My 21st-century “dream” classroom

As you can probably guess from my last several posts, here and here, I have been reading a lot lately.

This is because I am on extended sick leave as I recover from hip-replacement surgery.

Early in this school year, I wrote about teaching with chronic pain.  My kids have been fantastic, once I got honest with them about why I was so grumpy and grouchy all of the time. Together, we got through the first semester. I had been hoping to limp through the whole school year (pun intended), and then get my surgery done in late June. Then I could have the summer to recover and be ready to step back into the swing of things in September.

My hip had other ideas. With some wonderful counsel from my wife, my principal, and my kids, I decided that it was neither in my best interest nor in the best interest of my class to continue teaching while in such pain. This January, I went in for surgery.

I have been home for nearly three weeks.  I have been reading and napping.  My cats love having a warm, immobile me to snuggle with on these cold winter days.

While I read, I have also begun thinking about my class.  Specifically, I have been thinking about the furniture and design of my classroom.  Frankly, if my grandfather were to pay a visit, he would find little changed from the school he went to when he was young.  The chalkboards are white now and use a pen.  There is a television in the corner.

Is my classroom ready for 21st-century learning?  Sadly, the answer is no.  So I got to thinking, What would my classroom look like if it were ready for 21st-century learning?

Connectivity

First off, my students would be wired. We would have a 1:1 ratio of laptops in the class. We would have access to Google, our own Collaborize Classroom, Facebook, Twitter, wikis, Skype, and YouTube. We would use these tools to look up read-only information on websites and we would use these tools to engage experts and learners all over the globe who share our interests and our projects. We would use LiveBinders to organize our online discoveries and share them with one another. We would use wikis, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to publish and share our newfound learning and the creative ideas and projects that we had created.

Collaboration

Our furniture would reflect our strong belief in collaboration. Like most classrooms, we have individual student desks. If one were to step back a moment and ponder what this piece of furniture says about learning, one would have to conclude that learning is an isolated, individualized activity. Our class does not believe this. We believe that learning happens when groups of people interact. We read together, we talk about what we are reading, and we share our own ideas and questions. We may take time to be by ourselves to reflect on our thinking, but then we share our reflections with our team members.

In our perfect classroom, we would have tables and chairs rather than student desks.  The tables would be large enough for four students and an adult to sit comfortably, and yet small enough to easily reposition and combine into larger work spaces.  The large, flat surface would be versatile.  We could each sit and work individually at our computers or taking traditional notes, and we could use the whole space to create a poster or an educational game.

Creativity

Making educational games and posters would not be the limits of our creativity. We would also use our connectivity to create other interesting projects that demonstrate the skills and standards we were learning.  We would use our SMART Board to present our findings and teach lessons to one another. We would use a document camera, digital camera, and voice recorders to create YouTube videos and podcasts for children in other schools.

Panhandling for Schools

In these bleak budgetary times, how does a teacher get the $30,000 needed for a 21st-century classroom “makeover”?  We panhandle, of course! I have just started with Donors Choose, which is a great website for teachers. They took me through an easy, systematic process to get the first phase, four tables, established as a project.  Now I need to wait for people to contribute $10 or $20 to this project. Each time someone does, Donors Choose notifies me so I can send a thank-you note out.
Once we reach my funding goal for Phase 1, Donors Choose will buy and ship my tables.  After that, I will put together Phase 2, which is the second set of four tables.

Gradually, one donation at a time, we will upgrade our learning environment.