Monday, May 23, 2016

Part 3: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Environment

Part 3: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Environment

Environment: What does your ecosystem look like?  The space in your classroom supports a type of learning.  There are many buzzwords these days regarding learning spaces.

Spaces based on task type
Spaces based on furniture
  • Standing desks
  • Wiggle chairs
  • Table groups
  • Individual chairs
  • Soft Chairs
  • Adjustable Space - Mobile Furniture

As a teacher, I learned that managing the space was a vital part of my job.  By managing the space I could change the way that students interacted or who they interacted with in the room.  

Moving the desks was also critical.  I was a chemistry teacher, with a room full of lab tables, no single desks.  Teachers near me with the same setup complained to me about the unruly children and how it was difficult to get them to face the same direction, let alone pay attention as it was so easy to talk to a friend.  Once I realized that these teachers were right, I figured I should stop lecturing and do more small group work where the students were required to talk to each other.  Despite the same teachers complaining that my class was seen as more fun, I kept having students collaborating to learn.  The experience taught me that the environment can have a large impact on how you teach.  Now I am the anti-row guy.  I know the type of instruction it supports and I have thought that type of instruction was boring since...For a long time.

A great resource to see how the room arrangements can support learning, check out the USC study on room configurations.  I love this research and resource as a way of showing how teachers can rearrange the room.  Most of it is common sense once you read it.  Like the answer for Jeopardy that you knew after the person on the TV said it.

Personally, my favorite is a room that supports multiple types of learning, built for differentiated instruction.  Parts of the room should be set aside for:
  • individual work
  • collaborative work
  • seminar or small group, targeted instruction
  • design studio

That is a large number of areas in the classroom, 5.  The areas are designed for students who need quiet, collaboration, extra help, to design, and to create in order to learn.  As the teacher, I would play a main role in 1 of those areas and a backup or mentor role in the other 4 areas. That is more on the interactions side, which is in my next blog post, but the two blend together.  Environments support certain types of interactions.

What does your environment look like?  
Do you have a any of the spaces listed above?  
Are there computers or other electronic devices in the room?  
How are the tables/desks laid out and where are they facing (they face the way students are supposed to look)?
What is on the walls?
How do you know which side is the front of the room?

Just a few questions to get you thinking.

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