The school where I teach won a large grant last year to move ahead a vision of blended learning. The result has been a 1:1 program in the high school with 60+ redecorated classrooms, a new media center, and renovated lecture halls. The science rooms were limited a bit because we have a lot of specialized lab furniture that couldn’t be changed. Still, our student desks – the classic desk attached to chair – were going away and we had to choose a new style of student seating. My room is especially crowded and I worried about adding a lot of tables to a space that already contained 7 lab tables and a teacher demonstration desk. In the end I chose tables where three trapezoidish tables form a wonky shield table. Six weeks in, I love them!
So far, I have used the tables in three arrangements. For everyday use – notes, group work, some stations work – I am using the trapezoidy tables in pairs. They create strange rectangle workspaces that are big enough for four students. When I need a bigger space for bigger group activities or larger station work, I move three smaller tables to form the wonky shield. Sometimes I need the students to be independent – test and quiz day – and then I split all the tables apart and seat the students at those 12 tables and the lab tables.
I will admit that I spent a fair amount of time mocking the idea of flexible furniture last year. Of all the things I could augment or innovate in my classroom, I would not have bet that furniture would have made a difference. Like so many things I have tried in the last 5 years, I am eating my words this year. Now I am spending a fair amount of time moving furniture, but each time I do it, it goes a little faster. Plus, it’s all on wheels so it is easy to rearrange to new configurations.
I am surprised at how much I like teaching students at tables. The biggest difference I notice is that the students interact much more when they spend every day facing each other in these groupings. This has meant that I need to be moving around a lot more; I don’t really feel like I can stand at the board when I give notes anymore. I typically now stand right in the middle of the classroom and lecture off my iPad. On that side of the teacher desk, I notice more things about my students, like who is playing with their split ends instead of attempting chemistry and who is hungry for the next math problem. My students already worked in groups a bunch, but almost always at the lab tables. These new tables make their group work possible in and out of the lab space and reinforce my priority on teams. The students do rely on each other more, asking questions of each other as they work. Last week when I was checking homework, one lab group was working so hard to help one member with his homework questions. The level of intervention they were providing never would have happened when the desks were in rows.