Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Potential and Power of a New Classroom

This year I'm back in the classroom, for the first time in six years. You can read all about it here. I'm excited about it. It's where I belong. And then I saw my classroom. It's in a building that was formerly a junior high, and has been absorbed into a high school campus. The building I'm in was built in 1950, and is full of interesting spaces and/or smells. I came expecting a traditional classroom with 40-ish desks in neat little rows.What I got was this:

But uh...the panoramic fisheye version of it. When this building was a junior high, this was the band room. It has those risers built into the floor, and the steps are too narrow for desks of any kind. There are 44 chairs (turns out my largest class is 45), and the guy before me loved this setup because he taught public speaking and a film class. I've inherited the film class, and it's awesome...but the majority of my teaching schedule is a traditional US History class for juniors. Which 1) I've never taught before, and 2) the history classes I have taught have been with, you know, desks. 

That said, I Twitter-know and Instagram-know a lot of you who have adapted your classrooms with flexible seating and other options for your students that have worked well for you and your kids. So...maybe what's scary to me has some potential. My administration has been understanding of the unique space I've got, and has offered to buy whatever we need to make the space work for us. My district has some limits on things like bean bag chairs or other fabric-covered seating -- in between fire codes and potential hygiene issues, administration wants to avoid them. So while it would be ideal to look like the inside of Jeannie's Bottle, that's not going to happen. 

One of the first features I realized I wanted to find a way to use is the four small practice rooms. There's one on one side of the room, and three on the other. Each is about ten feet by ten feet. In this room's previous life, they were used as practice rooms for instruments, and one of them was used as the office for the teacher. I'm a believer in having students do collaborative work, so they've been repurposed as small meeting rooms where kids can go in groups of 4-6 and work on projects. There are windows, I can still see into them and know if they're on task or not, but they have a bit of privacy and a bit of independence. These guys are sixteen years old--they can handle it. I've also rebranded the rooms: one is a Star Wars-themed room "The Porg's Nest," one is Rick and Morty "Rick's Lab," one is Aquaman-themed "Atlantis," and the fourth is Black Panther's "Wakanda." There's some nerdy stuff in each room that helps establish the vibe I want, and so far the kids seem to dig it and pick up on that vibe too. Photos from this point on are what I've done with the room; you'll also see photos of the room and some of the activities we do on my new classroom Instagram feed

Another benefit of this new room is that, as a former band room, it has an enormous storage space. And...I need a lot. Play-Doh, LEGO, graphic novels...it takes up a bunch of space. And now that I'm moved in, I really appreciate that storage space. We're building a new high school in four years, and I'm pre-missing that storage space, and resenting the new shiny classroom I'll end up with.

I'm always a fan of sharing your passion with students, whatever that happens to be. So yeah, I have things about Muppets and LEGO and superheroes, and I have my Aquaman Shrine (because he is The Best)...a few teachers have said "aren't you afraid they're going to steal ____?" and truthfully, no. I'm not. If they love the thing enough to take it from me, I hope they get some joy out of it. And guilt. Sweet, sweet guilt.

I'm only in my second week with students, and while there are a few hiccups (some students would rather have a traditional desk when they're doing things like using Chromebooks or doing some kind of paper-based assignment), most of them seem happier with the differentness of the space. I have a set of clipboards they can use on their laps when they're taking paper notes, and when they're doing either independent or group work, I release them to use whatever space in the classroom is most comfortable for them. I've used LEGO with them already, which isn't really a lap-top activity (neither is Play-Doh), but we'll figure out how to do that together. I have a small LEGO wall that may expand over time; we'll see how much weight this first iteration can take before the 3M strips separate from the wall and I can do LEGO wall 2.0. 

What it comes down to is that the kids are more flexible, more resilient, than I am. Things that I thought would be a difficulty for them, or for me, just haven't been. In the first few days, I told them "the principal says if this room doesn't work for us, we can move to a regular classroom," and they were unanimous in wanting to stay with this one. I do think the setup, and especially the proximity of the students to each other, makes them a bit more chatty...but they also know that in any given class period, they'll be released from those seats to do other things. 

