Friday, October 7, 2016

Classroom Organization for Technology and Makerspaces

One of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to consider the classroom space and to organize materials, furniture, and equipment for optimal functionality. I like to think that it was an after-effect of my teaching art and having to organize a large studio art space (and the corresponding art materials) for 13 years!

One of my passions as an educator is design for learning spaces and classroom environment. If you watch my YouTube video from the beginning of last year, I give a mini-tour of our classroom space (updated version for this school year coming soon with lots of new stuff!). I give a lot of thought to the aesthetics and functionality of the classroom.

When I first made the move from huge art studio classroom to gutted-out former computer lab (the size of a typical classroom), I knew that there were two very important tasks: I needed to paint the room, and I needed storage space for students' books. 

The tables in my room are small. They have to accommodate four students at a time, so there is absolutely no room for books on the floor or tables. Space is precious! So I utilized a KALLAX IKEA shelving unit as "cubbies" for my middle school students to stash their books, trappers, gym clothes, and chromebook cases during the class period. It's been a life-saver!

Shortly after the school year started, I realized the importance and need for a set of USB mice in the room. Some projects (like our Google Draw Avatars) require some precise fine-motor skills, and an external mouse really helps! After a failed attempt to store mice in a plastic bin in individual plastic sandwich bags, I switched to this shoe-hanger technique that's been wildly successful! Not only are my mice organized and tangle-free, I can easily see if they've all been returned at the end of the period. 

I love this method so much that I purchased two MORE shoe hangers this school year to store microphones, mic stands, digital cameras, and video cameras! I hung the shoe hangers on a closet door to a non-functional closet, so the door is always shut, and now this space is functional again!

My next favorite organizational tool is to use inexpensive bins and boxes:

I purchased these small plastic lidded boxes at the dollar store to hold our Makey Makey devices. Each box holds the Makey Makey "controller" panel, the USB cord, and a handful of alligator clip wires. It's very easy now when we work in stations for each group to just grab a boxed Makey Makey kit and get to work! I printed labels out to number our class kits and used plain old packing tape to stick them on. 

IKEA makes the BEST bins for Legos! They're shallow, which makes them good for digging in, and stackable, which allows for easy storage on a cart or shelves. They have lids! And they're inexpensive, too! These TROFAST bins are $3 each for the boxes, and another $1.50 for each lid. I highly recommend these boxes for at-home Lego storage, too! 

Our Legos are mostly used in conjunction with LittleBits electronic building and inventing blocks, which presented yet another organizational challenge. LittleBits come in nice sturdy cardboard boxes, sectioned off for each bit, but my 8th graders couldn't be bothered to figure out which bit went where, and in a hurry, would stuff them any place that they could. I tried a plastic tackle box, like for organizing jewelry, but that, too, was too fussy. I settled on this system, pictured above, which has worked very well so far. It's two plastic 3-drawer storage units, stacked vertically. I think the drawers are about the size of a sheet of paper? I had to search a few different Target stores to find them, but it was well worth the hunt. I labeled the drawers by bit color/type, and that organization seems simple enough even for students cleaning up in a hurry to handle!

The best organizational investment of this school year has been for a couple of gadgets that allow me to charge several devices at once! This nifty rack, shown above, can handle up to 10 USB charging cables! I have a set of 8 iPad minis that need to be both stored and charged, so this was the perfect solution! Pro tip: splurge for a set of shorty USB/lightning cables to avoid a tangled mess of wires!

Here's another charging adapter that will handle 10 USB cords. It doesn't have the organizational "rack" function for iPads like the first one I showed you, but this multi-charger is used for my Dot and Dash robots, which wouldn't fit an organizer system like that anyways. Before I had a nifty multi-charger like this, I was running multiple power strips along the floor of the classroom in order to get them all charged at once!

My newest organizational tool for the classroom is the perfect complement to our wipe-off surface tabletops: magnetic baskets to hold our wipe-off markers and erasers at each table! I bought wire mesh baskets with small extra-strong magnets on the back. My table legs are metal, so this fix is just what we needed, but you could affix baskets via zip ties, velcro, or hooks if you wanted. I love that now each table has their own set of supplies (as opposed to a communal bin of markers and erasers), and they take up very little space, while still leaving the entire tabletop free!

I hope that you enjoyed some of my organizational tips and can find one or more that will work in your classroom. Maybe these ideas could even help inspire you to come up with your own different organizational solutions!

- Mrs. L.


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