For the second year in a row the K-12 Horizon Report included “Redesigning Learning Spaces” as a mid-term (3-4 year) emerging trend in education. Throughout western Pennsylvania I’m observing not only spaces like libraries take on new shapes and functions, but entire buildings designed for active learning. On November 7 I’ll join Justin Aglio, Director of K-4 Academic Achievement and K-12 Innovation, and Dr. Chris Stone, the superintendent of the Montour School District, at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC), to share a framework for rethinking how to design learning spaces and an experiential activity for conference attendees to discover some of the elements in the new Montour K-4 Elementary School.
Key to any redesign of a learning space is the awareness of “why” we need to rethink how the learning space looks, feels, or responds to the needs of the learners. Prakash Nair, an architect for the Fielding Nair International, has developed four criteria (Blueprint for Tomorrow, 2014):
- Be welcoming – this includes the colors, furnishings, greenery, or adding a coffee bar with WiFi access.
- Be versatile – this goes beyond flexibility. It looks at how learning spaces can be reconfigured and rethought to meet needs over time. A versatile space may be an open commons area today, but it may become multiple classroom spaces in the future.
- Be supportive of varying and specific learning activities – spaces may have different designs based on what type of learning is desired. Collaborative learning requires tables and LED screens that allow for groups of learners to work together, whereas a research zone may have individual tables and no projection needs.
- Send positive images about activities and behavior – spaces need to showcase student learning. There may be exhibit spaces that have special lighting and sound to highlight student work.
Montour’s new K-4 Elementary School is a great example of the transformation in thinking about the use of space as part of the learning experience. The entrance makes a strong statement welcoming parents, community members, as well as the student population. Every space provides a learning opportunity. Learners in the hallway, in the Minecraft Learning Lab, or in a flexible Maker Spaces are active investigators working collaboratively or on personal projects using design thinking infused with easily accessible technology. Every classroom has a variety of furniture options to meet the needs of different student learning. The gymnasium provides not only a home for sport activities, but becomes a an open learning space. For TRETC it’s the center for vendor exhibits and for the opening and closing sessions. Throughout the building student work is prominently presented.