From Classroom to Cafe Bar – A Makerspace, Reggio Inspired Learning Space

Bauhaus book & coffee shop in Seattle, a gathering of solitudes from: iamkatia.deviantart.com

In every city or community around the world, the cafe/coffee shop is place for gathering with friends or colleagues, catching up on daily reading, playing games, engaging in the art and music culture, knitting, writing, planning, creating, organizing, designing and learning – and of course, sharing in food/drink.  Drawing from hundreds of examples of cafe community gathering hubs across our own city, Hamilton (A coffee shop for every mood) or Toronto (Top 10 Places to work or study in Toronto), or New York City (The Best Coffee Shops for getting work done), we created a classroom space with similar characteristics.

 

The coffee shop as office: Coffee shops are the unofficial offices of an army of modern workers thanks to free wi-fi, good company and caffeine on tap. But, says David Crookes, cafes have been places of business for centuries (Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/thirsty-work-the-coffee-shop-as-office-2290725.html)

At a Public School?  

Can you imagine a learning space where nature, music, art and literature are infused in the design of the STE-A-M focused room? A space that celebrates community through nutritious food prepared each day by students who gather at a cafe bar or surround a kitchen table and prompted by deep discussions of innovation and creativity? A space for people of all ages? A place where tea is served at the start and end of each day in beautiful porcelain cups – where there are no bells or specific transitions and subjects are infused through Big Ideas or Themes?

In 2016, The HWDSB Enrichment and Innovation Centre was awarded the Canadian Education Association (CEA) Ken Spencer Award (First Place) for Innovation and Creativity in Teaching and Learning.  This accolade prompted the creation of a second Enrichment Centre that was designed using the Reggio Emilia Approach and would recognize that the learning environment is fundamentally important to the program (referred to as the child’s “third teacher”)

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” (Lella Gandini,1998)

The importance of the environment lies in the belief that children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through environments which support “complex, varied, sustained, and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas.” (Cadwell, 1997). “Bringing Reggio Emilia home:An innovative approach to early childhood education.”.

 The room design is  also inspired by Seymour Papert’s  Constructionism learning theory,

(Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). http://www.papert.org/articles/Situating Constructionism.html

 

The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructional role. Teaching “at” students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way. 

 

 

The HWDSB Gifted Program partnered with a team of Undergraduate Students from McMaster University in a Design Thinking Project with the goal to create a learning space inspired by both Reggio and Papert.

“Design is the action of bringing something new and desired into existence—a proactive stance that resolves or dissolves problematic situations by design. It is a compound of routine, adaptive and design expertise brought to bear on complex dynamic situations.”
—Harold Nelson, The Design Way

Thank you to Lee Wood Company, James Street North for the donation of the beautiful, custom, hand crafted bar top.

This area will provide a wonderful opportunity for students, teachers, mentors and leaders to gather, talk, celebration and build innovative and creative ideas.

The “Bar” area replaces the teachers desk. There is enough seating for 15 students to surround the bar. The teacher or student can be in front or behind the bar area to facilitate discussion.

There is a large collection of plants, herbs and sprouts in the classroom. Growing plants in the classroom connects students to nature, to outdoors, to the world around them. Plants clean the air, teach students about sustainability and allow students to observe and document natural patterns.

Bringing Nature in the classroom: https://www.plt.org/story/bringing-nature-into-the-classroom/

American Society for Horticultural Science. (2009, September 6). Greening University Classrooms: Adding Plants Increases Student Satisfaction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163947.htm

Parents are a vital component to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Parents are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child’s first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum.

Our doors are open and community (Teachers, Parents, leaders) are welcome to join us, have a tea and use our space.

 Where there was once just a window sill, we added another bar top and stools. The natural light and city scape provides an amazing escape – a place to immerse into ART, listen to music, write poetry or simple sit and “people watch”.

Music is spread across the room. A piano, keyboard, computers for composing and of course guitars for “jamming”. Anyone can play or create ANYTIME.

We got rid of student desks. Natural collaboration spaces were created to emulate a living room. A safe place where family gathers. A place where people can be in a collective but be in their own zone – reading, drawing, knitting, planning, designing or wondering. There are enough PLUGS/OUTLETS for 20 computers in this area.

An area was created to “do”.  Students can use the Interactive Whiteboard to showcase their designs, collaborate on ideas, or mentor one another, whether it be about Coding the Robotics, Programming Arduino sets or building in Minecraft.
There is flexible seating that can be moved or changed depending on the needs of the individual. This area is for small groups to code/program and engage in DESIGN challenges. A great spot to engage in ROBOTICS!


We hope that our experiences in this learning space can serve as examples and models to others wishing to move in this direction. We believe that students can be self-directed when provided with the right learning conditions, including an environment that is natural, organic and is designed in a way that builds relationships and community.

Reggio teachers provide children different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings. The goal is for the adults and children to better understand one another “North American Reggio Emilia Alliance”. Retrieved 9 April 2013.

 

Teaching “how to” Self-Direct Learning

 
Student:  I am easily distracted from the work I have to do.
 
