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Multiage Learning: Our Journey to Date

October 5, 2015

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This year, it has been my honor and privilege to help start a new learning experience in Albemarle County.  Agnor Hurt Elementary added a new addition to their school.  The new multiage learning space has over 115 students.  The students range from kindergarten to fifth grade.  There are no walls in the space and the students are free to move as they learn.  In fact, they are encouraged to do so.  Even though they undoubtedly know their grade-level, it is not emphasized in the space.  We emphasize learning regardless of age.  We emphasize progress regardless of level, and we push our learners to become independent thinkers and makers in the classroom.  Please follow along with us as we continue this amazing journey.  You can follow me at @Mthornton78 and my teaching comrade, Drew, at @MrCraftMultiAge.  You can also view our class work via the Twitter hashtag #MultiageAHES.

How do we do this?

@MrCraftMultiAge and I work primarily with third through fifth graders.  Everyday is a little different.  We do not have a set schedule.  We don’t go from math to reading to science to social studies. We created an interdisciplinary learning environment that fosters creativity and critical thinking without regulating our daily schedule.  Students work independently and collaboratively.  There are times for direct instruction, individual instruction and small group instruction.  For Drew and I, we rarely have a break because the learning is always happening.  Often, we decompress at the end of the day and marvel at how much was accomplished in one school day.  The lack of a set schedule allows us to get more done and allows the students to work without the headache of time.  In addition, when students have more say in their learning day, I believe more can and will be accomplished.

Over the last month we have had a lot of visitors come and talk with us about the space.  These discussions have helped us broaden our view and understanding of the space.  There has also been plenty of media coverage from the local news stationnewspaper, and even the Governor of Virginia.

Regardless of who has stopped by, there have been similar questions asked.  The question asked the most is…

How do you assess learning?” We are assessing learning the same way we have always assessed learning.  We informally and formally assess students on a daily basis.  We are utilizing online tools to help students learn independently as we monitor their progress.  One such site is Khan Academy.  They are given daily assignments and missions via Khan that enable them to learn on an individual level regardless of their age.  Drew and I can monitor their success as they progress and help them on an individual or small group level when needed.  There are also times when we pull big groups for direct instruction.  These groupings happen based on academic level not grade level.  This means students are soaring ahead of their “grade” while others are floating where they need to be but can also get help with some skills that should be reviewed.  Along the same lines, we are utilizing Raz-Kids to help with literacy.  This site allows us to individually monitor student progress which again allows us to pull kids on an individual level for direct instruction.  We are also doing novel studies, biography reviews, and working on grammar and writing everyday.  The students typically blog everyday using KidBlog.

Learning is organic.  If it is forced, students are more likely to remove themselves from the activity.  In the picture below, these students started to work on place value on their own.  They went from the trillions all the way to the millionths.  They were engaged, proud and happy.

Photo Aug 20, 11 18 57 AM

Creativity

As we should, we value creativity.  It is really the foundation of the space.  It comes in many ways, and sadly I believe is often overlooked.  We really try to emphasize original thought and praise students when they are creative.  For example, the picture below is of a Golden Ticket.  We were all reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we asked the students to create a Golden Ticket and write about where they would go with it.  This student’s ticket is simple but really creative.  In 2015, the ticket would most likely have a bar code.  To me, that is creativity and it should be praised.

Photo Aug 28, 10 52 25 AM  Photo Aug 28, 10 52 22 AM

The amazing thing about student creativity is that it goes beyond what we thought would happen.  I love those moments.  For example, this student believes donuts could be used to help stop bullying.

Photo Sep 30, 9 50 35 AM

Collaboration and Project Based Learning

The students are always collaborating.  They want to work together.  Drew and I create projects for them to work on but they take them and make them their own.  There are projects happening all the time.  They just completed a project making 3D geographical maps of Virginia (example below).

Photo Sep 29, 2 00 28 PM

They also created cycle infomercials for each other.  After learning about cycles in nature, they wrote scripts and created infomercials.  Lastly, they developed quizzes for the class to complete on their cycle.  The students are making all the time but we specifically have a #make project on Fridays.  This last Friday, the students worked on making cars from cardboard, rubber bands, tape, and CDs.

They are also working on collaborative, interdisciplinary task sheets each week.  They can complete these independently or collaboratively.  Most choose to work together.  Here is an example. The students also collaborate on morning work each morning.  In fact, they are creating the work for each other.  Two students created this for the entire learning pod.

The Space

Having an open learning environment is fun, exciting and ever-changing.  The students are consistently rearranging the furniture to allow them to learn in different ways.  Below are some of the pics I have taken of the space and the students using the space. Follow along with us on Twitter to see more as they happen.

Photo Aug 19, 11 14 15 AMPhoto Aug 19, 8 47 37 AMPhoto Aug 20, 9 19 31 AMPhoto Aug 19, 12 08 16 PMPhoto Aug 26, 8 14 24 AMPhoto Aug 20, 11 29 10 AMPhoto Aug 31, 12 35 05 PM

Photo Sep 08, 7 47 56 AMPhoto Sep 16, 9 53 16 AMPhoto Sep 29, 2 15 57 PMimage

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