Needed: More than Just 4-Walls

I wish I could physically welcome you into my teaching space. This year, my “home base” is unlike anything I’ve had in years past. For one period of the day, another teacher uses this room but, for the remainder of the day, it is very much a multi-purpose space in which I teach my classes, work one-on-one with students who need coaching, and do my own writing. If you asked me to identify the theme of what goes on in here, I would answer “we experience.” Most of those experiences are, of course, based upon music. On the outside, those experiences are pure…we just make music. For those of us who use this room, our experiences are more complex than that. While we do make music, we recall our history…we learn about the value of collaborating with others (even if we choose not to eat lunch together)…we experience the artistry of cultures that differ from our own…we replicate the work of the masters and mistresses who came before us…we venture out past their work while daring to create our own…we experience trust, fear, vulnerability, joys, disappointments, and beauty. So yes, life in my teaching space can be described as complex and very, very rich.

If you look through the photos I’ve shared in this post, you’ll notice a few points. First, you can probably guess that I still depend upon visual prompts to support the delivery of content and help with classroom management (I am also a Potterhead). Another point is the traditional desks set up in rows (neither is my choice). One of the most significant points in this teaching space is the limited amount of technology. The only technology that you’re able to find in this room are two laptops (one is mine and the other is school-issued), an overhead projector (yes, I still use transparencies), and a desk phone. My APMuTh students are expected to bring their own personal devices to each class. Our school is a 1:1 environment.

Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the 2018 Horizon Report’s report on trends expected to influence higher education environments. As I reviewed them, I was able to recognize more than a few that were already impacting work in K-12 school communities. Regardless of whether our schools are public or private, our goals include providing our students with superior educations while providing them with the tools (especially technological) needed to succeed in their future endeavors. Here’s the challenge: How do we accomplish this when faced with less-than-flexible instructional spaces? As I delved more deeply into the 18 trends listed in the report, the one that resonated with me most strongly was redesigning learning spaces. The other 17 trends were presented well, but the idea of actually redesigning the learning space in my classroom totally rang a bell for me. BTW, as a way of explaining why that bell rang as loudly as it did, I’m sharing photos of our space in this post.

Question 1 for this week: What technological trends do I absolutely want to include in my classroom space? That’s “easy” to answer. I want whatever will allow my students to Create, Perform, Respond, and Connect. Since my curricula are built upon these four standards, I will use them to guide my decisions on tech trends.

Teachers and learners in our space need to be able… To create: Give us devices with age/grade level software. We’re 1:1, so that’s an easy one to check off. To perform: Give us digital keyboard and playback capabilities (No, I’m not giving up my acoustic piano). To respond: Give us the ability to freely share creations with fellow classmates and, possibly, collaborative partners off-campus with the purpose of analyzing/critiquing. How about data storage and don’t forget connectivity! To connect: Connectivity, yet again, especially since we need to be able to research similar creative projects from different historic periods/cultures AND space in which we can discuss our work with one another (not all learning takes place in desks).

Question 2 for this week: What adjustments to this space need to be made to accommodate these trends? Researching the concept of providing an Active Learning Classroom (ACL) helped me to consider this question with an eye towards what my students actually need to promote their learning experiences. Why would any teacher prefer passive over active learning in their classroom? Shouldn’t I want my students to use my classroom to become more fully engaged…freely ask questions…want to continue asking questions about our topics even after leaving at the end of class? Just when I thought Bloom had the taxonomy market cornered, enter Andrew Churches and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy! If I am going to infuse technology into our classroom, I absolutely want to make its results to be as effective and meaningful as possible. This updated taxonomy allows us to connect the dots between the original, well-known levels and what technology in an ACL has to offer.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy…like the original…only more “connected.’

Enter Makerspace.

I have to admit that prior to writing this post, I was unfamiliar with the concept of a makerspace. What I discovered was enough to help me realize that my students would benefit from having one as a part of our learning space, and also gave me a better picture of the implications of developing a makerspace. The University of Minnesota’s provides a clear inventory of the plusses and minuses of developing and using an ACL. If I use these to develop my own makerspace, the implications include… * Seating – Desks, as we know them, are no longer useful. We need tables that will permit us to spread out our work while having a safe/stable place for personal devices (including keyboards, of course). Will my students have enough room to work in collaborative groupings? What about the students who require fewer distractions? *Student responsibility – How will my students react to having more independence in our classroom? What is the best way to hold them accountable for time on task? *Focal point flexibility – My students will be dispersed around the room at different workstations. Where is the best place for me to stand? Will everyone be able to see me, especially if I’m demonstrating something? * Teacher-Individual Student interactions – What will my strategies be for times when one-on-one conversations between a student and myself absolutely need to take place?

