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Creating Space


Initial Thoughts and Questions:

  1. What do you first think of when you hear the phrase "creating spaces to learn"?
  2. Working with a partner or small group come up with a collective explanation of the phrase, "creating space to learn".
  3. How, if at all, do you think it relates to Inquiry Instruction? How would it effect lessons and instruction?
  4. Any other thoughts on this topic?


Notes on the Topic: 


You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.


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Deborah Hazen's picture

Quotes from Einstein on education

I'm reading Einstein's Ideas and Opinions and wanted to share some quotes from this collection of his writings ans speeches.


In writing to a young girl who has written to him complaining of being passed over and "mistreated" by teachers because she does not conform to their idea of an ideal student:

"I suffered at the hands of my teachers a similar treatment...pocket your temperament and keep your manuscript for your sons and daughters, in order that they may derive consolation from it and----not give a damn for what their teachers tell them or think of them."

"Incidentally, I am only coming to Princeton to do research, not to teach. There is too much education altogether, especially in American schools. The only rational way of educating is to be an example ---if one can't help it, a warning example." 1934


An address delivered on the celebration of the tercentenary of higher education in America:

"Thus the wit was not wrong who defined education in this way: "Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school."... I want to oppose the idea that the school has to teach directly that special knowledge and those accomplishments which one has to use later directly in life. The demands of life are much too manifold to let such a specialized training in school appear possible. Apart from that, it seems to me, moreover, objectionable to treat the individual like a dead tool. The school should always have as its aim that the young man leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist...The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge. If a person masters the fundamentals of his subject and has learned to think and work independently, he will surely find his way and besides will be better able to adapt himself to progress and changes than the person whose training principally consists in the acquiring of detailed knowledge." 1950


And finally from the New York Times, October 5, 1952:

"It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed...a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and too varied subjects...Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality. Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty."

Edward Bujak's picture

Creating Spaces - Take 2

I certainly have expanded my limited view of "creating spaces" to anythng that provides an opportuny to learn.  I even more appreciate my graduate Sociology course "Play and Games" by Professor Sutton-Smith that I took as an undergraduate (as an engineer student!).  Boy was that class fun and he made us work!  Play is essential to development of animals and even more so in social animals.  The folklore aspect of play really intrigues me.  Check out Sutton-Smith's 7 rhetorics of play.  I wish all school levels could have an opening recess and a mid-day recess where non-school work is encouraged.  We can encourage social interaction and good behavior; plus the students can chill and rest their heads.

Edward Bujak's picture



RecycleJack Marine's picture

Spaced Out

I think the discussion about space is an important one. There does not seem to be enough physical space in many school classrooms, yet administrators give out many instructions to set up learning centers, post word walls, arrange students into cooperative groupings, etc. Usually the larger classroom spaces are reserved for kindergarten classes. But that doesn’t mean that every school follows Jill’s idea that an hour of free daily play is important for kindergarteners. On the other hand, it is important that we give children space to digest what we’ve been teaching. So the idea of creating space in the classroom is multi faceted. I enjoyed many of the postings and I enjoyed listening to Ed’s ideas too.


Deborah Hazen's picture

This is where reflecting on our own experience in the institute

This is where reflecting on our own experience in the institute is helpful. We can learn a lot by watching each other and ourselves. What happens when the group presentation or group process stops---we immediately look to a friendly face nearby to "play." We talk about our families, our classrooms, the shore, hobbies...we share u-tube sites, music...check out facebook, email...We need to play a bit---it gives, I think, our cognitive unconscious time to process all that we've just taken in.

Students show up at school and we put them through their paces from content area after play is looking more and more important to me.

Kathy Swahn's picture

safety first

I want to reiterate that students need a safe space but that does not mean always a great grade

Stephen Cooney's picture

Follow up thoughts on creating space.

