Space can be one of the most important factors in fostering school achievement and learning progress. In some studies it has been shown that classroom design can directly influence learning by a variance of up to 16%. As the needs of students change to meet the demands of shifting economies, new technologies, and globalization, we have adapted to new learning methods and pedagogy. Despite these new directions in curriculum and learning modes, the learning environment has remained virtually unchanged.
The challenge of considering how to adapt traditional learning spaces to new active learning modes was posed to a forward thinking group of educators, administrators, architects, and designers at a workshop in July of 2015. Led by One Workplace and the architecture firm Dougherty+Dougherty, this team of seventeen education leaders was engaged to create new ideas and potential solutions for this problem.
Utilizing a “design thinking” methodology, workshop members were divided into four groups to identify opportunities and challenges, generate potential solutions, and explore ways in which new ideas might be implemented. Each solution was specifically tuned to address the unique needs of students in an active learning setting. Key findings of the panel emphasized the need for spaces and curriculum which promote self-actualization, ownership of learning, peer collaboration, freedom of choice and movement, and the opportunity for students to express their voice.
Four unique solutions (one from each workgroup) were generated and prototyped for exploration, each geared towards a distinct user group.
Multi-Sensory Expression Environment:
The development of a unique classroom space for ELL (English Language Learner) students where they can express their learning in ways that do not solely rely on language skills. Visual expression, among other tools, may be utilized to assist in communication of learning and encourage active participation.
The creation of a “Knowledge Ninja” app for smartphones & tablet computers providing access to worldwide and local networks of experts and outside knowledge holders. These outside experts can bring real-world expertise and perspective on various academic subjects into the classroom in an interactive way. This tool would allow private individuals to work with schools to create a broader knowledge pool – as well as a way for current teachers to “tag team” and work together across subjects, departments, and physical locations.
The development of a new multi-mode classroom model paired with an “Empathy Que” tool which allows students to communicate various degrees of learning and or emotional status. This feedback would be provided live and immediately available to the teacher. The teacher can then respond by partnering students with peers who can assist, or with peers at the same learning level. They may also allow the student to self-select into pre designated zones that align with the student’s needs.
Multi-Experiential Classroom Environment:
A re-envisioned classroom environment designed to provide a variety of activities, settings and engagements for students to self-select. This new classroom would be modeled after an Adventure Park or Science Museum concept – where learning and engaging in interesting and fun experiences go together. Some thoughts included the idea that assignments may require the student to work their way through various tangible or physical experiences along the path towards solving a challenge.
The success of this workshop resulted in a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by teachers in implementing an active learning environment, as well as the development of several actionable solutions. A full description of the workshop, the design thinking process and the above outcomes can be found in the White Paper:
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Design Thinking for Active Learning