Thursday, July 10, 2014

#NerdySpaces - My Project for 2014-2015

Every year I decide on a project that I'm going to focus on and share on my blog. Last year it was 20 Time, the year before it was an Epic Evernote Experiment, and I documented the Epic Romeo and Juliet Project from 4 years ago. This year, I'm going to focus on creating a better learning environment by create spaces that are more conducive to modern teaching and learning.

I'm going to be calling these #NerdySpaces and I will be using this blog to document the changes that take place in my classroom. Today I will be heading to my room to take a bunch of before pictures to document what my room used to be and I'm going to start brainstorming on what I would like my room to be. Here are just a few of my random thoughts.

I want to ditch my teacher desk. I've always sectioned off a part of my room that is the teacher area and students are not allowed. I'm not sure why I do it, but I've always done it and I want to stop. I want the entire space to be open and accessible to all of the students. My desk tends to just hold stuff I barely use anyway. I will miss the IdeaPaint top I painted for the desk, but I feel I can do something different if I push myself.

I want to dump the chair/desk setup and move to tables or desks that are more easily moved to create group work stations. I've seen some cool things from Steelcase and Bretford. It is more than time to rethink what the classroom looks like.

I teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom, but I feel like I still teach too much from the stage. Part of that is the environment I teach it that is designed to have students looking to the front of the room at me or the student presenter. I need to reconsider the "center" of my room and how a new layout might promote more collaboration and better learning.

I want students to have a say in what the classroom is going to look like on any given day. I want the flow of the room to be dictated by the learning, not the learning dictated by the flow of the room.

There are so many possibilities, but time is short. I want to have the new room set up by the time I start school in September, but that might not be possible. I need to find some sponsors that are willing to go with me on the crazy adventure and support new ideas. I'm blessed to be in a building that has always supported by ideas and I can wait to see where this project takes me.

I learned from my students last year that it is ok to dream big and fail big. This might be one of those times, but I'm not going to let that get in my way. Stay tuned for updates over the course of summer as I figure out what my room is going to look like.

Please feel free to leave me comments below with suggestions on articles to read, vendors to contact, or anything else that could help me create the best #NerdySpaces for my students. If you are a vendor and you want to partner with me for this great experiment and be featured on my blog for the year as I write about the awesomeness that is my room because of you, please send me an email at

Thanks everyone!



  1. Nick,

    I look forward to your Epic #nerdyspace transition. The best change I ever made was moving my student tables (all in rows facing me) to student "islands". It's an effort for them to face the front so it forces me to minimize that time of me on the "stage".

  2. I'd love to replace my heavy student desks with lightweight, easily moved tables. Ikea has tables you can put together that end up running about $25. I job share and my partner is more traditional- so I dream. They are very light and move easily. The tops aren't too durable, maybe cover in contact paper. You could use them as a dry erase surface then. :)

  3. They sell casters for them too, but they just about double the price.

  4. I am glad to hear this Nick. While I have always had my desks grouped into fours or threes and let my students work where ever they wanted, I need to change too. Alice Keeler has a great post about transforming her husbands English room. I am going "shopping" in our storage to room find what ever I can to make this transformation happen.

  5. My last year as a teacher, I ditched my teacher desk. Best move! That move created more space and forced me to file papers or recycle on a daily basis. I also had a variety of tables. I usually collected the tables no one wantes. Some tables were lowered for the kids to kneel or lay down. Some were tall for the kids to stand. I also had chair balls if they wanted to use them. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing

  6. If you want it to be a room where your students have more control, why not let them decide? I realize you want to have it in place but then you are still making those decisions for them.

  7. Hi Nick,

    Have you read any of David Thornburg's stuff? We have used it a fair bit at my school- there is one where he uses the terms campfires, watering holes and caves as metaphors for learning spaces. It is interesting. and I have even explained these to students and had them design the classroom and our external flexible learning spaces with that in mind. I think it is important they get a say...

    I am also about to start my second last Masters subject- Designing spaces for Learning so if I come across anything relevant, I can send it through. It is taught by Ewan McIntosh of 'NoTosh'- also another good website to check out, there are some articles about designing learning spaces for innovation and design thinking.

