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Classroom Eye Candy 4: The Simplified Retreat

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If the first few classrooms featured in our Classroom Eye Candy series have anything in common, it’s that they have all been very full—full of color and furniture, things hanging on the walls, and other small details that made them interesting and stimulating.

This classroom takes a slightly different approach: Since shifting from traditional to flexible seating this past school year, 5th grade teacher Kelly Almer’s goal has been to continually simplify her classroom as much as possible, giving her students a clean, decluttered space to think and move freely.

Name: Kelly Almer
Job Title: 5th grade teacher
School Location: Littleton, CO

Q: Tell me about the evolution of this classroom. What motivated you to set it up this way?
I researched the concept of flexible or alternative seating for over a year before I took the plunge this past Fall (2016). Everything I found, with only one exception, were strong testimonials to the benefit of this type of seating. I have been an educator in the same public school district for 31 years. I enjoy trying new things and never have liked staying stagnant.

The idea of flexible seating was worth the plunge. This past year I was told to expect a large class (30+ students). That didn’t excite me. I knew 30 desks plus chairs would take up all the room in my class. We needed to move.

So I decided to change: Eliminate slowly, helping the students adjust to the concept. Every step I took was worth the effort.

My first goal was to provide choice and options for seating to maximize the ability to learn and collaborate. I wanted my students to be able to choose where they wanted to sit, based on their individual comfort and learning mode.

I started by setting up three “seating options” in my room: high, middle, and low. I removed the legs from 12 of my student desks. This allowed for the “low seating”. I purchased cushions from IKEA on top of these for seating comfort. The low seating was set up in groups of 6, 3, and 2 by themselves.

An early version of the low and middle-level seating areas.

 

The middle level seating were still the regular desks. I kept the chairs with these.  I purchased 3 high tables (also from IKEA: table legs purchased separate from the table tops). I had stools already so students could either sit or stand at these.

Each student was required to try out a different option each day. This helped them determine which location in the room and type of seating (or standing) worked best. One of the rules was to sit/stand where you can do your best work. I had the right to move students when their location wasn’t working for them. This translates to anyone goofing around/ not on task. I simply move their seat, letting them know they could be “comfortable” at the other end of the room. No one can argue with that philosophy. Being comfortable and having every opportunity to learn are the priorities.

My other goal was fluidity. Every piece of furniture is movable in my room. This took a while for students to understand they aren’t “cemented” to one spot all day. If that were true, the classroom would be a glorified traditional learning space with wonderful furniture. Things are in flux throughout the week and I find opportunities to move students, depending on the learning task.

With this arrangement, students do move around more. This takes getting used to but it only takes a short amount of time, and I realized we weren’t disturbing anyone; the learning can still continue. I learned to let go more and so did they. The constant movement kids, those with ADD or ADHD, are able to move easier and it isn’t a distraction. If it becomes too apparent, I simply ask them to walk or stand/move towards the back or side of the room. With people all over the place, this is not noticeable. Some even lay on the floor. We just walk around each other.

Q: How do you handle supplies and storage?
With the removal of desks, I knew I needed storage for supplies. At first, when a desk was removed from the room, two students shared one desk space to store their items. As we eliminated 4-6 desks at a time, sharing of available space was critical. I used some leftover bins from the dollar store (“Savers”) we used until my principal ordered 2 rolling bookshelves/cubbie holders.

The changing space also meant we had to rethink our supplies. We no longer needed 5 folders, 3 spirals, and an excess of other items.  Students simplified even further. This, as it turns out, helped them to organize themselves. We realized the desk was a space to “lose” things. Now each student has one storage bin (seen in the photo below), to house all their items. The two rolling bookshelves  each hold 20 bins so I have a total of 40 bins: plenty for even a large class. Students take their bins with them, wherever they choose to sit. When they get up and move around they simply take their bin of supplies with them.

Student cubbies and one of the high seating areas.

 

The students and I have a “common supplies” area in the room, behind the bench. Bins store extra paper, pencils, markers, sticky notes. There is no excuse for missing items. The Lost and Found bin is usually full, which I wish it wasn’t but we can still continue on our day without my waiting for someone to find their pencil.

The common supplies area.

