Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Learning Commons in the TLC - A Reflection

It's been 10 months of transition. How far have we come? What do we do next? There is lots to think about after being here for almost one school year. As they say, 'times flies when you're haviAkkermanLCng fun!'

How Far Have We Come?

This year has been mostly about developing relationships. As I have been the new guy in the building, building trust and positive working relationships with colleagues has been key. Without those, we wouldn't be able to go anywhere. The physical space itself hasn't really changed a lot this year. The school worked on changing the physical space at the end of the last school year. It is definitely an inviting and student friendly space with plenty of room to work in. It's also flexible when we need it to be.

With our CIP grant money, we have added a whole lot more technology. We started early in the year with a new iPad cart complete with 30 iPads and Power Sync Cart. Also, the admin team made a commitment to this amazing learning resource by equipping each teacher with an iPad Mini. We have focused on learning to use the iPad as a creation tool with our students. We have seen some amazing work come from these powerful devices. Teachers are also learning to use iPad as an assessment tool. Carrying an iPad around on the fly has been powerful for recording snapshots of what is happening in the classroom. At times through the year we have had times of sharing, where teachers were given the opportunity to share something they had done with their iPad in their own classroom. This might have been a project they did with their class, or something they created as a resource for teachers.

We also purchased a 3 carts of Mac Book Pros. The problem with encouraging the use of technology as a learning tool is that everyone wants to use the computers more and more. Our computers have been steadily booked this year and certainly in the last half the year we have had a lot more demand for them. We now have have 4 full class set of computers available for booking. At the beginning of the school year, we talked about dismantling the Computer Lab (picture below) but it is really nice to have a (network) stable environment to work in, especially with our younger students. Next year, we plan on building another couple of computer stations in the learning commons space to allow students to come into the learning commons to work independently on projects.

Computer station to be altered with new iMacs coming in.
We also made changes this year to student book exchange. Students are now exchanging books independently. They check their books in by themselves and then return books to the return bin to be shelved by our library assistant. Then they get their new books and check them out too. To train the 650 students in our building we ran a three-step training program (over 3 weeks) where we [1] Demonstrated how to do it, [2] Guided them doing it and then [3] Supported them by observing them. The initial training went well but we found many students were not following the correct process. We then made a visual sign which we have kept up until this day. Students can easily follow the images. This has been amazing way to empower all of our students. They love coming to the learning commons to check out their own books. It also frees up our library assistant to focus on other areas of work.

The space itself has been used for a variety of things. We have focused the learning this year on creating digital content. The influx of new technology has meant that accessibility to computers and iPads has increased. With 6 full class sets of some kind of technology available (computers or iPads) it is becoming much easier for classes to engage in projects that require the technology. We have also used the learning commons space for full class or grade group presentations, performance practices and extra curricular clubs at lunchtime. We have a reading corner that has a tiered seating area that is perfect for performing. Some classroom teachers have ventured into allowing students down to the learning commons to work independently on projects. Teachers also come to the learning commons to collaborate and/or plan together.

What Next?

Over the next year there are few things we want to try to implement.
  1. Opening up the space more - We want to give our students more opportunities to come to the learning commons to work their projects. This means they would come down by themselves or with their small group.
  2. Maker Space - I have been researching maker spaces and the kind of things we might have in our TLC Maker Space. At this point, until we come across some more money, we will introduce some learning centre kind of stations in the Fall. We will have centres (maybe 1 or 2) sent up in the learning commons at any one time. Students will be able to come to the centre and work through a task that would compliment the learning happening in their class. At this point, I am thinking along the lines of the following centres
    • Photography Centre - to learn different aspects about photography, downloading from a device and editing photos in iPhoto
    • Stop Motion Studio - A small mobile studio where students can animate objects that would somehow connect with their curriculum.
    • Maker Challenges - A centre set up that would challenge student to make something (using the equipment supplied) that has a specific purpose. All finished projects could be documented and shared in the learning commons. 
    • iPad or Computer tinker sessions - a lunch time option where students come in to learn how to use a specific app.
    • Book Repair Club - We trialled this over the past couple of months. Our student love some of the paper back book collections and therefore the books get worn out. Check out what our students have done with those worn out books, here.
    • Future Maker Space Stations - with further funding we hope to be able add a maker space where students will be able to create knowledge through accessing a variety of resources such as building equipment (Lego, K'Nex, 3D printers, CNC laser cutters, Variety of other Arts and Craft building supplies). We also hope to introduce electronics so our students will be able to learn to code,  build mini computers, experience with circuits and also build and program robotics.
  3. New Computer Stations - To encourage more independent work we want to create some new spaces equipped with computers so students can work on their projects and not disturb the computer lab area if it is booked.
  4. Interactive Wall Displays - We'd like to change the way we create wall displays. It would be great to have a display that student can interact with. It might be students doing a task, or adding to a display, or writing or drawing on a display or something like a Facebook or Twitter wall. This would be a great way to encourage creative thinking which is a part of our school development wall.
  5. Continue to work on Philosophy - I believe we have worked hard at developing a common understanding of the learning commons philosophy. Next year we hope to really focus on the students as learners which will help us develop the space to better suit their needs.
  6. New Furniture - We hope to get further funding and begin to update our book shelving, add some student computer desks and some alternative seating such as stools and couches for reading and working in/on.
We look forward to what next year brings. It is exciting to see what is happening now and what will be happening in the future!

'Oh the places we'll go!'

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