Designing Classrooms of the Future Now!, pp. 10 of 11

Get Ready, Get Set, Design

In this article we have called for greater attention to the structure and design of classroom learning environments. We recognize the limitations that schools and teachers operate under but call for schools and school leaders to give teachers and students greater opportunities for innovation, experimentation, and design. One place they can start is in the design of classroom learning spaces. Schools and school systems that place a premium on order, stasis, testing and sorting students, and accountability will continue to have schools and classrooms that look similar to those of yesteryear and are likely to reproduce more traditional forms of classroom practice. There is some question as to whether such learning environments can fully prepare students for the kind of epistemological agility necessary in the 21st century.

The physical environments that we learn in have a significant impact on our thinking, our perceptions, and the work that we do. This is well illustrated in the TED Talk by Steven Johnson called Where Good Ideas Come From. In this talk, Johnson highlights the role of 17th century English coffeehouses in the exchange of diverse ideas and the flowering of innovation that led to the Enlightenment. He attributes this innovation to the fluid environment coffeehouses provided that enabled people from different backgrounds to come together to study, talk, share ideas, collaborate around common problems, and to deliberate on the pressing issues of the day.

These same principles may help us think about creating learning environments that serve as incubators of ideas, creativity, the deep exploration of issues and problems, and innovative solutions. In a similar fashion, it requires school leaders and teachers having opportunities to talk about design ideas, such as those offered in this article, creatively imagine alternative classroom structures, and collaborate around the creation of new environments and approaches to teaching and learning. In other words, schools can be modeled on these principles to better support the work of teachers.

There are many excellent books and websites available on design based thinking. The Third Teacher is an excellent book to get you started. Professor Stephen Heppell has archived a range of physical (and virtual) learning spaces for people interested in classroom design. It also helps to visit cool, innovative spaces in schools, libraries, museums, book stores, coffee shops, shopping centers, hotels and other locations that can provide you with inspiring ideas. It requires that school leaders provide opportunities for teachers and their students to have a say about their classroom spaces. The teachers in this article took the initiative to rethink classroom space, took some risks in creating new learning spaces within their classrooms, and continue to learn from their endeavors. They are also encouraging their students to participate more in the design of their learning spaces. These are beginning steps which can empower teachers and students in designing their futures. 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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