The bottom line for me is complex. Even though I am still connected to my overhead projector and acoustic piano, I get the fact that technology is changing how my learning space and others like it should be put together. I can imagine writing a post on this same topic in 5 years (maybe sooner) and discovering that technology has turned another corner. This corner will likely lead me to visualize my learning space in an entirely different configuration…perhaps with Virtual Reality playing a major role. In the meantime, I will continue to adjust our space while keeping my students and what they will need to learn in ways that suit them as individuals and will serve their needs in the future. I know the advances that are available to us. I also understand the implications that accompany them.

6th Grade General Music is “organized” into houses a la Hogwarts.
In addition to the marker board in the front of the classroom, students have access to individual dry-erase boards and markers to increase participation (esp. for students who are shy) and daily assessments.
Unplugged. The pac-man themed word wall was inherited.
Small, yet functional. Coming soon…a hard-wired printer.
Watch this space: APMuTh Word Wall

Published by Just call me Nan.

A musician/educator who is sustained by the love of a great family and wonderful friends. Lover of peace and animals.

10 thoughts on “Needed: More than Just 4-Walls

  1. Nan,

    Great pictures of your classroom learning environment. From your perspective, should teachers be allowed to use the platforms or software of choice to educate their students? It is has been an interesting year for me observing my wife transition from a google based classroom to a Microsoft heavy school district. I’ve seen her endure zero support to adapt new programs or software learning experiences due to stringent district procedures on using nonapproved learning software (ie non Microsoft products). What do you perceive as the mix that allows teachers to shape their classroom learning environments without overstepping local programs / products of choice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kelvin. I do think we should be able to choose the platforms/software best suited for our students. To the best of our abilities (and available funding), we should also be able to structure our learning spaces. A colleague and I were just speaking about our usage of Google Classroom in our teaching. We taught at this school together during my last tenure, so we remember the “old days.” He is a teacher of English, including 2 sections of AP. He has access to Google Classroom but chooses not to use it. It doesn’t suit his teaching style. I’m still trying to make it fit mine (perhaps, vice versa).

      We are very fortunate in that our administration provides stellar support for us and the introduction of new technology, including regular professional development and “sandboxes” for us to play. Yikes…I just realized that the faculty and staff actually have our own makerspaces! Now, if we could only have one for our students, eh?

      So about that mix…my thought is districts that do not include faculty and staff in decision making about learning environments and software are walking on a pretty slippery slope. I’m talking about lipservice, either. Even the best-intentioned administration needs to listen to the people who know curriculum delivery the best and receive their recommendations. Listen to the teachers and support staff. We are more than willing to speak our truth.


  2. Thank you for sharing your classroom with us- in an odd way, it makes me nostalgic for my schoolwork up to my Masters Degree. We don’t have the attached chair/desks with us as we have evolved to a technological classroom.

    Your description of the adoption of technology in the classroom, especially the 1:1 collaborations between students and educators. In CRNA school, we were fortunate to have access to the hospitals’ simulator- a fake patient that we could program to behave like a human undergoing anesthesia and surgery. The experience from trouble shooting various crises with my fellow students was invaluable (difficult intubation, anaphylactic reactions, heart failure and CPR). Simulation has since become a mainstay in anesthesia education.

    Similarly to your prediction, I can imagine virtual reality being introduced into healthcare education. With the introduction of technology, as an educator, are you concerned with the potential of decreased personal interaction?How would you balance the technology with remaining present- especially with music.

