Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Agile Learning Spaces to Support Creativity & Collaboration

Creativity, collaboration and connection. These three words are used a lot to describe innovative educational experiences. While pedagogies in education are changing, many classrooms aren't. Classrooms have traditionally been designed to support one style of teaching, when in fact they serve a variety of functions. Space and place are important considerations when designing innovative curricular experiences that are authentic, build agency and create natural collaborations among students. I know first-hand that the power of transforming a learning space can impact engagement, understanding and creativity among students. Our Active Classroom and CoLaboratory, designed with the help of students, has been a pivotal component in re-envisioning our STEM curriculum in our Upper School. We have learned a lot this year with our Active Classroom project - not only changing our pedagogical approach from more "traditional" to active and hands-on but about classroom spaces. Agile furniture that supports active learning is a key component to fostering an atmosphere of creativity along with rich classroom tools like technology, lab equipment and lots of post-its! 

A LearnLab from Steelcase 
Today I went to a learning innovation and furniture showcase at Franklin Interiors, a supplier of educational furniture and interior design firm in Pittsburgh. Steelcase was presenting about how their re-designed furniture supports and promotes active learning. I would love to get some of their products  - especially the LearnLab. Imagine a classroom that improves the transfer of knowledge, dramatically enhances collaboration, and engages multiple learning styles. This is a LearnLab - instead of rows of desks, you've got tables angled around the space, where small groups of students sit in ultra-flexible swivel chairs, while the instructor moves freely around the room. The LearnLab furniture mixed with a dose of good pedagogy is also designed to hold students' attention. Tables have "huddle boards" -- mobile whiteboards for small group work that can later be shared with the entire class. We used Lenovo Horizons in our Active Classroom that are the same concept as the huddle boards. Multiple projection screens on each wall, sports bar-like, keep students stimulated by giving everyone a front-row advantage. Maybe the most impressive innovation of all here are the media:scape tables, designed jointly with IDEO. The tables let students project content directly from their laptops to overhead projectors with just a flip of a switch. 

In any teaching mode — lecture, discussion, or group work — this new approach to learning space lets teachers and students reconfigure the classroom easily and quickly, and offers multiple ways to display and share content. The classroom of the future engages students,
Promoting collaboration, creativity and connection via space. 
promotes collaboration and creativity. Now what does your classroom look like? You don't need new furniture to make a change. Think about moving the desks or tables in a new configuration or adding IdeaPaint to the tables. We are in the process of doing a re-fresh to our Middle School and Library - these are exciting times with a lot to consider!  I am looking forward to being involved in the creation of more spaces on our campus that support an excellent and innovative curricular experience for how girls learn best, support key academic initiatives around design thinking and blended learning and connect students with top of the line technology. 

Stay tuned for a white paper this June about our Active Classroom for Girls project and join me at the ISTE (International Society of Technology Education) conference in Atlanta where I am co-leading the Agile learning space and makerspace playground! 

- Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ph.D. 

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