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Something Borrowed, Something Reimagined

As an elective teacher I don’t have my own classroom.

One of the classrooms I borrow is Kim’s middle school classroom:

Fig. 2. Kim’s ELA and social studies middle school classroom.

Kim’s room (Fig. 2) is nice. There’s the sofa on the far side of the room with bean bags around it. Large tables are spaced throughout the room, and there is a white board on one wall, a chalkboard on another, and a touchscreen on a third; two teaching desks, and a shelf containing student mugs and a hot water dispenser for tea. Back glass sliding doors lead to a grassy backyard, so there’s plenty of light. Whenever I get to the room early to setup, students are often scattered on couches, beanbags, at tables, or sitting comfortably on the floor reading. (I asked my daughter how they decide who gets to sit on the sofa. “There’s a system. It gets complicated.”) Sometimes, there are making materials stationed on the largest table near the front door, sometimes students are down by the creek in her outdoor classroom making structures for the classroom. It is a superb combination of indoor and outdoor learning spaces, providing plenty of light, choice, flexibility, and complexity to impact learning (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, Kobbacy, 2013).

In sitting face-to-face, students are given the physical structure necessary to support socio-constructivism through group discussion and collaborative work (Brown, Collins, Duguid, 1989). With the tables large enough to each contain different sets of maker materials similar to other makerspaces (Sheridan, Halverson, Litts, Brahms, Jacobs-Pierre, and Owens, 2014), Kim’s classroom is also great for discourse around the constructionist creative process and sharing of final meaningful artifacts (Rob, Rob, 2018).

I have borrowed other spaces as well. Here’s my approximation of the media lab I used for youth summer coding camp administered by the local university:

Fig. 3. Media lab at the local college.

I have likely left out a row and column of computers, so there are 25 computers in the room instead of 16, but you get the gist.

The space is designed for students to sit down at their computer and not move until the end of class. There is no aisle along the windows! A student closest to the windows who wants to talk to another student has to walk all the way across a row to access the aisle on the other side. My third to fifth graders had no problems fitting in these tight spaces, but I can’t imagine how full grown college students manage! I had trouble reaching students seated by the windows to give one-on-one assistance.

There is no shared working space for students to share designs and work collaboratively. The building does have other shared space for collaborative endeavors, just not in this particular room. While the bank of windows let in plenty of light, there is not enough flexibility for movement in the room, nor complexity in how the space can be used (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, Kobbacy, 2013).

Here is my first redesign.

Fig. 4. Media lab 1st redesign.

I have always wondered what it would be like to be in a room where all I need to do is stand in the middle of the room and spin around to see everybody’s computer screen. The benefit is more for me than for my students though. Especially for students whose screens face the large bank of windows on the one side of the room and have to deal with glare.

Here’s a 2nd attempt:

Fig. 5. Media lab 2nd redesign.

Open avenues between tables ease student movement and dialog. Computers offset towards the sides of the tables give more space for shared making materials to be on hand. A central table serves as a separate meeting area for design and discussion or for even more maker materials, giving students flexibility in where and on what they want to work (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, Kobbacy, 2013). None of the computer screens face the windows, so no one has to deal with glare. Much better!

Computer labs are traditionally designed for constructivist meaningful artifact creation, where the individual student constructs knowledge on their own. These are not bad spaces–I have fond memories of my time in computer lab my freshman year in college programming and chatting with Kai, who was seated at the computer to my left. But traditional computer and media labs, while very functional for constructivist activity, could be enhanced to provide opportunity for more constructionist activity.

Unfortunately, a summer camp instructor does not have the clout to initiate changes like these, but one can always dream!


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