Thursday, November 14, 2013

Deleted comment.

Sorry Stephie,

I inadvertentally deleted your comment on my pesky tablet.

Stephie has left a new comment on your post "You Want to Get Rid of Your Desks?": 
I wonder if you have come across the Moveable Classroom concept? In case not:

Woodworking plans for the benches are available online. 

I will check this out.  I find Waldorf intriguing.  I will also look at your own site too.

Thanks for sharing,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Classroom Designers Unite!

Okay, I admit it.  Once in a while, I google my own name.  I am always curious about what comes up and what rises to the top. Apparently, I am highly rated at a school at which I have never taught.  There is an apartment in Seattle which I never bought but I am on record as doing so.

One hit that really surprised me though was when my name came up in a site in Ireland. Going to the site, curiosity gave way to interest as it turned out to be a scholarly site about Classroom Design!  Then I got really excited as I read Caoimhe McMahon's post.  Caoimhe is a grad student who is investigating about how classroom environments impact posture and learning.

I was so happy to hear that someone is studying the effects of classroom design.  If you've been reading this blog, you know how I've been poking at classroom design for the past Couple of years but in an ad hoc way.  I feel really validated that serious study is being done on a subject that I am stumbling around in the dark about but still a subject that I feel has untapped value.

If you are like me, a homegrown classroom designer, check out Caoimhe's and other posts.

Sound Lesson

I did this lesson for my older buddy class next door.  It was an apology for making so much noise the week before.  I was teaching my grade 2 class about how stringed instruments had evolved from lutes and mandolins to really loud electric guitars and basses.  I made too much noise and totally disrupted the class next door.  When I heard they were learning about sound in science anyway, I thought I could teach them a similar lesson, but from a science point of view instead of a historical one.

Later on, I found out that the lesson had impacted one of the students.  It was the first time she really started to get the idea of sound as vibrations and waves. I told the students that sound comes from vibrations. They held their throats while they hummed different sounds. I showed them that sound travels out in waves by shaking and oscillating a long skipping rope but it really became clear when I showed them sound waves of my voice as I spoke, using an Oscilloscope app on my tablet.

This really got the attention of that student, who happens to be deaf. She could see that high pitched sounds had short fast waves and low loud sounds had long, large waves.  And when I played my bass really loud she could feel the vibration go right through her body.

I am glad that the lesson was so successful for her. It is a great feather in my cap that I was able to help a deaf person understand some concepts about sound.  BUT it is bittersweet because it was accidental, it wasn't my own class, and with the changes in curriculum, I don't know if I'll ever do that lesson again.

Still worth it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Responses from my new school

A few people have asked what kind of reaction I am getting to my classroom at my new school.  I am happy to say it has been really, really positive.

When I was setting up my classroom, my new colleagues would stop by for a gander. The custodians have been so great and accommodating (the custodian from my last school put in a good word for me).  Then we were rotating different groups of students through our classrooms the first couple of weeks, I would get some "oooohs" when they'd first walk in. 

Two weeks ago, we had the Meet the Teacher night, and I received some great feedback from parents.  They were really curious about the look of the classroom.  I explained I wanted to create a calm
inviting atmosphere that promotes curiosity and creativity, a place that responded to the needs of my learners.  The parents all seemed to understand this without thinking I was too odd.  One had even perused this blog before meeting me. (Hi KY).

The funny part was over the course of the two hours, I kept seeing these families walking around the classroom and I couldn't figure out whose parents they were.  It turns out they actually didn't have a child in my class, but were curious and came in for a look.   I liked that.

It is interesting seeing how my design investigation is playing out in a different setting.  In this case, though my classroom does look different from a lot of others, I haven't done anything too too radical.  No risers. No lap desks. I still have a desk. Students still have desks.

Will I make the big changes? Probably not right away. It will depend on what my students and I need.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The New Classroom

After documenting Taryn’s classroom makeover, I thought I better start to document changes to my new classroom.

The Move

There were cuts in our district this year which meant my innovation job evaporated, and due to really tight staffing, I had to leave the school I’ve been at for the last 8 years (2 years as a Literacy Support Teacher and then 6 years as a classroom teacher).  I loved that school and we built an awesome framework that really works for all kinds of kids.

Most of all, I will miss the staff immensely.  Just to give you an idea of what kind of people they are, they saw how much stuff I had to move and organized my move to the next school.  If you’ve seen the pictures of my classroom, you know how much stuff I have.  I boxed everything that needed to be boxed (50+ boxes), and my (former) staff got a team and a posse of vehicles, and moved everything over to my new school in FORTY-SIX MINUTES.  I am so grateful to them.

