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Classroom Eye Candy 3: The Funky Science Lab

 

It’s back!! After many, many months, I am ready to show you the third classroom in our Classroom Eye Candy series. All images will open up nice and big in a new window if you click on them.

Ready?

Classroom Tour

Kisaundra Harris

Name: Kisaundra Harris (@curriculumgeek)

Job Title: 11th and 12th Anatomy & Physiology Teacher

School Location: Amarillo, Texas

 

 

 

Q: Tell me about the evolution of this classroom. What was your thinking when you put it together this way?

A: I first became inspired by a previous Classroom Eye Candy post. I immediately fell in love with the room and could not stop thinking about doing the same for mine as well. After a month or so of extensive academic research about flexible seating, I began questioning my students, peers, and coworkers about their feelings about my “crazy” idea. I realized flexible seating went hand-in-hand with my student population of 21st Century learners, but I struggled to find pictures and ideas of how to make this work in a secondary classroom. Then, one Saturday morning, while enjoying a latte at our eclectic and funky locally owned coffee establishment, I had my lightbulb moment: My classroom would have the look, feel and vibe of a coffee shop.

My traditional desks were fine, but they did not lend themselves to my 1:1 classroom, collaboration, or my teaching style. Most of the time after I had introduced the lesson for the day, I would have to awkwardly navigate little “islands” that were created when my students placed their desks together. If students were in the middle of my classroom it was like I was working in a real-life version of a labyrinth.  

I started small by adding in the two black chairs,  lamp and small tables that you see in the back. This did not require me to get rid of anything, but it helped me to ease into the idea. As you can already predict, this became “the” place to sit in my classroom and students began arriving early so they could stake their claim before class. This proved to me that I was on to something and I needed to take action.

 

 

Eventually my curiosity and need to experiment on a larger scale overrode my fear of losing my desks and what I thought would be control. When I decided to make the change I approached our principal, lead counselor, and learning leader with my idea and asked for their input. They gave me the thumbs up.

The last two weeks of school, I slowly started moving out my thirty student desks and on the last day all desks had been removed. These desks were sent to our boiler room where they were stored and used to replace old and broken desks. Up until this point, I only had a fairly good idea of how I wanted my classroom to look. Now that I had a blank canvas in front of me, I had a clear vision of exactly what I needed and how it would look.

I decided to divide the front part of my room into six sections. Each section would have some sort of seating and I would diversify these options when I could. Because of lack of storage at home, I brought in all the individual chairs early. I instinctively placed them on the wall; my students loved the placement and so did I. Many of my soon-to-graduate seniors broke those chairs in by taking their semester exam on clipboards. They were happy to have a comfy seat but also a little angry at me because next year’s class would benefit from my new room arrangement.

 

 

Q: Describe some of the most important spaces in your classroom and how they work. What are your favorite parts of the room? What are your students’ favorite parts?

A: The couch, oh my goodness the couch. Students LOVE the couch and it is the most popular seating option in my classroom. Students’ next favorite places to sit are the round table and the turquoise table. These tables make for great collaboration and they can easily pull up other chairs when needed. They work incredibly well with our Chromebooks and allow for great creating and conversation. They are also the perfect size for labs and dissection. One surprise and unexpected benefit for me was the turquoise table. This has become my favorite place to grade assignments as I have room for stacks of papers, grading pens, folders, coffee and all of those other assessment necessities.

 

 

Other popular places to sit include the papasan, on the floor around the coffee tables (often on pillows), and on my small stools. I have noticed my male students prefer sitting at the tall table behind the couch more than my female students. With that said, when we are in the midst of an assignment or project they do love to stand around the table with their Chromebooks. It is the perfect height for working with technology.

Finally the most functional and important area of my room is the one around the brown bookshelf. This is where students go to get baskets for supplies, a lap desk, clipboard, TV tray (they love these with their Chromebooks) and folding chairs. If you notice in the photos I have some carpet squares and a rug in a basket. These, along with the lap desks, are not as popular as I thought they would be. They do get used, but not as much as the other items. Something to consider if you’re trying to make the most of your budget.

 

 

Q: Explain how the seating works. Do students have assigned seats or is it all totally up for grabs?