As I put more of myself into my room, it became more my space, a happier place for me to be in every day, and hopefully a memorable and happy and effective space for my students. Room 630 will be different from the other rooms in the school. It turns out that's the way I want it, and more importantly, the way the kids want it.



Sunday, August 5, 2018

LEGO Set of the Month: BrickHeadz Go Brick Me!

Last year LEGO introduced a new kind of building toy aimed at kid and adult collectors: BrickHeadz. BrickHeadz can be seen as a brick-built cousin to the enormously popular Funko Pop! figures (see my post about using Funko Pop! in the classroom here), in that they have big ol' noggins and creepy dead eyes, and they're just damn cute. Can I say damn in here?


Another part of the appeal of LEGO BrickHeadz is that they're releasing them in pretty much every license that LEGO has:




...that's just in the first two years. Knowing LEGO and how much of my wallet they want, they're just getting started.

Each BrickHeadz figure has the same internal structure, with variations in the outside details. Aw, just like us! Seeing that they were on to something, and that the point of LEGO is really to experiment creatively with your own spin on their original models, LEGO just came out with a set called "BrickHeadz Go Brick Me!" And that's my LEGO Set of the Month this month. Details for how to be entered to win it are below. This is a set you want.

The Go Brick Me! set has everything you need to build a BrickHeadz figure of yourself. Different skin tones, hair colors, clothing pieces, accessories, decals -- there's a rainbow of colors and shapes that you can use to get as close to a BrickHeadz version of you that you can make.


The instruction manual that comes with the set is kind of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format -- if you want to see how to make different hairstyles, turn to page 19. You need a dress, page 28. A beard, page 33. I build a lot with LEGO (a lot), but this particular style of building was new to me. I've built a few Justice Leaguers, but I wasn't confident in my BrickHeadz selfie skillz. It took some trial and error, but with the booklet and the pieces, I was able to come up with something that's reasonably Quinnish:



I stuck with the colors that came with the set, otherwise I may have given myself a yellow shirt -- as it is, they had an anchor that seemed suitably piratey for the shirt, and the little yellow brick I'm holding could either be a copy of PLAY LIKE A  PIRATE: ENGAGE STUDENTS WITH TOYS, GAMES, AND COMICS or my Rubber Duckie, or...hey this works: a LEGO.

Despite minor things, I think it's a passable likeness. My hair's not necessarily orange. Kind of dirty blond/brown/red/grey/white/bald. So orange was as close as we could get.


Got some bald in there tho. :/

If nothing else, building yourself as a BrickHeadz figure lets you be alongside some of your favorite characters -- I finally get to be a Super Friend!


The set includes everything you need to make two different BrickHeadz, although if you've got the same skin tone and hair color as your second figure, you'll have to get creative. It's back to school time, I wanted to do something fun. It's a great set, with 708 colorful pieces that can be used to supplement any classroom LEGO set.

My friend Ryan Read, always up for engaging kids with LEGO and Perler Beads and other pixelated goodness, even created a template that can be used for kids to design a BrickHeadz figure on paper:

SO HOW DO I ENTER TO WIN THIS AMAZING SET?? 

I knew you were wondering. There are three ways to enter:

1. Comment on this post. You do that below at the very end of this post. Lower...lower...there.

2. Subscribe to the monthly Play Like a PIRATE newsletter. It comes out once a month, with ideas for the classroom, a graphic novel review, and a review and chance to win the new LEGO Set of the Month. No spamming (beyond once a month), no selling your emails to anyone. I don't even know who I would sell them to. It may be worth investigating.

3. Follow @jedikermit on Twitter and retweet this tweet. If you're not on The Twitter, you really should be. Sign up just for this entry. And follow me. So worth it. You can follow the #PlayLAP hashtag to see what other people are doing with Play Like a PIRATE. A book you should totally buy.

So you can enter up to three times. Don't try and cheat. Teachers always know.

Some fine print: the LEGO Set of the Month will only be available to U.S. residents. Even though I love everyone on the planet, international shipping is beyond my reach. The drawing for the August LEGO Set of the Month will be at 8 PM MST on Wednesday, August 8. The drawing will be taken from all eligible entries with a random generator. So hopefully you win. Yeah, you.

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