Problem #1: Too much empty wall space. My new classroom is in part of the school called “the horseshoe” strictly because that’s how it’s shaped. This means that 2 of my walls are not straight and are long sweeping curves. Anyone who has tried to mount a cabinet on a curved wall knows that it’s nearly impossible so I have A LOT of empty wall space. My solution: The Classroom Periodic Table. This idea actually came from my wife, the social studies teacher. I am going to sketch the outline of the Periodic Table on my wall and cut out squares of poster board for each student. Their homework for the first week is to create an element for themselves; something with pictures and data that represents their life and interests. Then when they come to school the following week, they are going to stick their element on the class’ Periodic Table. The extension to this will be when we do the Periodic Table project a month later, the square that they decided to put themselves into will be their element for the project.
Problem #2: Dead space. Having an odd shaped room means sections of the room where square desks and rectangular lab benches just won’t fit. My solution: Alternative learning spaces. I have fallen in love with the schools that are bringing in comfy chairs, small tables and other non-traditional classroom furniture to create a more relaxed learning environment. When I do the flipped classroom again I think I want to try letting the students work in groups in those areas and compare that to how they do sitting in desks normally.
Problem #3: No windows. That’s right, no natural light. You can’t even see the outside world when you look out the door due to 1) a small window in the door and 2) being in the dead center of the building with classrooms surrounding you. My solution: More creative student work. Since the walls are white, what better way to cover up the bland with things that are colorful and creative? This past year I took a previous year’s ACS Mole Day Poster contest and turned it into a class project. The students were to remake a movie poster into a mole poster. The students submitted posters for Finding NeMOLE, The IncediMOLES, Avogadro and the MOLE Factory, MOLEbo III, Mean MOLES, and so many more.
Problem #4: Obstructed view seating. Believe it or not, I have 2 large, square columns in the middle of the desk area of the room creating places where the students may need to sit and won’t be able to see the rest of the class or the lesson. I’ve rearranged the desks to minimize this, but I am left with these awful looking columns. My solution: The reference section. I only ask my students to memorize 3 things during the year: the first 36 elements of the PT, a list of polyatomic ions, and the strong acids and bases. I don’t believe in memorizing information that you can just look up. Now, I know you are thinking that this is hypocritical because you can just look up that info too. But, chemistry is so much easier when you have certain info in your brain already. If I write “Na” in a reaction, knowing that it is Sodium allows you to focus on the task at hand which is probably predicting the products for the reaction. On the columns, I want to mount fiberboard that has been painted with either chalkboard paint or whiteboard paint. Then, as we encounter information/definitions/formulas they deem important, the students can write it on these columns. They basically will create their own reference sheets for the tests.
When life hands you lemons…