Tag Archives: Learning Spaces

Five Ways to Hack Your Classroom

2 Mar

There’s an interplay between the design of a learning space and the type of learning that happens in it. If a classroom is set up with rows of desks it makes collaborative learning harder and independent learning more likely. Many learning spaces don’t support the kind of learning we know students should be engaging in. We want students to be collaborating with each other and solving real world problems but the furniture and walls keep getting in the way.

New or renovated schools have spaces custom-built to support that kind of learning but most students learn in classrooms built decades ago for a different kind of learning. Teachers need simple ways they can modify their classrooms and facilitate collaborative learning. You can’t knock down walls, but what can you do?

Don’t worry, help is here. The following five changes will help to transform your learning space:

  1. Ditch the desks: Desks are good for individual work but what about the rest of the time? Replace the desks with tables. With students clustered around tables they can more easily make eye contact with each other, collaborate and provide bigger spaces for students to safely move around in or group together as needed.
  2. Break Down the Walls: Classrooms shouldn’t be figurative or literal islands. The ‘real’ world outside the classroom walls is a cool place, and we need more of it into our learning spaces. Bring it in with guest speakers, outside programs, volunteers, co-op students, whatever…just bring the outside in. Bring in the natural world with plants, fish, leaves, whatever’s out there. Use technology like Skype and twitter to reach outside the classroom in real-time. Field trips are great, but that doesn’t need to involve a school bus ride. Go for a walk around the school neighborhood or take students outside for quiet reading. Make the outside world part of your learning space.
  3. Free the Tech: Digital technology is an integral part of our lives. We’ve gone from everyone watching a single screen, to one in every room, to one in every pocket. We’ve been slower in making this shift in our learning spaces and we group the tech in one area. In whatever ways you can make technology an integrated part of learning for students, not a separate subject. Personal devices (tablets, smart phones, iPod touches) are a natural way to do this so encourage students to use them in their learning. Wireless internet in schools makes this much easier. Arrange desktop computers around the room rather than clustering them so that students can easily use them for research or reference then return to group work. Break up computer labs and get those machines into classrooms where the students and the learning is.
  4. Flexibility: Students don’t learn in the same way all the time, so good classrooms must account for this with flexibility. There should be areas that support independent work, pairs, triads, small groups, whole groups and spaces for students who need quiet. A classroom needs flexible arrangements, things that can easily move and be repurposed. Watch here to see how simply putting wheels on furniture allows it to be easily rearranged to support different groupings. One of my favourite flexible spaces is the floor where groups of students can stretch out and work together on chart paper or a single student can lie and read quietly to themselves.
  5. Open The Doors: In many schools working in the hallway is a punishment or a management strategy. It can also be an untapped resource. There’s lots of unused, tucked away spaces that trusted, responsible students can take and use effectively. Let students use hallways and stairwells to collaborate without disrupting others. Keep students that need more support in the classroom and circulate. You can’t do this all the time, but occasionally you can spread out and make the classroom bigger and less constricting. Why not put temporary tables in the hallway, like a street cafe for learning?

What have I missed? What are some other ways to hack learning spaces? Ideas in the comments.

Where Are The Beautiful Learning Spaces?

8 Jan


In the summer of 2011 I had a glorious trip to Rome. It was hot (I love it) and I was alone, so I got to travel in my preferred mode. I set out each morning with a vague plan and mostly wandered around searching for cool stuff.

I saw breath-taking historical sites like The Coliseum. I ambled through museums and art galleries. I saw incredible archaeological sites and ate great food. I discovered that I really like fountains 🙂

Once home, I reflected on the trip, and was surprised by how much time I spent in churches. Rome is full of amazing churches packed with renaissance art, and it seemed that around every narrow cobbled street corner was yet another undiscovered gem housing something by Bernini or Raphael.

I’m not a religious person so there was no spiritual dimension to this for me, but each day I found myself wandering church to church, slack-jawed again at the beauty, gazing at statues and madly reading the history of “St Somebody of the Something”.

I could easily understand the inspiration a believer drew from these incredible buildings. And I’m a jaded citizen of 2013 who isn’t impressed by much anymore. Casting back hundreds of years its easy to see why the church was the dominant institution of the time.

I pondered the power of buildings to inspire us and wondered what the implications of this are for education. People visit churches on vacation because they tell us about the places we visit, their history, culture and what they value.  I wondered what our schools say about us and whether they too could be places of inspiration.

Typically schools are utilitarian buildings, “factory like”. Their function is to support the learning happening within those walls in the most cost-effective manner and facilitate the production of graduates who are ready to take part in society.

As society is rapidly changing so is the function of schools. The need for the standardized production of workers is fading. Increasingly schools are being asked to produce citizens who think creatively, know and follow their passion and change the world with innovative ideas. If the function of schools is changing, shouldn’t the form be changing too?

I’ve never heard of anyone travelling to Rome, or the other great cities of the world, and touring its schools. I’m a bit of a “school geek” and I’ve never done it. Why? Are there no great ‘Cathedrals of Learning’?

I don’t believe that. I think that there are beautiful, inspiring learning spaces in the world. Spaces that educators would see and know that this was the pinnacle, something to aspire to.

But where are they? Where is the Sistine Chapel of Education? The Blue Mosque of Learning? The St Paul’s Cathedral of Understanding?

I want to find them and hold them up as inspiring models. To show what’s possible in a learning space and encourage educators to think more creatively about the spaces we create for learning. I want to use them as we go forward and remake our learning spaces to better meet the changing needs of our students.