Posts Tagged ‘furniture’

So, I’ve been thinking about room arrangement all year. I started with a new format at the beginning of the year, changed it up a little based on some student input; then had the students plan and vote on a new arrangement. All that didn’t quite push the boundaries as much as I wanted. So, the last day of school before spring break after I dismissed everyone, I set to work. I dragged my husband in and we spent a couple of hours moving everything, and I mean everything, around.

First up, the student desks. They are a pain because there are enough of them that they can’t be rearranged quickly enough to be considered truly flexible. So they had to go. Well, ok they couldn’t entirely leave the room, but I did the next best thing. I lined then up facing the 2 long walls (window out and hallway). They are storage and independent work options, but not much else. Once we did that, I could really see some possibilities. I have a couple of low bookshelves that I dragged into the middle of the room. They now form a low wall bisecting the long rectangle space into 2 almost squares. Then I put my 2 nicer chairs in a good reading spot, found a semi-permanent place for the single biggest, and most significantly, heaviest table, and sprinkled my light easy to move IKEA tables liberally around the room. Voila!

Here is the basic arrangement, without the IKEA tables sprinkled around

Now we can have the IKEA tables pushed together for a big group discussion, in a U shape, in rows near the board if I need to show something there, or broken apart for pairs or groups of 4. I swear the room seems like it grew.

Arranged for whole class discussion

Discussion with the board available

Direct Instruction at the board

Group work-4 groups

In some ways it looks more like a primary or preschool room now with the bookshelves dividing the space (although they only come up to the kids’ thighs at best). It has freed us up to work in groups without being on top of each other, and I feel like I finally really have the flexible learning space I have been craving all year.

I could go show about a million more variations to the room. Sometimes there are 2 main things going on, 1 in front, 1 in back. Sometimes people are all over: desks, tables, floor, cubby area. I thought I would just give an idea of some of the arrangement options. (I have to say I am better at furniture placement than photo placement on the blog here. But, I have spent enough time on this particular problem and need to move on-something we discuss a lot in 5th grade.)

So, I’m not sure why it took me six years to get here, I’m just glad I finally arrived.

(Pictures created with Doodle Buddy app)

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So, I’ve been thinking about seating arrangementt this year. I’ve written about my ideas and my new IKEA tables and how well I think the new plan is going.

Then, I had to rearrange, briefly, for ERB testing. I hated it. The desks were in rows; the students were all facing me when we were trying to have a discussion. A student up front was replying to what someone behind her had said, but was then forced to decide to look at me or her peer. Uggh.

However, when I mentioned this to the students, they said they liked being in rows. They thought it made the room seem bigger and they had more room around them. I was stunned. This had never occurred to me. But then I thought about it a little more and realized there was something to some of what they were saying:

  • When we were in a circle, everyone was next to someone, right next to them.
  • Binders and books were spilling onto neighbors.
  • It was sometimes hard to get from the outside ring of desks to the inside table.
  • It was hard to move around parts of  the room.

I still wanted:

  • Students to be facing each other
  • A lot of the space open for other work options
  • No one to be “way at the back”
  • Options

So, I found a reasonable new layout that I thought suited everyone. It’s kind-of a square with parts missing: 4X4 but with gaps every 2 desks. Here’s why I think it is a good arrangement:

  • Students are facing each other.
  • Everyone has some space on 1 side of his or her desk.
  • It is easier to move in and out of the square.
  • No one is right up next to the wall or bookshelves.
  • We still have the front open and available for sitting near the board when necessary.
  • We still have room to move around our tables.
  • It’s easier to maintain.

But, then I went and asked the students what they thought. I just couldn’t help myself. I was expecting all this positive response. Instead I got all sorts of ways we could face the board!? I kept having to say, “that is no my goal.” Since I did not predict that the conversation would head in this direction, I did not have the time to have a complete discussion.

So, we are in the modified square for now.

