Thursday, April 18, 2013

Designing Spaces

Last weekend we hosted the 1:1 Institute for our new faculty and on a walk around our new campus I heard our Elementary Principal, Joe Atherton, remark that 80% of the furniture was on wheels.  The simple reason for this, he said, was that we have built a school of the future.  In 30 years this campus will still be functioning as a school, yet we have no idea of what a school of 2043 will look like, or what the needs of students in 2043 will be.  Much of what is inside the school, therefore, can move.  We don't have any rooms, but instead have moveable partitions, and more and more we are moving out of learning spaces that look like traditional classrooms and spreading ourselves around the entire floor space. Currently most floors in the building have 3 homerooms of 20 children each.  These 60 students work with 3 homeroom teachers, 3 teaching assistants, 1 classroom assistant and a host of other specialists such as the literacy coach, maths coach, reading specialist, EAL teachers, student support teachers and members of the tech department.  With up to 10 teachers working with these 60 students at any one time, it's easy to see that we can group and regroup often so that each students is getting the best possible experience.

When designing our new school last year, it was clear that the move from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy would have pedagogical and spatial implications that we would need to take account of in our plans.  We needed to create a series of spaces, spread out over 7 floors including the roof, that provided a more individualized experience for students.  Planning for the future involved thinking about a flexible design that could be easily moved around when needed to create better learning environments for our students.  For us the focus has been on the needs of the learners, and giving students more voice and choice has led to them making decisions about where they will work.  Giving teachers more voice and choice has led to some of the floors already having learning spaces moved around in order to make the best use of the available space.

What I have observed is this:  a comfortable and relaxed space has had a positive effect on learning.  We no longer have "wasted" corridor space and classrooms with doors, but have huge spaces where we can group learners by abilities, interests and needs, including quiet work spaces and "wet and messy" areas.  We have provided tech support on every floor where there is a 1:1 laptop programme.  We have wonderful specialist learning spaces such as an art room, a music room and a science lab.  We have even provided a parent cafe.

I loved taking our new teachers around the campus last week.  It made me appreciate, yet again, just how lucky I am to work in such beautifully designed learning spaces.


  1. I'd love to see a photo slideshow of your school. What you are sounds absolutely amazing from both a design aspect and a curriculum perspective. So cool.

  2. Love hearing about your school design, Maggie. The school that I'm going to next has also been designed with the future in mind. I'm not sure whether it has moveable partitions though - I'll be interested to see when I arrive in August. The environment can have such a huge impact on learning and I'd love to visit your campus one day to see how it all works.

  3. Hi Knaus and David, so many people have asked about our school design. I'm posting a link to a YouTube movie where you can see a bit more of the school and of what has been done over the past year. The "old" whole school campus has been transformed into a secondary campus, while a new campus has been built for elementary students. The video shows both and ends with the notion of two campuses but one community. When I first saw my new school, 14 months ago, it was still a building site. I'm constantly amazed by how quickly things have changed, and by the amazing learning community that has been built here. Here is the link to the YouTube movie: