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20 Jul 2011
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Spaces and Places: Part 2: Setting up the Instructional Space

Classroom Architect Tool Layout @ 4Teachers.org

Inspired after a great meeting of the minds, I brought the spaces & places concept to a middle school math curriculum planning session I had been invited to at one of my campuses, Ed White Middle School. The idea itself was originally intended to create assisted and unassisted learning zones and literacy work stations that support student learning and independence in the preschool and elementary classroom.

While the concept was not intended for the secondary classroom, our middle schol math teachers teach in 90 minute blocks which lend themselves to stations, mini-activities, and learning centers. With the big push to integrate technology and utilize existing campus resources (e.g. iPads, iPods, computers with interactive sites, document cameras to record student work, etc…) to foster engagement and achievement, the idea of creating a student-centered secondary classroom is not so far-fetched. I realized that not every teacher would feel comfortable with removing his/her teacher desk from the classroom and allowing someone to have creative control over the initial setup. Nevertheless, a risk-taker and change agent, I tossed the idea out there and surprisingly was met with eagerness and willingness from one teacher in particular, Ms. Scalia. I jumped on the opportunity and we scheduled a date to work on the room.

Since the rooms had been cleaned over the summer and most teachers had to pack up and move out, the classrooms were pretty much a blank canvas. Working with an older building, technology truly has to be the driving force in creating the space. I noticed we had 5 internet drops on one wall (not including two drops on the teacher raceway) and two on the opposite wall. Before moving furniture, we decided to take inventory of the current pieces we had and the locations of drops and outlets. From there, we sketched a crude blueprint and began assigning each piece a home.

We moved a table to the front right of the room to create a Teaching Station which would house an Avermedia document camera and laptop dock with the intention that it would be accessible for the teacher during direct teach time and the students during guided practice or reteach. We then opted to use a teacher’s desk as a computer station on the end of the far right wall. The drawers to the desk could easily be used for daily supplies, manipulatives, and activities for the day or computer supplies like headsets and wipes. Another table was moved between the original table and the teacher’s desk (now a student computer station) and created a place for two student computers. As we were running short on tables, we left a place closer to the front open to house another two computers.

Scalia had two filing cabinets available. Not feeling too confident in moving them ourselves and not wanting to scrape up the freshly waxed floor, we asked a custodian to help us move them on either side of the student computer station. This provided a divided workspace as well as a place to have task cards & activity menus, or a Magnetic Center on the front and sides of each.

From there we moved the four mobile student tables in the center of the room and added 8 student desks on each side (2 rows of 4). This arrangement provides enough seating for 24 students (not including the newly created computer work stations) and gave us an opportunity to remove some of the broken and graffiti’d desks from the classroom to give it a more uniform and fresh look. Scalia already had 6 stools that could be used as seating for the student tables and a few chairs for the computer stations so we placed those as well. Removing the 2 teacher desks (one was an inclusion teacher’s) not only freed up at least 20-30 square feet of usable instructional space, it changed the focus of the room to a more student-focused environment.

Skeleton Classroom

All in all, the whole process took about an hour and a half. Before we left, we made a list of the other items we would like to add to the room: 5 more desktop computers, 2 more student tables (and perhaps a kidney-shaped one to work with small groups under the dry-erase board in the Proof Place, and a few more stools and chairs. Ideally, she would like to have all student desks removed in favor of the mobile tables but we are still in the process of hunting these pieces down. We even discussed how she could use one of her cabinets to house teacher supplies, trays to turn in work, and other classroom trappings that students would have access to on a daily basis but would typically be cluttering a table top. Using the Classroom Architect Tool layout, I compiled the existing pieces and layout with the additional requested items to show what the finished classroom layout will look like.

I am looking forward to returning and seeing how she has organized the student cabinet, created interactive bulletin boards, and added her own personal charm and warmth to the space. Perhaps she will even create a Scalia Store (or Shop) and a Practice Plaza. While Scalia’s classroom was once a theater room and boasts a 6 inch raised stage platform (purple square rug) with a SMARTboard (green rectangle) mounted where the curtains might have been, I am confident that she will take a more “guide on the side” role rather than a “sage on the stage”.

Check out some of these sites for further info on learning stations for secondary students: Using Learning Centers in High School (also some great MS info), Launching Learning Centers in the Middle Grades, Learning Centers in the Middle School Classroom (loved the idea of reciprocal teaching), TeacherVision Learning Centers (highlights different types of centers: enrichment, skill, interest and exploratory, and how to set up the parts of a learning center), and Problem Solving Learning Centers in Mathematics (consider using the computer stations to create a multi-step cartoon to solve an algebraic equation).

Also see Part 1: Removing the Instructional Clutter


06 Jul 2011
Comments: 0

Spaces and Places: Part 1: Removing the Instructional Clutter

In an effort to reclaim my garage and remove the instructional clutter, I began clearing out old teaching materials. I haven’t been a classroom teacher in over four years, but still held on to the trappings of one. While many materials are timeless (e.g. counters, unifix cubes, fraction tiles, rulers, pencil boxes, & even project-based books or lessons), others needed to be kicked to the curb (e.g. transparencies, TAKS manipulatives and workbooks, outdated classroom handouts and textbooks, etc…). The whole process took me a couple of hours but was well worth it. I was able to clean out two whole bookshelves and an entire storage cabinet.

Why is this relevant or useful?

Purging Clutter: What Made the Cut

  • Beyond the idea of reclaiming space, I wanted to purge for a cause. My first item of business was to gleen new and nearly new items that could be donated to Help A Teacher Out program and local preschools. I was surprised with what I came across: dictionaries, binders, file folders, index cards, pencil boxes, rulers, protractors, foam letters, and classroom posters (“Gallon Man”, you will be missed). With budget cuts and strains to education, I wanted to do my part to help local teachers… which ultimately benefits the work that they do with and for our children. (I had also planned on purchasing other items on their “back to school” shopping list).
  • The second reason for my madness was to model the process of “removing instructional clutter” to prepare for learning. My rule of thumb was pretty simple, if the materials were outdated or the task could be better accomplished with a piece of technology (mainly the iPad & iPod… or other tool you have access to in your classroom), then I trashed the manipulatives, flash cards, workbooks, etc… I won’t lie, parting with numbered baggies filled with laminated TAKS chart activities and equation mats was a little painful. But it was more in knowing how many man hours it took to create the activities, xerox them, laminate them, painstakingly cut them out, and sort/package/label them then it was in the concern that they may actually be used again or that I would miss them. I did come across a few I wasn’t willing to entirely part with, so I opted to keep 5-10 sets versus the complete set of 30. Odds are if I ever did use them again it would be for remediation with a small group or in a station and not for whole class instruction. All in all, I had 2 garbage bags full of trash and a trunk full of instructional donations.

What do I keep?

Many teachers have packed up their classrooms for the summer and some are even moving to a different room/space or campus. Before you unpack the clutter and restrict the space you have to teach and your students have to learn, consider removing the instructional clutter as you unpack. (In my case, I wasn’t taking up instructional space in my classroom by storing the outdated clutter, but simply garage space. Regardless, in doing so I was able to clear space for a more productive environment… a work bench area for my husband.)

What will you do with what you unpack and how will you make the best use of the space that you have?

Stay tuned for Spaces & Places: Part 2 where I will post my journey with a few willing teachers from planning their space to arranging their room for optimized learning (including planning for technology and creating stations and centers at the secondary level).


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