The classroom revolution

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

There’s an interesting article in today’s Observer about a Design Council pilot scheme to look at how the design of a classroom can be challenged to overcome problems associated with the traditional ‘teacher’s desk at the front’ arrangement.

When I visit universities to talk about teaching large classes I always encourage tutors to move around the room or at least stand in the middle. My best advice to a couple of tutors who rely on laptops to project Powerpoint slides has been to invest in a cheap remote control so they can stand nearer the students instead of several feet away. I finally got a new battery for my own the other day after weeks of having to stand near the computer and it was amazing how much better the session went.

Unfortunately the rooms I teach in now are so full I’m forced to stand at the front (and I notice I naturally ‘teach to the left’ as it were, my gaze tending to favour one side of the room.) There are simple ways around this – teaching to an invisible ‘T’, the back row and the middle column, tends to include everyone, for example.

But in the last place I taught we had a traditional ranked lecture theatre which allowed me to walk up and down the steps so I could cue a new slide and walk up, TV presenter-like, and talk directly to the students instead of relying on the first few rows. It was a great way of encouraging the usual ‘back row’ lot to take part. It’s surprising how much effect something as simple as standing among the students can have on the dynamics of a session.

The rest of the article is well worth reading…

The Observer | UK News | In this school, the classroom revolution is now a reality – all 360 degrees of it: “A new teaching system, revolutionary in more than one sense, has been developed and tested in secret. Known as the 360 degree flexible classroom, it challenges the techniques used by teachers down the ages. Although the year eight boys of St Margaret’s High School in Aigburth look conventional enough as they file into class in their ties and blazers, they are effectively entering a Tardis full of futuristic gadgetry. When their afternoon maths lesson begins, far from having to keep themselves awake by flicking elastic bands at each other, they are careering around the room on wheels. Instead of simply standing at the front, their teacher, Tim Wadsworth, circles them on a curved ‘racetrack’, occasionally taking up a position on a podium in the centre of the room. No longer can reluctant students skulk at the back of the class or plant themselves on the periphery of the teacher’s field of vision. To the outsider the scene looks chaotic, but for the designers of this prototype and the children who have studied in it for seven weeks now, the classroom is a hit. Twelve-year-old pupil Daniel Pinder, who has maths and German lessons in the new round room, explained the benefits of the pilot project. ‘We do much more group work now – it is better because of the shape of the room. If the teachers ask us to get into groups of four we just take the brakes off our chairs and move,’ he said. His classmates sit at their own Q-Pods, special table and chair units on wheels.”

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