Tag Archive | Classroom Design

Education is Today’s Slavery?

I am watching the 70’s series, Roots, for the first time.  We just received the first disc of the series in the mail and finished watching it.  I am saddened by the history of our country and that of Africa.  How savagely we disregarded the life of someone else; their value as a human being.  And while watching, this one particular part struck me as eerily similar to what is happening in our education world.

Do you notice how the captain, Ed Asner, does not really believe in slavery?  And yet he, literally, turns his back on it?  Not wanting to see what his silence is doing to the kidnapped Africans?  How is that any different to what happens in schools across the country with mandates for more testing, more kill and drill, and more results?  Yet so many of us ‘in the trenches’ just go along with it.  Not saying anything.  Not doing anything about it.  We act like Ed Asner when he tells Slater to clean up that so that these kidnapped folk are treated with some humanity.   We throw in a fun activity on the sly.  Or we close our door so no one knows we are not really teaching to the test.

Do you notice how Slater, the ‘slave handler’, just what these kidnapped Africans need.  A statement he keeps repeating in a braggadocios manner.  Humanely, he so does not.  Sound familiar?  Someone who hasn’t been inside a classroom for who knows how long (if ever) telling you exactly what you need to do for your kiddos to succeed.  And success in their mind is raising test scores; prove they are learning on a standardized test.  And all those suggestions do is bore the kiddos to death creating a myriad of problems.

Then there are the kidnapped Africans, soon to be slaves.  Once on deck Kunta-Kente can’t see land.  The men scream when water is thrown on them and their open wounds.  The women cry out when they see the men in a weakened, groveling state.  Just like our students do when they enter the doors and see yet another worksheet.  Have to take yet another test.  Have to sit and listen to yet another lecture.  They feel as if there isn’t any hope.  Wondering if they will ever engage in real learning.  The learning they used to engage in as infants and toddlers.  A friend of mine engages her five-year-old son in authentic experiments and field notes.  I worry whether he will have the same opportunities as he progresses in school.

How about when Slater starts screaming at the slaves to dance and jump?  “Get them up!” He yells.  The captured dance.  With vengeance in their eyes and words.  That’s what so many of us are told every day, “Get those scores up!  Make them do their best!”  And what do our students do?  They revolt.  They act out.  They wander around the room.  They argue with each other.  They refuse to complete tasks.  One of my previous students did just that on a Writing Prompt.  He wrote, but demanded to know what the point of it was, and stating that it makes him hate writing because he is told what to write about and that it has no impact on his future.  May sound dramatic, but this is from a nine-year-old.

If you are someone who is not in a situation like this, then you are fortunate.  You are fortunate to have autonomy in what you teach.  You are fortunate to know you can firmly stand up for your beliefs.  Sadly, this is becoming a reality for more an more.  Creativity not allowed, unless it is withing a specific set of criteria (which then makes in not creativity).  Individuality wiped out replaced with teacher clones.  Thousands, millions, of children lost in what is deemed to be learning today.

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Re-Thinking Classroom Design

 So…my hopes to create my classroom one of these two ways have been dashed.

 Do you see that computer table in the bottom left corner?  Well the thing is a monstrosity that I sadly can not get rid of, and truly puts a crimp in my decorative style.  Thankfully, two of my friends went in with me and another friend was already there to help me.  I have to say it was really hard for me to give up this idea, but once I did…its grown on me a bit.

I still have yet to figure out what I’m going to do with that bookshelf in the upper left corner.  Right now its empty.  It used to hold the audio books, but since purchasing new baskets at the dollar store for my classroom, I suddenly have a lot more space!  These baskets hold a lot more books and I’m thankful for it.  Of course, I do have to figure out where I’m going to put my math materials.  Maybe that shelf is a good place for them.  And I have science and social studies materials that are being housed in the janitor’s closet that can now go in the cabinets below the biographies.  This will make things so much easier for me when it comes time to set up hands on activities!

One of the things that I love since I’ve been able to utilize space better in my classroom is that I now have more spots for my students to work.  In other words there is plenty of floor space for my layers and spreaders to go.  I am contemplating buying a couple more bean bag chairs for them to do this.  Once I’ve got it all done, I will steal (borrow) Justin Stortz’s idea of doing a video tour of the classroom so you and my students can see how it is decorated.

