Recently, I have moved where I work during class from the front and center of the room to the back center of the room where my desk is right next to a student's desk. This was inspired by a few conversations I've had with students who went on exchange programs to France where I was curious to see how classrooms were set up in France. Over the course of those two months, I have witnessed amazing changes within my classroom, more importantly amazing changes in my student perception.
Why did I move my desk? I felt I was using the interactive whiteboard too much and that students should use it more than me. I felt like I was telling them what to do, rather than having them do. I moved because teachers have been standing front and center for 50 years and I wanted to be different. I wanted to give my students more control of my classroom. I had a curiosity about what would happen if I did this, and what types of changes would I see.
The most major change has been their perception of the classroom. They've realized that it's about them, and hopefully by me being as far away from the front of the room as possible, they have gathered that I'm next to them acting as an investigator. A great example of this is from my Calculus class where I assigned a project in which students had to use a piece of posterboard(they were all different dimensions) to create a box with the maximum possible volume. Not only were they having a unique experience with the concept of optimization, but there was so much more in the realm of basic skill that they were doing. Some students determined that they need to remove squares of size 6.43 from each corner of their board....so where do they find 43/100 on a standard ruler? The amazing conversation and comparison of strategies that resulted was completely unexpected by me. It wouldn't have happened if the students didn't feel empowered to have those conversations.
A classroom run mostly by students has created a completely different challenge for me as an educator. I never give a thought to the amount of work that I will distribute or which examples I will show. I give most of my thought to what will create a good conversation and what will lead them to the skills I'm trying to develop. Then, WE(me and the students) can develop a few examples and see if our generalizations are correct or need adjustment.
When students are comfortable in this environment (after they've learned a different set of rules for maintaining the environment) they purpose themselves in whatever way suits them. There's something great about providing your students with several different options that can all be unique to them, and watching them choose and interact with course content that way. They may only do 2 or 3 "math problems" in the course of a day, but the learning experience is of such higher quality than cranking out 50 derivatives.
Students are very capable of running a classroom and taking responsibility for their own learning, so give up control of your classroom and see what happens....
Thanks to MrsBMG for inspiring this post.