Have you though about the effect of your physical classroom on you and your students? 

We often underestimate the effect of the physical environment on learning. Some of us, such as science teachers with lab stations, have to work within a fixed room design. Most of us, however, have more flexibility than we think, but the traditional nature of “the classroom” has become embedded from years of traditional practice. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how we arrange our learning spaces.

Thus, when we begin from the front of the room on the first day of school, we hardly make a unique impression. And if we are new, we hesitate to be out of step from the norm and not appear as a “real” teacher. So, what can we do to let our students know we do not want to be part of the “the same old, same old?”

If we are stuck with a traditional room arrangement and have to do housekeeping on the first day (pass out forms, registrations, handbooks, schedules, etc.), we can do it in a unique way. We might try to be personable and use a sense of humor, and perhaps, wear a festooned hat or a costume. Or, we might put a query on the board, one to perplex and stimulate their thinking. One of my favorites was giving my eighth graders the “monk on the mountain” problem, which never failed to generate interest, curiosity—and parent involvement as well, a good message in itself. I can’t resist including here. (Try to solve it on your own!):

One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit.

The monk ascended the path at varying rates of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and meditation, he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at variable speeds, taking many pauses along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed.

Prove there is a single spot along the path the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day.

[Of course you can Google the problem and find the answer immediately. That, then would deprive you of the opportunity to solve.  Years ago I accepted the challenge to solve it and, viola, I did!]

If we must use the first day to take care of school business, so be it. Decide, then, to make the next day the tone setter. Be sure students know your intention. As a new teacher, you may not be willing to do what John Keating or Dan Hilliard did, but you should make the experience memorable. One way is to rearrange the desks.

For more specific ideas about teaching see Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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