The Studio at Grauer came to be based on a need we felt existed in our district – a space to engage in professional learning experiences for teachers as well as for a learning environment for students that could be left “set up”. My office partner, Marie Thom, and I have been talking about this for the last couple of years. The notion of a “pop-up” classroom emerged and Andrew Ferguson, the principal at Grauer, was approached to see if we could use one of the school’s unused classrooms.
December 16 2018 – Room 102
Room 102 was being used as a storage room until we began our transformation of it in January 2017. Blending Marie’s background in learning environments and my understanding of mathematics teaching and learning, we developed a space focused on mathematics, filled with inspiring materials in a learning environment designed for learners K-Adult. Our goal was to create a flexible, responsive and inclusive learning environment.
Room 102 – January 10 2017
January 13 2017
The learning environment is set up to create opportunities for choice, collaboration, personalized learning and inquiry. More specifically for mathematics, our hope was to broaden understanding of what mathematics is and what the teaching and learning of mathematics can be. Often school mathematics is perceived as “arithmetic” and mathematics is a much broader discipline that this. We wanted students and teachers to see math all around them and be inspired to think about mathematics in different ways – to see mathematical ideas in the materials, in pinecones, in buildings and structures, in images of our community, in art, in stories.
As we discussed how we were going to use the space, we decided to call it The Studio, inspired the notion of an atelier, a studio space used in the early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia.
Classes from Grauer, as well as visiting classes on “math field trips” visit The Studio to engage in mathematical inquiry. Marie and I take on the role of atelierista or pedagogista, working with the classroom teacher to facilitate learning experiences through different materials in the space. We have intentionally curated both mathematically structured materials like pattern blocks and Cuisenaire rods alongside materials often known as loose parts such as ribbons, gems, rocks, pinecones, etc. We also have art materials available to the students such as paint, clay, charcoal, yarn and wool so that students can express themselves and think using different languages. Students also have access to various tools to support their investigations such as measuring tapes, protractors, grids and ten frames.
The first class to visit The Studio – the grades 3&4 students from Grauer on January 18 2017
The learning environment is intentionally flexible with choices in seating and tables available for both students and adults. Interestingly, although we have some chairs available, none of the students using The Studio have used them, preferring instead to stand or sit and lie on the carpet or use pillows. We have observed the flow of movement in the space and intentionally have large open spaces for students to move through. Shelves filled with baskets of materials are open and accessible to students. Students can choose the materials they want to use and take them to where they would like to engage. We took doors off of some cupboards to create more open shelving. All of the furniture, except for four small Ikea open shelves, was found in school storage rooms and thrift shops.
Provocations are set up on tables for students (and educators) to inspire mathematical thinking and inquiry. Inspired by one of the students’ interests in optical illusions, the grades 3&4 students from Grauer investigated the mathematics embedded in optical illusions. I gathered materials and tools that I hoped would provoke their thinking about optical illusions and the students also accessed and were inspired by other materials in The Studio.
As we have more classes through The Studio, we have developed documentation to share in the space. Panels, photographs and photobooks are available for students and educators to engage with, to reflect upon and to inspire new experiences.
One area of pedagogical intention in The Studio has been on noticing, naming and nurturing the Core Competencies and the Mathematics Curricular Competencies from our BC curriculum framework. A focus has been on both communication and creative thinking in mathematics. We intentionally create opportunities for students to engage in different types of communication and to reflect on how they are doing.
We have had many groups of educators also visit The Studio. Our District Support Team, educators attending our Playful Inquiry professional learning series and teams from schools in our district. Many BC educators involved with our BCAMT Reggio-Inspired Mathematics project have visited the space as well. We have also had visitors from Manitoba and Sweden! We often focus the visits with the questions – what do you notice? what do you wonder?
We also have a dedicated professional learning library with the teacher resources we recommend around teaching and learning mathematics, the use of loose parts and the importance of the learning environment.
We had hoped The Studio would inspire similar learning environments in our district but recognize that many schools do not have access to a dedicated room for a studio space – we hope that teachers will be inspired by elements of The Studio for their own classroom learning environments. What has been exciting for Marie and I is that this little project has had a huge ripple effect at Grauer, in our district, and beyond!