“If you could design a school what would it look like?

Milpitas Unified 01When Cary Matsuoka asked his teachers this question in 2012 he had one goal: to give his teachers the tools to change the system. Matsuoka, Superintendent of Schools for the Milpitas Unified School District, engaged his faculty and staff in a three month design process resulting in the implementation of innovative blended learning environments across the school district. Parameters such as use of technology, student centered space, and flexibility led to the development of Learning Labs at Randall and Weller elementary schools. Projects at Burnett Elementary, Rancho Milpitas Middle, and Milpitas High School were soon to follow. Inspired by the Design Thinking process, the school district adopted an approach where new ideas could be tested and experimentation and prototyping were encouraged.

The new spaces are a grand departure from the traditional classroom environment. Vibrant furnishings with flexible Milpitas Unified 02arrangements and configurations create a new dynamic between teachers and students, as well as between the students themselves. The learning labs were developed so that learning might be made more accessible and engaging. Within the labs students participate in peer teaching opportunities and teachers move more freely throughout the classroom. In some instances peer teaching opportunities extend across grade levels with higher level students teaching their lower level peers.

“It is important to create a space where students take ownership and have freedom of choice. We want students to walk in and decide for themselves which area or setting will best support the work they need to do that day” Says Caitlin Beaupre with One Workplace. Her team worked with Milpitas from the very beginning of this process to help identify ways to increase student engagement Milpitas Unified 03within their schools. Giving students flexibility, freedom of choice and the tools to support multiple modes of work and engagement were key features of their solution.

Mobile white boards have been made available in multiple locations throughout these spaces, allowing students to capture their work individually, in groups, or via a presentation in front of the class. By providing these small and accessible whiteboards on rails and via carts, students can easily scribe their thoughts and bring them to the front of the room without the pressure of having to figure out their ideas while standing before the entire class. A variety of mobile furnishings also provide the students the ability to rearrange the classroom to meet the needs of their assignment, or the needs of their own learning styles. Included within these furniture options are custom designed and fabricated booth seating arrangements on casters which may be easily rearranged to create rooms within rooms, providing focus or privacy as needed.

After the completion of the initial projects the opportunity to learn and adapt from that experience was not lost. One Workplace worked with project architect Gould Evans to conduct a post occupancy evaluation that provided insights into student learning and adoption by teachers. These insights informed decisions on later projects as well as instigated change in many of the school’s traditional classrooms. At Rancho Milpitas Middle School a more flexible environment was created Milpitas Unified 04where four independent classrooms were combined to share one collaborative space. Social Studies, Science, Math, and English classrooms were arranged around a central shared space with movable partitions between them. Teachers and students have the flexibility to open the various classrooms to one another allowing partnership between students or subject matters.

These new spaces allow a hands-on and project based approach that can often be difficult to achieve in a standard classroom configuration. Most importantly however they have been winning over teachers and students through their more engaging learning style.

Click Here: To learn more about the implementation of active learning at Milpitas schools.