What will the 'threshold experience' be for your students?

When your students walk through the door on the first day of school, what will they think / feel / wonder?

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

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So, what'll it be?

Will your students see and think 'classroom'?

Or something else?

We got the idea for these 'Crazy Clocks' from Christian Long, a professional learning space designer and friend, who suggested they would help create the vibe were looking for.

He was right.

On the first day of school, a my first Kindergarten class entered the room, a young boy pointed at the Bikini Bottom clock and exclaimed, "THAT'S WHAT TIME IT IS WHERE SPONGE BOB LIVES!"

I thought to myself ... YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! IT WORKS!

Wonder. Possibility. Imagination.

Mission accomplished!


p.s. for a close-up shot of the clocks, click here.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

Hi Tom, thanks for the comment. I'm underwater getting ready for school and haven't been in here much. Some quick thoughts in response.

First, I've seen clocks used in a variety of similarly-creative ways at other schools, strikes me as a somewhat whimsical approach that's right for some classes/teachers and not so much for others. It fit in my case; the space was right, the look was right, the vibe was right, and it worked. Others? Maybe not so much.

A colleague in another school (Rafranz Davis, HS Algebra I believe) has something called a "Wonder Shelf" in her room onto which she places different objects to spark discussion, analysis and ... wonder. :) I need to speak with her to get more of a sense for what this looks like, but, I am already pondering how to incorporate a Wonder Shelf into my new space (since I am no longer in the room with Crazy Clocks, which is elementary, as I now teach Middle School.)

A larger general framework is a great way forward. The idea for the clocks came from an architect friend whom I deeply respect. Not everyone has such a friend. Surely they have other influences in their lives. But how to connect people in such a way as to foster brainstorming and sharing?

A 'clearinghouse' of ideas, organized in a Pinterest-like visual way, with tags and titles to help clarify and group them?

A 'design blog' with brief posts (comments, really) written by great designers, particularly school designers, identifying effective, fun and unusual classroom features that spark innovation, conversation and wonder?

A 'think like a designer' series where aforementioned designers help us lay folk understand the design process from a creativity standpoint, how it's important to come at the conversation from the perspective of the end-user (in this case, students)?

I dunno. Blogs can be ... meh. Now, make something like this into an APP, and it'd take off like a rocket, I bet.

What do you think?

I'm headed back down the rabbit hole getting my classroom ready and may not see the light of day for ... a while. Your message caught me at just the right time, in between tasks. I love this place and what it stands for, and am feeling guilty for not participating more. But crunch time is crunch time, and, I've gotta bounce. Happy to continue the conversation - just not sure when that'll be. :)

Thanks again,


Photo of Dan Ryder

Speaking to the Wonder Shelf notion, I have a had an Inspiration Shelf the past two years in my room for similar purposes. Here's a link https://twitter.com/WickedDecent/status/638370510544470016

It is full of things that inspire me in one way or another and an early in the year activity is students exploring it, looking at the items, making hypotheses about why I've included it, and then a conversation where I clarify and give them some insight into me.

Over the year, I encourage them to add items that inspire them and that they feel comfortable leaving in the class. (Haven't lost an item yet!) We build a stronger sense of community around those items. And when it's time for new design challenges and projects, we go to the shelves for discovery phase -- get ideas, see how these items might inform a product, solution, or way of demonstrating understanding.

This year's shelf includes, amongst other things:
* Wired Magazine
* A collage of my daughter at age 3 screaming her face off and laughing her neck off
* A postcard from West Virginia entitled "Seldom Scene Coal Mine" (I've claimed that name for yet another unrealized indie band I'm going to start.)
* How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
* Maus I & II by Spiegelman
* ESPN the Magazine feat. Rob Gronkowski
* A key collage
* Star Wars LEGO
* A hunting book from 1967 entitled "A Sporting Chance: Unusual Methods of Hunting"
* A Contract with God by Eisner
* a menu from a hip gastropub in Bridgton, ME
* Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad Is Good for You"
* a page of doodles from one of my favorite student artists ever

I cannot wait to see what this year brings.

I'm also wondering what sort of framework we could provide teachers who want to try this out? What are the essential elements of an inspiration shelf? What are the essential elements of a "crazy clock" wall or a wall to engage/inspire?

