Reflections on Space: Redefining the Learning Landscape


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Traffic-ConeTurning the key ninety degrees clockwise initiates a daily routine that runs like clockwork: elevator down 4 floors; walk one block west and 3 blocks south; descend escalator; stand perpendicular to train doors; board; five stops; transfer; dodge and divert to escalator; board; 7 stops; 120 seconds ascending back to ground level (you’re close when you feel gusts of un-circulated air); walk 1 block east, two blocks south; scan ID to enter building; elevator up; locate work station; open laptop; power on.

A commute evolves into to a sterile routine. This commute, now an innate habit, is the connecting force between the two dominant spaces in my life: work and home.

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Food Service Cart AKA My Classroom

A confluence of changes has me thinking about where I am and the spaces I move through:
1. Moving from Nashville to DC
2. Teaching the last two years
3. My indoctrination into the world of skyscrapers and cubicles

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I’ve wondered how space affects our mental livelihood; from office cubicles to 40-year-old schools, how should we construct physical spaces to nourish our creativity, drive productivity, motivate our learning, and keep people comfortable enough to focus, but focused enough to make progress?

While these questions have festered in transit between the two spaces where most of my life plays out, they’ve grown in the unpacking of boxes, subsequent decorating, and the continued development of teaching materials as I’ve stepped out of the classroom.

The two most pressing questions I want to dig into are:
How do we create learning spaces for students that meet the needs of the 21st century?
When will a classroom with rows of desks be an obsolete way to assimilate and apply knowledge, or are we already past that point?

Exploring the answer to these questions will draw from the history of the office, mapping the psychological needs that a home satiates, and using the intersection of schools, homes, and offices to identify
 key design elements of the 21st century school.

The space we live in, our first home; work in, our second home; and navigate through in the interim via public transportation, cars, and at the behest of our own bodies paints the landscape of our lives. Beauty is more often sought in nature and art than the structures where we spend most of our lives. When did you last think of your office as a place of natural beauty, where the mind meshes with the environment to produce knowledge, products, solutions? And what could beauty mean in home and office? Is it in dimly lit lamps, sturdy furniture, or the final flourishes of candles and pictures? Is it a space for entertaining, cooking, relaxing, reading, sleeping? Is a beautiful office defined by flexible work spaces, a space you call your own, a space for collaboration, light from outside, or a chair offering optimal back support?

Unlike offices, classroom spaces are an under-explored phenomenon. After spending two years teaching, I found that the architecture of schools arcane: computer labs are dysfunctional, arcane heating and cooling systems mean summer and winter temperatures co-exist in a single hall; pests plague classrooms,  desks are mismatched and lined in rows, and classrooms are separated by cinderblock walls. I’ll add with equal force that this is no fault of the teachers and school administrators.  Teachers have ostensibly lost control of everything but the four walls inside their classrooms: standards are handed down from the state, tests and benchmarks from mega-corporations; as a result, school buildings are the last place school funding reaches.

Lessons Learned: Work & Home

This is an exercise in reimagining what the classroom space can look like. Drawing from the ethos of  Common Core, this is an interdisciplinary approach relying on the history of the office and what makes home a place to rejuvenate fulfilling the eternal desire to live driven by purpose.

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Quick Hits: High Poverty Urban and Rural Youth

3d_red_question_mark_button_image_165506Have you considered how poverty affects student achievement?

Do you know how legislation passed since 2009 aims to close achievement gaps and provide wraparound services for students?

Have you thought about the challenges of living in poverty for your students outside of school?

Are you familiar with organizations that provide support and services for high-poverty students in and out of school?

The Quick Hits slideshow below provides a high-level overview of these 4 questions:

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As we head into the holiday season, it’s increasingly important as educators to remind ourselves that students come from diverse backgrounds that impact their motivation to learn and future goals.

In the spirit of being a reflective educator, continue to ask yourself:

  • How does poverty affect student outcomes in your classroom?
    • What are concrete steps you can take in your classroom to support students?
  • How can you leverage the organizations in your community as partners in your classroom?
    • Identify organizations and how they can best assist you and your students before building partnerships; backwards plan starting with the goal.
  • How does legislation passed in the last 5 years affect your classroom and school?
    • Focus on identifying what you are still in control of in your classroom amidst ever changing curriculum and evaluation policies.
  • What do your students do outside of school? What challenges do your students face at home?
    • Identify ways to build relationships with students to learn about their backgrounds and structure emotional supports for students. 

NEW TNReady Resources from TDOE

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The Tennessee Department of Education released a Parent Guide & a School Guide for the TNReady test. The information presented was synthesized in digestible graphics and tables. For this reason, the information is critically important for all teachers who are implementing TNReady this year.

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