Designing a Classroom, Both Physically and Digitally (Ep. 140)

There is no one right way to organize yourself right now, or your space, or your classroom. Today, however, Nic hopes to give you some insight into the environment in her classroom, on her digital platforms, and her everyday working environment in the hope that you might find something that works for you. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: One of the most exciting things on my list of things to talk about for this podcast is environment and space, creating a classroom for your learners. It’s something I’m passionate about because my classroom looks very different than a lot of other art classrooms and there’s intention behind it. So that has been a subject that I’ve wanted to breach for a while and I thought, why not now? There are many of us who are in different positions right now. Some people are going back into the classroom. That classroom might look different right now, but going back into the physical environment of their school. Many of us are still working at home and will continue to do so through the end of the school year. Either way, we can talk about creating a classroom, both physical and digital. So that is exactly what we’re going to do today on The Everyday Art Room. And I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

As I mentioned, this was something that was very excited to talk about, organizing and designing your classroom. I would say that my classroom looks different than a lot of the beautiful classrooms that I see online. I love when people share their classrooms and share their management, physical management of their space. It’s one of my favorite things and a lot of times I see those bright rainbow colors, everything is designed so full and artistically and I suppose if I were to give my style of classroom a name, it would probably be minimalistic. Yes, it’s true. There can be a minimalist art teacher. Give me a holler if you’re one of them, right? There isn’t many of us. More is more is more is better for most of us, but for me pairing it down is really, it’s really my style.

It’s really the way that I like to have my classroom run and look. Actually I found out that this is part of a bigger philosophy after taking some training with the Catalyst Approach. You can learn more about that and episode 133 where I actually speak to a couple of them employees and the owner of the Catalyst Approach. It’s kind of a classroom management, teacher management philosophy, but they also have a bit where they talk about the physical space of your environment as well. And their philosophy aligns with what I was already doing, so it makes me feel good that it’s based on some deeper meaning, deeper thinking and it just happens to be my style. So my physical space, I’m going to try to verbally bring you through the visual of what it looks like. I have in my physical area a learning space.

It’s a carpeted area and at that carpeted area I actually for my younger students have spots for students to sit, Sit Spots actually. If you do not know what these are and you are looking for something to keep your kids organized and not moving around as much, give them a spot to sit at. Sit Spots is online and you can buy all sorts of different patterns and shapes and colors of these little spots that Velcro onto your carpet. I was a little skeptical to begin with, but I’ve had them for over four years now and they still are working spectacularly. So definitely check that out. But I digress. So this is the learning area to set up in front of my smart TV. I have my computer near, but actually my computer wirelessly works with the smart TV that I have set up. I don’t have a projector because the TV itself works. And yes, I know this is going to sound super idealistic and I am lucky. A couple of years ago we did have curriculum review and they really set me up nicely as far as technology goes.

So the students gather there to begin with and then when it’s work time we have our tables set up for workspace. I try very hard to keep it limited to how many kids are at a table so that there is a sufficient enough area for them to work at. So I have four kids to a very large table and I’ve had to add more tables in. So it’s arranged a little tight this year just because we have higher numbers. But ideally I would like to have fewer tables but still enough workspace for all students. I have sinks and areas to clean up and then I have an area where we line up. That area has moved several times to try to keep little hands to themselves and not touching possibly the stuff that I have prepped for the next class or that we finished up with the last class.

So I have a good lineup spot now. I have an indoor and an outdoor so the kids come in one area and leave out the other, which is very beneficial because my classes run back to back. I have one coming in as one is leaving and I’m sure many of you have this as well. The color in my room is very pared down. I have chose to go with one of my favorite colors, which is kind of this teal turquoise and it’s been my theme color I guess for many, many years. I vary that color so I have darker versions of it and lighter versions of it, but all of my labels, my desk, my background colors, my billboards, everything in my classroom revolves around this one or sometimes I do like an accent color, but not often. It’s usually this one color. There is purpose behind this.

I’m trying to give a very calming effect to my room and when you can make your room monochromatic, in my case is what I chose to do, for me this feels calm and it feels safe and it feels like it all belongs. It all belongs together. You might be using color in a similar way. So possibly you’re separating out your classroom and different environments by the color that you have. And I do have colored tables that, like I say, that’s the red table, that’s the pink table, but I just have a little identifier above in the ceiling that helps me know and then the students know what table they’re sitting at. But for the most part you see this overarching color throughout the room. Like I said, that is just a personal choice but also an intentional choice for myself.

I’m not saying this is the right way. It’s the right way for me in my classroom. So I’m using color and then I’m also in my environment only putting things up that are content-based. So if I’m learning or teaching about Frida Kahlo, I will have her artwork up, but when I’m done, that artwork is put away. It’s not relevant anymore. It’s not what we’re learning about. It’s not what we’re talking about and I need to give space for the next thing that we’re talking about. I do have some consistent pieces that are up and they’re all intentional. So I have Ashley McCain’s color families, her posters up on my wall. I absolutely love them and refer to them on a regular basis. So it’s important that they have a living space in my room at all times and that living space does not move.

If students need to know what the primary colors are, they know where that information is. I’m creating a resource within my classroom. I have banners with shapes on them. I have organic and freeform shapes. Again, I want this to be consistent so a student can always look up and refer to that when they’re creating design, which I explain, shapes and lines make the best designs. I am working on different areas. So for example, I’m thinking of lines itself. I haven’t come up with something that I love, I want to create. So as of right now I have small little reference sheets with different ideas of lines and I’ll hand that out. Once I develop something that is artistic, fits into my minimalist idea, is beautiful aesthetically, I will make sure to add my lines on my wall as well. I have a lot of my materials available and you can see where they belong. So I use a lot of peg board in my classroom.

Again that’s intentional so that I can see when things are put away correctly, so that’s a management tool, but also so that my artists know where to get the items. I have labels on everything that is in drawers. There’s labels on the drawers. I try to keep my environment extremely organized and I’m sure you guys do too or have plans to. Like I said, I have plans for the future for my line poster or my line resource. I just haven’t created it yet. I give myself grace on that. Yes, I am in my 18th year of teaching. I’ve been in multiple classrooms, but this classroom I’ve been in for a long time. It’s okay not to just go into your classroom and make all the changes right away. You don’t have to do that. This is something that’s on my list to do in the future. And you should have some of those. Your environment should always be improving and changing.

Okay, so we talked about my classroom a little bit, just the actual space, but I want to move into the physical workspace of my digital classroom. The physical space, this is the environment that I can control, the environment that I’m in everyday. And lucky for me, I have a space. I have a room that I can go into and I can shut the door. I’m lucky because I have middle school students that are doing their own thing and their space. I’m lucky that I have a husband who is also a teacher and also online teaching and also has his own room that he can shut his door to. I know there’s advantages that I have in this experience, but this is the thing, no matter what your environment is, make it you. So when comparing this space to your classroom, are you doing what makes you happy?

In my environment I’m creating somewhat of a monochromatic space. I didn’t even know that I was doing this, but when I look around I notice, yep. I have neutrals of, well, I shouldn’t say neutral. I have a nice coral color, so a beautiful coral color on my walls. But around me I have green. I have an environment of plants and succulents on the wall, some pictures of succulents on the wall and then also these living plants within my classroom, classroom being my room that I work in. These are things that I need in my environment to make me happy, to bring calm to me. I have an area for my computer. I have an area where I can do recording. I actually walk out of this space to work in my studio when I’m doing project samples. So I’m trying very hard to create this environment that is similar to my workspace at school.

I’m also trying to make it aesthetically pleasing. So my jars of markers and pens and pencils are all nicely displayed next to a candle here in my classroom right now, my at-home classroom, and of course I have multiple pens because you need every color under the sun. I have a space on my wall where I’m actually hanging up things like my calendar and I’m being intentional with the information I need in this environment. So a to do list up on the wall that I’m able to walk over and cross out. I just am really trying to create this productive area for myself, making sure that I have everything I need. And that changes.

So for example, I have this desk and a chair and I have decided that this is where I’m going to do my work. Well, it got a little boring, so I moved the table and chair closer to the window and I kind of have the natural light coming in. That was good for a while. But then I needed the back wall with a green screen, so I put some green fabric up on the wall and I moved my computer closer so that the entire background would be green. And that worked for a while, but this chair I’m so sick of. I can’t even handle it anymore. So I currently, well, I just ordered a wireless keyboard and mouse and I currently have on my dresser a stool that raises up my computer so that I am looking at my computer eye level. My keyboard is down low so that I can have better posture throughout the day.

I’m using a mouse instead of my track pad, which has been great as well. This is what I’m finding. Hey, you might be experiencing this. In my chair my arms would rest along the edge of the table and I’m seriously getting bruises on my arms from where it rests all the time. You guys, these are new problems that I didn’t even know existed because I have never worked this long in a chair. So insane that I have changed my environment many times to be what I need it to be at the time. Make your space organized. Make your space you and make it so that you can be as productive as possible. So bringing in the aesthetics, using your space for what you need is definitely where to go. So that’s the environment that you can create. The environment in our classroom is a shared environment.

You create this environment for you and your students. But in this area you control two areas, two aspects of learning, your physical space that you work in and your digital classroom that you’re setting up online for your students. How are you doing that? Is it true to you? Do you have a space? Let’s say you are creating a Google Classroom and on that, does it look like you? Does it look like your classroom? Do you have a classroom that is full of color and beauty as far as rainbows? Is your online Google Classroom in this case like that? Do you have multiple colors? Is it representative of your area, your space that you created physically for your students? So think about that. How do you organize it? For example, are you organizing your classroom the same as how you teach?

