Category Archives: Organisation

A blank canvas – Part II

This post is in response to a comment I received in relation to my “Blank Canvas” post and and expands on my thoughts in relation to my ideal learning space.

I remember once having this idea that I wanted to start the year with a totally empty classroom.
No furniture. No chairs. No desks. No displays. Nothing.

That together as a learning community, we would talk about how we liked to learn, what resources we needed in order to learn best and what furniture and layout best supported that. Together we would source the items and materials we were after and collectively create a learning community that reflected our needs.

What would begin as a blank canvas would become a masterpiece that we would paint together.


Somewhere in the middle of my dream though, reality set in.

28 students in an open space with nothing seemed like an invitation for chaos…. Or a great place to play game of gang up tiggy.

The principal taking school tours of prospective parents walking past beautifully arranged classrooms; sending out an unofficial message of ‘calm and order’ to only to arrive at my room to see an empty and unprepared space.

The logistics of storing all the furniture that was in the room previously. Where would it go when storage in most schools is already at a premium?

And what if they ‘got it wrong’? Previous attempts at having students ‘design their ideal classroom’ lead to them arranging the desks in rows. Because that’s what a classroom ‘should’ look like (according to American movies and TV Shows). Aren’t I supposed to be ‘professional’ here? Shouldn’t I be the one with the knowledge of learning theory and what works best? Not that I’ve been to hospital, but I can’t imagine going into operating theatre the day before my operation and rearranging the layout of the room based on my needs.

I’ve probably gone to the extreme here and I’m certain somewhere in the middle is a ‘happy medium’. For example, while I arrange the tables in our learning space I don’t believe in having ‘set seating’ arrangements for my students; I’m one for allowing students to choose where they sit.  If someone is annoying them or disturbing their learning, they then have the choice to move and find somewhere else they would like to work. Part of this process centres around choosing ‘good’ locations for learning and what this looks like (ie: not always next to your friend). If this continues to be something students have difficulty with, I will then let students know they need some help to make a good choice and offer 3 of my own suggestions.

Like most changes in education, until perceptions change around what ‘should be’ we continue to do what has always been done. Maybe one day I’ll challenge this perception.

Blank Canvas

With school set to go back in a few days in Australia, I’ve been busy preparing my classroom ready for the start of the school year.

It’s also been interesting to read a few posts from other who have focused on how classroom design and layout impacts on pedagogy.

My process for setting up my learning space at the start of the year begins by moving all of the furniture out or into the centre of the room and starts with cleaning: wiping away the dust that has settled over the holiday break, removing pieces of old blue tack, taking staples out from pin boards… so that I have a ‘blank canvas’ to begin with.

My next step is to usually setup my desk. I know there has been a lot of discussion about the need for a teacher desk within the classroom. In some years, I have had a separate “office” either adjacent or away from my classroom whilst other years it’s been in the classroom. In deciding where to position my desk, I don’t like facing the wall and like to see people as they come into my classroom. I’m also mindful of sun glare on my laptop screen and access to power points.

Once I’ve located myself, I then work on the layout of student tables and resources such as bookcases and other materials. Again there are so many variables to be considered in doing this. I like my students to work in groups so I usually position my tables so that they are in groups of 4. Usually I will have 1 larger table of up to 6 for larger group activities that require extra space. I try to space these out so that there is enough room to allow for good ‘traffic flow’ as students transition from one task to the next.

Photo from author's collection.

Photo from author’s collection.

I also try to make sure I have ‘floor space’ for students to sit. I like to use use ‘circles’ as a way of sharing, solving problems and presenting new information.

Finally, I then add posters and displays to make the environment feel warm and inviting. Some of these include:

  • Daily Schedule\List of what’s on for the day
  • Map of Australia\World and World Time Clocks
  • Classroom Agreement\School Rules\Values\Procedures (eg: start of day, end of day, wet day etc…)
  • Class Mission Statement
  • Literacy Support Materials – eg: writing processes, vocabulary etc…
  • Numeracy Support Materials – eg: times tables, processes etc…
  • Birthdays
  • Information\Posters related to our Unit of Work\Inquiry topic
  • ICT Acceptable Use Agreements and links to websites, our blog, class twitter etc…

I also like to ensure I leave enough space to display student work and photos of our learning throughout the year.