In my research leading up to the room rollout, it became obvious I would need a routine in place that would prevent students from domineering over a certain area. So I have them choose a seating area that basically serves as their “home base” for a few weeks. This is where they sit when they arrive to class. Once I have taken roll and have explained the lesson for the day, students are free to move around as they need. In fact, it is vital for them to move from one area to another in order to maximize collaboration and communication with their peers.

Every three weeks or so, right around the time progress reports or report cards are sent out, we have a Musical Chairs Day, when students choose a new home base from one of the nine seating areas, including the seven up front (including the wall with the chairs) the two black chairs in the back, and any of the lab tables. The selection on this day is first come first served, but students must change to a completely different area and not sit in the same one again until they have rotated through all nine areas.

This system gives students an opportunity to sit in all areas of my room. It keeps the process equal for all but it also allows for flexibility with the lesson focus for the day. I wish I could tell students to sit where they would best learn each day, but if I did, I would have a huge fight over the couch Every. Single. Day.

I often forget to remind them about Musical Chairs Day but they always remind me. When I post the announcement on Google Classroom, students begin to plot out where they would like to sit next and they designate who will be the responsible person for claiming their chosen new area. On Musical Chairs Day no is ever tardy and in fact, students get to class earlier than usual.

 

 

Q: Has your classroom always been like this? If not, how is the mood of the room different now that you’ve made this change?

A: My classroom has always been a relaxing place for learning, but the changes this year have elevated this feeling. I am having one of my most enjoyable and rewarding years in education and this is my seventeenth year to teach. Seniors are a dream to teach and they do not normally cause discipline issues, but I generally have a handful pop up throughout the year. This year I have had zero discipline issues. Students seem more engaged in the learning and they are never bored. While it would be difficult to prove all of this from a research aspect, it is hard to believe that all of these observations are pure coincidence.

 

 

Q: Where did you get the materials for the room?

A: Big tip: Towards the end of the school year is the best time to start snagging those items you need or think you need for your classroom! Let teachers know what you are looking for so you have eyes in lots of places. It was simply coincidence that I started furnishing my room in May and it worked out really well for me.

It is also a good idea to find your inner crafty self or make a friend who has already found his/hers. A can of spray paint, some material, varnish, and sweat equity can make all the difference for a thrift store or garage sale find.

Speaking of garage sales, if you find something you are interested in, tell the seller you are a teacher and what you plan to do with it. I never intended on trying to get a lower price; it just always happened as a result of normal conversation about the item I was inquiring about.

 

 

Purchased Items

  • 2 IKEA Lack side tables. These are inexpensive and work really well.
  • 4 IKEA Marius stools. These get used ALL the time and are a great investment for their super sturdiness.
  • 2 IKEA Jordrok pillows. I wish I had purchased more of these.  I had no idea my students would love using these to sit on the floor. I also purchased two of the matching pillow cases as well.
  • I recently added 2 IKEA Jassa floor cushions. These are not pictured but have been used every single day since I brought them in.
  • The rug in front of the couch is made of plastic. I purchased mine from Amazon but you can also buy something similar from World Market.
  • IKEA Fixa floor protectors. There are several in a package and I wish I had purchased more. They are thin and I found they do not come off like other, thicker pads.

Favorite Projects & Tips

  • Round table: This table had previously been in my principal’s office, then my friend’s room and then to my room. When I received it, it had the typical brown top and I wanted something prettier. I found an inexpensive round table cloth on Amazon and decoupaged it onto the table. After many, many coats of varnish it has held up incredibly well!
  • Square table with print: I got a great deal on this table from a Facebook garage sale post, but the top needed some TLC.  I copied pages out of vintage books and then decoupaged them onto the table.
  • Wooden chairs with cloth seats: It takes a small amount of material to recover each seat and it is fairly easy. I would HIGHLY recommend also purchasing clear vinyl to go cover the material. Because you know, life.
  • Painted chairs, clipboards and coffee tables: Each item received the same treatment. A thorough sanding, a coat of spray primer, another light sanding, two to three coats of spray paint and all of this would be topped off with three to four coats of spray varnish. Except the tables; I did use liquid varnish on those. Think you’ve added enough varnish? Add a few more coats.
  • Pillows: Every pillow has a waterproof cover under the pillow case. I take the pillow cases home and wash them every six weeks.
  • Information binder: I printed off several articles and research about flexible seating and placed these in a binder. This was out for parents to view during Meet the Teacher night and I always have it handy in case an administrator or visitor has a question.

 

 

Q: What else should we know when studying your room?

