George Lucas Educational Foundation

Remake Your Class: Building a Collaborative Learning Environment (Video Playlist)

Watch a determined middle school teacher transform his crowded classroom space to enable deeper learning and effective teamwork -- with help from his students, community volunteers, and a few experts.
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Remake Your Class Part 1: Before (Transcript)

Steve: My name is Steve Mattice, I'm a math and science teacher here at Roosevelt Middle School. I have been teaching for about seven years now.

Narrator: Steve had a problem. His classroom was too small for the 36 students who poured in and out every period. And too cramped to accommodate the student-to-student collaboration he knew encouraged deeper learning.

Steve: They're extending this knowledge when they're working together, they're happier and more positive and more likely to participate. I've got a lot of kids and a lot of desks. Things pile up very quickly, kids can sort of pile up quickly in here. And the maneuverability of this room is not always fantastic.

Narrator: Then he met the folks at the "Third Teacher Plus," whose job it is to help educators re-imagine their learning spaces. See how they all took on the challenge of remaking Steve's classroom to be a home for exploration, creativity and better communication.

Christian: Teachers around the country will totally identify with this classroom, an incredible number of kids and limited space. So one of the things we're going to be looking at is how does Steve move around the classroom.

I'm Christian Long, and I was a high school English teacher for about 15 years. As a member of the "Third Teacher Plus," our job is to create spaces that allow the people to be remarkable students, remarkable educators.

Melanie: When people think design a lot of times, they think veneer, they think decorating. Yeah, we want it to look better, but unless we can change and facilitate a really productive classroom, then we're not really making a difference.

I'm Melanie Kale, and I'm a Design and Learning Strategist at the "Third Teacher Plus." We're going into a classroom identifying things that work, and things that could work better. Taking a thousand dollars, a designer's eye, a lot of community resources. We try to match the physical classroom environment to teaching and learning goals. In one weekend, we hopefully realize them.

Christian: So, Steve, tell us a little about this classroom, how it works, how it's laid out.

Steve: There's very little room to sort of move through the middle, so I kind of stay on the outskirts when I do have to move around. I've got 36 kids, plus backpacks, books, jackets. There's so much stuff just within the aisles. Just trying to get through is almost like trying to get through rush hour.

Melanie: In your world here, what is crucial that you have up here to be successful in class?

Steve: I use the ELMO or the overhead a lot. Just for more direct teaching. The ELMO is a document camera that connects to a projector and projects anything that I'm writing up onto the screen. It's not a big workspace. Like obviously, I've got a stool here to sort of make-do. I do "McGuiver" this stuff.

Christian: What we're hoping to do here with Steven's class is to really support this idea of collaboration. He's got to focus on teams, so you see these groupings of four. But at the same time, there's very little room from grouping to grouping.

Melanie: So the workshop we ran on Monday, the goal is to get a pulse on the students. See how they collaborate with one another, see how they interact with other adults. A lot of times words don't encapsulate what we're thinking. So we created a gallery wall for them to facilitate visual listening. The visual listening wall has hundreds of photos. It can be any size, and we give them dots to vote with. It allows us to quickly take the pulse of what their eye is drawn to, place they want to learn in, a place they want to hang out in, a place that just looks cool.

Let's hear about it.

Student: We'd be like learning from each other, or as like not just learning based on one thing like from a book.

Melanie: And what we noticed with them is they like sitting in their groups of four, but they want to feel like they're a part of a whole. So in this class, we're considering the perimeter, we're considering how we can add more mobility. While we might not have a plan right this moment, we know our priorities. To help make teachers better designers, we ask teachers to invite critical friends into their room. That might mean another teacher in the same department, another teacher in a different department, or their architect friend from down the street. We do this thing called a solution session to create really concrete areas that we can prioritize and make happen. This session is really about putting some specifics on what we think can really make a difference for your everyday life. And on Monday morning, you have to have a classroom to teach in. We set up a big board. It kind of becomes our shared brain. It's a place where we can visualize all the things that we're thinking. We identified a handful of key areas that we were going to focus on: Display; Storage; Furniture; Teaching Zone; Personality. And we picked those spatial areas so that we can create concrete solutions around them. We asked Steven to help us identify things that he thinks are going to make a big impact.

