Saturday, October 08, 2011

Floor Plan: How Does It All Fit?

I explain to people about my classroom, and I get a lot of blank stares.  No desks?  Risers?  Kids sprawled out on the floor?  They stand up to work?  You have a bunch of storage trolleys?  You do have some desks and occasionally some tables?  You can get 45 students to work in your classroom? How does it all fit? 

I have already mentioned my bias against desks (and their industrial, factory-like quality), but here I have a new complaint and an old one.  First, the old one: desks are not space efficient.  Between the desks and the chairs, they take up way too much room.  The risers take advantage of the third dimension.  By sticking my students in an elevated position in my classroom, they take up less space (hmmm, is this what they mean by "higher" education?).  Also, the chairs force a predefined space.  The risers are like a long bench, and my students voluntarily and gleefully cozy up to each other.  During discussion times, I can fit 15 students on the big set of risers which takes up the same space as about 6 desks and chairs.  

My second beef with desks is a new one: they are really noisy.  As you may remember, they ripped my stinky carpet out of my class and put in some lino tile.  I started off with a full class set of desks in September.  I could hear every time a student shifted in their chairs, every time they pushed their desks forward to look for something inside, every time a pencil or ruler dropped, every foot step, every sneeze.  All of these sounds were amplified because they reverberated off the hard floor.  I believe that some of the sound was reduced by the wimpy, wispy sheers I have hanging from my ceiling (because I noticed a
difference in the lino classes that are not equipped with the wimpy, wispy sheers).  But as my class moved to risers, the noise level dropped appreciably.  There are no chairs to shift and no desks to push.  Even the other noises are reduced because I am able to put a few rugs down in strategic places.  I couldn't put rugs down with desks because the desks would bunch and snag the area rug. 

I have a new partner this year (because of my Tuesday "innovation" job --- more about that later).  A few years ago, I had this big beast for a teaching partner.  He was terrific because he allowed me to start to pursue this whole classroom design journey, and he was handy because big beasts can hang up high things like wimpy, wispy sheers.  This year, I have a new partner.  She is not a big beast; she is shorter and cuter, more of a spunky sprite.  She is not so effective at the hanging jobs, but she is very enthusiastic about the other jobs.  It has been fun.  One thing she said to me on Friday was that when she gets her own classroom, she is definitely getting risers because of how much they cut down on the noise level in the room.  I like that, scientific evidence: an unsolicited confirmation of an observation I made.  Perhaps it is even more noticeable to the spunky sprite because she is only there once a week.  Or maybe because of her lack of height, her ears are closer to the noisy tile. 

Speaking of the tile, the other day, I realized that they used 12 inch square tiles to do my floor. This makes a perfect 1 foot or 30 cm grid running through the floor of my classroom. Pacing it out, I have a 29 x 29 ft classroom. This includes the cloakroom and the counters. Here is a picture of a floor plan I created (using Smart Notebook):
[If you click on it, it should get a little bigger]

I can easily fit my class on the risers during instruction and discussion times.  During "work" times, students break out to different areas of the classroom:
  • risers (directly on risers or on lapdesks)
  • floor and rugged areas
  • stools
  • counter spaces
  • bulletin boards (they work standing up, tacking their papers to the vertical boards)
  • easel
  • on top of the rolling storage bins
  • desks (some students still like to have their own desks, but that number is really dwindling.  In the diagram above there are 7 desks, but I think that number is down to 4).
The choice and variety affords lots of space, spontaneity, and flexibility.  Notice that I have two carpeted areas.  I look at classrooms with rows of desks and they struggle to have one carpeted area. Every afternoon, I bring the students to the back carpet for a read aloud story and some sharing, just for a change of scenery.  

The varied arrangement allows me to have 45 students working on writing plus 2-4 adults working with students in different areas.  I also have a folding card table that I can put anywhere.  I use it mainly for Guided Reading, so I can have a small group around a common table.  The little red stool allows me to pull up beside students and have a little working chat.  When I have learning centres or the Exploration Stations, I usually have them set up on the perimeter, maybe with one on the risers or another on the front carpet. 

The risers are fully movable and the 4 storage bins are on casters which makes for a space that can be converted easily and quickly to a new configuration.  By moving the risers, forward and back we can adjust for a larger or smaller group size.  By pushing them together, we can have wide work spaces for art.  By moving them off to the side, we have room for dancing or for parties. 

So this is how it all fits together.  It is still probably hard to visualize.  Maybe it would be better if you dropped by.  Call first, and bring doughnuts.

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