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5 ways to optimize learning spaces for student success

Has your district repurposed its hallways yet?

As we address the challenges of a highly competitive world, we must enable students to learn and generate new ideas by moving away from the “old school” classroom. The good news is that architects and interior solutions providers are embracing ways help transform our schools.

Here are five important aspects to consider.

1. Collaboration is now a given
At its most basic, collaboration is shared communication. It’s talking in small groups. It’s brainstorming ideas together. But in a traditional classroom setup, our students sit in forward-facing rows waiting to receive instructions and then do heads-down tasks.

Teachers no longer need to lose students’ attention or precious classroom time in transitioning set-ups for collaborative work. Options like adjustable-height tables and mobile desks that can be quickly reconfigured for the task or project at hand have solved those problems.

And keep in mind that collaboration is being heartily embraced in the workplace, so we must teach our children how to operate in that kind of environment early on. How to work in small pods. When to talk and when not to. How to receive feedback and turn it into a collaborative idea or solution.

2. Freedom through technology
Not too many years ago, technology in the classroom was a projector and a drop-down screen that required turning off the lights, closing window shades, and lugging a machine through narrow aisles cluttered with backpacks. Students sat in the dark, disconnected from the teacher and each other, and many fell asleep.

Media can now be triangulated throughout the space using three screens viewed from any angle. Guiding the class from a mobile pedestal, the teacher can move freely throughout the space, with no “good” or “bad” seats for the students. And a digital platform can integrate collectively shared screens as well as personal devices like tablets.

However, maintaining a balance between digital and analog is also important. A student may like using pen and paper for notes, perhaps with colors to organize information and jog memory. Then that student or a group could transfer those notes to a tablet or computer with a wireless connection to share them with the class.

3. Hallways as learning spaces
Traditionally, hallways have been a way to get from one room to another. Reimagining these spaces as a place where students can think freely and creatively turns them into destinations for impromptu conversations that lead to spontaneous ideas outside the teacher-student hierarchy.

Lounge furniture, whiteboards, mobile glass boards, and access to power are elements for transforming hallways for active student learning. These spaces should be visible and monitored by teachers, who also need to provide tools that help students process the thoughts and ideas they come up with.

Additionally, hallways can nearly double the usable space on campus. With the cost of real estate today, especially in states like California, spaces need to work harder, and every one of them needs to have a dual function.

4. Welcome nature and the outdoors
Studies show that a connection to nature can enhance student development and help restore attention capacity. That’s especially critical today, with so many kids immersed in a digital world and losing exposure to the outdoors.

Experience with nature supports adolescent processes of development and increases children’s physical and mental health, as well as their skills in multiple domains. An emotional bond with wildlife can also be formed to instill environmental sensitivity.

Potted plants or a live wall are one way to capture nature. But even photos of the natural world or fabrics with leaves and flowers can be nearly as effective. Some forward-thinking schools are designing buildings to encourage the use of the outdoors by using clear rather than translucent, clouded, or patterned glass in windows. Garage doors can open to a courtyard for group activities or a breakout space. And some are building the entire facility out of raw natural materials.

5. Training for success
Teachers and students must be trained in how to use these new resources. Innovative furniture and room layouts should be incorporated into lesson plans and activities that allow students to smoothly shift among those arrangements.

It’s imperative that teachers have access to professional development on adapting their curriculum and style to support various pedagogies throughout a school day in these new learning environments. Training can be done one-on-one, even by word of mouth, to share experiences. Better yet, a principal may assemble teachers for a lunch-and-learn with demonstrations of how the classroom can be organized to around whatever subject they’re teaching.

Another approach is to obtain loaner products. Teachers can then replace their old classroom furniture with examples of the new items for a hands-on test drive.

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