Monday, December 20, 2010

What is the ideal classroom?

I had an interesting conversation with the acting dean of the Woodring College of Education just the other day about the remodeling of the education building.  I move into my office in the fall of 1968--brand new and impressive.  Over the years I had different offices and reception rooms.  None were set up for the use of technology.  That was always the problem.  Not enough wall outlets or table space.  Plenty of book shelves though....

The "old part" of the building was the old campus school and was the defacto classrooms for education classes.  When I first started teaching at this college I asked for a classroom that I could set up with all the technology at that time and make it into a self-instructional classroom.  Hey, I was on the leading edge so I thought.  But the problem was they didn't want to give up any classrooms and the audio-visual department said it didn't have enough equipment to permanently "loan" that much equipment to any one classroom.  Here I was teaching "audio-visual classes" and they wanted me to teach it with lectures.  It took me two years to get up to speed.  Trust me--this was easy compared to asking for a classroom of Apple computers in the late seventies.  

But two years ago the university put it's resources behind getting Miller Hall, the education building into the twenty-first century.  I haven't seen it yet but comments from old colleagues say it is wonderful.  I hope so.  But the best part is that the "old part", i.e.,  the campus school is being remodeled as well.  The old classrooms were really not that good for different types of teaching and for many years, only had two wall outlets, one in the front of the classroom and one in the back.  Let it be said that I had been known to blow a few fuses in my time in which "buildings and maintenance" would have to drive over and reset them.  Yes, I said "fuses."  

So I was delighted to hear from the dean that the classrooms were being "totally" remodeled as well for the faculty.  I asked if the faculty had any input on the remodeling?  Yes, all faculty and departments had been quizzed as to what they might need.  This is a difficult task at best.  Some faculty just want to talk.  Others want to have students "do" things, act out, put on plays, etc.  And, of course, my old department of instructional technology wants to use technology--"where can I plug it in?"  I was really quite glad to hear that the faculty had been asked as to their preferences.  Nice going, administration.

Then I asked if "Smart Boards" were going to be install and had the pleasant response to know that all classrooms except one would have the electronic white boards installed (for an explanation what a Smart Board is, see:  ).  The faculty voted for Smart boards. 

Well........not all faculty voted for Smart Boards.  The Mathematics Department voted for.....holding your breath?  Blackboards!  I wasn't surprised but I think the dean was surprised by my reaction.  No, I wasn't surprised at all.  In fact, in the late 1960s there was an initial research on teachers and what kind of classroom they wanted.  Kindergarten teachers wanted space with sections all around the room for different activities.  Primary teachers wanted a classroom where they could have small tables for reading instruction.  AND they wanted larger blackboards that went lower down so kids could use them.  Unfortunately some school architects just lower regular blackboards and teachers had to bend over to use them.  Some days we just can't get things right.

The rest of the research was not surprising back then.  High school chemistry teachers wanted up to date laboratories with secure storage of chemicals.  Music teachers wanted sound proofing for their classrooms.  I suspect you can figure out most of what was wanted.  Many wanted "light control" so they could show 16mm film.  To this day I am interested in the fact that most light switches are at the back of the room and that a teacher has to go to the back to control the lights.  Sure, she/he can ask a student to do it but I think having a control up front as well would not be too difficult to install.  What do you think?

One of the interesting results in that research, and remember, this is around 1970, is that teachers wanted telephones in their classrooms.  They didn't want to have to go to the office or teacher's room to make a phone call.  Today we don't have that problem, do we, with cell phones so prominent.

Another surprise was that teachers of all sorts wanted "photocopiers" in their classroom.  And principals fought this desire with the knowledge that their paper budget would go sky high.   But later research show that the copier appeared to be linked to increased knowledge.  Someday I'll tell you my thinking on that.

I know you want to know why the Math department is so old fashioned.  And it may surprise you that I am on their side.  Actually during this 1970 research on classroom environments, the math departments came to the same conclusion that they did just this past year.  They may be esoteric  but they are consistent! In the 1970s research the math teachers pretty much around the country wanted a round classroom with swivel chairs for the students with a blackboard that went entirely around the classroom.  Those smart thinking math teachers wanted to be able to present something on one board and then go to another to show something different in comparison.  OR they wanted to start a proof and complete it to the very end.  Such behaviors just can't be done very well with PowerPoint presentation or Smart Boards.  Maybe some day they will make a elongated Smart Boards just for math instructors.  We can hope.

I'm sorry to repeat myself but it is appropriate that Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our bulldings, thereafter they shape us."  Classrooms, too, Winnie.

Thanks to all those teachers that have responded to questionnaires on what they would like in a classroom knowing full well they would never be able to teach in it.  And thanks to all those teachers who have taught in a classroom which limites their abilities.

1 comment:

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