Our team is comprised of two teachers working at David Livingstone School. We teach at the opposite ends of the grade spectrum — one in Kindergarten and one in Grade 7. We are interested in exploring how a change in physical space can impact the way we approach teaching and the way our students approach learning. We want to encourage our students to build a sense of wonder in their learning and also to develop an appreciation for their community and learning environment. We as teachers are also learning with our students and are trying to explore how a change in our physical space and the introduction of new learning materials and artifacts can challenge and grow our practice towards more student-driven, emergent curriculum.
We noticed that space and learning are intricately intertwined. While the environment is certainly a “third teacher” in the room, how students learn in a given space depends on who they are, where they are coming from and how they see learning. For some students, a change in structured physical space (ie. desks in traditional formations, teacher in the front, etc.) was a positive and democratizing experience, while for others, the change brought on some anxiety and uncertainty. Some struggled with making optimal learning choices for themselves when the physical space became less structured around traditional learning constructs.
It seems to us that for certain students, making appropriate learning choices in a less structured physical space needs adjustment time and guidance. For some students, both in the kindergarten and Gr.6/7 class, this change was helpful in allowing greater student choice and expression of how they want to learn and work. For others though, more time will be needed for students to adjust to a physical space where concepts of choice and democracy still need to be further developed. Nonetheless, in both situations, a change in the physical space is an excellent provocation for exploring what democracy looks like in the classroom.
We both think it was a worth-while first endeavor. However, more time and tweaking will allow us to continue our exploration into physical space, student choice and democracy.