How to Create the Ideal Learning Environment in the Common Core Era

Posted by Zack Blois on Nov 7, 2013 2:15:00 PM
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classroom_environmentAs we’ve touched on in earlier blog posts, the Common Core math standards are the first set of learning standards that describe both what a student should know and the skills he/she must utilize while learning.

These "skills" definitions are called the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice. Because these practices are more "action-based" than conceptual, they are a vital ingredient when describing how an ideal Common Core-focused math classroom should look and function.

Let’s take a look at how these concepts, skills, and practices translate to the environment, technology, and day-to-day activity of your classroom(s).


You probably already know this, but let’s just be clear: rows and columns of desks are now officially obsolete. Here's why I bring that up: the practice standards put a significant emphasis on collaborative and cooperative learning. It's extremely hard to collaborate and share ideas by turning around and speaking to the student three rows behind you.

Instead, the "ideal classroom" (whether it's CCSS-based or not) is completely modular. Students and teachers must be able to freely move their work-spaces around to collaborate at-will and be able to find a quiet corner or space when solo work is needed.

Obviously, every classroom’s compliment of furniture is different. The point is to remain flexible in your thinking about what an “orderly” classroom looks like. It can be modular and collaboratively functional without being a "fire hazard".

  • For ideas and examples of great classroom set-ups, be sure to check out this "Classroom Layouts" Pinterest page from user Susan Murray. Many of the arrangements listed on the page are conducive to collaboration and student movement.


Educational technology devices (mobile and desktop) provide great opportunities for modularity, but they also offer students a highly interactive, personalized learning experience.

The CCSS Practice Standards specifically state that students should experience and learn from real-world math tasks and settings. Teachers are great at making real-world examples come alive, but some tasks simply cannot be performed or presented in the classroom. Interactivity and motion-based tasks in your technology are key and can turn your "ideal classroom" into a massive virtual learning experience.

In terms of the layout of your classroom, you must first determine how many tech resources you want to use within your lesson plan and how they will be used by the students.

  • Do you want a rotation model where students jump between periods of online and offline learning (or vice-versa)?

  • Do you want the educational technology to be used more in a 1:1 student-to-device scheme where kids learn and collaborate via their voices and digital learning tools?

  • How long will students have access to online learning tools within the day/class period?

As an educator, you have a lot of choices of how technology fits into your everyday classroom. The key is to leverage the technology as a resource that helps you  both meet the student's learning needs and helps them enhance and refine their mastery of Common Core-based math skills and practices.

Day-to-day activity

Remember, a "learning environment" is not just what your students see, hear, and "use". It also encompasses their (and your) daily routine and activities. Let's look at an example of a day within a "Common Core-based math classroom".

As we mentioned before, the practice standards promote student-to-student collaboration, but they also require students to think critically in math tasks and defend their thought processes. This is a major change from previous models, where it might have only been the job of the educator to help a student. Students instead are encouraged to help each other develop abstract reasoning abilities and critical thinking though processes.

  • How do you achieve this in your classroom setting?
    The key is to scaffold and normalize positive collaboration and discussion settings, where students know what type of talking points and responses are accepted/valid and which are not -- i.e. ensure students understand that they will be responsible for offering both a valid, appropriate point and effectively defending that point.

To be clear, I am not encouraging a structured class or group debate on the process of simplifying fractions. Instead, encourage students to describe the process behind how they simplified six-eights to one another. Often times, the students receive reaffirmation from their peers (which is HUGE!) or might have a "light-bulb" moment after hearing something they hadn't thought about before.

Have you made changes to your classroom environment recently?

I don't know about you, but as an educator, but I live for those "light-bulb" moments, whether it came from my instruction or the insight of a fellow student.

By fostering personalized learning, critical thinking, real-world application, and peer discussion, you most certainly will increase the prevalence of the "ah-ha's" and will have an "ideal learning environment", whether its CCSS-centered or not.

Tell us about your experiences of altering your classroom environment to enhance deeper learning!

Connect with the Wowzers team via the Comments section at the bottom of the page, via our Facebook page, or Tweet us at @Wowzers.

More free CCSS resources from the Wowzers Team!

CCSS Content eBooklet download link

Topics: Common Core Content

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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