    Have a great night!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen the nursing simulators you described and are still amazed by them. The healthcare segment of the Corning video was intriguing. I guess that would be MSKCC’s Wall of Knowledge on steroids. I am always concerned about a decrease in personal interaction. Speaking from an ensemble perspective, we live and die by personal interaction. It is the nature of what we do so I don’t feel as if that is at risk in our ensemble work. General music…that’s another story. I’m seeing that it is far too easy for my general music students (Including ApMuTh) to depend strictly on their technology. There are times when I feel as if I am weaning them off of their devices. Typically, I give my students a run-down of what they can expect during a class (we call it the “menu for the day”) and this includes whether or not they will be working with or without their devices. That’s my best effort at balancing unplugged time with connectedness. So far, so good.

    Have a wonderful weekend!!


  4. Your blog this week was very inspiring. My concern is those impoverished neighborhoods where schools may not have the means to fund the classrooms with technology. Most of those offenders that I work with come from impoverished neighborhoods where school is not a high priority. A lot of them have been selling drugs, using drugs, and committing other crimes since before they could drive. The schools are at the bottom of the rankings. There is a drastic shortage of teachers. Schools do not have the means to upgrade or hire more teachers. So, what now? What are these schools supposed to do? Attendance rates are at a low, dropout rates are at a high, and graduation rates are low. How can we connect these schools and these students to increase attendance rates and graduation rates? How can we use technology in disadvantaged schools?


    1. Thanks for your kind words, Ashley. Even though I teach in a school that would be considered by many to be privileged, a good number of my students receive financial aid, and I have taught in still other districts that are similar to what you described. I don’t think technology would have the impact we would hope. Sure, it would be great to fully outfit those schools with state-of-the-art technology and the connectivity to support it but we’ve been talking about finding a balance between technology and human interaction. I’m sorry if this sounds idealistic, but I think the students you described need more than technology in their lives. This would be a good example of the value of human interaction…of the influence of mentors. I see this as more an issue of social justice, and am reminded of Arne Duncan’s words, “I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. And if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality, the classroom is the place to start. Great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice” (Mullenholz, 2011). Thank you for a very thought-provoking response, Ashley.

      Mullenholz, G. (2011, October 26). Education Is Social Justice. Retrieved from


  5. Hello,

    Do you think music and the instruction on how to play a musical instrument will always be taught in person? Do you think it will depend on the age of the audience? I ask because I have an accordion that I would like to learn how to play 🙂 I have researched YouTube videos but find them hard to follow. I would prefer to have a live instructor assist me in learning how to play it, but I wonder if a child started out with just the internet would they be able to pick it up.

    I thank you for the link to Bloom’s digital taxonomy, I have shared it with my wife since she is a teacher and is very interested in using technology in the classroom. I thought it was interesting that your colleague does not use technology as much (google drive) because it does not fit his teaching style. Perhaps the subject matter makes a difference as well. My wife is a Spanish teacher and has found that engaging her students with their phones helps them keep learning outside of the classroom. She was able to start a Doulingo group for them and can monitor their progress on the app (I believe). This way her students can practice with what they nearly always have in their hands…their phones.


  6. Hi, Frank…
    You pose a great question but, first, congratulations on wanting to learn how to play an instrument! I’m a fan of learning things from YouTube (that’s how I learned how to crochet), but you would benefit more from actual lessons from a teacher. These days, more teachers are offering instruction via Zoom, FaceTime, etc. I’ve used that format with a few of my students but wouldn’t use it with a true beginner (even an adult beginner). One of my students preparing for her All-State audition on viola will use FaceTime to work with me over Christmas break. We can do that because she is an advanced player and, by the time we leave for break, I will have had the opportunity to give her a better idea of specifics to work on as she practices on her own. Although I know of some vocal coaches who work with students online, I won’t use FaceTime to work with another student preparing for her Soprano audition. Let me know if you’d like me to find some online teachers for you…happy to do it.

    I’m so glad your wife found the new Bloom’s Taxonomy useful! Enjoy the rest of the weekend!


  7. “I want whatever will allow my students to Create, Perform, Respond, and Connect”. I love this part of your post, particularly connecting. We don’t often think about connecting as being a core part of any curriculum but it is so important! I hear so many times about how people hate being in group projects, but the complaints are always the same; e.g. “some people don’t put in their fair share.”, “I don’t know anybody.”, “One or two people end up doing the brunt of the work. But a teacher that encourages real connection, in which we are able to make bonds and grow together, that is indeed a special thing.


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