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!