 

Q: Describe the main areas and special features of the room.
I have several rugs in the room, at designated gathering spaces. My main area is located in the middle of the room. There is a 5 X 8 rug there. The couch, bench, and chair, with the 4 tables, anchor this space.

I have a tall bistro table and stools (purchased from a second-hand store) by the windows. There is a rug there.

I also have 8 camp chairs at the front and back of the room. A simple table (our old school office furniture and IKEA) define these with simple rugs. The rugs were from Goodwill.  As the months have gone by this academic year, I have discovered students gravitate towards certain spots. They no longer argue who gets the red chair or the couch. Many love the 2 camp chair areas. A few still prefer the couch, some love the floor at the back of the room.

Collaboration: I am in the process of eliminating bulletin boards from my classroom. My back wall is designated whiteboard space. My principal had leftover “Idea paint” and had the district “paint” a dry erase wall next to my closet. I defined this with bulletin board border. Now we have more space to write our thinking. I have students going to these boards and sharing their thinking. They take a picture of their work with their Chromebooks, to document their thinking. They love this. I didn’t realize at the start of the year but we go through dry erase markers more than pencils.

Thinking Charts: For traditional large paper charts, I purchased a chart stand (Amazon). It has metal rings that hold a large paper chart. This houses our thinking charts for math and reading, writing. Students can move the chart around the room and flip to the references they need. It also acts as a partition for small group work areas.

Decorations and color scheme: I don’t have things hanging from the walls, in front of the windows, or from wires. I believe this creates too much “visual pollution”. Simplify what the kids see, keep it simple. What I have on my walls, above my boards, are nice decorations. My color scheme is traditional red (accent color) and navy blue. All of my boards (those that are left) are covered in navy blue fabric and lined with red and white polka dot border trim. I never change the color scheme or the fabric boards. This is year 3 and the color still looks brand new.

My furniture is also red and blue. The theme is cowboy/western. I have antique bridles, cowboy coffee pots, and such, displayed above the dry erase walls and on a shelf (up high). Above my wall of windows, I have evenly spaced cowboy hats. Each year I add one more hat with the students’ thumbprints on it.  I suggest keeping to a simple theme and color scheme. Dark bulletin boards (even black) work best.

Q: What other details make this room special?
Lighting and Music: I was never a fan of the overhead lights. I purchased from Lowes, a set of 5 lamps. These are placed at each main gathering spot in the room. My blinds are almost never closed (unless we’re in a lockdown drill). I also play music throughout the day from Spotify to add to the atmosphere.

Snacks: I offer snacks and mints. My school population is 49-51% free and reduced lunch. I offer a bin of snacks: students can pick one a week. They LOVE this. The mints are from Target: Lifesavers mints. They come in a bag of 500. I keep these and pass them out when we are working on a test or studying. My classroom parents purchased a mini popcorn machine for us during the holidays. We have popcorn once a month This is a real treat and adds to the uniqueness of the room.  We also have hot chocolate when it is cold out.

Almer’s desk. Yes, it stays that neat all the time!

 

Q: What about fire codes?
My district doesn’t have strict fire codes, other than nothing blocking the doors and the blinds must be able to close quickly. In case of a lock down, I placed simple dowels with fabric, above each door’s window. I simply pull the dowel off the door (it is on Command hooks) and the fabric rolls down instantly. I place the dowel back on the hook and it covers the door (Pinterest idea).

Q: Where did you get the materials for the room?
I went through DonorsChoose and PledgeCents. Both were great, getting the wobble cushions, back patter chairs, and other supplies. For the other items, I am not afraid to approach local businesses, asking for their support. They can only say no. Most say yes. It never hurts to ask.

I also believe in garage sales, second-hand stores, IKEA, Walmart, Amazon. I can always find great deals there. I took my clipboards and decorated them, as the other teacher did on a different eye candy feature, for students. I keep these in a bin with the classroom supplies shelf.

The tractor stools are from Walmart.com. They were a bit pricey: $38 each (you can also find these on Amazon). I purchased them seven years ago and they are still as good as ever. Worth the investment.

Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting to simplify their classroom?
Start slow and change a few things. Shorten desks by eliminating the legs. Once you do that, purchase leg stoppers to slip on the ends of the desks, so the floor doesn’t get marked up. Find a tall table in your building for standing space. Think of storage as you eliminate desks. Simplify students’ materials and think of a central location to keep their items and common supplies.

