Building Dream Classrooms

  • Learning
Laura Montague, 2nd Grade Teacher

The first six weeks of school are a precious and delicate time to solidify routines and expectations. Finding seats, decorating name tags, locating pencil and glue-stick bins, establishing relationships with teachers, reconnecting with old friends and learning the names of new ones are the typical undertakings of the first few days of the new grade. This fall, the 2nd graders in the Jellyfish and Manta Ray classes were not as concerned with navigating their new classroom as they were with building it into the classroom of their dreams.

Daniel Manus Pinkwater’s The Big Orange Splot was the diving board of inspiration for these budding 2nd graders. The read-aloud ignited conversations surrounding conformity, tolerance, creativity and, most importantly, dreams. Just as Mr. Plumbean, the storybook neighbor on a “neat street,” transformed his cookie-cutter house into a vivid display of alligators, steam engines and polka dots, the Jellyfish and Manta Rays overhauled room 508A to make the classrooms of their dreams.

For these students, a dream classroom has a pizza house, reading cave, slime store, racetrack, surf casting shop and even a functional baseball diamond and basketball hoop. As with any design challenge, it’s the process that offers the most value to the designer—even though the students may disagree. While building, students actively brainstorm, prototype, negotiate materials, measure and articulate ideas and perspectives all while getting to know each other’s interests and forging friendships. Upon completion, the final outcomes are impressive, original and completely functional. Students choose to read and work inside their structures, play on the baseball diamond during quiet time and continually reflect on and redesign their prototypes to make the spaces even better.

In order for students to get the most out of instruction throughout the year, they must experience connections in spaces in which they feel safe and represented. Such places are platforms for 10 months of continuous learning and growth. In the dream classroom, students have ownership because it entirely belongs to each of them alone. When asked, the Jellyfish and Manta Rays proudly explain, in amusing detail, which elements were solely forged by themselves, ones they built cooperatively or perhaps simply prefer to enjoy. They are ready for the year and look forward to the continued construction of their hopes and dreams.


  • 2nd Grade
  • Design Thinking
  • Lower Division