Color My World (and My Students’, Please?)

Another Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

Before I painted my classroom, it had off-white walls.  The computer desks were a mottled black with white.  The carpeting was gray.  My


students complained about the lack of interest amongst their classrooms in that building, and I felt a little down myself upon arrival.

Although I  have a degree in mathematics, I took so many art classes that I could probably have double-majored.  I also studied color on my own as regards psychological impact.  Therefore, it was only a matter of time before I felt desperate enough to make a major change.   Prior to the new school year, I bought paint, floor cushions, plants, and artwork.  I rearranged the room to accommodate tables that could be placed where needed (for small projects or for larger collaborative efforts).  When my students returned, they were so happy,DSC_0121 and I know felt better about being there, too.  They were comfortable in this new environment.

Take a look at my persuasive video on revamping a learning environment:


Now, what type of academic impact did this have on them?  Because they were so at ease in my room, did that mean that they were too relaxed to be productive?  How could I convince my administration that this change was positive?

This sounds like so many of the hot topics in education today;  I have listed a few of them here:  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),  the Maker Movement, Flipped Classrooms, and Bricolage.  Pick any topic and there is embedded controversy as to whether these are

  • short-lived and  not worth the investment
  • do not contribute to learning
  • are too time -consuming to implement
  • are too much of a change for people to think about

My own thinking is that if I can get my environment down, then I can think about these other ideas.   As I looked to resources to justify my actions, I realized that most of the studies I found were relatively old  (from the 1950’s to the 1990’s).   I was pleased to discover that the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment  did a study I was pleased to discover that the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment  did a study (2015) on the following: lightbox[1]

In a pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates, it was found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.

In addition,

The study took two lines of enquiry. The first was to collect data from 751 pupils, such as their age, gender and performance level in maths, reading and writing at the start and end of an academic year.

The second evaluated the holistic classroom environment, taking into account different design parameters such as classroom orientation, natural light and noise, temperature and air quality. Other issues such as flexibility of space, storage facilities and organisation, as well as use of colour were evaluated.

Notably, 73% of the variation in pupil performance driven at the class level can be explained by the building environment factors measured in this study (2012).

This is great news for those of us trying to convince our administrators that this pursuit is definitely worthwhile.  To help motivate educators and administrators of the excitement that a new environment can foster, take a look at this TEDtalk by Cesar Harada (August 2015), on his warehouse classroom:

Check out the link for DesignShare , which has many examples of schools who have reformed their learning environments

Design Share snip pic

Here is a classroom undergoing a transformation (Part 1 of 2)″>

Edutopia videos showing the classroom design company, The Third Teacher+, making over a learning environment at Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco in 2012:

In order to have an effective environment, is it necessary to hire a professional to make it perfect?  I would say, absolutely not!  Paint the walls, toss down some floor pillows (dog beds work well for this), repurpose used furniture, and mostly, call onn your students and their parents for assistance.   This article is about finding inspiration, enlisting your students as investors in a project in which I believe may have long-term benefits, and creating a room to which (most) people will be happy to make a return visit.

Some resources for classroom design:

  1. Classroom Architecture
  2. Art project plans – for your students…let them decorate for you!
  3. Personalize your classroom
  4. A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms — also has other resources at the end of the article – From Edutopia

Academic Resources:

Study proves classroom design really does matter. (2013). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from

Slide Resources:

  1. Yellow Flower by Milza
  2. Yellow – smiley faces. Prawney
  3. Yellow stars prawny
  4. Yellow lanterns chrystaline24  
  5. Green grass blade pippalou
  6. Green trees hotblack
  7. Green grapes jasongillman
  8. Blue water drops prawney
  9. Orange kconnors
  10. Orange peppers joncutrer
  11. Orange day lillies huggie
  12. Orange Carrots scarletina
  13. HS Science Forest Park High School in Woodbridge VA by Mike Dyer
  14. Couch
  15. Classroom furniture Deb Day
  16. Hand shadow eduardoruiz
  17. Chains 5demayo
  18. Hook DodgertonSkillhause
  19. Houseplants
  20. Collaboration cloud image
  21. PTSA
  22. String of Christmas Lights BSGStudio
  23. Sherwin Williams paint
  24. Discovery Education logo screenshot
  25. iMovie screenshot
  26. Instructables screenshot
  27. screenshot
  28. Project template
  29. fabric
  30. pillows
  31. PTA


To Err is Human: the Game’s On!



brain-games[1]Another Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

Advocacy for game-playing or gamification of at least some of the tools used in teaching mathematics can be tricky.  With the amount of content needing to be covered, how can one justify adding another component into the learning environment?

