Jumping into Set Lab

My name is Olivia Hogan. I’m a 6th and 7th grade Science Teacher in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. I graduated from Providence College with a dual-degree in elementary and special education. In addition to teaching science, I coach volleyball and basketball at the middle and high school levels as well as facilitate two Destination Imagination Teams. Outside of the classroom, I can be found playing tennis, watching hockey, and going to Washington Capitals games.

Recently I was accepted into the 2018 SET Lab delegation where I was given the wonderful opportunity to design a research study in which I will collect data and present my findings over the next few months- all with the help of my SET Lab consultant, Allison Furton.

I recently attended the Learning and the Brain conference in Boston with my coworker and fellow SET Lab delegate, Heather McKinzey. The entire conference centered around current research on the brain and learning and its implication for education. While there were a plethora of wonderful sessions, it was the very first session of the conference by Heidi Hayes Jacobs that stuck out to me the most. Jacobs started her presentation by speaking about the uniformity of classroom design. Same size, same shape, same chairs, same row by row set up, you name it (think 1960’s traditional classroom). Even if you Google the word “classroom” almost every single picture matches this description. All I could think in that moment was “That’s exactly what my classroom looks like.” I was mortified. I mean, after all, I was attending an entire conference about innovative practices in education but my classroom design was anything but innovative. Jacobs went on to speak about how real teachers and schools are currently defying this uniformity to create innovative spaces that match the needs of all learners, including different heights of seating and work areas, no center of the classroom, and collaborative set-ups.

All people respond to any space they enter, whether it be physical, psychological, or behavioral. How can I expect my students to respond positively and be engaged when they sit in a almost identical classroom set-up all day? It was this specific conference session that helped me to form my official research question: “Does student ownership over classroom design affect engagement?” I hypothesize that student engagement will increase when student’s have ownership over the space where they learn.

If there is one thing I have learned in my time teaching, it’s that middle schoolers are not afraid to say what’s on their mind! I am sure they will take this opportunity to express their opinion on my current set up as well as jump at the opportunity to take ownership in seating options and the way it’s setup. By involving my students in the design of my classroom and its furniture, I am eager to see how my classroom- and the engagement of my students- change over the next few months. I hope you will follow along!

Throughout my study, I will be posting my progress here on Medium as well as on Twitter. To follow my progress as well as the other SET Lab delegates in their research, follow the hashtags #educationscientist and #SETlab.