Is Your Classroom Layout Hindering Student Engagement? Here’s a Solution.
All the first graders in Jean Duran’s class at River Grove School outside Chicago knew the drill: when they were gathered on the multi-colored carpet at the front of the room, they had to pay strict attention to their teacher. Yet that could be a problem in the long, narrow classroom, where the carpet and white board were at one end and the projector and computer were wired into a corner 35 feet away.
. . . in addition to losing her students’ attention, she was losing about ten minutes a lesson sprinting back and forth.
“Envision teaching a math lesson to first graders,” says Duran. “I'm running from the carpet to change a slide or something, trying to be very animated, and saying, ‘Now stay with me, but look up at the screen.’ And they’re all looking at me back by my computer.” She had trained them to follow her voice, but her voice was running up and down the room.
Duran says that in addition to losing her students’ attention, she was losing about ten minutes a lesson sprinting back and forth. Desperate to find a solution, she ordered a 50’ HDMI cord on Amazon for $11. The setup worked sometimes, but the color was off, reception was spotty, and a misplaced step could disconnect it all, setting her lesson back another five minutes.
Jean Duran"This picture shows the distance from my desk and pre-Vivi technology hub (lower right) to the carpet and white board." —Jean Duran
In search of a more reliable long-term solution, Duran’s IT department landed on global classroom engagement solution Vivi. The wireless and platform agnostic system eliminates the need for HDMI cords, takes just seconds to start up, and is quick and reliable to use. The platform has thus mitigated many of the engagement hurdles Duran was facing in her poorly laid out room.
With her laptop wirelessly connected to the projector, she can carry it with her while mingling with students as she teaches. “It’s been life changing for me,” she says. “In first grade—and in most grade levels—proximity is key. When students see you animated and even physically walking them through a lesson, their engagement is higher. Their interest is piqued. Having all of my materials just an arm's reach away is huge.”
Classroom layout can help or hinder student management and engagement in all sorts of ways . . .Alison Jalufka
Classroom layout can help or hinder student management and engagement in all sorts of ways, explains Alison Jalufka, a former first-grade teacher who is now a learning coach in Texas’ Liberty Hill ISD. When she helps teachers set up their technology, she tries to position the document cameras, projectors, etc. so the teacher’s back will not be to the students. “When your back is to the children, you don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “If your students are misbehaving, you can't teach them. You have to have that management piece in there first. Being able to walk around your room and not be stuck in the front really helps with that.”
When she was a classroom teacher, Jalufka was, like Duran, tied to her computer. “If I was doing slides or if I was doing a Nearpod lesson, I would have to walk to my computer at the front of the room, change the slide, and then go back to instruction,” she says. Today Liberty Hill has Vivi installed throughout its three elementary schools. “Vivi and Nearpod together are a dream because you can project the PowerPoint from your screen, yet you're able to walk around the room,” says Jalufka. “I think the students are more on task when you're among them,” she adds. “Think about it: if a presenter stands on the stage and is just talking, it gets kind of boring. But when the presenter comes out into the audience and starts walking around, people start paying attention. That's what the engagement of Vivi gives you.”
Joan Troy, a math teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High in Raleigh, NC, says her biggest design challenge is the school day itself. Eight-period days means classes are only 45 minutes and some teachers have to share rooms. Troy might have to go from teaching Math II honors in one classroom to pre-calculus honors in another a few doors away. “It’s not a very long move, but it happens at the same time the students are leaving the room and they have questions; so you're dealing with those,” she says. “Then you're trying to speed through a crowded hallway into another room where a teacher has just dismissed his kids.”
Before she started piloting Vivi last year, she’d have to unplug the HDMI cord and leave it for the next teacher in the first room and then move to the next room and hope the HDMI cord there was working. “It could be a challenge if something had happened to the setup,” she says.
. . . a lot of times, I’ll go sit with the kids and just see what they’re seeing. It's nice to get away from feeling like you're on stage.Joan TroyJoan Troy and students at Cardinal Gibbons High. Source: J. Troy.
Last year, Troy was teaching in the same classroom, but yielding it to another teacher every other period. With Vivi in place, the transitions between teachers were seamless. “You can pre-prepare yourself with the software as you're walking into the room with your laptop,” says Troy. “You just have to type a code in and, boom! You’re ready to go. I've never had a bad day with Vivi. I type in my number and I'm up for the whole period. No technology is perfect, but it's been just about as perfect as it could be in terms of always being available.”
Like Jalufka and Duran, Troy loves being able to walk around as she teaches. “But a lot of times, I’ll go sit with the kids and just see what they’re seeing,” she says. “It's nice to get away from feeling like you're on stage.”
And now it’s easier for her students—who all have touchscreen devices thanks to the school’s 1:1 program—to take the stage. In the Vivi menu, they can offer to present their work with a virtual hand raise; Troy can see all her students’ names on her screen, and knows who is offering to present.
My kids love being able to display their work in the moment. To me, that's the big engagement piece.Joan Troy
Using engagement tools like teacher.Desmos.com and GoFormative.com, Troy can also see what each student’s work looks like and then select the work with the best solutions—or solutions that illustrate mistakes that she wants to point out. When she clicks on a name in the menu, that student’s screen is projected to the class. “That’s something you just didn't have before Vivi, unless you took the HDMI cord to a child or the child emailed you what he had,” Troy says. “My kids love being able to display their work in the moment. To me, that's the big engagement piece.”
Jalufka says the kids at her school were also wowed by Vivi’s student screen-sharing feature. “The first time they were able to project their work on the screen,” she says, “it was like they had just found a cool, new video game. They said, ‘I didn't know you could do that!’ Even though technology is their life now, they still do get excited about some things.”
Joan Troy’s Favorites
- Desmos Classroom Activities
- edpuzzle—with Camtasia—to record flipped lessons and reviews
- webinars at edWeb.net
- Mathematical Mindsets, by Jo Boaler
Alison Jalufka’s Favorites
Jean Duran’s Favorites