Student: First things that kind of caught my eye were the teacher desk as a DJ Dashboard. The positioning of the desks, I think, could be re-imagined. Pull the doors off the cabinets. Activate the back wall. The things that the designers are going to do in this class have sort of opened my eyes. The insights that they've shared have made me think about things I wouldn't ever have thought about.

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  • Director: Zachary Fink
  • Producer: Lora Ma Fukuda
  • Editors: Daniel Jarvis, Alyssa Fedele
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Mario Furloni, Zachary Fink
  • Additional Post-Production Support and Location Sound: Thomas Gorman
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

Remake Your Class

This series of three videos shows how designers and community volunteers helped a teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco transform his crowded classroom into a space that fosters collaboration, creativity, and active student learning.


Special Thanks

The Remake Your Class project would not have been possible without the generous support and participation of the following organizations and volunteers. Most importantly, the entire staff and community of Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco were very supportive of this film. In addition to teacher Steve Mattice and principal Michael Reimer, special thanks to assistant principal Mimi Kasner; custodians Sue Tran and Bob Mullen, P.E. teacher Whitney Marsh, and school secretary Sherri Miller. Finally, big ups to the RMS seventh (now eighth!) graders who pitched in by painting, building, setting up and cleaning up Mr. Mattice's new classroom.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Adam Machholz's picture
Adam Machholz
5th grade teacher

Wow, what a great video. I am teaching for the first time this year, and have been overwhelmed thinking about how I want to set up my room. I know that I do not want my room to be the traditional classroom set up, but I was struggling for concrete ideas. This spurred me on to some practical changes I could make. (I don't think painting or modifying existing furniture would go over well, just yet.)

sheila norman's picture

This video has given me some great ideas . I wish I would have seen it earlirer. During the 2012-2013 school year, my classroom was oddly shaped with limited space for storage and movement. In addition, the average class size was 28-31 students. These ideas will work with the larger classroom I've been assigned this school year. THANKS!!

Jane Krauss's picture
Jane Krauss
Teacher, curriculum and program developer, author, PBL facilitator, techie

I look forward to hearing back from Steve and his students. With the room changing, have their interactions changed? Are kids learning together, as they had hoped? Is Steve able to cruise the room during lessons now?

spmattice's picture
7/8th grade Math teacher, San Francisco

Hi Ms. Krauss, Thanks for the positive thoughts. This project was completed last year and the interactions within the class changed significantly. I lost a lot of the small fights for space and bumped elbows and push out chairs/ tripping that was happening in the old room. That seemed to allow kids to be more pleasant with each other. I also think the vibe was lifted a bit throughout my classes after the room was done, they felt a bit special to have this class when none of the other classes had the "facelift."
I used the space as best I could when we were working on group projects and the extra space lent itself to these types of things as did the computer bar and white boards in the back. To be fair, I had good kids last year who were willing to work in groups without much pettiness and the space in the class just brought some more interesting work to the fore. I am able to cruise around the class a bit easier, especially now at the beginning of this new school year when questions are abundant.
Looking back, I think this was a positive and amazing experience, but even if you don't have a design team with you, you can make some of the small changes that bring out the excitement of creativity for both student and teacher. Having the students involved and engaged in the process was huge and the room has felt like theirs, enhancing the respect for the space and making my job a bit easier. Hope this helps!

AGaiter's picture
Third grade teacher

This is awesome! I would love to have this kind of opportunity for my classroom! My school is an older building, with my room (and those in the bank) being the oldest! How does one go about asking for this level of help?

Thank you for sharing this video!

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