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Our classrooms get a 21st Century makeover

Grade 4 teacher, Sandi Tyson, is pioneering the adaptation of our classrooms. “There’s been a huge change in the technology we use in education. And the pedagogy – the methods and practices of teaching – has become much more progressive and fun. But school classrooms haven’t changed. They look the same as they did in the 1920s,” she says.

Why is this bad news? Because the antiquated classroom has had a serious impact on the child, and his ability to learn. Tyson has been researching the role of the classroom space, in the learning process. And she found that the traditional classroom space doesn’t reflect the high-tech, colourful world that students inhabit. The classroom is boring and uncomfortable. And students switch off there.

That’s why Tyson has become a huge fan of the flexible classroom – where there is a variety of different seating arrangements, and different types of seats. And the student decides where he’d like to sit, depending on the task he’s been given by the teacher, or the way he’s feeling.

The flexible space makes it easier for the teacher to move around the classroom and connect with every student, to guide and encourage and assist as needed.

Designing better classrooms

Tyson has revamped the grade 4 classrooms, with the school’s endorsement. These classrooms look nothing like, well, classrooms. There are beanbags in neon colours; stools that are designed with rounded bottoms, to enable wobbling and also desks shaped like rainbows.

Tyson has “designed” the classroom learning spaces according to the principles of HOMAGO, and also the Campfire / Waterhole / Cave principle – all recommended by experts.

HOMAGO is an acronym for Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out. And according to the gurus, these are the spaces that each classroom should comprise, to engage learning.

The Hanging Out space is like your local coffee shop (casual, comfy and great for group work). The Messing Around space is relaxed and playful. And the Geeking Out space is where the student can sit quietly.

Then there’s the concept of the Campfire / Waterhole / Cave. Again, the classroom should have a “campfire” space where the students gather to learn from an expert (not necessarily the teacher!). It should also have a “watering hole” space, which is more informal, and where everyone is both the teacher and the student. And it should have a “cave”, too, where it’s quiet and the student can reflect and work independently.

It’s working! “I am reaching more children. This learning space has sparked their interest and their enthusiasm for learning. They’re also taking ownership for their learning, because they are choosing where they sit,” she says. In fact, she has noticed that the students work better, engage better and enjoy learning more. She has found, too, that students are easier to manage (there’s greater discipline) and that students happily observe the rules that govern how and when they can request to swap seats with their peers.

And as for the children who need to fidget, the flexible classroom has proved a wonderful solution. These children report feeling less anxiety because they sit where they feel most comfortable; and les anxiety means better concentration! “The round-bottomed stools we use allow our fidgety students to move around without disturbing their classmates, so they’re focusing better too,” says Tyson.

The future is bright. And it’s shaped like a bean bag…

The expectation is that these flexible spaces will lift student grades, since they promote better engagement and happier learning. It’s too soon to tell if Dainfern College students are emerging from assessments with better grades. But our teachers say if the initial results of their experiments with flexible spaces are anything to go by, their students will definitely perform better!

Dainfern College

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Dainfern College, 96 Broadacres Drive, Dainfern

PO Box 3199, Dainfern, 2055

Tel: +27 (0)11 469 0635; Email: info@dainferncollege.co.za

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