At Timberview Middle School the learning spaces belong to the students. There are no teacher desks in the rooms; instead they have common office spaces at the ends of the hallways. There are various types of tables, chairs, stools, etc, so the learning space can be adapted to suit the students’ needs. There are “collaboration areas” outside the classrooms where students can work in groups. There’s even an “outdoor learning area” with whiteboards, sidewalk areas, and a garden!
It’s an impressive set-up! I love the philosophy behind the design. In fact, most people would agree that the learning spaces in our schools are structured with the student in mind. But what about the learning? Does it belong to the students, too?
Mrs. Zalesky’s “Pet” Project
I had a meeting last week with one of our teachers, Mrs. Zalesky. She mentioned that her students were in the process of getting a “class pet.” I was intrigued. As she talked me through the plan I soon realized that this wasn’t just about a teacher going to the pet store and bringing back a gerbil. This was a project where more than just the learning space belonged to the students.
A couple of days after our meeting I scheduled some time to go into Mrs. Zalesky’s class to learn first hand about this project. A couple of students made their way to the front of the class to present their research to me. As I listened to them talk I realized just how much learning had been taking place in the last couple of weeks. And the students were involved in the entire process.
The students came up with a set of criteria before they selected their pet. They needed something that would be affordable (both initially and in upkeep), fairly easy to maintain (seems like there was quite a bit of discussion about cleaning up the…nevermind), and kid friendly. Based on these qualifications and a few others, the class chose the bearded dragon as their class pet.
The class then researched the bearded dragon. They learned that he is diurnal (active during the day, in case you didn’t know that one), lives in the desert, likes warm days and cool nights, appreciates places to hide, and is social (good with people). They would also be able to chart the bearded dragon’s growth, observe and inspect its skin as it sheds, and conduct other scientific experiments.
After obtaining approval from the principal, they continued with their research into purchasing their new pet, beginning with cost:
The students looked at several options for cage purchases, food, and the cost of the pet itself. After determining the best cost options they began taking donations to purchase the necessary materials.
I really enjoyed visiting with Mrs. Zalesky’s students about their project. You could see the excitement in their eyes, and hear it in their voices. Every single student was eager to share something about the research process with me. To say that learning was evident would be a huge understatement. The students used math, science, and research skills to select the appropriate pet for their class. They learned how to come to a consensus when choosing a name. They learned about the responsibilities involved in owning a pet. And they built stronger relationships with their classmates and their teacher through the entire process.
Mrs. Zalesky’s classroom belongs to her students! And the learning…that belongs to them, too!
Oh, one other thing. Through their research the students learned that the bearded dragon will live over ten years with proper care! Good luck with that Mrs. Z!