When Redesigning Learning Spaces, Get Students Involved

Dennis Pierce
Dennis Pierce |  August 15, 2017  |  Classroom, SPACE DESIGN

When the leaders of Ohio’s Pickerington Local School District decided to redesign their learning spaces to better meet students’ needs, they turned to the real experts for help: the students themselves.

In return, district officials received a wide range of classroom designs that are more engaging, inviting, and supportive of 21st century teaching and learning.

As director of instructional technology, Brian Seymour has been leading the district through a change in pedagogy. Pickerington has given every middle school student a Chromebook to support a style of blended learned that it calls “tradigital learning”—a mix of traditional and digital instruction that focuses heavily on cultivating the five Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship.

But Seymour and other district leaders realized their learning spaces also would have to change to support this shift more effectively.

During the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio, Seymour described how including students in the design process has made a big impact.

One of the reasons Pickerington involved students in the design process is because the district tried purchasing new chairs in the past, but the students didn’t like them. “The last thing you want to do is buy new furniture and then when kids come in August, they hate it,” he explained.

Including students in the design process has encouraged them take ownership of their classroom spaces, which district leaders hope will lead to more investment in their education. What’s more, Seymour turned the project itself into a learning opportunity.

“We decided we would use this as a problem-based learning exercise with kids, modeled after the TV show Shark Tank,” he said.

Working in groups of four, students researched ideas for effective, flexible classrooms. “We didn’t give them a budget; we simply told them to be ‘reasonable,’” Seymour said. “Kids used 3D design software to map out their designs, and they had to present their ideas to the community.”

Each design had to include a teacher station area, a place for independent work, and a space for collaboration. The top designs were chosen by a committee of adults—and now the district is working to redesign the classrooms in every middle school based on these winning designs.

“We need to change our learning spaces to meet our kids’ needs,” Seymour concluded. “And we have to include students in this process. What do they want from their classrooms?”

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