Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Dream Classroom Design

Lately I can't help but look up interesting and innovative classroom designs.  I find myself wanting to step away from the front of the classroom more and more.  The problem is that my traditional chairs-attached-to-desks classroom furniture holds me back a bit.
I took this pic during a directed study.
Desks can be moved around to form groups, but they are still the traditional institutional desks and give the classroom a certain sterile feel.
Students in small groups with devices.
Also, the fact that there is only one big screen at the front of the room makes the teacher the de facto center of the universe.
Example of my daily class agenda.

Teaching and Learning Goals

I have a teaching and learning vision, but I'm not a designer.  I would definitely need help to get started.  Some of my priorities are:
  • students should be comfortable 
  • students should be able to work collaboratively
  • students should be able to share their thinking and work with a larger audience without having to crowd around one iPad/laptop screen
  • students and teacher should be able to maneuver around the room relatively easily without tripping on materials
  • technology storage should provide for security and the ability to charge battery power
These are some of the classroom images I found online that are attractive to me:
The chairs look comfortable and the tables are big enough to fit laptops and mobile devices.  Also, students can share their screens, and therefore their ideas on the flatscreens at each station.  The cones of silence above each station allow students to share sound without disturbing other stations.  It would be easy for a teacher to move through the classroom and see what each group of students is doing collaboratively.
Seeing students at some of the stations working together on various devices and sharing their ideas on the screens gets me even more excited!
 Tidebreak: Powering Interactive Spaces
I like that the chairs, tables, and screens are on wheels in this model. This means collaborative station locations, and the number of students in each group, could be more easily changed according to student learning needs.
Stanford University's Y2E2 Building
I like this furniture.  It seems more comfortable than your average table and chairs.  It might be too big for my classroom, but more comfort for students could lead to more natural collaboration.  If they feel like their sitting around in someone's family room rather than in a sterile classroom, I think conversation will flow more freely.
Slot Sofa by Matthew Pauk
The Slot Sofa was not designed specifically for classroom, but I can surely see the possibilities.  Pauk, the Boston designer, describes this dynamic furniture saying:
When slotted, the table acts as a console. When freed, it acts as a coffee table. The magnetically retained sofa cushions always find and keep their optimal position either atop the table for an ottoman or below for a coffee table.
What if the furniture was more convertible?  The Slot Sofa can take many forms.  It fits my comfort guidelines, but also could be rearranged according to what students decide they need.


Student Input

No matter what my ideal classroom would be, it won't do any good for kids unless they have input.  I really like this article, with videos, about how a design team helped solve a middle school math teacher's space problems. The first video explains how the designers took both teacher AND student needs into account.



The second video has more about the physical rebuilding process and how the teacher was an important part of that.  The final result is great and creates more space and more areas where learning can happen.  I also like that much of the furniture was repurposed.  Perhaps something I could look into doing to save money on a big project like this.


Help from Designers

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I'm a teacher. I'm not a designer.  I would definitely need help from professionals to make the best use of my space so that my students' learning and collaboration needs were met.  The Third Teacher + is the group profiled in the 3 part video series above.  Another group I've looked at that seems promising is Learning Space Toolkit. Others I'd love to consult would be Malcolm Brown of Dartmouth College and Philip Long of MIT.  They've studied trends in classroom design and why some designs are better for learning than others.

I know I'm dreaming big and much of this would require a big budget, but a vision has to start somewhere.  I'll keep trying to get creative in my classroom and I'll keep you posted!