So much thought goes into what we teach and how we teach. But how often do we actually consider the importance of the learning space? As part of my research for designing a new school, my team and I have done a lot of research about the importance of purposefully designing the learning space.
Before you can actually design the learning space, you need to consider what you want to accomplish in your classroom. Here is what I want my students to be able to do inside the learning space:
- Create freely
- Collaborate often
- Learn through projects
- Develop a love of books and learning
- Become a community
In order to accomplish all of the above, the learning space needs to be:
- Student Centered
- Honor student choice
- Honor collaboration
- Full of great books!
- A personal touch
When you walk into a typical classroom, you can quickly determine where the front of the room is. Usually there is a whiteboard, a pull down screen, a projector pointing to that screen, and a teaching station that stays put. All desks are usually arranged to face this spot in the classroom. When you really think about that type of a classroom, the layout says something. It says, the teacher is the most important part of the room.
What if, when you enter a classroom, you can’t tell where the front of the room is? The message is that the teacher is more of a facilitator of learning and the classroom is more student centered. I believe this is more welcoming to students.
Whiteboard spaces should be all over the classroom, not just in one part of the room. This allows for students to use the whiteboards for collaboration. The “teacher station” would be on wheels and can easily move out of the way.
After much research for Quantum Academy, we decided not to purchase projectors. Instead we are purchasing 70” flat screen TVs and Apple TVs. We plan on putting the flat screen TVs on TV mounts which have wheels and can easily be moved around the classroom. We have eliminated the need for a projector and speakers, which allows for more flexibility in the classroom. No longer does the front of the room need to stay in one place. It can move when needed.
Here is an example of what we are using:
Moving toward a more student centered layout is more welcoming to students. It sends the message that they are the most important part of the room.
The space needs to be able to change easily. For example, I may want all the tables to be pushed to the side so we can utilize a huge floor space. In addition, my students may want the table arrangements to be set up differently to better meet collaborative needs. By putting all furniture on wheels, the classroom space can quickly adapt to the ever changing learning needs.
Honoring Student Choice
Have you ever wondered why we (teachers) do the things we do? For example, why do we assign seats? What if we didn’t assign seats, but rather allow students to choose where they sit, how they sit, and who they sit near? Students should have a choice and I think if you give students this choice, they will make choices that are good for them.
Learning spaces should have a variety of furniture so students can learn how they learn best. I love these student tables for a number of reasons:
These tables are flexible, adjustable, and collaborative. You can quickly move them around since they are on wheels. In addition, they can easily fold up and nest, allowing you to move them all out of the way and stack them together along the wall. But the best part about these desks is they also adjust up and down; from sitting height to standing height. We all have students who prefer to stand while they learn. These desks will allow for different types of choices for students in the classroom.
What if students had different types of seats to choose from? With a combination of traditional seats and these Hokki Stools, students can find the seat that best meets their learning needs.
I ordered a Hokki Stool to test out and it just arrived in my office on Friday. I sat in the stool all day while I was at my desk. After the first hour or so I realized my back and abdomen were getting sore. I realized it was not because the seat was uncomfortable, but rather I was using those muscles while I was sitting. The Hokki Stool has a rounded foundation which allowed me to wiggle and adjust my posture regularly. I also found that I was sitting in more of an active manner, leaning forward just slightly. I also didn’t slouch at all today as this chair kept me in an upright posture.
By providing choice in tables and seating, you allow students to reflect about how they learn best.
To build collaboration into your classroom you have to consider how you design the arrangement of desks or tables in the classroom. For Quantum Academy, we are moving toward the use of tables rather than desks. However you can arrange desks in a way that promotes collaboration. If cost were not a factor, I would even consider moving to chairs with wheels that would allow you to quickly turn and talk with anyone around you for collaborative conversations. The Hokki Stools are very light and can easily be picked up and moved around to quickly gather a circle of students together.
I know I might be a tad “type A” when it comes to my classroom, but I truly believe a clean learning space is critical for students. Many of our students come from homes where there is a lot of clutter and chaos. They should not have to experience the same thing at school. I try to limit the amount of “stuff” around my classroom and on my classroom walls. I do hang student work and important anchor charts on the walls.
Storage is an important part of a classroom space to help keep it clean. A teacher needs plenty of storage to “hide” and organize all of the important stuff we need to do our jobs.
Full of Great Books!
My absolute favorite part of my classroom is my classroom library. I am proud of it. In fact, when I went to box up my books this year for my year out of the classroom I just couldn’t do it. I asked if the incoming 4th grade teacher would like to borrow my classroom library for the year. I just couldn’t bear the idea that my books would be boxed up and away from children for a year.
I am rethinking how I organize my classroom library. After talking with a colleague and seeing how he organizes his over 2000 books, I want to put stickers on the binding of the books to label them with the last name of the author and move to organizing that way. I also will continue to organize some books by genre or theme.
Some books should also be displayed so students can see the cover. Usually I will display 4 or 5 books above the bookshelf. I will change them often as I do book talks about them throughout the year. This always creates a welcome buzz about certain titles in my library.
A Personal Touch
Don’t forget, students want to know who you are. Adding a personal touch to your classroom is important. It says you want your students to know you and that you care about them too. I always have photos of my family and our crazy adventures. I also display my graduation cap and diploma. I get a lot of “street cred” by showcasing one of my soccer team’s championship trophies.
Your classroom is a place where you and your students make memories together and build a community. I love to post pictures from throughout the school year. Having a wall dedicated to the memories the class is making together is important to building a classroom community. Students have even brought in photos of their lives outside of school to add to the memory wall.
Classrooms haven’t changed a whole lot since the 1800s. Yes, we may have new technology, but classrooms have been typically designed to be teacher centered. It is time to move away from this design and to rethink the classroom space as collaborative and student centered.
Here is a link to my Pinterest Board called EduDesign with some of my research.