This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend extended time in two new learning spaces.
The first space was our very own SCALE-UP classroom.
This weekend the university held an open house and I was asked to meet with any visitors who might come to the SCALE-UP class between 10 AM and 3 PM on Saturday. The SCALE-UP classroom is a lovely space, but I realized that SCALE-UP isn’t SCALE-UP without the students. Fortunately, my students were game for my extended office hours and most of them showed up to work with their teammates on their weekly and final projects. Since no one had to be there (except me), the atmosphere was even more relaxed as usual. We worked hard, we ate chili, and we (at least I) had a good time.
Last week, Shelli Fowler’s contemporary pedagogy class visited SCALE-UP. I was surprised at how unsettling many of these graduate students found the space to be for them. These are novice and future teachers, and like me, they were trained in learning environments very different from SCALE-UP. One student commented that SCALE-UP reminded them of kindergarten.
Today, I had the privilege of visiting the brand new Prices Fork Elementary School where my daughter and her classmates will spend their first full day tomorrow. I’ve visited many schools and was actively involved in the design of SCALE-UP so I thought I knew what to expect from a contemporary learning space. Was I in for a surprise! The tour left me utterly speechless and in tears. The new school has its own gymnasium (separate from the cafeteria!) with a rock climbing wall, plus a yoga room, a sculpture garden outside the art rooms and several outdoor classrooms for days when it is just too nice to learn inside. Ms. Dollie Cottrill, our principal, told me, “We told the architects what we wanted, and they listened!” Almost all of the teachers were present on this Sunday afternoon, and none of them could stop smiling. I’ve always maintained that Prices Fork was a great school because of the amazing teachers and staff. I still believe this will be true but imagine what amazing teachers can do in learning spaces that foster creativity, innovation, and a sense of sheer joy for being in school.
This glimpse of our new school suggests that indeed, SCALE-UP shares many features with kindergarten. However, there is one notable difference: even though PFES does not open officially until tomorrow, it is already filled with artifacts of student learning. Lennie Scott-Webber of Radford University stresses the importance of these artifacts for students to gain a sense of belonging and even ownership in their learning spaces. SCALE-UP is used for many different classes and at the end of each class, we dutifully erase the white boards, leaving the room clean but unfortunately, rather sterile looking, for the next class. Hopefully, in the next iteration of SCALE-UP, we can leave some space where we can leave our mark. We are building a SCALE-UP-like study lounge in Lee Hall next year. There will be students but no formal classes or teachers. I hope those white boards get filled up with equations, models, cartoons, even jokes. I hope students post announcements all over the walls. I hope they leave their mark.
This week, my class will be visited by an origami artist. My hope is that we will be able to hang our creations from the ceiling and leave them there for the other classes to ponder and enjoy.