I’m currently stuck on environment being a synonym for space.  My room wants to become (it doesn’t know it yet!) a better environment in which there is more space for intellectual, social, emotional and playful GROWTH.  I want those little nippers clamoring to get into my room.  It will become more of a space where there is an explicit expectation for high level interaction, where our collective set of summaries of observations are continually being tested (without judgment) each and every day.  Here we are, Day 4, and I can’t wait for school to start, to begin implementing the great ideas that we are sharing! 

Thanks everyone!!

GShoshana's picture

Today we learned about

Today we learned about space.  You have to develop these skills of thinking with the kids, it's important because it helps them deal in the future with playing, people, conflict and most life processes.  If they have the skills of thinking, it will help them to succeed in the future.  We have to work on this in school, to let them explore (have space to explore) this thinking process.  I think this will bring them to independent learning.  I think, if we teach them about thinking, they will increase their confidence and concentration and be able to demonstrate what they are learning more successfully.  They can deal with different situations in life, to take risks and not feel failure--they will participate because they think openly and are not afraid of conflict. 

Joyce's lesson was an example of how she let the kids explore and find their own solutions--every answer could be right because they did their own experiment and made their own hypotheses.  This experiment let them be free to explore without the student feeling wrong.  I think this experiment let the students share their ideas easier.  Joyce also moved life situation to the class (she can apply the real life environment, like water, into the classroom).

Stephen Cooney's picture

thanks Joyce

Joyce’s Lesson


When I first thought about using bubble-ology with my students, it seemed to fit when we begin to study light (prism, wavelength, colors, etc) but after Joyce shared her notion about using it to teach the scientific method I can see myself using it right at the beginning of the year.  I can see stressing Paul’s loop-i-ness as part of that method [which means that I need to teach that first] and of a summary of changing observations (uh-oh, this could become a several day lesson with each group trying each number of drops=lots of observations/conflicts) and then there is the whole idea of what are we searching for.    So many bubbles, so many ways to define the ‘perfect’ bubble.  Lots of 'space' for learning!!


Deborah Hazen's picture

A very versatile lesson

It was a very versitale lesson---I'll be using it when I go back to school.

Diane Balanovich's picture


I found that Joyce and Steve had a very comprehensive outlook on creating space. I found them to be enlightening and very positive. I wish more people would take the time to be positive and supportive when discussing issues.

 As for play, I believe that play shouldn't have a specific purpuse but allow children the opportunity and materials to create their own experiences. When working with younger children you need to supply the opportunity for play, not the purpose. Children will find their own purpose and meaning from play.

Brie Stark's picture

I'm really intrigued by the

I'm really intrigued by the concept of a 'safe place' and where assessments fall in.  In inquiry, as we've discussed, assessments seem to discourage the concept of asking questions.  Assessments, as Kathy mentioned, often gear the student toward answering 'how they believe the teacher wishes them to.'  I have felt this and, of course, done this in life.  However, I've been doing some research, trying to combat the authentic assessment curriculum and perhaps allow a bit of inquiry.

On the Illinois inquiry area, there were several suggestions that I think could generate some good discussion []:

