“Starbucks” Seating

When you go into a Starbucks, you get to sit in the style of seat that makes you most comfortable.  There are sofas, armchairs, and tables with straight-back chairs.  I find I work best sitting on a sofa…it’s how I work at home on my laptop or when I am grading papers.  Over the last few years I have been reading articles that pop up on Facebook and Twitter about creating classroom environments that have seating choices.  The idea intrigued me and so I started working on changing my classroom this year so that the students can decide where they want to sit for the day.

Two summers ago I was at our summer institute hosted by Tustin Unified School District.  In one of the classrooms, the teacher had Node chairs made by Steelcase.  My wheels started spinning…I WANTED them!

The first thing I added to the room was beanbags.  The students really enjoy these and can get comfy around the room.  A lot of the students move to a different seat with a desk if they are doing a lot of writing because they know they can’t be as neat while situated in a beanbag.

This school year, I wrote a grant for $3000 to buy the Node student chairs and won the money from Tustin Public School’s Foundation.  I was able to get eleven of them and I love them!!!  The students are able to get into groups, partners, rows, etc. instantly and with no noise.  It is fabulous!!!  I have also started a GoFundMe page to gather donations.  I need to communicate with community businesses to see if they will donate.  That can be a summer endeavor!

As the year continued I have been thinking about different ways the students can sit in the room.  I bought two small coffee tables that can be put together to make a square and then I got some pillows for the students to sit on at the table.  They were very excited by this!  They actually double up the beanbags with the pillows and they are uber comfy!  In addition, I have a dining room table with six chairs.

Each day, the students come in and get to choose where they sit.  As I only have eleven of the Node chairs, we have groups and each group gets priority each week, to keep it nice and fair.  The other seating places are fair game.  Because there is no official seating chart, I have the students “swipe in” on the SMARTBoard.  All of their names are in one column and they swipe their name to the “I am here!” column.  They may not swipe anyone’s name but their own so that my attendance is accurate.  Whoever is left in the original column is marked absent.

I have noticed that the students have preferences in the areas where they sit in the room and they tend to choose to sit by the same people.  If there are any behaviour issues, however, I have the right to move them so that they can focus on their work and not be a distraction.

It has been working well and I think we are more productive because the students are comfortable in the classroom…even more than they were before! 🙂



2nd Attempt – Socratic Seminar

Today I made my second attempt at a Socratic Seminar.  The kids seem to really enjoy these as they are the ones running the show.  This time, different from the first time, I had the students generate the questions.  We used three sources for our discussion about wealth and consequences.  The first source was the character Bob from The Outsiders (we read this novel as a class).  Our second source was an article about Ethan Couch from NewsEla.  Our final source was the story by Anton Chekhov called “A Problem”.  After reading the three sources and discussing them in class to make sure the students understood the content, these were the questions they generated:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of the victims’ parents.  How would you feel about the decision made in court?

2. If you were one of the uncles of Sasha Uskov, what side would you take and why?

3. Why would the adults try to defend the child after they made bad choices and caused bad things to happen?

4. Do you think people with more money get away with more things just because of their wealth?

The students all participated in creating the questions and posted them to Verso (a virtual board where students can post answers and thoughts anonymously to peers) so that I could see all of the avenues of inquiry.  Quite a few were the same so I knew they wanted to talk about those specific ideas and so I chose those questions and amalgamated their wording into one question.

Before we did our Socratic Seminar, the students were able to have access to the four questions and then did some preparation in class and at home annotating the story and article to find evidence to support their answers to the questions.  They needed to prepare to answer all of the questions.

On the day before the seminar, I had student create groups of four.  That means that they were in charge of answering one of the questions, but they didn’t know which one they would get until seminar day.

On the day of the seminar, we reviewed the rules:

Socratic Seminar Rules

  • This is a comfortable discussion, not a debate.
  • Pilots must speak at least 2 times. Wait for 2 people to speak before you speak again.
  • Do not dominate the discussion.
  • Co-pilots must contribute at least 3 times.
  • You are in charge of your learning. Do not look to the teacher for help.
  • No right or wrong answer.
  • Cite where you are getting your info.
  • Support your statement with textual evidence.
  • Look at others when speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer screen.

Then we got the desks set up so that the pilots would be in the center circle and the other three team members (co-pilots) were in the outer circle (see images below).  The pilots in the center are in charge of speaking on behalf of the team.  Then after about ten minutes of discussion led by them (I am not involved at all…no reactions, no comments, etc.) we go to question number two and so on.  Each time we switch questions a co-pilot becomes a pilot.

While the pilot is speaking, the co-pilots are sending them quotes and ideas to share through Today’s Meet.  This is an online source like a chat room that you can set up for each team in advance.  I provide each team with a QR code so they can get to their specific chat room and they log in with their first names so I can follow their conversations after the seminar has concluded.  The conversations can be looked at on the screen or can be downloaded as a PDF.

