Before you get excited that you will find something profound here that will rock the world of education, let me put the point of this post in simple terms: I moved my student desks to create a different learning space.
During Educon a couple weeks back I virtually attended a session by David Jakes (his notes here) on Learning Spaces. What I took away from his presentation was that my classroom needed some work in order to be a better space for supporting student learning.
I have spent most of this school year creating my virtual classroom space that now includes Moodle, Edmodo, Planbook, and my classroom web page. Students use my class set of laptops to access this learning space on a regular basis in most classes. Overall, the digital learning space that my students encounter is reasonably robust and continues to grow and evolve.
But the physical environment for learning? That was something I had not really considered changing before seeing Jakes’ talk. After all, what could I do? I have a classroom in a school that was built to be a tornado shelter. My room has no windows and strange dimensions due to it being in a “hex” with other classrooms. Throw in lab counter space, a fume hood, a giant immovable teacher desk, and a fixed Smartboard on the wall and my options for change become very limited. However, I do have movable student desks.
The illustration above shows my initial attempt to juggle all these factors. Student desks were placed so that they faced the front, i.e. the Smartboard, because that was where all the teaching was going on. Everyone could see the board for taking notes so I was happy. At first.
After seeing images of some of the classroom environments that Jakes was promoting, I wondered what I could do to change my room arrangement to encourage a student-centered learning environment. Here is the result:
Students now face each other in a circle rather than all being oriented on the Smartboard. They can turn their desks (or themselves) temporarily if they need to see the screen. But most of the time they don’t. Everything that I can project on the screen can be sent directly to their laptops, making the Smartboard a “sometimes on” item rather than an “always on” item.
The biggest change, though, is that I have moved myself into the circle whenever possible. I couldn’t move my desk, so I moved myself. This last week I have experimented with sitting in the circle with the students, literally making myself a “meddler in the middle” by sitting randomly at one of the desks. It took a little tweaking of my technology setup to make it happen, but it can be done. I had to leave my main laptop on the teacher desk so that it could feed the Smartboard, but I use a second laptop or my iPod to control what is shared on the screen, if needed.
So far I really like the new arrangement. I can look around the circle and see student faces peering over their laptops at each other rather than staring at the wall in front of the class. This arrangement also makes it easier to walk around the circle to visit with each student instead of having to fight through desks to get to those students huddled in the middle of the pack.
Is pushing desks around the answer to all my classroom issues? Have I established the perfect physical learning environment? No, but I think once I get my beanbags and gamechairs it will be darn close. After that I can look into knocking out holes in my wall for a window or two.