Thursdays are hectic days in many ways. There is no “special”, there is the turtle tank to be cleaned, and the day just seems long. This Thursday was no exception to the crazy Thursday rule, with the exception of the fact we had a little curve ball thrown at us – -the Fire Chief decided our “cave’’ area would have to be dismantled and that we would have to make the passage between the Hourihan room, our room, and the Kauffman room to be 44 inches wide. My desk chair, our bookcases, and our tubs would have to be moved. Our ottomans and pillows in the cave would have to go. I created this area for the students to have a quiet corner and now it would have to be taken apart. By the end of the day, I did not have the energy to tackle the problem, but I spoke with Mario, one of our custodians about helping me move furniture. Moving into this space 15 months later, I really struggled with arranging this room and ended up getting rid of several big pieces of furniture that just wouldn’t fit. I was really not up for this puzzle again.
Leaving school on Thursday, I thought back to my last experience with the Fire Chief. Back when we were at our swing space at the old Alcott, my room was declared out of compliance due to “excessive paper on the walls.” I turned this into a math lesson, having the students actually measure the surface area of the room and measure the bulletin board space. We found out that we were not out of compliance. The students sent the Fire Chief a letter. It turned out to be a great learning experience. So why not let the students measure again and find out where the real 44 inch mark was located.
After several students were done with our math pre-test on unit 2, I gave the students a couple of yardsticks and a roll of masking tape and asked them to measure the “alley way”. Much to my surprise, our bookcase would not need to be moved as they were at 44 inches exactly. The students did find out I was several inches out of compliance with my chair and the tubs would also need to be moved. As more and more students finished with the pre-test, they set out eagerly measuring. Then, my museum “curator” came up to me and asked if the room could be totally rearranged. It was Friday, I was tired, and so I thought “Why not?” I told them the only thing that really couldn’t be moved was my desk due to the wiring of my Activboard. And off they went like busy beavers, working on creating the classroom into their classroom. My curator had now turned into an architect, designing out a new table arrangement. Others were going around with yardsticks, measuring the furniture and moving it around. One would think that perhaps this would be chaos, but surprisingly enough, the students worked incredibly well together and were supportive of one another and one another’s ideas. Some students were done, and set to work organizing 20 rock bags, consisting of 24 samples. I was pleased to see several of
them stepping up and taking leadership roles. The room was a beehive of activity. One student went and sought out Debbie to even out the table heights. Others washed down the chairs and tables with Lysol wipes. This was an applied Open Circle lesson. It combined all the elements that one teacher wants her students to exhibit.
At the end of this time frame, I asked the students to reflect on this experience; since I had overheard a lot of them saying this was the best experience ever. Here are their comments:
- It was a very different experience. Now, the room feels bigger.
- We experimented with area and volume – this was much more fun than sitting at a desk.
- We now get to sit with more people. We also got to work together to rearrange the room.
- For math, we had to worry about the 44 inches, we had to worry about how big the room was and if it would fit.
- Our room now looks like Hogwarts.
- Everyone was working together, it was fun to work together, and everyone was rearranging the furniture.
- The first part was good math practice, the other part was just fun.
- It was a great activity to work as a team; how could we work together to create the room to make sure it fits the fire codes and to fit everything in it to make it fun.
- We all worked as a team and we all relied on each other. We had to rely on each other to make it happen.
- This was also like a geology lesson since a lot of things were moving just like the tectonic plates were moving before they moved back together.
- It is like chemical weathering, chemicals mix up the minerals in a rock, and we are sort of mixing up the minerals into a massive rock.
- It is like the rocks split, melted, and reformed.
I talk a lot about “Who Owns the Learning?” I guess I can now add “Who Owns the Room?” It is now truly the students’ learning space. They are proud of it evidence by the signs they created for the door and the fact that they asked me if they could all eat lunch there on Friday. Lunch was an incredibly wonderful time. Students ate leisurely, they talked to one another, and at the table I sat, and someone came up with the question “What would you do with 500 million dollars?” Students have a way of stealing your heart when you least suspect it, and this day did that to this teacher. An event that I was grumbling about turned into a transformative experience. When life gives you lemons, this experience showed me that you can turn it into lemonade and really savor every last sip.