So now I had my theory, but still no plan. I didn't want to just make my classroom homey because of what happened to me before (disaster), so I was searching for design ideas.
As luck would have it, when I took my family out to the UBC Museum of Anthropology during Spring Break, I got an inspiration. There was this video presentation area that was set up with wide semi-circular steps for people to sit on while they viewed the videos.
I thought long and hard, okay--obsessed, about it all Spring Break. I wanted to make a similar set up in my classroom and get rid of as many desks as possible. I thought that such an arrangement would definitely break the perspective of the traditional classroom. It reminded me of my friend Darryl's class once. He had it set up like a simulation of the House of Commons. I remember the interesting debates he had with his students, and how the arrangement afforded discussion because everyone could see and hear each other. It seemed to bring the space and the students together (I know, ironic for government).
With every great idea...
So I had my design, but it brought some more big challenges. First, the MOA benches were not terribly flexible. If I wanted to use my space for anything else (e.g. dance, art, carpet bowl), I'd be hooped. Second, though I still have all my fingers, I'm a very mediocre carpenter (think closer to Tim Taylor than Bob Villa). Having curved banks of seats is really beyond the scope of my capabilities. Third, what the heck are the students supposed to write on, and where could they keep their stuff? And last, but not least, what would my fairly new teaching partner, the students, the staff, and the parents make of all this?
Let's go with problem 3 first: the writing and storage problem. As luck would have it, during Spring Break, another one of our family outings was out to Daiso in Richmond. Daiso is this really wacky Japanese loonie store, (no not a store for crazy Japanese people --though it could be argued-- but a store where the good are imported from Japan, and sell for mostly $2 Canadian). It is filled with odd household goods, such as eye shades that won't smudge your mascara (for those of you who sleep fully made up), bamboo ear cleaners, magic tricks, erasers in the shape of miniature food, (my daughter's favourite), and lots and lots and lots of extruded plastic. For a small island country, these people really have a lot of things that are not going to disappear from a landfill any time soon.
Of this collection of plastic, I saw in the stationery section these see-through 9 X 11 document holders. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had the answer to my problem about what the kids would write on. If I bought each student one of these, they could write on them like a lap desk when they sat on the risers. They could even keep their planners and a pencil and an eraser in the storage compartment. I hadn't seen anything like them before, and I still haven't seen anything like them since anywhere (including the internet) especially at that price.
I was going to buy 25 of these doc holders right then, but my wife pointed out that it was going to cost me over $50 and that I still hadn't cleared any of this with my teaching partner. (Man, I hate it when she gets all sensical). Luckily, one of my wonderful students had given me a gift card to Daiso that would put a major dent in the expenses, but I still ended up getting just one doc holder to try out. My wife assured me there would be lots if I ever needed to get more if I got the green light from my teaching partner.
These doc holders sparked something in me that took this idea to the next step. I already had the concept that I didn't want my class to look like the factory idea of school, but now having a portable little desk made me think, "Why can't students take their learning with them wherever they go?" If I really wanted to break down the barrier between school-learning and outside-life, real-world learning, then here was a little symbol of "portable learning."