How does the physical space impact teaching and learning?

New room

“What are we doing to help kids achieve?”

I teach in a school that was originally designed to be an “open air” school. The school was built with support walls all on the outside of the building. The building, built in the 1970’s, was built with “classrooms without walls”. Someone did a sales job and convinced many people that “rooms without walls” would be the school of the future.

The future only lasted a couple of years before walls were hastily built to provide separate traditional rooms. Fast forward to 2017. I was teaching in a room that was outdated and in need of an overhaul. The school board agreed to the overhaul. An architect came in and gave us the good news. The good news was that with outer load bearing walls, it would be easy to demolish the entire second floor of the science wing and start to rebuild. We could pick and choose where the new walls would be placed. The architects gave us five different plans to choose. A week before school ended, demolition began and a day before the students arrived, we walked into brand new rooms. The new addition is nice and clean but surreal. Here is what I have learned and how a new space can impact teaching and learning.

Cubbies - Every student has a space to place their backpack. They find what items they will need for the class on the board when they arrive. Everything else is left in their backpack and placed in a cubby. It is off the floor and out of the way. This simple idea has had a huge impact on the culture of the room. All distractions, including cell phones, are put away and students only have out the items needed for academic activities. This alone has increased the learning environment immensely and decreased distractions.

   

 

Mini Lab - Just off of the room there is a smaller room. This smaller room has cabinets, storage, gas jets, a sink and a table. Students can go to this room to make up labs, tests or watch a video. Class can still continue and I can still have an eye on the students. This is perfect for students on IEP’s, 504’s, make up labs, or lab preparation. Any make up activities are down in a safe, secure and well monitored space with minimal interruptions.

 

Desk Pods - In my old room I placed the desks in “pods”. The theory was that this would stimulate students working in groups and I would lecture less. I could never get it to work. Students ended up socializing too much. This idea of “pods” works great in the new space. The difference is that there is extra space. The extra space and the backpacks in the cubbies allows easy and constant movement around the room as the instructor (something I could never do in the old room). This cuts down the socializing between students. I am able to quickly address academic needs while being next to the students instead of at the front of the room.

 

  

 

Moveable Furniture and Technology - Almost all of the furniture and technology is on wheels. It is easy to move anything around instantly. Lab set ups can be prepared in the mini lab. Materials can be moved into the room for one class period. The same lab or demonstration can be moved out of the way in minutes and safely stored. This really reduces “scrambling” and time out of the room.

 

Storage - All storage has current locks. There is a giant storage cabinet with about 30 plastic pull out bins. All bins have boxed and labeled labs and demonstrations. Demonstrations can be pulled out and put back quickly and safely.

 

Whiteboards - There is plenty of whiteboard space that is layered. Some of the cabinets also have whiteboard space. The additional space is great for messages for students and class information.

 

The downside…. Every great endeavor has its downside. Our department had to pack up chemicals, equipment, place items in storage, get items out of storage and teach all at the same time. Even after moving into the rooms there was a large “punch list” of items that were not working. There have been many days when I would look for something and spend a class period searching “for a box that was lost”. The process put communication skills, relationships and stress to the test.

 

The Good News. The journey has been difficult but worth it. The benefits outweigh the cons. In the end, the students will benefit with a better educational experience. I realize that not every teacher can control the physical space of the room. If you can, hopefully this is something to think about. Do you have any ideas? I would love to hear about them...don’t be afraid to post something.