  • Portfolios: a collection of information by and about a student to provide a broad perspective of the student's achievement. A portfolio contains samples of student work in one or more areas. It may also contain narrative descriptions, grades or other evaluations by teachers and others, official records, student reflection or self-evaluation, responses from parents, suggestions for future work, and audio or photographic records.
  • Profile: a collection of ratings, descriptions, and summary judgments by teachers and sometimes by the student and others to provide a broad perspective of the student's achievement. A profile typically includes a variety of contents, which may vary from checklists to certificates to narrative descriptions of what a student knows and can do. It may document academic achievement, nonacademic achievement, or both. A profile differs from a portfolio in not including samples of student work.
  • Performance Task: a task, a problem, or question that requires students to construct (rather than select) responses and may also require them to devise and revise strategies, organize data, identify patterns, formulate models and generalizations, evaluate partial and tentative solutions, and justify their answers. 
  • Project: a specialized, often interdisciplinary inquiry devised and undertaken by a student or group of students. Project work results in personalized (and perhaps new) knowledge, subtle skills, and professional-like motivation and habits.
  • Demonstration (or Exhibition) of Mastery: often a formal, more or less, public performance of student competence and skill that provides an opportunity for a summative assessment. Demonstrations may also be formative, ongoing, informal, and embedded in curricula and everyday practice.
  • Discourse Assessment: evaluation of what a student tells about what he/she knows. Typically with talking with an assessor, the student illustrates what he/she has learned, offering evidence of critical thinking or problem-solving by producing narratives, arguments, explanations, interpretations, or analyses. The assessor listens and probes for evidence of achievement, such as responses that synthesize relevant information and apply it to a new situation. This is similar to Think Aloud Protocols & Interviews (Informal & Formal/Structured) where a student performs a problem or activity and answer questions about it.
  • Holistic rubrics: The holistic rubric provides global descriptions of different levels of performance. A holistic rubric emphasizes less the specific criteria for achievement, and emphasizes more the overall quality or performance.
  • Student-Kept Records are when the student records feelings and interests in a notebook that is eventually shared with the teacher.  This helps foster self-assessment and can be used in this way, such as How did you do? How would you describe your learning? What would you have done differently? Student-Kept Records involve reflection and promote meta-cognition because they reflect formatively and summatively.  Peer-Appraisal can be a part of this method, if the appraisal provides an opportunity for descriptive assessment.

Just Science Now ideas

Idea for Inquiry Assessment Rubric


On a general side note, I think we all need to remember to enter into discussions with an open mind.  "I can't" doesn't lead to inquiring more or developing new ideas; it is like a hindrance to both our own learning and the learning of others.  I, too, understand how difficult it is to fathom some of these ideas (especially due to the larger number of students in classrooms) but keeping an open mind may be the most  beneficial approach.

Moira Messick's picture

Keeping an Open-Mind

In response to Brie's "general side note" - I  think that it is important to distinguish the difference between "I can't" and being grounded in personal realities.  It is certainly possible for someone to be open minded while still being mindful of their own practical situations.   I do not believe that any one of the participants would be here if they were not willing to enter into discussions with open minds.  Personally, and I do not want to sound like a broken record here, I am here to listen to other people's points of view and figure out how to marry inquiry with content goals into my classroom.  It feels as though some may view my goal as limiting since it surpasses an overall goal of  "fixing current educational practices."  I do not think that prioritizing this goal hinders the development of new ideas.

Deborah Hazen's picture

This is where Paul's discussions of multiple stories helps me.

Here is the beauty of this kind of institute--a place where, like Serendip, there is room for a diversity of stories and jumping off points.

Just because our stories --where we teach, who we teach, what we want out of the institute, our persectives on education, parents, curriculum, testing, etc... are not the same --it doesn't mean that we don't have important things to share with each other.

I can only be responsible for my story, but I hope that in sharing my story, having others consider my story, and in listening to the stories of others that I can have space to be skeptical of my own ideas as well as the ideas of others.

I'll use an example from the Brain and Behavior Institute. My project asked if we should be teaching grammar in the upper elementary school. My story includes the agency to research a topic like this, take it back to my school and affect change in our curriculum. I understood that when I asked fellow participants to look at my work and respond in the forum, that most of them taught in school districts where the curriculum was set in stone and not open to change by teachers. Still, I needed them to suspend their initial "I can't" to contribute to my story. The idea being that I have some ideas that I have to treat with skepticism (so that I am open to change and growth), they contribute some stories that I treat with skepticism--everyone in the room engages in the same sharing with skepticism and out of the group process emerges a new understanding.

I appreciate your comment, "It feels as though some may view my goal as limiting since it surpasses an overall goal of  "fixing current educational practices."  I do not think that prioritizing this goal hinders the development of new ideas." It reminds us all to own our stories and jumping off points and to not feel judged by anyone having a different story or jumping off point. Each of us has different perspectives and goals in the Institute...the questions we ask, the alternate stories we pose are as much a way of testing what the other person is saying as they are a way of testing our own perspectives.