But, I think it’s time to have a real group discussion, that does not have a time limit, about what we want our seating arrangement to foster. I believe that my students and I can have this conversation. I know that it will be messy. I recognize that I am giving up a lot of control because this is not going to be a “pretend” exercise.

So here’s my plan:

  • We will all read a few articles about seating in advance and come to this with some background knowledge.
  • We make a list of things we would like our space to be able to do.
  • We prioritize the list.
  • We suggest designs and evaluate them against our priorities.
  • We pick a design for our space and live with it for a while.
  • Repeat, if necessary.

I have to say I’m a little nervous about it and totally excited. I’ll keep you posted.

Cafe is Open

Posted: October 31, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about how much 5th graders will buy what you are selling, in a good way.

As I mentioned here I have finally set up a blog for each student using edublogs. (I continue to battle with edublogs regularly, but that’s not the point of this post.) Last year The Nerdy Teacher was posting and tweeting a lot about his ideas to set up a blogger’s cafe in his new classroom. He had some great space, was scoping out chairs at Ikea and netbooks. It sounded pretty nice. (Here’s his October update post.)

I have recently changed my room around for the purpose of having a more flexible seating arrangement so I’m not looking to unflex it right now with a dedicated area. Plus, my room is not big enough to set a side that much space. However, I liked the idea. So, in the words of Tim Gunn and Project Runway, I had to “make it work.”

Well, lucky for me, 5th graders are easy targets. My major redecorating consisted of three things:

  • dragging a few tables and nicer chairs (I scavenged them this summer from an admissions office getting a redo) into a corner of the room near some outlets
  • put out some computers on the table, screens up
  • put a sign on the board announcing that the cafe was open

It was definitely an “if you build it they will come” moment. The first students to arrive saw the cafe and went right over. They didn’t have to; it was before school started. By the time school was actually supposed to start the cafe had spilled out into the rest of the room. I had to change the morning plan.

The next morning, I did not put the sign on the board. The first students came in and said, “The cafe isn’t open?” Well, I may be a lot of things, but I like to think I’m not an idiot, at least all the time. So the day after, the cafe was open again as was artifact reconstruting (we are studying archaeology at the moment).

“The cafe is open, yes!”

“Hey guys, the cafe is open.”

“I love the blogger’s cafe!”

Once again, an hour later, I finally had to say we needed to close the cafe. But for an hour, students were writing, reading posts of other students, and commenting. One student even did some online investigating for a post. Now, we still have work to do on writing quality and/or interesting posts. But, I for one can definitely put up a sign with some loopy designs if that is what my students want.

Anyone else blogging with students?

So, I’ve been thinking about how my new furniture is working out. One of my big plans for this year was to make my room more flexible in terms of seating arrangements. I wrote about it here.

Well, let me give you the update you’ve been waiting for.

The good:

  • I love having our regular desks in a circle where I am just another person in the ring. I think it sends a good message that we are all in this together when we are discussing.
  • The Ikea tables are light and easy to move across the carpet.
  • There are now many places to work in the room and many ways to “find a spot” that don’t all involve huddling in groups near the cubbies.
  • When the tables are lined up close to the front, no one is more than 10 feet from the board for those direct instruction times.
  • Students are able to choose a type of work place that suits them.
  • When students do choose another work place, it is actually conducive to working.

The bad:

  • There are times when I want to be able to go back and forth in classroom design within a short block of time.
  • It’s pretty tight when we’re all up front. The positioning of the table legs means that it’s hard to fit 2 students per side.
  • Why didn’t I think of this a bunch of years ago?

The ugly (still needs work):

  • I think I need some kind of in between set-up where we are mostly in discussion mode, but yet the board is nearby and accessible for notes and ideas.
  • The chairs, the chairs. They don’t move as easily and we have had a few traffic jams.
  • I am still working on planning the day with seating in mind.

So, overall I’m still really excited about the possibilities of this new set-up. It’s definitely a step, or a table, in the right direction. (I’ll add a picture once my camera is charged.)

