08 September, 2012

New Fire Laws Mean New Challenges

So I understand that fire safety laws are designed to keep people safe.  I get it, and I am so glad that fire safety is on people's minds.  I want it, I really do.  But . . .

I am I must confess, a little bit frustrated by the new fire laws for classrooms and schools.  In our state they say . . .

  • Nothing may be hung from the ceiling
  • No fabric may be used in the classroom unless it is a fire-retardant fabric (that is made fire retardant while being manufactured.  The fire retardant spray is no longer acceptable)
  • Only 10% of the total classroom wall space may be covered
  • There must be 2 feet of empty space between the highest object in the room and the ceiling
  • Nothing may cover or decorate the door
  • Nothing may be in the hallway that comes out further than the outer edges of the double exit door at the end of the hall

What this means . . .

  • The nice sheers I got last year to cover our 9 windows (which are lovely and large and let in lots of light, but also look out on parking lot) are not acceptable.  I sprayed the sheers with a FR spray last year, but even if they were made from acceptable fire retardant (in the manufacturing) fabric, they would exceed the 10% rule  
  • We cannot have any fabric covered furniture in the classroom.  We were hoping to have a little love seat in the reading area, but the one available to us is fabric, so we can't use it
  • No pillows in the reading area (or anywhere else) unless they are filled with FR stuffing and covered with FR fabric.  We are having some made that are covered with FR vinyl
  • All the butcher paper we use to cover the bulletin boards must be FR and . . . 
  • Our bulletin boards (and/or any student work we wish to hang) must not cover more than 10% of the wall's surface
  • No rag or other inexpensive non FR rugs may be used
  • All delineations of spaces in the room must be made with our low shelving - because we can't hang any space separators from the ceiling - including trellis, curtains, old windows etc.  
  • The high storage shelves we have in the room are unusable.  We will have to take them down, and lower them.  (Not as easy and simple a project as it sounds as they are attached to a cement block wall.) Additionally the space between the cabinets and the ceiling where we have stored the crock pot, mixing bowls, and the bread machine must be totally empty. 
  • Our sign in table in the hallway, outside the classroom door (which filled about 1/5 of the available hallway space) may not be used 

Additionally, our school has stated (and again, I get this rule because it is completely logical) that all the classroom walls in the school building must be the same color, a basic off white, and no classroom may be painted any other color.  This is to prevent the maintenance room from becoming inundated with paint buckets, all with different colors.  Every time there is a wall repair to be made, the right paint color has to be on hand.  If all the rooms were different colors, I can see how it could be a complete nightmare.  Again, I totally get it, but along with the new fire code regulations  . . .  sigh.

All this together means now my partner and I have to figure out how to warm up our room and make it inviting without curtains, without comfy and soft furniture, without fabric, without anything hanging from the ceiling, and without much on the walls.  Oh, and at the same time manage to find extra storage for our cooking appliances. 

And one more time, our students' safety is our top priority, truly!  We are working, slowly but surely,  to meet this challenge and within the constraints of the new safety codes, create a warm classroom atmosphere.  It might take us a little while, but we know that somehow, sometime, we will get there.

Stay tuned and see how!  : )

Hitting Auditory Learners: Recordable Key Chains

How do you spell . . .

Wait, wait, wait!  You're going too fast.  Say it again.  Pleeeease.

When I first started teaching a LONG time ago, the teacher whom I assisted, Deanna,  had a nifty machine in her classroom.  It was a machine that "read" a thin stripe of audio tape which was placed on heavy duty pieces of cardstock.  A few weeks ago, when I recalled the existence of this nifty device, I could not remember for the life of me what it was called, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found it!  Thanks, Google.  It was a Califone CardMaster Card Reader. They are still being sold.  Can you believe it?  It looked like this . . .

What was so spiffy about this machine was that it allowed a teacher to record whatever s/he wanted onto  individual cards.  When the children slid any given card through the machine, it played the recording, "reading" the card.  Deanna used to make audio recordings of children's names and the individual letters of each name.  She would write each child's name on one of the blank cards and then record herself reading it, Karen, K-A-R-E-N, Karen

The cards with the names of each child in the class were placed in a basket alongside the Card Reader.  Children were invited to use this any time they wished during their work time.  Children did use it, to learn the spelling of their own names and the spellings of friends' names.  I recall it being used often when children were making "party invitations."  

I want to invite Sally.  How do I spell her name? Oh wait, 
I don't have to ask the teacher. I can find out myself!

But I digress.  Spiffy though this machine was and is, today the machine costs more than $360.  The cards are extra.  If we had excess money in our budget, I would seriously consider buying one.  But when does that happen?  Not to any teachers I know.  

So the question was, how could we provide this kind of auditory experience for the children.  We considered some possibilities such as audio tapes and CDs, but these lacked an important part of what I thought was so great about the card reader, the bite-sized audio clips, so manageable for children.  Sure we could make a 10 - 12 second recording of each child's name on a blank tape or a CD.  But how long would a child sit at a CD or tape player, putting in and taking out tapes and /or CDs.  You could push play and a tape could play the recording and the remaining hour of silence - if a child had forgotten how to push rewind.  The no one else would be able to play his or her name . . . blah blah blah.  Most children are pretty savvy with CDs, but again taking them in and out for a 10 second recording seemed like it would probably not work out.  So we continued pondering.  Hmmmmmmmm.

Then I (not very tech savvy) remembered the birthday cards my mother always chooses, you know the ones, with funny sounds and songs - all played with this little thingy-ma-bobber.  I wondered if we could buy a set of the recordable ones, blank, and then write a child's name on each one.  Turned out this was a good idea, yet again, was prohibitively expensive.  The least expensive cards I could find were cost around $5, not feasible for a class with 26 children.  

So I did what we teachers tell our students to do when they are stumped, I asked for help.  Yooo hooo!
I found a sound company in  New York, AGG Sound, and emailed them, asking them if they knew of any products that would do what I wanted, for around $1 a piece.  I received a prompt reply saying they were sorry, but $1 was below the raw material cost for what I was looking for.

But . . .

the lovely helpful man from AGG said they had a closeout item that he thought would be just perfect for my purposes, a recordable key chain.  It has a little photo spot on the front of the keychain where a printed name can be inserted.  They were $2 and included free shipping!  I called the company and placed the order!  They arrived promptly, and my partner and I set to work, inserting the name papers and recording the names and letters of the names of each student, one onto each keychain.  

We hung them all together - in the Writing Area of the classroom.  Now the children who are auditory learners have a way to hear, and therefore process and learn, the information.  They can also see the name printed on the front of the keychain and thus get the information in more than one way.  Children who are visual learners also have both ways to learn.  Plus, we think this will be great fun for the children.  

And who doesn't want that?  : )