20 July 2013

I want workbenches in my classroom.

Make Cycle 5 (reflection)

The first assignment I remember from my 'teacher training' was to make a map of my ideal elementary classroom. It was based on what I called 'zones'. There was a quiet reading zone equipped with beanbags, a gallery zone with easels dedicated to exhibiting artwork, and a vegetable garden under the windows. My proudest feature, however, was the workbenches. When I presented my map to the class, I spoke about how it was fine for students to have desks, but I wanted another area without chairs, just large, tall tables around which they could collaborate and build.

I wanted workbenches.

I had a few years experience teaching musical keyboard classes. I had wild ideas of 'open school' and giant learning spaces in which the boundaries between teacher and student, classroom and community, were smeared beyond recognition.

All I knew was that children learn best when they are self-directed and encouraged to collaborate.


Then, I became a teacher.

My first classroom in a start up charter school was far too small to squeeze anything but the students' desks into. My own desk was just a waist-high bookshelf with a computer keyboard and monitor on top. Slowly, sadly, my dream to have a creative workspace for students became hazy and distant. Sure, they sculpted and painted at their desks. We arranged them in rectangles for collaboration. A few even took me up on the offer not to use a chair. My dream, to see my class on their feet learning with sweaty elbows and unrestricted creative potential, slowly drifted away.

Until the Making Learning Connected MOOC.

Now I'm considering a map for my classroom for the next school year. Considering? No. Conspiring is a better word. One idea, inspired by Sam Sherratt of Time Space Education, was to have an individual studio for each student arrayed around the classroom and all of their desks clustered in the center for meetings and collaboration. They would be free to arrange, decorate, and hack their studios as they like. They will undertake our school's first PYP Exhibition and need an open creative space. I want to expand the Independent Inquiry project by providing more time to collaborate in class. Sam's concept of classroom as studio is exactly what we need.

Will I be able to get workbenches? Doubtful this year, but if I leave the possibility open for them to bring their own preferred style of desk, it may be even better. Has anyone heard of BYOD? Bring Your Own Desk? Build Your Own Desk?

I'm very grateful to the  Making Learning Connected Community for helping to reawaken my creativity toward learning and teaching. I feel like a smartass student teacher again with huge ideas, inspired.

Someday, I will have workbenches.