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I still remember the day when "Learning Experiments" first came into being.
I was sitting at my desk in my super comfy teacher chair, and I looked out at a sea of squirming little 2nd grade bodies as they focused on their silent reading.
Suddenly, it hit me - how uncomfortable must those chairs be for my kiddos?
I think I'd be squirming as much as they were (and making tons of excuses to get out of my desk, just like many of them did) if I had to sit in those desks every day, too.
I know that flexible seating is all the rage now, which is awesome - but what about if you can't afford flexible seating?
And - what if we could take things a little bit further than just "flexible seating?"
What if helping children to learn meant making other focused, strategic changes to their learning environment?
So, I asked them:
"Are you uncomfortable? Would it be helpful if you had a cushion or a pillow to sit on while you are working at your desk?"
The rest, as they say, is history. :-)
I wrote up a letter explaining what I was planning to do to let parents know that I was inviting kids to bring in a cushion or a pillow for the next week of school so we could do a little experiment.
I invited families who had extra pillows to please go ahead and send them, and I brought in some old cushions that I had for kids who didn’t bring one, and some students were willing to share.
At the end of the week, we wrote about this change to our learning environment: Did we like it? What did we like about it and not like about it? Then, our class voted on whether or not to keep this change until the end of the year.
We started brainstorming other ideas for how we might transform an otherwise typical classroom into a more comfortable space for learning, and because children support what they help create, I had their complete buy-in. :-) Plus, it was super fun.
Want to try these Learning Experiment writing projects in your classroom? Now you can! Just click here or on the pic below to learn more.
Some of the other ideas we came up with for how we might transform our space (and subsequently experimented with) were:
Now, once my students were used to using their cushions at their desks, the next week, we experimented with using our cushions in different spaces in the classroom. So, they could now snuggle up with their pillow in the reading corner or lay by the window to read with their pillow.
I brought in lamps that I had found at garage sales, we used flashlights, and we took advantage of natural sunlight instead of the fluorescent lighting so typical in schools. Depending on your classroom and how much natural light you have, you can try this for just part of the day or for the last hour of each day – whatever works for you.
Why not invite your students to bring in a small stuffed animal to read to during silent reading time, and even just to keep as a form of comfort throughout the day to bring a touch of home to school? This worked especially well for me when I was teaching in 2nd grade, especially for children who needed a little extra security and comfort.
According to Science Daily, "chewing gum can help you stay focused for longer on tasks that require continuous monitoring." I was surprised by how calming chewing gum seemed to be for many of my more hyper-active students. However, be sure to listen to the full episode for how I set this up, how I did this completely for free in my own classroom, and which specific rules I had in my classroom so this was a positive experience for everyone.
Many of you may already be doing this in your classroom – playing some quiet music in the background as students work – but with our learning experiments in my classroom, we took this a little further and we were a little more intentional about it.
We decided on a pre-approved song list. I don’t ever play music with lyrics while my students are working because research demonstrates that listening to music with lyrics significantly cuts down on a child’s ability to focus on the task at hand. The results of this experiment were surprising and I learned a great deal about what volume and type of music individual students preferred!
Many of you are likely already using Go Noodle and other kinds of brain breaks in your classroom, and that’s awesome – but it’s pretty incredible what can happen for your students’ attention spans when they are given opportunities for regular exercise throughout the day.
Just click here to access a great article by Minds in Bloom that gives you 20 ideas for 3-minute brain breaks you can try with your kids to get started!
If we're going to talk about exercise breaks, we need to talk about snack breaks, too!
This one was super fun, and I’ve saved it for last because it requires a bit of planning and effort, but remember, you don’t have to do all of these experiments – you can just try a few with your students and see what feels comfortable in your classroom.
You can ask for donations from parents or from stores, or, if you’re lucky like me, I had a giant crab-apple tree in my backyard so I would bring in buckets of apples every morning that I could use for snacks for my students in the spring.
Or, you can simply let your students bring extra snacks from home.
As I mentioned in the introduction, each week, as we implemented each experiment and change to our learning environment, my students either wrote a narrative about what we did and how we did it, or wrote an opinion piece after each experiment, explaining whether or not they felt it was a good and positive change to our classroom and to their learning (and why or why not).
This was such a great way for students to not only learn some important information about how they learn best, but also gave them practical and purposeful writing practice. To get your hands on my writing resource, all about Opinion and Narrative Writing with Learning Experiments, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store: Just click here or on the pic below to learn more.
P.S. Are you struggling with your classroom management?
Just click the pic to get some relief and support now:
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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