At the beginning of this school year, teachers and students returned to school to find a beautifully renovated entrance area and office. Walls were painted with the school logo, thoughts about learning in both English and Hebrew and a beautiful mural. Everything felt spacious, open and new. The amazing thing was how the new space made me (and apparently a lot of people) feel.
In my classroom, the room formerly known as the computer lab, we also made changes this year, and that space also felt fresh and new. Spaces become stale when the same posters go on the walls year after year. The physical environment impacts how we feel, how we interact and how we learn.
Sam Gliksman, in "Learning Space Designs & Their Impact on Education" writes:
We go to great lengths and expense to provide technology to our schools - hopefully in part because we see it as a means of empowering students to research, explore, experience, collaborate and more. Does your physical learning environment support that vision? How does it impact the process and flow of learning taking place?
Learning spaces should reflect our highest ideals about learning. In our classroom, which is now a shared space, we've given serious consideration to how the physical environment reflects our beliefs about learning. The ultimate vision for the use of technology in our school is, in the words of Chris Lehmann, for the tools to be "like oxygen: ubiquitous, invisible and necessary." Of course, we are not living this ideal, but the theory acts as a guide as we make decisions and try, always, to move forward.
Changes in Spaces, Structures and Schedules
- We dismantled the computer lab and distributed the old desktop computers to the classrooms
- No longer do K-5 students have "technology" once a week as a "resource class."
- We have begun re-purposing the space as a hub for our mobile technologies.
- We've changed the name of the space from "computer lab" to "blogger's cafe."
- We grouped the tables to enable working together.
- We tried to cover tables with brightly-colored map tablecloths to inspire thoughts of global connectedness, but we found the tablecloths were too slippery so we need to go back to the drawing board on this one.
- We also put up a green screen for video production, however, it got very little use this year.
We have also started working with a rubric to help guide us in making strategic upgrades. One of the domains of the rubric is "learning environment" which includes the whole environment including, but not limited to, the physical space.
The criteria for learning environment are:
- physical space conducive to learning
- resources meet learning needs
- learning is engaging
- students are self-directed
- relationships/learning community
For a teacher looking to self-assess, the physical environment is an easy place to start. It is easy to look around your classroom through the lens of the rubric and see where simple changes can be made. Sometimes making external changes first, can also change the way we think about things.
For example, a lower-level descriptor reads: "Walls are adorned with commercially produced products and posters."
The next step up is walls that "serve as a showcase for displaying exemplary student work."
At the highest level "walls serve as a canvas for documenting collective knowledge and learning processes."
It is easy to see how movement in just that level of the rubric could significantly change the way that students are involved in building the classroom learning community.