I have never been a fan of assigning sitting areas to children. Thinking about myself as a learner, I know that I need to be constantly moving. Whether that be swaying from foot to foot whilst standing, squeezing a stress ball in my hands or scribbling over a page whilst listening to someone speak. To some, this kind of 'behaviour' may sound off-task. I completely disagree! I learn much more if my body and mind are comfortable in the environment.
My journey towards Contemporary Learning began three years ago, although at the time I had never heard of it. This was my first year of teaching and I was in a very traditional classroom with a desk for each child, a teacher desk, one desktop computer and a SmartBoard. It was quite a challenge for the children to give up ownership of their areas, after always having their own. Students continued to keep their equipment in the one desk but would move around and sit at other desks to work. I also introduced the idea of 'islands'. This was when students would move away from their peers to work independently. The benches along the back and one side of the room were cleared and left as standing space for students. They were also encouraged to use the teacher desk as a working space.
I moved schools after my first year as I wanted to work closer to home (an hour each way is a long drive in 'Perth-time'). So began my official Contemporary Learning journey. Goodbye individual desks and the idea of a front-of-room and hello shared learning spaces, standing spaces, couches and continual movement. I was in my element!
There are three main areas within a Contemporary Learning environment:
This is an area where students come together as a whole group to learn from an expert. This expert may be the teacher, a guest to the classroom, a student sharing their knowledge or even an online resource.
If you were to look at a campfire in my classroom, traditional teachers may say it looks messy. This is because I encourage my students to be comfortable. Therefore, there may be some students sitting on the floor, some on stools or couches and others standing. As long as they are giving their full attention to the expert, I do not have a problem with this.
Working with a small group on the floor.
The Watering Hole is another area where students gather but this is with a smaller group. Usually this is used as a area to share information and ideas whilst guiding each other.
My students often use the whiteboard tables for their watering holes. This allows them to write down key points or ideas that are shared and students can then use these at their own pace. If we are working with our MacBooks, there is always a watering hole in front of the Apple TV. This allows them to mirror their activity up onto the screen and share ideas or tools. It almost works a bit like a Genius Bar; an area where my students can go to ask for guidance from a peer.
This is an area where students go to work independently and consolidate their thinking. It may be at one of the single desks around the room or on a larger table where students are working independently from the people around them.
I often find my students tucked into corners, sitting just outside the classroom door on top of the stairs, sitting cross legged in the old chimney, lying on the floor behind the couches or working independently under tables. Due to them being comfortable in this environment, they move around and find spaces where they are going to stay on task and complete the assigned work.
My students have pigeon holes where they keep their belongings. These are a great height, perfect for standing working spaces. They are also on wheels and can be moved around the classroom very easily. Another item I love having is the Hokki stools. These are ergonomic, fully recycled stools that I find versatile within the classroom. They come in a range of heights and colours. The school purchased mine through Woods Furniture and they took around two months to come (so get your orders in early).
This year I wanted to trial a few new ideas, especially those related to shared stationery. I purchased some long wall mounts and tubs from Ikea. In these tubs I put textas, crayons, pencils, an eraser and a sharpener. The students can easily un-clip the tubs from the wall mounts and take them to wherever they are working.
I also have a set of five mini couches that look similar to the Google Chrome symbol. These are light and easy to move around the classroom. Some of my students opt to sit on them when working at tables, others use them for watering holes and others like to sit on the floor with their work on top of the couches.
This is a great environment to work in. One that is comfortable, well lit and vibrant. If you've been thinking about it I highly recommend you give it a go! A great company to purchase cardboard furniture from is Karton Group. This would work out cheaper and you could then make the decision as to whether or not you wanted to take the idea further.
Best of luck and keep in touch if you are creating your own Contemporary Learning environment.