The classroom as learning center

Last year (my first year teaching) I floated among several classrooms. A few days before the beginning of this year, I learned that I have my own biology lab! I didn’t have much time, so I just put up a few posters. Now I want to make this plain classroom into a learning center for my freshman students. Do you have any tried-and-true ideas?
—JoAnn, Houston, Texas

I assume you have a traditional lab/classroom, with lab tables at one end and student desks/tables in another part of the room. I would definitely post your lab safety rules in the lab section and keep it free from clutter so you and the students can move around without bumping into each other. Establish a place where students can access and return the materials needed for their activities and investigations. Don’t forget to label safety equipment!

In the other part of your room, you can certainly go beyond motivational and scenic posters:

  • Designate and label bulletin board or wall space to display student work.
  • Use bulletin board space to highlight the topic students are currently studying.
  • Work with students to create a word wall to display key vocabulary terms. (Previous blogs have more ideas for bulletin boards and word walls.)
  • Create a live animal center with an aquarium or terrarium.
  • Grow live plants on the windowsill or under a grow light.
  • Begin a class library of books and magazines related to science and nature.
  • Designate places where students can access supplies, store notebooks and laptops/tablets, and hand in assignments.
  • Display student projects (or photographs of them).
  • Set up places in the room for individual work, conferencing, and small group work (if space permits).

Biology teachers often display artifacts related to the topic being studied. You might not have many to start, but you could look in storage rooms and cabinets for hidden treasures. I found a lot of interesting things at flea markets and yard sales, too.

I’ve been in science classrooms that weren’t the learning center you’re looking for. One teacher had just about every square inch covered with memorabilia related to his favorite sports team. If students didn’t like sports or cheered for a different team, this “shrine” was not a welcoming place. Another teacher I worked with collected frogs. Her classroom was full of pictures of frogs, frog figurines, stuffed frogs, and frog mobiles hanging from the ceiling. She was an elementary teacher, so her students were in this environment all day, every day. I found it cluttered and distracting, and I couldn’t imagine cleaning around all of these knickknacks.

However, if students are invited to bring in artifacts to share and see their work on display, it will give them ownership in the learning environment.




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