A Different Kind of School Set-up

The Educon 2.2 conference last weekend was held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. The physical organization of the school grabbed my attention. First of all, none of the hallways were the traditional dull off-white color typical of public schools. Bright colors filled all walkways and all the walls were ordained with student work. In a simple way, the colors made the school feel more cheerful.


The classrooms were also very creatively constructed. In no classroom did we see lines of desks. Most rooms had tables grouped into small working centers. Those rooms that did have individual desks arranged their desks into similar small working units. This set-up seemed to foster collaboration and the sharing of ideas because it reinforced the fact that SLA expects students to work together.


The science classrooms also had their lab and their traditional classroom in the same place. Need to do an experiment? Get up and walk to the other side of the classroom. I also found it interesting that many of the classrooms had plants. Plants by the windows. Plants hanging from the ceiling.


At one discussion session entitled “What if school wasn’t just like real life, what if it just was real life?” lead by Diana Laufenberg of the SLA, she spoke of the importance of letting the students own a part of the classroom. She talked of giving each class a portion of the wall of the classroom. Let those students decorate and design that part of the wall so they feel like they have their own special part of the room. She said this helped lead to student buy-in and also lead the students to take pride in their working space. I thought this was a really interesting idea and I’m thinking about how to incorporate it to my classroom.


These ideas lead me to reflect upon my own school and classroom. It seems that there are several simple changes that I could make to my room to encourage comfort and collaboration. It’s time to take some action. In terms of the walls of the school being painted in tough economic times… let the students do it with money from donations while under supervision? How do you arrange your classroom to encourage these feelings? How might you be able to change the layout of your classroom to encourage comfort and collaboration?

2 thoughts on “A Different Kind of School Set-up

  1. Wow, what a beautiful space! I’m a first grade teacher, and these things are common in primary classrooms. I’ve always wondered why many (certainly not all, but many) middle school and high school classrooms and schools are bare, lifeless and do not reflect student learning – and often are set up with desks in rows with a teacher desk in the front of the room, not encouraging the sharing of ideas and learning. I currently teach a college class in a local high school and the building space is simply depressing. Certainly not an inspiring place of learning, thinking and questioning. SLA looks like an amazing school. The space in which we live and learn every day should be a reflection of our beliefs, our students thinking and learning, and be a place where we all want to spend our days. Thank you for giving us something to think about in our own classrooms.

  2. I totally agree with your observations. They really do a good job creating a collaborative environment. I really like the large pieces of paper on the walls around the school with a “big question” on it where students can express their options by writing on it. I am looking at doing something similar in my classroom.

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