A: The only time I ever turn on the overhead lights is lab day. I also play music through my surround sound during most of class. I play from a variety of stations and each depends on the situation, the assignment and the weather. Writing and reflecting calls for jazz while labs require something more upbeat. The only exception to this rule is Fridays. On Fridays we almost always listen to 80’s music; everyone loves the 80’s!

I spent the better part of the first six weeks teaching and modeling for students the procedures and my expectations for the room. I said the same phrases and demonstrated things over and over again until we all got tired of it. Then one day all the chairs were pushed in, the pillows were replaced, and the clipboards were where they were supposed to be. I knew all of the information had finally set in. I still remind them periodically about my expectations but the solid month of instruction certainly helped.

I recently asked some of my students what their favorite part of my room was. I was fully expecting to hear a resounding statement of “the couch,” but their answer surprised and enlightened me. One young lady instantly said her favorite part of my room was the “aura since we don’t have to be stuck in desks all period.” I looked at her with a puzzled expression and another young lady explained by saying, “Mrs. Harris, your room has a chill vibe and it’s a haven for students.” Finally, one young man commented as they all walked out of my room, “Your room is a safe place.”

These comments made me realize that my research, hard work, paint-stained clothes and effort were all worth it. In the end my classroom design experiment has been an overwhelming success for both me and my students. I regret nothing, except that I did not do it sooner. ♥

 


Do you have a unique classroom? We’re looking for creative and innovative classrooms and other learning spaces. Even if you just have one really magical bulletin board, a brilliantly organized supply closet, or the best filing system ever, let us see it! Send us an email through the contact form with a link to a few high-quality photos in a Google Drive or Dropbox folder and we’ll check it out.


 

There’s more where this came from.
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Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

Latest posts by Jennifer Gonzalez (see all)

Jennifer Gonzalez

Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

41 Comments

  1. I would love for my classroom to have these things, but I teach in Indiana where our legislators felt that it was important for them to inject a 9 page document of “You Cants” into my life. Absolutely everything in this classroom appears on the list plus even more.

    • Wow, Kendra. That is awful. When did this happen? Would you mind sharing a few specific items that are on the list? Do you have a link to the document?

      • I sent an email because I was having trouble typing here. It all suddenly disappeared!?

        • Did you receive it?
          Oh yes, in addition to that list, I can only have a certain percentage of my walls covered…with anything.

          • Hi Jennifer,
            I tried to post a reply on the webpage, but couldn’t.
            Anyway, I don’t have a link because they gave us all a hard copy, but it includes:
            Specific guidelines for how close anything can be to the ceilings
            No plug-ins or essential oil diffusers
            Recommendations for my perfume usage
            No plants/animals in classroom unless document completed with educational outcomes
            No anchor charts etc. hanging from the ceiling
            No disinfectant anything (spray, cleaners)—Cold season was a nightmare since I couldn’t hose down the doorknobs or pencil sharpeners once the kids left. I created a “Blow Zone” by the wastebasket with procedures as to how to live.
            No cloth on bulletin boards or table cloths covering tables
            No upholstered anything
            Carpet has to be Fire 1 rated (super expensive)
            No coffee pots, fridges, microwaves
            These are off the top of my head.
            They initiated this in 2002, but my school corporation started enforcing it last year. By enforcing it I mean that there is an entire department (combined salaries for the department-over 600,000!!!!Thank goodness public employee salaries are published!)
            So…yeah. Sigh.
            This is my 36th year.

  2. I was wondering the same and have been looking for such a document. Do tell.

  3. Our fire Marshall would absolutely never allow such a space to be created. No furniture, no fabric, no fun! We are restricted in how much wall space we can cover.

  4. Absolutely love the creativity and imagination that went into designing the space! While I do believe my administration would be totally on board with this, I wouldn’t know where to begin! Something to think about!

    • Hi Catherine,

      Like I said in the article, start small and build from there. Add in seating as you find it and ask for your student’s feedback 🙂

      Happy seating!

  5. Kisaundra, can you speak more about how you do labs? I teach HS Chemistry, and would love to do this in my classroom, but my room is a “dual purpose” classroom and lab (which basically means it doesn’t suit either purpose well), and with the potential for a class of 35, I’m not sure I would have enough space.

    • Hi Donna!

