Tuesday, July 14, 2015

21st Century Classroom Design: A Look Back



I have been meaning to write this post for a while but we have found so many great blog link-ups and book studies going on this summer that I have not had a chance. Mollie and I did a complete overhaul on our classrooms last summer and got rid of desks! We wanted something completely different that would provide our kiddos with more choice and an environment that encouraged self-directed learning and collaboration. After doing TONS of research and TONS of scrounging (ugh and buying) to get just what we needed to put something awesome together, we finally put together what we felt was the perfect classroom design for us. I have to tell you, a year later, it was exactly that... a PERFECT classroom design for us!

Here are links to the two posts where we give you a sneak peak into our classrooms: Amy's Classroom and Mollie's Classroom.

I've started setting up my classroom for this coming year and to be honest I am changing VERY little. The classroom really worked for us last year and the feedback from the kids was positive. 21 out of 26 kids would choose a classroom design like they had this year over a traditional classroom design. For those that would prefer the traditional design, they said they missed having a desk to "keep all their stuff". I have to say the kids not having a messy desk was one of my favorite things about the design this year!

* Some of the reasons kids liked the new design were:

  • "You could interact with different people and you didn't have to be around the same people all the time." 
  • "You could choose cozy items and they made learning more comfy." 
  • "You have lots of choices." 
  • "I like being able to move a lot. It is hard to sit all day."
* Some things kids would change are:
  • The personal white boxes were not sturdy enough to make it a full year. They thought if they got one at the beginning of the year and then one after winter break, it would be better.
  • The kids did not like the times they had to sit in their home bases. (I'll talk about this more later in the post)
I felt like the kids expressed everything I hoped they would when reflecting on the year. They understood that this year was about strengthening their independence and their ability to think about their own learning. Think about how powerful it will be for these kiddos as middle schoolers, high schoolers and even COLLEGE age students to KNOW exactly how they learn best and to make educational decisions that are best for them. 

So what will I change? I did move my "Math Gear" (new pics to come!) to a different spot in the room. 

I am not done setting up my room but my thinking is that I want to get rid of any obstructions that make it difficult to see kiddos. I moved it to the back wall so that my kiddos were not behind the shelf  and difficult to see. Some of the issues I had with off task choices were behind this shelf so it made sense to move it. :-)

Another change I will make is purchasing two white boxes for each student. These boxes are made out of cardboard so I knew they might not last but I had to give them a shot because they were so cheap! I am still happy with the boxes as a whole but I do think replacing boxes in January will help. My kiddos were rough on stuff in general this year (boy-oh-boy! I lived with three brothers growing up and I never could have imagined how rough kids could be until this year! I love them anyway!!!) so I am going to go into next year prepared with two boxes per kid but who knows! Here are the boxes I buy from IKEA (CAN YOU BELIEVE THE PRICE!?!?!) $1.99 for 5!


Mollie and I had written a grant to purchase the furniture we felt necessary for this design. Unfortunately, we did not receive the grant (they had decided to no longer purchase furniture with the grant money) but we were able to "frankenstein" a classroom that was close to our original design. The one thing that was missing was a place for kids to stand and work. We committed to keeping our countertop cleared off so kids could stand and work there if they wanted however, most kids did not choose that. I don't know if it was because their backs would have been to the rest of the room or if it just felt strange standing at the counter but I am still interested in a space for kids to stand when they are working. I came across these tables at IKEA for $21.99 and I think I am going to buy one to see how it holds up and if there are kiddos who would prefer to stand. I'll keep you posted!


I will not be changing the idea of "Home Base" for my kiddos. I know they said they didn't like sitting in their home base because they liked making their own choices but for me it just meant that home base was doing its job. My kiddos only had to sit in their home base when there was a guest teacher OR if as a class they were struggling to make good decisions. I did not need to utilize this natural consequence very often but when I did it obviously had the impact I had hoped for. I would love to consider ways to have the kids earn not sitting in home bases when the guest teacher is there but I am worried about overwhelming the guest teacher (can you even imagine walking into a classroom with zero desks and learning that the kids just sit wherever they want!!!). This procedure also helped my principal to feel more comfortable with the new design considering when things are going well with a guest teacher, she is the one called in to support.

