In November 2016, I posted a blog on how I have slowly, over 20 years, transformed my classroom on a minimal budget. The blog and 360 degree video has received a lot of attention; Doug Peterson featured it in This Week in Ontario EduBlogs which resulted in the #ourlearningspace challenge and I chose this topic to present on for #MADPD.
As teachers start heading back into their classrooms in preparation for the new school year, I’m sure the set up of their classrooms are at the forefronts of their minds. It is the place where their students will spend approximately 1000 hours this school year. It’s a daunting feeling! They want it to be comfortable, safe and happy while at the same time efficient and effective. There has been much written lately about classroom designs and “dos and don’ts”. To that I say: You are the expert in the classroom and you know your students best. Do what works for you and your students. There is no one size fits all when it comes to classroom design. Get a plan in place and change it according to the needs of your kids. Perhaps, most importantly, have your students provide input into the setup of their classroom.
To help reflect on my own classroom set up and to prepare for the coming school year, I have cut and pasted my original post below and my reflections are in red. Feel free to take some ideas, if you think they will work for you and your students. Also consider sharing your learning space using the #ourlearningpace hashtag. Share your pictures, questions, ideas and “ahhas”! Best wishes for a great school year!
Above is a 360 degree tour of my learning environment. After 20 years in the same classroom I have changed and transformed it into the space it is today. I am finally satisfied with it because it is an efficient and effective environment where my students seem content, relaxed, happy and eager to explore, create, question and learn.
Let me break it down for you:
Mantra Our Class mantra “Wildcats are Making a Difference” is the focus of learning. We
work to make a difference for ourselves, our peers, our family, our community, our environment and our world.
This mantra will continue! My current class tackled many M.A.D projects this year. I believe the most important thing we can teach our kids is that they can make a difference. My students added their hand prints to the banner at the end of the year.
Clotheslines I have hung “clotheslines” to hang anchor charts, learning goals and success criteria, student work and exemplars. This allows for efficiency and flow within my classroom.
It’s incredible how effective our class clotheslines are. They will stay.
Laptop I know a teacher laptop is common place in classrooms today but for my first 13 years of teaching a laptop was unheard of. My resources were limited to textbooks and unit plans in binders. Today, a textbook is rarely found in my classroom. Learning materials are authentic,”real” and relevant to my students.
This one isn’t going anywhere. I’m excited to continue to leverage tech to enrich and improve my teaching. Check out Mr.C’sSharesEase for some of my best ideas, lessons and resources.
Doc Cam I honestly don’t know how I taught without the ability to project. A doc cam (Photo Booth gives teachers almost the same functionality) allows me to share student exemplars immediately. This makes modelling and giving feedback incredibly easy and efficient. Students are able to get immediate feedback and see exemplars in a very timely manner. In math students can effectively share strategies with their peers. Gone are the days of photocopying student exemplars onto transparencies after the fact and after the real opportunity for learning is lost.
The ability to efficiently project student exemplars is a must to provide timely modelling and feedback. A document camera is great, but remember a computer or phone camera works as a cheap alternative.
iPads and Laptops Portable technology has been a classroom game changer. The world is literally at our students finger tips. I am passionate about teaching my students how to use these powerful tools for good. We must model the positive use of technology and teach them how to begin to build their own digital tattoo.
For technology integration to be effective in the classroom, it needs to be running efficiently. This must be a priority, otherwise our students’ learning will be compromised.
Whiteboards Thanks to a product called “Idea Paint” I have transformed some of my old chalk boards (I hate chalk) and classroom walls into whiteboards. This allow my students to brainstorm and share their thinking through yet another medium.
I love my new “whiteboards”, thanks to Idea Paint. What was one wasted space (the space between my windows) has now become word walls, mind maps, thinking spaces, etc.
Wall of Fame This wall, found directly at the front of our classroom, is filled with letters from dignitaries that past and present classes have received. It also includes quotes and words of wisdom from past and present students. This wall serves as a reminder that kids have a powerful voice and when used positively, anything is possible.
