Mirror,Mirror On The Wall…

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      After dedicating almost every Friday this school year to our FULL STEAM AHEAD projects, we’ve had a lot of successes, a solid amount of failures, and a lot of time to reflect.  Reflecting on the failures with the kids has brought about more teachable moments than you could imagine.  

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During a Snowman Challenge (which we wouldn’t categorize as one of our successes), we had at least 2 to 3 kids in each class in full-on tears , so now having a “snowman meltdown” has become a tagline in our classrooms, haha. We read, “Snowmen at Night”, by Caralyn Buehner and…Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.27.06 AMThe snowman challenge was this:

         “Create the tallest,free-standing snowman possible.”

“FUN!” we said…”Challenging!” we thought… UMMMM – this was the kids take on it:

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 We’ve discussed time and time again that it is okay to get upset and frustrated, that having a “snowman meltdown” is perfectly okay because if you had the opportunity to try the project again – chances are you would have a different approach and that means you learned from it.  Not everyone had trouble. Some kids enjoyed it. But many, like Erin, have it saved in their schema for years to come! In any case, all of the kids learned, tried, adjusted and used critical thinking.

                 Erin’s reflection!

As we ourselves take the time to reflect, we see where we can make improvements, but also notice times when can be proud of our achievements. Here is a unit we absolutely   love:

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     Our last 4 to 6 weeks of FULL STEAM AHEAD Friday have been all centered around our most recent science unit – which consists of learning about biomes, animals that live in these biomes, and adaptations that these animals have that help them to survive.  Our school implemented the use of Thinking Maps this school year (they are a pretty magical resource if you ask us), so we decided to create a large scale tree map on one of the walls in our classrooms and divide it into four sections, one for each biome.  This turned into 4 very fun, yet simple FULL STEAM AHEAD Friday projects.  

     FullSizeRender 10The four biomes we focused on were the Ocean, the Desert, the Arctic, and the Rain Forest.  Throughout the week, we did lots of research on each biome by reading books as a class, watching Brain Pops, and searching Epic books (an amazing app we just discovered that is awesome for researching and reading books on each student’s level). By the time it was Friday, the kids had become experts and were ready to create an animal that could live in the specific habitat we were working on.  The way the kids applied their knowledge of the animal and their adaptations to the design was on another level.  Their creativity, as usual, blew us away!

Stay tuned, because what followed this unit is bigger and better than ever!!!!

“The Ultimate Animal…” a design thinking experience– 

Coming soon to a blog post near you:).

But first, rest…

With summer on the horizon, and as the school year comes to a close, we feel grateful for another year well played. We are excited to take the next few months to reflect on our professional practices, take a look at where we can improve, and give ourselves a pat on the back for another year of learning new things.  Our greatest hope is that we have taught our  children that being adventurous and trying is better than being afraid to fail.

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We look forward to coming back in August fresh and ready to start again, at which time, I know we will once again open our adjoining door and greet each other with our favorite catch phrase…

“#IHAVEANIDEA!”

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                                                                      Jess and Laura

 

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A Teacher’s Mindset is Contagious

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Hello from the shadows!! After posting our blog every single Tuesday, we….ummm- to be honest, we ran out of STEAM (ha,ha).

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After taking part in “Full Steam Ahead Friday” for  about 26 weeks now, we have made some important observations regarding its success. Additionally, we have also learned a lot about what works and doesn’t.

Having some time off to do some much needed reflecting has proven to be eye-opening. We have come to some definite conclusions about why Full STEAM Ahead Friday and a design thinking approach to learning can succeed or fail. It comes down to one basic fact:

Your classroom culture is everything.

What we,not as teachers,but as people, share with our students, is critical to establishing a classroom that feels like home. When we can create an environment in which our students feel comfortable and loved, that is when students can truly feel good about learning without fear.

How does this happen?

It happens when a teacher brings her heart and soul into the classroom. It happens we laugh with our students, when we make mistakes and giggle about them, when we are silly, when we share photos of our crazy pets :), when we share funny dreams we have had…

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It is when we can be in our classrooms and feel like “We are all in this together”, as opposed to, “ I am the teacher and you are the students. You will follow my rules. Now please turn to page 265 in your textbooks.”

Maybe this sounds trite, and maybe it’s obvious to some, but we truly feel that sharing our true hearts with our students is the gold.

By being a part of an environment like this, they learn to feel safe and loved in their pursuit of learning. They become comfortable enough to share parts of their own lives without fear of being judged.

When teachers can bring their passions into their classroom with personality,heart and humor, that is when the culture will speak for itself and there will be opportunities for learning at every corner.

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You might be wondering…What does this have to do with STEAM and Design Thinking? The answer? Everything!