I have said more than once that redesigning our classrooms was the best thing that I did in my 15 years of teaching and I still stand by that. I can't see myself EVER going back to a more traditional design. Next up... technology!!

We have received great feedback from people who are interested in giving this type of design a try. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment here or email us! We are so passionate about this, we would LOVE to talk!



45 comments:

  1. Hi! I am interested in trying this in my classroom this year. I am a kindergarten teacher in a room filled with desks. Yes, desks in Kindergarten! I am not a fan! I have a feeling I might get some push back from my administration. Would you be willing to share some of your research with me?

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    1. Hi there!

      I would be happy to share! I have a grant proposal that we included a lot of information in. I will send it your way as soon as I get up to my school computer (should be on Tuesday). One thing that we did is look at businesses (especially those in our area) to show that they are moving in this direction as well. Our administrator was extremely supportive, she simply wanted to make sure we had thought through the transitions that we were going to need to make sure things move smoothly.

      Could you send us a quick email so we can reply with the grant proposal? I hope you will find it helpful!

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    2. Hello,

      I have been talking with my principal with this set up. Can you send me information as well? Mcunningham@mcpss.com

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  2. Hello! I'm very interested in giving this a try in my classroom. I'd love more information on this to present to my administrator. If possible can you email me some of the research behind this?! Lilslugbug@yahoo.com

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  3. Hi! I've been looking into doing this and my principal was on board with the idea. I do have a few questions on how you implemented this at the beginning of the year? Was it pure craziness? How did you start the first day of school doing this? Also, how did your parent's react to this form of seating? Thank you!

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    1. Hi Charity!

      To be honest, we were prepared for pure craziness and we were pleasantly surprised that the kids adapted fairly quickly! We were terrified for the first day, especially when the kiddos were coming in all at different times and they were not quite sure where to go (since they didn't have their typical "Find your desk and do the activity" type direction). We decided to have directions on the whiteboard each morning so on that first morning we greeted kids at the door and asked them to read the morning message. On the message we directed kids to get a little activity (get to know you type of activity) and to find a space in the room where they would be comfortable. The kids knew that our classroom was a little different because we have our Open House before school starts and Mollie and I decided to include a little information about our new classroom design in our welcome letter (for those students and families who did not make it to the Open House). Once everyone had arrived, we called all of our students to the gathering area and we got started right away with a conversation about our classroom. We present it to our kiddos in a way that I feel encourages them to take it very seriously. I explain that I have very high expectations for my students and although that means that my students work very hard and utilize every minute to grow their brain power, it also means that I think my students are able to handle a lot of responsibility. I explain that not everyone can handle a classroom like this but that I have all the confidence in the world that they are able to handle it. It is amazing how tall they start to sit as they listen to my explanation of the classroom design. They love that they are trusted to make these types of decisions. I love the pride they feel!

      We have had excellent reactions from parents. A couple were a little nervous when they first walked in during Open House but once they heard why we made the change and what we hoped to accomplish by this set up, they were excited for their child. Several parents explained that their work places were making a transition or had already transitioned to similar concepts in their office design. So cool to hear!

      I hope this helps! Please feel free to contact us any time! Best of luck with your big transition!

      Amy & Mollie

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  4. I think that this is great! I have a couple of questions. Were you able to get the round table from within your school or did you have to buy it? If you bought it, do you have any suggestions of places to look for round tables?

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    1. Hi Teaching in Texas!

      We originally wrote a grant requesting a variety of furniture (including the round tables) from a company called K-Log. Unfortunately, we did not get the grant (they decided to no longer fun furniture) so we did find the round tables in our district. Our plan B was to start looking at colleges in the area. I was surprised to find out that most Universities have a sale once a month or so where they sell furniture at VERY reasonable prices. If you go online you can search the sales to find those in your area.

      Best of luck rounding up your furniture! The best part of this classroom design is that variety is key so you don't need to round up too many of each type of table! That can make it a little easier. :)

      Take care!
      Amy & Mollie

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  5. I am also very excited to try this in my classroom of 5th graders! What is the dimension of your classroom? I am thinking that my room does not look as large as yours...which could be a challenge. Could I also have a copy of the research you presented to your administration? Thanks so much for the inspiration!