Think of your “teacher area” as well. I am eliminating more of my space, as I don’t spend much time there.

As you change the room, keep in mind you need to help the students think differently. A cool space only works if you are willing to help the kids learn how to work together.

Q: How is the mood of the room different now that you’ve made this change?
I started the switch in August of this school year. I originally had 30 desks, some chairs, traditional chairs. The room was CROWDED. As the transition took place, the students were as excited as me. When the room was finished (for the most part), by Fall conferences, everyone loved it. Parents came to every conference telling me how their student changed so much for the better this year. The atmosphere is very very relaxed. I have almost no behavior problems. The mood is very relaxed and happier. There is a sense of calmness that others in the building remark about. I even feel “relaxed” when I walk in. I will never go back to traditional seating again. ♦

 


You can read more about the evolution of Kelly’s classroom on her blog, Study Like Starbucks.


 

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45 Comments

  1. Kate says:

    Love the idea of using bins for materials! How do you handle seating for state testing?

    • April says:

      This is my question as well. I love this and it would easily fit my teaching style, but my district and state require a lot (way too much) testing. This kind if seating would be a big issue.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Great question!
      I was a bit worried about this but really didn’t need to.
      With fewer items (desks) in my room, it became easier than I had thought, to move students around. Furniture was moved to create “walls” to separate kids. I have cardboard privacy screens that came in handy too. For the most part I told kids to help me separate the room into individual spots for testing AND these spots could not allow anyone to see anyone else’s computer screens. Within 15 minutes we had several configurations. We kept the room like this for the two week testing period. It worked. With the students being comfortable in this environment, I found they could focus the entire testing session! Our sessions were 80-90 minutes in length as well. This wasn’t the case when we sat at traditional desks the previous years. Students found concentrating difficult in the hard blue desk chairs.
      Seeing my students laying around, lounging while concentrating on the tests every day was so uplifting for them and for me.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Kate,

      Great question! Testing was in my mind when I first decided to switch my room. I simply asked my students to give me ideas for furniture movement to allow for individual student “spots” where no one could see anyone’s computer screen. They came up with clever ways to move the room’s furniture. We also had cardboard privacy screens that helped create barriers.
      I kept the room like this for the two week testing period. With 80-90 minute sessions I found the students were able to stay on task the entire testing time. Being comfortable while testing made the biggest difference this year. I hadn’t seen the commitment to testing as I did this year. It was a welcome relief.

  2. Elaine says:

    Thank you, Kelly (and Jenny)! There’s so much to admire about your classroom, Kelly. You solved a big problem with visual clutter by using the chart stand, which doubles as a partition “wall.” I’m sure your students love being in your classroom.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Elaine,
      Thanks for your compliment. My students really do love coming into my room and I do too! It is calming and relaxing. Even on days when my patience is tested (we all have these!) I can breathe and relax.

      Yes, the chart stand does alleviate the clutter! We simply flip to the ones we need, when we need them. It serves many purposes. I also keep blank chart paper on the stand for collaboration…in fact, on both sides of the chart to provide for two groups’ work space.

  3. Cheryl Hodaba says:

    Another neat trick for storage is to use discarded card catalogs. I rescued one from our school dumpster. All my teaching materials were in the top drawers and all the student materials were on the bottom. Mine had red labels, the students’ drawers had green labels. I got rid of my desk and one of the rolling supply carts I had previously. It worked like a charm while providing a bit of nostalgia for a bibliophile teacher!

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a great resource to use: the card catalog. I love the idea.

      • I am so fascinated by this idea will adopt it for my learners!FANTASTIC IDEA!

        Snacks: I offer snacks and mints. My school population is 49-51% free and reduced lunch. I offer a bin of snacks: students can pick one a week. They LOVE this. I keep these and pass them out when we are working on a test or studying.

        My classroom parents purchased a mini popcorn machine for us during the holidays. We have popcorn once a month This is a real
        treat and adds to the uniquess of the room.

         We also have hot chocolate when it is cold out.GREAT !

      • I must recheck the card cxatalogue again

  4. Wendy Hebron says:

    So the couch is really cool. Where did it come from?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Wendy,

      The couch was a donation which I was very fortunate to say yes! to. It is made by Bretford and USB compatible. The kids LOVE it! Whatever furniture you get, make sure it is very sturdy and washable.

