The Sandbox – developing a new type of classroom

The Sandbox – developing a new type of classroom

Six years ago I had an idea for a new collaborative type of classroom. I had spent the previous 5 years getting AV equipment installed in all of our existing classrooms and was looking for an opportunity to do something different. Problem is I didn’t quite know exactly what I wanted to do.

At the same time a donor wanted to do something new and innovative in the library. I pitched this not fully fleshed out idea and it peaked his interest. I ended up building a classroom from scratch. My idea was that I would lots of display options, flexible furniture and whiteboard walls. It wasn’t until I was building the classroom and running cable everywhere to the multiple projectors that I decided to pull back and really take a look at wireless.

Now, six years later the room has evolved quite a bit into what we think is a pretty cool classroom. This didn’t all happen at once and has been through quite the evolution, trial and error feedback loop. In fact the room became so popular that we have now built several others on campus (of varying size) and our faculty are hoping for more.

The idea is now that we have multiple display devices (we use Epson projectors) and flexible seating options that allow the room to be configured in multiple ways. We can easily “throw” or “mirror” up any Mac, Chromebook or PC in the room via Epson EasyMP (free) software. The room is really student centered as there is no front or back of the room or even any teacher podium. All of the walls are painted with Idea Paint which allows for easy Expo marker use on blank walls or on top of a projected image. The end result is a very low cost, flexible collaborative classroom that allows for teaching in many styles and has hosted all disciplines on campus.

Originally we used the interactive projectors and then the laser field touch projectors on the wall, but in all honesty the whiteboard paint is the game changer and not the interaction of the projector.  In fact we have turned off the interaction in favor of just the projection.

One of the great things about the room is that it is very easy to use (i don’t want to spend hours training faculty how to use technology in a room) and also functions extremely well without any technology use at all.  I think this is key for a high tech room, flexibility and ease of use seem to trump everything.

Below are some pictures of the room (actually a few rooms on campus) from the early days of actually having a pull down screen to now where we have up to 7 projectors (and only one computer) in a room. While we do have the ability to plug in an HDMI cord to connect to the projectors, this almost never happens 98% of the time students and faculty just connect wirelessly to the displays.

If you have questions or suggestions please post, always happy to have feedback, believe me, I do not have all of the answers.

writing on the walls

Top left is our new 40 seat interactive room (room went from one of least popular on campus to now one of the most popular). Top right is the “sandbox classroom” in 2011 when I was putting it together (it is changed quite a bit since then).

Middle left is the “sandbox” classroom configured for a faculty presentation using a 75″ TV at one end (we now use this for videoconferencing as well). Middle right is a student studying for a test using the projection and whiteboard wall. Bottom is again a student standing on a chair to maximize the whiteboard use while mirroring other content on the wall.


9 thoughts on “The Sandbox – developing a new type of classroom

  1. Wow!! Such innovative spaces! I have never heard of Idea Paint prior to your post and am anxious to check it out.

    I teach elementary, which is a world away from what you are doing, but I believe that I can make some connections to your ideas. I am a firm believer in BYOD in my classroom, the ability to connect wirelessly, albeit on a much lower level would be amazing.

    I have had an interactive projector for several years and while I use it consistently for a few specific functions I find that the connectivity and functionality of the wireless pen and slate make me hesitate to use this functionality.

    Great work! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Idea Paint has been great. I totally agree that the ability to write on the walls is more important than the annotation functionalities of the projectors. Projecting it on to the white board paint gives us some much flexibility in using or not using the technology. My motto is to keep it 1) simple 2) easy to use 3)low cost and build in flexibility. It is the easy stuff that gets used day in an day out. Often times AV folks or technology folks overbuild rooms to cover every scenario which in the long run isn’t really good for anybody (and the pocketbook).

  2. Love it!! I wondered if the white board paint was worth it – those classrooms are a dream!

    1. Christine,
      There is something about writing on the walls that seems to bring back the kids in all of us. Idea Paint has been a game changer for us. We have a couple of rooms where it has been up for over 6 years and it still looks/works great.

  3. Dan,
    I loved reading about your innovative ideas for room use! All the while I’m thinking, “It would be cool to do something like this at our school.” I haven’t heard of Idea Paint either but now the wheels are turning.
    Besides the options you’ve created for tech in your classrooms, I like the idea of rearranging the seating of a room. I took a class two semesters ago where the idea of innovative seating came up. That was fascinating to me. We are still very much into traditional classrooms and seating at my school but I’d love some flexibility like you’ve created here…especially to create a room without a front or back. I think the students would really appreciate mixing it up. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I have this unique position where I am housed in IT, teach for the ED and CS department and get to design classrooms from the ground up. It gives me the opportunity to look at how a classroom needs to function from all aspects of furniture, technology and pedagogy. I really enjoy creating spaces that enhance both the teaching and learning. Flexible spaces have been key as not all higher ed faculty want to teach the same way in the same space (which is a good thing). Allowing them to modify the room to their needs (or needs of the students) really facilitates the learning. Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

  4. This is awesome!!!!!! I am going to forward this on to our tech gurus and see what they think. I’d love flexible spaces like this in our school. Now if only we could find donors….

  5. The flexible seating classroom is awesome. We currently have two school-funded rooms similar to this. Each was supported via grants, but they are different company providers. The mobility and ease with which students can group and move are great for collaborative work. Both of the rooms in my school happen to be home to my “teacher besties,” so when a piece of furniture has been extra, they have graciously allowed me to try some out. Right now, I have one of the rolling whiteboards and two wobble chairs for varied seating. It’s a wonderful environment for the kids.

    1. Angela, thanks for the comments. That is great that you have a opportunity to experiment with different types of seating and white boards. When used right they can really make a difference in the learning and the physical environment.

      As just an FYI – I attend a conference called Ed-Spaces every year (it moves around the country). They have a grant program that will allow teachers like you to attend for free and they pay your hotel – all you need to do is get there. They are always looking for teachers that get excited about new spaces and new possibilities. More here at This year Sir Ken Robinson and Jamie Casup are both Keynoting (amazing speakers). If you are interested apply for the grant here (it is past, but often spots go unfulfilled).

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