Tag Archives: design

Classroom Design: A Different Theory and Approach

Learning Space

Learning Space

Again, during another session of browsing, I came across something interesting and intriguing. Throughout our course, we have been exposed to particular theories of classroom design and what works. I’m sure that everyone doing our course would agree totally (or mostly) that what we have seen and read is very practical and logical and would be something that we would love to have in our own classrooms given the budget to redesign. This article, however, takes us through the classroom of a teacher who has been inspired by the Reggio Emilia theories of classroom design which, while not being radically different from our own learning, opens up some questions for classroom designs of the future.

Reggio Emilia discourages bright colours and replaces them with more neutral, natural tones. Are these colour palettes more, or less inspiring to the minds of children? The design also removes as much plastic as possible from the learning environment, replacing it with natural products wherever this can be done. The above picture is typical of a Reggio Emilia learning space. Many of the features we would identify with being a good learning space are visible. I would love to see more curves in their designs myself, as I believe that more curves would better compliment the organic feel of the learning spaces.

On a personal level, I love the effort to reduce the usage of plastics in the learning environment, as I believe that we can all do with more natural substances around us. However, to my way of thinking, the colour scheme is just too bland to be inspiring. Is this because I have a preconceived notion of what a classroom should be like, or am I just trying to cater to my own personal needs through a subconscious application of the 8 Ways of Learning?

I think that as teachers we must avail ourselves to all relevant theories of learning spaces and pick and choose the elements that work best for our students. I believe it’s not so much about the theories and the names behind them, but rather the students who will develop and be inspired within these spaces now and into the future.

I have to admit that some elements of the classroom design are impressive and a lot of time and effort has gone into their construction and organisation. I like the inclusion of the children’s work in the spaces as well. The usage of natural lighting and refractive crystals is also a nice touch, something that I always like to have in my own classroom.

This is a space for 2 and 3 year olds, not primary age students, so it is intended to be a busy space for children with shorter (and developing) attention spans. The staff have taken an educational design theory and used it to suit the needs of their students, which is what we, as students )and as teachers) have been encouraged (required) to do as well. I’m a bit intrigued by the Fairy Dust Teaching. Do I have an inner Tinkerbell waiting to be released?

The inner Tinkerbell

The inner Tinkerbell

 

I would love to know your thoughts on the Reggio Emilia learning space design. Please leave a comment.

 

References:

http://8ways.wikispaces.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Emilia_approach

http://fairydustteaching.com/

http://imgarcade.com/1/original-tinkerbell-flying/ (image)

http://teaching2and3yearolds.com/preschool-classroom-design-ideas/

http://www.letthechildrenplay.net/2010/05/beautiful-learning-spaces-in-reggio.html (image)

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100 Years of Public Education – Bonshaw Public School

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 9.16.45 PM
Bonshaw Public School, taken 1972.

Over this past weekend I attended my old Primary school’s centenary celebrations. I’ve been lucky, in a way, in that I have managed to maintain some contact with my old school through ongoing relationships due to having family in the village. Once the last of our family left the area though, this changed and I lost contact.
I attended the school from 1972 to 1978 as a student, and then returned as a teacher in 1989. Honestly, within that time frame there had been little change to the school physically, or even culturally. The school was still a multi-cultural school with students from a variety of backgrounds in attendance, just as it had been when I first enrolled. The only difference was that the school had shrunk from a two teacher to a one-teacher school, due to changes in farming and the loss of the lucrative tobacco market.
This, of course, was the Centenary of Public Education at Bonshaw School. Prior to 1914, since 1882 at least, school in one form or another had been available to the local residents. One of those original schools is now the front building, where my father went to school. The second building was added in 1962. It was extended with an extra classroom for classes in 1972.

