Redesigning Learning Spaces

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.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

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.

TRETC 2017 Redesigning Learning Spaces

Preview of 2017 K-12 Horizon Report

[This year I was part of the team selecting the Emerging Technologies, Trends, and Challenges for the global K-12 world. The team had members around the world. I served on the team representing the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). When I served as the Coordinator of Educational Technology for the Fox Chapel Area School District, I used the report annually to benchmark the district goals for integrating technology into the learning process. In my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University I always shared the document with my students who worked on their technology plans or other planning document. ]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

The expert panel has completed voting and the topics for the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report > 2017 K-12 Edition have been selected — below. The K12 Project as whole is led by the New Media Consortium, in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and made possible by mindSpark Learning (formerly known as Share Fair Nation). The report is set to be released in August, 2017. We’re now looking for any projects, programs, policies, or leadership initiatives that fit any of the below chosen areas, to be submitted here. Download the official NMC/CoSN Horizon Report Preview > 2017 K-12 Edition to view definitions of the topics below or check out the related discussions of all of the final topics in the 2017 Horizon.k12 Workspace.

I. Key Trends Accelerating K-12 Tech Adoption

 Long-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for five or more years

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation
  • Deeper Learning Approaches

Mid-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next three to five years

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces

Short-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next one to two years

  • Coding as a Literacy
  • Rise of STEAM Learning

II. Significant Challenges Impeding K-12 Tech Adoption

Solvable Challenges: Those which we both understand and know how to solve

  • Authentic Learning Experiences
  • Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive

  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers
  • Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address

  • The Achievement Gap
  • Sustaining Innovation through Leadership Changes

III.  Important Developments in Educational Technology for K-12

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Makerspaces
  • Robotics

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Analytics Technologies
  • Virtual Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things

Designing Learning Spaces

[As I travel and attend conferences I’m hearing more and more people talk about rethinking how we design learning spaces. In this Edsurge article, you’ll hear from Danish Kurani, an architect who now specializes in designing educational learning spaces. He has a fresh take on concepts like “flexibility” and “modular furniture.” He objects to design that is not purposeful and relevant to the needs of learners. In Pittsburgh there have been some excellent examples where learning spaces match the needs of students. The South Fayette School District created STEAM Studios in their new intermediate building. It was critical to have an informal environment that encouraged creative team-work. The walls were bright colors; the acoustics were appropriate; the furniture was purposeful providing collaborative opportunities. As soon as students or teachers walk into the room they understand the expectations for learning.  In the near future the Children’s Museum plans to create a Museum LAB that will be purposeful providing middle school learners with spaces similar to what Kurani has designed for schools.]

Apr 11, 2017

STEAM Studio

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

“Flexible.” It’s a word that often pops up in conversations about redesigning learning environments, relating to choices in furniture or movable walls. But according to Danish Kurani, redesigning 21st century classrooms goes much deeper than merely achieving flexibility—it involves going all the way back to considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Kurani is a licensed architect who focuses his work on learning spaces, and currently teaches a “Learning Environments for Tomorrow” course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education every year. Having worked on locations ranging from Denver’s Columbine Elementary to SELNY, a psychotherapy clinic and adult learning center in New York, Kurani has seen and used a variety of tactics to implement learning design in pursuit of specific goals.

This week, EdSurge sat down with him to hear about the most common design constraints, architecture gone wrong, and the work his firm recently conducted on the Code Next Lab in Oakland. Check out the Q&A below, or the recording on the EdSurge podcast.

EdSurge: Danish, as an architect, why did you decide to pursue education as a field for design?

Danish Kurani: A few years ago, when I started Kurani as a design practice, it was with the intent that we would use architecture to help solve global problems and challenges. I think, a lot of times, when we’re thinking about the biggest problems in the world—whether it’s poverty alleviation, or environmental issues, or healthy living and healthcare, or education—architects aren’t usually at that round table. I wanted to make sure that we had a seat at that table, because I think our surroundings make such an impact in our lives. Of course, you’ve got to pick somewhere to start, and being an immigrant in this country, when you grow up in an immigrant family, usually education’s paramount. Your parents understand that, for upward mobility, you’ve got to be educated. That was always of high importance in our family.

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