      You would be surprised how much space you gain when you get rid of the desks, I can now fit in so many MORE students with my current arrangement than I could with my desks. It sounds odd I know but trust me, you get more room and the environment isn’t as cramped.

      My students like to dissect at the tables and I make sure they clean up their area when they finish. I send them out with trays and other things that will protect my tables. I have also used microscopes too. When we did this I made sure the students pushed the tables as close to the wall as possible so there would be no issues with cords. I think these ideas would apply to chemistry labs and hot plates etc.

      I also average a class size of 35 and at one point actually had 42 in one class. The students are amazing and will cram themselves into the weirdest little spaces and enjoy it. Having the tables, chairs and pillows gives them that opportunity.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes and let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

  6. I enjoy the eye candy rooms but I would find more information helpful. First, I’d like to know the room size. Next, are these rooms are in public or private schools? I’d also like to know if the students are allowed to take state mandated tests in this environment, or are they moved to a different room such as the media center?

    Like one of the other commenters, I teach were there are a lot of mandated restrictions. If these rooms can be shown as models of what other teachers are doing, (in public schools) sharing these examples might help to get our board members and legislatures to reconsider some of their positions.

    • Hi Carly,

      I do not know the exact dimensions of my room but I do have a larger room than others because of the lab area in the back. If you were hesitant about space, you could get one large table and some chairs. You would be amazed at home many students can and will want to squeeze into one area to work.

      I do teach at a public school that has a high amount of free and reduced lunches. My student population is a little bit of everything from all populations.

      We had state mandated testing last week but they did not use my room. I believe they were going to use it for a small group but then did not need it.

      I hope this answers your questions!

  7. I love this and have been wanting to do the same, but fear has stopped me. I think it’s time to go for it. Your room is amazing, thanks for sharing!

  8. I love what you’ve done an as I teach social studies I think this could definitely work in my classroom but I teach middle school – 8th grade. Do you see a difference in how underclassmen respond vs. seniors? For example: I’ve had beanbags but students wear holes in them or horde them, etc.

    • Hi Erin,
      I only have a few juniors and just a handful of sophomores so it is difficult for me to honestly answer that question. I do know that I had originally though that I also wanted bean bags as well. What I found was they’re kind of expensive and I couldn’t get over the idea that someone would unzip it one day as a joke.

      In the end, it went for more of a grown up feel and skipped the bean bags. I think they are fine they just didn’t work for the vision of my room or my budget 🙂

    • Hi Erin, I teach 7th grade in a public school and have a similar set up. It works great with middle school! Set your expectations high from the first day of school and follow through. You’d be surprised how well they respond.

  9. Protip: If you live in a college town, drive around campus and adjoining neighborhoods at the end of the semester. There’s often free, abandoned stuff for the taking.

    • This is true in largely residential areas as well. My wife found a two small refrigerators sitting at the curb the day befor ‘Bulk Pickup’ day! They were in great shape but apparently the owners were renovating and didn’t feel like donating them. We tested and sanitized them (just because), and now one is in my office and the other is in her classroom. Score!

    • Hi Sara,

      Yes! That is a great tip for sure. My hubby and I also live in a college town and that is a great idea for sure. There’s always so much stuff 🙂

  10. This is lovely, but beware of local fire safety regulations. Our fire chief would not allow so much of the wall to be covered or items to be placed so close to the ceiling. These things can make a path for fire to spread more quickly, they say.

  11. I absolutely love this room! It’s wonderful to see a high school teacher embrace flexible seating because it often comes off as a “elementary thing.” I teach middle school, and I’m still working on flexible seating, but unfortunately sometimes behavioral issues get in the way.

    Kisaundra, where are your parking signs from!? I want those! Especially the “No slacking anytime” and “U turn in homework, U get better grades”! Love them.

  12. This was very informative and interesting! I teach college and my wife teaches preschool, so we frequently discuss what works in our classes and courses. One thing that jumps out as being consistent whether the student is 4 or 24 is the desire to feel safe expressing themselves in class, and having some choices.
    Although I don’t have a set classroom, I’m able to make some adjustments in the rooms I teach in, which gives my students some choices.
    Great article!

  13. I am in love with this classroom! Is there anyone who has made flexible seating work in middle school? I teach 7th grade, and I know that they would love it, but I wonder about discipline issues. Any tips?

