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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom

Remake Your Class is a 3-part video series that covers how one educator transformed his classroom with the help of his students, some community volunteers, and design experts.

Editor's Note: Author David Bill is a designer and educator who consulted with The Third Teacher+ on the Remake Your Class project highlighted in the videos below. The tips in this post go along with the companion video. We are excited by the simplicity (and low price tag!) of this great redesign. Hope you'll share any of your own tips in the comments area below.

If you're thinking of completing your own classroom remake project, good for you. I have been helping teachers redesign classroom spaces for the past three years, and have seen this process work for projects of all sizes.

The tips below can be used for smaller scale remakes right way. If you want to do something bigger, you can start planning immediately and schedule some time over a holiday or long weekend. Either way, much of the prep work can be done now, and incrementally over a few weeks as a lead-up to a larger remake project.

Whether you are looking to reorganize one corner or redesign the entire room, here are eight tips that may help you throughout the process.

1. Get Students Involved

Students are your primary users and should be at the center of such a remake process. To begin building excitement, reach out to them early and invite them to a weekend session at school (or someone's garage) where they can be involved from the beginning. Here are some specific ways to involve students:

Create Visual Inspiration

Ask parents, colleagues or friends to donate a variety of appropriate magazines. Have students find and add magazine pictures to create a visual wall of spatial inspiration. The pictures can portray any space at all -- not just schools. The goal is to include any and all places that stand out for students. When complete, have them use sticky dots to indicate the places that stand out and why. If you're strapped for time, find and post the images yourself.

Digitally, you can utilize Pinterest as a way for to create a "board" of inspiration. As you or your students find items or spaces that stand out, they can be pinned to your board. Students then comment on the "pins" that they appreciate.

Students Define Pain Points

Is there anything unsatisfying about the present setup? To find out, use a whiteboard to draw a map of your current classroom, and visually identify the various sections. Students then use sticky notes to write a word or two that indicates how they feel or what types of actions take place while spending time in that section of the classroom.

10x10x10

With the students, define several questions that address your classroom remake project. Then have students talk with ten different people in ten different places and bring ten different stories. Use that research to provide insights into what spaces people like and why.

Student Helpers

Later, when you're building out your redesign, ensure that the students play various roles in building the actual room. Whether it's painting, putting casters on tables, or moving boxes, the more they are involved, the more ownership and pride they will take in the classroom.

2. Research and Brainstorming Methods

You don't need to be a "designer" to engage in this process. All you need is the ability to conduct the research and do the brainstorming that is essential to this process. When remaking your classroom, the first step is to define the right "need" and then ask the right questions.

For example, when defining your need, you might ask, "How could we create more collaborative space in our classroom?" As you identify needs, activities like those mentioned below will help you collect data and then examine the challenge through a different perspective.

Word Association

Place butcher paper on several tables. Break the participants into several groups with each group at a separate table. Write a different random word in the center of each piece of butcher paper. Based upon that initial word, have the individuals write the first word that comes to their mind, and then repeat the process for each subsequent word. Do this for a few minutes. The table participants should then rotate and quickly build upon their group members' words. Once that is completed, have the group select their two favorite words. Those two words must then be used to create a quick prototype that addresses the stated "need."

Classroom Flow

Find a colleague or student who has a free period when you teach, and ask him or her to come and observe how you and your students move about the classroom. Print a diagram of the classroom, and as your observer watches, have him or her draw where you and your students move. One color should be used for tracing your movement and another for the students' movement. The sheet of paper with the tracking will help you determine what areas are used most heavily, and where items should be placed to better support fluid movement throughout your class.

Sticky Notes

After conducting your initial research, determine the areas that need the most focus (e.g. clutter, collaborative space and teacher workspace). For each focal point, have participants draw or write an idea related to the topic on sticky note. The ideas should be posted on a whiteboard. When all the ideas are on the board, they should be sorted and grouped to determine which ideas overlap and which can move forward. These brainstorming rules and guidelines will be helpful in setting up such an experience.

3. Tips for Organizing and Managing Volunteers

When assigning tasks and responsibilities to your volunteers, use something very simple. If the various individuals and groups helping you remake your classroom have regular online access, use a Google spreadsheet. If access is problematic, create a printable spreadsheet with the tasks and responsibilities, and pass it out to all parties involved in the project. The key to such a process is ensuring that it's easy to identify and know who is handling each task and responsibility.

4. Tips for Clearing the Clutter

One of the keys to any classroom remake is removing all of the unnecessary items. Spend some time considering what you most frequently use and where those items should be in relation to where you spend most of your time while in class. Once you define those needs, begin to search sites like Lifehacker for some tips on how to reorganize your materials.

5. Tips for Obtaining Supplies and Support

Once you've defined your required materials for the remake, reach out to your locally owned stores and tell your story. In many cases, the owners may donate or discount certain supplies. And -- oh, by the way -- it wouldn't hurt to bring a few of your students when you are making the ask.

If your project is going to require a bit more money, an Indiegogo campaign may be a viable option. Partner with some of the students and perhaps your media teacher to create a video that will draw in some interest and support.

6. Ideas for Repurposing Materials You May Already Have

Many items in our classrooms and homes are sitting idle when they could easily be repurposed. Do you have old plastic containers from the grocery store, milk crates or old hardbound books? Use them as storage containers in your classroom. Have old CDs? Make them into art. Lacking inspiration? Again, Pinterest may be a great resource for how to reuse your materials in your classroom. If you can't find the types of materials you're looking for to organize things, your town or city may have a group like SCRAP, Urban Ore or Goodwill. Check out those locations, as they will have plenty of reused materials. Also, explore Craigslist, a veritable goldmine for used materials.

