Friday, September 5, 2014

Whose Classroom Is It? Yours, or Theirs?

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see - and what you don't see that you'd like to.

I almost did it. I almost wrote a post that took the reader on a tour of my entire classroom, showing off the little personal touches and clever uses of space that are scattered throughout the room. I even had all 10 photos loaded and ready to go. But something inside me said, STOP!

I didn't get far into writing this post before I realized that the physical spaces aren't what defines my "classroom." Without the students, it's just a room like any other. Their presence is what makes the space come alive, not some inspiring poster in the corner or the latest organizational contraption.

Over the summer, I made some changes to my classroom with this theme in mind. I tried to imagine a space that was a reflection of the students, instead of a reflection of me. So I removed my teacher desk from the classroom to open up more space in the room. I pulled the majority of the posters and pictures off of the walls. The intent is to avoid students being over-powered with a sense of Mrs. Meyer when they enter the room. Instead, they'll slowly create their own space while personal, individual learning artifacts fill the walls throughout the year.

So the photo of my classroom I chose to share in this post is a photo of the students. This picture says so much about the type of learning I strive for my students to participate in daily. Others may look at the photo and see a jumbled mess of 20 students going in 20 different directions. I look at the photo and see students owning their space.

This is what the classroom looks like in the middle of an investigation. The four students sitting at the table in the forefront are one team. At the time of the photo, they were still working on designing their procedure, alternating between debating the process and recording information in notebooks. The two girls in the back indicated by blue arrows were also discussing their procedure. One of the girls was absent from class yesterday, so her teammate was filling her in on what she missed and listening to the new ideas she proposed. The back counter is where all the supplies for the lab were set up. The student boxed in yellow is gathering some supplies for her group. The girl circled in green is from the same group as the "yellow box" girl, but she is temporarily helping a different team with a question they had regarding supplies. It is important to me that students experience ease and independence in my classroom.  All the teams completed the investigation, but the steps they took, the space they used, and the resources they harnessed to accomplish that goal varied.

Finally, take a look at the huge smile on the face of the girl with the red arrow. She's pipetting bromothymol blue, so I'm not sure exactly why she was smiling. Maybe somebody on her team made a joke, or maybe she knew I was taking a photo (like the boy in the Twins shirt!), but regardless of the reason, this is my measure of whether or not the classroom is working for the students. A classroom should be a place in which smiling and learning go hand in hand. This is the type of experience that isn't created by motivational posters or reading nooks. It happens naturally when the learning environment is a direct result of the relationships that are developing within it.

Do all of my classes look like this every day? Certainly not. Sometimes the students are going in 20 different directions because they're distracting each other or confused. Sometimes they're all sitting in their chairs, with no glimmer of a smile on their faces. Sometimes they're pipetting water at each other instead of into a test tube! But I love the possibility in this photo. Given the appropriate resources and some trust on the part of their teacher, students can own their learning space and thereby own their learning.

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