Photo of Tom Sayer

Hi Kevin,
I love all of the ideas that you've been shared. Is there a way to organize these thoughts / provide a framework (I know, the antithesis of what you're talking about) in order for a school to be able to continually develop this wonder themselves. At the moment, I can see 1000 schools with crazy clocks, doing the construction challenge, and then wondering what to do next. (Apart from follow your blog of course :)

How could we extend this specific idea(s) to a more general framework that teachers / schools could consider on a regular basis?

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

James, that is an excellent point, and you have pushed my thinking. I am sitting here in what will be my classroom pondering design decisions that I could and likely should be leaving to my students. There are things I want and need to do to be ready for students in September, and there are things I should push off until we can get some real user input. THANK YOU for reminding me!

Photo of James Campbell

Hi Kevin
I Love that you gave students the freedom to design and share. So often teachers spend so much time creating the space and not consulting the user. Bravo
I Wonder how this might appeal to older students, if you would get the same buy in.
What if with each new theme they had time to design the space.

Photo of Ellen Deutscher

Hey Kevin!! Love the crazy clocks! I sometimes think of these "unusual" items as curiosity stokers that create shared experiences, almost like museum pieces. They are something out of the ordinary that spark curiosity, conversation, and imagination! I knew we connected for a reason!! I think you bring in and/or rotate these sort of "disruption" pieces throughout the school year. Sometimes even as a way to create mystery and high interest around some upcoming unit... Ask me to tell you the Henry Hudson bloody board story sometime. :)

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

"Henry Hudson bloody board story" - THAT doesn't sound like a typical day in the classroom! I love the idea of a curiosity-stoking museum piece. Could easily incorporate that into my space. We must get together...

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

Hi Jessica, thanks for mentioning my Edutopia piece, which will be part of a monthly series:


My project blog, which has additional info (and more frequent posts) is here:


The setup will physically feature five approximately 60" x 40" movable worktables as student work stations around the perimeter (we are battling to get the order placed so we can get and assemble the furniture on time, it's not looking good...); multiple walls covered with IdeaPaint including a monstrous 21' x 9' section that will also incorporate a 65" SMART TV mounted low as a small group instruction area; wireless projection; two of the four walls covered in Handiwall PVC slatwall material (http://www.handisolutions.com/) for storage; and a video production studio (the brainchild of our interim superintendent, who has deep expertise in this area.)

While the impact on students and rest of the school remains to be seen, we are however already seeing a cascade effect of sorts triggered by our initiative. Under the leadership of my Principal Glenn Robbins, hallway learning spaces in our middle school are being transformed into flexible, student-centered areas for exploration and play. We're very excited.

As for my program in specific, we are planning to really, really push the envelope and try things never attempted before, putting students at the center and in charge of their own learning. My current wacky idea is that my very first lesson would involve little (in fact no) talking on my part, merely instructions on the board/wall, a team design challenge, materials, and 40 minutes for the kids to self organize and complete it. Color me insane...

Photo of Jessica Lura

Fun! I love that you have experience in modifying spaces for learning/excitement K-8. So often middle school rooms are the worst--I know that you shared some of your ideas from your current room on Edutopia but would love to see more about your set up and how it impacts students (and the rest of the school).

Photo of Daria Cirisano

Love the idea! It also might be fun for you to post your children's birthdays/ages and then post their ages on different planets-http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/age/

Photo of Kevin Jarrett

I was in this space for three years. (Moving to a completely new space and program of my own design in our Middle School as of September). The key to extending wonder, imagination & possibility is lessons that inspire, challenge and engage kids. Every day. All the time!

Here's an example - my friend Dave Zirkle shared this with me, the Paper Construction Challenge:


When I tell my students they are "going to do the impossible," they don't believe me. When I tell them they have to design a structure capable of supporting a ream of paper 1" off the table, using only ten 1" strips of paper, they don't believe me. Slowly, they engineer solutions...


Until they figure it out:


...and the crowd goes wild!

The challenge? Do this every week. Week after week. All year.


Photo of Emma Scripps

This is so cool and so fun! I echo Elsa's question - I'd love to see this post updated to reflect a system of classroom space and system hacks - all collectively designed to extend on the collective imagination and sense of possibility of students. I wonder if you could update your post to flesh this out even more. I like to think of it in terms of sections. Like:


How it works:

Why this works/what it does for a classroom:

How to implement:

.... Or something like that!

+ All these photos! Awesome! Add 'em to your post.

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph

Hi Kevin,

I love the crazy clock ideas! I'm wondering how we might extend this sense of wonder, imagination and possibility beyond the threshold experience of the first day of school. How might we design elements of surprise, wonder and imagination throughout the school year? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.