Inspire student creativity

What if the walls of a classroom changed the way students felt about school?

Photo of Hannah Walden

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Why are creative classroom so often the domain of elementary education teachers? What if freeing our walls from cheesy motivational posters could change the way our students approach the classroom learning space?

For the past five years, I've experimented with classroom design and the impact it has on student motivation. One year, my classroom became a tall ship while we read literature of the sea. Another year (and a different classroom) I designed a hobbit hole while we read Tolkien and played Lord of the Rings Online. 

When students enter these classrooms, they know something is different. Their interest is piqued. They are prepared for the unusual... and ready when I throw creative curveballs. 


- Designing my walls always starts with inspiration. Usually something hits me during the summer down time, and it all comes together. For example, I designed one wall in a Jungle theme the year I taught African literature. I didn't want my wall to look like an Oriental Trading magazine, but I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for... until... a summer episode of Design Star! This one shot inspired my whole wall:

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Those blue stripes on the right wall hit the right note for me. And so they inspired this:

Wish I had a better photo - you can't see the live plants (IKEA, for the win). This wall was the front of my classroom, and I echoed it on bulletin boards around the room. It was not nearly as dark as it seems in the photo as the rest of my room was light-filled. 

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After the inspiration phase, I typically sketch out plans. Unfortunately I haven't hung on to those sketches! You can see throughout the photos how much my classroom furniture changed. I moved from desks to long tables to round tables to a combination of various tables. 

The year I built the hobbit hole I took my 2D sketch and transformed it with Google SketchUp. I had a hard time visualizing the space and therefore felt the need to take my design 3D. This classroom was quite small - it was a new room designed for the Basic Skills English program that I ran for a year. 

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Join the conversation:

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Hi Hannah! How's the idea coming along in the "Evolve" phase? I really like the idea and would love to build it out a little more (perhaps in a Google Doc?). It'd be great for posterity's sake if we could expand on your "Process" above so that others could take the idea and run with it, especially as we're starting the year. If that sounds good to you, I'd be happy to work through some ideas with you!

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