It’s so great getting feedback from the first post in any blog. Thanks to everyone who sent me an email, and also to those who gave me suggestions. they are absolutely appreciated!

A big shout out goes to my sister, Zoë, who sent me an interesting blog by Bill Gates, partly about classroom design. He mentions walking into Ricky Thacker’s classroom, and being struck at how different it is to classrooms of the past.

I’ve read and heard so much about the development of a modern teaching environment, and the more I think about it, the more I realise that even with all the changes. This image depicts a medieval university classroom, but as any (honest) teacher will tell you, not much has changed!

Medieval University Classroom (With thanks to the University of Wisconsin, Platteville)

Just look at it! the teacher is at the front, “teaching”, while some students are paying attention, and others are engrossed in their own discussions, and even some sleeping (I count at least 2!). There is certainly a picture of boredom in the room.

Modern classroom in Georgia (With thanks to the Ministry of Ecucation and Science, Georgia)

Compare that to today’s Dynamic, reimagined classroom…We have whiteboards, and even interactive whiteboards! Many classrooms have 1:1 computing (where every student has a device). Computer presentations, videos and unrivalled access to the world’s information. Take a look at this image from the Ministry of Education and Science in Georgia, who recently (in 2011) announced a new sponsored ultramodern classroom!

But there’s just one thing…the classroom hasn’t essentially changed. (Is that girl of the left bored, or is it my imagination)

Even in today’s “modern” classroom, the teacher tends to be in front, students range from the engaged to the lost, and while pedagogy may have developed, I wonder whether learning has truly improved. Even an emphasis of differentiation in the classroom doesn’t always work – how can a teacher effectively differentiate  content in large classes?

One solution is in classroom design. The way wee design our classrooms will affect the way we teach, and the way students learn. I’m constantly tweaking the layout. While I can’t easily change the location of my desk (although I’ll probably do that soon), I avoid rows, and I avoid a central focal spot in the room. The design influences group and class dynamics.

Another solution is approach. It’s all too easy to revert to the traditional lecture-based teaching, but I realise that this is counterproductive. Student engagement exists as much in a “taught” classroom as the public engages with a politician’s speech. some are interested but most of us…well. It is time to change things around completely. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with Jigsaw learning (where groups, or individuals get a task, and then compare their own findings), project based learning (in groups, or individually), and student-led teaching (where students prepare a topic, and teach the class. My role then shifts from lecturer/teacher to advisor, coach, or mentor.

Another idea I’ve been researching is the Flipped Classroom. With the power of modern technology, we can really flip a classroom. While I say I’ve been researching, I haven’t yet started flipping, but watch this space. I like what I’ve learned, and plan to start flipping really soon. For those not in the know, a flipped classroom is one where content is self-taught at home (with youtube, self-assessment quizzes, and other texts), and int he class, assignments are completed, with a teacher’s guidance and advise. Instead of a lecture in class and parents struggling with their children’s homework, learning happens at home, on the computer, and the “homework” is mentored in the classroom, by the specialist.

So, I’ve just rearranged my classroom (again), In today’s Geography lesson will start looking at natural disasters (earthquakes), and we will be continuing to investigate ideal places to form a post-apocalyptic settlement (don’t ask, I teach the Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum)