Close your eyes and imagine the school you would build.

Last week I was fortunate to meet and listen to Takaharu Tezuka who was an architect for the World’s Best Kindergarten. The reasons behind the circular building are many, including, physical activity (running in circles), a sense of family and belonging, equality: no segregation, simplicity, visibility, indoor/outdoor and creating relationships.

Other speakers at the conference compared school buildings to prisons. Square. Hallways. Classrooms with square furniture. Routines. Bells. Timetabled outdoor time. Fenced in.

In reference to the title of this blog, we were challenged by one speaker to ask ourselves, “Should we build a school? Are schools (as we know them) the best way to learn?”

Hack Your Classroom – it’s out!

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?

Twisting, Leaning and Rocking to Learn

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.

The Hypothesis

Students will have an increased concentration and greater learning effect if allowed to twist, roll, and rock while seated.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.47.22 AM

The Science

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.”

-Dr. Dieter Breithecker, expert on the relationship between ergonomic design in school furniture and the physical development of school children

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.

Gymnastic balls

A Case Study (Dordel/Breithecker 2003)

Three groups of classes were equipped in the following way:

  1. non-adjustable, non-dynamic furniture
  2. non-adjustable chair-desk combinations, free swinging chairs, non-inclinable desk tops
  3. height-adjustable chair-desk combinations, inclinable tabletops, rolling/swivel chairs with rocking mechanisms

The Results

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.

Click on the Figure below to see the full study

Concentration-performance value

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.”

Hack Your Classroom

I am excited to share  this website The Third Teacher. Their book has been on my ‘to read’ list ever since Ewan McIntosh quoted from it : “Teachers need to embrace fidgeting.”

They have a great page called “Hack Your Classroom” and on it they show this video trailer:

I want to hack my classroom!

design your classroom

Thanks, John, for telling me about this trailer.

What’s on your wish list?

I read an Edutopia article about How To Make Your Classroom a Thinking Space. This enticed me. I loved the list of example spaces which included spaces similar to the 7 Spaces of Learning mentioned in a previous post. Some examples from the Thinking Space list are:

Tinker station. Encourage hands-on, minds-on creative thinking by providing tools for tinkering. Stock a “maker” station with everything from Legos to kits with wires, switches, and batteries, to a sewing machine. Add a library of Make, Craft, and Popular Mechanics magazines to get creative juices flowing.

Video booth. Turn an empty refrigerator box into a three-sided video booth to capture student reflections. In one class, students created posters on the interior walls that evoke the themes of each project. You might set up lighting and a video camera on a tripod, or just arrange for video capture through a webcam.

Color. If you have the option of changing wall colors in your classroom and school, investigate the role of color on minds and bodies. Better yet, have students investigate and make color recommendations as part of a project.

Furniture. As with color, furniture affects body and mind. Kids have a natural inclination to move, and ergonomic furniture designs (round-bottom stools or shell-shaped chairs that rock) accommodate rather than suppress movement. Beanbag chairs invite students to settle in for reading or quiet work.

sitting ball

I have been experimenting with furniture over the last few years. This year I brought in 10 large balls which the students could use instead of chairs. There are pros (allows rocking, bouncing, moving, fidgeting, encourages posture, engages core muscles) and cons (they squeak when rubbed against shoes or desk legs, they seem to have a life of their own and end up rolling around the classroom).

I would love to try these Hokki Stools. They allow movement, rocking, twisting, and they are quiet, don’t take up a lot of room  and easy to relocate when learning spaces need to be changed. These stools are on my wish list.

Hokki Stool Hokki Stool Hokki Stools

 

What is on your classroom wish list?

Participation Spaces

Ewan McIntosh was at our school helping in the planning stages of creating a Design Centre at NIS. He shared his thoughts about the 7 Spaces of Learning:

  1. Secret Spaces
  2. Group Spaces
  3. Watching Spaces
  4. Performing Spaces
  5. Participation Spaces
  6. Publishing Spaces
  7. Data Spaces

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:

Private Niche3 Private Niche2

Private Niche4 Private Niche1

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.

Pretty impressive.