That was 2 years ago with 10 year old students. Now I work with 5 year old students, so I have had to rethink the place that design thinking has in my lessons. Surprisingly, it is finding its place not so much within my classroom lessons but rather as the vehicle of my professional inquiries. In an adapted MLE space, consisting of 3 traditional classrooms and 2 smaller rooms off a large central space, my colleagues and I are constantly having to develop new systems and processes for our young learners.
The use of space, student space, teacher space, resource space, has become a pivotal question we find ourselves revolving around. How do we use space in ways that breaks the traditional closed paradigm of the single cell classroom? An MLE offers the advantage of access to different teacher strengths, a larger cross sections of peers for cooperative learning and the opportunity for students to move more freely, engage in and self-direct their learning in different ways. However, it also poses big questions?
- Should students move into different spaces for different subjects?
- Should teachers move into different spaces for each subject?
- How much stability do 5 year olds need?
- How much flux can they actually cope with during the day?
- How does a teacher ensure all their resources are at hand for teaching if they are constantly moving from space to space?
- Should spaces be subject specific or should all spaces have a mixture of resources for reading, writing and maths.
- How will the use of space alter as our team grows to accommodate more teachers and children, up to 100 kids and 5 teachers by the end of the year.
We have been using the central space as our combined meeting place at the start of all lessons, then we brake apart into different spaces with 3 groups of 6 children each. With no teacher ownership of spaces and no teacher desks, our first problem was identified quickly. We had designed all the spaces around the students needs and we realized we had not made provision for teacher needs. Where to put activities, photocopies and resources we needed?
Initially, we were in constant movement from space to space. Herding mixed groups of confused kids, while also balancing computers, resources, student books and our personal teaching supplies. This is where we had to actively apply design thinking to come up with solutions that could work for us. As a teacher I was confused, constantly lost and it seemed never had what I needed for my lessons. Worse - I was often missing kids and having to go search through the spaces to bring them back to where they needed to be.
At the same time, I was introduced to the principals of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). These principals challenge us to design solutions with the outliers in mind; the extreme kids, the high flyers, and those who really could have done with an extra year of pre-school. To consider those children with specific learning needs and IEPs. By catering for these differences in a way that enables their success, all student benefit in ways we could not have imagined. I was so lost, that I actually had to consider myself as that first special needs student. If I was lost, what hope did my 5 year old students have of making sense of their school day.
Problem 1 - Lost students. How can we keep track of who should be where? More importantly, how can we help students take responsibility to be in the right place at the right time? Our solution - a personal lanyard with all their most important information. Result - Excellent success. Most children know their groups and their teachers and are usually in the right place at the right time. When a stray child is observed it is simple to ask them to show their lanyard so we can direct them to where they should be.
Problem 3 - Central resources. Initially we set up the spaces as subject specific. One was dedicated to Maths, another to Reading and another to Writing. However, only one teacher can actually use each space at a time, so the other teachers need to be in different spaces. If I am teaching maths in the Maths room, I win. I have every resource available. However, my colleague had to schlep maths resources next door to the Reading room each lesson. She can only carry so many, so she and her kids missed out. Result - Now we are moving back to placing a standard set of maths, reading and writing resources in each room, so that all spaces can be used for any purpose. This solution will allow us to continue to mix the children and to group across classes to best meet student needs.
Applying design thinking and the principles of UDL are becoming a constant and integral part of how our team is making sense of our adapted MLE spaces. For colleagues far and wide working in collaborative environments - What issues with space have you struggled with and what has worked for you?