During the last week, as we prepared for the second test of the trimester, it occurred to me just how profoundly the physical space in which a class is held can influence the way in which the class is run. I am fortunate enough to have tables that seat two students apiece as well as an entire long wall (20+ feet) on which is a white board complete with sliding panels. As the room changed this week from the usual “groups” configuration to “stadium” style for the review to the more traditional rows for the test, I was first grateful to have the ability to change the room so easily for all of these different needs. However, it got me thinking about what I would do differently if I were to design the room “from the ground up”.
First, I would include more board space. Yes, I know I already have more board space than most. However, to comfortably run four groups of 7-8 students, I would need at least one more wall worth of white boards. This is probably more indigenous to a math class, but since that’s what I teach, it’s one thing that I would definitely include.
Second, I would get rid of the rectangular tables and replace them with something that would allow for better eye contact and give more of a community feel to each group. I've seen large trapezoid-shaped tables and I think that’s probably what I would opt for, but I’m not certain. A little more research would be needed before making a final decision. I would also equip each of the groups of tables with a tablet computer for looking up any information they may need during class.
Third, I would get rid of my teacher desk and replace it with stand-up desk that can accommodate a desktop computer (or maybe a laptop/tablet combo), along with a tall chair. I rarely sit at my desk during the day, and quite honestly it takes up valuable space that could be used to give the kids a little more room. However, during class I am constantly going back-and-forth to my lectern to make notes about what I’m observing and the feedback I am getting from the kids about how well they understand the material. A stand-up desk would make a lot more sense for me.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am acutely aware that I already have far more in my classroom than most, and I’m extremely grateful for it all. But, if we’re really going to ask the kids to do more collaborative work in class, then we need to be aware of the needs we have of the physical space itself to make it happen, and in most instances, the traditional classroom with one white board and 30 individual student desks just won’t cut it.