    Looking forward to following your #NerdySpaces journey...


    1. Thanks so much for the Thornburg material! Really inspirational. For the last couple of years we have asked our students to rove the University to investigate the different learning spaces offered. The Thornburg material will give this research a real shape and texture...

  8. Hi Nerdy Teacher,

    I've been working on my own #nerdyspace but the reflection you inspired got long-winded! Here's my entire post ( with images and links. I can't wait to see what you do!


  9. Our Art and Design degree has set up a Studio System where students inhabit the same space for the year (I think I have that right). To make sure they owned the space, students were given four days to customise their own studios any way they wanted...
    I would love to do that in 'my' classroom - but of course it is not my room at all - neither is it the students... One of the problems of big institutions.
    I will watch your project with great interest - and share it with my Education Studies students. Best, Sandra

  10. A colleague got rid of traditional desks in his classroom 3 years ago. I followed suit last year. It was one of the best things I've ever done to manage my class and encourage collaboration. Kids are a bit wary at first, but then they adapt.

  11. I agree with Will, get things ready but then leave room for the students. Since you are doing it for the students then you cannot leave their voice out of it. As much as it irks me when my room seems unfinished or not totally figured out, it is incredibly empowering to have student take over the rest of the way. As always, i can't wait to see what you do!

  12. I agree with the statements above about giving students a voice in the design. It is the one thing I wished my colleague & I did when we created our collaborative learning space a couple years ago. I believe our students would have eventually included a lot of our designs in the room

  13. Love the adventure you are about to embark on! This year I has my teacher desk shoved in the back corner under the TV to house my computer I rarely sat at to use, used my wireless mouse and IPad to interact with it and projector as I moved around the room.
    Desks were set up in groups of 4 and made a ribg around the room. In the middle was a table with some rolly chairs, where I could sit with individuals or groups and answer questions, discuss new material, formatively assess with whiteboards, etc. the table also has the materials needed dor the start of class and activities for the day. Designated students would come to table to get supplies from each group.
    The two outside corners (4 corners - teacher desk - door to classroom = 2 corners) had high tables where student could stand and work, could be fidgety kids, projects they were working on together, magnetic levitation track setup, etc.
    this worked pretty well for me. The focus was more the center if the room. There was no designated "front" or "back" of the room (whiteboards on both sides of room, just projector on one aide and TV on the other.)
    It was easy for socratic seminars, since there was already a middle circle at the table.
    Good luck and I'm excited to follow your journey!

  14. I noticed you mentioned Steelcase! Our district has been working with @carbreraresearch and has created a lab classroom with their furniture. Dry erase desk tops and walls, buoy chairs, etc. Don't have all these my room yet, but I am hopeful! Our PLC worked in that space this year, and loved it!

  15. I also teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom. This is my 4th year and I have tried so many different options but have found that without a budget for furniture, the options are not all that great. I will be excited to watch and hopefully gain some ideas from your work on changing your learning space.

  16. What a great undertaking! Does you school stockpile unwanted furniture somewhere? It may be a mish-mash until you get sponsored but tables are a great step to the change? The first question my principal asked me when I got the call that I got the job was if I wanted to keep the desks or get tables in there. I got the tables! Can't wait to see what you make of your space!

  17. I'm so excited to see you taking on this project! I'm in the midst of remaking my space, though I'm in a library, not a classroom. We're moving towards a Learning Commons model, where the library will have more collaborative spaces for students to work in. I wrote and received a $5,000 Lowes Toolbox for Education grant, and we're using it to get Bretford flip & nest and dry-erase tables and stacking chairs.

    Here's some good links that have inspired me as I rethink my space:

    The Hillbrook iLab - amazing space created in partnership with Bretford:
    The Third Teacher classroom makeover - Love how this shows that a space can be transformed on a budget:
    Amazing learning lab set-up; check out the whole Flickr set:
    Another great collaborative classroom:

    I can't wait to see how the #nerdyspace turns out!

  18. I, too, am ditching my teacher desk. Used it a handful of times. Removing desks and purchasing 3 tables to create better learning flow. Happy to see I am not crazy. :)


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