Delete the Row

The school year is off to a great start and you have started to utilize the new science standards and are working to move towards a more student-centered classroom.  You look out at the rows of students and wonder what more you can do to encourage them in their quest for science knowledge.  One of the things you can do now (yes, NOW) is delete the rows.  

It has become increasingly common for elementary, and even middle school classrooms to have adopted “pod” seating arrangements, or desks and tables in groups to allow for student collaboration.  Yet, when students move to the high school, they more than likely will find themselves put back into rows.  We need to ask ourselves why we would want to have this type of seating arrangement with the older students.  Are we putting them back into rows because we think the rows provide a better learning environment or are we using rows for classroom management? Most likely, if you are utilizing rows, it is probably for classroom management reasons and in an attempt to keep students from engaging in extraneous conversation.  However, with the new standards, we don’t want to prevent student conversations; instead we want to focus student conversation around the phenomena and science at hand.  Will there be times when you want students to be a bit more isolated from one another?  Sure – but those times should be infrequent and not the majority of the time.

When you look at the 24 NGSS 9-12th grade life science standards – the ones you would likely find in a typical biology classroom, you will notice that around 18 of them require student discourse, collaboration, and conversation.  When you begin to unpack the standards, you find phrases such as “support claims,” “use and describe models,” “through peer review,” “defend claims”, “support explanations,” and “collaboratively” used over and over again.  Think about that for a moment – 18 out of 24 – or 75% of those standards require students to be engaged in conversation and negotiation of meaning around scientific concepts.   Those necessary conversations simply cannot be fostered well with the traditional seats in rows arrangement.

As you look at your specific grade or class standards, pay close attention to how often the standards are calling for student conversation and collaboration. Look at the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and ask yourself how many of those call for student discourse as well.  Consider how you can change your seating arrangement today to allow for those vital conversations and arguments from evidence to occur on a daily basis.  Can you push desks into pods?  Can you move tables so student groups can easily work together?  

If you are one of the many teachers that already have “deleted the row,” Science consultants Kay Schmalen and Mandie Sanderman would love to see some pictures of your classrooms to post in a future, follow-up blog!  If you are willing to have pictures of your classroom featured (in order to respect student privacy – please only submit pictures of your classroom when it is empty), please click this link –  and upload a picture for us.  You might want to consider opening the link on your phone or iPad to make the uploading even easier.  We are excited to see and share all the creative ways classrooms foster a collaborative environment!