The cornerstone of Design Thinking begins with empathy. It requires listening to your user and designing what will ultimately will solve that user’s problem. Instilling a sense of empathy throughout the threads of your classroom is vital. That is why we begin every year in our classrooms with the all important Habit of Mind, “Listening with empathy and understanding”.

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After discussing the essential question, “What does listening look like?”, students are paired off and interview each other about their summer experiences and then write three things that their partners did over the summer. They then present each other to the class. This is an amazing beginning of the year experience. This immediately sets up the feeling of empathy and caring. They are not writing and discussing their own summer, but are forced to listen carefully to their classmates to recall details of their new friend’s experiences.It is empowering because students feel that they are truly heard.

 

Establishing this culture at the beginning of the year is crucial to a successful classroom and also critical when trying to set up STEAM in your classroom. STEAM activities are not for the faint-hearted…

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They are messy and loud and more often than not, unpredictable. Teachers must give up the reigns and throw caution to the wind and allow the students the opportunity to experience success as well as failure.The learning that comes from it, though, is so valuable, that STEAM, along with Design Thinking, cannot be overlooked.

From a long blog-break, we come back filled with vision and insight. Our hope is that we can bring the love of what we do into our classrooms.

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We hope that each day brings a new opportunity for us to share a piece of ourselves with our students. In the long run, it is the teacher, not the programs,not the technology, not the administration, but the teacher, that matters most.

When we share this piece of ourselves, it is then that our students become family and thus,can feel safe and empowered to reach their highest potential.

Thanks for taking the time to read our thoughts.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-2-31-12-pm Jess and Laura

Teacher wisdom for the day:

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Embracing Change To Spur Innovation

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If we ever needed validation for bringing STEAM and Design Thinking into our classrooms, we received it last night. We took part in #IMMOOC with George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset and John Spencer and AJ Juliani, who wrote “Launch“. What an amazing hour spent collaborating, sharing and learning with educators across the globe!

Our Aha Moments:

  • Using Design Thinking requires teachers to look at the curriculum in a different way. Many teachers hold fast to the fact that there are standards to teach by saying, “Design Thinking is not part of the curriculum.” And our fearless leader,George Couros, spoke up with words of wisdom…”Worksheets are not in the curriculum either, but we use those!” (LOVE THAT!)
  • It’s all about “reorganizing the way you work the curriculum,” which is why we have found such success tying DT into literature, math and science (all a BIG part of our curriculum). Design Thinking is not “another thing to do, that we don’t have time for” but instead, a way to tie the foundation of our curriculum and creativity into a messy bow of learning and thinking.
  • “Design Thinking is a ‘mental model’ for success,” AJ Juliani. It gives kids a system to follow…guiding steps to solve authentic problems.
  • Just TRY IT! Just do one thing! Be ambitious.

Thank you so much to #IMMOOC for the amazing opportunity to stay challenged and inspired. We look forward to next time!

With that said, we are thrilled to be back to our regularly scheduled program…

 

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“Full STEAM Ahead Friday”…

 

This week we would like to share one of the first in depth Design Thinking Challenges that we gave our kids. We were given a “curiosity” challenge by Nord Anglia Education entitled:

“What are you curious about?”

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Empowering the students to think of something they were curious about (being that it was right around Halloween) Their answer? PUMPKINS! SO we dove right in!

We provided our students background knowledge and then asked this question:

“How can you turn your pumpkin into something that can move?”…no easy question by any means!” So we used circle maps to brainstorm (Ask).

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After finding inspiration in a fall edition of Scholastic News, we decided to create pumpkin boats and have pumpkin boat races! This took a lot of researching about sinking and floating, weight and wind. The students ideated (Imagine and Plan) and created their very own pumpkin boats.

 

Then the day came for the big races(Experiment)! Afterwards the students wrote reflections about the experience:

 

For a short clip to watch our experience from beginning to end, click here:

Pumpkin Boats!

In closing, we would like to  revisit this question from our #IMMOOC experience:

“How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?”

We seek to create authentic experiences and  we try to be open to lessons that may feel overwhelming to us at first or might not work out…because we have learned that sometimes even the best laid plans do not turn out the way you thought and sometimes when you don’t have a perfect plan, that’s when the magic happens! We don’t know if we are executing Design Thinking, or STEAM perfectly.  The truth is, we believe there isn’t one perfect process.  We do know, however, that what we are doing is producing an amazing outcome!

What we see is children who NEVER stop asking for more experiences. We see children who are becoming resilient and confident problem solvers who are developing a growth mindset through these authentic experiences. This is the way we are spurring innovation in our own way.

As educators, we know that more often than not, children surprise you…with their spark, their creativity, and most of all , their CURIOSITY!

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Until next time…stay curious!

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Jess and Laura

Teacher wisdom for the day:

 

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We interrupt this program…

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We interrupt our weekly STEAM post to share with you our educational philosophy – the method to our madness, if you will.

