An Invitation to Inspiring Learning Spaces
Creating Learning Spaces to Support the 4C’s: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication
Outside of our schools, we have seen an increasing intersection between the virtual and the physical world, yet our classrooms have largely remained unchanged for over 100 years. This problem spurred Laguna Beach Unified School District to embark on an ambitious journey called the “4C’s Learning Environments” (4CLE) to re-envision how to improve learning by creating inspiring learning spaces.
Decision By Committee
To begin the 4CLE project, the district formed a committee comprised of principals, administrators, classified staff, and teachers. This committee used the book, “The Third Teacher,” written by an international team of architects and designers that explore the link between the school environment and how children learn, as a foundation for their discussion. Input from all groups are vital, but teachers in particular feel the power of group encouragement.
Part of the exploration of inspiring spaces was visiting some of the highest tech companies in Irvine, CA, as well as innovative schools. By looking at businesses the district saw the importance of smaller collaborative settings and visual displays. The workers’ desks were not in cubicles, but arranged to allow for additional seating and multiple displays to help communicate in smaller informal learning groups.
“We designed our company work area to be highly collaborative with hotel seating so that anyone can informally create a group discussion,” says local business owner Lane Rankin of Illuminate Education. “Allowing for all levels of our team to communicate efficiently helps us maintain a vibrant and living work space. We have multiple displays that give us the status of the company but can be instantly switched wirelessly to a presentation from anyone’s iPad/iPhone or computer.”
The committee decided not to wait to make a comprehensive plan. They knew that this would be an iterative process, so they began by testing ideas in nine incubator classrooms.
Funding Redesigned Learning Environments
The 4CLE project was funded through general fund, parent donations, as well as donations from vendors willing to use the district as a test site. Often vendors like to get in on the ground floor of pilot programs that they can use to showcase their products in a school setting.
To keep the program going and growing, districts will need to look toward grants as well as garner support for local bonds that can be used to support ongoing efforts toward rethinking learning spaces. Many districts have passed bonds that help with updating infrastructure. Modernization funds can also be used to retrofit classrooms. It is also important to try to leverage your ideas with existing funding. If you want to move your classroom to LED lighting, for example, check your local energy company for rebates and incentives.
Rethinking classroom learning spaces doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. One easy starting point is to reduce classroom clutter. Carnegie Melon Researchers discovered in a study on kindergarten students: “...children’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55% correct) than in the decorated classroom (42% correct).” When it came to time on task the results were just as dramatic: “...the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6% time spent off-task) than in the sparse classroom (28.4% time spent off-task).”
Our teachers began re-envisioning their classrooms by removing clutter, repainting walls, and opening closed shutters to let in natural light. The result? Classrooms look more like “Starbucks” than traditional classrooms.
Creating Inspiring Learning Spaces
Creating inspiring learning spaces within the context of a single classroom can be very challenging. The space of a typical room is usually less than 900 square feet. Here are the main changes Laguna Beach made to re-invent their learning spaces:
Purchase mobilized furniture. Laguna Beach classroom designs became “transformer” classrooms that could morph from didactic teaching to collaborative groups then back to a socratic circle in less than a minute. Everything has wheels including some of the teacher desks. In many rooms, they removed bulky cabinets and replaced them with floating file cabinets that students can sit on.
Add multiple display systems in each room to maximize the ability to remove the “stage” of the classroom. There is no longer a “front” of the classroom. To encourage immersive presentations, Laguna Beach has added as many as three 70 to 80-inch LED monitors to a classroom, all with ability to show the same screen wirelessly through Apple TV. These displays are brighter than LCD projectors so more natural light can be allowed in while the displays are on.
CAPTION: Teachers/students can project with their iPad, MacBook, Chromebook, or Windows machine using Air Parrot.
CAPTION: Much of the furniture is on wheels and students can move from circle to rows to groups in less than a minute per switch. (Pictured below is the Steelcase Node desks.)
Add color: Studies have shown that different colors have an impact on classroom activities. Reading may be better with a calming yellow while collaboration is encouraged by blues. Perhaps the question is not what color to “paint’ the walls but what color will we “light” the walls. Laguna Beach has been experimenting with HUE lighting by Philips to change the color of their walls. Teachers point LED lights toward white walls and then use an iPad app to change the color of the walls, and the mood of their classrooms, with just a click of a button.
Adding amplification: Studies show that using audio amplification can decrease teacher stress levels at the end of the day. <ONLINE LINK TO: http://www.edaud.org/journal/1999/2-article-99.pdf>.
Audio amplification and microphones can also be a way to increase collaboration. Each student group has a microphone and a speaker that is individual to their desk. Using a FlexCat system by LightSpeed, teachers with an ear bud can listen in remotely to groups working together. The teacher can also speak directly to any individual student or groups of students from the microphone without interrupting the group’s collaboration. Laguna Beach is also investigating noise cancellation in their special education resource rooms since there are several teaching groups going on simultaneously.
Plants: Studies show that the introduction of plants in classrooms with few windows did not improve test scores, but they did increase the students’ positive perception about the classroom.
Air conditioning: AC was set as a standard in all classrooms because studies showed 72 degrees was the optimal learning temperature for most students.
Sit/Stand desks: These desks were deployed in some classrooms and are not only popular with students, but the added engagement of leg muscles in active learners allows them focus.
Stools: Buoy (Steelcase) and Hokey (VS furniture) stools were deployed to increase movement while sitting. This has been shown to decrease bad posture and stagnant positions making the focus on learning easier.
Whiteboards: The district deployed Verb desks with attached hanging whiteboards that can be assembled on an easel or a board to facilitate process planning and checking for understanding.
We have tried things that haven’t worked, but we are encouraged by the thought that we are “failing up.” This collective learning is making us better at identifying what is critical in the classroom. An added benefit of this redesign is that teachers are enjoying their work spaces more. Empowering teachers to change their classroom “world” can be the spark to encourage and enable our students to change the world. How will you embark on your journey to create inspiring learning spaces?
Michael Morrison is the Chief Technology Officer of Laguna Beach Unified School District in California. He has been awarded the Gold Disk by CUE.
Pull thumbnail (w/”play” symbol) and link to: https://vimeo.com/113655980
Under thumbnail: Visit the online edition of this issue to see the 4CLE spaces in action.
“United in the conviction that environment is our children's third teacher we can begin anew a vital mission: designing today’s schools for tomorrow’s world.”
The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning. New York: Abrams, 2010. Print.
“If our California State Standards emphasize presentation and collaboration, why shouldn’t our learning spaces help facilitate these standards?” -- Sherine Smith, Laguna Beach USD Superintendent
"Does Temperature Impact Student Performance? | CEFPI." Does Temperature Impact Student Performance? | CEFPI. Web. 06 Aug. 2014. <http://healthyschools.cefpi.org/temperature.html>.