So for example, let’s go into the system in my classroom. My system would be students would enter in the hallway. So I would go out and meet them and that’s intentional. I welcome them in. I smile. I give them little winks as they come in and I welcome them to the learning carpet. They sit on the carpet and they watch the learning. That five minutes, possibly seven minutes of learning what we are going to be doing today, reviewing or learning. Then they go off and create. So they go to their creative spaces, their tables, and that’s where they’re making. They know that when they’re there, they’re doing a job. They’re working. If I have to stop them throughout the classroom, I don’t tell them my information at their spot. If it’s information that they need, I notice several of them are using the wrong the tools or whatever it is, I bring them back to that learning carpet.

I bring them back to learn from me. Workspace, then clean up. I always leave time for cleanup and sharing and reflecting if time is allowed or if I created time for that, and then I line them up and I get them ready to head out of my classroom, out of my second door. So am I doing that in my classroom as well? My digital classroom? I sure am. So I have that same philosophy going on in my classroom. For my school, I’m using kindergarten through second grade Seesaw and for my school we are using third through fifth, actually third through 12th uses Schoology or School-ology, not sure. Still not sure how to say that. Anyways, those two platforms are how I give my students information, but I wanted to keep consistency, so in my classroom, when I am explaining what they’re doing for the day, when they have their learning time and they’re looking at the Apple TV in my classroom, I’m using a Google Slide.

So that’s what I knew. That’s what they know. That’s what I gave them. I have embedded this Google Slide into both Seesaw and Schoology the same way. It looks the same as how they learned in my classroom. The first slide is me welcoming them, saying this is the plan for digital learning. If you need to watch this video again and again, it will always be here. This is my expectations of you. Slide number three gives them the theme of the week. So through our conversations and our podcasts in the past here, I am doing careers in art. You might remember that. So every single week the students are learning one universal career in art, kindergarten through fifth grade. I’m doing that so that students can work collaboratively at home. I think that’s important and I really wanted to make it as easy as possible for parents.

So that’s the next slide is me doing the teaching, just like in my classroom doing the teaching, telling them exactly what that career is. So this is fashion design and this is what you can do to make fashion design. I will give them four different options to explore that career in art. On the next slide, they get to go to the four choices. Now, this is where I differ. This is where it’s different. In my classroom environment, most often I’m working a very structured classroom, giving them the assignment and then working through that together as a team. In my online classroom there is a lot of choice. So I did make some changes for the environment that they’re working in. I felt it was important to give choice so that students had the materials that were available to them. They could choose something that matched what their interest was and/or what materials they had at home.

So they get to choose one of those four and then as we always do, they’re going to go off and create. Then the last thing that they’re going to do is share. So I give them two different ways. If they’re in grade two they’re sharing on Seesaw. If they are on three, four or five they are sharing on something called Flipgrid. Definitely look into it. It is an awesome tool free and I embedded it right into my Google Slide. There’s a link right there. So it’s the same. I usually have them line up. Sometimes we would talk about what we did, do a quick share. Sometimes we’d do a gallery walk within their classroom and be able to see everybody’s artwork. We are doing the same thing in our digital classroom that I have created for them. So now, yes, I am creating two different classrooms, one for myself to be the best teacher I can be, and one for my students to allow them to learn in an environment that I feel is comfortable and relative to, relevant, excuse me, relevant to what they need to be doing in this online learning platform.

Here’s the thing guys, I wanted to give you a little bit of an insight on two things, on my environment in my classroom and my brick and mortar classroom, my environment in my digital platform that I’m creating for my students and then also my environment, my physical environment that I’m working in everyday as we are digitally teaching. So insane that there is no right way to do this. What you’re doing is right. I would invite you to open your heart and open your mind to other people’s feedback in case there are suggestions of how to make it more user-friendly for your students. So keep yourself open to that, but you’re doing it right. You’re doing it the way that feels right to you, so keep doing that. Be proud of what you’re doing. I know you’re working your tail off. I know it. I know these are teachers that are listening to this podcast right now.

You are working tail off and I’m proud of you. This is what I’d love. A little call to action here. Send me pictures or AOE, the Art of Education University. Send us pictures, tag it. So either tag me or tag them. I’m Mini Matisse Art on Instagram. I want to see the online classroom that you’re creating. Give us a picture, a screenshot of how you’re creating this classroom or the physical environment that you’re working in. How does it look like the environment that you work at in your brick and mortar classroom? Is it the same? Is it different? Let’s continue this conversation. Share what you’re doing in your environment right now.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.