  14. Kisaundra,
    Beautiful work! Would you mind sharing your research references or links?

  15. So interesting to see this it is a world away from my experience of classrooms and yet I think that there are some important things I can take from this. In my school my room is shared between teachers,so it would be pretty unfair for me to have my room substantially different from standard when they have to be able to teach in it too, and I teach Year 7 up to Sixth Form (11-18 year olds), so it has to work with different ages of students. Here, in the UK, I’ve never really heard of teachers bringing in furniture – all the rooms have 16 desks (2 per student) and a 32 chairs and these are arranged in four rows of four – and, depending on the subject, we have between one and six hours of teaching with each group per fortnight. But, here’s what I can take from these Eye Candy posts:
    1. Kids are adaptable and ‘squashable’ – even if your tables can’t move too much, kids will and they’ll sit more to a table than you might expect and, given the right routines/reinforcement, they cope with doing things differently in your class.
    2. With just a little planning, moving kids and tables is easier than you think – I can turn just six tables round to create a ‘conference-style’ layout that sixth formers love or prep the kids on how to turn the desks into six islands that just for one lesson.
    3. The use of music – all these teachers talk about music building an atmosphere or an expectation or even just a relationship with the kids. For those of us who can’t do this with quirky furniture and a cool layout, it’s good to know there are other ways.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • He there!

      I LOVED your comment that students are squishable. That is a fantastic way to really sum up my seating. They really embrace this concept and LOVE it 🙂

  16. Has anyone tried this at the elementary level? I teach 5th grade, and we rotate for science/social studies, math, and reading. I teach science.

  17. The question I was asking the entire time I was reading the article was “what about the custodians?” We put up the chairs in our traditional classroom at the end of each day so the floor is clear for sweeping. They would really have to buy into the change. Don’t get me wrong I think learning spaces are under utilized as far as design goes. I think many of us are/were trapped by our classroom geography.

    • Hi Bob!

      This is a great question and the custodians were also some of the first people I asked. Believe it or not, I think they would say my room is easier to clean now than before when it was full of desks.

      I have been in my room when they have come in to clean and they have all told me they love it and love coming in 🙂

  18. What a great room! I’m wondering how students with motor or visual disabilities navigate this space. Does it work equally well for them?

    • Hi Megan,

      I currently do not have any students with these disabilities but I know it would be easily to adapt for future students who might fit this description.

    • Hi Abi,

      This is a GREAT question and I was hoping someone would ask it! It is the one thing that made me very nervous about the process but I have been able to figure it out and find testing peace.

      I have designated how many people and where they can sit at each table and area. So for example the round table can have four students, the black table two, the couch two, the papasan one…etc. I also have students who sit at the lab tables but they must all be facing forward. In some of my larger classes I will sit out a wooden folding chair with a TV tray.

      I thought about using test tents (or whatever they are called) but I decided this would allow them more opportunity to be sneaky. I am basically a “test walker” and I walk and walk and walk and stare and walk and stare and creep and walk while my students test. I wear comfy shoes on test day because I know I will need them.

      You would be surprised how effective this last step is. I am sure we all get that teacher’s intuition about who to watch and this is what I do. It took me a couple of tests to really figure it all out but now I am comfortable testing and so are my students.

      I hope this answer helps and let me know if you have other questions!

  19. Kidaundra-
    I love you two black chairs that you started your redesign with. Where did you get them? I’m looking for some just like them!

  20. Hi Anjulka,

    Actually those chairs came from a Facebook garage sale and they are vintage. I purchased them because they were sturdy and leather (or something like that) as well. It would be easy to find something similar at a thrift or office surplus store.

    Here’s a tip though. When I arranged to purchase these and went to pick them up I noticed he had two more. I took the two home that I had purchased and then contacted him asking if we would sell the other two and he agreed! It never hurts ask 🙂

  21. I absolutely love this! It’s so great to see that support too. There are so many studies that show the benefits of flexible seating and non-mundane learning spaces. Unfortunately, I see the fire rules stopping a lot of educators from making these marvelous changes 🙁 In Boston, I was only allow to put papers on bulletin boards and things could not hang off the edge. It was a small fortune to get circle spots on the floor because they had to be fire retardant and I was only allowed to have 15. So happy to see that some districts can be more forgiving!

  22. I’ve been wanting to do this for a few years now. My hang up is what to do on test days – I teach APUSH which requires a lot of in class essay writing, which isn’t conducive to using a clipboard. I’d love to hear from teachers who have been able to solve that problem.

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