This week, I have started to think about my classroom setup, procedures and more. Recently my Instagram feed has been filled with new teachers prepping their first classroom and pictures of Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. It brings back memories of my first classroom and my first year of teaching. It seems like it was about 9 zillion years ago.
I am entering my 12th year of teaching this year, and every summer I review my classroom setup and procedures. This year I am spending extra time on this stage of my summer planning. Last year was my first year in a new classroom, district and teaching middle school full time and there was definitely room for improvement. The tools that worked beautifully with my high school students weren’t super successful with middle school kids. Shocking, I know.
Also, I am spending my free working on my STEM Certificate between grad school classes. It has been a good refresher and it has given me a few really good ideas.
I thought about writing separate posts for classroom setup and procedures, but you really can’t consider one without the other. Here are a few major things that I am focusing on while revamping my classroom setup and procedures this summer.
Does your room promote student safety?
Does your room promote student autonomy?
Is your room set up for collaboration?
Is your room comfortable?
Student safety should be your primary consideration. Not only should materials be stored safely, but students should be taught how to use them properly. Posters are a great way to promote safety and it’s a good idea to place them throughout your classroom.
Think about the most common safety concerns that you have in your classroom and design a solution ahead of time. One of the most common issues in my classroom is broken glass. Despite explicitly teaching students how to deal with glassware, it does break from time to time. And invariably, despite my warnings, students will start trying to pick up the broken glass with their bare hands.
Make sure you designate a sharps container (an old box or plastic container is just fine) labeled for these incidents. Include signage that tells student what they should do when something breaks. Do they call you over? Clean it themselves? Develop a well-thought out procedure and spend time teaching it to your students.
Promoting Student Autonomy
While there are many reasons for promoting student autonomy in your classroom, I am only going to discuss a couple. The first is completely self serving. The more your students are able to do for themselves, the more you don’t have to do for them. Do yourself a favor and teach them the things they need to know to make your job easier.
Secondly, student choice is vital in the inquiry process. Students should be able to access the materials that that they need on their own as often as possible. That is the reason that so many lab classrooms have those lovely cabinets with glass doors. Unfortunately, not all of us have those. (And, the downside of those lovely cabinets is that they really limit your wall space.)
Wouldn’t it be lovely if your students could choose the appropriate lab equipment for themselves, set up their labs AND clean everything up when they were done. It is possible, to varying degrees depending on the grade level, but it requires a LOT of planning, teaching and set up.
If you are nervous about setting them totally free, have them write out their materials list and procedure ahead of time and require that they have it checked by you before they begin their experiment or inquiry assignment.
Also, assigning student jobs in your classroom is a great way to promote autonomy. Is there someone who can be in charge of checking in Chromebooks? Can a student check the floors and sinks for garbage at the end of the period?
One of the ways that I set up my classroom is by using these storage containers from Target. The shoe box sized containers are $0.99 and the larger size are $2.99 They always seem to go on sale right before school starts so I stock up. I like these because they are cheap and see through.
I keep material in these containers, but I also like to have some that students can use to hold their own materials. If there is a container that I intend to reuse for multiple purposes, I like to use dry-erase tape on the outside, like you see here.
In my classroom, I have only base cabinets that come up around 36 inches from the floor to store materials in. Last year, students learned over time where supplies were located but it took a long time. This year, I plan to create labels for each cabinet to that students will know what is inside without having to open them. I will organize the materials inside using the plastic storage containers and labels.
Setting Up the Main Seating Area
My first two weeks of summer were spent in professional development where I sat THE WHOLE TIME. It was awful and uncomfortable and I was reminded of how my students must feel when they are sitting all day long. Ideally, your seating arrangement should promote collaboration, comfort and movement. I will talk a little more about comfort in the next section.
Though I tried to give my students the opportunity to more around as often possible, my classroom set up last year didn’t really foster student comfort. I have these huge black lab tables in my classroom, and my classroom is significantly smaller than my last one. Because I really didn’t know what else to do I opted for putting my tables in rows.
This year, I am going to move my desks into a U shape in hopes that it will give us a little more room for movement and some flexible seating options. I am also hoping that it will encourage students to talk more. Yep! I said it! I want them to talk more.
When you think of my classroom, please don’t imagine one of those Pinterest Perfect classrooms. One of my coworkers refers to me as a minimalist (and not in a good way) because I simply do not decorate. While I may agree to let her help me with my decor, the focus of my attention this year will be on physical comfort.
One of the best ways that I think this can be achieved is through flexible seating options. This is really tricky in a classroom that must also function as a lab, but I am going to give it a go. I will update you guys when I find things that really work, but as I am searching my focus is on seating at different levels.
I personally prefer to sit on the floor often. My favorite work area is a coffee table with a yoga bolster that I use as a seat. It is super comfy to me. Most chairs are not. I have SUPER short legs and more often than not, I end up folding my legs criss-cross-apple-sauce style onto my chair and kneeing the person next to me. I am also left handed. This doesn’t work very well when I am seating in close proximity to other people. We will spend the day knocking elbows.
This may actually work in my classroom. One of the only places available for flexible seating in my classroom is by my whiteboard in the front of the room. While most options won’t work here, floor seating might.
And what about your SUPER tall kids? By the end of 8th grade, I have students who are legitimately struggling with their knees banging in to the lab tables. And what about the kid who REALLY shouldn’t be sitting because they just need to move? Ideally, I will be adding bar-height tables to the back to allow for some standing desks and seating options with more leg room. They can also make collaborative work spaces. I am also looking at adding bed risers to some of the tables to give the option of some extra space.
What are your goals when you set up your classroom? What procedures do you make sure to explicitly teach?
I have written out my seating goals, the procedures that I need to teach and my student jobs for next year. I will continue to add to this document throughout the summer, but for now, its a pretty solid set of lists.
These lists are located on a google doc and free for you to use and edit. All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter below.
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