  5. Kelly says:

    Love your room. Different question- What apps/programs do your kids use the camera with on their Chromebooks? We keep having issues with our firewall blocking certain ones.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      We use Screencastify and have been pleased. In fact, the students have had to clear out their Screencastify library as they fill up their archive! They know they shouldn’t record for more than 2-3 minutes: keep t short. Many cover their Chromebook cameras with a sticky note to protect their privacy and we almost always use “Desktop” option hen recording so we see only what is on their screen in videos.
      Simple to download too.

  6. Julie says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve started to move to flexible seating and would like to do more. The simplification here is appealing to me. Great inspiration!

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Julie,

      Thanks for the compliment. I hope what I did and process I went through helps you in your transformation.

  7. I love the whole process you went through and how much thought went into everything.
    I am a big fan of sitting on the floor or on a couch when working (I am doing that right now) but if I have to work for an extended period of time my back start aching if I’m not on a proper chair. Don’t the students get uncomfortable after a while?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Renate,

      Thanks for asking. If (and they do from time to time) the students get uncomfortable in any way or restless and need to move…they do. This type of environment allows for movement. Because it does, it is not distracting to others. No longer is there the “stay in your seat” rule with feet on the floor. Students move as they need to.
      Mo only rule for this is to wait until direct entire classroom instruction is done. They respect this. I don’t mind the subtle movements going on while I am holding direct instruction, which happens often.

      Be prepared for this. It really doesn’t become a distractions as it once was when we had desks. When you think of it, the traditional desks and chairs ARE a distraction when moved but now, not nearly so much the case.

  8. Kathleen says:

    I love the look and feel of this! Next year I will have two groups of 28-30 students, and I am looking for a way to have a more inviting space with less clutter. I just wonder how students are seated during state test time. I am afraid that once I give up my desks may not get them back if I need them for the state tests. Has anybody in a testing grade done anything like this?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Kathleen,
      Funny you should ask this. No one in my building had moved to flexible seating: I was the first. I did ask my principal before doing this if it would be ok. I wanted her support. She was in full support. She also asked if I would be able to find 30+ places for my students so sit with privacy, for the state testing. Yes, I was confident I could do this.
      Thus the transformation.
      If you look at my replies to other questions before yours, others have asked too.
      It is discouraging when we have to concern ourselves with the “testing environment” but it is what we are faced with today.
      I didn’t want my flexible classroom to be put on the back burner because of testing.
      I asked my students to help me redesign the room to allow for testing.
      Within 15-20 minutes three of my boys did. They loved the challenge!
      We moved furniture around…and I mean everything. We could accommodate every student in the classroom with a private space. We also had every student sit at that spot and open their Chromebook and look around. IF anyone could see another’s Chromebook screen, we readjusted. I also had my building’s Instructional Coach come in to see, to verify.
      During testing, each student was very comfortable AND stayed on task almost every testing session for the entire two weeks! I believe because they had been comfortable all year long in this environment, they were still comfortable during testing. It worked.
      I want you to know our testing sessions were anywhere from 90-90 minutes a day.
      We kept the changed setting the entire two week period as well.

      • Lori says:

        That sounds great. Testing just makes everyone uncomfortable and stressed. A less stressful environment makes such a big difference

  9. Heather says:

    Is this doable for fist year teachers who have yet to accumulate ‘everything’? Or is it better left for teachers with more classroom management experience?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Heather,

      Funny you should ask that. My daughter teaches in the same school district as me and just completed her second year. She decided to switch to flexible seating in her building (same grade level). She went with a more simplified process: Removed legs of 12 of her desks, kept the rest, eliminated 6-8 desks and purchased (got reimbursed) two tall tables. She also purchased some pillows from Goodwill.
      Her students LOVED it! This will be her third year this coming academic year, 2017-2018. She won’t go back and intends to continue with the process even more.
      I say go slow if you are a new teacher: starting with low, middle, and high seating/standing options. This will be a welcome change in your room and for the students. Having this type of environment isn’t only an option for “seasoned” teachers. Anyone can do this. Just remember there is a process to follow and the classroom management must change as well, to successfully implement this type of seating. You can make it work. I think, having fewer items in your room (not collected through the years as you are new) is to your benefit to have this type of situation.
      Good luck and keep me informed of your process.

