Sprout Classrooms

Big Ideas Fest, Evening #1

Posted in Education by sproutclassrooms on December 8, 2009
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Just when I thought I could call it a day, the Big Ideas Fest gives us Sandy Shugart. Through a beautiful melding of song and spoken word, he opened our eyes to the generation gap facing educators in every setting: Modern vs. Post-Modern.

In a nutshell, Modern society members were born pre-1978 and have a concrete way of looking at the world. They value an absolute truth, even if they may not know what it is. They believe they can control nature if they just try hard enough, that life and it’s components form a pattern that can be understood, and that institutions are inherently good. And when those institutions mess up, they get mad.

Post-modern society members were born late 1970’s to present. They believe that the meaning to life is found within themself and can be wildly, or not-so-wildly, different from their neighbor’s. They believe in the randomness of the universe, that shit happens even if they really, really try and that the ultimate source of inspiration and affirmation can be found in a group of their peers. Most importantly, they believe that institutions are inherently full of scam artists, and will often walk into situations with a defensive attitude. They’ve figured out that to many adults, they are a magnetic strip, a test score, a ‘Funding Unit’-how much value can they place back on those adults?

Besides defining these two generations, how does this list help an educator? For one thing, it gives us huge insight into our students. How many times have your students given impulsive, emotional answers in the classroom without being able to back it up? Could it be because that’s just how they FEEL? They don’t really care what others think the answer is, because their answer is right for them and that’s all that matters. How many times have we griped that students just don’t care about their grades? Perhaps it is because they are not placing value on a grade from an adult they don’t trust-C’s happen…. shrug. They’d rather be texting their friends and gaining affirmation through peer connections.

Most importantly, this analyzation of the current generation can explain why students are so ‘forward’ with their teachers and professors. While a Modern teacher will walk into a classroom expecting respect and admiration, the Post-Modern student is already trying to figure out what scam the teacher is about to run. After all, isn’t the teacher just a tool of the institution called school?? And most interestingly, many of the parents that elementary teachers are working with come from the Post-Modern era. We wonder why these families walk into conferences with fists blazing, ready to blame the school for any issue their child is having within the classroom. Have they not grown up expecting to be screwed over by school? Why would it be any different for their child?

Bottom line: education needs to become more about the learner, not the institution. We need to figure out how to reach this generation on their terms, which includes helping them unlearn the pre-conceived notion that we are ‘out to get them’. Not an easy thing to do, coming from a Post-Modern society member herself.

Big Ideas Fest 2009, Day #1

Posted in Education by sproutclassrooms on December 8, 2009
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At the core of Sprout Classrooms is innovation.  We’re working on new ways to give teachers access to classroom resources.  We’re developing custom products that will make organizing your classroom easier.  We’re working to bring environmental responsibility to your classroom without effort on your part.

For the last 10 hours, I’ve had the privileged to listen to innovators in other areas of education speak about their experiences, and I am feeling incredibly inspired and overwhelmed.  The more ideas I get, the more questions I come up with!

One of my favorite speakers of the day was Dennis Bartels, Executive Director of the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  His focus was on informal learning.  When examined, students only spend 18.5% of their day in the classroom-what are they doing with the REST of their time?  What if we developed a school day that was arranged around 4 hours of content learning, 4 hours of hands-on/museum learning and 4 hours of independent study?  Sounds fabulous, right?  How many teachers, yourself included, do you know that have 12 hours with their students?  I believe I had closer to 5 hours after lunch, recess, specials, assemblies and dismissal.  How do we support this system of learning?  Will we get student buy-in?  Will they trade after-school cartoons in for independent study?  Does independent study need to be structured-will students be held accountable for what they learn during that time?

Marco Torres, a Social Studies teacher from San Fernando High School, inspired me with a fabulous speech on perspective in learning.  How many students go to school every day, and how many students go to a learning lab?  How many students are taught each day, and how many students are engaged each day?  Great food for thought.

Yvonne Chan is the principal I wish I had taught under my year in San Francisco.  What a fireball of ideas and passion for education!  She has taken a large group of students in inner city Los Angelos, given then a charter school that ‘rallies the wagons around the students’ and has achieved 100% success.  Favorite quotes from her speech include ‘You cannot create a ripple effect when the lake is frozen’ and ‘When leading change and innovation, always proceed until apprehended!’  Words to live by!

