, he awoke, unable to move at first.  Then, like magic, he knew what to do, and the wild beast seemed to simply disappear.  As the boy ventured further into the unknown wilderness, his mind began to uncover the buried secrets of his past.  As he faced these memories head-on, he found himself becoming more powerful.  Instead of only being able to walk a few miles during the first portion of his quest, by the end, he was walking many miles in a day.  His soul was growing stronger as well.  He began to accept himself for who he truly is.  While life dealt him a tricky hand of cards, he wasn’t going to let that spoil the whole game of life, oh no.  He was going to make the most of his future.

After seven weeks away from the tribe, the boy miraculously found his way back home.  He wasn’t the same boy who had left, the tribe soon realized.  He had grown into his powers and become a leader.  For once he faced his inner demons, he was able to see his true self and accept that he was different.  This trying quest in the wilderness had changed him in many ways; most importantly, however, it afforded him the opportunity to see that he is a kind and capable individual who has the power to change the world.

Much like the boy in the story, I too went through a transformation this summer.  What I thought was once too difficult to tackle, became a challenge I gleefully accepted.  Knowing that I had to prepare the curriculum for my new fifth grade class was a daunting task, and one that I put off for many weeks.  I left this unbearable mission for August, hoping that it would magically get accomplished on its own, without any effort from me.  But alas, I live in Hanover and not Narnia or Hogwarts.  Magic doesn’t exist in the same way here on Earth.  In order for something to get done, I need to do it.  So, like the boy in my story, I faced the wild beast that was my curriculum, and through dedication and hard work, slayed it.

Although I had an inkling of what I wanted my first unit to look like, until I sat down to map it all out, it was just an abstract idea.  The hard work was in putting the puzzle pieces together.

I knew that I wanted my first, integrated fifth grade unit to focus on community.  But how?  What about community did I want to cover?  The class community?  The school community?  The town?  As I was starting at a new school, in a new town, I had not the foggiest notion of Hopkinton’s history or community.  So, I went on my own adventure this summer to learn a bit about the Hopkinton community.  I began by visiting the town’s historical society museum and speaking with the director.  She was especially helpful.  Together, we crafted some amazing field experiences that I believe will tie the unit together.

  • Our first idea was a Walking Tour of Main Street.  The director would lead my students on a tour of Main Street, explaining the different houses that line the very old road.  She would also describe the history of the town to the students during this excursion.  This will be a great way for the students to gain a foundational understanding of the town and its history.
  • Our second field experience for the unit will be a visit to the town museum to learn about the history of the indigenous people who lived in the Hopkinton area.  The students will also learn and practice the art of basket weaving.  This adventure will not only teach the students more about our town’s history but also be a great springboard into our second unit on the indigenous people of New Hampshire.
  • Our third excursion will be a visit to the art museum housed in the historical society building.  I’m hoping that the director can organize a workshop with one of the local artists exhibiting their work.  This will be a great way to help the students understand the current state of our town while also appreciating the talented citizens that live among us.
  • Our final field experience will be a visit to the workshop of a local spoon maker, during which he will show the students how a spoon is made before providing them an opportunity to make a simple spoon of their own.  This hands-on trip will help the students learn a new task while also understanding more about the wonderful people who live in Hopkinton.

I am super excited about these field experiences.  I believe that they will help to bring history alive for my students.  They will also help them become more invested in the town in which the school is located.  Our first trip is scheduled for Thursday, September 13.

As our theme for the year is community, this first formal unit on our community will help lay the foundation for the year ahead.  This unit will tie together the social studies, science, and language arts curricula for the start of the year.

  • The social studies aspect of the unit will focus on the history of the town of Hopkinton.
  • The science portion of the unit will focus more on the school community, as the students will conduct investigations regarding an aspect of the school that they would like to change.  This will involve more of an environmental approach such as energy consumption, food waste, water use, etc.
  • The language arts piece of the unit will have the students craft a historical fiction story based on a piece of Hopkinton’s history that interests them in some way.

Throughout the unit, the students will learn how to appropriately discuss serious issues impacting others, write about facts they learn, analyze information, interpret what they read, question the world around them in meaningful ways, help others, and appropriately share information in a real-world context.  This integrated unit will create the perfect patchwork quilt the students will need as we delve into the more challenging topics during the colder months.

While everything about this unit is sure to be engaging and fun, what I’m most excited about regarding this new unit is the culminating, final project.  For the first phase of the project, the students will choose an aspect of Hopkinton’s history that intrigued them.  They will then create a visual display highlighting what they learned.  For the final phase of the project, the students will present their visual display and prepared speech for all community members to see at a special exhibit at the Historical Society building.  Talk about real-world practice.  Not only will the students be practicing their public speaking skills, but they will also be teaching the town’s citizens all about the unique and diverse history of the town in which they live.  It will be a great way for the students to connect with the Hopkinton community members and for the townsfolk to see what is going on at our small little school nestled in the woods.  This is sure to be a fantastic experience for all involved.  I can’t wait.

So, as you can see, my summer journey was filled with adventure and learning, much like the boy in my story.  Creating a new curriculum and set of units is very challenging and time consuming.  I spent a lot of time this summer just thinking about topics I want to cover.  My goal is to create a unit that will engage and interest my students in such a way that they are curious and want to learn more.  I want to empower them to ask questions, as they think critically about the world around them.  I want them to learn about themselves throughout this wild journey as well.  As the boy in my story learned, we’ve all got great power living within us.  Sometimes, we just need a little prodding to extract it.

