Wednesday, 30 December 2009

New year - new classrooms

This picture by Ben+Sam is from the wonderful pool of Great quotes about learning and Change on Flickr. It is a good reminder of the need to move forward from the old teacher-centred classroom into new learning environments that put the learners in the centre.

During the last couple of weeks of school before our Christmas break, I was part of a team of colleagues who were given the task of redesigning some of our classrooms, thanks to some surplus in the budget. Rather a challenge to be tackled in such a short time, but luckily we had preliminary plans from last spring that we could now put to use.

During the summer, the old language lab had been torn down (read the reasons in an earlier blog post) and turned into a new music class, which left the old music class empty. We had planned to turn that room into a small-group working space with some new technological solutions, too, but the funding had been missing until now.

We had three guiding principles for our plans:
1. pedagogical principles - our choices should support student-centred learning
2. downsizing - to make space for anything new in already too cramped classrooms, a lot of the old stuff would have to go
3. flexibility - the desks and chairs should be easy to move around and regroup into different formations

This is what the room looks like now. A typical desks-in-rows arrangement with the teacher, blackboard, screen etc. in front. There was also a huge TV and VCR contraption in the right-hand corner, but as you can see, the TV has already been dismantled and is on the floor waiting to be taken away, along with its metal shelving and the screen railings plus the OHP, (first part of the downsizing).

All the furniture will also be replaced by something like this:

There will be triangular desks that can be arranged either individually, in round groups of five as here, or in other formations depending on the needs of the lesson. The teacher's desk has been moved to the other end, even though the old blackboard will still stay in place. An IWB will be installed on one of the other walls, and the teacher will also have a spot table with a high bar chair- ideal to move around and use the new Airliner wireless slate on. Student laptops with some clever wiring from the ceiling will have to wait till a later date.

A small, 12-seat classroom will also get a make-over. Especially the teacher's end of the room has been a real nightmare to work in, although students haven't had much more room to move around either.

The whole room will be emptied and turned into a negotiation style space, ideal for small staff meetings, but also teaching small groups in a more adult setting, which suits our 16-19-year-old students quite well. Hopefully this will even help the students behave in a more mature way. The long oval table is put together of separate units that can also be arranged separately in a more traditional way.
We have definitely come to a point where 'a generation change' will have to take place as far as classroom technology is concerned. When computers and IWBs come in, last century equipment will become obsolete and will have to go. Or so you would think! We have already heard the first bouts of strong opposition from colleagues whose comfort zones have been shattered by these plans. I need to add that, in our school, hardly any teacher has the luxury of a classroom of their own, but we all go round the school teaching in different rooms, so classrooms will have to serve multiple purposes. Apparently, the upset colleagues' subjects are impossible to teach if students don't sit in rows of desks. In addition, they object to giving up their OHP transparencies, since learning to use a laptop and data projector or an IWB will take too much time and be too difficult. And lastly, how will they ever be able to teach that one course a year where they always show the same ONE clip on the VCR? Where their logic fails, is that it's all about TEACHERS and TEACHING!

Of course, ultimately it's not about classroom design or technology, but it is to be hoped that the new environment might open up some new perspectives. It's good for teachers to be forced to stop, think and rethink some old routines every now and then. If only we had had more time, we would have involved our students in the planning, but unfortunately school budgeting works in mysterious ways... I will post some more photos once the rooms have been completed. Let's see how many colleagues will be fighting for the chance to work in these rooms!

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