I once read about a school in Australia that helped introduce a new classroom to students by letting them take charge of organizing the classroom. They left all of the materials out, so that the kids could sort through them, find homes for them, and put them there. It was intended to help them invest themselves in the classroom, and it was intended to help them feel empowered by the classroom.
Well, we decided to take it one step further, and we decided to let them design the classroom.
To answer your first question, yes, we are crazy, and to answer your second question, we’re still not quite sure how or if it’s going to work either, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through working in a start-up, it’s that you need to fail faster, so that you can learn faster.
And “learning,” we most certainly are.
The biggest challenges, you ask? Well, first and foremost, we have a wide range of ages, and that makes for difficulty in making sure all students are challenged at their commensurate levels. It’s also hard to balance all of the interests and needs in the classroom. One of our students, in particular, wants her own desk, which is different than what most students want.
But the other day, we had a short period of time, where things seemed to be magically coming together, and the beginning of the project was actually coming to life. Don’t get me wrong, it was chaotic, I was sweating, and at the end I considered retreating into a long and never-ending slumber.
But it was still cool.
We decided that we’d need a map of the classroom in order to actually start plotting out where things would be and what sorts of structures they should build to fit in those places, so we watched a quick BrainPop! video on Map Skills, and jumped right into map scale, where we began creating a to-scale map of our classroom on the wall. The first order of business was, of course, to actually measure the room, and somehow, miraculously, the project managed to differentiate learning all on its own.
Our older group of students, with strong measurement skills were able to work together collaboratively, with just a bit of redirection from me, while my teaching partner was able to work in a small group with two of our younger guys who need a great deal of support in remaining engaged and on-task. They explored converting between inches and feet in an extremely authentic and relevant manner–totally inquiry-based, and totally awesome. Meanwhile, I worked with four of our youngest girls, who I found out, needed to very concretely line up rulers on the floor next to the wall to truly understand what measuring in feet meant. It was nice to be able to help provide such an authentic, relevant, and purposeful experience, at a level commensurate with all of their needs.
Our first product—our classroom map—turned out rather nicely, don’t you think?