Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sign Reads: "Slow, Men Working" or is it, "Slow Men Working"?

So now I had my vision, but reality kept creeping in.

I wanted to build an intimate bank of seating like the Museum of Anthropology, but I knew I didn't have the skills to do semi-circular, so rectangular was my best option.  I designed these double tiered benches that looked like choir risers, but big enough for kids to sit in a number of ways.  I wanted the risers to maintain a variety of body positions for students plus flexibility in the ways I could arrange my room, so they had to be movable.  I mapped out how they would fit in my classroom and how many students would go on them.  I made a floor plan that still had some desks for students who were not ready for such a drastic change.

When school opened again after Spring Break, I pitched the idea to my teaching partner.  At first, he looked at me like I had two heads, (but he always looks at me like that).  And being a fresh new, moldable teacher, he kind of shrugged and said, "Okay, let's try it."  The more we talked, the more ideas he pitched in.  He's been really terrific about it, especially as he is in the classroom more than I am. I come up with the weird ideas and he has to deal with the fall-out.  (I LOVE that arrangement.  Many successful businesses and quite a few dictatorships are built on the same solid principle.) 

We ran the idea by our students.  I explained that I wanted our classroom to look less like a classroom so that they didn't think learning just took places that had student desks, colourful borders and posters, signs explaining punctuation etc.  I told them I would be removing most things that you could only find in a school, so that they could start to see that their learning could happen any place.  Their reaction was really interesting.  Not jumping up and down excitement. Not fearful opposition. It was a quiet and thoughtful curiosity with lots of questions helping to refine my vision and their understanding. 

Construction Time
So when my teaching partner and the students gave me the go-ahead, I set to building the risers.  Little did I remember how much plywood costs, and when I costed it out, this venture was going to cost me hundreds of dollars.  I decided to build a few risers at a time to spread out the costs, and to use free and recycled materials as much as possible.  Two of the prototypes I built using doors of an Ikea cabinet that has had many incarnations (toy chest, turned sideways as book shelves, etc.). 

Here is what the risers look like.

Notice that I designed them so that students can see the smartboard, me and the class when they face forward. When they face backward, they have a workspace to use. Some students like to sit on the floor and use the low risers as a workspace. 

I went back to Daiso and bought more of those 9x12 plastic document holders for each student. Each doc holder can carry their planner and a pencil, and when the students are facing forward they can use the doc holders as lap desks. They can also take their lap desks outside, to library, in the hall, etc. so that their learning does go with them.

Next week are the Student Led Conferences so it will be interesting to see how the parents react.  I intend to use excerpts from this blog on my bulletin board to explain what the thinking is behind the redesign of my classroom.

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