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    1. Oops!! My e-mail is jodi1167@live.com :)

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    2. Hi Jodi!

      The dimensions of my classroom are approximately 30 x 30. When we first got started we were worried about having enough space too. It is amazing what it does to the size of your room to get rid of 27 desks (at least that is how many we had when we emptied the room). The first time my principal walked in she was shocked that we had enough traditional seats (meaning not including the couch or cozy chairs) for every kid to have an assigned seat (their home base). I recommend taking everything out of your room and starting with your gathering area. I'll send the grant proposal to you! :)

      Amy & Mollie

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  6. I really like this idea. My wheels are turning right now. Would you be willing to send me your grant proposal with the research that you have? Joshfunn@att.net

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    1. Hi there!

      We sent you the proposal and hope that it is helpful! Thank you so much for spending some time on our blog!

      Amy & Mollie

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  7. I've been loving this for a little while now and definitely want to propose this to my administrators; I've been doing some research on my own, but could you send me some of the research you have as well? TIA! :) crossing my fingers!
    hadlyjo@hotmail.com

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  8. Hi, I would love to get the research information as well. This classroom is such a dream and this is exactly how I would like my classroom to look/run! laurenroma@gmail.com

    Thanks so much!

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  9. Good Afternoon, Mollie and Amy...
    WOW! Your classroom is so engaging and inspiring. I would greatly appreciate the research information to assist me in my quest to create a similar learning environment for my students. My email is: pesaul@mpsaz.org.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Paula

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    1. Hi Paula!

      Just sent you the information! Best of luck!

      Amy & Mollie

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  10. You have inspired us! My teaching partner thought I was nuts until she found your website! We are tailoring our classroom after yours. We also will have standing tables as well as round, rectangle, double desks and individual desks. We have questions about the nitty gritty. What do students keep in their book boxes? Folders? Supplies? What do they do about scissors and colored pencils? We have always had a shared student supply area, but have let kids keep erasers, colored pencils, scissors, a glue stick, and a hand held pencil sharpener in their pencil box in their desks. How do you manage that? How do students get math books or other materials they need efficiently if the whole group needs to go get them at the same time? Thanks for sharing your classroom and ideas!

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    1. Hi Jen!

      I am so excited for you and your teaching partner! Mollie and I were lucky because we are both a little crazy (hence the name) so we just dove right in! Our students keep their Word Study notebooks and Thinking Journals in their white boxes. For the most part students use all shared supplies (which was tough for some of them) but if they have mechanical pencils or special scissors they want to keep for themselves, they are able to fit a pencil bag in their white box. We did not allow them to keep markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. in their box because it takes up too much room and it tends to break the boxes. I am not sure if it is too late (as far as when you send our your supply lists) but we put an asterisk by anything that was going to be shared. That way parents did spend the big bucks on expensive items. In addition to their white boxes, there are tubs around the room. One tub holds on to math materials (workbook and mathematician's journal). If you look at the post under "Our Classrooms" you can find them in the pic next to the white boxes. We set it up so that the boxes and bins are in different areas of the room so that when the kiddos go to get their things, they are spread out and not on top of each other. I have a total of four shelves around the room with the white boxes and the blue bins - that puts about 6 kids going to each shelf. In addition to their white boxes, we have two separate binders. One binder is their Literacy Binder where we house all of their Guided Reading and Writing Workshop materials (we use 1.5 inch binders for that). Then kids also have a "Keepin' it All Together" binder which has pocket folders for Math, Science, Social Studies and a to-do. This is where kids keep loose papers that we might not have finished or need to have for future lessons. Those are also spread around the room. It may seem like a lot but it really worked. Since our Guided Reading and Writing Workshop are back-to-back, kids got out their binders and kept them for two subjects. That cut down on the transitions. When they came in from recess each day we had our Information Hour (which alternates between Science and Social Studies) so kids just grabbed their Keepin' it All Together binder on their way in.

      Another trick is competing against ourselves every day when we transition. I would time the kids and we would see if we could beat our time. Once we got to a point where we were really efficient, I would explain that we could use the time we saved for something fun (like brain breaks, GoNoodle, etc.). This really motivated them!

