Innovative Learning Environments

Thing 16 showed me some new ideas about innovative, flexible and modern learning environments. This has been something I’ve thought about over the past year as I’ve tried to create a space that allows me to teach in the way I want to, taking advantage of modern technologies and pedagogies.

To work effectively in an ILE, I think a teacher needs to have:

  1. Flexibility – so that he/she is able to adapt to the needs of the students, task and content, and is willing to make changes when necessary.
  2. Confidence – (perhaps the new teacher in me!) so that he/she is able to let go of control, step away from the front of the class and allow his/her students to take risks and try new things.
  3. Creativity – so that he/she is able to find solutions to problems and create new ways to help the students’ learning, taking advantage of the resources available to him/her.
  4. Curiosity – so that he/she is able to encourage this mindset in students, teaching them that it is ok not to know all the answers and that finding them is how we learn.
  5. Expertise – so that he/she can hit the sweet spot of TPaCK (technological, pedagogical and content knowledge), helping his/her learners to extend their understanding of a topic using appropriate technology and pedagogy.

I was lucky enough to upgrade my classroom desks this year to create a more flexible learning environment. I wanted classroom furniture which would allow my students to work effectively in a range of settings and tasks. While my juniors often work in groups, my seniors really enjoy whole (small) class discussion, but also need to break away for group, pair and individual work. I came across Furnware’s slice tables and was able to trade in my traditional desks for these cool “pizza” ones!

Although they take a bit of time to set up, the tables (see picture above) are very light and manoeuvrable and fit into a range of configurations – even single seating for tests! My classroom still feels quite cluttered, but the word is that we will have smaller junior classes next year. Hopefully this happen and I am able to remove some desks to create more space. This will also make it easier for the students to drag the desks around and set them up themselves. I’ve also found that the students really don’t like facing away from the board, even if I’m only using it for a few minutes at the start. I’ve requested swivel chairs next year which will hopefully help me to take advantage of the situation. I’m very fortunate to work exclusively in one classroom so can set it up how I like it, but I know the new, constantly-changing desks haven’t always been easy for itinerant teachers (and some students).

With an unlimited budget, I’d love to replace some of my shelving around the walls with whiteboards for groups to write on, as well as bring in some more comfortable furniture for when students need to read or watch something. I think having a “different” space does help students to learn in a different, less traditional way, but I do need to keep challenging myself to think outside the box and step away from the front of the room.

Have you tried to create a more flexible space in a traditional senior classroom? How has it worked?

Before we begin

Why this blog?

I’ve decided to start this blog to record my quest to flip my Classical Studies classroom. I’m hoping that, by keeping it, I’ll be able to engage more critically with the various bits and pieces that I read, reflect on and then store in the back of my head, as well as track my progress more easily.

Why flipping?

I’ve read a lot about the flipped classroom and I can really see the value in changing the way I do things. In my first year of teaching Classical Studies, I started off in a very lecture-like style, going over content in class and then trying to get the students to do more difficult activities which required higher-level thinking at home. However the less able students really struggled with these more complex tasks, and I think all students would gain more from discussions and activities in class where they can build on the simpler factual knowledge they have obtained. I also think that flipping really helps with the NCEA system of assessment, where students have to examine, evaluate and analyse content rather than just recall it.

Where am I at?

This year, I attempted to flip my Y12 and Y13 Classical Studies classes. I recorded Keynotes as video lectures, and shared them with the students via Facebook. We then built on this content in class by doing activities in class like discussions and source material analysis. It wasn’t entirely successful – more on this later! – but I think things were promising enough that I’d like to pursue it.

Where do I want to go?

As I prepare for next year, I would like to build on my progress and learn from my mistakes. Hopefully I can cut out the teething problems that I had in my first year of flipping and have a more successful second year. The key things I want to improve are:

  • my management of the flipped classroom – making sure that students engage with the content at home and come to class prepared.
  • my in-class activities – these were not always meaningful and at times I let the students have too much say in what they did, making for some lazy lessons! I want to be able to help them achieve a deeper level of understanding in class.
  • my differentiation – flipping provides an ideal opportunity for students to pursue their own interests at their own pace. I did not take full advantage of this in 2015, so next year I will aim to provide a wider variety of options and help students to achieve their own goals, in their own ways.