Monday, March 31, 2014

My Space or Yours?

When I was a little girl, my friends and I liked to play school. This usually involved lining up some tables and chairs in rows and handing out lined paper or old workbooks. Whoever was bossiest in the group usually got the coveted role of teacher and dispensed knowledge and work to those in the group designated as students.

That was fort....
...that was a long time ago and although the world has changed immensely, I still see plenty of classrooms that are structured just as they were in the days when my friends and I were playing school.
That '70s Class
Dialog around redesigning learning spaces gets some teachers nervous. The classroom is their domain. Many teachers set up their classrooms in the same way every year and when the kids walk in that first day it is magnificent; from the perfectly crafted bulletin boards to the individual names on each aligned desk. Of course I'm generalizing but the point I'm making is that it really is a space of the teacher's design- it's her vision of a perfect learning space.

Seriously? What has really changed?
What type of learning space would students design for themselves given the choice?

Think about some of the big ideas in education today; differentiation, personalization, collaboration, design thinking, project-based learning, tech-enabled classrooms to name a few. When I think of these concepts I picture very fluid space with areas that meet a variety of instructional needs and learning styles. I envision a space that is functional, reflects student choices and authentic work. Today's classrooms should focus on learning rather than teaching and that requires us to rethink learning spaces.

At the Texas Computer Educators Association conference in Austin my favorite learning space is the Digital Square. This space is filled with a variety of seating choices and there is no front of the room. I enjoy finding a space that fits my comfort needs and learning style and I love this concept for our classrooms.

Steelcase is a company that has done an exceptional job of researching learning spaces and is one of several companies that are promoting the idea that furnishings in a classroom should be flexible enough to accommodate various learning styles and instructional models. With the help of Paul Rademacher at Rockford Business Interiors in Austin, we are piloting a few pieces from Steelcase's furniture line that help create flexible learning spaces. The Node desk has wheels, which allows quick reconfiguration of the space to fit various instructional models. We have put these desks into a second grade classroom as well as a Middle School math classroom. During the time we have this furniture, I will be making classroom observations, visiting with students and teachers to get feedback and having other teachers and administrators observe and discuss.

An example of a classroom with flexible learning spaces.
This space says "collaboration happens here!"
Redesigning learning spaces is not all about buying some new furniture but furnishing definitely play a role. I will add observations and feedback I receive on our pilot as comments on this blog post. Please share your thoughts and your own experiences with re-designing learning spaces! Here is a link to a doc where I'm collecting articles and posts on this topic.

Now where's my Big Chief tablet? I need to go make some observations!