Classroom Set-up

Posted: August 9, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about classroom set-up.

I always rearrange depending on what we are doing etc, but I am feeling more and more that I want need to have a flexible arrangement that can be changed at a moment’s notice. We settled in to a big arc of desks last year. It was more than a semi-circle; it was more like 270 degrees. And, for discussions and independent working it was great or at least good. However, because it was more than a semi-circle, when I needed to do something on the board and have everyone be able to see; it wasn’t effective. It was too hard for some to see the board and be able to write at the same time.

What to do?

Seek out inspiration, that’s what.

I found all kinds of great information and ideas.

I found tweets and blog post from The Nerdy Teacher about his plans for a blogger cafe in his classroom.

I found TeachPaperless’s post showing his flexible classroom.

Since I have lower school students obviously not all that these two were talking about would apply, but still it gets the ideas flowing.

Then this summer I found this article on Edutopia about seating by Evantheia Schibsted.

Here is the part that I found most significant for me:

Robert J. Wankmuller, science chairperson for the Hauppauge School District, on New York’s Long Island, knows this firsthand. When he taught chemistry in another school district, Wankmuller had two classrooms with different seating arrangements. One had tables and lab stations in the middle of the classroom, where students faced each other the entire period; the other combined rows of desks in the front of the room with a lab-activity and cooperative-learning area in the back.

“I saw a big difference in student behavior,” says Wankmuller, explaining that kids in the classroom with two distinct areas behaved better and performed better on exams. “It wasn’t because they were any brighter. It was the seating.”

Wankmuller says seating arrangements should reflect the type of activity going on. “Students need to know that different things are expected of them based upon where they are sitting. They should have a different mind-set [for each area].”

So, he explains, in the lab and cooperative area, they should be talking together and figuring things out. When they’re arrayed in more traditional rows of front-facing desks or chairs, they should raise their hands when they want to ask or answer questions.

“Students need to see some direct connection between what they hear in lecture and what they do as a hands-on activity,” Wankmuller says. The transition from one classroom layout to another can be used to segue between one approach to learning and another. “When they regroup, they need to talk about what they discovered [in the other setup] and link that to the next topic. It’s not easy to do, but the variety helps them focus.”

I also saw this post from David Ginsburg’s blog which sums it neatly in this statement:

“. . . different teaching strategies call for different seating orientations. . .”

So then I went in to school to take a long hard look at my classroom and think about how I too could have seating that reflected the type of activity we were involved in, without spending entire class periods rearranging. As it turned out, there was some extra furniture in another hallway (not for long) that got me thinking. It was clearly an IKEA table: good height, narrow, lightweight, easy to move, and probably inexpensive. Back to my room, table in tow.

Lots of dragging, pushing, shoving, and some more scavenging later, I have a plan:

  • First, I put all the desks towards the back of the room in a circle (almost) with room left for another chair or two to join in (me).
  • I put 2 trapezoid tables in the middle (now it’s a hexagon) for another place to work, put papers, etc. This was the basic plan at the end of last year only at the front of the room.
  • Next, I pushed my desk back a little so that I can get it 2 rows of narrow tables facing the board. (I’m still considering which tables to get these or these, both from Ikea. I’m leaning toward the first because it will slide across the carpet easily.)
  • My thought is that tables can get pushed to the side when not in use (I have checked and am pretty sure I can make it work). Students will have to move chairs, but that’s it.
  • We will now also have the ability to make working group table easily as well.
  • I figure I’ll have to spend some time at the beginning of the year on expectations for transitioning to different work areas, but I think it will pay off big time after that.

Now I just have to get all the other furniture I scavenged out of my room, go to Ikea with a big enough car (which I don’t have–Umm, Mom can I borrow your car?), put it all together, and get other teachers who come into my room to agree that I am on to something here. Well, if that’s all, no problem.

I can’t wait!