Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Potential and Power of a New Classroom

This year I'm back in the classroom, for the first time in six years. You can read all about it here. I'm excited about it. It's where I belong. And then I saw my classroom. It's in a building that was formerly a junior high, and has been absorbed into a high school campus. The building I'm in was built in 1950, and is full of interesting spaces and/or smells. I came expecting a traditional classroom with 40-ish desks in neat little rows.What I got was this:

But uh...the panoramic fisheye version of it. When this building was a junior high, this was the band room. It has those risers built into the floor, and the steps are too narrow for desks of any kind. There are 44 chairs (turns out my largest class is 45), and the guy before me loved this setup because he taught public speaking and a film class. I've inherited the film class, and it's awesome...but the majority of my teaching schedule is a traditional US History class for juniors. Which 1) I've never taught before, and 2) the history classes I have taught have been with, you know, desks. 

That said, I Twitter-know and Instagram-know a lot of you who have adapted your classrooms with flexible seating and other options for your students that have worked well for you and your kids. So...maybe what's scary to me has some potential. My administration has been understanding of the unique space I've got, and has offered to buy whatever we need to make the space work for us. My district has some limits on things like bean bag chairs or other fabric-covered seating -- in between fire codes and potential hygiene issues, administration wants to avoid them. So while it would be ideal to look like the inside of Jeannie's Bottle, that's not going to happen. 

One of the first features I realized I wanted to find a way to use is the four small practice rooms. There's one on one side of the room, and three on the other. Each is about ten feet by ten feet. In this room's previous life, they were used as practice rooms for instruments, and one of them was used as the office for the teacher. I'm a believer in having students do collaborative work, so they've been repurposed as small meeting rooms where kids can go in groups of 4-6 and work on projects. There are windows, I can still see into them and know if they're on task or not, but they have a bit of privacy and a bit of independence. These guys are sixteen years old--they can handle it. I've also rebranded the rooms: one is a Star Wars-themed room "The Porg's Nest," one is Rick and Morty "Rick's Lab," one is Aquaman-themed "Atlantis," and the fourth is Black Panther's "Wakanda." There's some nerdy stuff in each room that helps establish the vibe I want, and so far the kids seem to dig it and pick up on that vibe too. Photos from this point on are what I've done with the room; you'll also see photos of the room and some of the activities we do on my new classroom Instagram feed

Another benefit of this new room is that, as a former band room, it has an enormous storage space. And...I need a lot. Play-Doh, LEGO, graphic novels...it takes up a bunch of space. And now that I'm moved in, I really appreciate that storage space. We're building a new high school in four years, and I'm pre-missing that storage space, and resenting the new shiny classroom I'll end up with.

I'm always a fan of sharing your passion with students, whatever that happens to be. So yeah, I have things about Muppets and LEGO and superheroes, and I have my Aquaman Shrine (because he is The Best)...a few teachers have said "aren't you afraid they're going to steal ____?" and truthfully, no. I'm not. If they love the thing enough to take it from me, I hope they get some joy out of it. And guilt. Sweet, sweet guilt.

I'm only in my second week with students, and while there are a few hiccups (some students would rather have a traditional desk when they're doing things like using Chromebooks or doing some kind of paper-based assignment), most of them seem happier with the differentness of the space. I have a set of clipboards they can use on their laps when they're taking paper notes, and when they're doing either independent or group work, I release them to use whatever space in the classroom is most comfortable for them. I've used LEGO with them already, which isn't really a lap-top activity (neither is Play-Doh), but we'll figure out how to do that together. I have a small LEGO wall that may expand over time; we'll see how much weight this first iteration can take before the 3M strips separate from the wall and I can do LEGO wall 2.0. 

What it comes down to is that the kids are more flexible, more resilient, than I am. Things that I thought would be a difficulty for them, or for me, just haven't been. In the first few days, I told them "the principal says if this room doesn't work for us, we can move to a regular classroom," and they were unanimous in wanting to stay with this one. I do think the setup, and especially the proximity of the students to each other, makes them a bit more chatty...but they also know that in any given class period, they'll be released from those seats to do other things. 

As I put more of myself into my room, it became more my space, a happier place for me to be in every day, and hopefully a memorable and happy and effective space for my students. Room 630 will be different from the other rooms in the school. It turns out that's the way I want it, and more importantly, the way the kids want it.



4 comments:

  1. As a person who has an equally weird room (former computer lab that is 52 by 18, I totally get it. It's an adjustment, but its *our* adjustment together. This is my 3rd year in this room, and I've finally figured out how to take advantage of its uniqueness.

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  2. Hi, Quinn--great post (but it looks like you might have to moderate comments because of that bookmyangle.com "comment"). I envy your physical setup but more importantly admire how creative you've been in making use of it!

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