The Fun Had in Setting up a New Classroom

When the average person looks at a blank canvas, they see nothing but a white abyss, a sea of white with no possibilities.  Now, when a painter stares longingly at a blank canvas, they see endless possibilities.  They see fields of brown and gold, oceans of blue and green, and mountains of white and black.  Artists have this innate ability to imagine what could be.  It’s quite intimidating, but also amazing to think that emptiness can be so full.

Teachers have this same talent when they approach a new, barren classroom.  They don’t see an empty room or a cluttered mess like other non-educators, oh no.  They see a room filled with choices, walls lined with inspirational posters, flexible seating options, and so much more.  They see what can be.  So, when I tackled the super fun and exciting task of setting up my classroom in July, I had a vivid snapshot in my mind of what the finished product would resemble.  However, it really was the journey that was most satisfying: Sweeping, mopping, dusting, moving heavy furniture, ordering a carpet and other fun decor, and designing bulletin board displays.  Those were the most energizing moments.  Sure, surveying my domain when all was said and done felt quite great, getting to that place was the fun part for me.

My epic adventure in classroom set-up began in late June when I transferred all of my classroom materials and teaching garb to my new classroom in the quaint town of Hopkinton, NH.  At that point, the teacher who had previously called the room home was still in the process of moving her things to her new residence down the hall a few doors.  While many people might have glanced at this room and seen nothing but chaos and a big mess, I saw light shining through the numerous windows, big, beautiful bookcases to store my numerous teaching supplies, and supple walls that seemed ready and willing to accept my posters and new ideas.  Happiness filled my soul like sharks fill a tornado to transform it into a Sharknado.  I was overjoyed with the possibilities.  I couldn’t wait to jump into this space and transform it into the new fifth grade home base.  I felt like a kid at Christmas, waiting for the big day to arrive.

Phase 1: The Purge

Don’t worry, the subtitle is not a reference to the frightening movie series.  The first part of setting up a new classroom is designing the floor plan.  What do I want it to look like at the end this process?  How can I best organize my room to promote critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, collaboration, freedom, and fun?  These are all thoughts I pondered as I put my plan together.  I wanted a space with flexibility.  Once I had a blueprint for my classroom, I began the work by getting rid of everything in the classroom that I didn’t want to incorporate into my design.  I got rid of the old-fashioned desk and chair combos that filled the room like trash littering a pristine park.  You see, I’m one for comfort and flexibility.  Classrooms should be about movement and motion.  It’s hard for students to move when they are stuck in a contraption that rivals the rack from medieval times.  I also removed the very heavy and old teacher desk that had sat in the room since the school’s inception.  I don’t need one space that is solely mine, as the entire room is my desk.  I find that teacher desks create a divide between the students and teacher.  I don’t like the message that sends.  Plus, they take up a ton of unnecessary space.  I also got rid of numerous books and supplies the previous teacher had left behind.  Once the space was free of clutter, I got to work on the cleaning.  I dusted, swept, and mopped the space.  It was really starting to feel like home.

Phase 2: Organizing Spaces

Once my new classroom was clean, I then began dividing the space into sections.  The back, right corner was the reading and library area, while the front, left area was devoted to our Maker Space.  The back wall was the student cubby area and the right, side wall was the tea and hot chocolate area.  The front right section of the classroom became the audio/visual center of the space as well as a table for me to store worksheets and other materials I would be using throughout the day.  The front, middle area of the classroom was devoted to the work tables and chairs.  Setting up these various spaces was the most time consuming part of the project, as I wanted everything to be just so.  The perfectionist in me likes peace and harmony, and straight lines.  I had to move some things around multiple times just so that they would line up with the lines in the floor tiles.  I might have a teensie obsessive compulsion issue.  I was very pleased with how things came out when I finally finished.  While this new classroom is a smaller space than what I have grown accustomed to over the years, I found a way to effectively utilize the space that I did have.

Phase 3: The Walls

As my new classroom was really coming together like Michelangelo’s masterpiece painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it was time for me to focus on what the students would be looking at throughout the day– the walls.  At my previous school, because I had so much wall space, I plastered the walls with numerous posters that had not too much to do with the curriculum or learning taking place in the space.  Since my new classroom contained limited wall space, I carefully thought about what would grace these beautiful canvases.  Each poster or display posted inside the room is directly connected to some portion of the social or academic curriculum.  Every poster serves a purpose, so that when the students do glance around the room, they will be learning from what they see.

The Maker Space


The Reading Area


The Front of the Room


Phase 4: The Finishing Touches

Once the room was organized and decorated, then came all of the details.  I had to order a carpet for the reading area, which still has yet to arrive.  The carpet people must be taking extra care to bind this carpet with love and curiosity.  I am also still awaiting the arrival of the fun bean bag chairs that I ordered.  I hope they come before school begins next week.  I also needed to assemble the new whiteboard tables that I ordered.  I used this exercise as an opportunity to meet the families of my new students.  I arranged for a Table Assembly and Meet and Greet Party for early August.  This made putting the tables together super easy, while also affording me the opportunity to get to know my new students and their families.  I fielded many questions that afternoon as I handed out freeze pops on a very rainy summer day in New Hampshire.

The Table Area


As the school year draws near, I still have one more poster to post and a few things to straighten up within the space.  Other than that though, I’m feeling quite excited about the classroom I have created.  I believe it will inspire creativity, curiosity, and compassion.  The students will be provided with much flexibility in terms of seating and work space, which will allow them to own their learning and take charge.  What was once a blank canvas, transformed into the future home of the fifth grade family.  I just hope the students will enjoy it as much as I am sure to.