slice of life

“Look at this mess!” tends to be my general exclamation as I walk through each room of my house on a weekend morning. The mess is there on weekdays too, but there’s no time to notice it as I’m trying to get three kids off to school. Today felt particularly overwhelming as I went from this:


to this…


to this…


And all before 8 am.

But before I threw up my hands in disgust and swiped everything into a trash bag, I stopped. I took some breaths. I smiled. 





And then I thought, Yes, look at this wonderful wonderful mess. 


We tend to think of mess as a bad thing, especially when it comes to the classroom. Many of us, if we are honest, feel much more relaxed when our students are sitting in their seats quietly working all by themselves.  These times of peace and independence are important, to be sure.   But we also know that the 21st century learner needs to discuss, to tinker with ideas, to spread out and make a mess once in a while.

When we think of today’s classroom, it is less and less of a teacher standing up front disseminating information. Students need an environment that fosters the four C’s of 21st Century learning:

1. Creativity

2. Collaboration

3. Communication

4. Critical Thinking

What does this look like? Well, it’s not neat and tidy. Students are satisfying their curiosity in a variety of ways, whether it be online research, experimentation, or a simple discussion of ideas. There are notebooks, devices, tools, art supplies. And, oh yes, there’s going to be some noise. Sorry. The 21st Century classroom isn’t quiet.

Yesterday, we talked about risk. And to many teachers, all of this noise and mess feels like a big risk. We suggest that you start small by carving out a small time every day or once a week for students to self-select projects. We plan to post quite a bit about this topic, so we hope that you’ll come back to learn with us.


For now, I’m embracing the messiness that comes with three kids who are makers. There will be time for clean up and quiet later. Yes, I’m saying: It’s okay. Make a mess.


For all of today’s Slice of Life stories head over to Two Writing Teachers.

~ Jen and Darla


12 thoughts on “Mess

  1. Jennifer,
    I really enjoyed your post. It sometimes seems we are surrounded by messes and, as you remind us, that’s probably a good thing. There is a messiness to learning we all need to embrace. There’s a quiet rumble in a room full of creation. You transitioned between home and school with just the wave a few words. 21st century classrooms aren’t quiet. I always tell people there are different kinds of noise. Productivity and collaboration has a different sound.

    Thanks for sharing,


  2. I just LOVE this slice so much! Especially the way you connected the mess at home and making a mess at school. My kids are makers also, but I never thought about it that way. My home is a Maker Space, for sure and your slice reminds me of that. (Now, just have to get my husband on board who is the one to walk through each room talking about the mess!) Thank you!


  3. Oh. My. Gosh. I just LOVE this slice as I can relate to every part!! I’m happy to hear that someone else shares in my “Look at this mess!” BUT “I’m so happy to see them creating!” Schizophrenia. The mess needs to occur and clean up can happen…later 🙂


  4. This is a post that should be hung in every copy room in every school around America! Learning IS INDEED messy! By the looks of the playroom in our house- my daughter must be learning a lot. lol


  5. What a great post and important message. Yes, good teaching and learning is messy. I always talk about the “buzz” of workshop, which I think is exactly what you are referring to when you say that 21st century learning is not quiet. Thank you for sharing!


  6. Your post makes me smile. I tend to join in with my children to create the mess. When my kiddos were much younger we made a plaque that said, “A creative mess is better than tidy idleness,” and gave it to my husband to hang on the wall as a reminder. Kudos to you for looking through the mess at the creativity within! I also had a text to world connection hearing Miss Frizzle’s voice in my head 🙂


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