I see a lot of folks on Twitter talking a lot about learning spaces and how much they affect the environment. Part of me wants to disagree with that, mostly because I'm one of those relational sort of guys, who believes that it is the relationships that matter, that the physical context isn't as important.
And then the 16 year old in me that planned on being an architect pops up to disagree, remind me of how I always hate the fact that schools, churches and other buildings have become these bland boxes. We spend millions to make sure a stadium looks impressive to lure recruits and fans, but a school?!? From the stucco boxes of Florida where I grew up to the brick boxes of Tennessee where I teach now, there is a lot of blandness. One thing I loathed at my last school (which I loved in many ways!) was how dark it seemed in the hallways, that sort of institutional hallway that has never seen a spot of sunlight, brightened only by the lifeless glare of fluorescence.
I teach in a beautiful school right now, one with such a ridiculous amount of natural light that it is almost hard to see the smartboards in the afternoon because of the sunlight, even with the blinds. That's a good problem to have of course. The view 20 feet from my classroom is below, so I have no room to complain now of course. And yes, that is the Sunsphere, but it looks a lot nicer than in the Simpsons episode where they chant "Knoxville, Knoxville..."
But in the depot, as my building is called, we have this simply amazing upstairs space that I wish I had the foresight to have taken photos of, a long 3 open connected classrooms, all with a smart board, and all of the technological goodies. That's awesome enough since it gets used all the time, as regular classrooms as well as for some unique classes like our 76 student STEM class (3 teachers).
What worked so well for me this week though was our "App rooms". You know how in colleges and libraries you have these small rooms that you could fit a table and 4-6 people easily, sort of private study rooms. That's what our app rooms are for, all 7 of them. I had my APES kids making videos of cycles of matter, split them up into 7 teams and upstairs to the app rooms we went. Each group had their own private space that was still academic in nature, but they could plan, brainstorm and record with just their group (and their teacher skulking around).
In my own room I'm locked in since my "classroom" is the Chemistry lab, with tables that ain't moving no matter what and chairs that move no matter what. I'd love to have some beanbags, comfy chairs, different sized tables etc. But the fact that there is still flexibility to be found and that is actually accessible and not taken up by whatever normal craziness goes on in a school on a day to day basis is great.
It really made my week and made me again think of the context, the environment, as well as the relationships.