It is amazing how often our wall of fame is referred to. We added many new items to it this year.
SMART Board My interactive SMART Board does just what it suggests, it gives my students the ability to interact with the content they are learning about. This has proved to be another game changer in my classroom. Student engagement has gone through the room. SMART Notebook, in my opinion, is the most powerful teacher software available. Learn how to use it and your teaching methodology will be forever changed.
Many schools and boards are considering foregoing SMART Boards for cheaper options. I still say the SMART Board is the most effective and I couldn’t be without mine. SMART Notebook continues to be my “go to” for teacher software.
Stand Up Desk The stand up desk by Ergotron has been a fantastic addition to my classroom, both for my students and myself. Sometimes we just need to get out of our seats and stand and/or move! No child should be forced to sit for 5-6 hours a day. Get kids moving, standing, sitting and even laying while learning and behaviour issues will diminish and productivity will increase.
I like my stand up desk, but I find that the students use it more than I do. When I’m moving about the classroom to listen, observe or provide feedback, I need to be at the student’s level, weather they are sitting, standing, kneeling. My stand up desk works for me when I need a desk space.
Stationary Bike This has been a great addition to my classroom and provides another opportunity for my students to get moving while working and learning. Students self monitor the use of the bike. They have come up with a “sign up system” that works for everyone. I enjoy a few spins or two every day as well!
Since the original post, the novelty of the bike has worn off. Kids used it, but not as frequently as I expected. I did not allow for the use of it when I was teaching or a student was presenting, it was just too distracting. It got the most use during independent reading time. I’ll be revisiting the use of the bike this year. Perhaps we need an odometer and create a 1000 km challenge!
Flexible Seating Flexible seating has proven to be an absolute game changer in my classroom. This happened through much trial and error with my class. We have gotten to the point where students enter the classroom and go to their “home base” desks (determined by me). This is where they keep their bucket full of supplies, books,etc. This is also where they keep their indoor shoes. After opening exercises, I give my students full freedom of choice, allowing them to find a learning space that works for them based on what they’ll be working on and how they are feeling. The kids have learned to self regulate and make positive choices. I find they are more focused and collaborate well together. Using all of the space within our learning environment has proved invaluable!
The “homebase” was a must for me. “Flexible” seating comes with much trial and error and modelling. I do not like a chaotic room. It simply doesn’t work for me or my students. For me, effective “flexible” seating took time and patience. Slowly, over time, my students were able to make good choices based on their learning needs. The effective, thoughtful use of space within my classroom created a calm, relaxed, effective and efficient learning environment.
Buckets I call the “buckets” student “lockers”. By having my students keep all their supplies and books in their lockers, students are able to carry everything with them as they find their learning space within our classroom. Gone are the days of messy desks and lost supplies. My students’ ” lockers” are always neat and orderly which allows for increased efficiency.
I thought my students would take their buckets with them as they moved throughout the room to work. However, I found that the kids typically would just take the supplies they need to work and leave their buckets at their homebase. All kids organized their buckets differently, but they all tended to find a system (some more effective than others!). I loved the use of buckets as it made finding items much more efficient Gone are the days of messy desks!
Stand Up Work Area My back counter has become a place where students go to stand up while working. We know that many students love to stand (and move) while working. Stand up desks are not a feasible option in most classes, but countertops are found in almost all classrooms!
Standing up, sitting down, kneeling, laying down…. the more opportunity for working in different positions the better. Think about how you work. Do you always sit in your seat, back straight, at your desk? Could you do it for 300 minutes a day?
Long White Boards The long, skinny walls between my bulletin boards and windows have been transformed to whiteboards, allowing students to share their thinking and ideas or for us to create math, language, science, etc. word walls.