  10. Noelle says:

    How big is your room and how many students do you have at one time? I tried flexible seating last year, but it wasn’t successful. I would like to try again this year, but am concerned due to the sheer number of students I have (130). My room is not very large, and I have between 30-35 students per hour. I teach 8th grade pre-algebra, 7th and 8th grade geometry. Any suggestions to make this year more successful?

    • Kelly says:

      Noelle,

      You have great questions. I am sad to read the flexible seating didn’t work last year for you. You should ask “why” as that may help determine what element(s) need addressing if you do it this coming academic year.

      As far as my classroom size: I can’t give you the perfect dimensions…
      I can tell you my building was built in was constructed in the 1950. VERY traditional classrooms with one inside entrance. I would guess maybe 30 by 30 as an estimate.

      I will have 30 students in my room during typical instruction. For a few of my classes this can vary to 4 more or 2-4 less.

      I can honestly say, moving out the traditional desks and chairs I can fit in MORE students than before. We can sit by each other and still have room. There are many times when I and others are walking over and around kids so it seems “full” but it is a “relaxed” kind of full.
      Does that make sense?

      To make this coming year successful, start slow and enforce (positively) the use of the three types of seating (low, middle, high). Make a chart of rules to follow to be successful in the classroom. I let my students know the two most important rules are to:
      -Work where you can be your most successful self.
      -Anyone not adhering to the prior rule will be asked to move by me: no questions asked. What we do in my room is so very important, we can’t afford to goof around or become unfocused. I simply move a chair or cushion and student to a new location whenever I have needed to.

      Keep me informed. I hope this learning environment can work for you and your students.

  11. Teri Johnson says:

    I love this idea. Thank you so much for sharing! I already encourage students to pick a place in the room to work where they can “be successful”. However, I really like the idea of offering more small work areas with varied heights of furniture, etc. The biggest question I have is how it looks like during direct whole-class instruction. Are students scattered around the room during that time as well, or maybe all centered around one space on the floor, in chairs, etc.? I’m having a hard time visualizing that. Also, what about science experiments? Do you ever miss having the amount of hard surface areas a class set of desks provides?

    • Kelly says:

      Great question.
      Whole class instruction can look “traditional” with the entire class gathered around me near a board or “as they are” spread out across the room. I have done both. I just let students know when I want them to gather up around me, wherever I happen to be, front or side or back of the room. They move furniture to be where I am. So a whole-class gathering is precisely that: whole-class. As long as they gather, that is what matters. Having the flexible furniture allows me to do this wherever I want. I do use the largest area rug for many of my teaching sessions but not always. This gives me more flexibility to meet when I need to.

      Regarding science experiments:
      I have two tall tables and one shorter one. These are what I sue for Science experiments. The entire grade level dissected cow eyes this past spring and we sat on the floor of my room, moving carpets and furniture aside. This was easier.
      Make sure you have several tables for this purpose in the room and they can serve as tables for the classroom, students to stand at or sit on stools by.
      I haven’t missed the desk tops at all and suspect I won’t. The talbes take their place.

  12. Beth says:

    This is my favorite Classroom Eye Candy yet. Some rooms focus far too much on decor and a look. I appreciate Ms. Almer’s approach to a clean and uncluttered look. The second I return to teaching, I will be working on adopting some of her approaches.

    • Kelly says:

      Beth,

      Thank you so much for your comment! Please stay in touch. I would love to know how your process and transformation takes place and what wonderful setting you come up with!

  13. Teri says:

    I teach high school, and the bodies are bigger! Our school desk are traditional fixed-arm and the students bring backpacks/purses to class. Do you have any suggestions for me?

    • Kelly says:

      Teri,

      “Big kids” shouldn’t be too challenging for this type of environment.
      I have seen flexible seating at my former high school: the teacher used couches and chairs (stuffed arm chairs) and a combination of traditional desks and chairs with a few bean bags. Students simply set their backpacks either by the door (a collection place for their things) or next to their spots. I have seen some circular tables and a few traditional rectangular tables as well with traditional chairs at the tables.