Thinking About Classroom Design

It’s that time of year where we are thinking about our classrooms and incoming students.  It can be exciting to design our classroom arrangement.  For me, I try to make my classroom homey and attempt to use Feng Shui in the design.  It may sound silly, but incorporating lamps, curtains, and throw rugs does add an element of comfort.  Not to mention that there is something to be said about certain parts of the room fostering particular attitudes. The friendship section of the room always seems to be the chattiest!
I worked with a colleague thinking about the design and we’d contemplated bringing in more chairs and comfortable furniture as well as updating the curtains.  Whether or not we follow through on that remains to be seen, but in the meantime came up with a design that utilizes the current furniture in the classroom.  As we were working, it occurred to me that we were recycling the same arrangements that we’ve used over the last six years.  I stretched myself to think of something else.
As luck would have it, we were at the vet and I was zoning out (as I tend to do) and I visualized a couple of different variations.  Upon getting home I began to play around and settled on the following two.  They are fairly similar, but visually one looks like an emoticon and the other like a clown face (to me anyways).  Still not able to decide which to use, I pulled together a twtpoll and posted it to Twitter and Facebook to get some outside help to make this difficult decision.
I received a few questions from friends and cyber colleagues, but I found one particularly difficult to answer in 140 characters.   I was asked why I did not have the rug in front of the SMARTBoard to foster collaboration.  I can explain here, but you may want to prepare yourself to be shocked.
In designing my classroom this year I had to reflect on what I value for my students as an educator.  I value the four C’s of 21st Century Skills: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Computers (I like to say there are five C’s that include communication).  These are in no particular order of preference, but for me … the most important C is Collaboration.  Collaboration is key to making the others work fluidly.  The foundation of collaboration are the skills necessary to interact socially.  It is through social interaction that academic growth (the other C’s) occurs.  
Looking at these room designs it is evident that the focus is on collaboration.  The rug is in a place that is open for us to gather, without distractions.  I have tables in my room and they alone foster collaboration, but in looking at the photos you can see that they are grouped in such a way that demonstrates that collaboration is important.  As fantastic as Interactive White Boards can be, they just don’t foster collaboration.  If anything, they breed a regression of the self.  Only one person at a time can interact with the board.  Unless of course you have clickers, but then again that is still a solitary exercise.  I understand that it’s all in how you use it and you can make anything collaborative, but it’s just not what they were designed for.  Anyone walking into this classroom will see that collaboration is key to our learning.

Buh-Bye

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xaseh2
Helen Hunt on SNL (1994) – BBye by fraggleclaudi

If you are a Saturday Night Live fan from the nineties you probably recall this Helen Hunt/ David Spade skit. This is exactly how I felt as I gathered up all of my math and literacy games. The games that certainly looked pretty in baskets around my classroom. That is until theY began to collect dust. I am happy to have them find some usefulness in someone else’s classroom because they have ceased to do so in mine. So… Race Around the Clock, Multiplication Mountsin, Round and Round Addends…Buh-Bye.

Purge, Baby, Purge

Believe it, or not, I am a simple girl.  However, yesterday I was standing in the corner of my classroom and I began to cringe.  I’m looking around and noticing all of the stuff.  Stuff that I just don’t use.  Yes, every year I toss out broken or torn items, but then I have all of these other things that I just have hanging around that none of us in the classroom use.  And couldn’t that space be used better?
Case in point is my math center.  I have baskets upon baskets of these games (this whole bookshelf and the cabinet across from it are filled with them).  I cart them out when we are exploring multiplication, money, fractions, etc.  In past years I have pulled games and thrown them into baskets, grouped my students by level, and had them choose a game to play to practice whatever skills we were currently working on.  Let me just say that this really hasn’t gotten my anywhere these last few years as far as expanding their mathematical understanding.  So, in December I stopped using these games and turned to my blog and manipulatives instead.  I am much more happy with the learning and dialogue occurring this way. 

This is not the only place I am guilty of this.  Here is my word study center.  Not only do I have four drawers filled with items I also have a basket on top filled with games.  What for?  Interestingly enough, each year I set this little area up, and promise that I will use it better.  This year I still did not.  It’s time it goes.  We just don’t use it!  I even have centers for science, reading, and writing.  All of this wasted space. 
Sigh.  How could a simple girl like myself get sucked into setting up centers that have a bunch of unnecessary stuff?  I know how, but that’s for another post.  The important thing is that I finally recognize that I don’t need it, and out it shall go.  Imagine all of the paper and plastic I will be getting rid of and no longer using as well!  Not to mention all of the dust that I will sparing myself of.  My lungs will breathe much easier when I enter my classroom!