Physical Space Influences Teaching and Learning

If you're really committed to eliminating the sage on the stage, give up the stage. Stick some student desks right up front against the whiteboard, see what happens. I did, it is quite interesting.
This past September I viewed the following video. It made me think about how this rectangular space of ours could work differently.

Then we received 20 refurbished laptops from Computers for Schools. Access to electric outlets necessitated some innovative desk arrangements; as a result, I placed tables right up against the whiteboards. We watched the gamestorming video together and talked about how they could use their new space. I did reserve a chunk of the board for our Mimeo, but the rest of the boards and wall space I gave to the students. Each group has a chunk of wall upon which they can post, think, draw, brainstorm, display, think, debate, argue, store, and share.

The graphics above show different ways we arrange desks through the year, each with its own feel and purpose, but, the T arrangement against the walls has had the biggest effect on me and the students. They have a greater stake in maintaining their space. Work is more public and there is a greater sense of openness.
With project based learning, some "flipping", and Edmodo, I felt I didn't need to be up in front delivering content before the engagement. I worked much more with smaller groups and individuals, spent more time in conversation with each student, and saw the students, for the most part, take more responsibility for their own learning. The project provided the context, flipping provided some of the needed instruction, Edmodo made access to student work more ubiquitous and gave our class a virtual space beyond the school walls and "instructional time". I've "pinned" some office pictures that show ideas for great learning spaces for the day when we are able to more freely and easily shape the environment in which we spend our days.

What was originally a way to get computers closer to outlets contributed more than I expected to interactions in my classroom.

Do you think that simply re-arranging desks change the way you teach? Does physical space shape our approach to teaching and learning? Would love to hear some experiences and reactions to this.


  1. Kate Todd says:

    Hi Miles
    Its an interesting question about how the physical space that we teach in affects the way we teach. Its something I've been looking at and thinking about in the last little while. I think it does! The way a classroom is set up does have an effect. I wanted my kids to collaborate and interact more, with more emphasis on them taking responsibility for their learning.
    I have a Year 4 class this year and wanted to change things, take a new approach with teaching. A big influence has been a school on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. They have done some very innovative things in the way their classrooms are set up.
    On a smaller scale, I rearranged desks so that they are in groups around the classroom, with a class library and lounge. It has had a big impact on the way I teach. I find that I am facilitating more and standing at the front of the class less. We learn together and the approach has become much more individualised as I able to talk with each child more.

    I enjoyed reading your post. It was very interesting.I like the idea of watching the video with your class and allowing them to have input into their space. I will have to try that with my kids.
    Kate Todd

  2. milesmac says:

    Hey Kate! Thanks for the note – early years classrooms can be so amazing with the centres, and themed workspaces, wonderful carpets and bright artwork on the walls. Sounds like your experience was similar to mine but more deliberate and less accidental! Watching the vid together helped the students see possibilties for their space, and it made the whole enterprise feel a little more grown-up, which the middle years kids like.

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