Camp-fire Circle-Time and Orderly Disorder

A week of lessons has rushed past since I blogged about the reconfiguring of my classroom. I have deemed it a ’21st Century Learning Space’ as a bit of a joke at my own expense. (Some real ones can be found here.) It’s really just an ordinary classroom with desks in non-traditional arrangement and a rug on the floor!

My room is a little different to most I see daily because I have considered the impact that physical space has upon intellectual and emotional space. This is not to say I haven’t ever designed my classroom to maximise learning – I have been known to do this frequently and have been an advocate for groups/bunches that allow students to work together, especially with the introduction of 1-1 in our school. For me the current design is different because it drew on the mythic notions of the campfire, watering hole and cave (see earlier post here.) This philosophical underpinning gave me a metalanguage with which to speak to my students about ‘why’ the room is configured in this new way. This ‘language of myth’ actually works as a cue for my students. Yes, they think that it’s pretty lame to start with – but once you get them thinking about WHY these three types of learning are relevant to their world, they kinda get it. Plus, kids like it when you show enthusiasm for their learning – they love it when teachers throw caution (or is that fear?) to the wind and take a very visible risk. I guess I’m one to not worry too much about looking silly! I can now be heard saying to me students, ‘Alright – lets have a chat around the campfire and then you’ll spend some time in your caves.’

I currently teach four different English classes each week – Yr 7, 8, 10 and 12.  The reshaping of my room has pushed me into reshaping my pedagogy – a most desirable outcome. I am more conscious of the types of learning that are implicit in the activities I create and the outcomes I expect to meet. Circle-time has proved a hit with Year 10 – we’ve been sitting crossed-legged on the ‘camp-fire’ carpet sharing stories about our hopes and dreams post-HSC and confessing our true feelings about summative assessment and 21st century literacy skills. Year 8 have been reading in their caves twice per lesson (5 mins at beginning, 5 mins at the end) as well as playing spelling cames around the camp-fire.

Year 12 has been the most exciting! I have explained to them my refusal to spend 10 months prying open their mouths, shovelling content that has been made palatable by teacher and then asking them to say ‘ahh’ as regurgitated content is forced out and lands onto 3 page lined booklets. No, not me. (Yes, poor kids!) Instead, I’m designing each week of lessons around our mythic spaces. P1 = campfire stories (teacher-centred), P2 = cavetime (students independently work through a Blooms matrix), p3 = wateringhole chats (small group activities; outdoor activities; student presentations) and P4 = campfire (fishbowl; Socratic circles; circle-time). So far our discussions about the poetry of Dickinson and the thoughts of de Botton on ‘status anxiety’ have been lively and most of all, fun! 

Of course there are risks to be taken in this approach to classroom design. There can be a great deal of noise as the students move furniture (where necessary) and as they move themselves into the appropriate ‘space’. But the fear of noise in a classroom is simply a veiled fear of that which is natural and normal.

My goal for the coming week is to use a data projector to project the lesson plan on the board. This strategy I wasinspired by my prac student and will help orient students with the lesson’s expectations and prepare them for the transitions between cave/camp-fire/wateringhole. Not ALL spaces will be utilized in each lesson. Ultimately students, familiarised with the notion of ‘mythic spaces’ to enhance learning outcomes, will self-select the appropriate ‘space’ to meet a task. It is this which is my ultimate goal – to encourage self-direction and an appreciation of the influence that physical space can have on intellectual/emotional space.

So, how is your classroom arranged and why have you selected this design?

Archetypal Learning Spaces

This post follows on from my previous post regarding 21st century learning spaces.

Having spent a deal of time discussing the ideal 21st century learning space, I made the decision to transform my small box (Rm 57). Thanks to the wise words of twitter colleague Warwick Mole, I gave the design responsibilities to my very first class of Term 4 -Year 7 English.

I asked the class to work in small self-selected groups to plan the ideal learning space – this would incorporate the mythic notions of campfire, watering hole and the cave. They took the challenge well and by the end of the lesson had created some wonderful designs:

Design #1

Design # 2

Design # 3

Design #4

I was really impressed with their maturity – and they were reallyexcited to be given the opportunity to take control of their own learning environment.

Today was the physical move – but first the design had to be decided upon. I stuck the four designs on the board and students came up and decided which elements they liked best from each design. Finally we came to an agreement and got to rearranging the furniture in our attempt to create a small ripple in the eduworld.

Agitating …

And after a full 40 minutes of moving furniture, rolling students in rugs, chatting about how effective our design would be and making so important changes, 25 Year 7 students transformed a box into a space will on its way to becoming ‘mythic’. As our canvas was small, it was a struggle to incorporate each element effectively, but we were pleased with what we created. So, what do you think of our learning space?

Rug = Campfire

9 x Cafe-style double tables = Cave

2 x 6-table bunches = Watering Hole