      I hope this helps! Please don't hesitate to ask questions along the way! We love to hear from you all! Have fun and best of luck!

      Amy & Mollie

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  11. Hi! I've been toying with the idea since doing a Daily 5 book study last year. After the book study, I kept with the traditional desks but noticed how my students always chose the floor, blue reading chairs, or standing at the counter during rotations. I'd really like to try it this upcoming school year. Could you also send me the research? Thank you! Minhlann at Gmail dot Com

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  12. One more question--did you find that students tended to go to one work area more than another? Did other students complain about that? "But he always sits there and I never get to." How did students "share" the popular spaces?

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    1. I did have kiddos who were creatures of habit and typically sat in one or two spots each day but for the most part it was pretty fluid. Keeping the conversation open about students choosing spots where they can be successful was important because not everyone can be successful in every space (for example, you would think the couch in my room would have been something to argue over but not every kid could be successful there and they knew it). I think if you did have kids who were constantly sitting in a spot where other kids wanted to sit, I think just having a conversation would be beneficial. One other thing that I forgot to mention before, at the beginning of the year I did have a system where I dismissed students in groups to find a spot to work. This helped to get kids used to the process and it helped with kids running to a spot that they want. What we did is used the kids numbers (everyone has a number in our room for everything anyway) and we started with the first transition time of the day having students #1-5 find a spot, then #6-10, and so on. The next time we transitioned we started with #6-10 finding a spot, then #11-15, and so on. That way each group of kids got to be first to find a spot. We did this for the first couple of weeks of school. By the time we allowed kids to all just go at once, they did not run to a spot. the novelty was kind of gone and the transition was pretty smooth. I hope this helps!

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    2. Thanks for both of your speedy replies! Super helpful! I will let you know how it goes. I also picked up Making Thinking Visible. Great ideas--I am excited to work in some of the routines this coming school year!

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  13. I am in love with this idea! Would you please email me the grant proposal as well? My email is katilynboehm@gmail.com. Thanks!

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  14. I have decided to do this with my classroom this year! I am very anxious to try this. Will you please send me your grant research that you put together. I have done my own research but would love additional information. I am also curious how you run your classroom management? Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions! My email is mfurstenau@gretnadragons.org

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  15. I love this idea! I have a smaller classroom and the desk take up SO much space. I would love to see your grant and research information to help my principal understand. :) My email is mary_young2@dpsk12.org

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  16. I am super excited to be transitioning from first to fourth grade, and I've been following your classroom design for a few months in preparation. Would you be willing to send me your research findings? I have been receiving strange looks from the custodial staff since I started asking for all these random pieces of furniture, and I expect the parents to have a similar reaction. I would like to be prepared for any questions or concerns they may have. Thanks! Email: dkroskie@gmail.com

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  17. I am really looking forward to getting into my classroom this year and trying out this new design. I was wondering if I could get your research so I can explain it to my parents at open house next week. I really love this design and I just know it will be amazing. Thank you!
    Email: rachel.michelle.larsen@gmail.com

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  18. I am so inspired by both of your classrooms! I have started to try and move beyond the traditional "desk for each student" idea, but I am getting some very skeptical remarks from colleagues. Would you be able to share with me where you got your grant research from? I am really hoping to change their minds and convince them that I've not completely lost my mind. Thank you so much!
    taylorstevenson91@gmail.com

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  19. I'd love to see the research and grant proposal if you're still willing to share!
    Katiekuiper1@gmail.com
    Thank you!

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  20. Good afternoon 2 nutty teachers,

    My name is Yanini Caballero and I am currently teaching First Grade Dual Language at Timber Trails in Hoffman Estates, IL. My teaching partner and I are very much interested in your 21st century classroom set up.

    My teaching partner and I would love to get our feet wet if possible during the rest of this current school year and/or the beginning of the upcoming 2016-17 school year with this new classroom arrangement. We spoke briefly to our principal about this and she is a go! We are so excited!

