As a teacher, I’d like to believe that I’m equally effective in every classroom. In reality, the space I teach in matters a lot, and my students don’t have the same quality of experience in a cramped classroom as they do in an airy one. Over the years, I’ve frequently taught in rooms where the seats are bolted to the floor. On a tour this week at Belmont High School, I was disappointed to discover the high school also has a few rooms designed this way. As a veteran history teacher, I can assure you that it is really difficult to foster active learning in rooms where you can’t move the furniture.
When I’ve had the opportunity to teach in more flexible spaces, the difference has been palpable. My favorite room has movable tables that can be brought together to form seminar tables big enough to support the kind of large format documents – broadsides, posters or maps – I love to see students pore over. But the tables can also be subsequently separated into smaller tables for individual or partnered work. The room is flanked by whiteboards, which allow groups to work out problems visually. It’s a joy to teach, and to learn, in this room.
Belmont High School has no spaces conducive to hands-on, project-based learning. Yet studies have confirmed over and again that this is the best way to learn. Our dedicated teachers know this, which is why they send students out into the hallway to use the floor as a table. Still, a noisy hallway is only marginally more conducive to learning than a room with seats bolted to the floor.
Most of us find it hard to concentrate in noisy environments, and few of us learn well by sitting passively. Fortunately, there’s a solution. The need to replace the aging and inadequate high school offers Belmont the opportunity to build a middle and high school with spaces that can change as teaching and learning do, while freeing up more space for hands-on learning at all levels, K-12. The state of Massachusetts agrees this is pedagogically sound and has offered $80 million toward construction costs if Belmont votes to fund the remaining expenses. Please join me Tuesday, Nov. 6 in voting Yes on Question 4.