      Changing up a few things, slowly, would be the ticket for you. I suggest finding a couch at a garage sale then two stuffed chairs. This can replace 4-6 desks. Simply removing this many desks will make a big difference in your room. A simply rug at this area will also define the area and set a more relaxed tone.

      I found a table from my school’s front hallway for one of my seating areas. You could probably find unwanted furniture too, in your building.
      Another idea is to place a simple tablecloth over a set of 4 traditional desks. This creates a feeling of relaxation too.

      Keep in touch. I would love to know how you begin your transformation.

  14. Kelly says:

    Thanks for sharing your learning space with us! Do you have a photo of kids working at low seating options? I am curious how they balance their chrome book and materials without a table or desktop. Thanks!

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Kelly,

      I don’t have any photos at the moment of kids working at the low seating but I can explain perhaps, how they worked:
      -Many sat on the chair cushions (Goodwill store and IKEA), placing their Chromebooks and materials on the desks in front of them. Once I rid the desks completely, I replaced them with 3 short end tables ($7 at IKEA, each) or two long coffee tables (IKEA), the ones with a shelf underneath. Students placed their items on the shelf.
      -For those who sat on the floor without a table, I purchased plastic lap boards (IKEA). I bought 2 larger-sized black boards and 5 smaller white ones. I believe these were $6 each.

      Students chose which of these options they wanted. Some used a clipboard, of which I had a bucket full.

      Whenever students got tired of sitting on the floor, they simply moved to a new position. I would say the majority preferred a cushion to sit on but some wanted the hard floor.

  15. Brittany says:

    Hello! This looks wonderful! I had a quick question- did you ever rotate classes with another teammate, or were you self contained? I would love to try some of this in my room, but I will be switching twice a day, three days a week😕 Not sure if it will be a good idea with that much transition going on. Thanks!
    Brittany

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Brittany,

      You asked some great questions!
      I had a self-contained classroom this past academic year BUT I switched classes once every month, at the start of the year. I had one of my teammates’ class for Science (40 minutes) daily, for 5 weeks, then the other teammate’s class.
      This coming academic year I will have the following setup:
      -My homeroom class for the first 120 minutes (for class meeting then Math).
      -One of my teammate’s class, for the next 100 minutes
      -The final teammate’s class for another 100 minutes.
      I will be teaching Math to the entire grade level! We are departmentalizing. I can’t wait! I am in an elementary school so we have specials (library, music, pe, art, technology) plus lunch and recess. I also teach an arts class (drawing) two days a week for 25-30 kids in grades 3-5.

      So with these “switches” I know I will have to instruct all three classes in the concept of flexible seating. So what I instruct for my homeroom (or home base) class will also have to be taught to the other two classes.

      With this shifting from room to room (the kids rotate to the rooms not the teachers), I will be making room for more “common supplies.”
      Since I will be instructing students in math, there are many workbooks and manipulatives, charts I will need. I plan on housing these things in colored bins, one color for each period or class.
      We will do this as a grade level: first period or homeroom classes will be yellow. Second period will be blue and third period green. Students will number their folders and booklets and I will house them in bins accordingly. This should alleviate any mix ups of materials.

      Stay in touch. I can let you know what I come up with and am happy to share. I would love to know what you develop as well.

  16. Carmen says:

    I love the idea of flexible seating but I’m struggling to visualize how do you do it for direct whole class instruction? Are the students all over the room? Or are the students centered in one area of the room?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Carmen,
      Great question.

      I have pulled students together on the largest area rug in my room for whole-class instruction and let them stay where they were in the room. When you think of class instruction, you probably do what I do: ask for their attention and they stop what they are doing. I can do this whether they are in their small groups or I want them near to me.
      Either way, I let them know where I want them to be and we move furniture if necessary, to meet.

      I have been known to meet with kids, large groups, at the back of the room or near the large chart. I simply ask students to more if I need their space. They are agreeable and isn’t a big deal. That’s the beauty of flexible seating: we simply move what we need to in order to meet.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you need more information. The freedom to move around is indeed that, freeing for you and for everyone.

  17. Lori says:

    What do you do for students who can’t work with music on? I remember I had a math teacher who for about 2 weeks would play music . I didn’t say anything because I was afraid the other kids would hate me. But it made me have so much homework because I just couldn’t think with the music on. Not sure why she suddenly stopped except maybe someone else complained. Yeah, I don’t know, but I was glad.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Lori,

      Great question and I have had a few students who need quiet Or who didn’t like the music I played.