IMG_7567
Bonshaw Public School taken 2014

On Saturday, I was amazed when I entered the classroom. I had first been to the library, where physically, little had changed. It was rearranged slightly, but no real difference was evident. Entering the classroom was different. When I had started school in 1972, we sat in rows by our grade and no one was allowed to sit elsewhere. There was a chalkboard at the front of the room for the teacher, and small chalkboards at the rear for students, as well as a small wet area for cleaning up after painting. The floor was wooden. An old box type radio hung on the wall and we used it for our weekly session of “Let’s Join In” singing. We had a sand tray table, and the room was marginally decorated with displays, mostly of the teacher’s own work, designed to stimulate. I always loved the painted windows.
Now, there is a huge change. The primary classroom is now a kind of AV room, with an interactive whiteboard, photocopier, sound system and other such items. There is also a range of other equipment, readily on hand for lessons.
The main classroom blew me away. Here was an actual classroom, putting into place almost everything we had been learning about in our classwork for EDLA459. It was as if the teacher had been a student of this course in the past.
Apart from displays in circular patterns, everything was laid out almost straight from the “textbook”!
I was astonishing to see that so much attention to detail had been applied by one person in pursuit of the best possible learning space within a given physical area.
Group learning spaces have been catered to, as have comfort areas for various individual learning styles and activities. There is a bank of computers along one wall as well as there being an Interactive White Board at the front of the room (it was the rear when I was there) with a large conventional white board and a wall mounted tv.
Wall spaces were well organised with lots of informative posters and select pieces of children’s work, but there was no evidence of the children having created any of the displays.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the classroom from when I was a student or teacher there, but I do have an external picture illustrating some change.

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Designing a School

IMG_1451

I think that it’s time for schools and governments to finally stop the ostrich act and pull their heads out of the sand and look at the educational needs of the physical qualities of schools. Gone are the days of rows of students chanting various formulae and other information they are required to memorise. The students of today live in a highly interactive and digital world. So the physicality of schools must evolve to accommodate this. The first outcry will be about budgets! But instead we should be more concerned with making our schools sustainable and self-sustaining. How can a mud-brick and bamboo building be more expensive than concrete and steel? With correct technique and getting the balances right, environmentally sustainable materials can be just as effective, just as safe, and far cheaper alternatives to build with.

overcome_limitations

Schools need to invest in sustainable energy resources and permaculture gardening programmes to both educate and to energise the school as well as providing a carbon sink for the minimal emissions that the school will make.

Architecture and design to facilitate the change of materials and the evolving usage of classroom spaces must be of the highest priority.

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Learning Spaces of the Future

classroom-future

The readings I have been looking at this week (post Telstra disaster!) have provided some food for thought for the learning spaces we are to inhabit in the future.

Previous generations, as well as our own, have left a legacy of toxicity and formality that we may long struggle to overcome.
A huge issue today in school is asbestos. Schools that were thought to be asbestos free are suddenly finding that this is not the case and are having to go through expensive, time consuming and educationally disruptive cleansing programmes to have it removed. We must start to ask if we can ever be really sure that it is all gone!

A solution might be to completely demolish the site and construct a new learning space after the removal of all traces of the asbestos. Many teachers would relish the thought of being able to design their own learning space for the requirements of education now and into the future.

Some things to think about in the redesign of schools may be the changing demographics of the school community. The needs of migrant children may be totally different to those of the mainstream class. The schools in the “boom and bust” towns will also alter.

In urban areas schools already lack critical space and in the future this will only increase as urbanisation increases. Playgrounds will be replaced with classrooms leaving schools little option except to go up. In Asia I have seen schools that occupy top floors of shopping malls and high-rise buildings. The play/garden space solution in these instances is the roof.
We can see isolated schools with falling student populations have greater connections to school of the air types of education, using online methods to accomplish their learning. Yet we need to have a failsafe/backup system as well. I experienced this myself in the past 2 weeks. I live in a quite isolated are with almost no mobile phone signal and no car. Telstra was doing some line work and accidentally cut the cable to our house leaving us phone-less and internet-less for the duration. My connection to the outside world was gone. Luckily, Telstra was able to fix the damage, but not until almost 2 weeks had passed.

In a previous incarnation as a teacher in a remote school I was part of a team that set up an Access programme to enable students in small and remote schools the opportunity to obtain their HSC using innovative technology. The programme is still running and through the upgrading of technology continues to offer many and varied course opportunities for those remote students wanting to obtain their HSC.

If Australia had a sudden shift in politics and suddenly took in many new migrants/refugees, a number of schools would be under pressure to suddenly provide the children with an education. Learning space would be needed for this until the students’ level of English would enable them to function in a mainstream class.
So many factors are involved in classroom redesign.

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Redesigning a 1960’s Pre-Fab Classroom.

Typical demountable classroom.

Typical demountable classroom.

 

Redesigning the Classroom

Firstly, the main issue would be the management of any remaining toxic substances on the site. We must be totally sure that the site has no residual chemical or asbestos taint that could cause future harm.