Creating good classroom displays are not my strong point. Earlier in my career, I would have made these myself but have now come to realise that my time could be better used so I am happy to rely on Google and Pinterest for inspiration and am willing to download free or pay for the odd display to save time.

Whilst the layout of my room generally stays the same I think it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t stay static. Depending on the activity planned, it is sometimes necessary to move and alter the layout to suit the learning that is occurring.

What’s your process for setting up your learning space?
What additional resources\materials\displays do you use?
What considerations do you have when you setup your space?

Timetable Challenge: Part 3

In earlier posts, I wrote about the challenges our school was facing as we continue to grow in size and deal with the issue of timetables and our response to this by moving towards a 7 day timetable.

One of the issues I encounted was around the use of calendars (specifically Microsoft Outlook and the Ultranet) to schedule events and create my work program:

 I am struggling at the moment to find an efficient and effective way of managing this 7 day cycle. I use Microsoft Outlook to manage my calendar\work program and set each of my classes to repeat weekly. Under this new 7 day cycle, I am unable to create a re-occuring appointment that occurs 7 days apart, as weekends are included in the cycle. Given it takes 3 weeks for the cycle to return back to Day 1 being on a Monday, I had thought I could create a reoccuring appointment to reoccur every 3 weeks, however with days taken our for public holidays and other events, this confuses the cycle and makes it difficult. Other than entering each class I teach individually for the term, I’m struggling to find a way to do this.

I am pleased to report that I have found a solution to this problem (thanks to a Google Search and these instructions) by using Microsoft Excel to create a list of my events and then import these into Outlook. Who knew you could import events from Excel into Outlook!

I’ll attempt to explain the process:

I started by creating a spreadsheet in Excel that used the Outlook fields as the headings for each of my columns.

I created a sepearte worksheet for each of the times I teach (9am, 10am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 2:15pm)

I entered all of the classes that I taught at that time over the 7 day cycle (eg: Day 1 at 9am, Day 2 at 9am, Day 3 at 9am etc..) with the class being in the subject column and the room being in location.

Not wanting to enter each date individually, a google search found a formula that produced what I needed.


In an attempt to explain what the above means, the formula looks at the day in C2 (in this case Monday). Using the WEEKDAY function, Excel can count each of the days of the week (1=Sunday, 2=Monday, 3=Tuesday etc…). When it arrives at a Friday (the 6th Day using the WEEKDAY formula) it is set to add 3 days to the next date that appears. For all other days,  it simply adds 1 day; thus removing weekends from my list of days.

Once I had entered the first 7 classes of the timetable cycle, I used the fill down function to obtain the rest of my classes for the term. To set the event in my calendar to appear as busy, I entered “2” in the Showtimeas column.

I repeated this process for the classes I had at the other times throughout the day.

I then collated all these classes onto 1 worksheet of a seperate spreadsheet.

The next step was to select which area of the spreadsheet I wanted imported into Outlook. This involved highlighting all of the cells that contained data (including the column headings) and naming this range. The easiest way to do this was to enter it into the box next to the left of the formula bar.

From here, I saved the file (I had to save it using the 97-2003 version of Excel to import it), closed Microsoft Excel and opened Microsoft Outlook

From the File menu, I selected Open and Import.

I selected Import from another program or file and selected Microsoft Excel

Using Browse I selected my file and made sure I set the options to Allow duplicates to be created.

I selected my calendar as the destination

It then informed me that my DATA range would be imported.

This has now meant that all of my classes now appear on the correct days of my calendar !

It has also saved me the pain and trouble of entering each class individually. As I have my outlook calendar linked to my iPad and my iPhone, this has also been very handy as I move from room to room this year for my lessons.

Now… If I could just work out a way to import events into the calendars in Ultranet Spaces…… 🙂