When I was in 5th grade, my math teacher gave us a pop quiz on the multiplication table.  It was given orally and each problem was rapidly fired at us. I lost track of which number I was on, and therefore, my answers were out of order.  I failed the test, and being a perfectionist, I started to cry and was inconsolable, even after my teacher told me that it was an April Fool’s joke and that the quiz wouldn’t count (who does that?).

My point with this story is that I was so devastated about others knowing that I had failed and had all of those incorrect answers on MY paper, that it left a lifelong, and obviously negative impression (no pun intended) on me.  Even thinking about it now makes me feel saddened.

In my class, I make mistakes all the time.  I once heard a student whisper that I had erred.  I asked him to repeat what he said out loud.  He thought I would become angry; instead, I walked up to him, shook his hand and congratulated him on catching my slip-up.

Mistakes should be looked upon as another step in a problem, and not a devastating end.  However, mistakes, or counting too much on what is right, in general (for instance, in high-stakes tests) creates fear-driven students.  How can one learn if one is fearful?  Jo Boaler, in her post entitled, Mistakes Grow Your Brain (Boaler, 2015), states that

They (students) think (making errors) mean they are not a math person, because they have been brought up in a performance culture in which mistakes are not valued—or worse, they are punished. Mistakes-Quotes1[1]

In addition,

…Gabriele Steuer and her colleagues looked at the climate of math classrooms to consider the impact of “mistakes friendly” or “mistakes unfriendly” environments on students’ reactions to errors and the amount of effort they would put into classes. They found that when students perceived their classroom as mistakes friendly – above and beyond other aspects of their classrooms environment – they increased their effort in their work (Boaler, 2015).

Sir Ken Robinson on this TED talk

Sir Ken Robinson gives a well-known TEDtalk where he speaks of the support, or lack thereof, when students make mistakes.  Do they shut down because they are ridiculed, or do they learn because they are encouraged and go forward?

To create a mistakes-friendly learning environment sounds like a strategy for problem solving in any classroom.  Let’s consider gaming; it allows for many mistakes; when they occur, the player tries a different strategy to get to the next challenge.  If students are accustomed to moving on after a setback, why wouldn’t they apply that ability to their assignments at school?

For mathematics, game offerings become less obvious for the older the student, unless one considers the applied mathematics arena.  I decided to share some intriguing apps that might help in making a more appealing environment.  Following are two reviews of educational gaming software:

  1.  Kerbal Space Program  (KSP)

Here is a sample of the trial version of the program:

As you can see from this demo video, there is a learning curve associated to yield successful trips.  There is a paid-for version, which is much richer in content.  YouTube has numerous accounts of adventures of unique space ships built with this program.  Although KSP  does not have any built-in assessment content, I found a very detailed high school physics lesson by  here which is absolutely amazing.  I can only imagine the end products. The assessment portion is a “cash” reward based on the success of the groups’ missions.  This really is a learning feat and I hope that I can collaborate with our physics educator to put this into place.   It does require the full paid version and is supported by both Mac and Windows platforms.

The second game I reviewed is The Radix Endeavor, (which runs on both Windows and Mac) a program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  This software is free, and describes itself as a MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) with Science,  Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics for Middle and High School Curriculum:


Observe and Discover

Enter a world with biomes full of unique plants and creatures. Uncover new species, formulate questions and test hypotheses using scientific instruments.

Learn and Progress

Easily assign quests to students and track their progress to help develop and refine scientific and mathematical skills.

The program has received many accolades and seems to be self-contained as far as being a tool for use in the learning environment.  I started playing the game and am still awaiting the “OK” on the teacher version from the company before I’ll be able to check out the assessments content myself.  However, Graphite’s review of Radix is extremely favorable and explains more of the content than I was able to see.  There is also quite a bit of support on YouTube through both player and company-made  videos.

Actually, I did look at a third game.  Although I would not include World of Goo (Mac, Nintendo, Wii, Windows) as an option to supplement my curriculum, what I might consider doing is to use this app to reward students playing time for accomplishments in class.  The game is very endearing; I watched several videos on YouTube (as I didn’t want to pay the $20 for the download unless I thought it worthwhile) and had a really good time just being an observer.   Players need to be cognizant of all of the physical laws of our planet; otherwise, goo balls won’t get to where they need to be.  World of Goo focuses on one’s intuitive and developing intrinsic knowledge about science and is full of humor.  I can see this being a big hit during dismissal:

Considering the use of gaming in the classroom or gamification for part of the curriculum seems to be a way to approach my students in a way that makes sense to them and sneakily embeds at least part of my long check-list of things to cover for the year.  It also may assist them in building social and strategic skills necessary to be successful adults.  Finally, it will give them a safe environment to explore alternative paths when they make the wrong move.
 Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.    -Oscar Wilde

Boaler, J. (2015). Mistakes Grow Your Brain. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from