Thursday, December 10, 2015

When Life Hands You Lemons, Redesign Your Classroom!

Although I was exhausted last Friday night, my husband lured me out of the house by offering to take me out for Crocked Onion Soup and a McGuire's Irish Red. It is my favorite meal on a rare, chilly night in Florida. My plan of waking up early to go work at school for a few hours the next morning was shattered by a text from my 7th grade daughter. She had heard on Snapchat that the school was on fire!

Specifically, my daughter had heard that the Art Room was on fire. Unfortunately, my classroom is two doors down from the Art Room. I was hopeful that it was all a 7th grade prank. Turns out the 7th graders knew what they were talking about. The kiln started smoking and set off a sprinkler. It was only one sprinkler, but he was very diligent and managed to soak the floor in both third grade classrooms. We were lucky so little was damaged. However I wasn't allowed back in my room until Monday morning, so a company could dry everything out. No time for prepping, no time to put every desk back in place, and no time to put everything back where it belonged before my students walked in Monday morning.

Fortunately, the administration arranged for subs to take care of our students all of Monday morning, so we could focus on our classrooms. It was a little overwhelming at first, but my co-teacher and I strive to be glass half-full type of people. With our wonderful custodian eager to help us out all morning, we realized we had the perfect opportunity to redesign our classroom spaces. Using a recent article from edSurge sent to us by our lower school head as our inspiration, items from the students' desks were placed in baskets, most of our desks were carted off to storage, and we searched the store rooms for surplus furniture.  The author of the article, Kayla Delzer, explains how she transformed her second grade classroom to be "more like a Starbucks" with flexible seating for the students. It is a wonderful article that addressed all of our concerns.

Ditch the Desks!

I now have eighteen students and five desks. The rest of the students sit on small rugs, at low, medium or high tables, or on a small bench. We drew names on Monday to decide who would pick their work area first for the week. However the students have organically moved around and swapped seats as needed. I do have five extra work areas, so the students have room to spread out and make alternative choices. This is totally off subject, but I have to take a second to brag on my incredible whiteboard wall in the above picture. The wall is painted with special whiteboard paint. The projector is an Epson BrightLink Interactive Projector. It turns any surface into an interactive whiteboard. If you school is looking to purchase interactive whiteboards, the Epson BrightLink is cheaper and my students would tell you it is "way cooler."

When it came time to actually teach on Monday afternoon, kids were spread out all over the place. It was a little chaotic. This was fine for independent or group learning, but I still occasionally need to have a little whole group instruction. The strange thing was that the kids were more engaged than ever during whole group instruction!

Ditch the Desks!

My co-teacher and I were afraid our classrooms were too small for this type of arrangement. When I look at pictures of other teachers' classrooms on blogs it always seems like their rooms are gigantic!  We realized after we ditched most of the desks that we had plenty of extra room. It is amazing how much room those thirteen extra desks took up. Each student has a basket filled with all of their individual books and supplies. I was thrilled to find the baskets at Dollar Tree for $1 each. I was wondering aloud where we would store these baskets and one of my students spoke up.  He explained that if we put the baskets under or beside their work area during class, and put the baskets on top of their work area at the end of the day, we didn't really need separate places to store the baskets on shelves. It made perfect sense! At the end of the day the students stack their chairs and place their basket on an open table or desk. We clean up our room in record time and it is tidier than ever.

Ditch the Desks!

We have only been in our redesigned classroom for three and a half days, but so far I am very pleased. The rowdy kids are loving it and seem to understand that it requires a little more self-control and responsibility on their part. It is so nice to have the extra open space, although I have had to ban the children from jumping from colored tile to colored tile and yelling, "Parkour!" Even I have limits on the amount of rowdiness I can endure.