Teacher: What are you distracted by?
 
 
Student: Stuff like the latest article about the Redstone update in Minecraft <that allows you to use the concept of electricity, pistons, electrical flow, breakers) or by the book that is screaming my name, or distracted by the story that I’m co-writing with my friend <the one I want to publish>, or by the new world I’m creating in Minecraft that allows collaborators to co-build and discuss in real time or by the new mode that I’m creating and why the Java Script isn’t working…….
 
Teacher thinking: How can the distractions become the learning focus? Would this then eliminate the distraction?

 

One student writes,

“I was shocked when I found out how much I was self directing my learning, about a voxel platform called Minecraft. I learned almost everything there is to know about Minecraft, and I was shocked to find out that I found it all out through <a concept called> self directed learning. I learned it all through tutorials, Wikis, and finding stuff out just by fooling around in game.” http://dwtim24.edublogs.org/

As a teacher of a special education classroom (Gifted Education), my prime directive is not to teach content, but to teach my students to recognize their own learning needs, to advocate and then to reflect on what works or doesn’t. It is to have them ask, ‘What do I need?” instead of “How can I meet your expectations”? It is my hope that these students can begin to see the difference between education and schooling and between teaching and learning.  Ultimately, it is so that my students can drive their own learning and understand the structures that they need in place in order to be successful.

With the concepts and examples of Flipped Classrooms, Khan Academies’ (and the like), Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC), and variety of online courses such as Harvard Open Online Courses or MIT Open Courseware, the structures and tools are available for learners to access whatever content they need in order to solve the problem or complete the project they have in front of them. Therefor, my role as teacher is clearly redefined.

I showed my students the video, “If Students Designed their own Classrooms” and asked them to think about how this could relate to their own learning. I wondered how they conceptualized the concept of self-directed learning.  Initially, they didn’t see a connection to themselves. Why would they?

Students at this age still need structure, guidance and ongoing support and feedback. These students have been faced with teacher directed lessons, schedules, and goals. The concept of Inquiry (in the classroom) is somewhat foreign and like any skill or knowledge based lesson the students need scaffolding and monitoring each step of the way.

A student of mine wrote the following piece.  Alexander is a student that hasn’t had success (as he explains) with traditional teaching methods and has felt disengaged for much of his schooling.  After watching the video he felt inspired (even optimistic) that, in some instances, our system can create learning environments that are based on choice, interest and passion and can be driven by the student. Alexander asked me to post his thoughts where others can hear his voice.

Kids go to school to learn, right? To expand what they know? Then why do teachers decide what the students learn? What if they already know it? What if they are ahead, or behind? The student will know that better than the teacher. They know what they know. They know how to most easily do it. The student knows how they learn. So let them learn that way. Let the student choose how to learn, and what to learn, because THEY KNOW. Each needs to learn their own thing, their own way. Each needs different work, and, sometimes, special attention. So let them learn. School is a learning environment, not a teaching one. How would an adult answer a tough question? Look it up. So let kids do that too if they want. Let them do projects, or paragraphs, or a diorama, or even a model in Minecraft! If they want to do it,  then they probably do it better that way. If they say that they know that already, then teach them something new! A teacher’s role should be to help learning, not to tell kids to do something. I skipped science today because we had to do stuff on circuits that I knew in grade two!!! I came to school to learn, and I wasn’t learning anything except how to be bored, which I learned enough of in grades two to five (in grade one it was still mostly games). As I said, people come to school to learn. SO LET THEM.

What works for me?

  1. RELATIONSHIP – In order to implement this approach of teaching there has to be a significant understanding of who the student is as a learner. We take a significant amount of time reflecting on how to communicate what we know, how to reflect on how we know it, and how to synthesize what is next.
  2. BLENDED LEARNING – Each day, I provide individual tasks via Edmodo or Google Docs. Students will either choose a goal or be assigned one to work on. The Blended Learning structure allows students to access his/her individual plans and to communicate with teacher. It also allows for parents to be involved. Uploading plans and activities ahead of time has also been effective!
  3. TOOLS – I try to provide time for students to explore and learn how to navigate the tools (ie: Khan Academy, Math apps) and let them pick out the activity or app that interests them to share with the class. The “Resources” section in the classroom is important.
  4. TIME – Provide enough time to allow students to work on a given task. It often takes them 10 minutes to get going on a task. This time for “small chat” is important – like it is for adult learners.
  5. FEEDBACK – Ensure students aren’t just ‘doing the work’ but that there is a purpose. Give feedback to each group, or individual. I find myself walking around the room, prompting, checking, and reassuring.
  6. DIFFERENTIATION – Allow students to use the tools or apps they want rather than assigning. Some may use Educreations, while others are using the Livescribe.  The marker and chart method works too, although the students always upload what they’ve done to Edmodo or Evernote.
  7. INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PLANS – I print out their IEP’s and allow them do fill it in or comment/edit what I have already done.  This is significant in helping them recognize that they have a VOICE.  We do this several times a year and then hang them up on clipboards.