Friday, September 25, 2015

Space...The Final Frontier?

I've been giving a lot of thought over the last six months or so around how we create, make, repurpose, reimagine, and generally use space in our schools in to enhance student learning. At the beginning of my thinking, I sought out books to read, and one of the first I came across was make space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration: 


As soon as I read an excerpt online from David Kelley's introduction ("Regardless of whether it's a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as instrument for innovation and collaboration"), I knew I had to order it.

Once the book arrived and I began to dive into it, I realized it had potential beyond giving me some start-up ideas. While it is full of relatively inexpensive hacks for furniture, tools, walls, and overall design, it led me to think about how we might be able to enlist and engage our kids in crafting some of the ideas in the book. Over the summer, I began a conversation with one of our high school teachers around integrating some of the desk and table designs into his Bench Woods class, in order to create "collaborative furniture" for our own use. We are continuing those conversations in anticipation of the second semester start of the class, and I am thrilled at what our students may decide to produce.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of collaborative furniture and space design is commercially available. For example, we have a brand new Active Learning Center at Northern High School, made possible through a grant from Steelcase:


Designated for primary use by our district-wide STEM Academy, during non-STEM time the space is open to other staff and students as a collaborative learning space.

Somewhere in the middle between making your own space from the ground up and receiving a grant, many of our principals and teachers are bringing their imaginations together to create space with the desired effect of enhancing student learning. For example, Eastern High School is repurposing a classroom as its Innovation Room. Orchard View Elementary is doing the same and enlisting students to co-create a Learning Studio at the end of the 6th grade hallway. In Central Middle School, a portion of a conference room in the vicinity of the front office has been outfitted as a filming "booth" area for teachers to record themselves as they talk about their love for a recently-read book, which is then available for later viewing:


Directions for the talk as well as camera use are posted so that teachers are able to be self-sufficient.







These are just a few of what I am sure are many innovative uses of space in our district.

My current energy is directed at repurposing a classroom at Collins Elementary as our Center for Innovators Design Thinking Studio. I saw the space this week for the first time:


While we need to clear it out before we can see its full raw potential, I am thrilled on so many levels: How might we engage the Collins community of learners with design thinking? How might we use the space to bring in high school students and ask them to explore new possibilities in the secondary experience? How might we invite in our Destination: Innovation grant recipients to leverage their learning?

Finally, I am also mindful of Dr. Marzano's considerations within Design Question 6 of creating physical conditions that facilitate and support effective teaching and learning. What will be the primary patterns of movement? What do you want learners to see when they enter and leave the room? How much empty space needs to be set aside for later use? How will you organize storage and access to materials? What seating arrangements best encourage discussion and productive interaction? Can eye contact be made with each learner? All of these important questions and more will shape the learning environment in our Design Thinking Studio.

Join the conversation...
How are you intentionally using space to enhance student learning? What might be some ideas you have to create collaborative learning environments? Why is this an important topic for us to dialogue around?

As always, thanks for reading, thinking, and conversing.
JLW

(P.S. For those of you are sorely disappointed that this post is not about Star Trek, click here for a short treat.)

1 comment:

  1. I think when teachers let kids take ownership in their learning it leads to critical thinking and collaborating. Each child has something unique to add. 2 heads are better than one and a group of heads is even better than 2. It enhances social skills, something I feel we are losing with our "snap-chat/texting/facebooking world". (I ride my bike to work and in the past 10 years, I have seen kids socializing at the bus stop to kids just in one single-file line with their phones/ipods.) I am not saying technology is "bad", it's just that kids need to know how to work together in groups and enhance social skills. When we differentiate instruction, it improves student learning and engagement which promotes better grades and higher self-esteem. I fully believe that when kids can teach other students things, it is then when you see they have truly mastered that skill/concept/idea.

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