Learning Spaces

A new school year is upon us and all the chats are gearing up for it with their traditional “Learning Spaces” chat where all the participants will say what they are going to do to make their spaces awesome … complete with pictures of couches … murals … reading nooks … bean bags .. multi-purpose tables … leaving many people scratching their heads wondering;

“How the heck can they afford all that? … That stuff isn’t even allowed at my school.”

This post is about what you can do when all you have are student desks and a room designed to fit those desks in four rows facing the only whiteboard/screen in the room. I think this room is more representative of what teachers have to make into those student friendly “learning spaces. Maybe I am wrong, but if you have felt a little bit of guilt for not being able to make the front page of Learning Spaces Illustrated feel guilty no more … it is NOT your fault. Your creative teaching methods have landed you in the standardized 30′ X 30′ (if you’re lucky) room that require you to use school approved furniture and to not violate the fire code.

First things first …What do you and your students need?

Conducting a needs assessment of your class is an important first step because as the teacher you need to be sure the activities you have planned and the way you conduct your day-to-day procedures can be accomplished in this environment. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What direction does your projector face?
    • You need to know the answer to this question because whether we like it or not this dictates the front of your room. Your may move around the room helping students, the students see the projected information from the projected image. You need to make sure however you have the students seated they need to have the ability to see the content.
  2. How do you move around the room?
    • Knowing yourself and how you move makes a difference in how your classroom is set up. If you are a pacer, like me, you have to make sure you have space to walk and maneuver around all those back packs. You also have to be sure you can reach every student.
  3. What kind of technology will you be using?
    • Many rooms have stationary computer work stations, which gives you computer access, but if they are old school desk tops they are space eaters. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have access to a laptop cart, which are great and in theory the laptops are supposed to be able to keep a charge for the entire day, but let’s be honest … very few do. This means you need to be ready to have extension cords and power strips ready to recharge those devices, which means you need to know where the outlets are and if you can reach them and NOT create a trip hazard.
The great thing about having the standard seat-desk combo is the flexibility it offers. You can go from rows, to pairs, to groups, to a socratic circle, and back to rows with relative ease. The key thing to keep in mind when creating a learning space is flexibility. I have rectangle tables that sit four chairs each, which is great, but they do not offer much in the sense of flexibility. The tables are there taking up space and it locks me into only a few different variations when it comes to setting up the learning environment.

Wall Space Usage

One thing you have a little bit of control over are your walls. Bulletin boards should be informative and kid centered. That means they should be created with what the student needs first. Hang up some cool posters that are appealing to the kids. Items that will give the kids something to think about or just give them pleasure. I like to stake a claim to a small section of wall space for me … an area that shows the kids a little bit about me … sports posters, pictures, fun stuff. These items will generate conversation on s different level between the kids and teacher.

With all the rhetoric about the flash that goes into many rooms we need to be focused on how the space is used. Are the kids maximizing its usage for learning. Does adding a couch to your environment help or hinder your student’s learning. Couches are great for sitting, but not so much for using a laptop. You can create a maker center in room, but if you don’t make anything than what is the point? Customizing your learning space is important, but we need to make sure we are doing it for the right reason. Do the kids benefit from the changes or do we enjoy the extra attention for having the “flashy” learning environment?

Let me know what you are doing in your classroom. How are you making it better for the kids?

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