Paul Grobstein's picture

playgrounds: one story, infinite stories, evolving stories

I'm intrigued, here as elsewhere, by the issue of what comes next after acknowledgement of multiple stories.  What do we DO with them?  There must be more to open-ended transactional inquiry than just getting lots of stories out on the table, and being skeptical of all of them, including one's own.  Perhaps the use to be made of them is "a new understanding," both individual and collective?

Along these lines, two further thoughts.  Perhaps "the alternate stories we pose" aren't so much a way of "testing" either our own stories or those of other people but rather a way of eliciting stories from other people that might in turn alter our own?  And part of the the point of noticing differences between stories is to figure out what leads to those differences, what different observations there might be underlying the different stories?  Yes, there is no "real" size for a water molecule, but there are observations that underlie any given story about that size and having those observations might help us modify our existing stories, not only about molecules but about other things as well.

The other thought is the pros and cons of community and, more particularly, of some shared community stories.  Yes, everyone can have (or not have) and further evolve (or not evolve) their own story about the size of a water molecule, but if we work together on that we can increase the rate of development of both observations and stories, and so enhance our rate of change of stories both about water molecules and other things?  And to do that we need some shared stories, whether or not we take them as "real" and whether or not there are the same as our personal stories?


Moira Messick's picture

Please share more about the

Please share more about the outcome of your "grammar in the upper elementary schools" research.  I realize that you probably did not find a definitive answer but I would be interested in hearing your ideas.  Would the grammar be taught in isolation---in the context of writing?  Does it make a difference?  The only grammar in isolation I teach is to memorize the fifty most common prepositions....the only reason I do this is because 13 years ago, the 8th grade teachers asked me to when I asked them "What is the most important thing you want students to know when they come to you next year?" 

The four goals (aka "four c's") of my program are critical thinking, connection-making, communications, and cooperative learning.  Rotely memorizing 50 prepositions does not seem to fit under any of them.....but I've been doing it every year under the guise of "some people enjoy learning this way and we strive to meet all types of learning styles in here..."  The only gratifying element of this (lame) assignment is that kids become metacognitive  in how they approach learning this seemingly large body of knowledge.  Some students write songs or draw pictures, each trying to identify their best learning tool for the task at hand.  Ok, maybe there are two gratifying elements...the second comes a year later when they tell me that their 7th grade song came in handy in grade 8 and other kids were not as prepared as they were for the preposition test.  Most kids actually remembered their jingle.  This is a short lived victory for me as I still do not buy completely into it... not quite inquiry learning but it is a small concession to make while I have pretty much free reign over the rest of my classroom procedures:)

So, I would love to hear your point of view on "grammar in the upper elementary schools."



Deborah Hazen's picture

Not looking for a definitive answer

Here's a link to the grammar question in progress. You'll notice that the intention was not to arrive at an answer--rather it was an exercise in trying to represent and collect as many different stories about the topic as possible.

If, as a result of exploring different stories, yet a new story emerges--so much the better.

You'll see that this is an ongoing project---I haven't finished all of the sections or links--but would be thrilled if you would read the stories for or against teaching grammar in u.e.s. and add your own story.



RecycleJack Marine's picture

Space-Time Continuum

Ed and Jack think that the physical space is important for the best environment to learn. Physical space has to be safe to be conducive to learning. Then there's the concept of conceptual space- space to let students think- real spaces of time- metacognitive space...let them "gel" and "absorb" what you are teaching them.

We feel that open spaces are less confining---as teachers we don't want to "shoe horn" them into the "right" answers so let them have their space!

Edward Bujak's picture


Why did we take out "opportunites"  argh!

