Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Flex Your Environment

Conversation creates a low hum. Middle and high school teachers are working in small groups to jigsaw ideas from Jennifer Wathall's book, Concept-Based Mathematics. We've just finished re-designing our classrooms so that they meet at least two of the eight strategies Wathall names that "engage the hearts and minds of students."  Those eight strategies as described in her book are:

  1. Create a social learning environment. 
  2. Provide an open, secure environment to allow for mistakes as part of the learning process.
  3. Use appropriate levels of inquiry and employ inductive approaches to develop conceptual understanding.
  4. Reduce whole class teacher talk time. 
  5. Cater to everyone in your class; use differentiation strategies.
  6. Assessment strategies
  7. Be purposeful when asking students to answer questions; there is safety in numbers. 
  8. Flexible fronts: arranging your classroom

My group is designing a space that provides safe space(s) to make mistakes and reduces whole-class talk time.  We had an interesting conversation about what types of furniture and what types of spaces encourages students to take risks and to work with each other and independently.  We shared out by posting our images to the workshop Padlet  (under Presentations and Resources). Then we talked through the examples posted.

Here at Singapore American School, we are learning about flexible learning environments. We have several "pathfinder" spaces (like the sixth-grade math community pictured below) with modular,  mobile furniture and walls. 

I have to say you can create a flexible learning environment without spending a lot of money. You can begin with what you have.

Don't have white-board topped tables? Find plastic sleeves. Insert a piece of plain paper and give learners dry eraser markers and a napkin and voila, instant personal white-board! Don't have high-topped tables? Push together two bookshelves (back to back) and make a standing station. Interested in floor seating? Find some carpet squares or milk crates (with throw pillows or cushions) or perhaps there are some seldom-used yoga balls on campus. If you really want to purchase furniture, consider raising money on Donors Choose. 

There are ways to create flexible environments within the boundaries and budgets and constraints of what you currently have in your classroom. I came away from this morning's work thinking about how it's not as much about the furniture as it is about the pedagogy and the mindset. It's about  planning a classroom space that supports all sorts of learning. It's about giving students a way to move purposefully, to work together, to work independently, to confer and to work in small groups. 

"Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world." - Roald Dahl, Matilda


Wathall, Jennifer. (2016). "How do I captivate students? Eight strategies for engaging the hearts and
minds of students." Concept-Based Mathematics: Teaching for deep understanding in secondary classrooms.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.