Wednesday, December 16, 2015

OUR 21st Century Classroom

Tips for Student Buy-in When Redesigning Your Classroom

One of the top trends in education is re-designing the 21st century classroom. Our students need and deserve better than the status-quo: a lecture-based, stagnant classroom. Our classrooms should enhance and increase pedagogy and the learning process, not hold it back. At Hillel, we’re making the shift towards completely mobile and flexible classrooms called CoLabs. This year, I am proud to be piloting our first Judaic studies, Torah Sheba’al Peh, CoLab.  

To redesign a classroom powerfully and effectively, we need complete student buy-in. That is why I put the students in charge of the process. During the first week of school, I challenged my students to create learning spaces that would enhance a variety of learning methods, including frontal lessons, group work and individual work. Students created, experimented, tweaked, debated, voted, eliminated and even named their learning spaces, until they came up with a list of their six favorite setups. Each setup was designed to benefit a particular learning style and limit potential distractions.  

Below, I have shared their creations and feedback from our first month of school. Recreating the classroom in this fashion ensured that our new room would be OUR classroom - not my classroom.  

Now comes the hard part. Data and student self reflection. In order to insure the CoLab is more than just a fad, my students and I are asking ourselves to answer the following questions this year:

  1. Is the Colab really an enhancement over a standard classroom?  
  2. Are students actually learning better?  
  3. Educationally, can we not only feel the benefits, but see them through data?  
  4. And most importantly, do each of these set-ups really work for the types of learning we’ve identified?  

At five different intervals over the course of the year, I will be collecting and posting data from the students through self-reflections on the following learning spaces.

“Inside Out”

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This setup is ideal for helping students concentrate. The setup limits distractions since each student is facing outwards and has nothing in front of them.

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Tests and quizzes
  • Self work
  • Chavruta Work

Student feedback:
Natan Levi, 6th Grade: “I like ‘Inside Out’ because you don't get disturbed when you want to work.  ‘Inside Out’ helps me concentrate and I do my work better.”

David Barnadjian, 7th Grade: “I like ‘Inside Out’ since it creates an environment in which it is easier to concentrate because everyone is facing different directions.”


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This setup is ideal for chavruta sessions that encourage collaboration and brainstorming.  

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Chavruta collaboration sessions
  • Class brainstorming

Student feedback: 

Sara Ratner Stauber, 7th grade: “I like ‘Batman’ because it allows us to collaborate with the other groups while we learn.”


This setup is ideal for group work. The setup limits distractions by placing brainstorming whiteboards in between groups.

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Group work
  • Nearpod review sessions

Student Feedback: 

Kikuyo Shaw, 8th grade: “I like ‘Kobe’ for group discussions. I like the way each group is kind of closed off from the others.”

Leah Golfiz, 8th Grade: “I like the ‘Kobe’ setup because it's good for a three group project or conversation, and there are no distractions because the white board covers the other groups and it's very good for privacy and the white board helps a lot.”

"College Lab"


This setup is ideal for formal, frontal lectures and teaching. Each student faces the board and has ample room to take notes.

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Frontal lessons
  • Teacher/Student presentations
  • Videos
  • Kahoot review games

Student feedback: 

Rena Harkham, 7th Grade: “The ‘College Lab’ is fantastic for a frontal learning lesson because everyone is facing the smart board or teacher in a great way. It's also great for taking notes.”



This setup is ideal for class discussions and brainstorming. Each student is able to see each other and the setup allows both students and teacher to be in the middle of the circle.

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Class discussions - Each student can see each other, has ample room to feel comfortable, and has the ability to come to the middle of the space to express her or his opinions.
  • Nearpod sessions

Student feedback: 

Tala Moradian, 7th Grade: “The ‘Squircle’ is my favorite because everyone is facing each other.  This allows us to have great group discussions.”

“B2B” - “Back to Back”

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This setup is ideal for chavruta learning. The setup helps students concentrate and focus on their learning with their partner. The setup limits distractions since each student faces outwards and has nothing in front of them.

Ideal for the following types of work:

  • Chavruta work
  • Tests
  • Analyzing text

Student Feedback: 

Eden Sellam, 7th Grade: “I like the ‘B2B’ set up because it is like independent work but also group work. It's good for chavruta projects or texts.  It helps me concentrate better and I have more personal space.”

Michael Kahen, 6th Grade: “I think the ‘B2B’ position  is great for chavruta work.  You can do work with a partner and if you want to brainstorm, each group has a space to write on.”

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