Unflattening the Classroom

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday, a place for educators to share their experiences with technology in their classrooms.  Please visit her site to see what others are doing.

This week's CLMOOC make was to create a digital story about a public space and think about:

  • Why does this space matter?
  • How does this space shape you?
  • How do you shape this space?
I was all set to go, had my images and began to think about different digital tools, when I watched Tuesday's Make with Me where Nick Sousanis joined members of CLMOOC.  (And yes, I ordered his book, Unflattening while I watched the archived video).  He had so many great points, but one that stood out to me was the standardization of school, what testing does to students, and the importance of giving students voice and choice (my words, not his).  

I just finished reading Make Learning Personal, so I've been contemplating changes I want to make when I return to school in just a few weeks.  The math coach and I will be job sharing a 5th grade classroom (each of us teaching half day and coaching the other half).  In addition, we will be co-teaching with the special education teacher and about half of our students will have IEPs.  

I began to think about how I could "unflatten" school.  One of the first things that came to mind was the room arrangement.  Typically, on Meet the Teacher Night, students come in, find their name tags and choose a seat.  That becomes their seat until I decide it's time to change things up.  I wondered, "What would happen if we didn't have assigned seats?  How might our space change?"  I brainstormed some possibilities, knowing that it's important to get input from the kids when they return to school.  As I thought about what I might need as a learner, I thought about the following spaces that would help me:
  • a quiet place to work
  • a space to collaborate with others if needed
  • a space where I have access to technology
  • a space where I have access to tools to create
  • I need to be able to move around and spread out depending on what I'm doing
How could I create that environment for students?

I created this model during my initial thinking:

I envision a variety of places to sit, depending on students' needs:  tables, desks, plastic crates with cushions that can be moved around, and large pillows.  The large group meeting area is a non-negotiable.  The Quiet Zone is a place where students can work independently.  In the Creation Zone, students may work by themselves or with others.  It's a space where I imagine things are being made and problems are being solved.  In the Collaborative Work area, students may move desks around to form small groups.  And of course, there is a space to consult with the teacher.  Although, I can usually be found on the floor working with kids.  There will be no assigned seats.  Students will choose which space fits their purpose and needs.  We are also very fortunate because our students aren't confined to the walls in our room.  The special education teacher has a classroom that students will be able to use for small group work or if they need a place to work with no distractions.  The student always have access to areas in the hallway and media center too.  

Changing the classroom layout is only one tiny step in beginning to unflatten the classroom.  There are so many considerations as I begin to think about student choice, curriculum, lesson delivery, assessment, available tools, etc.  But it's a beginning.  

To read more about spaces, you can search the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter or the Google+ community.  


  1. I love that Nick's work had you re-imagining/examining your classroom space. Maybe I need to do that, too ...

  2. I enjoyed your post. I want to think about how to change the classroom space so there is more voice and choice too. When finishing the book Make Learning Personal creating learning zones without assigned seating was my first step to try this year along with the Personal Learning Profiles.

  3. I like following your thinking about your classroom, how you first looked at your own space needs. Students may take a little while to adjust to this design and freedom. But I think they will love it. I want to hear about how it's going once school starts again.

  4. The unflattening will come as you report back on the results of the reorganization. A bit ironic that your first thoughts on unflattening were a 2-d map of the space, but I see that as a necessary first step. Have you watched Flatland on YouTube? We are all trapped in our fixed vision of the world and I am so glad you are breaking outward and upward and otherward instead of just sticking to northsoutheastwest.

  5. Julie, When I read there will be no assigned seats I went, AMEN! For most of my teaching years I have not had assigned seats. They might have a special spot to work for a moment if I set out work folders ahead of time. This helps me form groups without them knowing or even partners. Sometimes they've had a seat for the day but it really ends up being a seat for just some math independent work. I find no assigned seating helps with behavior and community. Students appear more flexible and easier to work with others. I wish you luck on this new plan.

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  7. This post is worthy of appreciation, looking forward to more exciting!


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