      Headphones

      I have approximately 15, purchased from Home Depot ($24.99). I asked parents to help support and a few bought several for me each year.
      I keep these in large plastic bags, each numbered with a sharpie. We use wipes on them before and after each use. They stay cleaner in the plastic bags too.

      I let my students know anyone at any time can use these: when they want quiet. Many take me up on them. They are in a bin in my room.

      Some students bring their own from home too. We have a small fee on the student supply list, for a set of inexpensive earbuds. These work too. I just make sure they aren’t plugged in, listening to music, as that isn’t allowed in my building.

  18. Jennifer Harper says:

    I’m really interested in the low seating that is in the picture at the top. The one that is in the foreground with the female student sitting and working at a laptop. What kind of seat is this? Where are they available from?

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Jennifer,

      I love these seats too!
      They are called, “Backpatters Chairs” or commonly known as “Comfy Floor Seats” from LakeShore Learning. They come in red and blue, as you see in the photo. They aren’t cheap: $49.99. I got 6 from a grant “DonorChoose”. The backs are adjustable. We LOVE them!

      I have seen similar ones from another teacher’s room in my building who also changed her room to flexible seating. They were the same type cushion only in vinyl and they were yellow or green. You could probably find them cheaper.

      Shop around. There are many similar models out there.

  19. Jennifer says:

    Love the simplicity. What do you teach? I can see this working well for reading, writing and most of math. I usually teach in a self-contained 5th. This coming year we are departmentalizing a bit , and I will have bulk of science and Social Studies( I try to make it as project based as possible ) and one section of math . Wondering if you find some of these spaces awkward for project work and experiments. I am also wondering if you have a way to circle up or pull the group together for a discussion or sharing out that feels cohesive? Many of my 5th’s bodies get achy sitting in a circle on a rug.

    • Kelly Almer says:

      Jennifer,

      Thanks for the compliment. The room is so relaxing!
      This past year I taught every subject. This coming academic year I will teach three sections of Math (to the entire 5th grade level) and have a homeroom, plus I will teach drawing to a group of 25-30 3rd to 5th graders twice a week.

      I did have to rethink the space for the group projects I had:
      -build a marble maze with a jump, two tunnels, using only XXX materials. I have to clear out the room practically, to make room for their mazes! We still carried on with school, just being creative where the projects were and how we met. They took this in stride!
      -cow eye dissections! Yep, we moved the furniture to the perimeter of the room and dissected on the floor, one class at a time rotating through. We then put the furniture back. They were flexible for this too.

      For class meetings/share out as an entire class, we have done this several ways:
      -move furniture so everyone can sit on the floor. (Some sat on cushions and the others the floor).
      -We sit around in a large circle, using cushions, the camp stools, tractor stools, folding camp chairs, floor, pulling the furniture around for a big circle.
      -We stay where we are in the classroom, just turning chairs around so everyone can see each other before we talk. Sometimes there is very little movement when we do this: maybe only 1 group moving to be more included with the others in the room.

      So there are various ways. Having the furniture move when you need it makes this easier.
      It does help, to develop configurations for such occasions and map them out, keeping the diagrams somewhere handy. Students can refer to the chart when you say “circle time” or whatever you call it.

  20. Love love the classroom but not so sure about the need to state the desk stays that tidy all the time. I truly believe a tidy desk is not necessarily the sign of a good teacher. My desk is tidy at the beginning of the day and I never leave for home without tidying it again but through the day it is at times almost invisible under work to be admired/commented on/corrected, chopping board from cutting fruit, notes to go home, notes from home, home made gifts, hundreds of ‘just put it on my desk’ things, books, drink bottles and of course my half drunk tea cups. again i love the room and wish mine was like that rather than traditional tables and chairs! Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Kathy! I added that caption because it happens to be a priority for Kelly, but this is definitely not a necessity for good teaching. Everyone functions optimally under different conditions. I personally struggle with clutter and get very cranky when my surroundings are a mess, which is often, so I can see how pushing myself to have an area that “always” stays clean could do wonders for my state of mind. It’s something to shoot for, anyway, but definitely not for everyone!

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