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How the CHIP Students Organized Their Room

The classroom provided for the CHIP program was one of the nicest in the school. It was a corner room on the top floor of the two-story building. It was also located away from the heavy traffic areas to reduce the disturbance of students changing classes in the rest of the school.

From windows on two walls there were views of the sports field out back. Chalkboards ran along the other two walls. In the hallway just outside the room a set of glass doors opened into an airy staircase that descended directly to the outdoors. A large balcony over the stairs served as a quiet reading nook.

The classroom was originally furnished with small tables set in rows. At each table there were two chairs that were placed so that students would face the front of the room. There were also long bookshelves beneath the chalkboards and a teacher’s desk at the front of the room. This is how the room was turned over to the CHIP program. The two CHIP teachers then brought in other furnishings, several computers, a large TV, and a video player. No attempt was made by the teachers to organize the room before the students arrived. It was left for the students to decide how to organize it to best meet their needs, and it turned out to be a good collaborative exercise. It gave the students ownership in the room and helped them to bond as a group.

There were four subjects that the students in the program were required to work on (English, math, art, and computers), and they organized the room with them in mind. They created a corner for each subject and they left the center of the room open to allow easy access to each corner. The center area also served as a place for the class to meet as a whole.

In the corner near the door at the front of the room there were a couple of tables with some chairs behind them facing a section of blackboard. This was the math corner to be used for instruction and deskwork. Two of the long shelves were stacked one on the other to a height of about six feet to form a wall between the math corner and the bordering art corner.

In the art corner, four tables were butted together in the middle of the area to serve as a large working surface for hands-on activities. Chairs were kept back against the walls as the students stood to work most of the time. The windows filled the art area with light.

The English corner was where the windows of the two outside walls came together. It was arranged like a lounge for reading, discussions and videos. Dark blue curtains contrasted with the off white walls. The TV and video player were on a table placed diagonally in the corner. A low coffee table was in front of the TV. Cubicle partitions were used to separate the lounge from the fourth corner. A couch acquired by the students was placed along the partitioning wall. An end table and lamp were at one end of the couch. Some other chairs were available for group discussions or for watching a video.

The fourth corner was the computer area. Five computers were placed on tables that were arranged in a “U” shape around three sides. Chairs were positioned at each computer.

Previously the only thing these students had at school to call their own was a tiny locker, a slot between alphabetical neighbors in crowded hallways. Now they had a place to call home.

A single classroom is of course not the ideal, but before a transition to something different occurs people will have to work with what they have. CHIP students sometimes went to the library if they needed a quiet place. The art room was unused one period a day and students sometimes worked in it with the teacher going back and forth between rooms. Some people worry that a teacher must be in the room at all times, but these were high school students some of whom babysat two or three children alone. Another was a father. The concern over not leaving students unsupervised for even a moment is an indication of how out of whack things have gotten. There was a trust among the people in CHIP that permitted the use of the art room that said, “when students feel responsible they act responsibly.”

There are people who have noted that zoo animals are sometimes required by law to be given more space than what is provided to students in schools, and just a little more space for students could make a big difference. Where schools are not enrolled to capacity some renovation might be possible. An existing classroom could be enlarged using part of an adjoining room to provide some workrooms at one end. Diagram A provides an sample configuration.

classroom diagram 1a

Diagram A:  A classroom enlarged to include a couple of workrooms

In a school where a pilot program gains some popularity and is extended to two classrooms, a configuration like the one shown in Diagram B could be created with a renovation extending into adjoining rooms. The adjoining rooms mights have been offices, storage rooms, or other classrooms.

classroom diagram 2bb

Diagram B:  Three adjoining classrooms reconfigured for versatility

Each school and each pilot program will have its own unique problems to solve in providing students with adequate learning environments. Sharing how these problems are solved will help others. Please add a comment here if you can contribute to this discussion.

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