New Year, New Classroom

Well, sort of.

While I like to think of my classroom as student-centered, for the past two years, I’d been teaching in a classroom that looked like this:

Pretty much everything but the desks and the chemicals are bolted to the floor. Even the student chairs are attached to the slanted desks, which made arranging them into pods impractical. When I tried to escape the “teacher zone” between the demo bench and chalk board, I’d mainly have to circle the perimeter of the room awkwardly. Whiteboard discussions were either held around the lab benches (very easy to lose kids behind the 2′ x 3′ boards there), or as presentations, one group at the board at a time.

This year, we made a tiny change to our space:

Ok, it has been a huge change.

Everyone’s able to see each other, talk to each other, hear each other. Every class has been a true discussion.

We doubled the number of whiteboards, so we use it frequently as a tool for discussion rather than the chalkboard. Whiteboard meetings are very easy (and frequent) as students can prop their boards by their feet, and easily see every board in the room. No one can hide.

Also, there’s an extra desk. I’m sitting in the circle along with the class. And I’m easily able to move from student to student.

Plus, now there’s a great deal of open space in the middle of the circle. Was perfect for the “blow up a student” pressure demo.

While this arrangement works naturally for modeling chemistry, it has been even better for my advanced classes so far.

13 thoughts on “New Year, New Classroom”

  1. Science rooms are tough to rearrange in meaningful ways – this is a good solution. I’ve had trouble in the past with some classes not really able to handle sitting so close to a neighbor and seeing everyone but I teach in an inner-city school so social dynamics are tough sometimes. I’d be curious to hear how this arrangement changes things over the year.

  2. It works well for our student body. Most of their non-science/math classrooms are arranged in this way (or occasionally, an actual Harkness table). Even the algebra classes are trying this sort of arrangement out this year. The chemistry students LOVE it so far, so I’m hoping I’m able to modify all of my lessons to make the most of it.

    1. Mark,
      I believed for 2 years that it wouldn’t be possible, as it is a very small space. It is more snug than it appears in my drawing (desks are touching shelves & demo bench), maybe 1″ clearance from lab bench), but I had to physically move everything to see if it would work. If our classes were much bigger, it certainly wouldn’t work.

      The bulk of chemistry classes are in another classroom, with very little flexibility (since its used for physics, and foreign language). In that class, we flip the chairs to opposite sides of the desk so that students can face each other. Whiteboards are propped along the sides on the lab benches: http://bit.ly/p7rkyL

      One of our biology classrooms had a size issue, so they arranged in this way: http://bit.ly/ntWLGL

      Would it be too tight to have a U shape? That way, you could bring the chairs inside for board meetings.

  3. What a great room layout! I am admittedly very jealous – I really don’t have that kind of flexibility in my space. However, you’ve inspired me to play around a little bit and see if I can tweak anything.

  4. Wow, I wish I only had 22 students to teach! We can have up to 34 students in a science classroom. Anyone have any ideas on arguments for lowering class size for safety reasons that will actually stick?

  5. I’ve always been somewhat amazed that seemingly tiny changes (like the arrangement of desks) can have such a big effect on classrom culture. It’s really a shame that so many science classrooms aren’t designed to do anything other than encourage the ol’ teacher lecturer model.

  6. How great that you got to make changes! I can so relate to your previous situation. Slanted desks are so not condusive to group work or to being able to spread out reference materials. Sadly, I also have a “stage” as this room was built before Sputnik flew – it’s just so not student-centered.

  7. Agree with comments above – it’s great that you can do such changes in your classroom! Well done! Unfortunately, my class does not provide a large amount of space, so I most likely couldn’t make any changes ike you’ve shown.

  8. I love the circle idea! I wish I could do this in my classroom. I need to have 33 desks in a tiny space, so the best I have been able to do is rows. I think in the future that I will try to reserve a room where I can do this for discussions to see how it works!

  9. It’s so great that you were able to do this. So often science classes are thought to be only lecture classes where the teacher stands in the front and students sit in rows. Having a circle in a classroom really focuses the class onto the students and that is needed for a chemistry class. It’s unfortunate that many classrooms I encounter only have fixed lab benches. Like I said before you’re lucky you can do this!

  10. Hi Ms. Bethea. I came across your blog through a google search for chemistry discussions. I’m really inspired by your courage to try out new things for your students! I teach high school chemistry as well, and I’ve been struggling on how to best format a whole class discussion. What structures do you use to ensure all your students participate in a whole class discussion using the white boards? Also, what are some examples of the high level questions you ask in those discussions? This concept of a chemistry discussion sounds amazing, but I don’t currently have any models to go off of, and I feel lost.

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