Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter Six

Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind Chapter Six, "Physical Environments for Learning" discusses how architects are listening to neuroscientists as they design learning centers.

While visiting colleges with my son recently, I was observing his reactions to the different campuses. After visiting a few schools we arrived at the last college of the current tour and immediately he expressed a liking for the school. He became enthusiastic as we parked the car. The interviews that day were the best and he had a good feeling about college. The first indicator for him was the physical appearance of the campus. In my English class, I provide my students with the five traits of determining character in a story. The first is appearance. Appearance is something we all use in making a judgment or choice in another person. At conferences about construction of workplace and schools, some of the issues considered in design were stress, safety, privacy, mobility, lighting, humidity, temperature, convenience, aromas, collegiality, and productivity.

In some cases teachers do have control of their classroom environment. Seating has always been a crucial component in class. Do we let them sit with friends or not? Do we seat them alphabetically? Rows or circles or groups? When I entered a public school in NYC, I was overwhelmed with 32 students in a class. I started with the obvious alpha list design and found it very unsatisfying in classroom discussion. One day when I walked in two students were reviewing their horoscopes. They discovered they were compatible signs and commented on how that proved why they were friends and worked well together. Another student entered and it was revealed hir horoscope was in conflict with the other two and that explained the conflicts the third student had with the first two. Immediately I struck on an idea of seating the class. I had each student indicate their horoscope element: earth, air, water, fire. I then proceeded to rearrange the classroom into these elements. I was amazed at how productive and distinctive each group was. That simple rearrangement enhanced learning in my classrooms. I have fans in my room so I can adjust the temperature in my classroom because it is on a central system. When it is too cold because of the AC, I can open a window and position a fan near it to warm it up a bit. I am lucky, my room is never too cold in winter. The custodians in my schools have always been responsive to my requests. Lighting has always been an issue in my classroom. I have floor lamps around the room and a bank of windows facing north. I usually only turn on the lights by the windows and leave the room lights off. The computers and the ambient light of the floor lamps provide good lighting for my students. When another teacher comes in and flicks on the rest of the overhead lights the students react in a negative way. Students comment on the positive lighting in my room, while some teachers comment negatively. Lighting was the point of the Hawthorne effect done many years ago and that concern hasn't changed over the years except that lighting has become a more important concern in classrooms.

Noise is another concern as ambient sounds, echoes, outside noise, noise from the hallway or other classrooms all have an effect on your classroom and learning that happens in it.

Designing smarter schools is the point of this chapter. In 2001, I wrote a paper about what I thought schools should look like. As far as I'm concerned it is about creating, with what you have, the best possible learning environment and to constantly tweak it.

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