- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

MICHIGAN CENTER, Mich. (AP) - That old adage of students “all in their places with bright shiny faces” takes on a new meaning in Michelle DuBois’ classroom.

Some of her fourth-graders at Michigan Center’s Keicher Elementary School may be reading books while sitting in bean bag chairs in a loft resembling a tree house, the Jackson Citizen Patriot (https://bit.ly/1uoObiy ) reported.

Others may be working on a writing assignment while slightly bouncing on bright yellow exercise balls around a big round table. And still others may be doing math problems while sitting together on a comfy couch.

“They are more on task now than they were when I had traditional desks,” DuBois said.

Keeping students on task and engaged in lessons can be a challenge, DuBois said. That’s what led to this classroom setup, and it started three years ago when she first got rid of her own desk.

“Then, I got rid of their desks and replaced them with round tables,” DuBois said of her students.

A $500 grant DuBois received from the Hurst Foundation for being named one of Jackson Magazine’s Top Teachers resulted in the sturdy wooden loft. Another $500 grant from the Michigan Center Community Foundation paid for the exercise balls.

“Kids need a little bit of movement so we’re not so crazy,” 10-year-old Kendra Hochstedler said of the bouncy seats.

The other items, which include crate seats, a couch and trays, gradually have been added in.

“In this day and age, you want kids to be engaged in learning at all times and this classroom setting engages them,” she said. “They want to come to school because they are comfortable and they like it here.”

DuBois’ 28 fourth-graders agree.

“It’s soft and relaxing and comfy, and it feels like home,” said 9-year-old Erica Fleming. “We can sit anywhere we want every day.”

The unstructured seating arrangement didn’t come without its own lessons, DuBois said.

“We talk about making smart seat choices and who to sit by and how to work well,” she said.

Students’ books and papers are kept in their own cubbies. Many of the lessons are done on iPads, MacBooks and Chromebooks that are kept in cabinets. Instead of having individual supplies, pencils, crayons, markers and paper are kept in a community area.

“The biggest thing this fosters is that our classroom is a community,” DuBois said. “Parents have been very receptive.”

The layout, DuBois said, also makes it easier for a student who’s in a wheelchair, and it helps students better collaborate on group projects.

“We have the coolest classroom,” 10-year-old Kaspar Haehnle said. “You just don’t see this in other classrooms.”


Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot, https://www.mlive.com/jackson

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