Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Makes a Great Learning Space? By Shirley

 Way back in the 70’s when I began my teaching career, I was given a co- teaching post with a mature and very experienced teacher. We held our classes in a brand new space with no walls, very little furniture and we shared it with other students and teachers. This was the new “open plan” concept where everyone would magically mix and match.  This was a real recipe for disaster with frustrated teachers, students being loud trying to be heard and a nightmare for everyone. I survived the year, my co-teacher retired Within that year, the walls went back up, desks came back, there was no more team teaching and I was given my own class and classroom.  This new open plan idea was wonderful but without training, planning, preparation and drastic changes in teaching styles, this could never work.

Walls were taken down.
This new school year began like that once again for me …walls were taken down, new spaces were created, new rooms developed and multi purpose furniture put in place.   
This time however I was prepared, along with my colleagues and middle school students. We had just spent a year brainstorming, researching, discussing, talking and talking again - with designers, with planners, with each other, in teams and with the students to make sure that we were all being heard and that this new adventure was going to work for everyone involved. We finally decided on a huge multi purpose Da Vinci Room, two regular classrooms, two seminar rooms and a wonderful open learning commons space. We were ready, prepared and excited to begin our year without set classrooms, more team teaching and integrated studies planned, and more student led learning. 

 How has it worked?
Finished in time...

 We all love the openness of the space. It is bright, light, clean and inviting. The space was a bit noisy for a while, as we literally had no doors – which were coming all the way from China and took a while to arrive. Most learning was fine but showing a movie or having a quiet discussion took some creative thinking. 

Students first reactions
Once the glass doors were installed, we all found our way and things began to happen. Students spilled into the LC and classes were sharing, talking and learning alongside each other. It seemed natural to begin to work collaboratively with other teachers and mix up the grades. My first combined project was with the 7th grade English class. It was certainly an authentic, real life problem that needed solving. We called it Food Detectives and decided to read Chew on This by Eric Schlosser. What do we eat? How do we educate our division, our school and the community? All questions the students tried to answer through a wiki that we will revisit in the spring and continue to make changes in the way we think about fast food. Teachers are now planning some more collaborative projects for the next trimester and I think this trend will just continue to expand.

Doors installed
Students using the learning Commons
 Why is this working today and not in the 70’s?  Back then, memorizing facts and filling students minds with information which was the regurgitated back, was what we called education…thankfully we have moved on since then. Our middle school is a 1-I laptop division where teachers love to ingrate technology, give over much of the planning and teaching to students and where we regularly communicate globally with other teachers and students around the world. The mind set has certainly changed and education is a wonderful profession to be in today.