Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog our Mosaic Research Intern, Tripp Harris. Tripp is currently a Learning Sciences PhD student at Indiana University. Typically, the Mosaic blog discusses issues related to classroom space and active learning in higher ed settings. This month, Tripp writes about the growing conversation around space in K-12 settings.
“Over the past decade, there has been a growing movement in favor of designing more flexible classroom spaces in K-12 schools. Researchers and practitioners alike are calling for greater attention and resources towards designing classroom spaces that facilitate collaboration and active learning. At the heart of this turn is a shift in how we understand the physical classroom—not as fixed or static but dynamic and socially constructed among teachers and students.
Some say this has come about in part to support a growing embrace of constructivist instructional approaches in which teachers and students take part in the co-creation of knowledge. This shift away from teacher-centered classrooms is also taking place in part to prepare students to participate in today’s labor market. The demands of our evolving global economy call for learning spaces that model 21st century workplace environments— classroom environments with flexible furniture, collaborative space, and accessible digital technology aim to facilitate creativity and help students hone 21st century skills.
Among developing modernization of physical classroom space, flexible classroom furniture appears to be the biggest trend. Using classroom furniture that is moveable makes it easier to configure collaborative learning spaces for a range of instructional purposes; flexible seating and meeting space allows for easy transitions between small and large group discussion, independent work and class presentations, and as-needed access to digital technology. And allowing students to reconfigure furniture themselves to meet their own personal needs empowers them to form a sense of authority in the classroom. Some teachers are even including students in their classroom redesign efforts and conversations.
Evolving trends in digital classroom technology are also pushing a reconceptualization of learning space in K-12 classrooms. Just as flexible furniture arrangement has helped move the teacher away from the front and center of the classroom, digital technology is also being used to promote student authority and personalization in learning spaces. Mediating collaboration in space through the use of flexible furniture and enhanced digital technology helps center interaction among students and positions teachers as facilitators of group meaning-making rather than directors of instruction.
Teachers and schools across the world are sharing ideas and resources for designing flexible, innovative classrooms. An entire industry exists online for purchasing flexible classroom equipment, with an abundance of commercial sites devoted specifically to supplying furniture for student-centered classrooms. There is little doubt that the emergence of this industry is a positive sign for the future of classroom design.
The cost of such classroom features, though, could be cause for concern among teachers and administrators. Despite the well-documented benefits of flexible furniture and innovative learning technology, many schools may find it difficult—if not financially impossible—to justify spending thousands of dollars to revitalize each of their classrooms. Maryanne Emery, a fifth-grade science teacher in California, advocates for checking school building storage for existing furniture not already in use. Acknowledging the high cost of ordering new classroom furniture, she also is a proponent of thrift shopping. This kind of resourcefulness can help teachers create classroom spaces conducive to active learning without breaking the bank.
These relatively recent shifts in K-12 classroom design represent a growing dialogue on the intersections physical space, teaching, and learning. While this dialogue has been quite active among the higher education community, K-12 school systems are more recently starting to jump on board. As the national and international k-12 landscape embraces more contemporary approaches to classroom instruction, we may see wide-scale movement towards more flexible, collaborative classroom design.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.