The Neglect 

We put the boxes into designated zones I set up in my classroom (e.g. classroom library, art cupboard, etc.), and then I went and had a great summer (Europe, Sunshine Coast, horseback riding, small day trips and visits).  I ignored the slightly organized materials I left in my new classroom.  Until the week before school started.

The New School

My new school is an old school in a rapidly expanding neighbourhood.  It is about double the size of my former school.  The school looks like it is about sixty years old with one wing that was renovated in the last ten years.  My classroom is in the older wing. 

Last June, when I learned where my new classroom was going to be, I took a few snaps to help me figure out where everything was going to go.


The Positives

There are so many positives about this classroom.

  • There is a cloakroom.  I like having a real cloakroom.  No, I don’t use it for cloaks, but for having coats, boots, umbrellas, and backpacks out of sight but still accessible, you can’t beat it.  There is also plenty of shelving up top for my materials and resources (remember 50+ boxes?).  The cloakroom is also a built in cave space for students who want to work in isolation, but still be in the classroom. 
  • It is a good size.  Even with the cloakroom, it is a little bigger than my last classroom which was a bigger than a lot of classrooms I’ve seen.
  • There are good high ceilings.  The ceiling is a nice paneled natural wood.
  • There is a wall of windows.  The windows look out to a close greenbelt.  The windows are north facing, so this does give some natural light that is reflected off the greenbelt.  Under the windows is a bank of shelves for my classroom library and games. 
  • The bulletin boards are painted a gentle sky blue, while the shelves and cupboards are a slightly darker blue.  A calm, cool colour. 
  • There is a sink. This means painting, hand washing, and espresso!

The Challenges

  • Outlets.  There are only two electrical outlets in the whole room on opposite sides; none in the middle or by the front whiteboard.  I’d gotten a little spoiled by having a Smartboard and projector, but I think I can live without them.  I don’t know if I can live without zone lighting, some kind of voice amplification, and said espresso machine.  The lack of outlets also dictates where things like my teacher’s desk (yes, Lori, I have one) go.  
  • The Grate.  In order to protect the windows from vandals, there is a heavy duty 2 cm grid on all of those beautiful windows.  The grid gives a prison feel to the windows.  It also gives me a constricting feeling because of the predominance of squares and right angles to the room.  I can’t take down the grate, but I’ll need to do something to soften up the room.  
  • Lack of Organic.  Apart from the ceiling, the wood teacher’s desk, and the paneled ceiling, there is nothing else that is natural feeling in the room.  It feels a bit cold and lifeless.  



My first instinct was to do nothing, and for two months during the summer, I totally acted on that instinct.  My loose plan for the week before school was just to arrange my students’ desks so they’d have some place to sit the first day.  My daughter came in and organized my classroom library.  While she did that, I unpacked a few boxes, and just kind of stared at the room. 

I started to think that what I did in my last classroom was not going to work in this one.  The lack of outlets and therefore the lack of AV was going to change the focus.  I couldn’t put my light draperies up on the windows to soften the space because I wasn’t sure what to do with the old ones.

And that’s the difference.  In my last school, I did make radical changes to my classroom (i.e. getting rid of almost all of the students’ desks, replacing overhead lighting with spot lamps, eschewing borders and store bought posters, turfing my teacher’s desk and filing cabinet, bringing in the risers I built, etc.), but only after I’d been at that school a few years.  By that time, I had built up a relationship with students, parents, fellow teachers, my administrator, and most of all the custodial staff. 

I can’t tell you how important it is to forge a strong relationship with your custodians if you are going to make changes, especially unorthodox ones, to your classroom.  They are the ones who are going to have to clean different or more surfaces.  If you bring a carpet into a tiled school, they are going to make an extra trip to drag a vacuum down to only your room.  Custodians will need the same access to electrical outlets.  If you set up your room in different zones, they are going to have to navigate their way around to sweep.  The custodians have been tremendous in cleaning my room and in their patience in the changes I made and the frequency of the changes I made. 

But at my new school, it is a bit early to make really radical changes.  If I get rid of my drapes, desks, and filing cabinet, is there a place I can store them?  If I leave can the next teacher get them back?  I can’t do things like get rid of student desks until I know it is going to work for them, and that I’ll have their support, staff support and parent support.

The Plan (for now)

But I can make small cosmetic changes.

