Saturday, October 18, 2014

Coffee Club

A long time ago, from some book of which I've long since forgotten the title, I read about a teacher who had a sandwich station at the back of her classroom. It wasn't anything fancy - just a loaf of Wonder bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam, some napkins and some plastic knives. If a student in her class was ever hungry at any time, she or he was allowed to quietly go to the sandwich corner and have a snack.

The teacher's reasoning for having this in the classroom was to help her students learn by addressing part of the bottom tier of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: if students are hungry, they are not going to be able to learn. Address the basic needs first, and the students will be in a better position psychologically to engage in their learning.

I was jealous. 

Over the years, I've always not-so-secretly wished I could do the same. I would love to have a little corner of my classroom available for students to recharge in the middle of a lesson. Teaching in a high school, though, it was several years before I had my own classroom (I refuse to carry bread and jam - peanut butter likely being a very bad idea in school these days - from class to class). Now that I do teach all my classes in the same room, it's a science lab where food and drink are prohibited.

But I've made an exception (shhhhh... don't tell my board!). The front corner of my room, right beside the entrance, under the Canadian flag and the intercom speaker, is the CORNER OF EXCLUSION. Any student who would like to bring food or drink to class is allowed to keep it and consume it in that corner only.

While I have the students abide by this rule because it's a board rule, it is also very practical for my BYOD class - fewer opportunities for food and drink to get spilled on devices.

I abide by these rules, too. I never have food in the classroom, but I do often bring a mug of coffee or tea, and it lives on the desk in the front corner. When I need a sip (or when any of my students need a sip or a snack), we can go to that corner - at any point during the class - and consume what we need to consume. The only rule is that we do so quietly and without fuss. 

It's worked well - I've had students sit in the corner and listen to full lectures as they eat, as well as students who just take advantage of the corner for a few moments when they need a sip of water before returning to their work.

Coffee Club

My grade 11 Physics class, though, has taken our CORNER OF EXCLUSION to a new level. On Fridays and Mondays, when we have Physics right after lunch, they have created "Coffee Club." One day, a student brought brownies to share. Other days, a different student brought cake, and third student brought pie. This past Friday, the students brought a kettle and some hot chocolate & tea, and offered it to anyone who wanted some.

We worked on a review worksheet on advanced forces & dynamics for an upcoming test - not easy questions for them. And throughout the entire class, I was circulating, answering questions, checking answers, sitting down with students to problem solve with them. The students were working hard, too - nearly all of them made good progress in our 70-minute period. 

But every now and then a few of them would get up, move into the Coffee Club Corner, have some hot chocolate, discuss whatever was being discussed, and then move back to their tables after a couple of minutes. I was amazed at how well the students balanced the social time of the coffee club with their work. The tone of the class was laid-back, stress-free, but productive. No one was slacking off or spending more than five minutes away from the task at hand, but it provided a short break when the students needed it, and it made the class just a little more fun.

(They even wrote some Physics Haikus on the board by the Coffee Club Corner:)

It's not a sandwich station, but I think it just might be the next best thing. I'm looking forward to seeing the students continue to take advantage of it throughout the semester.


  1. Your students are so lucky to be in your class as you value their needs by having a cafe style of learning. Well done and a great way to have a collaborative learning classroom with fun and comfort..

    1. Thanks! It's not ideal for every day, but the students look forward to it, and it makes for a really nice change of pace in the classroom. Today (Thursday), they were already asking what we might have for Coffee Club tomorrow :)

  2. Heather,

    I love this so much! What a special place you've created for your students. Totally unique to your needs and being used effectively by the community you've created.


    1. Thanks! It's a lot of fun, but the credit should go to the students. I just made the corner of exclusion rule... they're the ones taking it to a whole new level!


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