Classroom Environments: Does Space Make a Difference? | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Before you read another line of this post, STOP. Look around. What does your environment look like? Is it cozy? Is it uncomfortable? What do you think of the lighting? The colors? Have you ever really stopped to absorb your surroundings? Maybe it is time to start.

I have been thinking a lot about learning and workspaces recently and the affect they have on our overall mood and productivity. Most of us arrive at our place of work daily and never realize the impact the space, the lighting, the color of the walls, or the arrangement of tables and chairs has on our mood. Also, we never realize the impact it has on our ability to learn or be productive. Unfortunately, most of us in education have been arriving at a rather common outfit for, well, as long as we have been teaching. If you ask most educators what their classroom looks like it will probably sound something like this...

It's a square, almost rectangle room with two small windows. My desk is in the back of the room so I can monitor all the rows of desks at one time. The walls are beige and there is a generic, tile floor. I have two bulletin boards that display student work.

While this is not an actual quote, this is my perception of most classrooms I have encountered. So, beyond the actual construction of the building, why have we all assumed the same classroom setup for years? It's a question that I haven't really thought about until recently.

At Educon this year, I attended a conversation with Ray Bordwell and Peter Brown on Innovations in 21st Century Learning Spaces. This conversation really got me thinking about physical space and how our environments affect us. A few days later I read a post titled, "Hope is a good thing," by Sarah Edson that related the experience of prisoners in The Shawshank Redemption to our current school buildings and classrooms. Both instances provoked my thought, and soon, my mind started to race. In the past few weeks I have become fixated on learning spaces and why we continually fall into the same pattern year after year. Why do we continually build schools that look like prisons? Why do we create unappealing classrooms for our students? Why can't our classrooms have couches instead of desks? Why can't we have a classroom that is one giant space walk? Why can't our schools look like one of those trendy startup company workspaces where everyone looks happy and really cool?

The other element to the learning space conundrum, is the personalization of learning. While many school's move towards mobile device integration and universal Wi-Fi, the space remains, for the most part, the same. Walk into any coffee shop that has free Wi-Fi and you will see one option for what I classroom could look like. However, walk into most classrooms and you will see the same structure, only now with shiny new devices.

So, it hit me this morning. While most of us connect on a daily basis through social media, we rarely get to see the space on the other side. While your space is a very private domain, I would like us to share our classrooms, both good and bad, so that we might learn how to generate more dynamic spaces in our schools. Maybe you have a really amazing space, or maybe it's awful. Either way, just share it.

This is a project that will look at a variety of learning spaces from all over the world. It is my hope to collect as many photos of learning (work) spaces as possible. The end result will allow us to look at a variety of learning and work spaces and see what works best, what doesn't work, and generate new ideas for the environments in which we learn and work in daily. The instructions are simple.

1. Take a photo of where you work each day (if you are a teacher, please take a picture of your classroom)

2. Geotag your photo

3. In the title include your name (first name is fine) and describe your space in one word.

4. Tag your photo with ShareYourSpace2011

5. Add it to the flickr group page "My Learning (Work) Space 2011"

Thank you all for your help with this and hopefully we can all learn from seeing each other's space.

I would like to thank you all in advance for sharing your space and contributing to this project. I hope to write a follow up post soon to examine, and highlight spaces that were submitted.

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David Kinane's picture

Furniture and where the teacher sits and the dynamic implicit in that has an effect on learning. David Jakes' slide show demonstrates that. I have adapted those ideas he illustrates and am working with teachers to unlock the C21 elearning potential in their classes from the C19 industrial model of teaching that they perform in. It is amazing to see what simple changes to the layout of computer tables can make to a teachers attitude to integrating elearning and to how students respond. My presentation has some images of how teachers have adapted their environments There is a link to David Jakes' slide show within my own. I would welcome some dialogue on this too.

Joanne Robert's picture
Joanne Robert
7th/8th grade mathematics/science teacher from Asheville, North Carolina

Students will tell you that the way a classroom is arranged tells a lot about a teacher and I believe feng shui is no joke. I sometimes ask students to do the re-arranging and have found that it depends a great deal on their moods and the time of year. Lately they prefer stadium/lecture type seating to groups. I hate my desks because they don't offer enough flexibility or room.

I want a classroom set of Nodes:

Bobbi Macdonald's picture

Great article! We can do so much by understanding that connecting the space to the deepest mission of a school is very powerful. I recently had the opportunity to renovate and design 3 public charter schools in Baltimore, MD. Here is a presentation I just gave regarding the environment and why it matters:
Hope you enjoy the pictures!
Bobbi Macdonald

Debra Nign's picture

A wonderful idea and different point of view. I love it, even for younger classrooms. Why do the desks have to be in a row? Why do we have to be in desks all day long. This is getting my mind stirring. Thanks!

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