Arranging a science classroom

I’m student teaching now at an elementary school, and I want to emphasize science. In the classrooms I observe, I see many different layouts and arrangements, but what is the best way to organize a classroom? When I get my own classroom, where do I start?
—Alexander,  Albuquerque, New Mexico

I’ve been in dozens of engaging and exciting elementary classrooms, and I have yet to see two that were identical. I’m not sure there is a “best” way to set up a classroom, but here are some considerations.

  • Students need a safe physical environment with workspaces conducive to learning and free from hazards. As you organize the learning space and classroom materials, experiment with ways to ensure easy, safe movement within the classroom, orderly entry and exit, ready access to safety equipment and class supplies, and teacher proximity to assist students and deter undesirable behavior.
  • At the elementary level, most of the science activities will happen at students’ desks. Try to be flexible in how you and the students arrange them so the arrangement helps to facilitate the learning goals.
  • Reserve a place in the room as a “science center” where students access the materials they need for activities. This science center could also have objects or materials related to the topic for students to explore when other assignments are completed. Any science-specific safety equipment (such as goggles or aprons) could also be stored here. This could also be a place for plants, an aquarium, or classroom critters.
  • Have a designated place with general class supplies (such as pencils, markers, paper, and rulers), handouts, and places for students to submit assignments and store their notebooks.

  • Designate part of the classroom as a technology center with desktop computers (if you have them), and a place to store the laptop cart, printers, calculators, cameras, and other electronics.
  • Reserve shelf space for a classroom library with books on a variety of topics and reading levels. If your school has a reading specialist or librarian, he or she can help you select materials.
  • Set up a private study center for students doing make-up work and independent study or who need fewer distractions. You’ll probably want to have another area for small group instruction or project work.
  • Many elementary classrooms have closets, cubbies, or shelves for students to store their backpacks and coats. Use these to keep objects off the floor and out of the aisles.
  • Many elementary teachers do not put their desks at the front of the room, giving the classroom a more open feeling. (Be sure students know wherever it is, your desk and its contents are off-limits.)
  • Determine a focal point of the classroom (e.g., whiteboard or projection screen, demonstration table) where you’ll do any large group instruction, give directions, or do demonstrations. Be sure your seating arrangements do not require some students to have their backs to this focal point.
  • At the beginning of the year, review students’ individual education plans to determine if any require special seating requirements. Make sure your room design can accommodate the visual, auditory, and physical needs of your students as well as any assistive technologies or devices they use.

You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to have a classroom that looks like something out of a Classroom Beautiful magazine. The learning activities you and the students do are more important than elaborate teacher-created bulletin boards.  Over the years you’ll accumulate lots of stuff, so think about how you’ll store unit-related and seasonal materials when not in use. Plastic tubs and bins will be at the top of your wish list.

Classrooms usually reflect the personalities, interests, and styles of the teachers and students who occupy them. If you see a classroom buzzing with activity that still has “a place for everything and everything in its place,” this level of organization did not happen overnight. The teacher and students worked together to create this learning environment.





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