7. Organizing Your Tools

Organize your tools in groupings based upon usage and frequency. Consider using containers or boxes that you or you students can easily identify and access, as these will be two of your biggest concerns. Use some color and visual labels to ensure that the containers stand out. If there are doors on your cabinets, consider taking them off so that everyone can see the containers with ease.

8. Additional Resources

You can do a lot with space, materials, and even your students when you think creatively. In the comments section below, please share any questions, ideas and experiences for how you might remake your classroom this year.

Comments (16)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Catherine Ousselin's picture
Catherine Ousselin
High School French teacher and social media manager for the AATF

I teach in a tight portable and have similar mobility issues. If I had tables instead of desks, I think a major portion of the classroom clutter would be cleared up. I will be using some of these ideas to rearrange my 21st Century French classroom to better meet the needs of the students and the teacher. Great ideas.

Brian King's picture
Brian King
Kindergarten teacher living in Wuxi, China

I enjoyed reading your article. I will be redesigning my classroom this September, and I plan on implementing the classroom flow map. I teach kindergarten so there is definitely a lot of movement in the classroom. It will be a great tool for improving the layout of the classroom and placement of education tools.

markwguay's picture
markwguay
12th Grade English

Thanks David for writing this and using such inviting images to show the difference in a well-designed learning center. These are the innovative educators I want to help promote on The Transforming Education Podcast.

I look forward to more work of yours.

Elizabeth Wilkie's picture
Elizabeth Wilkie
Seventh grade science teacher from Columbia, S.C.

One of the things that I most look forward to each year is redesigning my classroom. Having a new arrangement seems to get my creative juices flowing and gives me a fresh perspective on my environment (in a room that I have been in for 5 years).
This year I am going to focus on getting rid of excess clutter, such as my bulky teacher desk. Work and transition space will be student oriented. Wall space will be dedicated to procedures for the students' interactive science notebook. Basically, my goal is to increase the functional space by taking a minimalist approach!

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

These are but a few of the fun times you can have in Georgia. What special fun can you have where you live?

--Georgia, by Elmer D. Williams

My classroom particulars are sensationally doofy, too. I know this and embrace it. I had all summer to allow my imagination to do things.

The best thing about teaching, and sometimes the worst thing about teaching, is that you're left alone most of the time to do what you think's best. I learned that my first day of subbing for Pam and Bodeep. Sometimes good deeds go unpunished.

The name of my classroom ... your classroom, I said ... is "The Cozy Room of Learning." I have designed and decorated it with the hope that its coziness might make you want to learn a bunch of things without complaining. I said I hope you like my lamps and my maps and some historical prints I've had in my room since I was a kid.

Tempest moaned ... Creee-pee!

I had been to School Box, the teacher's dope store. I held in my hand a fake pencil. Two feet long. It's bright yellow. I said ... This is "The Teaching Stick," and I'll probably be whipping this thing around a whole lot this year to punctuate the air with knowledge. Touching The Teaching Stick is unholy, however. Don't do it.

Spike yelled ... Can I touch it!

I ignored the question. I had to. I knew I had to get through this as quickly as possible before I changed my mind on every bit of it. On the wall I have placed in big letters, I pontificated, that I bought at an arts and crafts store and that I painted in a school color and the words are Seek Knowledge. I pointed The Teaching Stick at our class motto ... Seek ... Knowledge. When in doubt, I said, seek knowledge.

They seemed to think having a class motto was okay.

I moved over behind a lectern my father had made for me out of old wood. Wood that had seem some things. I said this is "The Lectern of Speaking." I said I'll be blowing hard from behind here a lot this year. I said when I really want to deliver some awesome stuff I'll probably step behind The Lectern of Speaking and I will probably be holding The Teaching Stick, too, and whipping it around.

Petal moaned ... This is so lame. Petal and Tempest high-fived. Petal said ... There is definitely something wrong with you.

And in the back, near my desk in the back, I said, is not a globe. It's "The Globe of Happiness." After you push the northern hemisphere up you will see that inside The Globe of Happiness, in the southern hemisphere, is a whole bunch of candy that I discovered is real expensive to buy. Do good deeds. Say good things. Work hard, I said, and you'll get candy, and lots of it.

All eyes were now on The Globe of Happiness. Four of five of them, especially Spike, were already lurched forward, ready to leap out of their desks for an inspection.

I walked back there and lifted the northern hemisphere on a globe on a stand with wheels that's actually a bar. The southern hemisphere holds ice for adults who drink cocktails.

Three kids, at that special moment in the early history of The Cozy Room of Learning, said that I was their favorite teacher. Spike said he'd catch a bullet for me anytime, and at this school, he said, it could be any day.

I think bribing kids with wads of Snickers, Butterfingers, Smarties, Twix, Milk Duds, Milky Ways, Blow Pops, Gobstoppers, and Chupa Chups, Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, Dum Dum Pops, M&M's, Sour Patch Kids, Tootsie Rolls, and bubble gum cigarettes, to do and say nice things is fine because it works.

I also asked them not the chew on the carpet or lick the walls. Class discipline must be maintained.

www.actionjacksonart.com

Neil Snyder's picture
Neil Snyder
Director of Federal Advocacy for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Assoc

What about the ability of the teacher and the students to easily communicate and understand each other? I do not see if the classroom's acoustics, reverberation, and sound system were evaluated at any point during the makeover.

There are also simple and low cost ways to improve classroom acoustics, improve teacher-student communication and improve academic outcomes. Please check out my Facebook page for some ideas: https://www.facebook.com/ClassroomAcoustics

I would welcome David Bill, Third Teacher+, and Edutopia to look into classroom communications, acoustics, and academic outcomes.

Thank you.

Neil Snyder
ASHA

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