Thursday, August 2, 2012

Classroom Themes

One thing I love about my son's school is how it unified by theme each year: "Dive in.

There is really no sense redecorating. My classroom, while double-wide and super-long, is going to be demolished at the end of the school year. The window sills are rotting away. The floor is squishy in sections. Our school is slated for a multi-million dollar remodel. I will pack everything and relocate to construction digs by the end of this school year.


School starts in two weeks and I'm dreaming of ways to make the classroom inviting. I spent time (and money) in a school supply store. I bought polka-dotted papers at Michael's. I'm set to make new labels and reorganize the books. Hello, August! But, I'm still searching for a theme.

In my world, themes could disguise themselves as essential questions. In the past, I've connected to questions like: How do we survive? Who am I? What does the future hold? Essential questions span a unit, a marking period, sometimes they become anchors, a theme. I've known teachers, high school teachers mind you,  to decorate and connect to their question all year.  I'm blurring language lines though. Essential questions guide inquiry and discussion. They are serious. As Grant Wiggin's says, questions "organize courses not around 'answers' but around questions and problems to which 'content' represents answers." Such "essential questions," ...are an important ingredient of curriculum reform."  Much more serious than say a jungle theme where students are "wild about...", right?

Yes and no. Let me equivocate. Themes create an environment--a physical environment that welcomes learners. Essential questions create an interior environment. I need both. As a learner (and a Mom), I need an organized environment in order to focus inward.

In my classroom, energy and passion dictate engagement: my own and students.A theme could lead a teacher to develop questions answered by the curriculum. A theme could inspire a teacher (and students) to think differently. Can you tell I want a theme?

My high school classroom is certainly not sterile. It is filled with books. I don't have much wall space and the one bulletin board I do have is dedicated to tracking our reading. But in pictures I can see that I need to tie elements of my room together. still, I'm thinking about themes. A tree in our Socratic Circle area maybe.

I teach in the STEM college (our school is organized into smaller schools), so I like a futures or engineering theme. However, I organize all sorts of things using the colors of the rainbow. Students sit at color tables by number, then the numbers can create larger "rainbow" groups where one of each color comes together. Perhaps I can tap into color:

How do our values color meaning?
What colors our world (the future)?

Or I could connect  to quotes about color, to books with color themes (Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a favorite). I love how Zusak's line from the book thief makes me wonder, "People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and its ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. ”

What do think?


  1. I think your students will LOVE it! This will be my first year teaching high school and it makes me sad to see how high school rooms are so often plain compared to earlier grade rooms. I have always loved making my room into a cozy, happy learning environment, and I think high schoolers benefit from that just as much as younger kids do! I hope to create the kind of atmosphere that you have!

  2. Thanks, Jennifer! I think they will love it too. I am right there with you on creating a cozy, welcoming environment. Good luck teaching high school this year (it's not nearly as scary as some people think it is!).