One of the main characteristics of 21st Century Learning is a focus on inquiry. Building a culture of inquiry requires instructional spaces that are flexible while retaining the ability for teachers to supervise and manage spaces. How does this relate to classrooms? And how does classroom design influence how we learn or teach?
We are all familiar with traditional classroom design; rows of desks facing a chalk board with a teacher’s desk at the back and depending on the student age range, there may also be personal storage cubbies, a sink and storage millwork of some sort. The door is always closed to reduce distractions and students are duckling-marched wherever they must go during class. This model has not stood the test of time as it is based on an outdated curriculum delivery model based on lecture-style teaching.
The solutions we explore as an architectural firm involve creating instructional spaces that are flexible, encourage learner independence and promote collaboration (among students and teachers).
We have little flexibility in classroom sizes, as they are prescribed based on student populations, but flexibility can be added. Physically movable walls can change a classroom to a space twice the size or offer access to shared spaces while retaining the ability to revert back to a typical classroom. Flexibility can also be inserted by using flexible furniture. There have been many studies on student furniture, some based on the need for children to fidget. It is also valuable for them to work in groups and face each other. Furniture can be used to cater to the different needs of each student in every class and change from year to year.
In some of the new schools we have designed, we have explored removing everything except student furniture from the classroom. For example, a student accessing their locker outside of the classroom during class time while not being directly supervised helps build independence. Removing the sinks from classrooms and creating shared “wet stations” helps with this as well. A student could leave the classroom to wash their hands, or a group of students could work on a messy project in a designated area. Sharing these spaces also builds a sense of community outside of home rooms and encourages collaboration and project-based learning.
We have also removed the teacher’s desk from classrooms. Instead, teacher collaboration pods can be provided where teachers can work and break together. This encourages them to be more active in the classroom as well.
The “classroom model” should evolve as teaching methods and curriculum delivery evolves and maintain the ability to keep evolving in order to meet the needs of it’s users.