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Rib Lake teachers use creativity to transform learning

Rib Lake teachers use creativity to transform learning Rib Lake teachers use creativity to transform learning

For the past few years, teachers at Rib Lake Elementary have been incorporating what they refer to as “classroom transformation” to get students more engaged in learning - literally transforming the entire classroom depending on what unit they’re teaching.

Recently, teachers Amy Miicke and Tanya Wiitala had the opportunity to deliver a 90 minute, 75 page presentation at a SLATE Convention - School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education - and shared a shortened version of their presentation with the Rib Lake School Board on February 13.

The duo demonstrated how they create an entire experience to go along with what unit they’re working on, such as adding props and making it more theatrical to help students retain more necessary information.

They looked at data across the curriculum and wanted to address the areas students were a little bit weak in, citing competition from outside factors that students are generally more entertained by, such as ever advancing technology.

They initially started with a “Writing Bootcamp” to get the children more invested in writing, and soon began adding props, with the idea originally coming from a student.

One of the students came dressed in head-to-toe full camouflage, which led to an “ah-ha” moment for the teachers.

“It was like our classroom transformed in that moment, just from him bringing in some camouflage,” said Wiitala. “It was a student who really wasn’t very interested in writing, but when he put on that jacket it was like he was ready to write.”

The teachers put out a call to the parents, and the next day the students came dressed in camo.

Ever since then they have been adding to their collection of “Bootcamp” props, such as plastic army helmets to use as “writing helmets” for the students to wear while working, an almost literal thinking cap to increase their thoughtfulness.

They get to participate in a scavenger hunt, where the students go around and read each other’s writing to try and guess which of their fellow students wrote it.

The teachers also utilize ChatterPix, an online animated cartoon learning tool. The students get to design their own cartoon character, and when clicked on, the cartoon’s mouth moves as a recording of the student reading their work plays.

“It’s a simple tool, but it gets them so engaged.”

At the end of the unit the students are given dog tags symbolizing that they are bootcamp graduates.

“It’s a time for us to celebrate their writing,” said Wiitala.

“It really is a big deal,” concurred Miicke. “And the students are so proud.”

They close out the year with the students participating in a “Poetry Cafe”, where students are able to showcase their writing.

“They know it’s not just writing in their notebook. People are actually reading it and the students have an audience, said Wiitala. “That’s really the biggest thing, you have got to make it fun.”

Tanya and Amy also put together short class transformation units, that last about 30 minutes. When the students go out to recess, the two will whip up a quick display, such as a picnic with fake food, which the children can play with when they come back to class. The teachers then introduce fake ants into the picnic and read a short children’s story, and have the students write short opinion pieces on what to do about the ants.

The teachers stressed the importance of incorporating subjects the students are interested in, and had an excellent chance to teach the kids about science in a way the students selected.

“This was a very real-world lesson, said Wiitala. “We didn’t plan for this but sometimes you just have to go with what your students are interested in.”

“My son, who is in second grade in Amy’s class this year, found a bunch of monarch caterpillars this fall, right before school started. We brought them in thinking it would be neat to watch them, but it ended up kind of taking over the classroom.”

It was the perfect opportunity to teach their young pupils all about monarchs, so the teachers began stocking the room with both non-fiction and fiction books about caterpillars, as well as some technology.

“We looked at butterfly maps and life cycles, and different ways to research butterflies, including using the Ipads,” said Miicke.

In row with classroom transformation, the teachers threw an end of the unit “butterfly day”, during which Miicke draped green table clothes around her room and over her door, even putting balloons together to resemble a caterpillar.

“They loved it, and it was good for the students to be able to guide us.”

This innovative approach to teaching is graciously accepted, with Tanya Wiitala and Amy Miicke, along with all other teachers at Rib Lake Elementary, continuing to improve and expand upon their current remarkable system.