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.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

iPods as sedation

I've been thinking more about how listening to an iPod helps me to cope with overwhelming situations. It is almost like I'm given a mild sedative in the same way Gravol helps people with motion sickness.

I read about how Buddhists will "lean into" an irritating or overwhelming situation to understand it better and learn why the situation causes them so much anxiety. Maybe I'm just weak but it's like I need the exact opposite. I need to lean away from mild irritation so that it does not become a bigger problem. I need to distance myself from myself and the iPod helps me do that.

Music helps during waking hours. And it has to be chosen music through headphones. I was listening to familiar music today playing in a book store through their sound system. It didn't help much but once I stuck one of my headphones in, I experienced instant release. I know. Odd.

And during sleeping times, I must listen to fiction through my iPod to help me sleep. Again, it's like I need to distance myself from the thoughts swirling around in my head. Music in this case provides a soundtrack to swirling so a story seems to help me get away from myself.

I just heard on the CBC that people seem to experience less anxiety about answering questions when speaking in character (like Romeo) than when they answer personally. And FMRI show that different less anxiety related, less identity related parts of the brain are activated when responding in character. Thus I think losing myself in
Music or story helps me to regulate myself.

Hmmm. Can I buy a nicer iPod and get reimbursed from my medical plan?

And is this an acceptable way for kids to regulate themselves in schools?

Friday, August 02, 2013

Aural Spaces: How the iPod Saved My Vacation

I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to traveling.  I love seeing other places, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people.  But there are a number of things that make traveling (and life) difficult for me: crowds, heat, and noise. 

So a couple of weeks ago, when I'm walking around the streets of Paris and there seem to be about 4 million people with me, and it is crazy hot (at least for me who likes it around 22 degrees C), and it is busy and noisy, I don't handle it very well.  I get grumpy.  With the time difference, my intestines think it is about 9 hours earlier or later (they can't decide).  I try to get my system in synch and bring my energy level up to meet the hustle of Paris by drinking lots of coffee.  It works for about an hour and then my wife tells me that I turn into an even moodier zombie as I come down from my caffeine buzz. 

With no solution to my travel woes in sight, we go on this boat cruise down the Seine.  The actual cruise was really nice (you know except for the crowd, heat and noise), but the part that affects me the most is on the way back in over the boat's PA they play "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf.  I know, I know, it is probably the height of cheese because it is so obvious, so cliched (like playing "It's a Small World" at Disneyland).  As it is playing, and we pass Notre Dame, this weird tightness spreads across the lower part of my face, and I realize that I am smiling.  This is the Paris experience I came for.  My mom used to play "La Vie en Rose" around the house when I was a kid, so I guess I conjured a fantasy of Paris and cafes and bittersweet feelings and the French mystique by listening to this song.  The song is like a soundtrack to that memory, to my Parisienne experience.

The next day, it is even hotter, even more crowded.  I am still grumpy but I feel better.  This time I took my iPod with me.  When I feel overwhelmed, I can plug it in and my in-ear headphones cancel out 90% of the noise.  When I am walking with my family, I only have one ear phone plugged in, but it's enough.  The music that plays gives me just enough of a buffer that the crowds, heat, and noise, don't seem to have as much of an effect on me.  It is like I am walking through a music video.

And what am I listening to?  Luckily, I had "La Vie en Rose" on my iPod already.  I also had some gypsy jazz that fit really well.  The country music from the 40s that I downloaded for my dad seems hilariously incongruous walking down the Champs Elysee.  There are a bunch of rock tunes that keep me occupied. 

The tunes that really make me smile are the songs I recorded with my band.  We have this little band that gets together at school every Thursday.  We have a fun time and it is a nice release after teaching.  We'd play for our school once in a while, but we are really playing for our own enjoyment.  We also get together and play at each other's houses every so often.  That's when I record us.  So when I was walking through Paris or Prague, it was a treat to see these amazing places and listen to our band playing in the background.  It was like taking them along with me, blending the old fond memories of us playing with the new interesting memories being created. 

What Does This Have to Do with Classroom Environments?

As I walked around Europe, I thought to myself about how much the iPod helped me settle myself down to lessen my tension and enjoy the experience around me.  I then wondered if creating aural learning spaces would help students as well.

In previous posts, I've talked a lot about creating different kinds of spaces for different kinds of learners and different kinds of learning.  One thing I always had a problem with was the Cave.  It is easy to create large and small group learning spaces (Campfire and Watering Hole) because in a classroom, you can make spaces where we can all get together or section off for small group work.  And yes, you can designate Cave areas in your classroom for individuals, but do they really work?

Students can use a corner of the room, go under a table, use a study carrel, or work at their own desks, but is that really a private space?  Physically it is, but they still get all the noise and hubbub from the rest of the room.   You can let students go out in the hall, but then you don't have that level of contact and supervision you might want. 

As an introvert myself, I understand the need to have an isolated place for me and my own thoughts.  Music through headphones helps me create such a space, even in the midst of a chaotic foreign city.  Such an aural space would help a person like me create a personal, private space much more than a gauze curtain or room divider would. 
So how about letting students use earbuds to create their own Caves?