Nathaniel Atherton and Dylan Meikle from WAB have put together a fabulous site called Make Space:4 Learning.
Watch this powerful video they made showing how class furniture can be moved to make space for different learning needs.
I just finished a fabulous PYP Coordinators’ workshop at the IB Asia-Pacific Annual Conference in Singapore. As usual, one of the great bonuses of taking a course like is meeting interesting and incredible educators from around the world and sharing their favourite resources. I was inspired by a workshop colleague’s blog entry entitled Who Owns Your Classroom? This is my response…
This year I have worked hard at creating an agile learning environment where the students come, ready to take on the responsibility of learning. They own their learning therefore they own their learning space (classroom).
Not only do the students choose where they will sit throughout the day but they also choose how to rearrange the furniture for each learning engagement. So, after the instructions are given, I always end with:
“Think about what space you will need and where you will work. Move the tables and chairs to create the best learning space for yourselves. Also, decide if you want to work alone or with someone – who might you work and learn best with for this activity?”
The challenges have been:
1. Getting kids out of the habit of always returning to the same spot to work (“Hey! You’re in my spot!” was heard a lot at the beginning of the year. I never hear that anymore. Success!)
2. Getting kids to think about the space they might need and to move furniture around (“What?! We can move the furniture? Really? How many times a day? Really?”). I would sometimes find the students squishing themselves between and into tables that had previously been pushed together. The thought of moving the tables hadn’t occurred to them!
3. Choosing effective learning partners. Everyone caught on to this idea quite quickly. It was easy! They all regularly choose someone with whom they will learn except for one set of three boys. They know they usually don’t get a lot accomplished when sitting together but they are not courageous enough to chose other classmates to work with (essentially, they have to not choose each other, and that is hard). They really need me, each time, to say, “I know you are great friends and will have fun together but are you sure you are each other’s best choice for deep thinking right now?” That’s all it takes, they switch places. (We have had private talks together about this, so my input is just the trigger, or the excuse, to make different choices). There are, of course, times when they do work best together (e.g. drama activities, writing a combined comic strip).
The rewards have been:
1. The students are becoming agile learners – taking responsibility for their own learning, making decisions and creating their own space, and making decisions about collaborative learning.
2. The students ‘hack’ the classroom – this an agile learning space which needs to be created for each unique learning engagement (even I don’t have a desk – my space is as agile as their space is).
3. There seems to be so many possibilities in the room now. Sometimes we move all the tables to the edges and we have a whole room for drama or dancing or building! Often colleagues walk in and say, “There is so much space in here! How did you do it?”
Display Boards →Agile Project Boards
In the past I found that the only person who looked at and admired the beautiful display boards that I put up was me! This year I have changed the pin boards from ‘display boards’ to ‘project boards’ (or ‘project nests’) where the students hang their work in progress. It may not be pretty, it may not be finished, but it visual evidence of the students’ thinking. This work can be looked at by others, questioned and given feedback on. It becomes a place to store, share, learn from and ruminate. Another agile learning space.
If you watched the trailer on The Third Teacher Plus website a few months ago (see my blog about it here) about hacking a classroom, you will be excited to know that the ‘movie’ is out (about 12 minutes in total). In a three part series, Edutopia shows the behind the scenes action as well as the final product – the classroom studio.
Christian, a member of the Third Teacher Plus team:
As a member of the “Third Teacher Plus,” our job is to create spaces that allow the people to be remarkable students, remarkable educators.
What we hope we’ve done over the last week is shift mindsets. Maybe more importantly, what we hope we’ve done is given Steve the set of tools to be a designer himself, and to literally imagine that this space is a studio that can do anything he needs it to do.
A big feature of the classroom was the space that was created by grouping tables and eliminating clutter . This allows for collaboration and flow. The back wall became a whiteboard for anyone to become a teacher or solve a problem and the teaching desk moved in closer to the students near the centre of the room and became an efficient teaching dashboard complete with data projector.
At our school we are setting up our classrooms, getting ready for the students who start the new school year on Monday. Things that I am thinking about: eliminating clutter, creating a variety of agile spaces, taking advantage of the natural light and using warm-light lamps in the darker corners. What are the key features in your classroom?
I am a big believer in needing to move to concentrate (referred to previously here). I am a doodler, I listen best while doodling. Some students in my classes need to rock and swivel or create some kind of rhythmic movement to concentrate. Here is what I have been learning about the need to move to concentrate.
Students will have an increased concentration and greater learning effect if allowed to twist, roll, and rock while seated.
Activating neurotrophin hormones:
“If someone is getting bored and you ask him to stand up and do an exercise where his vestibular system, the balance system, is challenged – for example, standing on one foot – after 5-10 seconds he will be able to concentrate afterward. When you relate this to a child who starts to rock on a chair, that rocking stimulates the vestibular system too. We have found that stimulating the balance system activates special hormones, such as neurotrophin, that have a tremendous effect on brain activity.”
Oxygen to the brain:
Dynamic seating (furniture that lets students twist, lean and rock) allows for more movement which creates greater blood circulation. This means more oxygen is arriving at the brain, making concentration easier.
A Case Study (Dordel/Breithecker 2003)
Three groups of classes were equipped in the following way:
The third group (the rocking, swiveling and rolling group) triggered far-above average levels of concentration. Concentration actually increased as the day progressed. While in the first group concentration decreased.
The Final Word from Maria Montessori:
“The task of an educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”
I was hooked. While they are not ‘new,’ people create these types of spaces in their classrooms all of the time, it is interesting to identify and name the spaces, remind ourselves of them and consider how each space can best be used to enhance learning.
I talked to my students about the spaces. We decided to investigate these spaces for ourselves.
Immediately our three Grade 3 classes planned a day where everyone created a ‘secret space’ in which they would read for the entire day! The excitement was palpable. Plans were sketched out, agreements were made as to how to share the space and the materials and things were brought in from home.
This is what the day looked like:
For the entire day students and teachers read peacefully, snacked and sometimes just rested.
The result? No one wanted to take down their private niche. Everyone wants to do it again. Everyone understands the importance and the pleasure of a secret space. Twenty two people in one class room, and we all found a ‘private’ space.