As I said, I wasn’t going to do anything at first, but it turns out that part of the bonding process with my new school is putting my mark on my new classroom.  It did not reflect me as a teacher.  I needed it to be warmer, and more friendly feeling.

Here are some of the things I did to make the room more me:

  • put down a couple of cozy carpeted areas for kids to meet, work, or play. IMG_2006
  • put up some really big clocks to break up all of the right angles in the room.
  • IMG_2013 
  • IMG_2008
  • IMG_2002
  • hung my window draperies, not by the windows, but around the room, like the entrance ways, to make the entrance more welcoming.
  • IMG_1993
  • IMG_2014
  • put in a few area lamps to create some inviting spaces to limit the use of the life-sucking overhead fluorescents. 
  • IMG_1995
  • hung some fabric under the big front whiteboard to hide some unpainted areas.
  • IMG_1994
  • arranged a couple of display areas. 
  • IMG_1999
  • suspended just a couple of sheers to soften the space.  I made sure to keep them out of the sprinkler’s spray area.
  • IMG_2011 
  • IMG_2003
  • IMG_2004
  • hung the empty frames, waiting for students’ creations.  I still may take them down as they add to the boxy nature of the room.
  • IMG_1991
  • IMG_2012
  • IMG_1998
  • set up the espresso station.  This is purely for my own gratification.
  • IMG_1996



Science Log test

Friday, August 23, 2013

Before and After: A Classroom Transformation (not mine!)


It’s funny.  I heard about Taryn when I was doing the Bright Ideas Gallery and I was looking for teachers for the who were using technology in classrooms.  I contacted Taryn, and somehow we got around to talking about classroom design instead. 

She told me about her frustrations with her classroom: it was difficult to move around, it seemed too busy, and it was impossible for project work.  Her biggest problem I heard was the classroom just didn’t FEEL right; it did not fit with her personal style of teaching.

Taryn came to my classroom and we talked some more.  I told her about the Third Teacher, and then I visited her class in action.  I took a few photos and sent her some suggestions, (e.g reduce the visual noise, use more of the natural lighting from the window, etc.). 

Months later, Taryn invited me back to her classroom, and I was astounded by the transformation.  It was like one of those design shows on TV! 

Below are some before and after shots.  I grouped them into different areas of the classroom starting in one corner and proceeding to the right. 


Corner 1




Taryn got rid of the Word Wall and colourful borders to reduce the amount of visual stimulation.  She did keep up displays, like the CAFÉ chart, that she uses on a regular basis.  She brought down the overhead lighting and replaced it with soft lights that accent cozy spots.  Notice the coffee table for group or project work. 



Front of the Classroom


IMG_0868 IMG_0851  IMG_0858


Again, Taryn eschewed bright borders and backing paper in favour of no borders, neutral backgrounds, and muted earth tones for a soothing, cohesive feel.


For sitting in the whole class area (campfire), she has low tables, a faux leather ottoman, and had her husband build multi-level risers after seeing mine.  (His are better built). 






Corner 2

This was an useable spot for work originally.  I think it was used for storage (behind that rolling trolley). 





Taryn turned it into this beautiful oasis, that is sectioned off visually with the sheer curtain, which still affords visual contact and supervision.




She brought in a nice bookshelf, a carpet, and some throw pillows.  ON the shelf are the students’ photos of their families to keep that great homey feel.  A great stress reliever.


Window Area




Taryn had her storage trolleys, two filing cabinets, and some book displays made of PVC gutters blocking access to her beautiful windows.


She got rid of all of it.  The windows provide great natural light especially to the reading nook above in the corner, and high stool area.  Again, she got her handy hubby to create a high riser so students could work while sitting on the stools.





Oddly, when the school was built, to save money, no doors were installed on the cloakroom. 



Taryn covered  the top layer with a removable curtain to hide the seldom used items up top.  Student materials on the next layer down are stored out of sight in storage bins.  Taryn left the hook area open for easy access.







Taryn again covered unsightly storage items behind a small, neutral curtain.  She also added some greenery to add to the natural elements of the classroom.



Taryn accomplished all of her goals for her learning space.  She created inviting common areas and got rid of some of her students’ desks to create more flow.   There are a variety of breakout spaces for individual and group project work. The chaotic décor is replaced with soothing tones and low lit or naturally lit spaces.  And most of all, the environment fits Taryn warm personality and the connections she makes with her students at a personal level.  Now her classroom feels right. Taryn’s students are thrilled with their classroom and were excited to be in on the process. 


For Taryn’s full story in the Bright Ideas Gallery, click here.