I keep a tally sheet of who is talking so that I know who might not have spoken at all and who is dominating so I can address that issue, if needed.

This is a rubric I use to grade the students.  This was the rubric I used for the first Socratic Seminar, not this second one so that is why the title is a wee bit different.

The students did a really nice job answering the questions.  I had to jump in a couple of times with reminders that they needed to provide evidence with their answers as they find this a struggle.  Which I totally get…it’s difficult to do!  After the reminders they were much better about stating their opinion and following it with evidence.  Some students were able to connect to social studies from 6th grade, which was awesome!

As I went through their Today’s Meet feeds I noticed that some co-pilots also mentioned Lindsay Lohan, but their pilot did not share this information during the discussion.  Another great real world example of somebody of wealth not facing the proper consequences for their poor actions (totally my opinion).  Another thing I noticed was that a few students did not prepare and announced this on Today’s Meet.  This was evident during the discussion.  The co-pilots had to prop their pilot up a lot and build their confidence in what they should share because they were not ready.  I was sorely disappointed when I saw these confessions.

These are two images of the students as pilots in the center (blue chairs) and the co-pilots around the outside.  Some of the co-pilots are hard to see as they were sitting on the floor.  I have many different seating options in here which I will share in another blog post. 🙂

If you have any questions about running a Socratic Seminar in your class…I would be happy to help out!  Give me a shout!

Thank You!

A MASSIVE thank you to all who are commenting on my students’ blogs.  Today’s comment from a student was, “Yay!  I have three comments!”  It made their day and I really appreciate the authentic audience that you are providing for my students.  Happy weekend!!!!

Minds are Changing!

We are into week three of our 20% Project and the students are working hard.  I have students that are learning to cook, solving a Rubik’s Cube under three minutes, archery, smelting metal, learning sign language, raising money for charities, raising awareness about pollution and raising awareness about cruelty to animals.  It is such a variety!  A few of the students, however, have changed their mind about their topics.  After this week, no topic changes can be made so that each student has a good amount of time to pursue their project and aim to complete all of their goals.  This year is the first year where the students had a harder time coming up with their project choices and more have changed topics than in previous years.  I am going to reflect on why this is happening and see what I can do about helping the students make their choices next year so that it is something they will stick with through the process.

Blogging Practice

Each week the students will blog their experience through the 20% Project.  Last Friday (before spring break), I had the students begin to blog.  It was a planning week for us so that the students could think about where they were headed and what they would accomplish each week.  Because of this, I made the first blog optional.  I want the students to click around and learn the Edublogs site (like I had to) as I think they will remember it more than if I just show them.  It was a practice blog week.  Those who have started blogging and are becoming more comfortable with the site can then become coaches in class to help others become more comfortable (if you teach it, you learn it better!).  As they write more, they will get more comfortable with the site and their posting abilities (adding video, images, links, etc.).

I am eager to see if they will vlog instead of blog (posting their videos on their blogging site).  It is a wonderful option so that students can include video clips of what they have been doing (if they are recording their progress this way) and so the audience can really get a feel for the student and their enthusiasm (or lack thereof if it was a rough week, LOL) for their project.

It is quite a lot of reading, once all of the students get going for real on recording their experiences, but I love it and it is an awesome way to keep track of where they are and offer them feedback.  Edublogs.org does make it nice and easy through their “reader” so that all the posts and comments are all on one screen and you can just fly through the posts (grade them) and publish them (if you have chosen to monitor postings as the teacher).

A HUGE thank you to all who are following the students and providing them that authentic audience.  I know they will be excited to hear from you! 🙂

Here are the rubrics that I use for their blog or vlog.


For me, presenting in front of people is always a bit terrifying!  Having Missy with me made it a lot easier and I was, for the first time ever, not nervous like I usually am.  We were confident in our presentation, had twenty minutes to get the idea across to inspire people to want to jump in and do the 20% Project.  We had a good crowd and answered a few questions afterwards.  It was wonderful to be so supported by our peers from Hewes MS, Ladera Elementary and Pioneer MS.

We presented in the Exhbit Hall.  It was quite loud but the microphone and speakers provided worked well so our audience could hear all we had to share.

Here’s a link to the folder with the 20% Project documents we shared at the conference in case you are interested in doing the project too.  🙂  Please contact me if you have any questions!!!



On Friday, March 18th, I will be presenting at the National CUE Conference in Palm Springs.  I will be talking about the 20% Project and sharing my experiences over the last two years.  My best friend and co-conspirator will be presenting with me and also talking about her adventures with the 20% Project.  We are excited to share our knowledge with everyone who swings by to see us in the Exhibit Hall at 3:30 pm.  If you attended our session, here are our documents so that you can access them and utilize them.  Just remember you will need to “make a copy” to edit them to your liking.  A huge thank you to Kate Petty (Trabuco Hills High School) who gave us permission to use her documents (from when we saw her at CUE two years ago).  We adapted them and now pass them on to you all!  Hope to see you Friday if you are at the conference! 🙂

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