Monday, January 11, 2016

Learning Spaces

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.
Well it's day five of my blogging challenge and I'm about to cheat a little bit. School starts tomorrow and I have a lot to do after a few weeks off, but you don't want my excuses! This prompt is about a topic close to my heart and I've been doing a lot of reflecting about effective learning spaces over the last year. Instead of rushing through a newly written post, I thought I would 'remix' some of my previous thinking about my journey to explore the learning space I share with my students.

A few years ago I was most fortunate to be able to test out some new furniture in my fourth grade classroom. My students and I had spent a good part of the beginning of the year talking about what an ideal classroom might look like and we used this feedback while putting together the order. The most important thing to them was choice - they did not want to have to work in the same place every day and sometimes they wanted to sit at a desk and at other times they did not. Another key piece of advice was to make it easy to change the room around to suit whatever we were doing - sometimes working in groups, sometimes having individual space and at times, performing and presenting. It was a great success - empowering for the students and quite liberating for me as a teacher. Gone were the days of stressing about how 'I' would set up the room. It became a true collaborative endeavour.

Then I moved to a new school, new country and new role. As a technology integrationist, I found I had inherited a somewhat traditional learning space. A computer lab with desks in a U-shape and a Smart board up at the front. As I got to know the space (and the students and teachers) I found it increasingly difficult to work in this environment. Inspired by the Third Teacher and learning more about the Maker Movement I knew something had to change. I was inspired to write this post in March 2015 and create this presentation to share with our organisation's ICT Think Tank.

With a supportive administration and some open-minded colleagues I have been able to make some significant changes to our learning space. Gone is the old u-shape computer lab - in fact, half of the desktops have been removed to allow for more open, flexible use of space. We supplement with Chromebooks, laptops and iPads. We have introduced Family Fridays where students can come and explore the materials and resources we have invested in with their families. Teachers are now beginning to see the space in a new way - no longer a computer room, but a 'creation station' (we're still testing possible names!). We have groups using Makey-Makeys to explore circuits, students programming with Scratch and WeDo Lego and others testing out possibilities with Thymio robots. We are about to embark on a unit of inquiry using Minecraft as a learning space and will be using the more open space to build physical structures. We've made great progress.

I realise though as I write this that I have not done a very good job in taking pictures to document the transition. A new promise to myself. Oh - the original prompt asked for a photo of our classroom - there is one of the old computer lab in the presentation that was shared. I plan to take a new one tomorrow when I get to school and update this post (I'll do a bit of a 'side-by-side' comparison).

As promised...

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