New Learning Space is a Classroom Reborn

Photo: High School math teacher Jaime Hall works with students.

After months of waiting, a new learning space was unveiled last month in the high school. Furniture was assembled, installed, and a math classroom was reborn.

One of the teachers using this new space is Jaime Hall. Conceived as a collaborative effort with former technology integration coordinator Colleen Worrell, the two were interested testing the belief that physical space is not neutral to the learning environment.

Photo: Student playing trigonometry games in math class.

Student playing trigonometry games in math class.

“Does a change in the environment change the kids’ perception of learning and being in that classroom? Are they more excited to be there? Are they more engaged?” Hall questioned.

Through a generous grant from the Hopkinton Education Foundation, a new classroom was designed and has finally become a reality. The space is already yielding changes.

“It’s a more positive space. I think my student were comfortable in this room before, but now they’re more comfortable,” Hall said. “I feel amazing in it, personally. I continue to wake up and think, ‘Oh, I get to go into that room.’ I have kids that feel like they want to be in the space.”

While Hall had tried to create a similar environment with previous resources, things have become much easier. It has even changed the way she operates as a math teacher, especially with regard to assessment.

Photo: Jaime Hall's math students working in groups.

Jaime Hall’s math students working in groups.

“We’re always in groups. So that collaboration works a lot better.” Hall said. However, always being grouped makes more traditional, individual assessment a challenge. “Assessing the old style is a little hard to do. We have to get dividers and try to break the room up. You can do it, but it doesn’t seem that’s what the point of the room is.”

This subtle but significant change in the physical space has even caused Hall to reflect about her practice in a more specific way.

“This makes me think do I make more group task that I need to assess them on? Should I rethink what it means to give them an assessment? Especially since in so much of the real world, we’re on teams, problem-solving through things. Should I try to find ways to bring more of that into my classroom? Because that is kind of how [room’s] set up.”

The students response has also been interesting for the math teacher. The students surprised her.

Photo: Math students working in the informal lounge area.

Math students working in the informal lounge area.

One of the room’s features is a row of couches, arranged in a lounge-like area. It is deliberately intended to be a more informal space in the room.

“It’s amazing how many students, when I say you can sit on the couches, say, ‘No I don’t want to because I don’t think I’ll get work done. And that’s going to make me feel distracted.’ It’s interesting to watch them self-regulate and make decisions,” Hall said.

With the change in environment, redesigning the teaching and learning is also developing. The incubation of more innovative approaches to teaching and learning remains ongoing. “I just need to make a commitment to always be trying new things. Committing to moving it around and seeing what works and what doesn’t work.”

Hall has contemplated the possibility of changing the space on a more regular basis to facilitate different experiences, for example, creating learning stations. It is just one of the many ideas that she and colleague Lorelle Govoni, who shares the room with Hall, have been contemplating.

Hall said, “I want to start to play with the arrangement more. I see this getting better over the course of the year and continuing to evolve over the next couple of years. The capacity this room has – we haven’t met the potential yet.”

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