Where was the last place you felt a sense of wonder? There are certain spaces we enter that leave us both spellbound and inspired, deeply present and buzzing with curiosity.
Perhaps you felt this way in your grandparents’ attic as you poured over dusty photo albums or played with peculiar knick-knacks. Perhaps you felt this in your local library as you ran your fingers through pages of dog-eared travel guides. Perhaps you felt this the last time you found yourself immersed in nature, fascinated by the tiny ecosystems on the forest floor.
Whether or not we are aware of it, our environments impact the way we feel. Grocery stores that are designed well, for example, give a feeling of coherence — products and sections are organized and labelled neatly so we can happily find our veggies and fresh bread. Learning spaces should be as easy to navigate, as well as pique our students’ sense of wonder. Feeling a sense of wonder means we are engaged in the present moment, yet also keen to learn more, to experiment, and to explore. These are the feelings that allow for deeper learning experiences.
Every day, teachers across the globe are using activities in their curriculum that inspire wonder. Here at room2learn, our job is to ask how our learning spaces can support this teaching innovation. Ken A. Graetz from Winona State University aptly puts it in his journal article, The Psychology of Learning Environments, that when students enter a learning space, they are “awash in environmental information” yet “only a small fraction” of this information are “sights and sounds of instruction.” (It is worth noting that Graetz also brilliantly cites a Hogwarts classroom as an exemplar space of wonder). Our teaching styles can be full of mystery and enchantment, but if our spaces support feelings of standardization at best, the only things students will feel spellbound with is the dust collecting on the floor.
Thankfully, we can now look to educators in the room2learn community for ideas on how to spark wonder in a classroom, without a magic wand. Let’s take a peek at few!
This gathering space offers two easy hacks. First, free-hand writing on the wall signals to students that this is a space for creative expression and freedom. Walking into this room, students may feel as though they can let their guard down and let their mind roam wild and free. Secondly, the rubix cube coffee table sets an imaginative tone. If you can have a larger-than-life rubix cube, what else can you blow out of proportion? As the example shows, playing with scale can break us out of habitual thinking.
Another example of playing with scale is this jumbo chess game — like in Harry Potter! Here, playfulness and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive. How might standing up and physically carrying the chess pieces across the board impact a player’s game strategy? Physical constraints color the way we think, and can help get new ideas flowing.
Forts of Imagination
There is something magical about creating a micro-world in a larger space. It’s like building a tiny house for our imagination. Think back to when you were a kid — did you build forts in your living room out of blankets and pillows? Maybe climbed trees in a park or backyard? Or maybe you liked to simply snuggle up in a corner.
Crossing that threshold from an ordinary room into a comfortable enclosure is like stepping into your own version of Hogwarts or Narnia — the only limits are your imagination. When we want our students to flex their innovation muscles, having these spaces may help students think outside of a traditional classroom mindset, where there is typically one right answer. In these spaces, students can find a more supportive, imaginative space to explore. We also love how much stimulation, color, and texture surrounds this indoor treehouse. All of these sensory cues can help further engage and inspire a learner’s mind.
Poets like Emerson and Confucius alike have given us ample language about nature as a source of wonder. If you’ve already read our piece on the benefits of outdoor spaces, you know that nature also has scientifically proven positive effects on learning. This playground set against a stunning landscape is naturally ideal, but you do not need to teach in a mountain range to harness the enchantments of nature. Incorporating different plant species in your classroom can help bring in the calming, focusing effects of greenery. In addition, even just using the color green in your classroom has been shown to have calming, meditative effects.
We love how this elementary classroom combines the use of green and movable structures to enable a sense of exploration and self-discovery. The electric lime green stimulates students, while dividers allow for smaller, intimate spaces, a perfect combination for this school’s personalized and independent learning model.
At the end of the day, every student will feel inspired by different settings, and their needs change daily based on their moods, the weather, and countless other factors. The colors and textures that might inspire wonder for one group of students may cause stress for another. Ultimately, it is important to design your classroom with multiple space options that students can opt into. You as an educator know your classroom best. So go for it! Start making magic in your classroom, and you’ll know from your students whether or not you’ve cast the right spells.
How do you bring magic into your classroom? We want to hear about it!! Share with fellow edu-innovators on www.room2learn.org and Tweet us at @HackClassrooms!