How do you "configure" your classroom to ensure that every aspect of it reinforces the subject you're trying to teach? In this article I look at this from the viewpoint of a computing or ICT teacher.
The idea for this post came from a talk by William Lau, who spoke about making his classroom an immersive experience for his students.
First, though, what do I mean by "immersive"? I have always noted the importance of the so-called 'hidden curriculum': the idea that students pay at least as much attention to what you do as to what you say.
A simple example: if you walk into your classroom looking as if you've been dragged through a hedge backwards, don't be surprised if you find that pupils pay less attention to their appearance when they arrive at your lesson than they otherwise might.
In the same way, if your computing classroom is devoid of stimulation, unnecessarily untidy or full of broken equipment, you're unwittingly setting a pretty low standard of how you expect students to treat the room and the equipment.
What I'm saying, in other words, is that the concept of the hidden curriculum applies to rooms too.
OK, on with the list.
Have an interesting display outside the room
This serves two purposes. One is to let students know that they are now entering a computing lesson. The other is to act as a recruitment campaign to encourage students to opt for your subject.
When I was head of ICT & Computing, I made sure that the wall display outside my classroom reflected the project we were working on at the time. I wanted students passing by to be intrigued, and students entering my lesson to be motivated.
Have interesting posters in the room
An edge-curled poster from the 2012 London Olympics may look pretty (apart from the curling bits), and hide a dent in the wall. But unless you are doing a project on the technology supporting the Olympics or the opening ceremony, it is just clutter.
Research has shown that students don't look at the posters, or at least don't notice them. They have to be relevant, updated periodically and referred to by the teacher.
I've used this photo before, but it's worth using here in this context:
This photo was taken in a history lesson in a computer lab. The students were doing research into the assassination of John F Kennedy. As you can see, the wall was covered in photos on the subject. Many of the pictures were stills from the Zapruder film.
There were also papers, books, and facsimile newspapers. The bulk of the work took place at computers, but all of this other stuff was not merely useful -- it helped to create an immersive environment for the students to work in.
Have useful posters in the room
A poster may be interesting without being useful, and the converse is also true. Vy 'useful', I mean posters that enable people in the room to actually do something.
For example, in my rooms I had posters containing instructions on logging on, printing, using the basic programs, and how to call for assistance.
As far as immersion is concerned, the reason is straightforward. If someone becomes frustrated because they are unable to perform a relatively simple task, they will cease to become enveloped by the room; they will become alienated from it.
Display students' work
I should relate this to the project work underway or recently completed. That rule will help to ensure that you change the display regularly and frequently.
I've written more extensively about ICT classroom displays here: Wall displays.
Number the desks in binary
I've taken this idea from the talk by William Lau mentioned earlier. William numbers the desks and the computers in his room in 'ordinary' ie decimal numbers, and also in their binary equivalents. Thus desk 25 is also labelled as 00011001. A great idea, marred only by the fact that I didn't think of it first. Blast!
I don't believe in using technology for the sake of it. Having 'unplugged' lessons can be extremely useful, as I suggested in 10 ideas for Computing or ICT lesson routines. However, I'd expect to see equipment for 'writing' with, taking photos, displaying and interacting. You need to "walk the talk".
Make the room a one-stop shop
Your room is hardly 'immersive' if people have to go elsewhere to do stuff. For example, in one school I came to as Head of ICT & Computing, staff and pupils had to go to another room in order to collect their printing. I thought this was not ideal, and changed it within two weeks of my arrival by buying a new printer for each of the computer labs.
If someone needs to do scanning, web research or even book research (see 7 reasons to have an educational technology library), as far as possible they should be able to do so in your classroom. Or at the very least, a nearby classroom.
Make sure that the equipment works
This ought to be a no-brainer. Actually, it is a no-brainer. If the printer doesn't work properly, or some of the computer keyboards have letters missing or --- basically, if the equipment is less than perfect then people have an unpleasant experience. Or they will have an experience that is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
This may sound like an impossibly high criterion, but bear in mind that many of your students (and other teachers) will have good equipment at home. Equipment that doesn't lose their work or shred it in the printer, or which they can't save because of some network error.
Have space for collaboration
There needs to enough space at each computer (if you have a computer lab) to enable pupils to work together on a problem.
There should also be desks at which students can work away from the computers, or around a laptop or a tablet. This is because the classroom can only be truly immersive if the students are immersed in their work. So logically, the nature of their work should dictate which technology, if any, is best for a student to use at any one time.
Most of these ideas can be implemented very quickly. How are you making your computer classroom 'immersive'?
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