29 January 2011

Space to Learn

The challenges of today’s technology and learning styles require flexible classroom arrangements.

This week I attended a course on cooperative learning which was a timely reminder about using group work and a variety of strategies to improve learning outcomes. However, I was struck by an important factor we haven’t dealt with yet. In order to use cooperative learning strategies and still maintain a stable working environment (listed as the second highest factor in improving student learning), classrooms would benefit from different configurations, different furniture, different space usage altogether. So why don’t we all dream about different spaces and work towards it happening.

Here are a few items from my very long wish list:
Furniture which does not resemble a Board of Studies approved examination desk. In searching the web I have viewed a variety of different types of furniture suited to learning and studying. It should come as no surprise that new facilities do not buy rows of desks. Many new educational spaces make use of modular tables which can be moved to form different configurations. If the learning suits group work then circles are formed. During discussions an ‘O’ can be formed, or a ‘U’ shape for presentations. In order to be this flexible many of the new tables have castors for ease of movement. This means the transitions between activities are so much easier. Also, the tables in today’s environments need to be suitable for the technology being used. This school in England has obviously adopted new furniture and ways of arranging their spaces.

Technology: There is so much to say here that I can’t possibly do this justice. I saw one great idea on a website (sorry, no link) which had lockers with power points inside. Thus every time the student put their computer into the locker they could charge the battery.

Movement and Space: In order to manipulate student groups you need movement and this can be difficult in a small room which has 28 traditional desks. Thus we need to consider the size of rooms/spaces whenever we build or remodel. It is difficult to do anything with brick walls and the answer, fewer students, is not always possible. This clip – whilst an advertisement – is an interesting one for those schools with fixed spaces. And click here for a configuration worth dreaming about.

Breakout areas are essential in this new style of learning. Students need to be away from each other or conversely, need space to form larger groups. Breakout areas can make use of more traditional primary school style settings such as this one.

We as educators need to think about how we can best provide learning environments to suit a variety of student learning styles as well as maximize the time we have with students. I’m fortunate enough to be in a school where a new space is being created – hence my wish list. I look forward to the discussions about flexible learning environments. 

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