All teachers have a philosophy, whether they ever put it into writing or not – each teacher has an overarching thoughtful process that influences their everyday instruction.  Many philosophies differ, creating different climates and cultures in each classroom.  No matter what your approach is, we are all in it for the same reason – we do it for the kids! We strive to be those teachers that you remember 30 years from now because the culture and climate in our classrooms was one that our students enjoyed so much.

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We were lucky enough that fate brought us together and we share a very similar teaching philosophy, which is grounded in the fact that as we meet our new class each year, we have a goal to teach them how to become empathetic, compassionate little members of our society.  

Here is an outline of the driving forces that shape our teaching practices:

Culture

We aim to create a warm,loving, playful environment where kids feel welcome to be themselves.

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We begin each year introducing the Habit of Mind, “Listening with empathy and understanding” because this is the backbone for our culture of learning. Once our students understand that their voice will always be heard and that they are respected and loved, we feel we can teach anything!

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We use this adorable video from Sesame Street to introduce the habit:

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Mark Ruffalo and Telly Teach Empathy

This leads us to our next belief:

Ambition

We are constantly learning ourselves, striving to be ambitious and to try new things in our classrooms. Do our lessons always pan out the way we thought? Absolutely not! There have been many occasions where we would open our adjoining door and say… “Ummmm. This is a hot mess!” (Like our Snowman Stretch Full STEAM ahead Friday challenge that went awry!) But guess what? That’s okay! In fact, when our students witness us as teachers trying, failing and adjusting, it sends the message that learning is messy and that it is perfectly fine to have things not work out sometimes…

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…because that’s just the way life works. And guess what characteristics come from failing, frustration and disappointment? Persistence, grit, patience and determination. If we can instill those traits in our students, then we have done our job.

Reflection

We are reflective practitioners. In fact, just sitting down to write this blog post proved to be a difficult task. However, it brings to light new insights and reaffirms for us why we do what we do. We see clearly where we can improve. This art of reflecting takes time and quiet thought, which is something that can be difficult for us to come by, but in doing so, we get to reset our paths as educators and our roadmap to success becomes clear. It sets our purpose.

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This is precisely why we have our students continually reflect on their learning as well. They learn what happens when they feel frustrated and how to push through it:

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They also learn to celebrate their successes!

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Experiences

We strive to develop creative and memorable learning experiences that engage all learners at any level. We work diligently to provide students with cross-curricular learning opportunities. We realize that skills in isolation can be taught by anyone on any worksheet, but it is the DELIVERY of those skills that create life-long learners. At the end of the day, we want our children to skip out the door, anxious and excited for tomorrow! This can only happen when we ourselves are passionate and excited about our day!

This is one reason we employ the principles of STEAM and Design Thinking in our classrooms. Through our Steam/Design Thinking- centered curriculum, students learn there is not always one right answer,they use creativity to solve problems, and they learn to use their voices with clarity. They learn collaboration.

“Far beyond filling out answers on a worksheet, these assignments allow for individual talents and personality to shine through. While it’s unlikely that you have ever heard a person say, “that worksheet changed my life,” most people have an assignment from their childhood that they remember with pride because it was meaningful to them. More often than not, that memorable assignment was one that allowed them to build and create.”
By MindShiftAPRIL 23, 2014

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We want our classrooms to be “student-centered spaces of possibility” (Anne Stephens…Mindshift).

If we were to summarize our philosophy (or turn it into an acronym), it would spell-

CARE

because at the end of each day, that’s just it, we do care.  We care about our students enjoying their days and learning as much as they possibly can in an environment that feels safe to make mistakes and be themselves! We also care about being the best possible teachers we can be!

Thank you so much for reading BLOG post #4…we LOVE sharing our days with you! We hope that some of our insight can bring new insight to others! We would love to hear about the things that drive other educators in their classrooms. Please share and leave a reply!

Stay tuned for BLOG Post #5 , when we return to our regularly scheduled programming of…

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Jess and Laura

Teacher wisdom of the day…

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Full STEAM Ahead Friday- Livin’ A Dog’s Life!

The journey through STEAM continues…

Led by the determination to tie STEAM to literature, coupled with having a required reading series to follow,we decided to try it out on Mudge, our favorite, big, messy, lovable dog from author, Cynthia Rylant. This was the week’s story and we needed a “FULL STEAM AHEAD FRIDAY”  challenge to go with it.

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We also wanted to give our students a design process to follow in order to give them a simple method to use when designing. If you’ve taken some time to search, then you know there are many design models out there. From the D- school at Stanford, to The Nueva School in San Francisco…

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Having used these models before with different projects, we knew that they hold value, but none of these felt like the perfect fit for our first graders to use on a weekly basis. We searched for one that they could really use.

