This past week I have been looking at the way my classroom is set up and how it promotes (or hinders) learning. It’s a great environment. It’s spacious, it’s completely mine, the technology setup is state of the art, and the views are incredible (just look at the image in the header of my blog). Moreover, at my school I have plenty of resources and the autonomy to design the room however I see fit. Unless I want to make a major purchase of furniture I could do a lot to my classroom. So how can I ensure that my classroom space focuses on learning? How do I make my classroom teach?

Here’s a view from the door of the room:

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I was inspired by this Stephen Heppel article where he discusses the Rule of Three when he designs a learning space. The second rule of three really hit home: each learning space should have three focal points. To test out a hunch, I asked my students this week to “come in and sit on the floor”. As I expected, each class sat facing the front projector screen even though it was not on and that was not a part of my instructions. Clearly my classroom has just one point of focus. How can I redesign it so that it has three?

So I applied a design principle from “The Third Teacher”:Consult with Kids (Flashcard 71). After I pointed out to each class that they had all sat facing “the front” even though I hadn’t asked them to, I asked them to think about how we could have a more dynamic classroom. They had so many fun ideas! One student (rather hesitantly, to spare my feelings) suggested putting something near the clock since that’s a spot that many students look. A seventh grader playfully suggested installing a toy train going around the whole classroom…yes, that would be “dynamic” all right. Another student suggested the “Wall of Stupid”: whenever a student does something embarrassing or silly, they would anonymously write it up on the wall. Then whenever students come into the room they would check the wall to see if there’s anything new and (as the student said) feel better for not doing anything stupid lately.

A number of students suggested installing more screens in the room. Then we could display current events news items, ongoing student work, or any number of engaging items. Adding this resource, while somewhat expensive, does seem to be an obvious step towards providing more dynamic spaces in a classroom. But what if I simply covered the walls with poster paper? What would students do with the space? A few weeks ago I was reminded of the values of storyboarding in education, and it particularly helps in Social Studies with large group projects. Could I free up enough space for each group of 3-5 students (I teach 80 students so that’s up to 24 different groups) to have their own space to storyboard?

And what if I DID find a way to get the money to buy a few more monitors? What if I could redesign my classroom from the bottom up? I went to SketchUp to try to do just that. After about an hour of watching tutorials (I used the first four from Getting Started) I felt ready to try it out. Here’s what I created:

From the overhead view you can see that I intend on keeping the core principle of working groups intact. But to give more space for students to work I will remove my teacher desk from the room almost completely. It takes away space that could be used for learning. From the side views you can see that I’ve put in a monitor at each work station, while the group towards the front would use the projector. I also want each group to be able to use the space; to signify that I’ve put in paper pads near each group. Lastly, I want my students to turn the room into a display space for their work, so the bulletin boards in the back will be devoted to a class museum.

It doesn’t cost me anything to get started on this. To give students more space to build a museum I will reduce the clutter in the room. To develop new focal points of attention I will use the projector less and deliver classroom objectives and instructions via Google Sites. A later step will be to try to find money or an unused monitor somewhere in the school to experiment with using other display screens in the room.

No matter what I decide to do I will have to give students the time and space to be co-curators of the room. I’m excited to see what happens!

References

Heppell, S. (2010, September 22). The end of education is the dawn of learning [Interview by T. Le]. Retrieved February 17, 2014, from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662358/the-end-of-education-is-the-dawn-of-learning

Culatta, R. (2013). Storyboarding). Instructional Design. Retrieved February 16, 2014, from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/storyboarding.html

The third teacher. (2014). 79 flashcards. The Third Teacher. Retrieved February 17, 2014, from http://static.squarespace.com/static/509c0d15e4b058edb8f35a86/t/50ec7590e4b0a0ad0261576c/1357673872861/TTTIdeasFlashCards.pdf

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