Eight Ideas for Redesigning Learning Spaces

Dennis Pierce
Dennis Pierce | August 1, 2017 | Classroom, SPACE DESIGN

During the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio, David Jakes, a former educator and administrator who now helps schools transform their learning spaces, shared several strategies for redesigning K-12 learning spaces to support 21st century instruction more effectively.

Here are eight of his best recommendations for K-12 leaders.

Develop a new mindset and lens to see space.

Try to visualize new possibilities for learning spaces, Jakes said. Most people don’t start with a fresh canvas in mind; instead, they simply look at how to enhance the current space. “The first step in redesigning the classroom is to discard the notion that it has to be a classroom,” he said, “because that comes with baggage. What about imagining it as a studio instead?”

Immerse yourself in resources.

Here are some resources that can help you redesign your learning spaces:

Focus on experience, not things.

When redesigning learning spaces, let the type of learning experiences you want to foster be your guide, Jakes advised. “This is not about furniture, it’s about the learning,” he said. “What experiences do I want to create for students? Then, what design would support that?”

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “form follows function,” and this is true of classrooms as well. A classroom with rows of student desks facing the front of the room creates a teacher-centric space that implies students are expected to sit and listen as the teacher talks. But a classroom with students sitting facing each other in small groups encourages a more active, student-centered style of learning, powered by teamwork and collaboration.

Create a multidimensional space.

It’s important to have a space that can assume many different roles, Jakes said, depending on the kinds of learning going on. He used the word “agile” to describe the ideal classroom: a flexible and dynamic learning space where the furniture can be rearranged quickly to support various activities. Paragon makes desks and tables that easily can be arranged into creative groupings of multiple sizes.

Promote movement and activity.

Research suggests that allowing students to move around during class offers both academic and health-related benefits. Consider buying chairs that allow students to rock or move around, as well as height-adjustable desks and tables that enable them to stand or sit.

Add color.

Studies show that color affects our moods and can make for a more engaging space to be in, Jakes said. Look for opportunities to introduce a variety of colors into the classroom, such as on walls, desks, chairs, trim, accent colors, the insides of cabinets, and carpet tiles.

Design with digital in mind.

Think about electrical power sources for students to charge their devices, he recommended. For instance, Paragon has designed furniture with embedded power outlets for students to plug in their laptops and tablets. Also, consider the surface area of tables and whether it’s sufficient to accommodate student devices.

Get off site.

Take inspiration from how others outside of education use space to create warm, inviting environments for gathering, sharing, or studying, Jakes suggested—such as your local Starbucks, The Next Door Cafe, or 1871 Chicago.

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