Classroom Design Thoughts from Robby May

Robby teaches 8th grade History at KIPP Gaston College Preparatory.  I never had the pleasure of teaching with Robby but he is much beloved in the peanut field.  Anyway onto his email…

About once a month, I take a moment to read your blog…. I wanted to share some thoughts to some of your questions on classroom design.

So after three years on a cart, I finally got a classroom this year……praise Jesus amen hallelujah! I feel like one of my biggest responsibilities as a teacher of Political Science is to prepare my students not only to understand their government but give them the tools and “umph” to actually work towards that piece of our mission that talks about community and social justice. I am crazy passionate about what I teach….I can’t imagine teaching anything else…..and I want that passion for government to be so infectious that every student become passionate about their government and interacting with it too. One of the ways I created my passion right away this years was through the design of my classroom……everything surrounds the central theme of the Oval Office. My room is literally designed as a replica of the Oval Office (attached picture). I want students to walk into the room leaving school and actually feel like they are in the heart of government. I am careful not just to have “stuff” in the room that is pretty but doesn’t serve a function. Everything in the room should serve some purpose in my teaching and higher goal.

One of my walls is what I call a “Unit Wall”. Basically I change the wall with each unit to match what we are studying. The purpose to do a couple things 1)  engage students curiosity, 2) bring “real life” into the classroom through the actual objects we are talking about, and 3) to push students thinking. I have attached to examples…..one from my Elections unit and one from the Civil Rights & Civil Liberties unit that I am finishing off now. I find myself constantly going to the wall to reference something and by the end of the unit the kids can explain every little detail on that wall and why it matters to our greater study of Political Science. This wall is meant to provoke my students to THINK about LOTS of civil rights questions. The tree is our “Bill of Rights Tree” (topped by James Madison) with our homemade ornaments illustrating the different amendments we are studying. (I do this at the beginning of the unit as a pre teaching method). Sorry…explanation of items: Boy Scout Uniform (can BSA ban gay members?), Pride flag for LGBT rights, paddle (can schools use corporal punishment?), football helmet (can students pray before a game?), chair (is the electric chair cruel and unusual?), burned American flag (is it free speech?), guns = 2nd amendment debate, happy holiday or merry Christmas, nuese (cruel and unusual punishment?), video game (violence regulated?), search warrant, banned books in school, tapping your telephone, abortion (when does life begin….when does it have rights?), should foreign nationals and terrorists be given judicial rights……and the list goes on!

Elections Wall

 

Additionally, in the back of my room I have created a “We the People Wall” of Americans from all walks of life who have made great contributions to our history as a people. The picture I attached is a little older, but this years wall has them grouped by our values. It seems strange, but I find myself constantly going back to different persons on the wall not only to teach a historical fact but often in cultural lessons that happen.

We the People Wall

Finally, in terms of your seating chart question……I do not use a seating chart in my class. My classroom is designed into four circle tables……I am really working on getting students to learn how to work together in groups this year. On day one I tell them to choose their seat keeping in mind where they learn best and who they should or should not be around. Additionally, while it rarely happens, if they decide at some point during the semester that they need to change seats they can do that without asking me. Ive tried to create an atmosphere of H of G in my room in which if a student is moving in the room, we both have the trust that they are taking care of something to make sure they are meeting their academic needs. Example: during the Do Now some students will move closer to the board. I have never had a problem with this in the two years I have done it. Additionally, in terms of my seating, I have only ever had two problems where I needed to actually move students and seat them.

Oval Office 1

Anyways, sorry to clog your inbox…..this is just something I am super passionate about.

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