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New Spaces; New Opportunities

Last semester in CEP 811 we designed our ideal learning spaces/classrooms using SketchUp. I was in a strange holding pattern with classrooms at this point because we were in the process of moving to a brand new building with learning communities and learning studios instead of classrooms. At the time, I had yet to see the new spaces, and I could only imagine based on blueprints and renderings what I would encounter in September.

Moving in was hectic. The building was not yet complete, and we were moving into classroom spaces that we had no idea how to use or how they would function with 1600 students moving through them on a daily basis. Now that we are two weeks in, I can’t imagine teaching in a traditional classroom ever again. I am not going to claim that everything was easy and perfect–my students still don’t know their way around the building, we don’t have our own spaces so I have no place to hang posters, leave supplies, or set up a pencil sharpener, and our technology is not yet operational; yet, I am so supremely happy with the flexibility that my new learning space is offering to both me and my students.

The first day of class, a student walked in an asked me where the front of the room was. YES. That is all I wanted! “There is no front” I replied. Multi-leveled tables and rolling chairs made for easy collaboration. The three screens in the room all projected my agenda easily so that it could be viewed from anywhere in the room. The lack of teacher-desk confused my students so they chose a seat that was comfortable, rather than being bound by rows and columns.

Where's the front? There isn't one! I can open the wall of my classroom and extend my learning environment. Each student can get what he or she needs.
Where’s the front? There isn’t one! I can open the wall of my classroom and extend my learning environment. Each student can get what he or she needs.

I have access to five classroom spaces on a daily basis. My 7 colleagues and I share a workroom where we each have a desk, and we work together to create a schedule for the five rooms that suits our instructional goals for the day. The project room (heaven) features large collaborative tables, a wall of windows for natural light, and writable surfaces for brainstorming. Learning studios A and D feature multi-level furniture in an amphitheater arrangement so everybody can see and be seen. Learning studios B and C can open into one large room or remain closed for smaller classes. All rooms open to a commons area that includes comfortable furniture, a media bar, and project-able screens so that students can collaborate in their own space.

Students move seamlessly into the commons for a more comfortable work environment.
Students move seamlessly into the commons for a more comfortable work environment.

When I first saw the design, I questioned my ability to remain sane while 1600 students went traipsing through my commons area in front of my glass wall while my students we trying to work. Now that I am living in it, I can’t say that it is perfect (the appeal of waving to your friend is sometimes too much to ignore!), but it is far more functional than I could have imagined.

Three classes work simultaneously in the commons area. Happy students. Happy teachers.
Three classes work simultaneously in the commons area. Happy students. Happy teachers.

My class starts in a “classroom” every day, but we soon find ourselves spilling out into the commons to spread out, be more comfortable, and work at our own pace. I can open the sliding glass wall of the learning studio and extend my learning environment so that students who need quiet can have it and those who want to discuss can do so. Last week, three classes were out in the common area together working and focused, with happy teachers standing by to answer questions and offer support. I now find myself looking for opportunities to spill out into the commons, where I can tell my students are more comfortable and more engaged.

My goal for this year is to remain as enthusiastic about the learning spaces as I am right now. To remember, even in challenging moments, that I have the opportunity to teach in a uniquely innovative space that will benefit my own teaching as well as my students’ learning. I have the chance to live in the space that I could only have imagined just months ago.

New space; new opportunity. New way of teaching.

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