Here is one we found and love:

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Prior to any STEAM activity, we go through this process with students so they can really think about the task they are being given, write a plan and ideate. These thoughts are housed in the students’ STEAM Notebooks….

We also taught them a song to remember the process! (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Experiment, Improve – to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”)

With  that said, let’s get back to Henry and Mudge!

The task at hand:

“How might you design a dream doghouse for Mudge?”

The kids were SO excited!! They immediately went to work  imagining, planning, and ideating.

In the end,we saw everything from sweet, cozy backyard doghouses, to those that had a doggie swimming pool ( constructed in a shoebox with straws and blue tissue paper!), and even one that had a rooftop deck, for the times when Mudge needed some peace and quiet…LOL. Most importantly, however, we witnessed the PROCESS of creating, which is genuinely more important than the final product.The activity and engagement in our classrooms was evident.

The problem-solving, collaborating and THINKING as they become six-year-old designers is an experience that we look forward to each and every week because we witness it’s value. We, as teachers, hope to always lead our students with inspiring and thoughtful experiences, but allow them to take the reigns and become the owners of their learning. This is exactly what Full Steam Ahead Friday has done for us.

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Thus, another Successful Full Steam Ahead Friday comes to an end. To witness the smiles, creativity, critical thinking, and genuine LOVE for learning is something that we  strive for everyday. When it happens, you can’t help but share it with the world!

Until next time…keep steamin’ along!

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Jess and Laura

Words of Wisdom for the day…

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Recess Queen – Full of STEAM!


screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-8-07-47-pmAlright – let’s dive right in! When we first got started, the only knowledge we had of utilizing a STEAM station in the classroom, was what we read.  We were a bit nervous at first because the task seemed daunting and oh…we had ZERO space for all of the things we thought we needed! What we discovered, however, was that the setup was much easier than we had anticipated. We each chose a corner in our classrooms devoted to creating. Laura’s was called “Tinker Town” and Jess called hers “Imagination Station.” We filled it with things we already had in the classroom.  We basically searched for easily manipulated recyclable items to put in bins (ie. q-tips, cotton balls, yarn, pipe cleaners, paper towel rolls, cardboard, tape, etc.)  Our STEAM stations became the perfect place to house those extra odds and ends we always saved in our closets because we would “need it someday.”

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We knew we wanted the creating to be authentic, so we decided that each STEAM activity would connect to a piece of literature. We started simple.

At the beginning of the year, we read “Recess Queen” by Alexis O’Neill. After diving into the book with thinking maps, thinking routines and writing our own class books, Our first STEAM challenge was to create a crown that will fit on your head using pipe cleaners. We gave each student five pipe cleaners and let them get to work. Their creations were both amazing and adorable. We knew we were on the right track!  It was the perfect introduction to get the creative juices flowing in our classrooms!

Soon after that, we introduced the design process and began showing our students how to layout their thoughts, ideate, plan and create and most importantly, reflect!

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We saw excitement, engagement, persistence, and a palpable feeling of enthusiasm. As our favorite pirate says…screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-07-37-pm

Thanks so much for reading our second blog post! We are truly excited to share our ideas, successes, failures and passions with you! Stay tuned for our next “Full STEAM Ahead Friday” activity where we will continue our journey of creating, exploring, and innovating!

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Jess and Laura

Today’s inspiring thought to ponder:::

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#ihaveanidea is born!

#ihaveanidea was born out of the friendship, camaraderie, and vision of two ambitious, free-thinking, optimistic educators. It’s become a morning ritual to start the day by opening our adjoining door and nine times out of ten, our first words to each other would be, ”Oh my gosh- I have an idea.”…or “okay, so I had this idea…” and thus, the creating began.

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We have been together for barely two years, yet the similarities in our teaching styles are hard to miss. The first thing we noticed about each other was that we both lean toward hands-on, project-based learning. We both hold firm to the opinion that when it comes to developmental appropriateness for first graders, creative projects that tie the curriculum together and spark curiosity, fun and engagement, trump worksheets every time. With that in mind, we decided that this year we were determined to start a STEAM center in our classroom that would be used often, in an orderly and organized fashion, that challenged kids to think, plan,create, write, reflect and persist time and time again. We knew we wanted our students to follow the design process so that they would have an organized method for creating. We knew that in this way, the learning would hold value. We were not sure what this would look like, but we were determined. We began with the end in mind (thank you Stephen Covey) and looked at the heart of the learning we were trying to expose our students to.

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Here is one list that outlines the benefits of using Design Thinking in the classroom. This was written by a man named John Spencer and found on George Couros’ Twitter page(@gcouros). George is our new hero! 🙂

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John Spencer (@spencerideas) says:

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We hope you enjoyed our first blog post as much as we enjoyed writing it! Please come back soon. We are so excited to share our teaching experiences with you!

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-2-31-12-pmJess & Laura