Open space

Eliminate furniture, utilize dead space, make desks mobile and displays at student level.

Photo of Michael Schurr

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Update (8/9/15) A few quick doodles about Open Spaces could become more fluid by storing furniture by category by Paula Marra:  

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wMcTqsNaDCuqTkBnv3kpWMC_VSPlI5KXlsyrdXZ8noo/edit?usp=sharing


(8/6/15)- We are in a new learning space this year. Prototyping a different setup while still embracing the minimal furniture approach.

Example: By clearing the classroom of excessive furniture, we created an open classroom concept that allows for our students to move with fluidity between independent work, group work and whole class discussion with ease. On a regular basis my co-teacher and I will begin with a whole class lesson in our gathering area, pictured above with blue area rug (ignore my son being a goof ball).

We would then break out into either independent or group work at desk clusters (Node Chairs) which can quickly allow for individual, partner, or small group work. (pictured above with sets of Node desks)

We also have a comfortable break out space (picture with grey area rug) where students are allowed to work in private without sitting at their desks (again ignore my son ;)).

Having flexible spaces allow for the students to decide what best fits their needs for any given activity, lesson or project. They might need to work individually, with a partner or a group. They might need to work at a desk, a large table or on the floor depending on area needed for work space and comfort.  

Having these options puts the onus on the student and his/her peers.  Students need to have a conversation and negotiate which working environment best suits their needs for every lesson, activity or class project.  Something as simple as having a discussion about classroom work configurations can set the stage for larger, 21st century education skills. Giving students the option to choose how they will best work and learn will begin to active and engaged solution seekers, ethical decision-makers, communicators, creative thinkers, innovators and collaborators. These 21st century learning skills are critical to today‚Äôs life and work environments, which require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge. The ability to navigate the complexities of the global information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills. Opening up classroom spaces allows for creative collisions, for new ideas to spring to life thus creating a culture of innovation.  

Lesson Example: During Math in the City (MitC) investigations, students begin with a story provided by the teacher in a whole group setting. The story creates the situation that needs to be solved. Students are then provided with a few questions to ponder with their peers. This moves the class into small breakout groups. Without showing students any strategies, they must negotiate how to approach solving the problem, which strategy is most efficient and arrive at some answer. We then reconvene as a whole group to discuss efficient strategies and share insights with one another through the use of post-its.  This is done in a whole group gallery walk, requiring large open spaces to display work and move about freely.  Finally, the teachers select examples of work to highlight for the entire class. These might be efficient strategies, inefficient strategies, correct or incorrect answers, and so on. The idea is to find teachable moments. This is done as a whole group in the gathering area. These types lessons require flexible, open classroom spaces. The require the ability to start together, break out and end together. Furthermore, the lessons themselves require the students to rely on 21st century skills.


By eliminated unnecessary classroom furniture, (large bookshelves, file cabinets, etc.) we were able to open up our classroom creating more space for collaborative learning.  The open classroom allowed students to spread out for individual work or quickly break into groups for collaborative work. The addition of the node chairs allowed for our students to move with easy between a variety of learning configurations.  

As you can see in the pictures, the cubbies have been halved, each student getting half a cubby for their backpacks.  They are allowed to personalize the cubbies with pictures. The second half of the cubbies have been quartered to eliminate a lot of furniture in the classroom, moving our entire library and art supplies into previously "dead" space.  This allowed us to create the comfortable pillow gathering area.  A white board was installed at the students level.  This space is for the students to display work.  They can choose work they are proud of, work that is in progress, work they would like feedback on, etc., and display it for their classmates.  Making a much more personalized classroom display.  All of these simple changes of have lead to our students working more collaboratively. Providing students with open spaces allows for exploration, leading to new learning experiences.  

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Photo of Sara Shifrin
Team

Looks great! If I were lying on the new open floor space, how might the ceiling inspire me and be a part of the learning?

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

OHHH Such a cool idea! That could be fun to play around with. Time to have the students design for the ceiling as well.

Photo of michael dunlea
Team

I love the open spaces and so wish they had installed my white board lower on the wall! But the greatest thing is the personalized cubbies. My daughter is going to middle school this year and all the students are decorating their lockers. Some even put in chandelier ornaments and went oh so fancy.

Photo of Sara Shifrin
Team

Looks great! The Hokki stool is a great addition to the Nodes. It gives a teacher an easy way to move around and sit next to students and the kids love them. Added bonus: core workouts if desired.

https://www.kaplanco.com/shop/furniture/hokki-stools

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

You may want to check out Sara Shifrin's Z Rack post--even for 2nd graders quite nice to be able to pull over a white board when working https://teachersguild.org/challenge/how-might-we-create-rituals-and-routines-that-establish-a-culture-of-innovation-in-our-classrooms-and-schools/ideas/meet-the-z-rack

Photo of Charles Shryock, IV
Team

I agree, that idea is a perfect complement to this!

Photo of Charles Shryock, IV
Team

I love what you've done to personalize the space and adapt it so resources are available "at the students level." Can you activate more space by building a second level within the room (vertically)? Specifically, let them do some climbing? I'm thinking that instead of bringing things down to the students' level... you expand the limits of what students can reach.

Photo of David Harrington
Team

I like the minimalist idea. Talk about scaleable? Doesn't get more manageable than that. I have had the honor (and I sincerely mean that) of designing a few media rooms or common rooms and I usually start with nothing and then add vs taking things away from a cluttered space. Thank you for the post, Michael.

Photo of Sarah Burnett
Team

Those chairs are amazing! I desperately want some for my class!

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

They really are pretty cool. I wish they had a larger work surface area and the ability to "lock in." Other than that, they make collaboration, partner, individual work a breeze.