A trend that is captivating my interest is that of Learning Environments. While this is not necessarily a new thing to New Zealand primary and junior classes (I remember the 70’s when it was referred to as ‘open plan’ classrooms) some still struggle with the concept. Termed learning spaces, modern learning spaces, open learning environments, flexible spaces, open space classrooms – it is believed to add flexibility, comfort and openness to the learning space. So is this a trend?
Internationally, Flexible learning environments are a trend since it provides a more 21st century learning environment allowing for ‘open communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking’. Gone are the days of rows of desks, sitting on plastic chairs and being still.
A paper presented by Matthew T. Mahar, et al (PDF) finds that:
Simple in-class activities can boost performance. Studies suggest that children who participate in short bouts of physical activity within the classroom have more on-task behaviour, with the best improvement seen in students who are least on-task initially.
Chris Bradbeer presents learning spaces as one of the CORE Ed trends in education, where he talks about the specific shifts in pedagogy, in digital technologies, in how classrooms now need to work to cater to the teacher-student partnerships allowing for more inquiry and a shift in the way teaching and learning happens today. The single teacher classroom becomes a team teaching environment, with multiple teachers collaborating together.
Further research has been gathered by Jill Blackmore et al, based on research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes. This is a worthwhile read which points to the fact that there is no real correlation of learning spaces impacting on student outcomes, although New Zealand needs to begin gathering the data and reflecting on what happens in newly designed learning environments, to find out if there is a correlation.
Over the past five years in my school, the middle school environments have changed to incorporate more open learning spaces, using conventional furniture as well as comfort seating, easily movable furniture for ease of collaboration, discussions, team work and independent study. Access to digital devices and learning resources is also part of the open spaces plan. Walls can be moved, doors opened out, allowing for the space to grow. The students like the way the classrooms are spaced. They agree that it is more flexible and movement of furniture is easy. The way in which the room is planned means that the children can move furniture more easily themselves, to suit their needs. With regard to their learning, most have said that it does work, but agree that some students can become off task. Our school has just recently completed the building of an open learning space for senior students. Teachers are still working on how to make this space work so that it benefits all who use it including the teachers.
I teach in a conventional classroom that has been converted to suit a sewing room. The plan of the room was poor from the start. A specialist room cannot be made into a specialist room from a classroom design. Even during early 2000 the designers and planners still got things wrong. A sewing room needs space (if it is to take 30+) year 7 or year 8 students. It needs specialist equipment, which needs dedicated bench and storage spaces for cutting out, for planning and designing, for inquiry, for digital applications and use of devices. Had the space been designed to be flexible, I believe students would be more motivated, more participative, and there would be evidence of further student engagement and achievement. It has worked somewhat this year since making changes myself to the space. Students can get into their work more quickly, have a sense of independence and are able to collaborate, discuss and be more creative within the spaces dedicated to them.
This identified trend is happening, if only gradually in some areas of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Although it hasn’t suited everyone, yet, and tends to be practiced more at primary and intermediate (middle school) levels, it is a modern learning concept that with time will become more than a trend. Further research is ongoing.
Week 27 – Mindlab Readings