Stephen Cooney's picture

creating spaces

 Creating Spaces to learn

First thoughts:

Think space and environment are synonymous

Physical space

Social space

Mental (new observations) space

Emotional space

Meta-cognitive space

Safe space to test w/o judgement

Sharing with community of learners (reporting out in a variety of forms) space


Steve and Joyce

Syreeta Bennett's picture

Creating spaces

I think creating spaces to learn is allowing students opportunities for self discovery.  (My quick initial thought)


"Creating space to learn" is allowing students to explore, do research and promote independent learning. It also is creating a physical space and providing materials for students to engage in learning.  Creating a space to learn is realizing that teachers have to compete with outside factors to focus on a particular task. For example, competing against Nitendo DS, Wiis, etc.

Deborah Hazen's picture

The Cognuts on creating space

Movement, physical space, wait time, material rich, reflection, safety, physical layout, time to explore.confer/rethink, and place to share culminating thoughts.

I. Safety--community of learners, buy-in, safety for taking risks and learning

II. Physical space--layout, materials, movement

III. Time---cognitive space --but on a "student clock", wait time, valuing student process, opportunity for students to confer and share outside of the immediate classroom


Judith, Jill and Deb


Stephanie Dubin's picture

Space: Rachel and Stephanie

We think back to undergrad when you are asked to draw a picture of your ideal classroom, keeping in mind the size, space, and layout of the room.

Creating space to learn means ensuring that a child has enough space to complete a lesson. A student will feel comfortable physically and mentally and is motivated by center zones. Center zones can help activate prior knowledge. Space also means to leave enough wiggle room in a lesson for students to explore, reflect and question.

You need space to carry out inquiry so students have enough space to physically do the exploring. Is there enough spatial areas for students to work in a cooperative, collaborative space? Is there enough room for supplies to be organized and manipulated?

Space also applies to inquiry by allowing students to inquire and explore their ideas and thoughts. Feeling safe enough to explore. Personal space.

Diane Balanovich's picture

Creating spaces to learn

When I hear this phrase" creating a space to learn", I think about arranging my room in a way that will allow for maximum space and conditions that will allow for the best learning condiditons possible.

What is creating spaces to learn?

1.  Way of clearning the the mind to go ready to learn.

2.  Room to move

3.  Freedom to attack the content in whatever mode they are most comfortable. Letting them come up with space and materials that they need to help them answer essential questions.

4. Non judgemental space to express their views.

Dalia Gorham's picture

When I hear "creating space

When I hear "creating space to learn" I think of being able to compete with outside factors in order to have students be able to focus on a particular task.

Brie Stark's picture

Teaching Thinking

Today, we discussed the concept of 'thinking' today -- specifically, if there were a universal, shared thinking method.  Something I find interesting, though, is drawing this concept back to metacognition: what happened if we TAUGHT thinking? I recently discovered Edward de Bono [click here for a fabulous article on his argument for teaching thinking.]

"Edward de Bono strongly believes that thinking is a skill and he calls the skill of thinking "operacy". He suggests that operacy should be included alongside literacy and numeracy as good thinking is essential for problem solving, decision making, constructive thinking, critical thinking and for coping with change, all of which are essential for survival and for success in today’s world. In this manner, a new gateway would be available for pupils who may not be good at literacy or numeracy but who may be good at operacy. It is important, he maintains, for operacy to be included in education, as he states:

In the real world there are people to deal with, decisions to be made, strategies to be designed and monitored, plans to be made and implemented. There is conflict, bargaining, negotiating and deal making. All this requires a great deal of thinking and a great deal of operacy. …

Operacy involves such aspects of thinking as: other peoples’ views, priorities, objectives, alternatives, consequences, decisions, conflict resolutions, creativity and many other aspects not normally covered in the type of thinking used for information analysis."

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/21 Creating Spaces

How about creating 'play' spaces (thanks Jill)?  Possibly students, regardless of age, would learn more and more sure, if we made learning really fun.  Labs, for instance, would be activities or learning play dates.  This goes back to my parents who instilled in me that it's not what you do, it's how you do it; it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

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