chili.gif (1490 bytes)Room 403chili.gif (1490 bytes)

Walk into room 403 and you might think you’ve entered a Mexican outdoor market or maybe a swap meet sponsored by your eccentric great aunt. Dust doesn’t have time to settle in our room because we are constantly on the move and so is everything in it. By incorporating many of my personal interests and possessions into the classroom at the start of a year, students get to know me as they circulate in our room. It doesn’t take them long to determine that I live for science; reading; Mickey Mouse; computers; my niece Hope; and anything related to chili peppers. As the school year progresses though, the things in our room quickly become more student oriented. As students co-opt space with their own things, I slide much of mine into storage. It doesn’t take long before there’s something for everyone in our room.

The chili pepper theme actually came to me by way of my husband several years ago. His company was discarding box after box of chili pepper items from a bygone summer sales campaign. To me it looked like a mountain of possibilities headed for the dump, and I begged to salvage them for my classroom. As I pored through those boxes I had rescued, I fell in love—with a theme. When you’re hot, you’re hot! What a motto for a classroom, I thought. With heart pumping, my mind instantly began generating idea after idea—all of them springing from the notion of chili peppers and anything Mexican. I haven’t tired of the charm yet, and since then, I’ve spent hours of my ‘free time’ creating bulletin boards, focused learning centers, and activities all playing on those enticing words—tamale, hot, chili, fiesta, spicy….

At first glance, the counter tops, flat surfaces, and any available crevice in our room may appear cluttered and unorganized, but if you look closely, you soon realize that everything in our room has a purpose. The rows of pop bottles with paper cones and cardboard tubes are infant rockets waiting to be swaddled in spray paint. Containers in front of Chili’s house (our Siberian Pygmy hamster) spill over with offerings of bugs, nests, or something equally as interesting that a student has brought in just because. The "junk" on the reading table is actually a ziploc bag stash of air-powered rocket racer prototypes made from recycled materials. Paper and folder-covered computer carts are lairs of works in progress for an anthology of student writing to be presented at the Author’s Tea we’ll be hosting on June 9th.

This week’s Hot Tamale (Student of the Week) is proudly displayed on a board wreathed in chili lights, sombreros, and favorite mementos. Topped with a bright yellow valance sponge painted with chilis (a tablecloth from a thrift store in its former life), our window provides us with a view of the three bird feeders and birdbath we maintain while its sill serves as an impromptu observation deck. Binoculars, telescopes, and a plethora of well-thumbed bird guides aid junior ornithologists in their studies. And all other work comes to a halt in the room when a pair of American goldfinches or cardinals perch on a feeder because we must record these sightings in our observation notebook.

Oh, and the class library corner…it seems to grow bigger every day. It now has an old bamboo sofa covered with Mickey Mouse material relocated from the overcrowded Mickey Mouse shrine at home to accompany the chili pepper bean bag and the chair covered in Aztec markings. There we lounge and read from the hundreds of books organized by our own system of genres in totes (red of course, with chili pepper letters). Nearby is a collage of Spicy Times photos of our activities through the year that we’ve all snapped.

Any way you look at it, our classroom is jam-packed with things to do and things to study. It reflects my conviction that a classroom should provide continuous learning opportunities for students at the same time it is bright and inviting enough to feel like home—ours—one where we’re all welcome.




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