Ferguson’s well-rounded classroom

One innovation sets Trey Ferguson’s math classroom apart from the rest: Ferguson’s classroom has no desks.

Instead, Ferguson has round tables.

“I don’t like math classes where it’s just that [individual] student’s job to learn math,” Ferguson said. “Students can explain to other students better [than a teacher], but they don’t feel comfortable enough to do that when you have the boundaries of a desk.”

After student-teaching at Leesville last year, Ferguson began his first year as a full-time math teacher with this new classroom set-up in mind, advocating for tables in the spirit of collaboration. Ferguson believed, with tables, students would no longer have a personal space to learn–they would have a group space–and could subsequently work together and collaborate to solve problems.

“In the real world–as a group, you problem solve. In math, all we’re doing is problem solving, so it makes sense to do it as a group,” said Ferguson.

Before he could anticipate student reactions, though, Ferguson had to find a way to fund it.

Ferguson wrote a grant proposal on DonorsChoose.org, an online charity dedicated to helping public school teachers with classroom projects by providing a way for individuals to connect directly with classrooms in need, and titled his project, “Collaborative Spaces for Smiling Faces.” On DonorsChoose, parents, alumni and organizations can donate online to specific projects, like Ferguson’s, and, once the goal is reached, DonorsChoose ships necessary materials to the school.

Ferguson shared his project on social media, spreading the word and asking for donations. An individual gift started, and, after donating, the individual contacted the PTSA–unbeknownst to Ferguson–who gave enough money to fund the project 50%.

As a back-to-school special of sorts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to fund 50% of a project if the other half was funded, and, since “Collaborative Spaces for Smiling Faces” was half-funded, Bill and Melinda Gates matched it.

Outside help from an individual and a foundation allowed Ferguson to set up his round tables for less money than it would normally have cost the school system, and the success, as a project, of “Collaborative Spaces for Smiling Faces,” has paved the way for other Leesville teachers to use DonorsChoose in similar ways.
“In our faculty meeting, Dr. Mutillo did say to get those projects out there because the PTSA was going to send out–in the parent mailing–about DonorsChoose and being able to, as a community, support our school,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson has already seen his round tables’ effects.

“The first unit where… we had the desks… in the same group pattern [as the tables now,] you did not have as much collaboration, you did not have as much conversation about math,” said Ferguson. “As I took away the desks and replaced them with the tables, I saw them engaged, I saw them working with each other.”

Paul Go, sophomore, has seen teamwork and communication improve in class since Ferguson brought the tables in. Go believes the tables strengthened connections–not only among students but between students and the teacher–due to the general increased visibility. Students can see each other and the teacher.

Go has experienced the collaborative problem solving and peer help Ferguson stressed with the tables. For Go, the collaboration has extended beyond his own table and helped the class collaborate more as a unit.

“Now that [my table group and I] are all at one table, we communicate with each other and help each other out with math problems, and if we can’t do that, we go to another table with another group and help each other out [there],” Go said.

To gauge the success, Ferguson will look test scores but really plans to focus on how students are interacting and reacting, looking for moments like Go described. Still, the tables have been great.

“I have enjoyed the tables so much; not only because it is getting [the students] to work together more than I’ve ever seen a class work together, [but] it gives me more room. I have physically more space,” said Ferguson.

Even setting up the tables became a valuable facet of the project. Ferguson asked his students to stay after to help set up the classroom when the tables came in and ultimately had roughly 12 students help.

“[The students] really enjoyed saying, ‘This is my classroom, and this is how I’m going to help set it up.’ It gave them that ownership, and that was awesome to see,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson has created a classroom environment unlike most visions of math class, complimenting his ideal posted on DonorsChoose: “Individual students practicing problem after problem is a way of the past.”

And, for Ferguson’s students, it certainly is.

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