About eighteen months ago I had an idea that I wanted to make groups a permanent fixture of the classroom. Most of the ideas in that post didn't bear fruit, but the experiment is getting somewhere. I've had people ask me how I arrange my groups and assign groupwork, so at some point I need to write a follow up that explains what's been tried since.
I want to focus on one particular aspect right now, and that's the table. Specifically, the features each group has available to them. I tried to dig up the link, but on twitter somewhere was a link to an old TEDxNYED video where the presenter visits a "school of the future" and recalls that he didn't know what was considered the front of the room. In a room of desks all arranged in neat rows facing a single board, it sort of implies "this way children, I have the knowledge you seek." Compare and contrast with my table arrangment:
Each group is a variation on this setup. There is access to a screen/board for examples/information, supplies are local, and more importantly they aren't necessarily facing me, they're facing each other. I hope the subliminal message shifts to "this way children, your classmates have the knowledge you seek." Or at least, that's how it plays out in my head. But with the kids set up this way, it's starting to really make me reduce straight up lecture times. Currently I think maybe 1 class period a week could be considered solid lecture and it's usually due to a hard right turn into a new topic. Let's do a quick breakdown, as this is not perfect:
The big, flat surfaces make working on posters or sharing iPads a thousand times easier than normal desks. Floating around to help is easier because these consume less floor space and it's easier to address more than one kid. Plus with the TVs and junk it's nice to have a local version of the board when troubleshooting things with the kids in the back. Much easier for the kids to communicate on problem sets and things. Helps promote a little more unity since they are physically together rather than a loose amalgamation of desks with the same color tag.
Much easier for the kids to communicate on everything. The few times I do try to lecture can be haphazard, especially with Algebra II. Facing another kid has the tendency to set off the "talk about ALL THE THINGS" reflex when they aren't looking my way. Cheating during tests is theoretically easier, though I haven't noticed an uptick or I'm oblivious. I have started employing blinders (legal size manilla folders to cover their paper) for Algebra kids and I'm versioning the heck out of my tests. It does create some blind spots. In the picture above you'll notice that two kids are facing a wall, my podium is behind them, so it's rather difficult for them to look at me.
Every room arrangement has its problems, but the benefits in the project category are outweighing the classroom management issues.