What’s in your diet?

I have always embraced reading and a healthy “infodiet” since I was a child. When I read the second half of James Paul Gee’s The Anti-Education Era:  I thought about the affinity spaces I use to inform my thinking around topics related to education. Gee defines affinity spaces as, “ “An affinity space is a place or set of places where people affiliate with others based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals, not shared race, class culture, ethnicity, or gender” (Gee, 2004 Loc: 67). Some affinity spaces that feed my professional “infodiet” are the Teach to Lead educator community, Twitter, and blogging. The Teach to Lead community informs my thinking with access to a national educator community focused on teacher leadership. Twitter & blogging have given me a way to discover educator voices and new ideas and practices. I committed myself to a goal of one chat per week and found I share and collaborate through this affinity space just as much as the colleagues I see almost every day face to face. Blogging too has given me an affinity space where I can engage professionally in longer musings and reflections on my learning.

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Reflecting on the second half of Gee’s book, I thought about the limitations in my “infodiet” that used to occur before this year. Before this year, I primarily used the community and spaces set up by others to inform my thinking on professional topics. For example, I used Google Groups, chats, and professional developments set up by my job, organizations, and professional communities I belong to. I didn’t need to seek them out, because those networks were set up and I was being slotted right in. But there is a danger in just being satisfied rather than seeking out. This year I have focused on the latter, but I pushed myself even further this week to test the reach of my new “diet”.

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When I added three new sources of information to my infodiet this week I searched for new sources based on Gee’s statement, “We seek the best answers we can, act on them as our ‘best bets’, and stay open to revising them and learning more” (Gee, 2004 Loc: 2454). The first source of information was a selection of comments on an article discussing the current MI teacher evaluation legislative bills. In reading these comments, particularly the ones I disagreed with, I realized the comments on these articles reflect a part of what Gee says society should be like. These comments are a way in “which everyone feels that they count” (Gee, 2004, Loc: 2490). People are making comments because they want to feel actions like commenting “can have a meaningful impact on others for the good.” (Gee, 2004, Loc: 2490). The comments in opposition said without hyperbole or vitriol let me know what informed citizens would say, not just the opinions of those already in my circle. The second new source I added were entries of a homeschooling blog posted by a high school acquaintance on Facebook. I found the school space I operate has much in common with the aims of homeschooling. Sharing feedback allowed both of us to develop and expand our mindsets a in a public forum. Finally, I followed a public policy group I generally tend to disagree with on Twitter (Mackinac Center). Their policy positions reflect their visions and values. But I have shared interest in education and through understanding their position I can leverage their expertise even if I disagree with it. Incorporating these different sources are already pushing my thinking and changing my worldview. Here’s to consumption of my new “diet”!

References

Carroll, Andrew. Information Diet. [Image file]. Retrieved from http://cpaandrew.com/2013/09/27/the-information-diet-a-review/

Gee, James. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, Clay. Startup Information Diet. [Image file]. Retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/21/startup-information-diet/

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Different Places, Different Spaces

This week my task was to redesign my learning space to better optimize student learning and incorporate the pedagogy of modern education design and learning. First, an introduction to my current space. I am fortunate to work in a space with some design elements of 21st century learning. My school’s hybrid learning workspace (heretofore referred to as the “lab”) does not reflect the usual classroom setup. In the main lab (which is the size of 2-3 traditional classrooms), instead of rows of desks there is an L-shaped arrangement of computers, two flanking low bookshelves, and several modular tables that can be rearranged along with a whiteboard and materials cabinet. This type of learning environment reflects the advantages of collaborative learning and connectivity (Thompson, 2014 p. 21) however, there are missed opportunities for building an even better learning environment.

I used SketchUp Make to image a reinvention of this blended learning space.

Revamped Learning Lab

The first change is with the walls & lighting. Currently in our lab, all of the wall space is completely blank and there are just overhead fluorescent lights. The biggest change in my redesign is to add paint, the Alliance for Excellent Education relates “Classroom colors should be warm and calming; not overstimulating and distracting.” Right now our walls are sterile and generic white. The 2013 Barrett, Zhang, Moffat & Kobbacy study also shared that color and light (among other factors) had a statistically significant effect on student performance. I added a few lamps to add softer light since there is no way to add more natural light into the space. According to the ideas of The Third Teacher, learning spaces should also display student learning, both past and present in order to track progress. Right now the accomplishments are only celebrated in our virtual environment – viewed only by that student and no one else. My redesign adds these display opportunities.

The second change is with the tables and workspace. Instead of just using bland modular tables with sterile student chairs, I want to incorporate a combination of workspaces including whiteboard tables, higher tables with stools, and comfy chairs.  As Michael Posner writes, “Simply put, the brain likes novelty, new things” (Persaud, 2014 p. 1).

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Some of these tables are converted to whiteboard tables for increased collaboration. Having convertible seating and workspace will allow for students to arrange the workspace for their needs much like their personalized learning in our school. Echoes teacher and design consultant (as well Michigan Ed Voices fellow alongside me) Erin Klein, “flexible seating arrangements…allow for easy transitions will serve students today and in the future” (Thompson, 2014 p. 19).

The third change is with an essential part of our learning environment – our computers. Instead of utilizing desktops, my new design has bookshelves filled with different tech devices. Again, having portable tech tools would allow for greater personalization of the space. Plus the choices in tech tools and seating involve student decisions in the classroom’s functionality too.

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For each change I need resources necessary to carry out my vision. First, with regards to painting & lighting, the cost would be thousands of dollars (particularly for the paint), but the cost would come down considerably if we organized the staff and student volunteers to do it all ourselves. I looked up whiteboard paint and a set of DIY instructions for how I could transform some of our modular tables into them. The paint is approximately $275/gallon. The new tech tools would not necessarily be purchased all at once, but phased in over time as devices age out. Currently we are needing to purchasing laptops or Chromebooks, after so getting different tech devices would line up with our existing technology budget. I just requested a new Chromebook through a grant that was approximately $300 dollars and we would need around 30-50 to fully supply our lab space which could approximately $9000.

The classrooms of the future are exciting, collaborative, and engaging places to learn from. I am excited to see if my school can continue to make good decisions to get to better space and design choices for student learning.

References

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from http://thethirdteacherplus.com/s/Ch2-TTT-for-Web-0y6k.pdf

Persaud, Ramona. (2014). Why Learning Space Matters. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-learning-space-matters-ramona-persaud

Thompson, Greg. (2014). 4 Keys to Designing the Classroom of the Future. THE Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.realviewdigital.com/?i=SEPTEMBER%202014#folio=21