When it comes to learning, engagement is everything. And while a standard chalkboard-and-lecture presentation will always be effective, students can often get more out of a classroom that breaks from the mold. To celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Day, take a look at 10 rooms with themes, decorations, or ideas worth studying.
1. THE OPERATING THEATER
It’s not often that you find a whirring bone saw in an eighth grade classroom. Thanks to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Houston, Alaska, students at Houston Middle School had an opportunity to don scrubs and observe surgical procedures in a mock operating theater. One station was devoted to intubation; another examined how bone fractures are set; a third was for practice IV insertions. Students could saw bones, then insert screws to repair them. In order to see how delicate a tibia is, they practiced drilling into an egg shell. When the gory curriculum was over, kids got to keep the bones and gowns.
2. KINDERGARTEN PLANE
We’ve seen planes turned into restaurants and homes. So why not a kindergarten class? Gari Chapidze, the headmaster of a school in the country of Georgia, purchased a dormant Yakolev 42 aircraft and converted it into a pre-grade school activity hub. Kids can push buttons, stare out of the cockpit, and generally have about a thousand times more fun than anyone in a boring old building. Originally a class of 20, the air-school quickly developed a waiting list of kids hoping to get on board.
3. THE KANYE
Fourth-grade teacher Adrian Perez was inspired to give his homeroom a makeover after watching Kanye West perform at a televised awards show over the summer. Perez took song titles from West’s discography and used them as themes for his Mendota, Calif. classroom walls. “New God Flow,” for example, became “New Job Flow,” where students can see different tasks they’ve been assigned. Perez even mounted the bear from Graduation on his class door. The only problem? The kids are really too young to know much about Yeezy. "The kids did not get it," he told ABC News. “They just thought I liked the color red and bears.”
Students at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Ga. are used to people gawking at them: The school is set up for demonstrations, with teachers across the country visiting for tips on how to better engage young minds. In one of their many elaborately-decorated rooms, classes are conducted in a video game-inspired environment. The Mario blocks mounted on the wall can even be punched to retrieve the candy inside.
5. THE OLD WEST
Jamie Knudson’s kindergarten class in San Diego, Calif. gets to experience a little bit of time travel with her Western-themed room. Knudson bought the kid-sized covered wagon (above) for $300 at a yard sale several years ago; it’s now a reading nook. The nearby “bonfire,” made by a fellow teacher’s student, is the centerpiece of a daily campfire meeting. Knudson also has some burlap, hay, and other Western amenities in the room. Unless she’s taken it too far, the children are still allowed to use indoor plumbing.
6. THE ART ROOM ENTRANCE
If your art teacher isn’t going to get creative with her classroom, there’s no hope for anyone. Cassie Stevens converted the exterior of her Nashville, Tenn. elementary art room into a Van Gogh-inspired mural using bulletin board paper and charcoal. To give students a sense they were walking into a café, she added a business sign and awning to her door. (The only wrinkle: not all schools may be cool with a lot of tacked-up paper due to fire codes.)
7. LEARNING IN 4D
The UK-based 4D Creative Group has been commissioned by several English primary schools to create immersive, “4D” learning environments for a variety of subjects. For one like Hebden Green in Winsford, 4D constructed a full-wall projection screen and motion-activated floor. Teachers can pre-load software curriculums; students can take the sensory cues to better absorb lessons involving world history, literature, and more.
8. HULK SMASH. (AND TEACH.)
You may recall we’re fond of the Ron Clark Academy for its visually inventive classrooms. Co-founder Kim Bearden, who also teaches language arts in the school, welcomes students to her class with a massive Hulk fist breaking through the floor. No wonder she was once Cobb County, Ga.’s Teacher of the Year.
9. STAR TREK
Students heading into the seventh grade in Dacula Middle School in Dacula, Ga. should abandon any thought of mocking William Shatner. Teachers Celisa Edwards and Jayne Dawson dress in Starfleet uniforms and use Star Trek-inspired lesson plans to entice students in their “Starfleet Institute of the Sciences" class. The teachers are often referred to as “Commanders” and the students by their last names; written tests sometimes involve Trek lore in their examples. The two have been at it since 1994 and have seen rising test scores as a result of their efforts.
10. THE CAVES
The METI school north of Bangladesh had sustainability in mind during the planning stages of an educational facility for impoverished residents. While the first floor is made out of bamboo, the ground floor features classrooms connected by cave-like portals where children can study alone or in groups.
This piece originally ran in 2015.