Exciting activities versus structure and routine

Recently I feel like I’ve been challenged more at my recent placement and a lot of it stems from the space that I’m working in. The school where I’m at is currently working at full capacity, even slightly over capacity in some grade levels, and thus classrooms are being used almost every block each day (including lunch for the middle schoolers). Because of this and the added hurdle that my classroom is only slightly larger than my living room, I have recently felt more confined and stuck than usual. Also, because we are in the basement of a renovated nursing home my science classroom isn’t the least bit “science-y.” We do have lab table-style desks but other than that my room could easily be a social studies, English, or foreign language room with absolutely no evidence that science was once done there.

Because I am starting a new unit this coming week, that I hope can be more inquiry based and exploratory for my students, I am getting stuck with what activities are feasible in my space. There is a lab type workshop that Ryan developed and we worked together to perfect (that he blogged about) that I’m hoping to use with my students that spans over two class periods and talks about adaptations and mutations within species that are harmful, neutral, and advantageous. My struggle with this it that it asks for one “island” of desks that the students work around on day one and then two “islands” on day two. More specifically, being that I have 27 students, nine lab tables, and three or four teachers in each class there isn’t much room to arrange the desks in a way that would be beneficial during both the workshop and our bridge/summary/closure time.

My CT, her co-teacher, and our inclusion teacher are very against letting our kids move around mostly because of space and because many of them can’t handle themselves in a less constricted classroom setting. I’m torn over whether I should modify the activity to fit my space and limitations or if I should work to make my room arranged as I would ideally have it for this activity and give my students more freedom than they’re used to. The latter of these has the potential to completely blow up in my face, but the former would require me to really scale back the sample size for the activity (working as a whole class gathering data vs. working as a table of three to gather data).

What would all of you do in a situation like this, give the students more freedom for a more exciting workshop or provide more structure and scale back the variety in the lesson? Reasons why will be helpful as well, of course. A link to the activity I’m talking about will be added once Ryan blogs about it.

4 responses to “Exciting activities versus structure and routine

  1. Hey Jess!

    If you wanna troubleshoot this, I am down this weekend.

    Mike

  2. Jess,
    These are great questions and I feel this is an issue we will all face at one point or another. I’m not really sure what the lab is, but is there any way you could put the one desk onto three desks? Or even chunk what the activity is into different sections so you may have it spread out? I found when it came to having students up and moving, it was really beneficial to have timed stations with very specific and modeled instructions on the flow of movement (which was usually to the table behind them). When I timed the stations every student responded really well to what needed to get done. Again, this may be of no help because of the task.

    I have the same issue with not liking the way the room is set up. I have a giant desk that takes up the front of the room and I feel it separates me from the students. Granted, I’m usually walking around but it is really hard for me to have a front and center for those moments I need everyone’s attention.

    Let us know what Mike says because I’m sure it could help us all out.

  3. Here you go Jess, hopefully it makes sense…
    http://getrealscience.org/ryanv/2015/03/14/naturally/

  4. Jess,

    I would consider starting the unit with more structure and seeing how you can slowly incorporate more opportunities for movement or small groups. The students will need a lot of support, over time, if they are used to working in full groups. I think giving all students to time and space to talk, reflect, and have group time is worth the effort and can be accomplished in a small space. If something doesn’t work out, you can adjust for the next day. Sometimes our biggest learning opportunities are when things don’t go as expected in the classroom! 🙂

    Andrea

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