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My Classroom

August 5, 2011

I’ve been pleasantly surprised and slightly overwhelmed by how easy it is to get attention in the world of Math Educational blogging. It’s amazing to me that this community is so supportive. If you’re just now finding me, I’m a new teacher in Tucson, AZ. One of my goals with this project is to document my journey as a first-year teacher. This post is about how I set up my physical classroom.

Over the last  few days, I’ve been moving into my classroom. I’ve been thinking a lot about space – how the design of my classroom will affect my students. I once had a great conversation with a fellow teacher in Tucson about ‘intentionality’ – the idea that every aspect of your physical classroom should work towards an intentional design and larger philosophy. His classroom was incredibly busy with meaningful student work and student ownership (as I write this sentence, I realize it describes both his physical space and the abstraction of ‘his classroom’. That’s pretty deep). So, I’m thinking about that.

I’ve also been thinking more and more about what I want my own classroom to be like (related: I’ll be posting the answers to my own 3-part challenge once I have some time to clean the answers up a bit). Biggest realization: I desperately want a social classroom – one where students interact with each other and learning is done through peer communication. This will be a big motif for the first and second day as well; it also effected how I arranged the desks.

Anyway – how’s about some pictures.

Above is the view when students walk into the classroom. I envision those baskets being filled with work from each period throughout the day. My desk is across the room facing both the door and the classroom. Smartboard in between. If you’re really observant, you can see my chalk board is ruined by lots of  tape marks (no whiteboards in my class – all chalk). Looking into buying shower board and putting it over that surface to use as a dry erase board.

What I see when I look at the class. Desks are somewhat clustered into groups of 4 – can’t place them directly side-by-side because of an awkward bar that only lets you get into a desk from the left-hand side. I have 32 desks in my class –  8 groups of 4 – I intend to teach my class how to work in groups and have them do this often. I’m used to the 4-desk pod arrangement from a previous teaching experience, but this’ll be my first time trying it out on my own. I envision that when they work in groups, they’ll turn in their desks or turn the desks themselves to face their group. A table is required to hold the projector in front of the smartboard. I was annoyed by this at first, but then I realized it creates another division of space between the students and I.

Digression on the way space is divided in a classroom and it’s effect on students and teachers: If you think about it, there’s the space between the table and the smartboard (ie: where the picture was taken from) which will primarily serve as my lecture/notetaking spot. If I’m standing there, I am probably lecturing/writing on the smartboard and the students should be taking notes. Then there’s the space between the table and the desks. If I’m standing there, I’m probably instigating a discussion or sharing something less academic (school announcement, open question, connection to community/relevance, etc) – maybe I don’t want them taking notes when I’m standing there – maybe I want them thinking or reflecting or questioning when I address them from that spot. Then there’s the space in between the desks themselves and amongst the students. If I’m there, maybe I’m handling discipline or trying to engage/hook the class with a manipulative or demonstration, or maybe we’re having a lively discussion and a student deserves to be the center of attention instead of me. I like thinking about the relationship between my physical position in the class and the affect this position has on the students in terms of the perception of who’s in control of the class, the level of comfort in the class, and the level of structure in the class. I think it’s important to consider how your proximity affects the actions that are possible for you to do (ie: I wouldn’t want to discipline from my lecturing spot) and how the students perceive these actions (friendly, removed, authoritarian, etc) End Digression

What a student sees from their desk. Checked to make sure I can get to every student quickly from the front of the room (which I can) and that every student has a decent view of the desk. Hard to tell from this view, but the groups have a slight curve to them so they’re all turned towards the smartboard. Now for some posters:

Had this hanging up last year to great effect (affect?) – doin’ it again this year. Hanging over my desk

My list of how to solve problems. I made this up in the middle of last year after reflecting on common issues my students ran into, but I’ve recently read Polya’s excellent book How to Solve It and see some similarities…

Last picture. In the window facing out into the hallway. Needed something blocking the window so kids can’t peek in and my kids can’t peek out. Plus this looks cool and gave me an idea for a neat Concept Map activity (which I’m saving for another blog post).

That’s all I got – any comments?

  1. MathZombie permalink

    I’ve done the shower board white boards a couple times. I think it works great, they just get dirty easier so you have to clean them more often. I used liquid nails and stuck them straight to the chalkboard (our school is being torn down next year so I didn’t worry about the lasting affects of this). I highly recommend it if you dont like chalk.

  2. Jennifer Lockett permalink

    #1 Your hand-writing is terrible (an indicator of high intelligence). You should get someone else to write those for you.
    #2 My geometry teacher once promised me that geometry would safe my life. I’m still waiting. My Calculus teacher made a similar promise. All lies.
    #3 Love the post and the thought you’re putting into this! I’m so excited for you. It also makes me really jealous of your having a classroom and my tiny closet-office (literally – it was a closet that they turned into an office). Probably why I’m snarky in #1 & #2.

    Looking forward to more posts!

  3. I love your “Rules of Math” poster! It makes me feel a little foolish, though. I have said these things to my students for the last 4 years, and yet it never occurred to me that I should give them the added weight of being written down and made visible! Can I “steal” these?

    The window covering is awesome, artistic and mathematical. It made me remember that packing problems exist, that I really don’t know anything about them, and that I should go look them up. But I am a little bothered by your reasoning for it. I love seeing and hearing what’s happening in other classrooms as I walk past, so I leave my door open when I’m teaching, too. It makes me feel like I’m connected to the rest of the school, not just isolated in my room. I do understand the distraction of your students peeking out, it’s a side-effect of having the open door. But I think the cost of closing my door is too much for getting rid of the distractions.

    Thank you for sharing your first year this way! You’ve already got me trying to verbalize why I do what I do more clearly and concisely!

    • Hi Katrina,

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my adventure through my first year, and I’m glad you can take some of it for yourself. The Rules of Math and How to Solve Problems posters came out of my tiredness from saying those phrases over and over again. Now I can just ask my students ‘What’s rule #3?’ and they’ll answer it themselves, then think about it. I think there’s a subtlety to how they accept the advice when they say it themselves versus me telling it to them.

      Regarding the door covering: I’ve actually been thinking those thoughts ever since I put it up. My colleagues around me all had window coverings and I felt a little pressure to have one too, but as soon as I hung it up I started second-guessing it for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I’ve since moved it out of the window but still on the outside of the door – I decided I do want people to look in and see what we’re doing. Also, you should see this video by Vi Hart (if you haven’t already):

      Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Maybe change rule #7 to “Ask someone for help” since that would fit more with the idea of collaboration and peer interaction. I love your posters & will be stealing that idea. Thanks!


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