Board Games Board games are quickly becoming integral parts of my classroom. The opportunities for learning, problem solving and collaborating are incredible. I am currently working on a project with a colleague that leverages the playing of board games in the classroom to act as spring boards to social studies inquiries. We are excited to soon share our project, based on the grade4-6 revised Social Studies curriculum.
Game changer! Can’t wait to start the year off with board games in my classroom! See our finished project: Developing Global Citizens for all our resources.
KCups K Cups 4 Classrooms have become an absolute game changer in my classroom. For more information, visit the webpage!
Best math manip and “maker” item ever. Will continue to use them.
Stand up Desk I was fortunate to acquire a desk that I changed into a multi-tiered stand up desk. Mats, bean bag chairs, a variety of different chairs and desk arrangements have allowed for a wide variety of learning spaces.
Standing up to work is much better than sitting.
Other Game Changers
Google Hangouts and National Geographic Explorer Classrooms Google Hangouts have allowed me to tear down my classroom walls and take my students to incredible places from all over the world to meet amazing scientists, conservationists, explorers and adventurers. This video will give you a glimpse of some of the places I’ve taken my students. Here’s a link to Explorer Classrooms and information to find more about the World’s Best Ed Travel Agent!
I have travelled with my wife and child all over the world. Google Hangouts via Explorer Classrooms and Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants allows me to do “virtually” the same thing with my students. I had my students keep digital Adventure Logs this year. Perhaps they’ll keep them and add to them as they continue to explore, adventure and learn!
National Geographic Education
The resources and ideas at National Geographic Education are simply mind boggling. Visit the site and see for yourself!
Simply one of the most important and useful resources that I use. I highly suggest you check out the National Geographic Educator Community!
Mindfulness My students and I practise mindfulness every day in our classroom. Students love this opportunity to give themselves the gift of relaxation and quiet. Check out Calm.com to bring calm to your class.
Didn’t end up doing Mindfulness everyday, but perhaps 3 times a week. It is great! Note: Calm.com has a classroom version for free. I love the many different calm scenes and accompanying sounds that can be played during quiet work time or independent reading.
Body Breaks Everyone needs a body break. Throughout the course of each day, my students do crunches, push ups, squats, planks and jumping jacks. We also get our body moving using Go Noodle and Just Dance.
EVERYBODY needs body breaks! Sometimes a ten minute body break is all that a class requires to refocus and/or reenergize.
Google Apps for Education The whole suite of apps have provided a great platform for learning. Google Classroom allows for a great way for a teacher to create assignments and provide feedback.
There’s just so much you can do with GAFE! I spent much time creating many Google Forms that allow for instant and effective feedback based on the Ontario Curriculum expectations.
Blog My class blog has proven to be invaluable in many ways. Together my students and I write blogs about the learning that happens in our classroom and we share student work, ideas, lessons and resources. This gives my students a powerful voice that reaches far beyond our classroom walls. As well, through the creation of a “Parent’s Page”, the most important stakeholders in my students’ education get a glimpse into their children’s classroom and feel connected to it.
Blogging allows me to model and provide voice for students. It opens our classroom to the world. I’m considering having a “blogger of the week” this year.
Remind The “Remind App” has become a quick and effective way for me to connect with my students’ parents.
I will continue to use Remind. The feedback that I’ve received from parents has been nothing but positive. The key here is to not OVERUSE it. 2-3 notifications per week worked best for me.
Twitter Twitter is one of my most powerful teacher tools. Visit Mr.C’s SharesEase for a variety of examples of how I use Twitter in my classroom.
Wondering if I should create a class Twitter account. I use my account to mode the thoughtful, powerful use of social media to our kids. I always sends home a permission form to allow kids’ work to be shared. I make it a practice to only include hands and first names only. I always ask a student if they wish for their work to be shared and talk about implications and wording of a tweet before hitting “tweet”.
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the tour through my classroom. I’d love your input and suggestions. Feel free to share a comment about your own classroom. How has it evolved? What do you like best about your learning environment? What would you change? Would love to hear from you!