We Should All Teach Kindergarten

The students who show up in my classroom are juniors and seniors in high school, and they’ve been told that these are the best years of their lives. But I bet if you asked them, most would say that Kindergarten was their favorite year in school. Probably there was less pressure, everything was new, the teacher was “soooo nice,” and it was fun. And the way that the teacher did things was probably a lot different too. Different than most of ways they currently get instruction in this late stage of their formal education. I’m guessing that they don’t get a lot of stations, centers, and hands-on things to do and things to explore in their day-to-day high school lives.

I wonder if we all should or could redesign our learning spaces to make them more like Kindergarten.

We talked about “Redesignng Learning Spaces” in a great session led by Ben Gilpin @benjamingilpin Tom Murray @thomascmurray and Erin Kelin @kleinerin at Edcamp Leader (#edcampldr) in Chicago. Really thought-provoking ideas about how we “design” our classrooms. They challenged common classroom setups. Erin Klein even asked whether or not the things we are putting on the walls are practical and useful. If you want students using the stuff on the walls, can they reach them? Is the stuff on the walls big enough for students to see and interact with?

After Ben, Tom, and Erin shared some other interesting thoughts, our tables were asked to take a few moments and design our ideal classroom. No limits. No budgets. The discussion at our table quickly went to pedagogy and educational philosophy before we discussed design. “What should the students be doing in the classroom setting? What should the teacher be doing?” And very quickly after that we decided that since there were high school teachers and kindergarten teachers at the table, we should split our big piece of paper in half. Draw two classrooms. Clearly you could not have the ideal space be the same for both a high school and a kindergarten class . Or could you?

At this point the conversation turned toward one of my favorite questions in education: “What if?”

What if we did structure the learning space in the high school class like the learning space in the kindergarten class? What would that look like? What would the benefits be? What challenges would we have to overcome?

I started thinking about these questions, and then melded them with what I want students to be doing in class, and what I should be doing in class. In other words, how can we set up the room so that it has spaces for students to do different things while also ensuring they are doing all the things they should be.

Classroom_Design_EdCampLdr

My envisioned space has an Introductory Learning Area for those students who didn’t read or watch the introductory video outside of class. It has a “Big Desk,” rolling chair area with at least a half dozen traditional desks, and four stand up desks. This will allow me to chat with students while sitting or standing in order to guide them in the proper direction, dispel any misconceptions, and keep them going on the correct path as they learn the content, skills, and relationship-building necessary for effective learning to occur.

My envisioned space has a discussion area where students can apply and connect their learning. They can challenge assumptions, cite evidence, and evaluate whether or not they believe what they originally thought about the big ideas we study. And finally students will be able to use the Creation Space. This will be the most challenging part to design. Green screen? No problem. Green paper from the library already on the wall. Video and audio? No problem. Students have phones, and Camtasia from Techsmith or Touchcast on the iPad will give us more than enough power. Students can even use my Snowball microphone. It’s the “see through partitions” that will be hard. I need to be able to see what my students are doing, but from my experience if everyone has the ability to watch and listen, they will. We’ll have to work on that.

And to be honest, we’ll have to work on a lot. If I can make the design happen, it will help drive good learning and teaching. We learn the introductory stuff, we figure out what it means with guidance from an expert, we challenge our assumptions and apply our learning, and then we create something to show what we know. It’s new Bloom’s Taxonomy in the round. It’s stations, and centers, and hands-on things to do and things to explore.

I think it will be good for students, and good for learning. Just like the good old days. In Kindergarten.