I'm an engineer. Our mission in life is to break things that are fixed. So I tinker. The layout of my room is something I iterate constantly striving towards some sort of awe-inspiring perfect form. This year I have something that's working pretty well given my constraints: a) two preps and b) lots of kids. I didn't want Pre-Cal and Algebra II to have different configurations so that we were dragging desks around all the time such as if Pre-Cal had a group activity the same day Algebra II was just getting a standard lesson. I also didn't want group activities to be some sort of special thing I had to plan for ahead of time. Thus, all my desks are in color coded groups and the kids sit in groups all the time. Sometimes it matters that they have a group, sometimes it doesn't. But I can be spontaneous with group work and come up with something over the weekend and not have to agonize about who should be grouped with who. Here's how it looks:
Due to the placement of the ActivBoard I don't have a lot of depth. The white group is the furthest away with the worst view, so I try to make sure troublemakers are never assigned to the white group. The TV mirrors the content on the projector for the back of the room. Red faces sideways, otherwise they would stare straight into an empty board. Some quirks/features:
- The TV provides an additional "front row." If a kid has vision problems, they can be in the "back" and still have a clear view. No longer using up actual front seats due to special conditions.
- The TV really only benefits Yellow and a little bit of Blue. White is kind of in no man's land.
- The Red group can see the computer screen at my desk which mirrors the projector, so that provides an additional accessible view. One day, this will be replaced with a second TV.
- The Purple group sits right by the podium where I teach, so the kids there can get caught in my blind spot. The podium obstructs my view of them while teaching. They can see the ActivBoard clearly however.
- The groups each have a bucket with color coded calculators and voting devices. Previously I used centrally located calculators but it was a disruption if some students did not grab a calculator on their way in and wanted one in the middle of class.
- The room doesn't feel like one mass of people, just several small little clusters. In smaller classes where all five groups wouldn't fill, I leave White empty and make sure there are five kids in Red, Green, and Purple ensuring as many are as close to me as possible.
- The front table is for me to keep handouts or tests prior to distribution. The kids have a series of tables on the left side of the room to store their notebooks in labeled bins.
- The separation between front and back gives me a clean aisle to walk down while handing things out or helping.
- The small space and sheer number of desks makes the kids in the back row quite close to one another.
Some things I like:
- The class feels smaller. As I walk around during work time, it's easy to attend to the needs of each group as a unit. So I make one stop at the Yellow area and can answer everyone's questions at once rather than bouncing all around the room constantly. I don't have one class of 30, I have 6 classes of 5.
- The kids work with one another a lot. Weak as the bond may be, I have a number of students get very attached to their color and the people in their group. In Pre-Cal I'm toying with the idea of group pride day. One Algebra II student remarked "this is the one class where I know people's names."
- The groups make it easy to jump around while asking questions, and easy to organize in general. In my head I just keep track of six areas when I'm asking questions rather than 30 individuals. So we can do things like "Ok, someone in Red answer this..." and "Ok, someone in Blue now..." and "Do the problem that matches your color..."
- The built in support structure is wonderful. During a group project or even just color coded problems, any students knows immediately that there are four people to turn to that are in their same situation.
- The groups give me a way to differentiate. I can group the really high level kids together and tweak a group assignment to be more challenging if I so choose. Or pair weaker learners with stronger ones preventing me from doing all the hand holding.
I'm sure further tweaks are in store, but I really like what this lets me do. Really the best thing is it's forcing them to collaborate a lot more than they normally would which means I'm answering fewer questions or I'm answering the same question fewer times and I can concentrate on students that need to be redirected or who are really having trouble. When I have intended the kids to work on problems in class, I really strive to speak with each student to make sure they know I notice them, even if they don't need help. This organization method makes that incredibly easy to do.