Learning Spaces: #yourEdustory Week 9

Clearly a bit behind on my #youredustory blog postings–it is week 9, and my last post was week 2. Ooops.

This week’s posting is about space and design–well, it’s to put together a design brief for a new learning environment. Instead of writing a design brief, I am going to ramble about space 🙂

Space and its impact on my teaching has always been a concern of mine–ever since my first year teaching some 16 years ago. I remember walking into my new classroom–I was a brand new teacher, not even fully credentialed–and thinking, wow, this is small! And it was small. With 20 desks, one small round table, two book shelves, and a teacher’s desk (I didn’t know enough to get rid of it though I did stuff it in the corner), you could barely walk through the room. If the students were in the room and had their backpacks and coats hung on the chairs, you couldn’t walk through the room without knocking over someone’s backpack. I taught second grade, and there wasn’t enough room for a reading area–not even an area for the students to sit and listen for “rug time.” I had my students move their desks when we were on the rug and move them back when they needed to sit at their seats. The lack of space made for some interesting behavior issues–I couldn’t separate students; everyone was practically touching elbows.

The one good thing about that space was that I had a connecting door inside my classroom to the next classroom. The teacher next-door, another new teacher, and I would often prop the door open during the day. She also had a small room but had a third door out the back. We would spread students out between the two rooms and outside, using the door in-between to keep an eye on students in the other room.

The next year, I was a second year teacher, which meant that I could get a bigger room. I moved into a room where the desks fit and you could walk around them without hitting a backpack. There was built-in storage and sink with drinking fountain (which my last room hadn’t had). I could have a reading area and a rug area that was permanent. Honestly, the biggest benefit of the space was that students could spread out. They could read and work in many different places and didn’t hit elbows while working. It was fabulous.

Later, I measured my first room since they were looking to turn a room into a computer lab. After looking at the measurements, the IT guy mentioned that it was legally too small for a classroom. He suggested that my room and the room next to it had been one room before California had enacted class size reduction; hence the door between, the small sizes, and the lack of outlets on the wall between.

My more recent rooms have been bigger and more standard (since they are portables). I have come to value the flexibility portables have–I can make the room into whatever I want. A couple of years ago, I started to collect extra white boards (both ones on the wall and moveable ones), seeing the value of students being able to work anywhere they want. The more flexible I made the room, the more the 8th graders utilized it–creating workspaces that met their needs. Being in school should not be uncomfortable and a good work space is conducive to working. I am always amazed how much students enjoy using a white board and something about being able to erase seems to encourage brainstorming.

My ideal space would involve flexible furniture with different seating options. Students would be able access white boards that they could continue to use for long term projects. There would be storage space for student projects.  If money were no issue, this is what I want (Stanford d school-inspired):

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 8.10.57 PM

I have been collecting fun furniture and learning space images as inspiration for my students when they do their “design a school of the future” intersession. It is amazing what some schools and businesses have in terms of flexible and comfortable spaces–https://www.pinterest.com/jessicalura/school-of-future-intersession/ .

Do you need to have an innovative space to be innovative? Probably not but I am sure that it can’t hurt.

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About Jessica Lura

I am the director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a 2014 Google Certified Teacher.
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