The new classroom I would design would be open plan with a number of learning focus spaces to be used depending on the nature of the lesson. Desks will be in blocks to facilitate group work, with children having a cubby hole rather than a permanent desk space. This would enable easier mixing and matching of students into various group combinations. I would prefer if the room could be close to circular in shape with large sliding glass doors opening onto the garden. The class would be equipped with an IWB (with teacher inservicing) a wi-fi hot spot, and ipads for each child. The classroom displays would be student oriented with most of the displays put together by the students as part of their learning process, not just as a showcase of “nice” work. Each child must feel they are a valued and valid member of the whole class.

The outside garden would be an ongoing experiment in permaculture, with students being involved and learning how to sustainably produce fruit and vegetables safe for consumption without the use of chemical additives. The addition of chickens would also provide eggs on a somewhat regular basis. The garden could also lead into such areas as cooking and healthy diets, with children being introduced to fresh grown produce that they have helped to grow. This has shown in many examples to promote the consumption of vegetables in children who were previously reluctant to eat them.

The garden would also promote the ethics of working together to achieve a common goal with no one student owning anything the garden produces, and promotes the idea of sharing.

To learn more about demountable classrooms in NSW, look here.

 

Picture from:

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/whats-so-bad-about-demountable-classrooms-20120926-26li8.html

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Classroom Design

classroom

Setting up a classroom for a class has always been a difficult process. Rarely does the first arrangement last very long, as teachers (and the students) tweak the layout to better suit the needs of the students. As any dedicated teacher will affirm, the needs of the students are paramount, whilst the desires of the teacher are secondary. Students will often have input, and increasingly, so do parents and carers in their desire to see their children achieve.

The articles have shown a number of factors that are increasingly important in the layout of the modern classroom. Whilst there are restrictions placed by design and teachers have an established classroom space to deal with, increasingly there are other factors such as the economy and the socio-political-economic background of the students and their families.

Curriculum today is driven by politics and economy, and teachers are forced to alter classroom layouts in an effort to best achieve competencies for their students. Benchmarks are set by politicians and teachers find that a variety of classroom structures work best for learning particular skills.

Parents also drive this as they want their children to achieve the highest results possible in standardised testing. Parents also affect classrooms in that they don’t want their children attempting practices that are taxing or too demanding of them. Meaning that teachers have to find a balance between the two.

Interestingly, the text by Cinar (2010) indicated that student placement in classrooms mirrored a number of socio-political end economic factors. It was interesting to note the seating positions of village students (often perceived as having lower educational aptitude) and students with mothers with poor educational backgrounds. These tended to sit further away from the teacher than others. Less surprising was the positioning of students relative to their enjoyment of the class or self-perceived competency in the class. Girls tended to sit in more friendship based seats while academically oriented students tended to be at front and centre.

Classroom design plays a part in student interest as do the displays within the room. Read (2010) highlights the preference of young learners for curves, circles and wavy lines. Interestingly, in the centre I taught in in Singapore, the only decorations were coloured swirls and spirals in ‘company colours’ along the walls in the corridors and in the reception are. Classrooms, however, were bare white walls, with no allowance for any displays of any kind. Colour, location, natural light and defined spaces are what inspire younger learners and Read seemed to be very clear on this.

Classrooms with straight rows of desks are very much a relic from the past, but still can be found in the classrooms of teachers who are very ‘old school’ in their approaches and methodology.

Once the physical space is organised to best suit student requirements, it is up to the teacher to organise the students for the ‘best fit’ in the classroom. Teachers constantly revise their classroom seating plan, trying to achieve maximum success and optimum teaching for their class and its students. Who sits at the front? Who sits at the sides? Who should be sitting at the rear? Are there any pairings that should not be allowed or any that should be encouraged, for the benefit of the class? Who sits near the door? Near the teacher? Near the window? The list goes on and teachers continue to balance this against the changing needs of the class.

The biggest difference that this would make to my own classroom design would be in the use of display space, as I think much of the layout of classroom space is dictated by other factors. I think that in future I will use fewer rectangular displays and attempt to use more fluid designs and curving lines. Circular spaces seem to be far more inviting and encouraging to students.

classroom_aquarium

References:

Cinar, I. (2010). Classroom geography: who sit where in the traditional classrooms? Journal of International Research, 3(10), 200-212

Read, M. (2010). Contemplating design: listening to children’s preferences about classroom design. Creative Education, 2, 75 – 80

Schratzenstaller, A. (2010). The Classroom of the Past. In K. Makitalo-Siegl, J. Zottmann, F. Kaplan & F. Fischer (Eds.), Classroom of the Future: Orchestrating Collaborative Spaces (pp. 15-39). Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Images from Google clipart.

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