An interesting silent thread that connected all the speakers I heard today was the fact that they had to break out of the traditional education system before achieving success with their ideas.  I’m finding that relying on the current system to embrace and support innovative ideas will often lead to disappointment (not always!).  With the exception of Marco Torres, all the speakers work for either independent learning institutions such as museums, charter schools, independent schools they created or private companies.  Why is it so hard to implement these ideas within the current school system?  Those who are truly making changes are finding they must not only arm themselves with ideas, but also with courage and funding.  Yvonne Chen spoke about how she had to mortgage her house to support her dream of the charter school.

My action collaborative group is working on ways to change the larger educational system to accommodate creativity and differentiation within the classroom, yet still have accountability for students and teachers.  Our big question has been structured as ‘How do we create a flexible and relevant system that benefits all learners?’  This is not nearly as simple as it sounds!  Everyone has different ideas on how much, if any, assessment should be given to students, what kind of assessment should be given, what standards should be used, how standards should be created, how students should be held to the standards, etc.  We have exactly one more day to create a new system that somehow appeases all involved-wish us luck!

Organizing Picture Books

Ah, picture books.

Most picture books have very thin spines, so reading the titles are impossible when they are just thrown on a shelf.  They slip and slide down, sometimes even falling off the shelf, causing a huge mess.  How can you remedy this?

My favorite solution is the folder box!  These boxes can be found in surplus during back-to-school sales at Staples, Office Max and Walmart.  If you need boxes mid-year, simply contact the manager and ask that they hold a few when the next shipment comes in.

Often, you can find fun designs on the outside of the box that match your classroom theme.  The following boxes were obtained by visiting over 5 different local Target stores-I love the wood grain look.  Simply print out genre or subject labels to put over the text on the box, and you’re ready to organize!

Fill your folder boxes with some of the thousands of picture books available at Sprout Classrooms. All books are fully leveled for both guided reading and grade level, and are priced at around $2 each! Shop now!

Time for a Treasure Hunt!

Posted in Education by sproutclassrooms on December 3, 2009

The Sprout Team loves a good treasure hunt. We spend all day, every day, hunting out great items for your classroom at the best prices. And while we’re certain we have the best selection and price you’ll find anywhere, there will be times when we suggest a project or idea that our store does not have in stock.

Never fear! There are many ways for you to hunt down these great materials on your own. Let’s take a quick look.

Freecycle: This is by far and away my favorite method of obtaining materials for my classroom. Freecycle is a national movement that is divided up locally through their website. Your friends and neighbors will post items through e-mails they are giving away for free, and you can reply saying you would like to pick them up. You may also send out ‘want’ requests for specific items, which makes it very handy for ideas found here. Freecycle is a very tight community, and you should make sure to balance your ‘wants’ with a few offers of your own (perhaps those very cool pants you bought on clearance and never wore…). Find your local chapter and join today!

Craigslist: This is a resource that is huge in the Bay Area, but I believed is overlooked in many other parts of the country. Check out the ‘free’ section for great materials, or post a specific item in the ‘want’ category. Not as reliable as Freecycle, but still free!

Garage Sales: Our favorite part of Sprout Classrooms is the fact that we give you garage sale prices without the hassle of driving around and haggling on one of your only days off. But if you decide to venture out on your own, we recommend using the Yard Sale Treasure Map tool to help you plan your route (thanks for the tip, Sadie!). Put on your pirate hat, grab your sword.. er, wallet, and you’re ready to go!

We’d love to hear suggestions you might have of places to get free or cheap classroom materials! E-mail us at admin [at] sproutclassrooms [dot] com, or leave a comment!

Sprout Classrooms Welcomes You!

Posted in Uncategorized by sproutclassrooms on December 2, 2009

I can’t think of a single educator who doesn’t want to go green in their learning environment, but when is there time to even think about? Between writing lessons, grading papers, working with students, dealing with parents, participating in staff development, not to mention having a personal life-whew! You can hardly take a breath, let alone figure out how to make your classroom more eco-friendly.

Sprout Classrooms is here to help! We’ve already become the first organization to offer teachers recycled classroom materials for up to 90% off their ‘new’ price-saving money and the environment is a good thing! Helping to keep these awesome materials out of the landfills makes everyone feel good, so keep checking in with our online store, and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated.

Sprout is proud to present it’s new blog, ready to take your classroom to the next level of green. We can’t wait to bring you fabulous ideas on how to re-use, recycle and renew your classroom! All our ideas will be practical, cheap and –most importantly- easy on the earth. Model a conscious state of mind for your students, and you’ll be doing more than teaching them the basics-you’ll be planting seeds of responsibility into their hearts!

– The Sprout Team