Saturday, August 29, 2015

A better space for learning

In my last post about our new extended Algebra 1 class, I mentioned the possibility of a new room.  I have an amazing school and awesome colleagues because, one week later, I'm moved in and ready to roll.

My old room was a computer lab with heavy, unmovable desks.  When I first moved in, I unplugged everything and rearranged it into a large U-shape to make it easy to collaborate with peers, quickly turn for a lecture or discussion, and for me to see every screen.  I loved having a lab since many of my classes utilized the technology available, and since I moved in the year we went 1:1 iPads, pressure for lab space was way down.  That said, we could not sit in groups facing each other, there were no free walls (except the front) that could be used for whiteboards, and lecturing with every desk either behind or to the side of a student was just not very effective.

The room I'm moving into used to house 35 thin client computers sitting on wooden tables.  The computers barely had enough memory to handle Google Docs, making it mostly useless to students, especially since even the iPads were more powerful.  With the permission of the tech staff and help from one of my robotics students (and some passing soccer players), we were able to take down the entire tech infrastructure in 90 minutes.  We moved around the tables into four rows of three, leaving a handful of extra tables (that we quickly put to use in other math classrooms).

Each table has room for four students, but this makes things pretty crowded.  It also means that half of the class is turned halfway around if I am talking up front at the end of the rows.  To top it off, I think groups of four are far less functional than groups of three.  Thus, each table now has two chairs on the outside and one on the inside to help alleviate those issues.

A couple views of the bare-bones, v1.0 new classroom

Since we allow students to quiz at their own pace, there is a row of eight desks against one wall.  The other three walls are saved for whiteboards everywhere!  #NPVS (non-permanent vertical surfaces)

Whiteboards posed a challenge -- our district believes in having a world-class learning environment, so the idea of drilling a bunch of holes in the brick to hang the cheap tileboard from Home Depot was shot down, despite my pleading.  However, my principal was able to stand up to some whiteboard vendors and get three high quality porcelain 4'x6' whiteboards to go up on the walls for under $600, offering a great start to the dream of 270 degrees of writable surfaces.  I plan to pursue additional funds from, our Parent-Teacher Organization, and other sources to have enough board space for every group of three to have a half of a board.

It is easy to forget how much you take for granted with tech infrastructure in a classroom.  I had no desire to get a SMART board, especially with a touch screen laptop and the ability to use AirServer to stream an iPad to the computer (and thus be mobile).  However, having no ceiling mount for a projector means it is in the way of some kids' view.  Lacking a projection screen is fine, but not ideal.  Having no speaker system or microphone connection means finding our own system to broadcast the computer and our voices to those who are hard of hearing.  Long-term, these are things the school needs to get so it is like the other classrooms, but my sudden urge for a better classroom after being inspired by the awesome learning spaces everyone shared at TMC15 mostly crept up on those controlling the budget.

I'm excited to start the year in a more flexible space, even if I will only be in there about half of the day for now.  In late October, the old teacher laptops will be used to build a full computer lab, and then I can move all of my computer-based classes back into the room without disrupting the ability to use the tables collaboratively when we are offline.  We will see how it all goes starting Monday!

No comments:

Post a Comment