    I wanted to ask if you could kindly share any insights as to getting this arrangement started and introduced to students. I've read your blog posts (which, by the way, are great and very informative) and have seen that you've shared lots of information with other teachers whom have expressed a similar interest. Would it be possible for you to email and share with me the following information:
    grant proposal and research that supports this classroom arrangement style
    letters to parents explaining arrangements
    how to successfully introduce this new setting to students
    how you work transitions with students throughout the day
    do's and don'ts for successful implementation....please shine your experience on me
    My email is: yaninicaballero@u-46.org and/or yanini1981@yahoo.com

    Thank you in advance!

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  21. Good afternoon 2 nutty teachers,

    My name is Yanini Caballero and I am currently teaching First Grade Dual Language at Timber Trails in Hoffman Estates, IL. My teaching partner and I are very much interested in your 21st century classroom set up.

    My teaching partner and I would love to get our feet wet if possible during the rest of this current school year and/or the beginning of the upcoming 2016-17 school year with this new classroom arrangement. We spoke briefly to our principal about this and she is a go! We are so excited!

    I wanted to ask if you could kindly share any insights as to getting this arrangement started and introduced to students. I've read your blog posts (which, by the way, are great and very informative) and have seen that you've shared lots of information with other teachers whom have expressed a similar interest. Would it be possible for you to email and share with me the following information:
    grant proposal and research that supports this classroom arrangement style
    letters to parents explaining arrangements
    how to successfully introduce this new setting to students
    how you work transitions with students throughout the day
    do's and don'ts for successful implementation....please shine your experience on me
    My email is: yaninicaballero@u-46.org and/or yanini1981@yahoo.com

    Thank you in advance!

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  22. Hello! I tried to post another comment, but I had a little trouble on my phone and don't see it here, so hopefully this is not a duplicate. This whole concept is mind blowing to me! This is the first that I have heard of it and I think that it would be such a great fit for my fifth grade classroom. Is there any way that you could send me your research and grant application? My principal is innovative but I know that he would appreciate any data that I could give him. Thanks so much for the inspiration! My email is marendinsmore@yahoo.com

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  23. Thank you so much for sharing your research and your classroom photos! I have been eager to try a non traditional classroom setup. Next year I will be teaching 1st grade... I am a bit nervous about allowing so much freedom to 6 year olds. Have you seen this done successfully in primary grades? How do you teach whole group instruction? Do students sit on a carpet? I have an interactive white board in my room and I use that to teach whole group or model activities before independent work. Thank you in advance for your feedback! I would love to read more about your research as well. My email is jennifercrucetti@gmail.com

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  24. I love your classroom set up! How do you choose students' home bases? Do their home bases ever change? Also, could you send me your research and grant proposal? stacy.fisher615@Gmail.com. Thanks!

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  25. I would do appreciate a copy of your research as well. I am planning for next year and I hope to create those independent learners ad well! Thank you so much for sharing! Llamorris@yahoo.com

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  26. I can't wait to try this with my fifth graders next year! Would you mind sharing your research/grant with me? I would love to show it to my practicum teachers!
    Thank you!
    krysimulf@gmail.com

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  27. This is so exciting! I teach 3rd grade and I'd love to have a copy of your research and grant info if possible. Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring. My email is lhart@wwayne.k12.in.us. Thank you!!

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  28. Hello,

    I am an enrichment teacher and would love to take a look at your grant proposal! This looks amazing and just the direction I am looking to go. My email is mviteri2201@gmail.com. Thank you for sharing! !!

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  29. Hello,

    I am an enrichment teacher and would love to take a look at your grant proposal! This looks amazing and just the direction I am looking to go. My email is mviteri2201@gmail.com. Thank you for sharing! !!

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  30. I worked up the courage to try this out after spring break and my students LOVED it! Now, I am wanting to do a grant to get more items for my classroom as well as for some other teachers who saw what I was doing and want to join in. Would you be willing to share your grant proposal/research with me? lobrycki11@gmail.com Thanks for all your great ideas on here - it is so motivational!

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  31. I would also love the research behind this -- I teach at a high poverty school and know that providing choice is especially empowering. Thanks for the inspiration!!! Amyjonlavin@gmail.com

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  32. Could you please send me a copy of the grant proposal too? We're looking into making this change in our school.

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